All sorted for Christmas? No? With just days to go, here are five tech treats that all make great last-minute gifts
Aldi Medion Lifetab 7
Price: €100 (from Aldi) Rating: ****
I'm really not that fond of cheap tablets. Going from a decent model to a cheap one resembles a switch from fresh food to petrol station plastic-wrapped sandwiches. That said, basic models do have their genuine uses. (I have one whose only purpose is as a Spotify music and radio player with a wireless speaker in the kitchen.)
And there is also the argument that they serve as basic entertainment consoles for kids, mainly for a few games and Netflix. In this context, it's hard to beat Aldi's 7-inch Lifetab tablet.
To be clear, this is not an iPad rival. But for what you're paying, it's about the best you can get, with the most recent version of Android, two cameras (2 megapixels and 0.3 megapixels) the Play Store, 8GB of internal storage and a quadcore 1.6Ghz chip.
The screen is fair (but only fair), too. Again, this is no Google's Nexus 7 (which is the standard to beat and costs €250). However, on this kind of budget, it is more than adequate.
Sony BTM8B Wireless Speaker
Price: €100 (from Harvey Norman) Rating: ****
In this post-stereo era, the standard audio set-up in most homes consists of a digital audio player (iPod, phone or tablet) plus speaker.
But times are changing. Because music streaming is now becoming the norm, it is wireless speakers that are coming to the fore. Like anything else, good ones cost money. But €100 can get you a fairly decent small speaker, such as Sony's BTM8B.
The 4-watt speaker is designed to be moved around, with a handle. It's also packed with technology, including NFC compatibility (for instant Bluetooth connection with an NFC-enabled phone, such as Samsung or Sony). The sound quality is decent, though you will get better audio from similarly priced speakers with no wireless capability.
50mm F1.8 lens
Price: €130-€150 (from Conn's Cameras) Rating: *****
Lots of people have moved up to full-sized cameras in the past two or three years. But many beginners and novices simply settle for the kit lens that comes with the camera. Or they buy a zoom lens. These are good for some things. But for shooting portraits -- or people in general -- there is one lens that I have found beats most others.
The lens to get your hands on is the ultra-affordable F1.8 50mm model. Because it ranges down to F1.8, you get stunning depth of field (which is to say that the background to your shot blurs away beautifully), sharpening your subject. Both Canon and Nikon (still the two most popular brands for full-sized cameras) sell this model. If you know someone who has a Nikon or Canon camera, you won't go wrong here.
Price: €27 (from PC World) Rating: ****
We've covered a lot of headphones in 2013. With the exception of JVC's ultra-budget (€9) overhead model, most have been pretty pricey. I would argue that it's worth paying a bit for headphones you are planning to use a lot.
But if you're looking to gift a pair to someone of indeterminate audio frequency, Sennheiser's tried-and-trusted HD201 model is a good bet.
The cans don't set the world alight for bass or ultra-delicate balance. But they give decent audio and are both light and (relatively) comfortable. You're generally stuck with black and silver, but this should suit most people.
Fitbit Flex Price
€100 Rating: ****
Within days -- or maybe even hours -- of the Christmas dinner being downed, attention invariably turns to 'getting into shape'.
At least, it does in our house. This is why something such as the rechargeable Fitbit Flex probably makes a decent Christmas gift. While a lot of phones now have fitness trackers, a dedicated wristband is genuinely handy for someone who is keen on measuring their progress. The Fitbit Flex does two things. First, it monitors how many steps you take during the day. It does quite a bit with this information, synchronising with your smartphone and -- through a USB dongle -- your PC. At night, it also tries to give you some information about how you're sleeping (whether it's 'deep', 'fitful' or otherwise).
Importantly, it works with apps such as Runkeeper. The rubberised band is pure sport-chic, too, and comes in a range of different colours.