Samsung Galaxy NX camera
As someone who fancies himself as a camera enthusiast, I'm not supposed to like models such as Samsung's 20-megapixel NX. This is because it minimises a great deal of 'traditional' manual controls, replacing buttons with a touchscreen interface.
In fact, the device has a fully-powered (quad-core 1.6Ghx chip, 2GB of Ram and a 16GB hard drive), 4.8-inch Android operating system built in, complete with WiFi, sim-card (3G or 4G) and almost every other bit of functionality available on a high-end Samsung smartphone. The reasoning is that beginners and novices are much more familiar with an Android operating system than a camera's.
That means they can instantly share photos (via apps such as Instagram, Flickr or Facebook) instead of waiting to go home and cycle through photos on a PC. As I said, I should be turning my nose up at this. But the truth is that I really like it.
True, it's a lot more fiddly to set up manual shots (despite the addition of a viewfinder) with this touchscreen system than it is with the dedicated buttons of a traditional DSLR camera. And the range of lenses is considerably smaller. But I suspect that cash-rich beginners and novices won't really care.
The quality of the shots is genuinely impressive and it's very fast. It has a big price, though: that's the premium you pay for being a beginner.
Tablet a fast work laptop replacement
Strictly business: Microsoft Surface Pro 2
Price: €880 (accessory keyboard €130 extra)
Despite its struggle to sell, I liked the initial Surface series of tablets.
The problem was that it trailed the iPad badly when it came to non-work stuff (such as general apps usage). Microsoft seems to have realised that this is a common reaction.
So it is largely pushing its new high-end Surface Pro 2 as a work laptop replacement, as opposed to a tablet rival, for the iPad.
In this regard, the Surface Pro 2 has far more power (4GB or 8GB of Ram supporting an Intel i5 processor and an SSD drive measuring up to a whopping 512GB) than any tablet out there. It also has a TPM chip that meets the kind of tough security encryption standards that big companies look for.
Like its predecessor, you can switch from Windows 8.1 tiles to a Windows 7 format, and there are plenty of ports to use normal PC software. Once again, I think Microsoft has a decent machine on its hands, even if most people may not use the touchscreen tablet element of the device.
Beast that gets the best of both worlds
Monster DNA headphones
SOMETIMES it's hard to know how to judge headphones. Me, I usually stick strictly to quality and comfort.
But aesthetics can have a bearing, too (both positively and negatively: it's hard to feel comfortable walking around with a garish Beats By Dr Dre headset).
Monster's DNA headphones are an interesting mash-up of several features in one set of cans.
The sound quality is genuinely good, which remains the most important thing: they can sive bass, while still corralling a fulsome hi-fi range of frequencies. Despite being 'on-ear' models, they're comfortable too.
This is helped by the pleasantly soft leather employed and the strong-but-light, polycarbon material used.
They also conveniently fold up nicely, meaning they're easier to bring around.
Lastly, that these are also considered to be fashion headphones – with a choice of colours and a triangular design – doesn't really bother me one way or another.
Which is to say that Monster has probably gotten the best of both worlds – attracting the kids while not ticking off the adults.
Who cares if a printer's dull when it's this cheap?
On a budget: Canon Pixma MP230 printer
Price: €30 (PC World)
I find it very hard to get excited about printers. Unless they can produce canvas prints or something similarly exotic, they are generally dull conduits for turning PC documents into paper ones. WiFi-enabled? Remote apps? Multi-coloured pages? Whatever: at the end of the day, it's still just a printer. And one that periodically needs new ink cartridges at up to €30 a go, too. Then again, what if the printer itself only cost €30? This is the tasty proposition that Canon brings to the table with its dull-but-competent Pixma MP230 model. Technically, this is an 'all-in-one' device, meaning it photocopies and scans, as well as printing from a computer. It prints at a decidedly sluggish seven pages per minute. But if all you need is something to fire off a few formal letters every now and again, it's hard to see why you'd splash out much more.
Sleek and slender, this budget model is elegant option
Alcatel One Touch Idol Ultra
Price: €250 (Prepay with O2 exclusively)
It's odd to consider a €250 phone as a 'budget' item. And yet, last Thursday, we saw Apple's new iPhones hit Irish shops for €600 and €700 apiece. In this context, Alcatel's 4.7-inch One Touch Idol Ultra is a bit of a bargain. This is a very good-looking, reasonably-powered Android smartphone which allowed me to do almost everything I needed (and I'm a fairly demanding multimedia user) over two weeks of use. Its biggest asset is probably its sleek, light design. More than one colleague assumed it was a high-end model, perhaps even one of the new iPhones (before realising it didn't fit their leatherette flap-case). Its basic 1GB of RAM and dual-core 1.2Ghz chip never lagged badly through my daily online circuits and the battery generally made it until evening-time, which is standard for me. Sixteeen GB of storage memory is fine, too. There were only two niggles. The first is that its eight-megapixel camera is a relatively poor snapper. The second gripe is that the phone's super-slimness means it does not have a 3.5mm earphone jack. Instead, it comes with a small 3.5mm-to-micro-USB adaptor. (It won't matter if you're using Bluetooth headphones.)
On a pricey smartphone, these would be very annoying. On something this cheap, I found them to be acceptable compromises.
This isn't a 4G device, but if you're looking for a really decent, great-looking Android handset, I'd strongly advise giving this a go.
RATINGS GUIDE: * Very poor ** Sub-par *** Acceptable **** Very good ***** Outstanding