Tuesday 12 November 2019

Tech reviews: Nokia 7.2

€299 from Carphone Warehouse

Nokia 7.2
Nokia 7.2
Google Nest Mini
Huawei Watch GT 2

The new Nokia 7.2 edges closer to a premium smartphone, but is still in the (lower) mid-range segment, competing directly with phones like Samsung's recently launched Galaxy A50.

Based on a week's use, I can say that this is solid value, although not necessarily the best in its category.

Its strengths include great physical design (including gorgeous metallic rear casing), loads of storage (128GB), a very nice 6.3-inch screen and some decent cameras. The closest thing it has to a drawback is a modest processor.

In general, this has almost all of the modern tricks and features of higher-end smartphones. That includes a face unlocking capability, although this is limited to the selfie camera, so doesn't work particularly well in low light (like the latest iPhones or Google Pixels).

It also retains a fingerprint unlocking reader, which many people will appreciate.

For its price, the Nokia is well-equipped with cameras. Its main rear camera has a 48-megapixel lens, giving a lot of detail in photos. It also goes some way to compensating for the lack of a telephoto lens on this phone.

Nokia, instead, put an ultra-wide lens as its second rear camera. It was right to do so, in my view: ultra-wide lenses are more useful than telephotos.

A third depth sensor lets you take portrait photos with blurry backgrounds.

Like other Nokia phones, this is an Android One handset, meaning you get a fairly pure version of Android as Google sets it out, without other manufacturers dropping in their own commercial apps or different controls.

On balance, I've always liked this approach: I find it quicker to get around than skins from Samsung, Huawei and others.

Its 6.3-inch display is nice and bright, with Nokia giving it added punch with HDR. At this price range, you're not going to get the sublime Oled screens of the iPhone 11 Pro or Huawei P30 Pro, nor will you get the deep blacks of an amoled screen found on a Samsung Galaxy S10. But you won't really get any better than this within the mid-range segment.

What you can get better elsewhere is battery life. The Nokia 7.2's 3,500mAh is solid and will generally give you a day's usage. But a handful of rivals, including Samsung's 6.4-inch Galaxy A50, have substantially bigger batteries (4,000mAh).

Nokia's 7.2 is a very decent phone and, overall, good value for what you're paying. Unfortunately, you can only buy it outright in stores and not as part of a subsidised contract.

Google Nest Mini

€59 from Currys

It's pretty remarkable how good tiny speakers have become. Take Google's Nest Mini. It really is a lot better than its predecessor (the Home Mini). Yet it costs the same. That doesn't mean it will hold a room. But it's certainly good enough for a bedside table or a small kitchen.

The handy thing about it is that you can hang it on a wall immediately, in the same way you would a photo frame or a painting. Its rear casing has a custom hole for exactly that purpose. When hung this way, the audio sounds even better, thanks to the speaker design and the solid rear surface.

But audio is only part of the reason someone will consider the Nest Mini.

It is, of course, a smart speaker that uses Google's Assistant. For those unacquainted with it, Google's Assistant is the equivalent of Amazon's Alexa, and is now baked into most Android phones. It lets you make calls, turn the TV on, set a timer, play music on Spotify, or control movies on Netflix.

It actually lets you do a lot more than this, but when it comes to smart speakers, I'm a person of modest requirements.

Our home has a couple of them. But 95pc of what we use them for boils down to a handful of relatively simple tasks: radio, streaming music, cooking timers and weather updates.

I'm the one who uses them most. But I haven't yet become fond of the routines that these devices are particularly adept at.

I don't arrive at the door and say 'I'm home' to spark off a set of actions, including lights, heating controls, kettles and other plugged-in activities.

There are three ways of controlling the Nest Mini: through your phone, using your voice or physically tapping it. This last option is handiest when you want to immediately pause an audio stream on the speaker or adjust the volume without saying 'OK Google, louder', or 'OK Google, quieter'.

Although I appreciate the clean design of the front speaker grille, I sometimes tap in the wrong place as there's no obvious sign, other than by judging where it is by the perpendicular power cable. When your hand approaches, a sensor illuminates the controls, but I found that it wasn't quite quick enough for instant use.

Oh, and for those who are concerned about an 'always-ready' smart microphone in their home, you can turn the microphone off via a physical switch on the side of the device.

The one element I miss in this, which its nearest rival (Amazon's Echo Spot) has, is a 3.5mm line out. In our home, I physically link my Echo Spot to a much bigger, deeper speaker. When I want to listen to something at a decent volume, presto - I now effectively have an ultra-premium voice-controlled smart speaker that doesn't itself yet exist on the market. To be fair, you can achieve a version of this if the second speaker has Bluetooth.

Huawei Watch GT 2

€260 from Littlewoods

Huawei's new Watch GT 2 does the job for health and fitness, looks pretty good and has pretty incredible battery life.

This is a watch for those who want something with a superior display to a Fitbit and who don't quite need all of the apps that an Apple Watch gives you. But it's also for someone who doesn't want to be bothered recharging their watch more than once every week. In fact, mine usually lasted more than 10 days between charges.

For me, this is a very strong reason to consider this smartwatch, especially given its excellent, sharp, colourful 1.4-inch amoled display.

It comes in two sizes: 46mm and 42mm. The test model I had was the 46mm 'classic' version with a leather strap and metallic silver watch frame.

I'll admit that I did have to check that it was metal, as you might be forgiven for thinking it's plastic. Otherwise, the design of the Watch GT 2 is actually quite nice. Huawei has thankfully toned down some of the bling of its earlier smartwatches.

And the 46mm version didn't feel too big, even though I have pretty slender wrists. (The 44mm Apple Watch sometimes feels a little bulky on the same wrist.)

In everyday operation, the Watch GT 2 is quite easy to use. There are two side buttons for picking through menus or workout programmes, while swiping in each direction takes you directly to settings, music, messages, alarms, or even a 'find my phone' feature. This is where the slightly larger screen comes in handy.

One of the cornerstones of the GT 2 - and all Huawei smartwatches - is Huawei Health. I've used this quite a bit and find it to be reliable and useful.

I'm not a fitness fanatic: I don't regularly use half of the fitness routine modes on it, and it makes little difference to me if the lap times are off by a second or two.

It can help you measure and track your workouts, from indoor and outdoor runs, to triathlons and swimming. It also has a sleep tracker, although I've always been a little dubious about the reliability of that technology.

There are some other cool features on it that, I feel, could be used better. For instance, it has a compass built in, something that Apple made a lot of in its latest smartwatch launch. But there's no mapping app to take advantage of that, like there is on Apple's Watch Series 5.

There are some compromises, especially in the name of battery life. That fantastic amoled display lights up for five seconds - but no more - when you flick your wrist up.

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