Friday 9 December 2016

Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets

Published 09/07/2016 | 02:30

OnePlus3
OnePlus3
Plantronics Backbeat Sense

Our Technology Editor reviews the OnePlus 3 phone and Plantronics Backbeat Sense headphones.

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The best phone for under €400

OnePlus 3  

Price: €399 from Oneplus.net  

Rating: 5 Stars

Want a really good Android phone for under €400? You really can't do better than the new OnePlus 3. There is very little to differentiate this from the top Samsungs, HTCs or Sonys: it's really just a smidgen of battery life and a few pixels in screen resolution. Other than that, this is as good as you'll get.

The 5.5-inch phone's looks are bang up-to-date, with an ultra-slim metal unibody design. One feature I love is its physical 'silent' button: you can toggle between full notifications, 'priority' ones and all-silent operation. This is a lot quicker than pulling down a menu.

There's a finger-print reader on the front of the phone and a souped-up engine under the hood with a whopping 6GB of Ram.

The phone also gives way more internal storage than most rivals, with 64GB (of which around 53GB was available).

The handset's (Sony-made) 16-megapixel camera is genuinely good. I took it down to the west of Ireland for a weekend where the contrast in lighting can put a lot of strain on a lens's ability to deal with light and dark features. But the OnePLus 3 handled it without much fuss. There's an 8-megapixel selfie camera on it, too. Video recording goes to 4K resolution, just like the top smartphone models.

It comes with Google's newest Android operating system which has a handy 'night mode'. This makes it easier to handle after dark.

There are some elements that show the OnePlus 3 is a shade down from the most expensive phones out there. Its high-definition screen, while bright and strong, is a touch below the ultra-resolution of some handsets with 401 pixels per inch.

But the only thing I had any issue with was the battery life, which started to get a bit weak around teatime. Admittedly, I had it tethered to a smartwatch all day as well as a pair of Bluetooth headphones. But with more expensive rivals (iPhone 6S Plus, Samsung S7 Edge), they have lasted a little longer. Still, I'm a hog when it comes to phone usage so this may not affect others in the same way.

In any case, with a USB C charger, it recharges most of the 3,000mAh battery in just half an hour.

If there was one other minor niggle, it's that the finger-print reader is a little too active. Anytime my hand brushed off the button, the whole phone buzzed as if it thought I was trying to unlock it.

But this is fairly small beer. This is a pretty astonishing phone for under 400. If you can get one, I'd definitely recommend it.

Nice design, some audio reservations

Plantronics Backbeat Sense

Price: €180

Rating: 4 Stars

I recently picked up a pair of Plantronics Backbeat Sense headphones as part of a deal with Vodafone's new Smart Platinum 7 phone (you get them discounted to €90 with the handset). I'm still assessing the phone, with a review to come soon. But I now have a pretty good handle on the headphones, which work wirelessly with any phone, tablet or laptop.

The gist is that this is a high-tech, elegant set of headphones in terms of what you're paying. But the portability means you'll sacrifice some audio quality compared to bigger sets.

The headphones' design is modern and handsome. My set came in brown leather earphones, black brushed plastic casing and a partially exposed aluminium band on top.

That leather, which adorns the earpieces and a cranial resting band, makes them feel light and unobtrusive.

There are oodles of controls for a mid-range headset. With a microphone on each earcup for making and taking phone calls, there are play, pause, forward and rewind buttons, as well as a volume control and a mute button (for phone calls). The right earcup has a call-answering button and a 3.5mm jack in case you want to use this with a non-wireless machine.

A knacky feature is that they stop playback whenever they're removed from your ears, saving battery life for both the headphones and your phone.

The audio quality from these headphones is good, but they deliver in more limited circumstances than some bigger headphones.

For example, these headphones sit 'on' your ears and not around them. That means that they don't block out external noise as well. This is a bit of an issue when wearing them on a noisy street.

Another disadvantage I found is that there is frequent interference through a slight shuddering noise in the earphones when walking on a city street.

It's the type of interference you would normally experience when talking to someone through any wireless headphone set's microphone. It's not a catastrophe but it is a little irritating.

The bottom line is that you'll get the best out of these headphones when you're relatively stationary in an environment that's not too noisy. (On the bus or train is fine, as is a busy café.)

Lastly, the headphones come with a nice, grey, padded carry bag.

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