Saturday 1 October 2016

Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets

Published 28/05/2016 | 02:30

Huawei P9.
Huawei P9.
Olympus Pen-F.
Beats Solo2 Wireless.

Our Technology Editor reviews the Huawei P9, Olympus Pen-F and Beats Solo2 Wireless.

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Huawei serves up the best phone for portrait photos

Huawei P9

Price: €529 prepay or from free on contract

Rating: 4 Stars

In the P9, Huawei has come up with what can legitimately be called the ultimate cameraphone for taking portrait photographs. I don't say this lightly: a smartphone's camera is always the feature I spend most time interrogating. But while other phones are similarly kitted out for landscapes, this is the best one I've ever used for portraits of friends and family.

This is down to the 5.2-inch phone's twin Leica lenses. Because the camera is divided into two different 12-megapixel lenses, it can do things few others are capable of. The main one is creating a very shallow depth of field, where the background is a little blurry and makes your subject stand out more. This results in really beautiful portrait shots of people in a way that only big DSLR cameras are usually capable of. And it's really easy to do: just take the shot and adjust the depth of field (down to a crazy F0.95) afterwards. Photos I took of colleagues elicited genuine surprise at the results.

This is a really fun, attractive feature in an age of Instagram, Facebook and Tinder. It moves the needle on what phone cameras can achieve. There's also an easily-accessible 'pro' mode that gives you other elements of manual control over individual shots.

The P9's front-facing 8-megapixel selfie camera doesn't have this same flexibility, due to its single lens. But it's still a competent snapper in its own right.

The camera isn't the only thing Huawei's phone boasts, although it is certainly the stand-out feature. Physically, the P9 looks and feels every bit the premium handset. It seems to borrow an awful lot from Apple's iPhone 6 and 6S, with smooth, rounded cornering and brushed-matt steel casing. (There was a time when we'd get a bit peeved over this but phones, with the exception of Samsung's Edge series, have become so uniform in overall design that it's hard get outraged anymore over seemingly identical facets.)

At 423 pixels per inch, the high-resolution 5.2-inch screen is bright and sharp. Although not quite at the 500-pixel level of some handsets, anything over 400ppi is easily good enough for the human eye.

The P9 uses USB-C as its charging system, which means that your old Android cables won't be much use (although the plug parts still work as normal). The benefit of USB-C is that it's generally faster for data transfers and charging times.

As far as battery life itself goes, the P9 is middle of the road, with a full day's use the norm from its 3,000mAh battery.

While there's 32GB of storage within the device, it also has a microSD card slot that lets you store more if you want. There is no shortage of power, with an octacore processor and 3GB of RAM.

Huawei has put its fingerprint reader on the back of the phone which is easier to manage in the normal way that you hold a phone. It does mean that you have to turn the handset over when it's sitting on a table, though.

Other than its camera, looks and overall competency, the P9 has a relatively attractive price, being pitched at around €150 cheaper than its would-be competitors, the iPhone 6S and Samsung S7.

Having said that, you can still get buy the last generations of Apple and Samsung superphones as new in shops. And these are much closer in price to the P9 (Samsung's Galaxy S6 is €500 unlocked while the iPhone 6 is between €600 and €650). While the P9 beats both for raw power, Huawei's brand is still a challenger one; I suspect it is still on a climbing curve when put head to head with the established marques.

But for those who consider a camera among the most important phone features, there is no denying the P9 its place at the very top table.

It's got the looks but you'll pay through the nose for it

Olympus Pen-F  

Price: €1,249 from Conns Cameras

Rating: 3 Stars

Would you pay an extra €200 for your digital camera to look and feel like an old classic film camera? It seems every second or third new mid-range lens-changer has a 1960s era look to it, complete with knobs, dials and buttons. The idea is to make the camera itself a thing you enjoy picking up and looking at, as much as the photos it produces. I like this to a point, but can't help feeling that shelling out the guts of €1,500 (the €1,249 is just for the body without a lens) for a camera that does much the same as models half its price is an investment in fashion as much as photography. Be that as it may, the Pen-F is more than just a pretty object.

It has excellent stabilisation on board, cutting down on camera shake. Its 20 megapixels give you a little more detail than many of its 12-megapixel and 16-megapixel rivals. And those dials give you handy shortcuts, such as the ability to choose between five preset art modes on the front of the device. Still, I can get the same kind of shots and features on a Sony micro Four Thirds camera for a lot less money. It's just that the Sony isn't quite as handsome.

All that glitters is rose gold

Beats Solo2 Wireless  

Price: €270 from Argos  

Rating: 3 Stars

Have we reached peak 'rose gold' yet? Nope. Not by a long stretch. The colour that has appeals to a whole section of Apple's audience (iPhone, iPad) is now spreading its palette to other products. And so Beats By Dr Dre has added the shade du jour to this fairly decent, if a little overpriced, line of on-ear wireless headphones. The Solo2 cans are pretty reliable, acceptable Bluetooth headphones that can also be used as a hands-free phone accessory thanks to the built-in microphone. Because they're 'on ear' (as opposed to 'over ear') headphones, some of the audio escapes, meaning that the sound isn't quite as immersive as larger headphones. Nevertheless, as you'd expect from Beats, there's a reasonable amount of bass present and they do the job nicely.

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