Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets
Our technology editor reviews Sony h.ear, Canon 1300D and Kindle Oasis.
H.ear ye, h.ear ye: Sony headphones bring serenity
Sony h.ear 100ABN
Rating: 5 Stars
There are different reasons to buy headphones. For running, you're best with buds. For home stereo, it's wired all the way. But for peace and calm when out and about during the day, it's hard to beat noise-cancelling cans. For those unfamiliar with how these headphones work, a couple of microphones on the exterior of the phones check for ambient sounds and reverse the frequencies, so to speak, for when the audio leaves the speakers to reach your ears. It works best for constant, humming noise such as when you're in an airplane, on the street or in an office environment. Irregular piercing sounds, such as sporadic voices, aren't quite muffled away as much. I use noise-cancelling headphones every day. It's serenity on tap.
There are lots of options on the market for noise-cancelling cans. What Sony brings to the game with its h.ear MDR-100ABN model is high-resolution audio at a relatively affordable price. If you have a subscription to a high-resolution service (such as Tidal) and you're using high-resolution players like Sony's own Walkman series or its Xperia phone range, you'll hear the difference in quality with these headphones. If you're just using an iPhone or a laptop (like most people probably will), you won't get the benefit.
But the audio quality on the h.ear is still very good, matching rivals from the likes of Beats. Indeed, the headphones have a lot of 'pro' points.
They're light and padded, which adds to their comfort on your head over long periods. They have quick-access buttons (volume, pause, forward, back), which stop you having to take your phone out of your pocket so often when listening to music. These buttons also include an on-off switch for the noise-cancelling feature, which gives you options for battery life. Speaking of battery life, the rechargeable headphones last well over 20 hours of playback on a single (micro USB) charge.
The design is very modern, but stops short of being loud or show-offy. The pair I wore were a matt-finished dusky green. Other colours include a charcoal colour, red, blue or pink.
It's customary for noise-cancelling headphones to have a carry case and to be able to fold up in some way. The h.ear headphones have both. They fold up tightly enough to fit into a large coat pocket or a modestly-sized compartment in an average bag. The case it comes with is grand but is, I think, redundant. These phones are robust enough to be able to plonk, unguarded, with other bag materials. (Although I've had cases of leather ear cushioning coming off the speakers because of bag jostling, so the choice of whether to use the case is a personal one.)
Lastly, there's an NFC button on the these headphones that lets you pair them with any NFC-enabled phone or Bluetooth product. (Apple products, however, are slow on the NFC take-up.)
I really like the h.ear range. Sony's headphones are pitched at the same price as Beats wireless headphones but they have more features under the hood.
Canon's starter camera brings WiFi to its megapixels
Price: from €399 from ConnsCameras.ie
Rating: 4 Stars
Most statistics show stand-alone camera sales being annihilated every year. But 'full size' DSLR cameras are slower to fade away. Because no matter how slick the phone companies' advertising, no handset lens will ever match the quality you get from a specialist camera and lens. Canon's entry-level model is worth looking at because of a few welcome features added. The main one, in my view, is WiFi. This means you can immediately transfer photos to your phone and, hence, to any social media or messaging service. NFC is also built in for faster connection to Bluetooth devices.
Otherwise, the camera's optical specs are largely similar to its 1200D predecessor. This mainly consists of an 18-megapixel sensor, buttressed by ISO that goes to 12,800. It shoots 'full HD' (1080p) video, though not 4K like some standalone cameras and phones. It can take far more shots on continuous shooting mode, though (over 1,000), because of its more powerful Digic 4+ processor. And its 3-inch screen is brighter, with a higher resolution than before.
Canon's biggest strength, really, is the depth and breadth of its lens ecosystem. The variety and choice you get in Ireland beats every other camera brand. Walk into any camera shop and you'll see plenty of rock-solid, second-hand Canon lenses available at pretty affordable prices.
They all work with this camera, although many will be magnified one-and-a-half times because this is a 'cropped frame' sensor. If you want to take a step into lens photography, this will definitely do the trick.
Pricey new Kindle may struggle
Price: from €350
Remember when eBook readers were hot-tech gadgets? They haven't quite gone away. Amazon, which has ruled the category for a decade, is back with a new 6-inch model that is wafer-thin and ultra-light. As such, this is its first Kindle that is expressly designed to be held by one hand.
It's a welcome innovation and a necessary one, too - Amazon is acknowledging that the bulk of our mobile reading is now being done on phones, which are single-handed devices. A special handgrip has buttons on it to let you change pages, while the 4GB hard drive can hold a couple of thousand eBooks. The screen has a 300dpi resolution, which means it's perfectly clear. It also has a built-in light. This Kindle is way pricier than any of the older models so Amazon might have a job making it a mega-seller. The wifi-only version costs €350 while the wifi-plus-3G version (the one to get in my view) costs €430.