Thursday 20 October 2016

Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets

Published 14/05/2016 | 02:30

Useful: Apple Watch.
Useful: Apple Watch.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (4th Gen)  
my Volts ripcord

Our Technology Editor reviews the Apple Watch, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (4th Gen) and myVolts Ripcord.

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How I learned, over time, to love the Apple Watch

Apple Watch (long-term review)

Price: from €379

Rating: 4 Stars

"Is it worth getting an Apple Watch?" This was what everyone kept asking a year ago, when the product was initially released. But nobody was really able to answer the question. Smartwatches inhabited a relatively new category with little life experience being attached to them.

A year on, I think I can answer the question. Here it is: if you're like me, it's worth getting one of these things.

First, a disclosure. I generally don't wear analogue ('ordinary') watches. I did wear one (a slim, vintage Certina that my grandfather left to me) for three years until it was lost on a beach. Other than that, I've regarded 'premium' watches as ostentatious, unnecessary bits of jewellery that have been made redundant by phones. So far as fashion goes, any notional sartorial points offered by brands such as Breitling, Rolex or Patek Philippe just seem irrelevant to anyone not yet in a mid-life crisis.

So if it wasn't for the Apple Watch, or an Android equivalent, my wrist would probably go bare.

But it's not bare. In fact, I've been wearing Apple's Watch for the best part of a year now. If I leave the house without it, I feel I've forgotten something.

You can take this as a long-term, non-technical evaluation of the Apple Watch. And it boils down to two things - it's useful and I like it.

The biggest reason that the watch is useful is that it saves me time, every day. Specifically, it stops me pulling my phone out of my pocket every five minutes when I hear (or feel) a message or alert. Instead, I check the watch (which is connected to the phone) and make a two-second decision on what to do. Without it, I would spend 20 to 30 seconds removing, unlocking, reading, locking and replacing the phone. Worse, I would sometimes fall into one of the greatest time-wasting traps of our times: doing a quick circuit of my social media apps because the phone is 'already out'. So, for me, the watch brings efficiency.

It is also the only thing that gets me to use voice-activated controls, particularly when replying to a text. (It is wirelessly connected to the iPhone, through which it sends and receives texts.) Again, this is a time-saver when out with dogs on a muddy day. It also lets me stay within the law when driving a car.

But even with this convenience, it would fall flat if the gadget was uncomfortable to wear or just ugly. After 12 months' wear, I can say that mine (the 42mm version as opposed to the smaller 38mm model) is surprisingly comfy to wear with the basic 'sport' strap. It's also wearing well, physically, with little by way of scratches and no hint of any technical faults.

When it first came out, I was ambivalent about its squarish form. "It looks a little like a wrist computer," I remember thinking. But I have become quite fond of the way it looks. The screen quality helps here: up close, it's really quite gorgeous.

I have a bunch of apps on the Watch, ranging from Evernote to Tripadvisor to The device is also completely capable as a full-bore health tracker, with an advanced sensor on the back that analyses your pulse and applies the data to many different sports and medical apps.

But 95pc of my app usage is actually focused on messaging, email and social-media alerts. I'd hazard a guess that this is a common experience among other watch owners.

My point here is that this has proven to be enough.

The watch isn't perfect by any means. It still feels slow to execute many types of commands. It sometimes takes more than one flick of the wrist to make the screen light up, and its battery life won't really last beyond two days.

Furthermore, it has reasonably good competition in the form of Motorola's Moto 365 and Samsung's Gear S2.

But I'm genuinely looking forward to Apple Pay landing on Irish shores (we have no date yet), so I can pay for things like coffee with a swipe of the Watch.

Watches are clearly more personal than phones. For my lifestyle, Apple's Watch fits the bill.

Lenovo's latest ThinkPad makes light of tough tasks

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (4th Gen)  

Price: from €1,589

Rating: 4 Stars

ThinkPads have a decent reputation as long-life, robust, work-friendly laptops. And the fourth generation X1 Carbon appears to be no exception. It packs an unfeasibly generous amount of utility into a very light, very slim, 14-inch laptop. Its 1.2kg frame makes it lighter than a (smaller) MacBook Air, meaning you can slip it and out of bags that normally only take 12-inch machines. But there's no slacking on features, with a 2K, high-resolution (anti-glare) screen, comfy backlit keyboard and very quick Intel i7 processors. The laptop's battery life come in at around eight hours, which is middle of the road. File this one under laptops to get work done on the road.

Kickstart a music gadget with this clever little cord

myVolts Ripcord

Price: from €14 on Kickstarter

Rating: 3 Star

What do you use your PC's USB port for? Is it for (a) external memory drives or (b) charging small gadgets? 10 years ago, it was (a). Today, in the era of online applications, it's (b). USB ports, it could be argued, are now mainly just for charging things. That's the starting premise of an innovative little charging cable from Irish company myVolts.

It has come up with a USB charging cable attached to a standard 9v (DC) charging connection. What's special about the cable is that turns a 5v power source (from a mobile powerbank, for example) and turns it into a 9v charge. That's important for a range of products, particularly in the music industry. So this is really aimed at people who need to connect things like tuners or guitar pedals. It's a clever little invention that should hit its spot within a niche.

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