Tech review: Adrian Weckler on the latest cool gadgets
Reviewed this week by our technology editor are the Apple Watch, Lenovo Tab 2 A10, Samsung S6 Edge Plus and Canon Powershot G5X.
A nifty time-saver with more to come
Price: €430 at apple.ie
Rating: 4 stars
Apple's Watch finally landed in Ireland a few weeks back and I've been playing with it ever since. I'll post a fuller review over the next week or so, but these are the first impressions of its initial integration into my daily schedule.
The battery life - which Apple flags as a day's use before nightly recharge - is not as bad as I was expecting. I sometimes actually get two days' use from it between charges: merely using the device for quick notification glances and time-telling leaves a lot of reserve power in the tank. I have also become fairly used to connecting it up to a charger beside my bed every evening. (The one time that this becomes a bit of a hassle is when travelling: it's another charger and another adaptor plug to fit in an already stuffed gadget case.)
So what do I actually use it for so far? Mainly social-media notifications. It allows me to glance (and dismiss) messages more quickly, and slightly more discreetly, than taking my phone out of my pocket on foot of yet another vibration alert.
There's lots of health and fitness stuff you can do with this watch, but I haven't gotten into that yet. Nor have I 'sent my heartbeat' to anyone, despite one request from a colleague.
I got two bands with it - a handsome metallic chain ("link bracelet") and a more modern cream-coloured rubber one ("sport" band). Metallic bands torture my hairy wrists, so I've gone with rubber.
The watch comes in two sizes. Mine is the larger one (42mm). Despite this, the watch's overall form factor is still smaller than some of the giant clock-faces that friends wear. For me, this is a good thing. It doesn't draw unflattering attention as some sort of calculator watch. Despite this, I still think that the watch is more function than style. There is no getting around the fact that it is a mini-computer on your wrist. And it is not yet as elegant as many analogue alternatives.
There are a couple of small vicissitudes apparent in the watch's functioning. Some executions - such as switching the watch on or waking it from a reserve power mode - are definitely slow. Setting it up and pairing it for the first time was also a fairly lengthy process, for whatever reason.
But there is no question that the watch stands above any Android rival I've yet tried, for a number of reasons. First, its screen is superb. Apple has picked just the right level of animations and pixellated content to make it feel fairly gorgeous. Second, when set up, it works smoothly with your iPhone in a way that many Android models are still struggling to achieve.
Tablet's a tonic for movie buffs
Lenovo Tab 2 A10
Price: €250 at Argos
Rating: 4 stars
Unless you're genuinely comfortable using an accessory wireless keyboard, it's not easy these days to make a case for a premium tablet. Lenovo's newest 10-inch model takes just one thing that's essential to a good tablet - a high-end HD screen - and leaves other features at a modest level so it can keep the price down.
The effect works: you get a device that's superb for watching Netflix and other video content at a cost that's around half the price of would-be 10-inch rivals. This isn't nearly as slim or light as premium competitors from Sony, Samsung or Apple. And its engine is merely adequate. But you're paying for a full-on second screen here and that's exactly what you get.
Samsung doubles down on edgy design
Samsung S6 Edge Plus
Rating: 4 stars
White-hot competition has forced Samsung to take a long, hard look at its phones. It's not really enough to have the most powerful engine or the brightest screen anymore: rivals such as OnePlus 2 and Huawei are going 90pc of the way for little over half the price. So Samsung has turned to design as its differentiator. And this is what you're getting with its latest S6 Edge Plus, the phone that has effectively replaced its 'Note' handsets as the top phone in its European range. The 5.7-inch S6 Edge Plus stands apart from any other phone because of its curved-glass edges. Although you can touch the curved side to bring up most-used contacts or apps, 95pc of this innovation is really about aesthetics. And visually, it works: the S6 Edge Plus is a remarkably handsome phone. Having said that, I'm still unconvinced that the good looks are worth the trade-off in performance. Personally, the edges are slightly too pointed to make for comfortable holding. This is a personal thing: I know others don't feel the same way.
In every other way, there is no doubting the S6 Edge Plus's chops as a top-dog handset. It packs an inordinate amount of power under the hood, meaning that there is zero lag time with any apps or controls. The super-bright (2560 x 1440) screen is exceptional, matching the best I've ever seen on a phone. This makes a considerable difference to playback of video (this is the size of a mini-tablet, remember) and also to viewing photos. The 16-megapixel camera on this phone is also about the best you can get on a phone, with an f1.9 lens that's as good in low light as is possible with a handset. This is not to be underestimated: it's a crucial part of why many people will spend an extra €100 to get the most premium phone model available. Storage is good, too: this handset starts with 32GB.
Battery life is generally good. If you don't hammer it during the day (like I do), you'll make it to evening time with plenty of juice left. I tended to run out by teatime, but I really lean on phones for daily activity.
It's easy to see why Samsung has (literally) doubled down on the curved aesthetic to grab some mojo back from rivals. The S6 Edge Plus is a stunning phone to look at. I'm not sure it's the very best model.
Canon blasts its way into powerful pocket models
Canon Powershot G5X
Price: €900 from Connscameras.ie
Canon launched a few new cameras last week. For me, the pick of the bunch is its pocket-friendly Powershot G5X, which goes head-to-head with excellent rivals such as Panasonic's Lumix LX100 and Sony's RX100 Mark 4. Aimed at enthusiast photographers, the list of this retro-styled camera is a powerful fixed f1.8-2.8 lens with a 4.2x zoom (from 24mm to 100mm). It has a type 1.0 sensor that, while not as good as an APS-C sensor on bigger cameras, is still enough to give some great quality. It also has an electronic viewfinder, a flip-out, 3-inch screen, Wi-Fi and plenty of manual control rings to allow more in-depth control. It can shoot 1080p high definition video at up to 60 frames per second and has an ISO level of 125 to 12,800.
This plugs a gap in Canon's mirrorless camera range and should do well.