Weckler on Technology: A cut-price phablet that's proving itself to be the One
OnePlus One Price: €290 unlocked from oneplus.net/uk Rating: ****
Would you buy a 'phablet' smartphone from a brand you'd never heard of if it was half the price of a Samsung Galaxy or iPhone? That's exactly what lots of tech-savvy folk have done, making the 5.5-inch OnePlus One a surprise hit over the last few months.
Aside from its sub-€300 price (a Galaxy Note 4 costs over €700) fans of the device like its simplicity of design and no-nonsense Android implementation. Its raw specifications are very decent, although its 13-megapixel camera isn't as good as the top model from either Samsung or Sony.
There are two caveats. First, you can only buy them online on Tuesdays (no joke!) unless you have a special invitation (typically from a friend). Second, you'll basically be on your own if something goes wrong with the phone. Both of these oddities are because of the company's small startup nature: there is no big corporate entity behind this.
Caveat emptor aside, this is a great buy.
Monster sound, but not for big ears
Monster DNA Pro 2.0 Price: €280 Rating: ***
I have large ears. While this nominally makes them better audio receptacles, it means that over-ear headphones can sit slightly uncomfortably unless they're very big and cushioned.
This is not something that I can say about Monster's new DNA Pro headphones, despite some other handy features they boast. While the sound quality is good when pressed against an ear, left alone they perch a little awkwardly. This is a shame as in most other respects, this is quality equipment. There's comfortable leather padding around the earpieces and headband and they fold up neatly for transportation. Inline buttons on the cable let you control an iPhone, iPad or iPod and there's even a social second port for a friend to 'plug in' and join your music. Sadly, some of us need something bigger.
LG chooses clunky chic for watch
LG Urbane LTE Price: €350 Rating: n/a
The next two weeks will mostly be about one tech product: Apple's Watch. That means that rivals are piling in with their own announcements a week beforehand.
LG's candidate, the Urbane LTE, has a few curious features to coax you away from Apple.
It can make and take calls by itself, thanks to onboard 4G technology. It also has a 'walkie talkie' feature designed to allow several people to communicate at once over short distances. The watch eschews the square digital look of Apple's device in favour of something more analoguish in a bid to appeal to Tag Heuer types. But LG says that it will still work with your (Android) phone.
Laptop zen on a budget
Asus ZenBook UX305 Price: €700 Rating: ****
Asus's new super-slim ZenBook is close to being exactly what most people really want from a laptop: very light, well designed and with enough power to do just about anything in real comfort. The 13-inch aluminium machine takes a lot of cues from Apple's MacBook Air, though this is hardly a bad thing.
It packs Intel's battery-friendly Core M chip which, though not as powerful as i5 or i7 processors, gives you over 10 hours' usage. Its HD screen is bright and sharp, while its keyboard is comfortable to use. For storage, it starts with a standard 128GB solid state drive. While Dell's XPS 13 is the sub-€1,000 benchmark for 13-inch Windows PCs, this is probably the best budget model going.
Kid-smart, cool and cheap
Motorola Moto E Price: €150 Rating: ****
"Mam, can I have a smartphone?" "Okay, but we can't afford an iPhone so here's a ______." What should Irish parents fill this blank with? Motorola's updated Moto E makes a good case for being the answer. Some of its specifications - a 5-megapixel camera, 8GB of storage and average battery - aren't especially riveting. But its 4.5-inch screen, 'Lollipop' Android version and 4G engine lift it above most similarly-priced rivals.
Motorola also has a tendency to keep its interfaces clean and simple, meaning very little memory-sapping bloatware. The only thing it's not ideal for is rough-and-tumble, with fairly brittle plastic casing. Still, this will become a natural contender for the best budget teenager smartphone.
Ratings: * Very poor ** Sub-par *** Acceptable **** Very good ***** Outstanding