Wednesday 28 September 2016

Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets

Published 16/07/2016 | 02:30

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7.
Vodafone Smart Platinum 7.
Sony RX1R ii

Our Technoloy Editor reviews the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 phone and the Sony RX1R ii.

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Almost the best  phone you can buy for under €400

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7  

Price: €399 or free on contract  

Rating: 4 Stars

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Would you pay €400 for an operator own-brand smartphone? If so, Vodafone's new Smart Platinum 7 (made by Chinese giant TCL) is almost the best phone you can get for under €400.

The 5.5-inch Android handset has a metal unibody-style frame with gorilla glass covering the back. The edges of the phone are nicely chamfered and the buttons have a useful grill finish for a tactile perspective.

There's a dedicated photo button on the upper left side of the phone, a feature I really like. Press it twice and it starts the camera, even from a locked state. The 16-megapixel camera itself is pretty good with an f2.0 aperture and HDR. I took some very nice shots with it.

One of the marks of the Smart Platinum 7's high-end pretensions is a really, really high-resolution screen (2K definition with 534 pixels per inch).

Another signal is the inclusion of a fingerprint scanner. Unlike the iPhone, this scanner is placed on the back of the phone, just underneath the camera. The idea is that you use your index finger rather than your thumb.

At first, this feels ergonomically superior to the thumb sensor position of an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy model. But as a way of unlocking the phone, I found that it slowed me down; I couldn't adequately 'feel' where the sensor was on the back of the handset so I frequently had to turn it over to find the spot.

This phone runs something close to pure Android, meaning you can get going on it without wincing at mocked-up 'content screens' that some manufacturer force upon you to 'guide' you through your phone's operations. That said, there are a few minor irritations. It tries to hijack your messaging by asking you to combine your texts and messages through a Vodafone messaging app. (That app isn't awful but still - no thanks.)

Unlike some of the newest smartphones, this handset is charged using the older MicroUSB cable (the one all Android phones have been using for the last five years). Overall, this is good insofar as you almost certainly have such a charger knocking around already. But it also supports 'fast' charging, which means you can replete around half the phone's battery in about 30 minutes.

There's quite a lot of power under the hood, here: 3GB of Ram and an octacore processor.

One thing you might miss with this phone is a choice of accessories. Vodafone sells its own folio protector case for €20, but that's for people who don't check their phone much - your dad would probably use one of these cases.

You're getting an awful lot for your money with this phone, compared to some of the standalone big brands such as Samsung, Sony and HTC. For this kind of price, I'd say only the exceptional OnePlus 3 (reviewed here last week, also €399) beats it (although OnePlus's model is a tricky phone to buy as operators here don't stock it).

Stupendous quality but way too dear

Sony RX1R ii

Price: €3,239 from Conns Cameras

Rating: 3 Stars

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Sony's extraordinary RX1R ii is an ultra-powerful niche camera that will knock the socks off serious photo amateurs. But for everyone else, it's merely a fancy device that's way too expensive to consider.

I had this machine for a fortnight and I'm still slightly agog by the snaps I took with it. This is a camera like no other: a (nearly) pocketable 42-megapixel device with a full frame sensor and a fixed 35mm Zeiss lens. In plain English, it takes brighter, better, more detailed photos than any other pocket camera on the market as well as most consumer DSLRs.

I brought it with me on a drizzly day to Powerscourt Waterfall and couldn't believe the intricate detail and lighting nuances it gave me. Ordinary pictures came alive on my laptop screen when I reviewed them later.

It has most of the modern digital accoutrements, too - a fold out (non-touch) screen, a brilliant pop-up viewfinder, Wi-Fi photo transfer and all sorts of editing features on board.

Its F2 lens allows for lovely, shallow depth of field while it records video up to 'full' HD (but not 4K, which is a bit of a surprise for a Sony device).

It feels nice when holding in-hand and its relatively small size means that you don't freak people out when you point it at them.

The camera's only real negative feature is poor battery life - you'd almost certainly need to buy and carry a second battery with you.

You would also, obviously, need to be comfortable restricting your photo angles to one focal length - 35mm - with no zoom. Some people say that this is liberating, because it forces you to be more creative or move about more to get the right shot. While I see their point, I lazily prefer the option to go wide (24mm or 28mm) when I need to capture a sky or more of a room.

Them there is the price. €3,200 for a pocket camera, no matter how good, really is a lot of money. Yes, it's still cheaper than some Leicas you can get. And I agree that Sony deserves a premium here for being first with the technology. But for most people, this would be a huge extravagance for the niche photo product you're getting.

It's an amazing, laudable camera. But it's too pricey for the vast majority of us.

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