Question: I'm shopping for a set-top box but it's hard to find one that has all the channels I want. Saorview seems to be good for the Irish channels, but what about the UK ones like BBC? I don't want to subscribe to Sky or Virgin as I don't feel I get value out of them. Is it worth getting an Apple TV? Or what are my options? I see some shops advertising boxes that give free TV stations like sports and movies, but is that legal?
There are a couple of options. First, it depends whether you live in a house or an apartment. If it's the latter, you might have more limitations because many alternative TV systems require a satellite or an aerial, or access to one.
If you live in a house, it's a relatively straightforward choice. You can opt for a 'combi box' (about €100 from retailers like PC World or DID Electrical, although you'll also need a satellite dish or aerial and to pay an installer) that draws TV stations through an aerial, a satellite dish and broadband.
Installed and plugged into your telly, the box will give you Saorview and Freesat stations.
Saorview is the free Irish television service, offering the RTÉ and Virgin Media channels. Freesat gets you most of the terrestrial British stations, such as BBC, ITV and Sky. You can also get a number of satellite stations, such as MTV, if you use a box that connects to broadband.
If, for some reason, you only want Irish stations or UK stations, you can opt only for Saorview (via an aerial) or Freesat (via a satellite dish). But if you live in an apartment, an aerial is likely to prove difficult or impossible, especially with local authority rules that often ban artefacts such as aerials or satellite dishes on apartment balconies.
It is common now for apartment blocks to have a group satellite scheme, which you may be able to connect to for a fee (or as part of your management fee membership).
Sadly, there appears to be no broadband-only equivalent of Saorview or Freesat available.
This makes it much more difficult to use a PC or a laptop as a primary TV device.
In an age of Netflix, it's an increasingly bizarre and outdated restriction from these broadcasters to not allow mainstream online access (other than the handful that offer very limited services through glitchy online 'Players'), but that is currently the way they see fit to limit access to their services.
An Apple TV set-top box is a very handy way to get Netflix and other online video sources on to your telly by using your home Wi-Fi. However, it doesn't really do TV stations in the same way that other set-top boxes do. You can't get RTÉ or the BBC on one. So it's very much an add-on device that lets you download movies from iTunes or access your Netflix subscription.
Lastly, watch out for the kind of set-top boxes that promise free access to premium sports like Premier League football and recently-released movies.
As a rule, you can assume you're acting outside what the broadcasters consider to be legal if you're accessing their premium content for free.
These set-top boxes rely on dodgy online methods to route around existing television channel subscription methods to re-broadcast transmissions over the internet. Many such devices are known as 'Android boxes'. They're not uncommon but the resolution quality on them is often poor.
Recommendation: Walker Saorview Combo Receiver (€95 from Freetv.ie)
Question: My granddaughter wants an instant camera for Christmas. Are Polaroids still the best ones, or which would you recommend?
Right now, Fujifilm dominates the market for instant cameras with its Instax line. The basic model, the Instax Mini 9, costs €89 and comes with a free roll of film (10 photos). The photos that come out of it are pretty small - 2.4 inches by 1.8 inches. But they have a nice big white border are fun to stick on copybooks or bedroom desks. Replacement film comes in packs of 20 for €25.
If you want something that produces slightly bigger prints, Fujifilm's Instax Square SQ6 prints off 2.4-inch by 2.4-inch photos and is a little more stylish (but costs around €50 more).
If you want to go all out, the Instax SQ20 takes the core of the instant camera and adds a screen to the back. This means that you can preview your photo before printing, or even pick a frame from a video you record and print that. It also lets you 'zoom' (although it's a digital zoom). The SQ20 prints off square 2.4-inch photos.
There is another option entirely, depending on whether your granddaughter has a phone. HP's Sprocket (€150 from Harvey Norman) instantly prints 3x2 photos from any phone, meaning she can snap on her mobile and print there and then. It comes with 10 free 'Zink' photo paper prints, with each subsequent pack costing €15.
Recommendation: Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 (€89 from Conns Cameras or tech retailers)
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
€50 from Littlewoods
We've all faced the situation where we've run out of phone battery. Belkin's portable 10,000mAh power pack is small enough to fit into any bag but has enough reserve in it to charge your phone almost twice over. It also has two charging ports in case a friend needs a hand, too.
€350 from Komplett.ie
Nokia is doing a great job at coming up with decent smartphones at affordable prices. The new Nokia 7.1 has some great spec but costs less than half that of a new iPhone. It has dual rear cameras (which I find very useful) and its 5.8-inch screen is arguably the sweet spot for most people - not too big but big enough for all modern needs.