Tech review: Weckler on the latest cool gadgets
Reviewed this week are Toshiba Satellite Pro A50, Logitech M535 Bluetooth mouse, Bush 4-inch Windows phone and Apogee MiC digital microphone
The disc-friendly laptop with a powerful punch
Toshiba Satellite Pro A50
Price: €990 from Microaid.ie
Rating: 4 stars
Why do some laptops still come with CD and DVD players? This is the first thing I wondered when I unboxed Toshiba's new Satellite Pro A50. With the vast majority of software now coming via internet download, why bother with a battery-sapping, weight-bloating CD tray?
The answer is twofold. First, 'optical media' drives (for DVDs and CDs) sometimes come in handy for older software that people have, particularly in business. (The A50 is basically a business laptop, pre-loaded with 64-bit Windows 7 Pro).
Secondly, with phones and tablets now taking over portable communications, some manufacturers consider that laptops are becoming closer in functionality to desktops. For certain kinds of models, then, who cares if a DVD tray cuts down battery life or makes the whole machine heavier? The only place you'll be moving it is between the kitchen and the couch - both of which are right beside a plug socket. And a DVD player is still occasionally useful for kids' movies.
As it happens, this computer's specifications are pretty good. An Intel i7 processor and 8GB of Ram underpin a 1080p screen and a 1,000GB hard disk. For a DVD-toting device, it's respectably slim, too, and relatively light at 2.1kg. Even its battery life isn't too bad at over four hours (usually) and up to seven or eight hours (in light usage conditions).
As far as using it goes, it's fast and reasonably comfortable to type on. The casing feels a little plastic but this probably keeps the price down by at least €75.
This doesn't challenge a machine like Apple's MacBook Pro or Dell's XPS 13. But it's not supposed to: this is a workhorse laptop for those who don't need to bring it on trains or flights.
The mouse that likes a bit of rough
Logitech M535 Bluetooth mouse
Rating: 4 stars
Two weeks ago, a colleague posed a question that stumped me. "Do you have a spare mouse mat?" he said. I instinctively looked around, expecting to see a heap of them lying around. But mouse mats are not the mass-market commodities they once were. Think about it: if you had to buy one today, would you know where to go for certain?
Into this world comes Logitech's M535 Bluetooth mouse. Aside from all of its intelligent configurability - you can program the navigation button and switch between applications on it - it can work on almost any flattish surface. That means it has no problems on wood, plastic, metal, glass or just about any other regular surface you might need to use it on. It also means no requirement for a mouse mat. The mouse itself is fairly large, meaning those with big hands will take to it better than people with daintier digits. But its ergonomics are very good, otherwise. And it lasts (a claimed) 10 months on a single AA battery.
It's an ultra-budget smartphone with a twist
Bush 4-inch Windows phone
Price: €75 from Argos
Rating: 3 stars
I'm not the greatest fan of Windows phones. They just don't do as many things as Android or Apple rivals.
However, budget Windows models hold their own against Android competitors. This is largely because there seems to be a minimum usability standard (screen quality, fluency) that Android devices lack.
This means that Bush's four-inch Windows phone does smartphone basics rather well. And because it doesn't have star branding power, it brings a little extra to the table. Principally, this is its dual-sim capability: you can have two different mobile subscriptions with two different sim cards and just switch between them whenever you like.
If you compare this phone to, say, a similarly priced Microsoft Lumia 435, other differences become clear. Bush's rear five-megapixel camera beats Microsoft's two-megapixel lens and there's slightly better power under the hood too. That said, it looks a little cheaper than Microsoft's own model, largely thanks to the latter's inherited design legacy from its Nokia roots.
The basic proposition here is a four-inch touchscreen device with a quadcore processor, two cameras and 4GB of storage memory (expandable to 64GB with a memory card). It's all pretty plasticky, but it didn't let me down in any major way. It may not have the engine power or sophistication of pricier handsets, but it doesn't stink like some similarly priced Android phones do.
The revolution will be podcasted
Apogee MiC digital microphone
Price: €270 from Apple.ie
Rating: 4 stars
Years ago, I used to record podcasts. It was a pain in the neck: I became obsessed with getting proper condenser microphones with separate amps and other paraphernalia (like Zoom recorders). If I was doing it all again, I'd probably plump for one of these.
Apogee's MiC is a beginner-friendly digital microphone that records up to 96khz (24-bit) standard and was made to work with iPads, iPhones and Macs. Aside from combining all of the separate elements (microphone, preamp and converter) in one unit, it's also really portable - about the size of a smartphone. And it comes with a built-in mini-tripod to stand it up when recording. It works fine with recording software like Apple's Garageband.