Saturday 21 January 2017

Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets

Published 26/03/2016 | 02:30

Toshiba Portege Z30-C
Toshiba Portege Z30-C
Panasonic Lumix GX8
3D Robotics Solo

Reviewed by our Technology Editor this week are the Toshiba Portégé Z30-C, Panasonic Lumix GX8 and 3D Robotics Solo.

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Toshiba work ­laptop does the business

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Toshiba Portégé Z30-C    

Price: €1,650 from Dabs.ie     

Rating: 4 Stars

What is a 'business laptop'? What distinguishes it from an ordinary laptop? For the answer to this, Toshiba's new Z30-C is a good place to look. It's light, robust, very powerful and prioritises features such as security and device management over speakers and screen-pixel quality.

The basic specifications are high end, with an ultra-beefy Core i7 Intel processor and 8GB of Ram. It also starts with 256GB of onboard storage (plus an SD card slot to add in more).

For such a fully loaded 13-inch business laptop, the Z30-C is pretty light at 1.3kg. That probably has something to do with the magnesium chassis, which feels like a halfway house between metal and carbonised plastic. (It's a grey, brushed metal colour.)

Although you wouldn't call this a 'sexy' laptop, I liked its overall feel. It's solid and well built. It probably takes a lot of wear and tear. (Toshiba says it's been drop-tested and put through other hardiness trials.)

The downside to business laptops is that they're not especially suited as multimedia laptops. They'll let you watch Netflix or edit photos, but if these form a core part of what you want in a laptop, you'd be better looking elsewhere. The Z30's screen, while fully HD, doesn't quite compare to displays on rivals such as Apple's MacBook Pro. The laptop's speakers are pretty mediocre, too - they'll do just fine to listen to something at volume, but Toshiba hasn't prioritised audio quality here: they're a little tinny. For Skyping, the webcam is a reasonable 2 megapixels.

For more conventional laptop activities, the Z30 is good to excellent. The backlit keyboard is comfortable and easy to use. It's also spill-resistant, for those awkward with takeaway coffee cups. At first, the touchpad threw me off as it's a little further over to the left than I'm used to, resulting in frequently unwanted right-clicks. Also, the lower-left double-click mechanism has an odd squeaking property when pushed. But I got used to both over time.

The Z30-C's battery is a fairly long-lasting one, easily making over seven hours for me. (Toshiba says it's supposed to go up to 13 hours, but I can only assume that doesn't include much online activity or video.)

One slight annoyance is that my model came with Windows 7 Professional, with an upgrade to Windows 10 available. I realise that this is not unusual for 'business' laptops and that many IT departments even still prefer Windows 7 ("it's what we know") to Windows 10. Still, it's 2016 already.

As previously said, one of the things that makes a laptop a 'business laptop' is the pile of security and device-management features that consumers usually don't pay too much attention to. For example, the Z30-C has a fingerprint reader and a smartcard reader. It also has a security lock accessory. If security is a big issue for you, it's probably handy to have these on board.

There's also plenty of connections available, including three USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port and an ethernet port, as well as the aforementioned SD memory card slot and smartcard reader.

I'd be hard pushed to recommend the Z30-C as a best-in-class laptop, but it's a high-quality machine that you probably wouldn't regret buying.

Panasonic ups the  mirrorless ante

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Panasonic Lumix GX8

Price: €1,089 from Conns Cameras

Rating: n/a:

Panasonic continues to come out with some of the best mirrorless cameras on the market. I've written in these pages before about how impressed I've been by the LX100 and GX7 models (the aging LX100 is, for me, still the best all-in-one travel camera you can buy). But its latest GX8 interchangeable lens model aims to take the Lumix range into more advanced territory.

The 20-megapixel camera is styled a lot like the 16-megapixel GX7 and is mostly metal. This gives it a very solid feel, although it also makes it a little heavier. It's designed to work with the huge range of Panasonic micro four-thirds lenses, some of which are premium pieces of glass that match high-end lenses from Canon and Nikon.

The camera has a new dual image stabilisation system that works with some of the newer lenses available. This makes a big difference for shooting photos, handheld, in low light, as the shutter speed can go down to a thirtieth of a second (or slower) and still produce shots without blur. It has all of the modern attributes and modes that you'd expect, including time lapse, panorama, Wi-Fi and more.

And like other recent Panasonic cameras, the GX8 has a mode that allows you to isolate 8-megapixel frames from 4K video you shoot on it. This isn't something I really use but it could be very useful in a fluid situation, such as a bride walking up an aisle.

The GX8 also has Panasonic's new 'post focus' feature. This allows you to change the point of focus in a photo you take, provided you set it to the correct mode. It's a little clunky but it does work. What the camera appears to be doing is taking a bunch of photos at different focus points and reaching in to pick out the focus point you select on review.

My time with the GX8 was limited to some hands-on demonstrations so I can't give a definitive verdict on image or movie quality. But Panasonic has a solid pedigree when it comes to mirrorless cameras. And first impressions are pretty good.

Sky high buzz that's pricey

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3D Robotics Solo     

Price: €1,050 from The Camera ­Centre     

Rating: 3 Stars

If you're interested in getting a fairly easy-to-fly drone that gives you some really nice video footage, this is a pretty decent choice. The only drawback is that it's relatively pricey: you can get a similar drone from market leader DJI for about half the price.

The 3DR Solo also doesn't come with a camera or gimbal (which you'll need for video). It's designed as an accomplished, beginner-friendly drone for those who have their own GoPro cameras. If this is you, this works very well. It lets you stream live HD video from your airborne GoPro directly to your phone.

It also has an impressive array of flight controls, most of which are easy to use. Flight time before recharging is about 20 minutes and it has a range of half a mile for Wi-Fi. It can fly at speeds of up to 85kph.

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