Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problem
Question: I read your review of headphones last month. I thought about getting a pair for my daughter as a present. I was leaning towards Sennheiser's HDR 450, but it appears that this isn't ideal for Apple products - other reviews say that because it doesn't support Apple's AAC codec, it will always fall back to the SBC codec, said to be lower quality. What else would you recommend? - Margaret Connell
Answer: I really wouldn't worry too much about using an SBC codec rather than an AAC one. To be frank, the difference is hard to notice. Yes, Apple's AAC codec is slightly better, but you'll only really notice it if you have very high-end speakers or headphones, or you're some sort of expert with professionally attuned hearing. I find this to be the case even when trying some of the very best equipment, like Sony's LDAC codec from its 'high-definition' audio devices. In my opinion (and others may disagree), the impact on end-user quality from using one codec over another is minuscule compared to other factors, such as a suitably-shaped ear cup.
So don't worry about this particular quibble - whatever other qualm you might have about the Sennheisers, that shouldn't be one to prevent you getting them.
But if it really is a deal-breaker, you might have to slightly increase your budget as the majority of the sub-€200 wireless over-ear headphones (which is the form factor I assume you're still looking for) don't have much variety in codecs. Easily the best deal right now is Sony's 1000-XM2 over-ear headphones (€219 from Currys, though rivals such as Harvey Norman say they'll match prices from Currys). As well as supporting a number of codecs (including AAC), they have noise-cancelling technology built in which is about the best on the market. They're also incredibly comfortable to wear and boast audio quality that's unrivalled at that price. I know this because I have a pair myself - the only reason they're at this price is because Sony has launched an updated version (the 1000-XM3) which cost almost twice the price.
Recommendation: Sony 1000-XM2 (€219 from Currys)
Could you recommend an easy-to-use, inexpensive tablet for my 80-year-old dad? He just wants to research his stamp collection and access his emails.
The best easy-to-use tablet on the market right now is the 2018 iPad (€349). Because its interface has none of the pop-ups that Windows has, or the confusing commercial bloatware apps that many Android tablets have (or the extra security requirements of either rival system), a beginner can get going on what they want to do relatively quickly. For researching stamps, it should be straightforward. For email, if your dad uses something like Gmail or Hotmail, just download the app and he's good to go. If his email is a Microsoft (Outlook or Exchange) address, it should still be relatively simple to map that to the iPad's open native email app.
However, it's unclear whether you might regard €349 as "inexpensive" or not. It certainly is by comparison to rival devices such as Microsoft's Surface Go (over €500) or Samsung's Gear S4 Tablet (over €600). But there are many cheaper tablets out there, all of them using Android. The cheapest Samsung tablet costs under €200 but the cheaper they are, the glitchier and more off-putting they get for novices, particularly senior citizens.
Recommendation: iPad 2018 (€349 from PC World)
I am in the process of looking for a suitable laptop which I will use along with my 16-year-old son. As he will be going to college in two years' time, could you recommend one that will tick all boxes for his requirements?
There are genuinely lots of laptops that fit that bill. Before recommending one, I'll give you a bit of general advice: if you want this to be a solid laptop for four or five years, make sure it's properly powered. I don't want to blind you with technical details, but make sure your laptop has a minimum of 8GB of Ram memory. If possible, try also to get a 'decent' chip - something like an Intel Core i5. Storage memory is useful, but not essential unless you're hoarding lots of photos or videos. With that in mind, you're looking at a cost of at least €600 for a 13-inch laptop from a reputable brand. Lenovo is a good marque in this price category, while HP is also decent. Dell now defaults towards more expensive laptops, while Apple MacBooks always cost over €1,000 (although they're excellent).
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Nokia 8110 4G
€79 from Carphone Warehouse
Nokia's new 8110 4G phone is cool, cute and cheap in equal proportions. It's a decent gift. The handset, which comes in yellow or black, has a small colour screen and button operation. You'll only need to charge it once every three days. With basic internet and a very basic camera, it can also use a very limited version of Facebook.
€999 from Harvey Norman
This column often covers speakers as a utility, but here's one that is also a thing of style. Naim's Mu-so looks like something you'd see in a modernist LA apartment. Its 450 watts of power through six custom-designed speakers also give it considerable audio prowess. This is a luxurious treat.