Weckler on Technology: Samsung really means business with Note 3
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Price: from free on contract, €700 sim-free
In Irish business circles, BlackBerry Man has become iPhone Man. Whether this is down to a love of iTunes or is just part of a herd mentality is difficult to judge.
But one suspects that many might be better off with Samsung's latest Galaxy Note 3. The updated version of the original 'phablet' (half phone, half tablet) is probably the best business-focused smartphone you can get right now. There are a couple of reasons for this.
Its 5.7-inch best-in-class HD screen simply makes online work – including emails, PDF downloads, VPN access and other activities – quicker and easier. (The fact that it also makes online video and photo viewing much better is a bonus.) Despite the screen size, the Note 3 is surprisingly light. It has an excellent camera, not far off the best in the market (currently a toss-up between Sony's Xperia Z1 and Nokia's Lumia 1020). It's also blazingly fast, with a quadcore 2.3Ghz processor and 3GB of Ram setting a new benchmark for smartphones.
32GB of storage memory as standard is also a real perk for those who may need to keep documents on tap. There's even a nod to the leatherette casing so beloved of middle-aged men: the back of the phone is a 'leather-styled' material that feels much better than the plastic of the Note 2. One of my favourite things about this Galaxy, though, is its battery life. I'm a heavy user of smartphones. And this 3,200mAh battery got me to the end of every day without needing a second charge. That's some going.
I should probably mention the 'S-Pen' stylus, which allows you to sketch and make quick notes. It works great, though I found myself not using it a whole lot.
Apple is reported to be introducing a similar-sized iPhone late in 2014. When that happens, it may change the pecking order again. But for the moment, this is the best business phone you can buy.
Wireless Dyson makes light work of competition
Price: €390 Rating: ****
I love my dogs. But one, in particular, sheds a world record amount of hair around the house every single day. Thus, the vacuum cleaner is rarely stored away: it sits awkwardly in a corner or by a door, primed for action.
Even in this ready-to-go state, getting the cleaner going feels like booting up an old PC. There are sockets to be switched when the extension cord reaches its limit, and the entire thing is only one yank away from becoming a tangled mess, with the main body tipping over from being pulled at an angle.
So I've been pleasantly surprised by Dyson's DC59, which is the vacuum equivalent of a tablet PC. There are no cords or wires: just pick it up (it's an extended, hand-held device), pull the trigger and it goes. This isn't a machine to perform a deep-tissue house-clean job: it lasts a maximum of 20 minutes on a single charge.
But the device is brilliant for regular, casual hoovering. It's not a glorified dust-buster, either: the extended spine means you don't have to bend over to do the regular floor. Dyson boasts about the machine's V6 digital motor, 'Tier Radial cyclones' and other engineering boffinry. Whatever. All I know is that it gets the dog hair (and more) reliably and quickly, which has made my life easier. If only it lasted longer on a single charge...
Finally, we can talk into our watches like Dick Tracy
Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch
Price: €350 Rating: ****
I had my doubts about smartwatches. Not because of the nature of their features, but because of their clunky styling. Most models up to now have been unwieldy lumps that perch ostentatiously on your wrist. However, I've been wearing Samsung's Galaxy Gear model for over a week. And what has surprised me most is not the handiness of some of its features, but its ability to not scream 'nerd'. Pending a full review (keep an eye on Independent.ie), I'll say that Samsung has struck a very nice balance between form and function here.
To summarise, the (rechargeable) watch has a 1.6-inch touchscreen that operates on Android and runs a small number of customised Android apps. It also has a microphone and speaker, which means you can make and take calls on it, a la Dick Tracy. The only catch is that it must be wirelessly connected (via Bluetooth) to a Samsung phone, with just one model (the Galaxy Note 3) working with it at the moment. So the potential market for this is quite small. One suspects that this is more of a sign of things to come than a finished article. But it's a nice piece of equipment and, if you have the Note 3, is good fun.
Budget tablet just isn't worth the compromise
Yarvik 7 Tablet
Price: €75 Rating: **
In these straitened times, we look for value. But sometimes cheapness does not just extend to the price tag. Yarvik's ultra-budget 7-inch tablet is a good example of this. On the face of it, the device is an attractive proposition: a touchscreen tablet that includes Google's Play Store (not all Android tablets do) for downloading games and other apps. And, if all that you (or, most likely, the child you're giving it to) want from it is a device to browse on (slowly, due to its puny single-core chip and sub-standard 512MB of Ram), then you might just get away with this. But because of its tiny storage memory (4GB), you'll run out of space for your apps very, very soon. And its screen performance is poor compared with rivals that cost just €40 or €50 more. While budget items are great, this tablet's low price isn't worth the compromises you make on usability.
This makes a good case for avoiding screen cracks
Fre Lifeproof case for iPhone 5
Price: €60 Rating: ****
There are no precise statistics for how many of us suffer cracked screens on our phones. But it's at least one in 10. For whatever reason, Apple iPhone screens seem particularly vulnerable. And replacing them is no cheap affair: you'll be lucky to get away with €100. In this context, a decent protection case is a reasonable investment and could turn out to be a bargain. Lifeproof's Fre iPhone 5 case offers a good degree of protection to the whole handset.
In particular, though, it helps the screen. This is not just because its thin, tough glass cuts down on the chance that it will shatter; it also stops the irritating phenomenon of screen-scratching in pockets or handbags (smartphone plus keys equals scratches). The case is waterproof, too – to seven feet.