Monday 21 January 2019

Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems


A reconditioned iPhone 6 is Adrian's recommendation as a smartphone for a youngster starting secondary school
A reconditioned iPhone 6 is Adrian's recommendation as a smartphone for a youngster starting secondary school
HP Envy 5540
Nokia 8
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Q I promised my child a smartphone when she started secondary school. But I don't have much of a clue what to get. What do you recommend?

A As you'll guess, the answer depends massively on your budget. You can get a solid smartphone (from Sony, ­Huawei, Motorola and other brands) that will do just about everything competently for around €150. But a new Apple iPhone (which lots of teenagers ask for) starts at around €400.

If your preference is for the cheaper variant, I'd recommend two alternatives: Sony's Xperia L1 (€139 prepay from Meteor) and Vodafone's Smart Ultra 7 (€159 prepay from Vodafone).

Both are capable smartphones with decent, although not class-leading, features. Both will give your child or teenager access to the features they most want, such as Snapchat and Instagram, without any fuss. Both have modern 5.5-inch screens, which mean they make great viewing devices for videos and photos, too.

Sony has a fortunate habit of loading even its entry-level phones with pretty good cameras. The L1 has a decent 13-megapixel rear camera which can mostly match more expensive models for typical day-to-day shots and videos. The phone also has a good-sized five-inch screen and reasonable battery life.

Vodafone's Smart Ultra 7, meanwhile, has similar features and also scores well on battery life.

Obviously, there are some significant compromises with a phone that costs a quarter of what a premium model will set you back. One big feature minimisation with both these phones is the amount of storage memory available - just 16GB. That's enough to hold maybe a thousand photos and a few videos, but not much else. Happily, both have memory card slots where you can place memory cards for extra photos and videos.

If €150 still seems a little steep, you can get an ultra-budget smartphone model such as Huawei's Ascend Y330 for €59 on prepay from Three. However, despite this functioning adequately, there's a big drop-off in quality for phones this cheap: the Y330's screen is slower than the previous models mentioned and sometimes a little jumpy. In the medium term, it's often a false economy to save €100 on a critical device that's going to be used very day for up to two years.

If an iPhone is under consideration, you can still get some models from previous years that cost a lot less than the current variants. These include the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 6. The latter, which still looks and feels like the very latest iPhone 7 model, can be obtained for €319 on prepay from Vodafone. (It's a 'reconditioned' model that comes with a warranty from Vodafone, as opposed to Apple.) However, if considering an iPhone, be warned that Apple is about to launch its iPhone 8 in early September (probably not available in shops before the end of September). When this happens, the price of older models generally comes down. So a cost-conscious strategy for an iPhone shopper would be to wait a few weeks - it might save you €50 to €100.

All of the phones I've quoted are prepay arrangements, which most children and teenagers have - if you want to sign your child up for a contract, you'll get a handset like an iPhone much cheaper (for under €100 or even free) but you'll pay around €15 more per month for the actual mobile service.

As for choosing which operator to go with, most offer similar bundles for between €15 and €25 per month. For that, your child can expect at least 10GB of data, which is what they'll use far more than the phone number for calling and texting.

RECOMMENDATION: Reconditioned iPhone 6 (pictured, €319 prepay from Vodafone)

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Two to try

HP Envy 5540  (€64.99 in Argos)

HP Envy 5540

Printers aren't normally something you'll see reviewed often in these pages. However, I recently acquired HP's Envy 5540. It's a really solid option for home use. Acting as a scanner and photocopier, too, it connects to any device on your home Wi-Fi network, making it idiot-proof to print from a laptop, PC, phone or tablet. It also makes a decent fist of printing photos, too, having space for dedicated glossy photo paper. Replacement ink is pricey at around €50 although HP offers a monthly all-in deal from €3 instead.

Nokia 8 (€599)

Nokia 8

Nokia may be back. The once-defunct Finnish camera maker has a new flagship smartphone to compete with the iPhone and Samsung. It's a handsome 5.3-inch handset with a camera that takes 'bothie' photos - rear and front photos at the same time. It comes with a lot of storage (64GB) and has plenty of power under the hood.

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