Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets
Our Technology Editor reviews the Samsung TabPro S and the Bush Spira E3X.
Brilliant design, difficult user interface
Samsung TabPro S
Rating: 3 Stars
It's not easy to recommend a Windows 2-in-1 device. It's not that the hardware isn't well designed or attractive-looking. It's that Windows is fundamentally unsuited to the tablet part of the experience. It would be kind to say that the operating system is still finding its way. But in truth, it's an interface from an older generation of computers forced onto new ones.
From the second you switch the device on and realise that you have to negotiate the microscopic fonts (Windows is still primarily designed for 15-inch screens), you're struck with one thought: why didn't I just buy a laptop? Or a 'pro' 2-in-1 device based on a real tablet operating system like iOS or Android?
This is the challenge that Samsung's sleek, svelte TabPro S has. It's pretty damn nice to pick up and type on. But it's loaded with so much of Microsoft's tablet problems that it's a real effort to get anything done. (Not to mention Microsoft's general issues; it's incredible that Microsoft still doesn't let you use Microsoft Word on a new Windows PC without jumping through hoops first.)
All of this is a shame: most of us want this form factor to succeed. The TabPro S fits really nicely into just about any bag. Its superb 12-inch screen is a near-perfect size for portable computing. And its battery life is really excellent.
The keyboard case is a joy to type on and is really solid (it has two angles). Crucially, it also comes with the purchase of the main device - you don't have to buy it separately (for around €150), as you do with Microsoft's Surface. For non-work stuff, the TabPro S is pretty competent, too - Netflix looks great on the TabPro S (although the speakers' audio quality could be a little better).
On the other hand, the price is pretty steep. Sure, you get 128GB of internal storage, but you're stuck with a Core M processor (the weakest of Intel's top lines). I can see some cases where this kind of machine makes sense. It might suit someone who absolutely needs to use Windows on the move for basic tasks and doesn't mind taking time to execute individual functions. Or someone who likes to use a pen-stylus with applications such as OneNote.
But for the vast majority, it's really hard to recommend this device. It's very well put together and beautifully portable. But you're paying well over a grand for a challenging user experience.
Bargain Bush burns bigger brands
Bush Spira E3X
Cost: €299 from Argos
Rating: 4 Stars
Now here’s a bargain. Long-time readers of this column will know that while I give the best flagship smartphones their due, I believe the bulk of what’s influencing society’s movement away from computers and onto mobile phones (for almost everything) is due to advances in the low to mid-end models. Having used Bush’s budget-but-powerful Spira E3X for a while, it’s plain to see why.
In a nutshell, this 5.5-inch phone does almost everything that top-branded phones do but at a discount of around 60pc.
It has almost all of the cutting edge features you want, too. Like USB-C charging for faster power-ups. And a fingerprint sensor (which admittedly is on the rear of the phone, a position I’m not crazy about). It even comes with 64GB of storage, which is a huge advantage over phones that jip you with 16GB hoping that you’ll sign up to a premium online storage plan.
Its 20-megapixel camera is made by Sony, which means it’s pretty good (although it doesn’t have optical stabilisation like some top models). The front ‘selfie’ camera is 8 megapixels.
There’s lots of power, with a whopping 4GB of Ram (matching anything out there from Apple or Samsung) and an octacore processor. I like that it comes with the latest stock version of Android (Marshmallow), too. There’s very little bloatware or manufacturer-enforced pathways into features you want to get to quickly. And its dual-sim tray is genuinely handy for those who travel. (I constantly need to swap sim cards when covering events in the US.)
Crucially, the phone looks and feels good, with a non-slip brushed-rubber rear and attractive metal chamfering at the sides. As a bonus, it comes with a transparent protector case in the box.
Obviously, it’s not perfect. It’s a bit thicker and heavier than many similarly-sized top phones. I found the battery life to be only average, while the ‘full HD’ screen isn’t as bright as rival devices I have tried. But keep in mind the economy: this €299 phone goes up against €499, €599 and €699 handsets and is not blown away by any means.
So unless you’re really wedded to a branded device, this is well worth considering as a bargain alternative option.