Friday 21 October 2016

Technology... Adrian Weckler: The must have gadgets

Published 22/08/2015 | 02:30

The OnePlus 2 handset
The OnePlus 2 handset
Fuji X100T  
The Pip  

Reviewed this week are OnePlus 2, Samsung S6 Edge+, Fuji X100T and The Pip device.

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The best phone you can get for under €350

OnePlus 2  

Price: from €340  

Rating: 4 stars

After the iPhone 6, the most celebrated phone last year was not a Samsung, HTC or Sony model. It was from a Chinese newcomer called OnePlus, whose inaugural handset delivered a top-tier Android phone for less than half the price of its big-brand rivals. Now, it has released the 5.5-inch OnePlus 2. And it's one hell of a handset. In fact, for the money, it vies for the honour of being the best phone on the market right now. The HD screen has 401 pixels per inch which, while not quite as sharp as top rivals, is more than enough to view videos and photos crisply.

Its 13-megapixel camera is a huge improvement on its predecessor's lens, with much better shooting in low light. It also captures 4K video (although it's hard to see the point of this) and it has a front-facing 5-megapixel selfie camera. The camera is still not up there with the industry's best (Sony and Samsung), but it's now much closer.

Aesthetically, the handset is very nicely designed, with tactile rear casing that makes it easy to handle. There's a clever switch on the side of the phone that allows you to switch off, or limit, interruptions from notifications. I found this especially useful.

There are one or two limitations. The OnePlus 2 uses a USB-C charging system, meaning that your old Android charging cables won't work with it. This, we are told, is to become the new standard for Android phones because it's faster.

Also, OnePlus is not a large company so its after-sales capability - including customer service - is much more limited than big rivals and their partners. But this is like getting a Nexus 6 for a lot less money. The quality and design are all there.

Big and curvy is Samsung's style

Samsung S6 Edge+  

Price: from €800  

Rating: n/a 

Samsung, along with everyone else, was taken by surprise when people demanded more of its ultra-pricey S6 Edge and less of its (excellent) flagship S6. So the company, famed for its ability to react quickly to market demand, has come up with a new model altogether: the S6 Edge Plus. This is styled in almost exactly the same way as the existing S6 Edge - metal frame and curved glass on one side of the handset - but is far larger. In fact, it's a 5.7-inch phablet. That curved glass bit still doesn't do much, other than look svelte.

Personally, I don't get the appeal: you're paying an additional €100 for nothing but a slight curvature of the glass on the side of the handset. However, the market is talking loud and clear. And it's saying that people want phones that look a little different, even if the design tweak has little functionality attached. It's not just a larger screen on offer. Samsung has thrown in some extra firepower under the hood of the S6 Edge Plus, resulting in 4GB of Ram and an Exynosocta-core processor.

The phone also now has a 3,000mAh battery and can be wirelessly charged in two hours. It still comes in variants of 32GB or 64GB and in a couple of colours, including gold. And its camera is the same as previous Samsung handsets, a very decent 16-megapixel lens on the back with a 5-megapixel selfie-lend on the front. Full review to come.

Fuji fixes sights on top-end snapper

Fuji X100T  

Price: €1,200 

Rating: 4 stars

Could you live with a camera that only has one focal length? If so, which one? Many famous photographers (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Annie Leibowitz, Dorothea Lange) appear to gravitate toward a 'classic' 35mm view. And this is what Fuji's 16-megapixel Finepix X100T gives you. The zoomless fixed lens is intended to cut out distractions and let you focus more on other elements of your photo. Personally, I find this limitation challenging.

But in two weeks' use of this camera, I had no complaints whatsoever with the X100T's photo quality. I got nothing but top-drawer results: beautiful images that came from fast focusing, superb colour treatment and an excellent F2 lens. The quality isn't hurt by the camera's nice, big sensor. Despite being a lot smaller than a DSLR camera (although a little too big to pocket), the X100T packs an APS-C sensor under the hood.

Its viewfinder is fantastic too, while the selection of shortcut buttons - including a nicely placed 'Q' button - makes it fast to switch settings when needed. The camera also has good, simple video controls, with full HD (from 24 frames to 60 frames-per-second) as the standard setting. And there's a small, handy built-in flash with an additional hot shoe camera mount for bigger external flashes. The X100T keeps the retro styling of its predecessors, a popular aesthetic look in cameras right now.

For beginners considering the X100T, a word of caution. Everything about this camera encourages you to manually set your shutter speeds, aperture, ISO and other variables. An automatic mode is there, but if that's what you're likely to default to, this is not the camera for you.

The only complaint I have about it is that it is not especially ergonomic to use. Principally, there's no natural placing for one's thumb, meaning that you sometimes inadvertently hit setting buttons on the back when you don't want to.

Overall, I don't think I could rely on this as my catch-all camera: there are simply too many times when I find a zoom (either out wide for a landscape shot or in close for portraits) useful. But if you want high quality and don't mind the fixed focal length, this is about the best you can get for the price.

Stress tracker with a cause

The Pip  

Price: €180  

Rating: 4 stars

Stress is undoubtedly a part of our lives. But does measuring it do any good? Can it help us to somehow get it under control? That's the premise behind Galvanic's The Pip device, a small keyfob-sized gadget that tells you your stress levels via a phone app.

It works by holding it between your thumb and forefinger. The gold-plated sensors measure the electricity that comes from your fingers and relay that data to a phone app which then shows you how stressed you are.

The principle is not a million miles away from a lie-detector test. By and large, it worked for me: the red stress line rose when I focused on looming deadlines, while the green 'relaxed' zone increased when I thought about something pleasant and recreational. The aim of the gadget, apparently, is to get you to learn how to decommission stress by focusing a little more on other things. Again, this worked.

Even before the electro-dermal measurement, the very act of taking it out and activating it during a stressful period made me focus more on diverting my thoughts to less stressful feelings. Is this a realistic day-to-day proposition? Can one afford to dilute attention away from a stressful task? That's probably a personal decision for individuals. The one limitation of the Pip is that I'm not sure it can tell the difference between stress and excitement. For instance, it told me that my stress levels were sky high after Philippe Coutinho scored a wonder goal for Liverpool against Stoke two weekends ago. But that would more truthfully have been interpreted as celebration: I certainly wasn't stressed about it.

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