Monday 24 November 2014

Weckler on Technology: Mini Xperia packs real punch in camera stakes

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact. Price: from free on contract, €460 prepay Rating: ****

Published 08/02/2014 | 02:30

Clockwise from left: The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, Logitech UE Mini-boom and the Jawbone Up Wristband
USB mix tape from Prezzybox.com
Philips WeCall Conference Speakerphone

Personally, I'm a fan of large smartphones. I like nice big screens that show pictures and web pages in glorious definition.

But phone manufacturers like to hedge their bets.

So when they make an anchor five-inch device (like Samsung's S4 or HTC's One), they follow up with a 'mini' version, sporting a screen just over four inches.

This is exactly what Sony has done with the Xperia Z1 Compact.

Where this phone differs from its 'mini' rivals is in the beefy specs that Sony has put into it, including its big brother's 20-megapixel camera (which I think is the best on the market at present). I also like that the phone has rounded off the edges a little: the larger Xperia Z1 is a wee bit angular.

Look out for a comprehensive review on independent.ie.

Forget roses – woo your Valentine the 80s way

USB mix tape from Prezzybox.com Price: €20 Rating: ****

Next Friday, satellite pictures from space will show millions of plastic-wrapped single roses apparently moving around Irish streets. Yes, it's Valentine's Day. But instead of booking a midweek break in a NAMA Westmeath hotel, here's a creative little gift that harks from the bedroom-DJ days of the 1980s.

It's a 'USB mix tape' that allows you to personalise a music collection for the one you're wooing.

For readers under the age of 30, this is something that used to be a regular feature of life as a teenager (look up the John Cusack movie 'High Fidelity' on Netflix if you want the definitive record of the genre).

However, you still need to get the tracks (of up to around 150 songs) on to the USB key in the normal way: if you're transferring from CDs, this means using a PC).

Fit band will keep you on right track

Jawbone Up Wristband Price: €130 Rating: ***

I'm not crazy about fitness wristbands. They make me feel like I'm part of some neurotic running club, raising money for a charity mountaineering expedition.

Still, if you are one of the majority who is struggling to stick to a New Year's exercise regime in February, this gentle form of exercise regulation might be worth a shot.

Like rival devices from Fitbit, this is a sensor-connected device that records your movement and tells you how many steps you're taking each day and week. It also tracks your sleep patterns, trying to give you an insight into whether you're slumbering peacefully or fitfully.

There are extra features, such as a food and drink database that you can reference, but this is a lot of manual work. Its silent alarm is a genuinely handy feature, buzzing your wrist gently when it's time to get up.

Conference calls with less hassle

Philips WeCall Conference Speakerphone Price: €150 Rating: ***

"Try pressing the hash key!" "Sorry but you just cut out, could you repeat that?" Conference calls are great, aren't they? There's nothing to stir the collaborative juices like the home-worker's labrador barking in the background while the accounts director is updating everyone on sales progress.

For simpler conference call structures, a speakerphone offers a reasonable alternative. Philips' WeCall connects to any Bluetooth smartphone (or PC, for internet calls) and has four microphones built in to make sure that voices in several directions can be picked up relatively clearly.

The portable device has a rechargeable battery, too, so you can bring it to meetings.

Double up on Mini-boom for stereo

Logitech UE Mini-boom

Price: €100 Rating: ****

Now that most of us have smartphones and a little knowledge of how to play basic streaming services such as Spotify or TuneIn Radio, wireless speakers have exploded in popularity. You can get all types, from bass-heavy boomboxes to finely-tuned stereo models. Their basic functionality is the same; they connect to your phone over Bluetooth. Portable models, like Logitech's updated UE Mini-boom, are designed to give just about enough quality to give a bedroom or kitchen a competent audio device. In other words, think of a high-end PC speaker and it's a little bit better than that.

This speaker has a neat trick in that if you buy a second one, you can pair them together to create good stereo. On its own, it's simply a decent (small) speaker.

The UE Mini-boom also lets you take calls, thanks to a small microphone in the device.

* Very poor ** Sub-par *** Acceptable **** Very good ***** Outstanding

Irish Independent

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