Wednesday 23 August 2017

Tech: Weckler on the latest cool gadgets

Nest Cam
Nest Cam
Thin telly: Sony X90
Keyboard
Alba tablet 7
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Reviewed by our technology editor are Nest Cam, Logitech K380 keyboard, Sony X90 and Alba tablet 7.

The closest thing to an Apple webcam you'll get

Nest Cam

Price: €200 from Harvey Norman

Rating: 5 stars

Ever feel like you needed another pair of eyes at home? Webcams are becoming fairly popular as a way of keeping tabs on things when you're not present. Mostly, they're used for babies' rooms. But some people like to put one up to check how pets are doing during the day or even for firmer security reasons.

In this context, Nest's latest Nest Cam is probably the best consumer model you can buy.

Its basic job is as a web cam with motion sensors that sends your phone an alert - and a video clip - any time movement is detected around it. You can also check what's going on at any time with live video streaming right to your phone or tablet, via Nest's free app. And its microphone and speaker mean that you can also communicate through it, whether it's reassurance or warnings.

Nest uses the 'cloud' well. Because video clips are stored online by it, they can't be side-stepped by someone simply removing a memory card from the device or smashing the camera. Although the camera has just two megapixels, its wide-angle video quality is really quite good, at a similar definition (1080p HD) to some GoPro cameras. This is worth mentioning, as quite a few cheaper webcams use lesser non-HD resolution, which makes it harder to see what's going on, especially at night.

What gives Nest a bit of an edge over some rivals is its relatively advanced features combined with ease of setting up. Nest is basically becoming the Apple of home utility devices and it's not really a big surprise that the gadgets are slick and intuitive: they share the same designers as Apple's iPod, Tony Fadell.

Setting this device up is pretty easy. The camera sits atop a hinged arm connected to a magnetised base. This means you can just slap it on a fridge. Alternatively, it also comes with a separate base and screws, in case you want to fix it more securely to a wall or ceiling. The camera itself rotates to give you more flexibility when setting it up. There's a limit to how long Nest will store clips online for you unless you subscribe to a premium subscription ('Nest Aware') which costs either €10 per month or €100 per year. This gives you 30 days of stored video to look back on.

This isn't a substitute for a professional security camera, which has lots more features. But as something easy to set up that gives peace of mind, it's excellent.

A smart wireless keyboard  at a reasonable price

Logitech K380 keyboard  

Price: €45 from PC World  

Rating: 4 stars

I'm a fan of Logitech's accessories: the company makes well-designed, affordable stuff that usually beats rival gadgets. Mostly, its new K380 budget wireless Bluetooth keyboard lives up to these expectations. It's easy to set up, works with three different phones, tablets or PCs concurrently, and - most importantly - types really well.

The latter factor is the most important: there's simply no point in buying a portable keyboard that's slightly awkward to use, no matter how cheap it is. It's smart, too - it can tell when you're using an iPad as opposed to an Android phone or a Windows PC. It adjusts the command and control keys accordingly.

This keyboard is not especially thin or light: it's about the same size and weight as an Apple wireless keyboard. So if you're looking for something thinner, I'd look to Logitech's Ultrathin range (about €30 more). My review model also committed the faux pas of not shipping with the AAA batteries it needs to work: if this is the norm, it will (rightfully) annoy people. Things like this should work out of the box.

That said, you won't get a better multi-device portable keyboard at this price.

Sony gets the skinny on high-end tellies

Sony X90   

Price: €2,700   

Rating: 4 stars

It's hard to get too excited by TV specifications these days. For most people, the leap in quality from standard to high definition just hasn't been replicated by things such as curved screens or '4K'.

Design, though, is a different matter. Making a 50-inch model fit into the same space as an old 40-inch one is interesting a lot of people. And it's not the only thing. Take Sony's latest X900 series, demonstrated at CES and IFA earlier this year and which has just landed in Irish shops. It's the thinnest TV I've ever seen. And not just 'slim': this is thinner than a phone. You have to see it to believe it.

Because of its thinness, this TV could arguably also be presented as a piece of furniture. In an era of gadget overload, this is surely an achievement for an integrated entertainment unit.

Does this mean it blows other sets away for quality? Probably not. But the resolution levels at the upper end of TV models are getting so good now (this telly upscales regular HD and DVDs to something approaching 4K), that technical specifications aren't always the main differentiator.

Other than its design chops, the X90 - which comes in either 55-inch or 65-inch models - uses Android TV as an interface. Ultimately, this could prove to be a very good thing. If Google follows Apple's current TV direction (and Google often does follow Apple), Android TV could be a gateway for much richer television functionality.

Not the useless web browsing, email or photo-uploading apps that current TV manufacturers try to pass off as 'smart' (and which nobody ever uses), but proper integration with sports streaming or new kinds of electronic shopping. That could give Android TV a definite edge. And in the meantime, there's always Netflix.

Mega-cheap tablet gives mega-cheap results

Alba tablet 7  

Price: €70 from Argos  

Rating: 3 stars

The second you open up this ultra-budget Android tablet, you get a strong hint as to who it is aimed at. The device comes out of the box in a bright blue rubber protective cover (with an alternative red one stashed underneath).

Only young kids really use such bumper protectors. It's a little odd, then, that there aren't really any kid-focused apps pre-installed. Otherwise, this is as basic a tablet as you can get. It has two cameras, both of which are rock bottom entry-level lenses (Alba doesn't give the megapixel specifications).

The speaker on it is really basic too: if you play a video or a Netflix movie, you'll have to use either headphones or an external portable speaker. (Alba actually makes a good one for €20, reviewed in these pages last week.) It has 8GB of storage (meaning just 3GB of available storage) but can take an external memory card.

It's a fairly chunky tablet but is small enough to carry around if you want. It has just about enough power to get you through apps and the web, but its screen is relatively rough to use. If you're coming from an iPad or a decent Android phone, this will feel very hit and miss. Then again, it's a quarter of the price of smoother models. If you're looking for a low-budget device for a child to play basic games or watch a few videos, this might suffice. If you're treating yourself, get something a little bit better.

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