Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets
Our Technology Editor reviews Tag Heuer Connected, Sony Xperia Z5 Compact and Canon EF-M 28mm f3.5 Macro IS STM.
When the worlds of classic watches and Android Wear collide
Tag Heuer Connected
Price: €1,350 from Paul Sheeran Jewellers (paulsheeran.ie)
Rating: 4 Stars
What is a watch? Is it a thing for telling you the time? Is it a piece of jewellery? Is it a communications agent?
This is a question that has become more complex in recent years with the advent of smartwatches. But Tag Heuer's new Connected watch does a better job of fusing all three elements than almost any other smartwatch I've ever tested. It's a cleverly designed, handsome wristwatch from a proper watchmaking company. And it also happens to have the latest Android Wear features quietly working in the background.
So you can receive and send messages, check social media, get directions and keep all your health tracking activity up to date. But unlike some of the plasticky, gadgety looking alternatives out there, Tag Heuer's offering is put together in a way that makes you feel you've got a bit of luxury.
With a titanium bezel and lugs keeping it together, the 46mm face is bigger than you'll find on most smartwatches out there. I had worried when I first saw it that it might be a little heavy or awkward on the wrist. It's not. All in, it's only fractionally heavier than Apple's larger 42mm Watch and fits snugly.
If you've never used a smartwatch before, Android Wear is very easy to set up. It's a couple of taps between your watch and your phone, with idiot-proof guidance all along the way. The system's main usefulness is that it gives you more control over your time, by allowing you to dismiss or respond to messages without taking your phone out. As it is packed with sensors, it also acts as a very competent sports and health tracker, measuring movement, distance run and other things. You can even use it to dictate messages or make calls using your voice, as it has a microphone and competent voice control abilities.
There are many thousands of apps to download for it too, if you really want - Shazam is a good one to start with. (It identifies a song, band or album by listening to a few seconds of a song playing in the background.)
Tag Heuer gives you a few of its own 'micro apps' to start you off, although nothing especially impressive compared to others you can get online.
You can choose from a few different watch faces. I preferred the Chronograph option as it seemed to make the most of the screen's 240 pixels-per-inch.
Physically, the Connected watch is fairly robust. Mine jostled around a bit and didn't record any real scuffs or marks on the sapphire glass. The device is also splash proof and generally water resistant. The default strap that it comes with is rubber, with a few different colours available.
Battery life is about the same as you get from most smartwatches, at around a day and a half. I had this watch less than a week and, in that time, it varied from 25 hours to over 40 hours as I ran through its functions and played with apps.
One of the most interesting pitches that this watch has over rivals is a promise of continuity. Tag Heuer says that anyone who buys a Connected watch will be eligible to get a replacement special edition Carrera Calibre 5 (automatic) movement in two years. It's not free - you'll have to fork out over €1,000 for it. But that's considerably less that it would cost if you bought one outright.
This is a clever way for Tag Heuer to address one of the conundrums of smartwatches - disposability. Traditionally, watches have been items to keep for 10, 20 or 50 years. By contrast, smartwatches are assumed to be like phones: obsolete within three years. They're pitched largely to people who don't wear traditional watches.
Tag Heuer has done a creditable job in bridging these two worlds. The Connected watch costs a lot more than most other Android Wear watches, but you get a lot more in the promise of a Carrera later on. I found that I could just leave the Connected humming along quietly, using it as a watch and scanning the odd message. It looked, felt and performed very nicely. But it also felt good to let it loose as a powerful machine, taking care of lots of stuff I'd normally use a phone for.
Sony packs a punch with mid-size monster
Sony Xperia Z5 Compact
Price: €500 ubnlocked or from free on operator contract
Rating: 4 Stars
I've been an advocate for large-screen phones for some time. And yet, recently I have developed some consistent pain in my hand and upper arm which, I have been medically informed, is from stretching my thumb over a 5.5-inch screen too much. If this sounds familiar, what are your options?
I previously reviewed Apple's impressive new iPhone SE, but that screen might be just fractionally too petite for some, at four inches. One alternative worth looking at is Sony's Z5 Compact. It's a very powerful, top-end smartphone in a package that's about 20pc smaller than the typical large phones out there today. The 4.6-inch handset's main strengths are a superb 23-megapixel camera (which rivals the best lenses on the market), a better-than-average battery life and a superb, high-resolution screen.
There's no shortage of power, either, with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 processor under the hood and a decent 32GB of storage.
But one of the things I like best about the Z5 Compact is the way that Sony has thinned out the bezels, meaning that it's easier to use one-handed. That could mean relief for my aching thumb and arm.
Light 'em up with Canon's macro
Canon EF-M 28mm f3.5 Macro IS STM
Price: €399 from Conns Cameras
There's a scene in Marvel's Ant Man movie where the winged superhero Falcon can't get a clear view of the protagonist because of his tiny size. If he had used Canon's latest macro lens (and if Ant Man agreed to stay still for a minute), he'd have had a better shot at it.
The trick to this clever little lens, which has just been announced, is a built-in light. Yep - you can illuminate your closest of close-up photos thanks to a couple of curved flashes positioned at the front of the lens barrel. It's a very useful thing to have in your arsenal, particularly as you're wont to block out a lot of useful light when you bring your camera up so close to the subject.
I don't do a whole lot of macro close-up photography, but this is a very novel (and practical) addition for someone looking to do it on the fly without tons of heavy gear. The new lens, which works on Canon's mirrorless Eos-M cameras, also has image stabilisation (shake-reduction) built in.