Tech review: Adrian Weckler on the latest cool gadgets
Reviewed by our technology editor are ONEPLUS X, Samsung Gear S2 and Google Pixel C.
Stellar phone that plays hard to get
Price: €269 unlocked from OnePlus.net
Rating: 4 stars
If you're rationalising your costs for 2016 and want to maximise the amount of smartphone you get for much less than iPhone or Samsung Galaxy pricing levels, you won't find much better than the OnePlus X. It's a powerful five-inch Android handset that looks and feels a whole lot better in the hand than most other phones, no matter how much they cost.
Despite one significant drawback (mentioned below), this phone blows most of its rivals out of the water in nearly all respects.
Part of this is down to its future-proof engine power. Under the hood, there's a lot more muscle than you'd normally get for a phone in this price bracket. Its quadcore 2.3Ghz processor is bolstered by 3GB of Ram, which means this can handle any kind of app or task you throw at it and will likely continue to do so for some time. It comes with 16GB of storage but allows you to expand this to 128GB using an external memory card.
The phone's 12-megapixel rear camera is good, though not quite at the level of top handset lenses from Apple, Sony or Samsung. It has an 8-megapixel super-selfie front camera, which will be popular with many.
Unlike the OnePlus 2 (which uses the new USB Type-C port), this model comes with a standard Micro-USB charging data port, which means that it's a lot easier to connect to accessories such as cheap car chargers or battery back-up devices. It comes in two colours, while a 'ceramic' version is available for €100 extra.
The biggest drawback to the OnePlus X is actually getting it. OnePlus operates a quirky 'invitation' system for some of its phones. While anyone can buy its (more expensive) flagship OnePlus 2 device online, one needs an 'invitation' to buy the OnePlus X. Such invitations are obtained from others buyers of the phone or by registering an interest and waiting for the next (regular) batch of invites to be released by the company. Whether this is done for supply chain or 'exclusivity' reasons, it's a bit of a pain for the ordinary person who wants to get one of these handsome devices.
But for those who do persevere to get one, you won't be disappointed. This is one of the best - if not the best - new budget phones on the market.
Samsung's mé féiner watch is suprisingly good
Samsung Gear S2
Price: €329 from DID Electrical
Rating: 4 star
Smartwatches didn't make quite as big a splash at last week's Consumer Electronics Show - an event your correspondent dug into to find the best new gadgets - as at the same time last year. However, the smartwatch market is now approaching maturity.
Ask yourself whether you now know someone who owns one: the chances are that you do. If you're in the market for one yourself, it mainly boils down to an Apple Watch, an Android smartwatch (from Motorola, LG or Huawei) or a go-it-alone variant. This last category is usually made up of cheaper devices such as the Pebble.
But it is one into which Samsung's Gear S2 watch arguably fits. Samsung has declined to adopt Android Wear and has gone its own way with its own Tizen operating system. History is usually unkind to non-Apple manufacturers who try to forge ahead with proprietary systems in this way. But at this juncture of the smartwatch's development, it doesn't really yet impair your user experience. This is largely because the Gear S2 is mainly used for messaging notifications and fitness or health apps, just like any Android Wear device.
Aesthetically, you have to give Samsung kudos: this is definitely one of the nicer-looking smartwatches out there. It ditches the computerish square look for a 1.2-inch round watch face that has a rotating outer dial. This can be used to control some functions.
The effect is instant: it looks and feels like a watch with tech going on than a tech strap-on that also happens to tell the time. It's quite easy to get the hang of and works with most modern Android smartphones (although not the iPhone). Samsung has also improved on the variety of fashion straps that come with it.
In the long run, it's hard to see Samsung holding out from Android Wear. But right now, this is certainly as good as you'll get from most Google-powered smartwatches. It's also €100 cheaper than the cheapest Apple Watch.
A new level of Android tablet
Google Pixel C
Price: €509 from store.google.com (free delivery)
Rating: 4 stars
Ever since Apple introduced the iPad, it has dominated tablet sales. It's not just because of the bigger, deeper app store, either. The iPad has always been better designed, sleeker and more durable than almost any of its Android counterparts.
The only way to compete in the long term, it seems, is to really invest heavily in the hardware. This is what is giving Microsoft traction with its Surface Pro hybrid range. And it is very clearly in evidence with Google's new 10-inch Pixel C tablet. The Pixel C is staking a major claim to being the best Android tablet you can get, largely because of its solid aluminium build, fantastic screen and lightning fast graphics.
It also has a dedicated keyboard built specially for it (but sold separately) that turns this into a very competent laptop replacement for light, on-the-go tasks.
It's a little heavier than the iPad Air 2, its closest rival, but is considerably lighter than Microsoft's Surface 3, if one wants to bring Windows into the comparison. (I've gone off the Surface 3: it's underpowered and its keyboard will frustrate the bejesus out of you.)
For anyone who cares, there's also an 8-megapixel HD camera on the rear of the machine.
Is it worth the price of a top-end iPad? For anyone who lives off Google apps (Docs, Drive and Gmail), it's certainly a valid contender.
One tip: if you're considering this machine, you should really get the keyboard designed to go with it. It's a superior Bluetooth model with wide, spacious keys and a clever magnetic mechanism that lets you angle the tablet-screen at almost any pitch. It also supports inductive charging.