Tech review: Adrian Weckler on the latest gadgets including virtual reality
Reviewed by our Technology Editor this week are the Samsung Gear VR, S1 Spotify wireless speaker
Cut-price VR if you own a Samsung phone
Samsung Gear VR
Rating: 4 Stars
Last week I reviewed HTC's Vive, which is arguably the best virtual reality system you can buy on the Irish market. But it's clunky, needs to be hooked up to a pricey PC and there isn't much change out of €1,000 for it.
A cut-price alternative, if you have the right phone, is Samsung's Gear VR. The basic proposition is that you slip a Galaxy S6, S7 (or the Edge variants) into the Gear VR's hatch and the hardware turns it into a giant immersive experience. You control things largely by moving your head to 'look' at things with the help of a couple of manual controls on the side.
There are quite a number of VR apps now available for use with the Gear VR. It's also helped by services such as Facebook releasing 360-degree photos, a technology optimised for VR set-ups. Most apps are still games. However, movies and TV shows are catching up: Netflix has an app that makes you think you're in a mountain lodge watching a giant 80-inch screen while watching any Netflix movie or programme. Even with this relatively limited kit, it's a convincing process.
Sweet sounds from S1 Spotify speaker
Roberts S1 wireless speakers
Rating: 4 Stars
"What's a good wireless speaker?" It's probably the most-asked question today when people start looking at home hi-fi options. While there are plenty of good options out there, getting a 'connected' wireless speaker is a good bet. In a nutshell, a connected wireless speaker lets you walk from one room to another in your home and still hear the same radio programme, album or audio source. (The speakers are all connected through your home Wi-Fi.)
This is how Roberts S1 wireless speaker work. It's a nice, compact speaker with decent sound that can work either by itself when paired over Bluetooth with your phone or when connected to its companion audio source, the Roberts R100 (€300). Spotify Connect is pre-loaded on it, should you have an account.
There's also a free (non-Roberts) app called Undok that lets you control things from your phone or tablet. Finally, if you buy two of them, you can set the pair up as a stereo unit.
X1 is a good work laptop replacement
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 tablet
Rating: 4 Stars
You have a problem. You're a laptop devotee. But your office is now trying to push you into using a tablet to encourage you to bring it around with you more. You've been told the model choice is up to you, with one proviso: it has to run Windows. (So the IT department can still keep some sort of rein on the machine.)
In this context, there are about four or five realistic options, including Microsoft's Surface Pro 4.
But it's well worth taking a look at Lenovo's new 12-inch ThinkPad X1 for a variety of reasons.
The main one is that you get a more focused business device than almost any other work tablet on the market.
Unlike the Surface Pro, a detachable keyboard comes included with the X1. ThinkPad keyboards are always a draw: easy and quick to use. Lenovo has managed to recreate the form and aesthetic in a lightweight format (including the nubbin) that folds over to become a screen protector. The main screen has a handy kickstand that works at almost any angle.
Another accessory that comes with the X1 is the pen (stylus). It's a fairly basic pen but works fine on the high-resolution screen.
There are plenty of connectivity options too, including a docking connector.
The model I used had an Intel Core M chip, the same type used in Apple's featherweight MacBook. The advantage to this chip is that it extends your battery life up to 10 hours. The disadvantage is that if you want to stack your machine up with lots of tasks simultaneously, it won't get through them with the same aplomb as the beefier Intel i5 and i7 chips that rivals such as the Surface Pro have (but which also add to the cost of the machine). However, this is compensated by its 8GB or 16GB of Ram, which gives it extra oomph.
Finally, for non-Windows users, the X1 - like any Windows device - will be a bit of a challenge at first. Microsoft's operating system is still indelibly designed around older work server templates, from using basic software to accessing the web. If you're not already set up with accounts, you'll have a testy introduction process.
You really can use this as a laptop replacement, while it retains many of the tablet advantages (decent speakers, great screen) that a top iPad has too.