Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets
Reviewed by our Technology Editor this week are the HTC 10, HP Envy 13 and the Dyson Cinetic Big Ball.
HTC's audio visual masterclass is a rival to the iPhone
Price: €699 from HTC.com or free from 3 Ireland
From once being the best Android phone on the market, HTC has slipped into a difficult place in recent years. Its HTC One M8 and M9 models lacked any meaningful new features or design innovation. And their cameras, while decent, did not keep up with the best that Samsung, Sony and Apple had to offer.
So can the new 5.2-inch flagship HTC 10 recapture our interest?
I've had a play with the device and the first impressions are good, if qualified. HTC has tweaked the phone's design and, on balance, it works. The edges of the gold, silver or dark grey phone are chamfered, meaning you get a kind of transition surface between the front and sides of the handset. This has the side-effect of more light-reflection from the phone, a pleasing aesthetic feature that is neutral on the device's comfort levels.
This is most noticeable on the gold variant, which has a white face. The dark grey edition doesn't show up much of this design. Otherwise, the phone looks very similar to a cross between a Samsung and an iPhone. This is a bit disappointing, but HTC is now a relatively small handset company with a limited design budget.
There are two areas that HTC has improved dramatically for this new phone. The stereo speakers on it are the best I've ever heard on a smartphone - head and shoulders above any other device on the market right now. This is partly because of a woofer-tweeter combination. In fact, its general approach to audio is excellent, with high resolution audio and 24-bit infrastructure.
The camera is also improved, even if I haven't fully had time to really test it in depth at the time of writing. HTC has deepened the pixel quality on offer with the 12-megapixel rear snapper, with an f1.8 lens and faster autofocus. It allows for more light into the camera which means better quality shots, particularly in dim shooting conditions.
Having said this, a few quick comparison shots I did next to an iPhone 6S Plus (which, admittedly, is more expensive) don't conclusively show that it has a better camera. Still, the improvements are enough to earn it a joint-leading DXO score of 88, putting it on a par with Samsung's new S7 and slightly ahead of the iPhone 6S Plus (84). One thing that might be useful to some - and that's still just 'some' - is its 4K video recording at 30 frames per second. We're getting closer to a time when 4K video is becoming a useful standard, even if we're not there yet. The phone also shoots slow motion videos at 120 framers per second. Finally on the camera score, it has a 5-megapixel f1.8 front-facing lens that uses the screen as a flash.
The phone's screen is at the upper end of the market, with 564 pixels per inch and a better-than-full-HD 2K resolution.
Other things to know include a 3,000mAh battery, which should easily mean over a day of usage. It's also a USB C device, which means faster recharging. HTC says that 30 minutes gives you a 50pc charge. There's also a slot for an SD memory card to augment its onboard 32GB of storage.
HTC has junked some of the bloatware it used to ship on its phones, which will be a relief to those of us who wince at the proliferation of unwanted apps and software forced on to phones. But it has retained its fairly annoying Blinkfeed service and is sticking with its Zoe feature for now.
I'll come back to this when I've had a couple of weeks to really test it, but it seems that HTC has significantly upped its game with this new model.
Thin and light but not perfect
HP Envy 13
Price: €850 from PC World
Rating: 4 Stars
HP makes one outstanding laptop - the Spectre 360. Its latest machine, the Envy 13 brings a lighter, thinner proposition to the table. It's a very decent machine and its price makes it just about recommendable, although if you have the extra €400 or so, it's still worth getting the Spectre model for its superior build quality.
The Envy 13's biggest strengths are its relative light weight (1.3kg, about 15pc lighter than a 13-inch MacBook Air) and its thinness (1.3cm, just about the skinniest laptop you can get at under €1,000).
It's quite well powered, too, with a basic configuration of the latest Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of Ram and a 128GB solid state drive. (Again, this is slightly better than the current MacBook Air 13, although that machine is due an upgrade soon.)
It has decent Bang & Olufsen speakers on board, a handy fingerprint reader that lets you unlock the machine instead of a password and a fairly easy-to-use keyboard. The high definition anti-glare screen is also good.
It has an SD memory card slot and a couple of USB ports for connectivity.
Oddly, the overall size diameter of the Envy 13 is still bigger than rival 13-inch laptops because of a thick bezel. This matters a little for travellers, as it adds about an inch to the space you need to carry it around.
There are one or two things about the HP Envy you might not like. The battery life isn't really as good as some other laptops in this range. You'll easily get six or seven hours out of it, but nowhere near the 10 that HP suggests.
Also, the trade off for the machine being that bit lighter is evident in the materials. Though this is designed to look like a metallic device, it feels a little plastic. This may not be much of an issue if you're used to such materials, but anyone coming from something like a MacBook Pro will notice it in an instant.
Lastly, I had a couple of bugs in my test machine, including one that wouldn't let me search in the Windows Start menu. That's undoubtedly not the norm, but that's how I found it.
At €850 (there are more powerful configurations for more money), this is a solid laptop that you won't be disappointed in. But you may not quite love it, either.
Dyson's Big Ball stands up
Dyson Cinetic Big Ball
What's the most irritating thing about doing the hoovering? Among the top two or three factors for most people is the damn thing falling over on to its side when you try to make it turn a corner. Dyson's new top-end upright vacuum cleaner has a very clever way of dealing with this. It has moved the machine's centre of gravity so that it simply doesn't fall over sideways. I've tried it and it works: no matter how much you push, pull or yank the thing in an unfriendly direction, it rights itself automatically.
This isn't the only thing that the Cinetic Big Ball has going for it. The handle of the vacuum cleaner is articulated, letting you steer the device in any direction. This is a small thing but it makes a bit of a difference when pushing the contraption about.
Dyson has also improved the bag-emptying bit of the process. First, there is no bag, just a bin that's about a third bigger than its predecessor. A line of silicone makes sure that no dirt clings on to the inside of the bin, either.
The new machine ups its cleaning power, too. 180mph air cyclones inside the Cinetic Big Ball deliver, Dyson says, a G force of 100,000. This lets the device separate out dust particles to a minute measurement, making it suitable for those whose pets shed regularly.
This isn't cheap but it's a powerful home cleaning machine.