Tech: Sony's big audio dynamite is high resolution heaven
Reviewed by our technology editor this week are Sony SRS X88, GoPro 3-Way Pole, Fujifilm X-T10 and 4 Port USB Mains Travel Charger.
Sony SRS X88
Rating: 4 stars
Wireless speakers stuff the shelves of every hifi and electronics superstore in the country. Most focus on being cheap and cheerful, with great sound being considered a bonus. But there is an upper end, too. So what can you expect for €300 and over? Bose, starting with its Soundlink Bluetooth speaker, is one possible option. But if you want to push the edges of what current technology can offer, Sony is probably leading the pack right now. Its new X88 wireless "high-resolution audio" speaker illustrates why. The X88's basic proposition is as a high-performing 90-watt wireless speaker (36cm x 11cm x 10cm, weighing 2.7kg) that plays audio from your phone, tablet or PC, as well as from cabled sources. But it is its 'high resolution audio' feature that sets it apart. To hear this quality - 24-bit versus a CD's 16-bit standard - you're supposed to download the requisite type of music file and play it either through the speaker's USB port or from a specialised high-resolution music player, such as Sony's €1,200 Walkman. But Sony says that the speaker also upscales other music you play through it to "near high resolution sound quality". This has limited power if you're streaming a regular Spotify song onto it, but it's good to have the capability there. Sony is one of the only companies staking out high-resolution audio as a mainstream feature on its speakers. And if services such as Tidal (with its higher-resolution music streaming format) take off, you'll be ahead of the game.
Even if it doesn't, the X88 has some other formidable weapons in its audio arsenal. It adds smart-home compatibility, with multi-room connectivity now built in through Sony's SongPal smartphone app. This gives it fresh impetus against powerful competitors such as Sonos.
It also has umpteen ways of connecting to a wireless music source, including NFC (using Bluetooth), DLNA, AirPlay and even Google Cast. And it supports almost all major digital-music formats from any PC or electronic device. Its svelte, cubed rectangular finish doesn't hurt the overall package either. This is a pricey wireless speaker, but there are few better out there.
Proto-selfie productivity from GoPro
GoPro 3-Way Pole
Price: €75 from shop.gopro.com
Rating: 3 stars
Selfie sticks may be tagged as weapons of narcissism, but some are useful tools. GoPro's 3-Way Pole is not just for those times when you want to attach one of the action cameras for a downward-looking shot from six feet away. It also acts as a tripod or a camera grip. This means you can use for filming things that aren't focusing on your own duck-faced pouting. It's also waterproof.
Fuji's picture-perfect X-T10
Price: €800 with 16-50mm lens from Conns Cameras
Rating: 4 stars
Fujifilm's new X-T10 is not only a really good camera, it's great fun to use. Packing the same sensor (APS-C) as larger semi-professional cameras, the 16-megapixel X-T10's retro styling puts dials and knobs on the camera that beg to be tweaked, twisted and pushed (for shutter speeds, apertures and more). While you can certainly leave everything in automatic mode, you won't want to. It's just too much fun to mess around with the settings. It's easier and more intuitive, too, than button-based digital counterparts, so this doubles as an excellent learner's camera. Technically, the X-T10 is no slouch. Aside from the large image sensor, it has a particularly good auto-focusing system and can shoot up to eight frames per second. Its three-inch tilting LCD screen is pretty handy, too, for shots that are too low or high for a viewfinder perspective. Although I was using it with the bog standard 16-50mm (F3.5-5.6) kit lens, I found the picture quality to be very high, with colours (especially) rendered really nicely. Playing with different film-simulation modes was great fun, too. I barely used it for video, although it shoots in 1080p at 60 frames per second.
This is also a very light camera. While this is a strength for portability, it is not quite as 'weather-sealed' as some rivals. Finally, its retro styling isn't just for show: it has a flash that pops out from its top plate.
A plug to beat stingy hotels
4 Port USB Mains Travel Charger
Price: €30 from Lindy.ie
Rating: 4 stars
Travelling to a hotel on holidays? One of the great vicissitudes of modern hotel rooms is how parsimonious they are with power sockets. Budget hotels and hostels are especially poor, with a single socket sometimes making do for the whole room. Lindy's 4-port travel charger is a way of beating the system. It packs four USB-power connectors into a single plug, meaning you can connect several smartphones, tablets or other gadgets at the same time. It also comes with adapters for Europe and the US.