Sunday 4 December 2016

Tech review: Adrian Weckler on the latest gadgets

Published 12/03/2016 | 02:30

Samsung S7.
Samsung S7.
Huawei Matebook.
Oral !B

Our technology editor reviews the Samsung S7, Huawei Matebook and Oral B Genius 9000.

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Samsung S7 does enough to keep its superphone tag

Samsung S7

Price: €659 prepay or from free on contract

Rating: 4 stars

This is the second metal unibody flagship phone from Samsung after it ditched the plastic of the S5 and S4 before it. And while it doesn't look very different from the S6, Samsung has tweaked it enough to make it feel like a new model.

The most obvious design evolution is the way the screen now comes out to the very edge of the phone's frame: there isn't any real bezel gap to speak of. This has the advantage of making the phone more efficient in terms of its size footprint: it's sleeker than most phones with the same size screen. Among other things, this makes it slightly more achievable to use the S7 one-handed.

You can't really get a more powerful smartphone; it has the most powerful processor on the market and a whopping 4GB of Ram. It also has one of the most advanced screens available, with a benchmark-setting 577 pixels per inch. The specs are so beefy that you could probably use this as a desk-based laptop if you mirrored the screen onto a monitor and connected a Bluetooth keyboard. At a bare minimum, it means that this phone's specifications will not be out of date for years to come.

As you would expect from a flagship phone, it comes with 32GB of onboard storage, with a 64GB model costing a bit more. There's also an additional storage option in its 200GB memory card slot.

I haven't had a chance to fully test its battery life yet, but its 3,000mAh should see the device make it through a full day with power to spare.

Samsung has followed the lead of a handful of other phone manufacturers and reduced the number of megapixels its camera has in favour of 'larger' pixels. So the S7's main rear camera has 12 megapixels instead of the S6's 16 megapixels. (For comparison, the iPhone 6S has 12 similarly 'large' megapixels while Sony's Xperia Z5 has 23 'regular' megapixels.) The lens sports an F1.7 aperture, which means it lets in more light than before and lets you create nice effects, such as shallow depths of field. Samsung has always been up there when it comes to smartphone cameras. This one won't be an exception to that. One other thing to note about the camera is that the lens now protrudes less from the back of the phone. The 'selfie' front lens has five megapixels.

I've played with this phone a couple of times, now. These are first impressions before a longer review to come in a couple of weeks. While its design is pleasing, it doesn't really beat any of its rivals. But it knocks the socks of some competitors on power and specifications.

Surface Pro put on alert as Huawei hybrid shines

Huawei Matebook  

Price: €799  

Rating: 4 Stars

A couple of years ago, Microsoft's Surface Pro was the only high-end hybrid Windows machine worth getting. Today, it's a different story. A host of Asian manufacturers have caught up with Microsoft and are putting out some impressive laptop-tablet crossovers.

Huawei's 12-inch Matebook is one of the best examples of this new breed. Styled rather a lot like an iPad Pro, the sleek, slim machine clicks on and off to a dedicated keyboard that is not unlike Microsoft's own.

The Matebook doesn't mess around with weak specifications. Its storage starts at 128GB (up to 512GB) and it comes with either 4GB or 8GB of Ram. It uses Intel's Core M processors which, though not as powerful as i5 or i7 iterations, are good enough for light laptop activity. (Apple's MacBook uses the same chip)

The Matebook's 2K screen is excellent and it also has a fingerprint sensor built in. As you'd expect, the Portfolio keyboard is an optional extra. At €149, it's not a trivial additional cost, although it's cheaper than the keyboards for the Surface Pro 4 or the iPad Pro.

It's definitely worth getting, though: it types well and protects the machine when closed over. The Matebook has a USB-C port and comes in grey or gold.

Tooth tech is daft as a brush

Oral B Genius 9000  

Price: €200  

Rating: n/a

Call it the internet of things, call it gamification, call it anything you want, but I doubt that many people will be rushing out to buy Oral B's app-connected Genius 9000 toothbrush.

It's the latest in a strain of products that seek to 'guide' you to better use by connecting wirelessly to your phone. (Those who have tried the 'Hapifork', which purports to tell you if you're eating too quickly, will be familiar with the genre). The Bluetooth-enabled Genius 9000 can be connected to an app on your phone, from where it scores you on whether you're brushing enough.

The main idea is that the brush keeps track of where you're using it in your mouth. When the brush (and app) estimates you've spent enough time in a certain area, that area becomes white on the app. It does all of this by also using your phone's front-facing camera to help: you're supposed to mount your handset onto something in front of you while brushing (such as a bathroom mirror). You also get a Runkeeper-style score record on the app that remembers what you do and gives you credit for any 'streaks' you go on. I suppose there are some who will regard this as being innovative. But does everything have to be scored on a phone?

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