Tech: 4G Wi-Fi is great outside, not so great at home
Our technology expert reviews the 4G Mobile wifi R215, Pebble Time, GoPro Hero+ LCD, Techlink Recharge 12,000 and Marshall Major II headphone.
4G Mobile wifi R215
Price: from free on contract with Vodafone
Rating: 3 stars
Is mobile 4G a viable alternative for home broadband? In large sections of Dublin, Cork and other cities, it is. Tests conducted by the Irish Independent last week showed, in the capital at least, there is widespread coverage of the cellular broadband.
Furthermore, our tests showed average download speeds reaching 30Mbs for the biggest operator, Vodafone. One way of dealing with this is to simply switch on your phone's 'personal hotspot' feature and connect up laptops or tablets to the 4G signal. But most Vodafone plans are a little stingy on data (in comparion to similarly priced plans from 3 Ireland or Meteor). So, an alternative route is to buy a separate, stand-alone mobile Wi-Fi hotspot device such as Huawei's R215 with a €25-per-month 15GB data plan.
The R215 is a small device that takes its own sim card and can connect up to 150Mbs (although the fastest speed we saw on Vodafone's 4G was 60Mbs). It's pretty simple to use. However, inside a typical house, speeds fall off dramatically: it's not unusual for it to degrade to 2Mbs or 3Mbs.
On balance, this is a device that's meant for someone in an apartment that benefits from a strong mobile signal or someone who works a lot in hotels or cafés. Leave it near a window for best performance.
Pebble calls time on watch rivals
Rating: 3 stars
With Apple pushing out the launch of its Watch in Ireland by at least another month, those keen on getting a smartwatch might start looking around at other options. One worth examining is Pebble's new Time model.
For those who don't know it, Pebble is the watch for tech hipsters. Its new model is a modest upgrade on the company's previous Steel watch, but it still retains a charm that is lacking in many of its rivals. Connecting wireless to your iPhone or Android phone, its basic usage involves vibrating notifications and a variety of apps (including fitness apps). Where it beats competitors is its battery life: a full 10 days (compared to two days for Apple's Watch or many Android watches). It's also water-resistant (to 100 feet) and now has a microphone that can be used to respond to messages in some apps.
Its 1.25-inch square colour screen isn't touch-enabled, but that's not a big deal: it's very tricky using a touchscreen that size.
New GoPro kicks for touch
GoPro Hero+ LCD
Price: €330 from camera shops
Rating: 4 stars
What do summer adventure sports and Instagram have in common? GoPro. The mini-camcorders have become the standard-bearer for surfers, cyclists, hikers and boarders everywhere. They're small enough to carry comfortably in one hand and come with dedicated accessories to strap on to virtually any kind of adventure sports outfit or machine.
The new Hero+ LCD is the second GoPro to add a touchscreen to the back. As the owner of a GoPro Hero 4 Silver (the only other model with a touchscreen), the display is very handy for quick review.
That said, the new Hero+ doesn't quite have the specifications of the Silver: its video is limited to 1080p (not the 2.7k or 4k of the Silver). It also comes baked into a waterproof housing unlike the alternate cases that come with more expensive models.
This is €100 cheaper than the Silver and is worth the money.
Battery bliss for family phones
Techlink Recharge 12,000
Price: €100 from Harvey Norman, Expert
Rating: 5 stars
Portable phone chargers are the new USB keys. But most of them will only recharge a single phone. And with holidays coming up, car loads of kids will be draining tablet and phone batteries in quick time. This is where the heavy artillery in portable power chargers comes in.
Techlink's Recharge 12,000 has a 12,000mAh battery, enough to recharge four full-sized smartphones or two tablets. It comes with an iPhone/iPad Lightning charging lead and an Android-compatible Micro USB charging lead. Both of these can be used at the same time, thanks to dual charging ports on the device. And it even allows different charging speeds from the unit, which is around the same size as a Samsung S6 phone (though three times as thick).
It is cleverly designed. too, with a flap that opens to let you stand your phone or tablet upright (to watch a movie, for example) while it's charging. This is a really solid investment.
Low-cost cans for cool kids
Marshall Major II
Rating: 4 stars
Thought Beats were the hipsters' choice for headphones? Think again: you're two years out of date. The cool kids are all starting to wear Marshalls. It's not the rock-pedigree image, although that appeals across all ages. Nor is it the association with guitars and power amps. It's that the company's on-ear headphones have come down a lot in price and are decent quality. The company's latest low-end leather cans are very comfortable and give high-quality audio, partially because they eschew sound-degrading wireless technology. The earpieces now fold inwards, meaning that they're easy to pack or store in a bag. And the connecting cable even includes an inline control to accept a call when connected to a smartphone. If you have a style-conscious teenager in the house, this is the headphone set to get them.