Reviewed by our technology editor this week are Kef Egg speakers, Apple iPhone 6S, Sony HX90V and IPad pro.
Kef Egg speakers
Rating: 4 stars
Ever watch a movie on your laptop or desktop PC? Or stream music in the kitchen from your phone? You're probably in the majority. Stereo hifi units have long been consigned to the attic for years, while a huge number of people now don't rely on TVs any more for watching films or television series. But while the 'retina' quality screens on all these gadgets make for good viewing, the sound on them is still usually really poor. This is one reason that separate speakers continue to sell well.
Most of the external speakers I've trialled are single boxes aimed mainly for music streaming from phones. Some, especially those from Sony and Bose, are pretty good. But if you want a slightly bigger sound (especially to do justice to stereo), you really need a dedicated pair. Such a concept is Kef's Egg speakers. The name is apt: the two speakers are shaped as ovals on a thick plastic stand, each measuring about 14 inches high, seven inches wide and eight inches deep. They're intended as standalone desktop or shelf speakers and can play audio wirelessly (over Bluetooth 4.0), via a 3.5mm cable (into an old iPad or CD player), via mini USB (into a laptop or PC) or via an optical cable (supplied) from a telly.
I used them mostly as wireless speakers, playing music from a phone and audio for a 22-inch home PC playing Netflix. They're great: they play deep, rich audio quality that easily fills almost any home room. (I attached them to the living room's main telly once with the same effect, although I wasn't crazy about the way they tied the room together). Kef claims that some of this is down to something it calls its Uni-Q driver, which allegedly gives the audio dispersion an edge over rivals.
One advantage to these speakers is that they play 'high resolution' audio to 24-bit, 96kHz standard. That's good if you pay for premium music streaming services, which are starting to offer higher audio technical quality as broadband gets faster. If you want to really crank the volume up and add a sub-woofer, there's also a port for that on the speakers (but no supplied cable).
Even though they're fairly heavy, I liked that I could place the Eggs in a lot of different places such as shelves and counter-tops. On the other hand, these are not portable convenience speakers in the same mould as, say, a Bose Soundlink. They're not rechargeable and are meant to be fixed accessories. So they're not really to be compared with such portable speakers (which also tend to be cheaper).
Apple iPhone 6S
Price: from €740
While a full review is still some way off, I managed to get a little bit of hands-on time with the new iPhone right after its launch 10 days ago. In shape, look and feel, both the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are almost identical to the current iPhone models, except you can now get them in 'rose gold'.
There are two main differences to the new phones. The first is a better camera: 12 megapixels instead of eight megapixels. This brings the iPhone camera right up with the best in the market. The second main difference is a new feature called '3D Touch'.
This lets the phone respond differently, depending on whether you 'tap' or 'press' the screen. Sometimes, this results in time-saving shortcuts to an app's content or information. For example, on Instagram, it lets you preview photos or profiles. Several apps are already compliant with it. In the short time I had to play with the phone, I found this feature to be handy: I think I'd use it a lot. Apple hasn't said when the phone launches in Ireland but it will probably be in October.
A new touch to latest iPhone
Rating: 4 stars
Ten days ago, I had to catch a plane and pack light. It was a work trip to the US for three days that included a need to take photos. I wasn't planning on checking luggage in. Usually in this case, I'd sacrifice a pair of shoes or jeans to get a decent camera and spare lens in.
This time, I kept the clothes and brought Sony's new pocket-sized HX90V. By and large, it worked out great: the 30X zoom (which is stabilised) on the camera came in handy taking shots of Tim Cook from about 100 feet away, while I was able to send the photos directly to my phone (and then immediately online) thanks to the camera's Wi-Fi connection. But most impressive was the camera's small size. At 4 x 2.3 inches (and 1.4 inches thick), this is genuinely pocketable.
And that is a big deal in certain situations: there are times when you simply don't want yet another bag or pouch to lug around. That's not to say that the picture quality from this would match that from a Canon 6D and accompanying 'L' lens. But sometimes you just have to compromise. Using the 18-megapixel HX90V was pretty easy, overall. It has two 'intelligent' automatic modes that take care of most situations (although they're not great in low light; I had to switch to manual in a moderately lit auditorium and this is a pain to do on a compact camera). It has an ingeniously packed electronic viewfinder (the thing you look through if you don't want to rely on the screen to take photos) and is nicely ergonomic.
There's also an easy video-recording button, with a number of HD modes available. And its screen flips up (though not out) allowing you take shots from down low, or from in front of the camera, as the occasion demands. That 30x zoom, while making the HX90V extremely versatile, comes with a couple of compromises. The camera can't take in as much light as some of its stable mates (such as the RX100 series) thanks to its f3.5 to f6.4 lens.
The 1/2.3in sensor is considerably smaller, too, than the RX100's: it's actually the same size as the sensor on Sony's own Xperia Z5 smartphones. (Although no smartphone has anything like a 30x optical zoom). In other words, if you're really after the best quality, you won't get the same kind of photos from this as you will from bigger cameras. Nevertheless, I found this compact camera very useful: I would certainly pack it again.
Price: €850 (likely)