Tuesday 28 March 2017

Tech review: Adrian Weckler on the latest cool gadgets

Motorola 360
Motorola 360
Apple iPhone and Watch Charge Dock
Apple TV
Microsoft Surface Book

Reviewed this week are Motorola 360 2nd Gen, Charge Dock for Watch and iPhone and Microsoft Surface Book Apple TV.

Best Android watch but niggles remain

Motorola 360 2nd Gen

Price: €300

Rating: 4 stars

If you like the idea of the latest full-powered smartwatch but don't always use an iPhone, you have two main options in Ireland: Sony's Smartwatch 3 or Motorola's Moto 360.

With its circular screen, it is Motorola's computer time piece that might edge your choice. Like most 'full' smartwatches, the 360 is a little bulkier (thicker) than an analogue watch, at over a centimetre thick. To be fair, that's because it has to fit in all sorts of computer chicanery. I found it to be a comfortable timepiece, though: I often forgot I was wearing it. This is partly thanks to the leather band, which is one of the better smartwatch straps you can get.

The Moto 360 doesn't have a camera and you can't make or take calls on it, like you can on a tethered Apple Watch. This is because it doesn't have a speaker. Instead, you can use it to make a call on your phone via voice control commands or take a call (on your phone) by swiping on the watch when you see a call coming in.

It does give you many different types of notifications, including texts and social media. However, you have to install many of these separately and it's a bit of a drudge when you first set it up. Indeed, while pairing the watch is simple, making sense of what you have to download to your phone for things to work is not simple. Neither is figuring out exactly how to do things like send text messages. But this is a general criticism of Android Wear rather than the Moto 360 itself: Android Wear is not as beginner-friendly as Apple's Watch interface and Google is generally not very good at explaining basic things in basic English.

If you do get it all up and running, you will quickly find out whether your aptitude for a smartwatch thrives or withers. You'll either find it to be a handy time-saver or irritating. On balance, I find it to be useful as it stops me having to constantly take my phone out of my pocket to see what the buzzing is about.

Like all smartwatches, the Moto 360 has a big emphasis on health apps. This starts with a built-in step tracker and is complimented by a heart-rate sensor on the watch's underside.

Much of what you use the 360 with is done using voice control. In my view, this is one reason why smartwatches are slow to take off: many people feel inherently self-conscious controlling a device this way. I got up to two days' battery life from the Moto 360: it compares pretty well with other manufacturers' models. It also comes with a nice charging cradle.

Power nap device  for smart things

Charge Dock for Watch and iPhone     

Price: €130 from belkin.com    

Rating: 3 stars

If you have an Apple Watch, your night-time charging routine is probably messy. It probably consists of the magnetic charger cable looping around your iPhone's charging cable, with both devices making your bed area look like a mini cabling hub.

Belkin's Charge Dock is a nice solution to this. It consists of two charging facilities, one each for your iPhone and Watch. A perch with a magnetic charger sits beside a lightning charge port for an iPhone 5, 6 or 6S. So you get one tidy little bedside dock to charge two accompanying devices. This is a little pricey, but it could make your bedroom fell less like an IT terminus.

Microsoft gets PC with ­business tablets

Microsoft Surface Book    

Price: €1,600    

Rating: n/a

What's the Windows PC equivalent of a MacBook Pro? Can you think of one? Dell XPS? Something from Lenovo? No one device really stands out as a fusion of style, power and overall desirability. Until now, perhaps.

Microsoft's Surface Book is arguably the laptop launch of the year. Drawing on its line of Surface Pro hybrid devices, the software giant has come up with a machine that fuses a high-end laptop with a powerful 'pro' touchscreen device. The latter feature is one that has recently been give a real shot in the arm by Apple with the introduction of its 13-inch iPad Pro.

But while the Surface Pros are still basically designed as powerful tablet hybrids with laptop benefits, the Surface Book is designed on the contrary orientation: it's firmly a laptop that you can also use as a tablet if you want. One of the practical ways that this distinction is implemented is in its keyboard. It's a full-size working keyboard that clips on and off easily, not a cover with keyboard functionality. This means that the touchpad, for example, is a proper full-powered version and not an afterthought.

The Surface Book's 13.5-inch screen is pretty high-end, at a resolution of 3,000 by 2,000 pixels. And under the hood this matches almost anything you can get from a rival manufacturer: up to 16GB of Ram, Intel Core i7 processors and 512GB solid hard drives.

The machine isn't quite as slim or as light as some rivals, and its inclusion of a stylus will spark the usual antipathy from those (like me) who simply never use a digital pen for anything, as software simply isn't yet advanced enough to incorporate hand scrawls into anything permanently useful.

But this is a huge statement from Microsoft. And it's a very handsome, very powerful laptop.

Apple TV update adds games and shopping

Apple TV    

Price: €180 from Apple.com/ie    

Rating: 4 stars

Apple's updated TV device, new apps for gaming and smarthome usage, has gone on sale in Ireland. The box, which will continue to stream services such as Netflix to televisions, also has a new remote control that is voice controlled and is being pitched as a video game accessory. A number of video games have also been announced for the machine.

Apple has a new operating system for the Apple TV called tvOS. Commands such as "show me the episode of Modern Family with Edward Norton in it" will correctly retrieve the correct episode for viewing. It also has an auto-rewind feature. Other functions for the Apple TV, such as home shopping and special features for sports broadcasts, are also included in the new set-top device. Apple's long-term ambition is to try and enter the TV streaming market: the gadget is seen as a staging post in Apple's bid to take on TV giants such as Netflix, Comcast and Sky. But for the moment, it works as a nice TV companion.

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