Friday 22 September 2017

Weckler on Technology: Chromebook 2 gives good battery life, great screen and wallet relief

Toshiba Chromebook 2 Price: €350 Rating: *****

Toshiba Chromebook 2
Toshiba Chromebook 2
Celluon PicoAir projector
Olloclip 4-in-1 for iPhone 6
Apple Mac Mini 3
Pentax KS-2 
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Google Chromebooks aren't for everyone, but I'm a general fan. Aside from the sub-iPad pricing, their biggest attraction is their sleek design and quick, no-nonsense internet boot-up time which is a welcome relief from the usual cog-grinding that PC laptops still inflict.

Toshiba's 14-inch Chromebook 2 is one of the best of the crop (HP, Dell, Asus and Samsung also make them), mainly because of its high definition screen. It's sleekly designed (most Chromebooks resemble MacBooks) and quite light, at 1.35kg.

It also has a fantastic battery life, at around eight hours of real-world usage (from 11.5 hours claimed usage). Its specifications are deliberately light (2GB Ram, 16GB storage drive, Celeron processor) because it's designed almost solely as an online access machine. The fact that you can't run Windows software on them isn't quite the setback it once was, either, with most mainstream programs now available as online applications of one sort or another.

I wouldn't default to this for editing photos or anchoring a business presentation but for almost everything else it's excellent as a budget laptop.

Projector that's iPhone-friendly

Celluon PicoAir projector    Price: €300   Rating: ****

For most people, projectors sit right up there with pagers and fax machines in terms of the tech zeitgeist timeline. They're big, clunky and it often feels like you need an engineering certificate to get one hooked up.'Pico' projectors, with their miniature form, have been trying to modernise the genre for some time.

But up to now, the quality has mostly been pretty poor. Celluon's new PicoAir (and companion PicoPro) goes some way to providing a workable alternative. Aside from better image quality, it's incredibly convenient and easy to kick off - just pair it with an iPhone, iPad, Android device or laptop and start beaming away. It uses lasers instead of conventional lamp technology and can project a high-definition (720p) image, movie or presentation to an equivalent size of (up to) 250 inches. Its main physical connection port is HDMI, but it also connects via wifi or DLNA to any laptop, iPhone, iPad or Android device.

Fish eye view with clip-on iPhone lens

Olloclip 4-in-1 for iPhone 6   Price: €70   Rating: ***

Clip-on lenses for smartphones are like fitness trackers: they seem brilliant until you have to remember to bring them with you. This lens is a case in point: where do you keep it? It's too big for a wallet and is awkward in a pocket. If you leave it on your phone, it makes the whole thing too bulky for regular pouches. Ironically, then, it requires a separate carrying compartment - or even a small camera bag - to make it practical. (It comes with a carrying pouch.) That aside, the clip is fun. It switches between wide-angle, fish-eye (ultra-wide angle) and two macro (extreme close-up) lenses for iPhone photos. It doesn't improve the quality or sharpness of images, just the viewing angle. The macro and fish-eye lenses are most fun. There's an app, too, but it's not very good.

New mini Mac a chip off the iBlock

Apple Mac Mini 3   Price: from €520   Rating: ****

Mac Minis have never been as big a hit as the company's signature iMacs, even though they're almost as well powered and cost less than half the price.

It probably has something to do with a preference for getting the full-on computer-in-a-screen design of the bigger machine. Still, if you already have a decent monitor, keyboard and mouse, this makes for a superb, cost-effective way to get the best desktop PC experience around. The small, unobtrusive Mini has four USB 3 ports and two Thunderbolt ports as well as SD card and gigabit ethernet ports. It also has audio-in and headphone connections. The base model has an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of Ram and a 500GB hard drive.

Less flash, more features on new Pentax

Pentax KS-2   Price: €750 (body only)   Rating: n/a

Pentax-loving hipsters who hated the camera brand's bleeping, flashing, multi-coloured KS-1 model might be willing to give its successor, the KS-2, a go. Where the KS-1 stacked a line of dotted LED lights against an orange or purple body, the 20-megapixel KS-2 returns to more traditional styling (though still with a dash of colour) and has some impressive specifications to atone for its previous flourish. Foremost among these is a weather-sealed body, a rarity among mid-range cameras. It also adds wifi and NFC, making it very friendly for instant wireless sharing of photos via your phone or tablet. Its flip-out screen is also handy, while it manages to keep its size down to a smaller form factor than many rivals.

Irish Independent

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