Tech: All-in-one top shot camera for beginners
Reviewed by our technology editor this week are Sony RX10ii, Vodafone Smart Prime, Dyson AM10 Humidifier, Smarter iKettle and Drop smart scales.
Many people I know would love to get a 'better' camera but, when it comes to it, just don't have the time or patience to get involved with a big, bulky, technical machine that reacts differently to various lenses. So they often shrug and just go for an inexpensive, modestly sized 'superzoom' camera.
But while handy, such cameras really do have a limit to the quality they give you. Sony's original RX10 was an interesting solution to this: a relatively 'serious' camera with one good built-on lens that zoomed from wide (24mm) to very close (200mm) at a very high quality F2.8 (meaning it lets in lots of light and can create a nice natural blurring effect behind the shot).
Now Sony has updated this to the RX10ii and, for some, it will be a fairly compelling proposition. The new model has a few significant upgrades, including a newly designed 20-megapixel sensor that lets the camera do some fairly radical things. For example, it can now film in slow motion at a staggering 1,000 frames per second (the iPhone 6 Plus's fun slow motion rate is 240fps). It also now does 4K, too.
At its heart, though, its mission is the same as its predecessor: a very high-end point and shoot camera that beginners can use and get semi-pro results from.
Decent smartphone, extreme budget
Vodafone Smart Prime 6
Price: €80 prepay from Vodafone
Rating: 4 stars
It used to be that sub-€100 smartphones were dinky pieces of tat that struggled to do half the things you asked of them. With high-functioning smartphones now becoming mass-produced commodities, those days appear now to be fading away.
Vodafone has refashioned a handset made by (Chinese manufacturer) TCL Mobile into its own-branded 'Smart Prime 6'. After a week using it, I came away with the impression that it can do an awful lot of what rivals that cost 10 times its price can do. The phone has a decent five-inch screen, is 4G-compatible and is pretty comfortably designed with more than a passing resemblance to Samsung's last-but-one Galaxy S4.
It also has a memory card slot meaning you can back things up. In fairness, you might need it as this only comes with 8GB of storage, which just isn't enough on its own.
It has a serviceable 8MP rear camera and a 2MP selfie lens in front. Aside from the low storage capacity, its relative weaknesses include a so-so battery that lasts a day for casual users but not social media addicts. Its screen is also a little slower and less fluid than the absolute top models out there. Finally, it's a little thicker and heavier than higher-priced phones. Then again, for €80, you'll likely forgive a lot of this. Overall, this is a bit of a bargain.
Cleaning up your act
Dyson AM10 Humidifier
Rating: 4 stars
There's a cottage in Mayo I stay in that requires a dehumidifier to be left on all day to stop the damp air from eating the house inside out. I suspect it isn't an isolated case: Ireland is a pretty humid place. Dyson, therefore, might have a tough time persuading folk here of the merits of its new high-tech humidifier machine.
But like most new Dyson products, there's an extra dimension to the AM10 that might convince some people that they need one after all. Aside from the fact that dry air is pretty awful for your skin (as attested to by a fairly credible British organisation called the Skin Health Alliance), Dyson has built an ultraviolet light into the machine that kills 99pc of all the bacteria in its water tank, the reservoir the humidifier draws on for its micro-sized airborne particle dispersal. In other words, it won't fire out all sort of gross little particles (including E coli) into the air around you. And that, say health experts, could do your skin many favours.
Even having used it, I can't exactly measure whether this bug-zapping prowess is true or not: we probably have to take the company at its word. But the AM10 is certainly nicely designed (it comes in silver or white) and works effectively as a fan, too. Will Irish homes take to it as a humidifier? My guess is that this machine will appeal mainly to those who are very conscious about skin health, but probably not so much to ordinary Joe Soaps.
Connected cuppa has landed
Rating: 3 stars
Tired of dashing to put the kettle on during a TV programme's ad break? The iKettle saves you about three minutes by bringing tea-making into the 'internet of things' era. This is basically a kettle with Wi-Fi added.
So you can switch it on anywhere from your phone (iPhone or Android). You can also set it in advance to boil at a set time. There's even a choice of temperatures you can choose, as different types of tea apparently require different temperatures to 'optimise' their taste.
Irish smart scales get upgrade
Rating: 4 stars
These Irish-made, Irish-designed smart kitchen scales have been out for a few months but have now added a few extra features on the software side. One of them is that you can now search its recipe collection by food type, occasion or dietary restriction.
There are also plenty of free recipes that go with the Drop device, which gives you step-by-step instructions on how to make umpteen dishes by pairing the scales with your iPad and figuring out what you're doing right and wrong.