Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets
Reviewed by our technology editor are the Roberts Stream 93i internet radio and the Compact Sony X.
How the internet is saving the radio star
Roberts Stream 93i
Price: €185 from Power City
Rating: 5 Stars
I have a friend who moved to San Francisco and still listens to Joe Duffy's Liveline radio show live. She's not alone. The advent of good-quality internet radios which don't take an engineer's degree to set up has opened up an endless choice of world radio in our kitchens and bedrooms. It's everything from the BBC to Memphis-based bluegrass stations.
Roberts' Stream 93i, which I've been testing, is a great example. It's a comprehensive FM, DAB and internet radio that also connects directly to Spotify and external audio sources wirelessly or over cable.
The sound quality, for a radio, is excellent, with a three-way speaker system and a bass subwoofer. This can easily hold a large kitchen or a sitting room.
Its design is practical, with rubberised nubbin legs to stop it slipping on a kitchen surface and a silver handle on top that makes it easy to move from spot to spot.
To connect to the radio, you have three main choices: FM, DAB or internet. In practice, I use the internet option most as I find it quickest to switch between the radio stations I listen to most. In this mode, the box connects to your home Wi-Fi and, from there, gives you the choice of pretty much any internet-connected radio station in the world (which is most of them). Navigation is by country or genre. In the mood for some blues? There are 100 stations for that. Politics? Ditto. It's an anorak's dream.
It has a three-inch (non-touch) LCD screen that guides you through controls and shows you what you're listening to. It's also handy in giving you extra information (if supported by the station) about what you're listening to.
There's a remote control that comes with it and it also has a surprising number of connectivity and audio-sourcing options, from a USB playback port to a LAN port.
It is supposed to be able to support up to 320kbps, although most of the streams I have experienced have been between 96kbps and 128kpbs. In other words, perfectly decent.
If the device has a weakness, it's that its speaker setup (front and rear) means that if you stand it up against a wall in a kitchen (as people are wont to do), you might miss some of the audio quality.
If you're looking for a new radio and are prepared to spend a bit more for more flexibility, this is a genuinely good buy. I can't see myself going back to an older FM radio.
Compact Sony X excels with 23MP camera
Sony Xperia X
Rating: 4 stars
Is Sony still one of the great phone makers? I think so; even if its Xperia handsets are starting to look pricey, they still come with some of the best features - in particular, cameras.
A close inspection of the new 4.6-inch Xperia X - which is about the same size as an iPhone 7 - reveals quite a bit of craftsmanship. It's plastic, but feels a lot like ceramic, the material that Apple is reportedly eyeing up as its next high-end feature for the iPhone 8.
The Xperia X's strongest feature is its excellent 23-megapixel camera. For a phone in this category, it is arguably best in class. Images are sharp and detailed with an excellent colour balance and a new stabilisation update helps avoid blurry photos. The only criticism I could make is that the photo app isn't quite as intuitive as other rivals' models.
It has a fingerprint reader at the side of the device. This is actually a brilliant place to put it because one's thumb rests there far more naturally than on the front (and especially than the back, as many Android phones now choose).
The 4.6-inch screen is one of the brightest I've ever seen in a phone this size. This makes it very usable outdoors in sunny conditions.
The Xperia X is really fast in small ways that matter. For instance, switching from portrait to landscape happens almost instantly rather than waiting a full second. One of the reasons is because of its 3GB of Ram and a fast Snapdragon processor. It comes with 32GB of storage and MicroSD expansion in the same slot as the sim tray. The phone's battery life (2,700mAh) is actually pretty decent, at around a day's use. Like many new Android models, the Xperia X has ditched the old MicroUSB connection port in favour of a USB C port. This results in faster charging, but it means you won't have as many backup chargers from old models lying around.
Other design features of note: Sony has put all the controls (power, fingerprint, volume and photo button) on the right side of the frame. I think this is a good move, but sometimes it makes volume control a little tricky.
The phone has two front-facing speakers that give decent audio (which is an underrated feature in this age of mobile video). Sony has also thrown in hi-res audio into the deal. This isn't a must-have feature by any means, but audiophiles will appreciate it.
The Xperia X isn't waterproof like its more expensive siblings. This didn't bother me. At this price, the Xperia X is up against some pretty formidable competition, most notably the superb OnePlus 3 (€100 cheaper and a bigger screen) and Apple's iPhone SE (the same price, but with a smaller screen). The Xperia arguably beats both these rivals in its camera (although the iPhone SE's camera is excellent). Otherwise, it has a serious fight on its hands.