Saturday 1 October 2016

Tech review: Adrian Weckler on the latest and coolest gadgets

Published 13/02/2016 | 02:30

Sony a6300
Sony a6300
Dell XPS
JBL E50 Wireless sharing headphones

Reviewed by our technology editor this week are the Sony a6300 camera, Dell XPS laptop and the JBL E50 Wireless sharing headphones.

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Ease of use the focus for powerful camera

Sony a6300

Price: from €1,250

Rating: N/A

Ever wonder what kind of camera can reliably get 'blink-and-you-miss-it' shots? Like the split second the bride looks your way as she's going down the aisle? Or the moment your cat is mid-air?

In most cases, we get poor photo representations of these types of opportunities. The picture is either out of focus, too dark, too light or just too late.

And this is largely down to the cameras we use.

Smartphone lenses, in particular, just aren't powerful enough to take all these variables into account and produce a clear, in-the-moment shot. So unless the bride is standing still in a well-lit spot, you've little chance of doing her justice.

Anyone giving Sony's new 24-megapixel a6300 a go will have a much better shot at it. Sony has packed an eye-watering 425-point autofocus system into this slim beast.

For 90pc of us, this is a big deal. Unless you enjoy foostering about with focusing rings, the ability to instantly get something sharply into focus in a millisecond is really important. And the camera tops it off with a continuous tracking ability, meaning you don't have to keep manually resetting the shot to get it into focus again.

The a6300 can also shoot 11 frames per second, a huge leap on previous cameras and far more than most of its rivals. And its low-light sensitivity is enormously helpful when shooting a moving object in a dim place, such as a church.

Put all of these features together and you are now way more likely to catch those 'blink-and-you-miss-it' moments, such as the triumphant, aisle-shuffling bride.

And for anyone shooting video, the a6300 incorporates 4K (UHD) as well as lower-resolution 'full' HD.

As for the camera's design, this is a relatively slim, light device. This will depend, of course, on the lens you attach to it: some of Sony's high-end zoom lenses are now quite bulky. The kit lens it optionally comes with is a 16-50mm powerzoom lens, which isn't too big.

Sony has kept the incidence of dials and knobs to a relative minimum: there is no quick twist-on, twist-off way to adjust aperture or exposure.

While these are features I happen to like, their absence probably won't bother most. The three-inch screen tilts out and the camera also has an OLED electronic viewfinder.

It used to be that big bulky DSLR cameras were the default choice for high quality photography, while mirrorless models were strictly for convenience.

Those assumptions have been tested more robustly by Sony than anyone else over the last 18 months. It's not just its full-frame mirrorless models (such as the A7 lineup) or its expanded pro-style lens ranges (it has just launched new f2.8 70-200mm, f2.8 24-70mm and f1.4 85mm lenses). It's the beefed-up systems in its mid-range APS-C mirrorless offerings.

The a6300 is probably the best example of this. The best way to describe the a6300 is as an ultra-powerful camera that is friendly to novices.

This machine wants to gently guide you to a top-class shot without you fiddling about.

Top-end Windows laptop  more than a touch ahead

Dell XPS

Price: €1,599 at dell.ie

Rating: 4 stars

Windows laptops have come on in leaps and bounds over the last year or two. It's not just the move from the dreaded Windows 8 to the more comfortable Windows 10: the hardware is just better-made.

There's no better example than Dell's XPS range. The company's XPS 13 has been the best overall Windows laptop for at least the last year. Now, the company is offering the machine in a 15-inch format. It's the same basic proposition in terms of design. The screen goes right to the edge of frame, meaning that the whole package feels more like a 14-inch laptop rather than a 15-inch one. It's a clever feature that works very well for the machine.

Speaking of the screen, you get a choice of a touch or non-touch version. The advantage to the touch variant is that it's much higher resolution - a crystal 4K display. The disadvantage is that it comes on the more expensive models (starting at €2,150).

The XPS 15 appears to be offered only with an Intel i7 processor (6th generation) which keeps even the basic price up a bit.

But it also means you have no concerns about power.

Indeed, if you opt for the top-end configuration (€2,599), you get a monstrous 32GB of Ram crammed in, in addition to your i7 chip and a (whopping) 1 terabyte hard drive.

(For your basic €1,600, you get a 256GB drive, 8GB of Ram and the aforementioned i7 processor.)

If you need a 15-inch Windows laptop this is probably the best one you can currently buy.

Experience you can play by ear

JBL E50 Wireless sharing headphones

Price: €165 at Maplin

Rating: 5 stars

Headphones can be solitary devices. With the weekend that's in it, wouldn't it be cool to get headphones you and your amour could both wear to wirelessly listen to the same audio source? Midnight movies without waking anyone up? A favourite song on a romantic pier walk?

Jbl's comfy headphones have a cool feature that lets you pair them with another set. It does this through its 'ShareMe' technology - probably aimed at gamers.

But it works just as well for those who want to share a movie, a podcast, an album or anything else without disturbing the world around them. In this sense, they're also handy for keeping kids quiet with an iPad movie in the back of the car. Technically, the headphones are decent with clear audio that sports nice bass tones. They connect to any Bluetooth audio source (phone, laptop) in the normal way and also have a microphone to let you make or take calls.

They come in a range of colours including red, blue, black and white.

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