Sunday 23 October 2016

Technology: Adrian Weckler on the must have gadgets

Published 12/09/2015 | 02:30

Samsung Gear
Samsung Gear
Asus vivostick
LG 9500

Reviewed this week are Samsung Gear S2, Asus Vivostick, Sony Xperia Z5 Premium and LG 9500.

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Samsung: it's hip  not to be square

Samsung Gear S2

Price: not announced

Rating: 4 stars

I'm not the world's biggest fan of smartwatches. While they're knacky and let you deal with phone notifications without having to drag your phone out, they're not yet useful enough to overcome the awkward, ugly shapes that most of them come in. (A few notable exceptions abound, such as Withings' Swatch-style Activité.)

I think Samsung has realised this with its new smartwatch, the Gear S2. For a start, it has ditched the square look for a 1.2-inch round watch face with a rotating outer dial that can be used to control some functions of the watch. The effect of this is instant: it looks and feels like a watch with tech going on rather than a tech strap-on that also happens to tell the time. The rotating dial rim is both fun and elegant and is a positive step forward from relying on miniature swipes across the small touchscreen. It also looks quite good. Samsung has improved on the variety of fashion straps that come with this model. The one I tried has a really nice leather strap that felt great.

Oddly, Samsung is refusing to get with Android Wear, the operating system that most other big-name manufacturers use for their smartwatches. That means that this watch will only really work properly when paired with one of a small handful of Samsung phones. Is this arrogance? Perhaps. But I'm not sure that it will matter all that much in the short term: with no sign of a breakthrough in smartwatch apps, who cares if you can only choose from one or two fitness apps as opposed to seven or eight? The battery life on this device is pegged at over two days, an improvement on first-generation smartwatches. Samsung says that it will also release a 3G version that can make calls without being paired to a phone at the time. If you think smartwatches are just a faddish idea, this won't change your mind. On the other hand, if you like the idea of them but baulk at their ugliness, the Gear S2 might make you look again.

Small but perfectly formed

Asus Vivostick  

Price: €120  

Rating: 3 stars

If you needed proof that PCs are getting smaller and smaller, Asus's new Windows computer should seal the argument. It has stuffed a full functioning PC, with Windows 10, two USB ports and earphone jack, onto a gadget the size of a large USB stick. You simply stick it into a monitor, connect a keyboard and away you go. It also comes with wifi and Bluetooth on board. It's not the most powerful PC you'll ever own, but it holds its own compared to many budget laptops: there's 2GB of Ram, and Intel (Cherry Trail) processor and 32GB of storage inside.

Cameraphone snaps, flashes and pops

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium  

Price: €750  

Rating: 4

There are a couple of things to take into consideration when buying a smartphone. For me, camera quality has always weighed heavily: it is the thing that records most of your life these days. Sony has always done well on this issue — its Xperia range’s cameras have usually been best or joint best on the market over the last three to four years. It looks like the company is working to stay on that perch with its new Z5 range, which has a 23-megapixel camera and a modified photo set-up. The Z5 range has three different models: a 4.6-inch ‘Z5 Compact’, a 5.2-inch Z5 and a 5.5-inch ‘Z5 Premium’. All of them have the similar tech specs (3GB Ram, 32GB storage, octa core processor). But the Z5 Premium has an extra feature that notionally sets it apart from all rival: an ultra high definition ‘4K’ screen that boasts a whopping 807 pixels per inch. Sony is making great play of this, as are some enthusiasts. But while it’s good to see technology move on, this is one advancement you’ll barely be able to discern — it’s simply not possible for the human eye to tell the difference between a 4K screen and a normal 2K (‘full HD’) screen.

(There might be some advantages for synchronisation with a 4K TV, but very few people ever connect their phone with their telly for any reason.) Still, and for what it’s worth, that gives the Z5 Premium about twice the resolution of most rival handsets. The Z5 Premium’s battery is a decent 3,400mAh which should mean a solid day’s usage between charges. It’s also waterproof (like the rest of the Z5 range) without the need to cover over the micro USB charging port. The Z5 Premium won’t be available in Ireland until November.

Oled where art thou?

LG 9500  

Price: €5,000+  

Rating: n/a

This year, it seems that ‘Oled’ technology is the mating call of TV manufacturers. Not content with ‘4K’ (or ultra high definition UHD as some call it), Oled sharpens the colours even more and gets as close to actual black on a screen as we’ve yet seen. LG has gotten ahead of the pack, announcing a new (non-curved) Oled range of TVs designed to make you throw your austerity budget out the window. The 9500 model, which comes in both 55-inch and 65-inch sizes, will be able to stream 4K from Netflix, YouTube and other services, although there’s very little content thus far at these high resolution levels.

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