Tuesday 23 October 2018

Ahead of the sales, Adrian Weckler picks 12 of the best gadgets of 2017

 

Apple TV 4K
Apple TV 4K
Roberts Stream 93i
Belkin Wemo Insight plug
Kobo Aura One eReader
Fuji Instax mini 9
Apple iPad Pro 10.5
Sky Soundbox
Microsoft Surface laptop
Panasonic Lumix GX800
Sony MDR1000X noise-cancelling headphones
Panasonic Lumix GX800
Vodafone Smart V8
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

It's been quite a year for technology in our lives. As well as face-detecting iPhones and virtual reality headsets, there were lots of practical, helpful gadgets introduced to make our daily lives more comfortable. Here are 12 of the best. By our tech editor

Vodafone Smart V8

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Vodafone Smart V8
 

(€199 from Vodafone stores or Vodafone.ie)

Beside all the hoopla coverage that top-of-the-range models get, it's sometimes difficult to know which lesser-publicised, affordably priced smartphones are any good. From reviewing dozens of handsets this year, I found this one to be the best budget smartphone you can buy for under €200. It has a really bright, crisp 5.5-inch screen and some really great, usable features for the money. These include a 16-megapixel camera, a fingerprint reader (for security) and a decent 32GB of storage, which is considerably more than you'd get with some other budget phones. The only compromise is that it's locked to Vodafone: if you're sticking to another network, I'd recommend Motorola's new G5 (€200 from Argos) instead.

Sky Soundbox

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Sky Soundbox
 

(€299/€349 to Sky subscribers)

Ever feel a bit embarrassed by asking others to turn up the TV because you just can't hear it properly? Don't worry, it's not just advancing age; modern, skinny television have notoriously poor speakers that, even when at high volume levels, come across as tinny and inaudible.

There are lots of external speakers that help out here, but the best of the year is Sky's Soundbox. It plugs into your Sky set top box and delivers beautiful, balanced, warm audio. As a bonus, it's a very tidy rectangular box that's about the same length as a DVD player and about three times as tall. So there are few messy cables.

Microsoft Surface laptop

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Microsoft Surface laptop
 

(€1,169 from PC World)

If you want to splash out and treat yourself to a quality laptop with all the latest features, but one that isn't the most expensive, this is the one to get. The 13.5-inch laptop is the perfect size with a beautiful screen that can be controlled by touch, as well as the normal trackpad. It's thin and light (1.25kg) without skimping on any power or storage - it has the newest Intel processors and up to 512GB of storage, more than enough for any casual user.

Kobo Aura One eReader

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Kobo Aura One eReader
 

(€250 from Argos)

Here's the problem with many eReader devices such as the Kindle - their universal six-inch screens are too small for some people with wavering eyesight. This means you either have to increase the font size so that you're swiping between pages every few sentences or you're left squinting at the device. At eight inches across, Kobo's Aura One is about 50pc bigger than a standard Kindle screen. And if you're worrying about ebook choices, don't; outside the US, Kobo is now the only real mainstream competitor to the Kindle, so there are plenty of ebooks.

Sony MDR1000X noise-cancelling headphones

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Sony MDR1000X noise-cancelling headphones
 

(€269 from PC World)

There are umpteen headphones you can buy that all promise you total calm. In my experience, Sony's MDR1000X model is one of the most reliable, comfortable sets that deliver. The wireless noise-cancelling headphones block out at least 80pc of all external noise around you, especially loud hums or whirs. The audio quality is top notch and a microphone means they can also take calls.

Apple iPad Pro 10.5

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Apple iPad Pro 10.5
 

(from €749 from Harvey Norman)

If you're looking for an excellent, featherweight-but-powerful alternative to a full laptop, Apple's iPad Pro can't be beaten. It's about twice the price of a normal iPad, but for that you get more power, more storage and a terrific 'smart' keyboard that doubles as a protective cover and a stand. The 10.5-inch screen is absolutely stunning and you can now divide it up into different sections to work on (or browse) different things. This is a wonderful half-and-half device for work and play.

Belkin Wemo Insight plug

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Belkin Wemo Insight plug
 

(€75 in Argos)

Want to take a baby step into creating a 'smart home'? This is one of the easiest, cheapest and most practical ways to do it. The Wemo switch basically connects whatever is plugged into it to your phone (via a free Wemo app). That means when something like a lamp or a TV is plugged into it, you can switch it on or off (or set a timer for it) from your phone. This becomes very useful for security if you're away or for starting an appliance so it's ready when you get back home.

Fuji Instax Mini 9

(€80 from Conns Cameras)

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Fuji Instax mini 9

Thought Polaroids were dead? Think again. The instant-printing camera category has made a serious comeback and, in an era when phone cameras have largely replaced our digital models, this gadget is the only one growing in the camera business. The Instax Mini 9's prints are 2.1 inches by 3.5 inches and it's fairly idiot-proof to use. A setting guide even lets you pick between lighting conditions. It comes in five different colours and has a flash. Replacement photos cost around €10 for a pack of 10.

Apple TV 4K

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Apple TV 4K
 

(€199 from CompuB)

Ever wish you could get Netflix on your telly but didn't know where to start? Apple's TV set top box makes it brilliantly simple. You just plug it in to your telly and follow its instructions. It connects to your home Wi-Fi and lets you use a number of apps, including Netflix. The newest version supports 'ultra high definition' (or '4K') for watching movies and TV series in the best possible resolution. This is the easiest way to get into online 'streaming' apps on your telly.

Roberts Stream 93i

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Roberts Stream 93i
 

(€189 from Harvey Norman)

We tend to overlook radios as gadgets these days, but some are really worth the investment. Roberts Stream 93i is a wireless for the modern era, with FM, DAB and internet radio that also connects directly to Spotify and external audio sources wirelessly or over cable, in case you want to hook up your own CD system, iPod or audio player. The sound quality, for a radio, is excellent with a three-way speaker system and a bass sub-woofer.

Panasonic Lumix GX800

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Panasonic Lumix GX800
 

(€469 with 12-32mm lens from Conns Cameras)

If you do want a good quality camera that won't break the bank, this is the best new affordable model of the year. The Lumix GX800 has the same basic optical technology (via its 16-megapixel sensor) that is seen in much more expensive models. It also has a really handy flip-up touchscreen, while photos are sharp and detailed. And if you ever want to expand your horizons, there are around 70 different lenses available to the system.

HP Sprocket

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Panasonic Lumix GX800
 

(€149 from PC World)

Printing photos is a bit of a pain, whether it's a trip to the pharmacy machine or trying to hook up a home printer. HP's Sprocket makes the whole thing good fun. It's a pocket photo printer that prints 2x3 photos directly from your phone. If you prefer, you can get it to print directly from your Instagram or Facebook accounts. An accompanying free app lets you edit the pics with fonts, borders and speech bubbles. The prints (which come in packs of 20 for €12.99) also have peel-off backs to make them into stickers.

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