Wednesday 28 September 2016

Tech review: Weckler on the latest cool gadgets

Published 17/10/2015 | 02:30

OPPO PM-3 Headphones
OPPO PM-3 Headphones
Samsung S2 Tab 9.7
Vodafone Smart Speed 6
Surface Pro 4

Reviewed this week are OPPO PM-3 Headphones, Samsung S2 Tab 9.7, Vodafone Smart Speed 6 and Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

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The best headphones for under €500

OPPO PM-3 Headphones

Price: €499 from hifihut.ie

Rating: 5 stars

I've long been converted to the convenience of Bluetooth wireless headphones, principally because we're now in an era of phone-based music sources like Spotify. But there's one price you pay for the convenience of not having a wire dangling between cans and handset: quality. We still haven't found a way to really match the top levels of wired audio quality when it is transferred over Bluetooth. This stark truth hits you like a grand piano in a small recording studio when you slip on Oppo's stunning new PM-3 headphones. There just isn't any real comparison with any wireless rivals - these headphones give the best sound I've ever experienced on a sub-€500 pair of cans.

As it happens, it's not just the wired advantage that's going on underneath the hood here. These are planar magnetic headphones, a flavour that only usually comes at about twice the price. Without getting too technical, they're simply better than most 'dynamic' headphones you'll get at this level. In the case of the PM-3s, it's beautifully subtle, lifelike audio that is really, really satisfying.

The headphones are also pretty comfortable, with the sort of leather padding you'd expect on a headset at this price level. They don't have any active noise-cancelling technology, but are quite insulated from outside noise because of the cup design.

The PM-3s are optimised for mobile use, with a choice of iPhone or Android cables, as well as a regular cable and an adaptor for home stereos. The cans' cups fold flat for transportation in their own nicely styled protective case.

If there's a drawback, it's that the headphones have a lower maximum volume than rivals when used with a phone. You'll still get a decent audio level, but they won't quite overcome a plane's roar if you're using them on a flight. They're also a little heavier than some rival models.

Still, I absolutely love these headphones. They're the first pair in a long time to make me ­seriously rethink my preference for wireless sound.

Nice tablet, but what's it for?

Samsung S2 Tab 9.7  

Price: €520 from PC World   

Rating: 3 stars

Where exactly does a premium 10-inch Android tablet fit into your life? Especially one that costs more than the latest top-of-the-range iPad? That's the challenge that Samsung's S2 Tab has. It has a few high-end features worth considering. Chief among these is its physical design: this is one of the lightest, slimmest 10-inch tablets on the market.

That means you can easily hold it up with one hand to watch a video or even take a photo (it has an 8-megapixel camera). It also makes it really portable. Stick this into a bag with a slim Bluetooth keyboard and you have a nifty lightweight mini-laptop. It also has just about the best power you can get in a 10-inch tablet, backed up by a vivid Amoled screen. And it has a couple of extras, like a pre-loaded (Android) version of Microsoft Office. Even still, against the backdrop where fewer and fewer people are buying tablets, Samsung has a challenge on its hands to convince people of this tablet's place in their lives.

Smart Speed 6 is not a smart option

Vodafone Smart Speed 6   

Price: €80 from Vodafone    

Rating: 2 stars

If you're looking for a budget smartphone, Vodafone has a couple of really good own-brand options. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them. Whereas I rate both of Vodafone's other handsets - the five-inch Smart Prime 6 (€100) and the 5.5-inch Smart Ultra 6 (€170) - highly, the 4.5-inch Smart Speed looks, feels and handles noticeably worse.

The 4.5-inch screen is the main letdown. It's one of those cheap displays where you have to swipe or tap a couple of times to make things work. When it works, it's fine. But it's hit and miss. Design-wise, this phone looks really cheap, too. It's thick and plastic. You may not expect too much for €80, but this screams 'ultra-budget'.

To be fair, its power specifications aren't bad for a sub-€100 device. The 8GB storage can be added to thanks to an external memory card slot. And a quadcore processor makes sure that it gets through apps fairly efficiently. On the other hand, its five megapixel camera is pretty mediocre.

Frankly, it's not worth saving the money here: an extra €20 gets you Vodafone's Smart Prime 6, a phone that's bigger, slimmer and has much better overall performance (including a superior eight megapixel camera).

New Surface Pro 4 gives more manual control

Microsoft Surface Pro 4  

Price: from €1,185 with keyboard    

Rating: n/a

Microsoft had something of a 'productgasm' 10 days ago. But other than the 'augmented reality' Hololens - which won't be available to ordinary punters for quite some time yet - most attention was focused on two new laptops. Of these, the Surface Pro 4 is the one we'll see first in Ireland.

It's a fairly undramatic update to the existing Surface Pro 3, with most of the upgrade coming under the hood in the form of updated Intel chips. These Skylake processors give more power and help battery life.

What I'm looking out for, though, is the larger touchpad in the device's new detachable keyboard.

It's 40pc bigger than previous touchpads and this is a long-sought after upgrade. While the Surface is a decent laptop in its own right, cursor control has always been a bit of an issue.

The new machine is available in Ireland from November.

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