Reviewed this week are Motorola X Play, Samsung Powerbot VR9000, Bush 200W Soundbar and Nutz Swagga headphones.
Motorola X Play
Price: €350 from Argos
Rating: 5 stars
You want battery life? Without question, this is the phone for you. I have not yet come close to using up a full charge on the 5.5-inch X Play within working hours. For me, that's a minor miracle: phones normally wither under my audio-visual assault. But not this one, partly thanks to its huge 3,600mAh battery. Every phone manufacturer should have something in its range with this kind of power reserve: it makes such a difference not having to search for a charging cable at your desk or carry around a portable charger for the "20pc remaining" warning you get at 4pm every day.
Battery considerations aside, it doesn't hurt that the X Play is a superior smartphone at this price point. It has a superb HD screen and is really nicely styled with an attractively tactile rear casing. (This is removable in case you want to swap it for another colour.) Its 21-megapixel camera is good but sits a little below rival cameras from high-end Samsungs, Sonys and iPhones. This is partially because of the photo-taking process it uses, which is to tap any part of the screen. While this facilitates speed, it is also the enemy of setting a shot up. Nevertheless, it's still a better-than-average camera.
The version I used was white with 16GB of storage built in. A 32GB version is apparently available. You can also stick in an external memory card (up to 128GB) if you really want.
The only minor niggle is the speaker, which isn't as good as rivals. It may not matter at all to those who rely exclusively on headphones but, seeing as this is a really nice big screen, it's a shame that the speaker is a little tinny.
Motorola is becoming a bit of an expert at making phones that go right to the top of their pricing tier (its sister Moto G model is the best sub-€200 phone you can get right now). This is another example of that: the X Play now vies with OnePlus 2 as the best phone you can get in Ireland today between the price of €300 and €400 unlocked.
Samsung Powerbot VR9000
Price: €800 from DID Electrical
Rating: 3 stars
I really want to believe in robot vacuum cleaners. I really, really do. Think of it: a robot. That vacuums. What could be a more perfect proposition? And yet robots that vacuum are very imperfect entities. First of all, they're not robots in the Metal Mickey or Marvin mode.
They're small, circular humming devices that slowly rumble around a room sucking stuff up until they encounter items like rug edges, chair legs or other debris. Then they pause, rotate a bit and try to rumble somewhere else. This is where the appliance of science is still a bit wobbly. Samsung's VR9000, which is similar to rivals from iRobot or Miele, has 10 sensors that map out a cleaning plan and are supposed to prevent it from bumping into things. In this way, it has the ability to 'remember' your floor lay-out (wood, tiles or carpet) for the next time it cleans, speeding things up a little.
But it comes back to the same old issue: unless you have a large apartment with not a lot of furniture, this struggles to rival a hand-held vacuum cleaner. The suction on the device is enough to get everyday fluff and dirt out and there are side brushes to widen its dust and dirt collection area. But it's a basic, dumb machine that can't improvise. This may still suit many people. But for me, it just doesn't fit with my house.
Bush 200W Soundbar
Price: €150 from Argos
Rating: 4 stars
Here's the thing about super-duper TVs - their sound output is mediocre. It always has been. Ever since we went from boxy 'cathode ray tube' tellies to flat, wall-mounted ones, the audio quality has been pretty dire. It's a simple question of physics - good sound needs space. And the skinnier our TVs get, the less space they afford for speaker sound. This is why it often makes sense to get a 'sound bar', especially if you have a large living room. I've been mucking about with Bush's 200-watt version for a while and I'm reasonably pleased with it. I have it hooked up to a three-year-old 40-inch Sony TV, one with reasonable audio quality (as these TVs go). The difference in sound quality is noticeable. It's a little like switching from a cheap pair of earbuds to a decent set of headphones. Almost every part of the audio is enhanced to some degree. The biggest difference is in the bass tones, partly because this unit also comes with a rather large box-shaped subwoofer. Bush is taking no chances with your TV, so the unit comes with a host of different cabling options for whatever your TV accepts. It's Bluetooth-enabled, too.
The main price you pay with equipment like this is an aesthetic one. I already get into trouble at home (on a regular basis) for originating kilometres of cabling and gadget after gadget. No matter my argument that it is all for the betterment of our lives: it makes the house, I'm told, look like a "bachelor pad". This is obviously not a reason to eschew progress, or better audio for your movies. But bear it in mind.
Nutz Swagga headphones
Price: €140 from HMV
Rating: 3 stars
Reasonable audio? Yes. Loads of cabling and connector options for different phones and devices? Yep. Own carry case? Absolutely. If you want a total consumer 'headphone experience', you'll largely get it with Nutz's Swagga headphones. The accoutrements are all there: from dual jacks to separate cables for iPhones or Android phones. They even fold up nicely to slot into the carrying case or some large pocket in your bag. It's a curious combination in one sense, because while the Swaggas pack many extras you'd only normally see in higher-end models, they're clearly aimed at a young, cost-conscious 'fun' headphone demographic. My model, for example, came in a shiny fibreglass blue fused with silver plastic. When adjusted for a smaller head size, the extra length stuck up in a cartoonish way, almost as if was going to turn into something else. All told, it looked like something Optimus Prime from the Transformers would wear. Adding to this cartoonish theme were leather earpieces which, while comfortable enough to wear, clicked each time they shifted from left to right. I did appreciate the padded leather underside to the head strap, though.
There are no complaints with the sound from these headphones - they're absolutely on par with what you're paying. And the stuff you get with them is good. But from a sartorial viewpoint, these are a little garish for my taste. Maybe I'm just getting old.