Tech Review: Video killed by smartphone star but this one rules
Our technology expert reviews the Panasonic HC-WX970 camcorder, PlayerTek , Huawei Talkband B1, Sony MDR10RBT wireless headphones and Microsoft Lumia 640XL.
Panasonic HC-WX970 camcorder
Price: €1,200 from Conns Cameras
Rating: 4 Stars
Let's face it: it's anathema to most of us to buy a 'camcorder' these days. But what a shame. Because there's little comparison between the quality you'll get from an iPhone's video facility and that of a really good standalone camcorder.
This matters more than you might think: look back on any basic video you shot of your toddler (or teenager) five years ago - how much would you give to have it in better quality? Which brings us to Panasonic's new WX970, a traditional-looking camcorder I've been using that delivers home videos with really good detail. It's not the 4K standard (which is still not very useful) that sets it apart. Nor is it the proper optical zoom (in this case, 20x).
It's the quality of the actual picture. These are videos that stand out crisply and do real justice to whatever it is you're filming. The WX970 has a couple of extra nice features. It has a second ("twin") camera that lets you capture yourself as you're recording something else: a 'picture within a picture'. (On-board wifi lets you connect a different camera from a smartphone or standard camera as an alternative 'picture within a picture' effect.)
There's also light-sensitive 'HDR' shooting, which is handier than you'd think. And you can take 8-megapixel photos while filming, if you want. For all of its muscle, it's quite a compact camcorder and feels comfortable in hand. If you're the type who likes much better detail in your home videos, this is a great device. But it will remain a boutique luxury for most, sadly.
This Irish gadget is on track for sports
Price: €250 from playertek.com
Rating: 4 stars
Any sports fan knows that stats are starting to rule our games. Distance covered, sprints, positioning and other metrics are part and parcel of after-game analysis these days. An Irish company has come up with an advanced GPS tracker specifically aimed at measuring sports players' activities.
It's a small device protected by rubber casing with accompanying online software that gives much deeper tracking results than some rival GPS trackers. It does this by taking 10 GPS readings every second. This means that critical movement in high-velocity team games like soccer or GAA can be measured much more accurately. The rechargeable gadget is fairly simple to use and is pretty robust. It comes with a 12-month subscription to the accompanying online sports analytics software (go.playertek.com), after which it's €2.50 per month.
Frankenstein sports tracker
Huawei Talkband B1
Price: €120 from The Carphone Warehouse
Rating: 3 Stars
Here's an idea: let's make a wrist-wearable sports and fitness tracker that transmogrifies into a Bluetooth headset. Sound a bit wonky? That's what Huawei has put together with its Talkband B1, which measures steps, sleep and doubles up as a hands-free earpiece. It does the latter trick via a button which releases the 1.4-inch Oled screen device from its rubber watch-strap. It then nestles into your ear (a little loosely) using a silicone ear cover. As for its tracking prowess, it's a very simple tracker that measures steps and then suggests how many calories you've burned or how far you've walked (via downloadable Huawei Wear app for an iPhone or Android phone). It's splash-resistant but not particularly comfortable to wear in bed at night.
Sony aces cranial comfort
Sony MDR10RBT wireless headphones
Price: €200 from Argos
Rating: 5 Stars
I've long been a fan of Sony's ultra-comfortable Bluetooth MDR1RBT headphones: they have good sound, fast wireless connection to any phone or tablet and are incredibly light and comfy to wear because of the leather they use. But they cost a small fortune: around €500. Thankfully, Sony now has a really decent pair of Bluetooth headphones that are almost as comfortable for less than half the price. This pair of cans, the MDR10RBT model, also sports cushioned leather on the earcups and on the underside of the headband. It has similar controls at the side of each earcup to its more expensive sibling, too, and there's a microphone on board to let you make or take phone calls when it's wirelessly connected to your phone. The rechargeable headphones don't include noise-cancellation, but that's no reason to overlook them. For anyone who can't afford Beats prices, this is a good buy.
Lumia XL a bit of a bargain
Microsoft Lumia 640XL
Price: €260 from Expansys.ie
Rating: 4 Stars
Even after Microsoft has killed its Nokia branding, there's still a lot to be said for the build quality and craftsmanship of Lumia handsets. If you're not bothered about apps - the Windows Store is still considerably behind iOS and Android - then a Windows phone can be a real bargain. And the Lumia 640XL comes close to being just such a thing. Close, but not quite. Its 5.7-inch screen is good and its 13-megapixel camera is very good (Nokia always made good lenses). The overall look and feel of the device is also very nice. Other than the app issue, it suffers from a slight lack of power and memory: just 8GB of storage and 1GB of Ram are not really future-proof standards. A year ago, I would have said this was an absolute bargain. But with excellent 5.5-inch budget Android phones like Huawei's G7 now in the frame, it remains simply a good budget phablet.