Technology - Weckler on the latest gadgets
Reviewed this week are Bush Eluma B1 10, Acme Made Skinny Sleeve, Canon G3X and the Kensington Virtuoso Signature Stylus and Pen.
Windows tablet on a budget is well worth the money
Bush Eluma B1 10
Price: €190 from Argos
Rating: 4 stars
One quirk of the tablet world is that budget Windows tablets tend to be considerably better made than their Android equivalents. That doesn't mean that they're always the best choice, but I was struck by the phenomenon again when reviewing Bush's Eluma B1 tablet. The 10-inch device is neither super-slim not super-light compared to rivals. But it's well-built, handles nicely and delivers an experience that is really quite decent.
The tablet's power specifications are a little basic, with just 1GB of RAM and a quadcore 1.8Ghz chip that's more at home in a phone than a laptop-replacement device. On the other hand, there's a decent 32GB of storage and an additional memory card slot if you want more.
Where the tablet comes into its own is in being sold with a usable keyboard case. The keyboard is fairly basic but its casing has a nice little folding design trick that turns it into stand for the tablet. It also has HDMI and headphones ports. It has two cameras, a five-megapixel rear lens and a two-megapixel webcam. These are a little basic but perfectly adequate.
There are some limitations. The screen, while reasonably bright and smooth, is capped at 1,280 x 800 pixels, which is a good way off high-end 'retina' screens like Apple's 2,048 x 1,536 iPad Air 2. It also still comes with Windows 8, although a free upgrade to Windows 10 is available.
One thing I had to get used to was manually switching the screen off (via the sleep button on the side): if you simply close the cover over, the screen stays active. (More expensive rivals have sensors that automate this process.)
The fact that it's Bush - the company that made all those cheap radios and bargain-basement stereos 20 years ago - is not something that would give me pause. Tablets are commoditised machines now: this one is made in China by the same factory that makes many of the others (and using the same components).
Make no mistake: this does not have the laptop-replacement qualities of, say, Microsoft's Surface. There is no USB port, for example. No, this is a tablet that comes with a typing case. But for those looking for an inexpensive (as in really, really cheap) laptop-tablet hybrid, there isn't much out there that's better value for your money.
A case of slim returns for MacBook sleeve
Acme Made Skinny Sleeve
Price: €40 from Apple.ie
Rating: 3 stars
Those taking the plunge on a new Apple MacBook will have forked out the (very substantial) purchase price mainly for the 12-inch machine's ultra-slim, light format. But all laptops need some sort of protective casing. And herein lies the rub: what's the point of getting a super-skinny laptop if you then have to wrap it in a bulky protective case? Acme gets this. It has come out with a Skinny Sleeve with padding that is very, very slim. So you can slip it into a bag or case without taking up many more millimetres than you would if it was in there without any case. The stretch case has a few other nice touches to it. Its neoprene material means that it's water resistant to a point. And it eschews annoying (and case-scratching) zips for an elasticated band that keeps the case shut. If you've forked out the €1,500 for the laptop, you may as well go the extra few yards for this sleeve.
Canon supersizes zoom in new high-end snapper
Price: €1,000 from Conn's Cameras
Rating: 4 stars
A few years ago, people figured out that their pocket snappers didn't have the sort of zooms that come in handy for lots of occasions. How could they get more flexibility without straying into the cumbersome world of multiple (expensive) lenses?
Thus the 'bridge' camera was born: a camera that was a little bulkier than a compact but which had a big zoom. In general, though, 'bridge' cameras have tended to be cheaper devices with limited quality. They have been ignored by those looking for better results.
Now, manufacturers are trying to fuse higher-quality imaging with mega-zoom features. Sony made a breakthrough with its excellent RX10 series and Canon has now given it a shot with its G3X, a superzoom camera that produces really nice imagery without any separate lenses needed. The camera, which is smaller than a DSLR but is way too big to be pocketable, has a massive zoom: 25x (600mm in DSLR terms). It's enough to catch details on objects hundreds of yards away. I found the zoom really easy to use and, if the hand didn't shake too much, adept at taking really nice shots. And it's addictive. It's surprising how much fund using a superzoom really is. You can catch things you never normally would.
The G3X has a 1-inch sensor, which is smaller than those on a DSLR but still big enough to create clear, detailed images, especially as its aperture range starts at f2.8.
Other things to like about the camera are its ergonomics - this is comfortable to hold and use - and its bright, three-inch, flip-out touchscreen.
Shooting video with the camera was a mixed affair. While the quality of the footage was outstanding, even when fully zoomed in, there were sometimes issues with autofocusing. So much so that I usually had to switch to manual focusing (which most people just won't want to do). There's no 4K shooting here, but that is no loss for the vast majority of people. However, not having an electronic viewfinder is a bit of a surprise on a camera at this price level.
The G3X will suit people who want one good camera for all occasions and love the idea of a big zoom.
Tablet skills, the Alan Partridge way
Kensington Virtuoso Signature Stylus and Pen
Price: €25 from Harvey Norman
Rating: 3 stars
People who like tablet styluses are usually the same as those who list 'Excel Ninja' at the top of their LinkedIn profile 'skills' list. In this context, Kensington's Virtuoso Signature Stylus is a cleverly pitched accessory. Not only does it make you look like you're using a Parker silver pen when writing executive notes on your tablet, but it has a clip that makes it easy to attach to your shirt, belt or mustard-coloured Louis Copeland sports jacket. Classy or what? (It can also be clipped to the side of a stylish leatherette tablet case.) But the real magic comes when you give the pen a twist: it turns into an actual ballpoint pen! With a smooth nib, too.
Its only limitation is that it's priced too keenly: a white gold version would set its bearer apart from the crowd more distinctly. Nevertheless, I'd be surprised if there isn't a run on these knacky accessories in boardrooms all over Ireland.