Thursday 22 June 2017

Tech review: Adrian Weckler on the latest gadgets

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
Olympus Pen-F.
The Segway Robot is due out later in the year

Reviewed by our technology editor are the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, Olympus Pen-F and the Segway Robot.

A curvy handset with bling factor

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

Price: €750 prepay or from €120 on contract

Rating: 4 Stars

In the past fortnight, Samsung has released two new flagship phones, the S7 and the S7 Edge. While we published a first take on the former last week, I've had the Edge in my hands for a few days and so have had a chance to probe it a little further (although not comprehensively). Like its predecessor, the S6 Edge, the S7 Edge's main calling card is that the screen tapers off on each side to give it a curved glass finish. The visual effect is very impressive: this is ­definitely a phone that captures your attention when it is plonked on a table.

But the Edge's biggest design innovation is in the way it shrinks the overall size of the phone while maintaining a phablet-grade 5.5-inch screen. It does this by eliminating the bezel on each side, making the handset far narrower (and therefore more able for one-handed use) than any other 5.5-inch smartphone rival. It's a commendable achievement and one that I expect we'll soon see repeated in competitors' phones.

Having given it these initial plaudits, the Edge's physical design is a tale of two experiences for me. While it wows from the outside, its good looks force a bit of compromise in terms of practical usage. In the time that I had it, this manifested itself in two ways. First, I dropped this phone more than I've dropped any other handset. Because the sides are narrowed off from the front and back, it's slightly harder for a natural grip to develop on the phone. This may sound marginal but it was enough to play on my mind every time I took it out of my pocket.

The other compromise was in a series of mistaken or confused touch interactions. Both sides of the phone are close to being active touch zones. That means that you'll open menus you don't mean to, especially on the device's right-hand side. Sometimes you'll also have to tap on icons that are located near the edge of the screen twice. It's possible that these are things I'd get used to (I only had the phone a few days), but it seemed to me to be a modest impediment. Otherwise, I have only positive things to say about the S7 Edge's physical footprint. It's a great (light) weight for one thing: there isn't a hint of a brick about this phone.

Its screen is easily one of the best, if not the best, on the market. It's bright and displays colours (and blacks) really vividly.

And as far as the Edge's camera goes, you're in for a treat. In my experience, Sony, Samsung and Apple usually share the leadership when it comes to best smartphone cameras. Sony often has the edge. But it's hard to trump Samsung's new f1.7 lens. The company may have reduced the megapixel count from 16 to 12 but the way in which the optics have been restructured arguably creates a slightly better all-round camera. This is led by the lens's low-light capability. An f1.7 aperture means that it can let in more light, leading to (much) better performance in low light and some beautiful portrait effects. The shallow depth of field, for instance, is something you only normally get with an expensive standalone camera.

One handy extra feature the camera has is the ability to take photos or videos by voice command (via the utterance of "smile", "cheese", "capture", "shoot" or "record video"). This is much more useful than you'd think.

There are a couple of other features that Samsung has added to the S7 Edge (as well as the S7) that are worth noting. First, it's practically waterproof. Second, it includes an external memory card slot (located in the same tray as the nano sim card), into which you can go up to 200GB. This facility, which complements the 32GB of storage in my model, is largely for stuff such as photos and videos, as you won't be able to use it for many apps. Still, it's handy to have.

Under the hood, the S7 Edge is a beast with 4GB of Ram and a superfast processor.

I found the S7 Edge's battery life to be excellent, with little need to recharge before the day was out. (It continues to use the Micro USB charging standard instead of USB-C, but it still charges very quickly.)

The phone comes with a bunch of Microsoft apps (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote, Skype) that some will find useful.

Any other downsides? If I was being picky, I'd say that the speaker is disappointing compared to rival devices. It's tinnier and weaker than any other flagship handset I've tested.

There are now umpteen Android phones that will give you a really good, powerful smartphone experience. Many cost half what Samsung's Edge S7 cost. But Samsung is betting that a premium design aesthetic (in the curved glass and the reduced frame size) and marginally better technical features (camera, power, screen) will create enough space for a mass-selling superphone.

They're starting to make them like they used to

Olympus Pen-F  

Price: €1,250 (body only)   

Rating: 4 Stars

The robot that  gives you a ride

Segway Robot 

Price: n/a    

Rating: n/a

Segways were once tipped to change the way we travelled around cities. While that hasn't exactly happened, the devices still hold out some interesting potential.

The company is having another shot at innovating by reloading the personal transporter with cameras and sensors and opening it up to other developers. The idea is to foster a personal robot assistant that can also give you a lift about the place.

Although these were on display at the Consumer Electronics Show a few weeks ago, they're not scheduled for release until later this year.

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