Tech: A smartphone with amazing battery life, at last
Our technology editor reviews the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active, Impossible Instant Lab 2.0 Universal, DJI Phantom 3 Advanced, DXO One and Bose Soundlink Mini Bluetooth Speaker II.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Active
Rating: 4 stars
Hands up who has ever wanted to buy a 'rugged' smartphone? In theory, they should make sense: handsets that can withstand a lot more wear and tear than the phones we currently have. The problem is that they're often dull, utilitarian affairs pitched squarely at construction workers. Samsung is trying to bridge the gap a little with the announcement of a new robust phone, the S6 Active. It adds water resistance (30 minutes submerged at a depth of one metre, albeit at the expense of the regular fingerprint reader) and shock-proof qualities to the regular top-end S6. It does this without compromising on most of the S6's technical features, either, including excellent cameras, a 5.1-inch screen and an octacore processor among them. But for me, the biggest reason to consider this phone over almost any other may be the battery life. Samsung has increased the battery size by 40pc (to 3,500mAh), giving the S6 Active just about the best battery life of any full-size smartphone. There is one big trade-off to be made: the S6 Active is plastic. Gone is the beautiful metal and glass finish of the S6, arguably the biggest single differentiator between it and the S5. So this will be a phone purely for hard-core users rather than fashion-watchers. Personally, it's a trade-off I'm willing to make for battery life.
Polaroids from smartphone shots
Impossible Instant Lab 2.0 Universal
Price: €220 from Apple.ie
Rating: 4 stars
There's something unique about Polaroid instant prints that modern printing formats don't quite capture. The only problem is that there's no trial run - you're stuck with whatever the first shot captures.
This little device gives you the charm of a Polaroid with the control of edited smartphone images. It's a gadget that takes images from your phone (via use of an accompanying iPhone or Android app) and makes 3.5-inch by 4.3-inch prints out of them in a Polaroid style. It's quite a manual process, with trays pushed and pulled. Each print takes a while to settle, too: there's none of your 90-second Polaroid-waggling here. But the results are lovely. The cost of replacement prints is steep, however, at €20 for a pack of eight (or €2.50 per shot). The advantage is that each one is a keeper. Prints come in colour or black and white variations.
A drone for every homestead
DJI Phantom 3 Advanced
Price: €1,100 from store.dji.com
YouTube is now full of stunning aerial video clips from around Ireland from drones. For those interested, DJI's new Phantom 3 Advanced is a good place to look. It has a built-in HD camera that rotates on three axis. It also takes 12-megapixel still photos. The camera is stabilised, which means no juddery footage with wind-gusts. The quadcopter comes with a remote control for altitude and direction, while a live feed from the (20mm equivalent wide-angle) camera is accessible on your phone or tablet via a transponder unit that communicates with the drone up to 2km away. You get up to around 20 minutes' flight time but if it loses contact or the battery gets low, the Phantom 3 will automatically fly back to the 'home' position (recorded via GPS reading when you commence). The key to this whole device is ease of use. And with GoPro having announced a drone for 2016, DJI has a lot of pressure to make this as painless to use out of the box as possible.
A final note on flying regulations: you're generally not allowed fly drones in or around built-up areas (like cities and towns).
Good idea but few will use
Price: €500 on pre-order
Rating: 3 stars
Ever have a good idea that has very little chance of catching on? That's what DXO's new One camera feels like. It's a high-performance small camera that plugs into an iPhone or iPad to deliver better photos when you're out and about.
Technically, the small gadget's specifications are great: it has a whopping one-inch sensor that dwarfs anything in a modern smartphone. This delivers 20-megapixel shots at a gorgeous f1.8. And it then switches them over to the iPhone to be stored, edited, shared or whatever.
The problem is that Apple has spent a fortune marketing its own iPhones' cameras, so there may not be too many people who see the natural need for an add-on. And especially one that costs over €500. Secondly, as compact as this is, it's another device. Those motivated enough to jump from their phone's (pretty decent) camera to a really good one will probably invest in a standalone camera anyway, which has lots more features than this one. So it's hard to see DXO One's innovative, powerful little snapper taking off.
Great sound, difficult price
Bose Soundlink Mini Bluetooth Speaker II
Price: €200 from Bose.ie
Rating: 4 stars
There are two universal truths about Bose equipment. First, it's very pricey. Second, you're getting something close to best-in-class every time.
The company's updated Mini Bluetooth Speaker is a case in point. It's a really decent portable wireless speaker that generates surprisingly good audio quality for an item of such modest size (5cm x 18cm x 5cm).
It's easy to set up with any Bluetooth audio source (phone, tablet, laptop) and it remembers the most recent eight devices used with it, a big perk in a family home or house with people sharing. It also has an extra 3.5mm external music connector port (for a non-Bluetooth music source like an old iPod) and its rechargeable battery lasts around nine hours between charges. But is it worth €200?
There are quite a few good-quality portable Bluetooth speakers (from rivals like Sony and Logitech) that do much or all of what this one does for significantly less money. Sony's speakers also add extra tech prowess through features such as NFC. This is a high-quality portable speaker but it comes with a 25pc branding premium.