Sunday 25 March 2018

Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems


Nokia 8110 4G
Nokia 8110 4G
Sony Xperia XZ2
Panasonic Lumix TZ200
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Q I want a phone that can connect to my family with the services they use, mainly FaceTime and WhatsApp. But honestly, I don't use the phone for any other 'smart' purpose, so I keep asking myself if I'm wasting my money getting the latest iPhone. Is there something that can do the basic job I want but still act mainly as a phone for calling and texting?

A For WhatsApp, there are umpteen budget Android phones (see last week's column on choosing the right budget smartphone under €200, available to read on that cost a fraction of the price of a new iPhone. Unfortunately, when it comes to phones, FaceTime (if that's what you say your family uses most of the time) is an iPhone-only service as it's Apple software. You can't use it on any Android phone or ordinary 'feature phone', such as a Nokia. You can, however, use it on an iPad or an iPod Touch, if you happen to have one of those, or know someone who'd sell you theirs. So if you only occasionally use FaceTime at home, a workable option would be to get a reliable budget smartphone or a feature phone and save the smart features for your home use on your Apple gadget.

If this sounds like it would suit you, the budget smartphones I'd suggest include Moto's G5 (€199), Sony's Xperia L1 (€150) and Huawei's P8 Lite (€199) - see last week's column for more on these models.

An alternative might be a new Nokia. The once-dominant phone manufacturer is back with a new crop of hybrid phones that mix classic mobile phone features (such as buttons) with a very limited number of smartphone features. For example, its new 8110 4G phone is reminiscent of its classic 'Matrix' phone, with a small colour screen and button operation. It can use a very limited version of Facebook, with a handful of other popular smart apps on the way. But its big appeal is its long-lasting battery life and its price. You'll only need to charge this once every three or four days, while it costs €79, a tenth of the price of Apple's flagship iPhone 8.

But if FaceTime is a must when you're out and about, the cheapest iPhone you'll get will be a reconditioned iPhone 5S from Harvey Norman for between €250 and €300. Alternatively, a brand new iPhone SE, which is currently Apple's up-to-date base model, costs €399. To be fair, this phone should work fine for you for between three and five years, so might be worth the investment. And it goes without saying that you can use WhatsApp and any other modern calling or texting service (Skype, Messenger and more) with this phone. But it still doesn't get around your basic quandary, which is that it's a full-feature smartphone (priced as such) when all you say you want is two smart apps (FaceTime and WhatsApp) atop a more old-fashioned, traditional mobile handset.

I will say that most people eventually find themselves naturally being drawn into more smartphone features than just FaceTime or WhatsApp, when they get a smartphone. The two handiest basic features are probably Google and maps, allowing you to look up something like a shop's opening hours when you're stuck out and about or to know where something is on the map.

But you'll find features such as those on hybrid phones such as Nokia's 8110 4G or even the senior citizen focused Doro range of devices. Ultimately, you'll have to decide how important FaceTime is and whether you need it on your phone or whether it's okay just in the home.

RECOMMENDATION: Nokia 8110 4G (€79, pictured) or iPhone SE (€399)

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Two to Try

Sony Xperia XZ2 (€749)

Sony still has flagship phones worth looking at. Its new XZ2 has an increased 5.8-inch screen housed in roughly the same size casing, thanks to slimmer bezels. Its other main features include a new vibration system to let you 'feel' audio and video better, as well as HDR 4K video recording. There's no headphone jack though, and it's a bit heavier and fatter than its predecessor.

Panasonic Lumix TZ200 (€829)

The only compact cameras surviving are those with high-quality sensors. The new Lumix TZ200 has a one-inch sensor, the same size as many higher-end superzoom bridge cameras. That means it takes far better quality photos than other point-and-shoot models. It also has a huge 15x zoom to compliment this, making it a genuinely excellent compact travel camera. Alas, there's a steep price to pay for all of this, though.

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