Thursday 14 December 2017

Weckler on Technology: Sony's compact is small but mighty – if a little pricey

Sony RX100ii
Rating: *****
Price: €800

The Sony RX100ii
The Sony RX100ii
Microsoft Surface Pro
HP Envy Rove
HTC One Mini
JVC stereo headphones

I CURRENTLY have a fascination with compact cameras that shoot very high-quality photos. While I love bulky DSLRs, they frequently kill serendipitous photo moments – whipping out a giant black lens does not keep someone at ease.

In this vein, I recently took Sony's diminutive new RX100ii for a few spins around the block. Despite its (very) big price tag, it really shone.

What defines this machine from average €179 or €379 snappers is not its 20 megapixels or zooms, both of which are limited enhancements.

As an upper-class compact, the RX100ii has a larger camera sensor (the bit that lets in and records light) and a 'fast' lens, going down to F1.8 (this means it lets in more light and sometimes gives a nice, mildly blurry effect behind your subject when you take shots).

I also loved its metallic (non-plastic) body and the fold-out screen display, which lets you take pictures overhead or down low, without crouching.

It has a modest (4x) zoom that starts at 28mm, giving you nice, wide photos for scenery or inside the house.

Best of all, it's nice and small – easily small enough to fit in my pocket. To be clear, you'll get better pictures from a bulkier camera. But this is top of the line for a camera of its size.

Microsoft tablet is good option for business users

Microsoft Surface Pro

Price: €880 (128GB)

Rating: ****

Even with all of the business-friendly apps available for it, the iPad remains a limited device for business users. No cursor and a non-Windows operating system means cutting corners on office PC software compatibility. Android alternatives are no better.

However, there's a decent third way in the form of Microsoft's Surface Pro, an 11-inch tablet that allows you to choose between the touchscreen Windows 8 tiles system and the more traditional-looking Windows desktop interface with the tap of a screen icon.

This includes an on-screen cursor that can be controlled from a keyboard touchpad or a mouse accessory.

The Surface Pro has most of the usual ports we associate with laptops (such as USB ports) and can load and operate ordinary PC software, including the same business software used for your PCs.

Microsoft will announce its Surface Pro 2 device next week, meaning that its (powerful) existing model is being discounted.

The looks of the world's biggest iPad and the brains of a very social PC

HP Envy Rove

Price: €1,200

Rating: ***

"Is that the world's biggest iPad?" This was the response elicited when I plonked HP's Envy Rove, a 20-inch all-in-one touchscreen, on our kitchen table.

The machine asks a few basic questions about what computers are supposed to be now. As a giant touchscreen with a (Windows 8) computer built in, it can work as a normal PC (albeit one with limited connection ports and a modest Intel i3 processor: I would have expected a faster chip for the money). But it's supposed to be a little more than that. With its fold-out stand and onboard rechargeable battery, it's aimed at being portable around the house without all the power-cord paraphernalia.

I did actually use it this way, mostly as a family device for music (via my €10 Spotify account) and movies (via the €7 Netflix account). This machine is equipped with decent enough speakers (with Beats Audio) and screen quality (720p) to make both functions very workable.

It's a lot more social than a laptop or PC, but perhaps too public for games and web use. It comes with a wireless keyboard, mouse and (generous) one terabyte of onboard storage memory. Though useful, this is pricey.

Up to date – but it might drive you crazy

HTC One Mini

Price: from free on contract with Vodafone, O2 and Meteor

Rating: ***

While the news is dominated by top-end phones such as the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4, most people still buy smartphones in a lower price bracket. Knowing this, most manufacturers are trying to offer slightly more budget-friendly versions of the flagship phones. Such a machine is HTC's One Mini. It takes 80pc of the features of the marquee HTC One, which is a genuinely impressive device, and shrinkwraps it in a more affordable device.

Hence you have a 4.3-inch display instead of a 4.7-inch screen. And a regular five-megapixel camera instead of the 'bigger pixel' camera. And it retains a really nice, svelte, metallic unibody design.

On paper, this should make it a no-brainer for those who want to be up to date and aren't fussed with the very latest thing. Except I found some corners cut that irritated me. In particular, its touchscreen buttons are just too close together and cause a disproportionate number of errors. (I couldn't keep track of the number of times I accidentally hit the change-language button, which is infuriatingly located right beside the spacebar.) There are other quirks like this, too (see full review online).

In time, you get used to it. But for the first while that you have it, it will annoy the pants off you.

Decent back-up cans for using in the office

JVC stereo headphones

Price: €9 from Harvey Norman

Rating: ***

In this era of Beats By Dr Dre, there is an automatic assumption that you need to spend €300 to get good quality headphones. While it's true that higher-end cans cost more (and are probably worth the stretch for those using them a lot), you can get serviceable versions at a fraction of the price. JVC's super-budget headphones are most definitely a bargain. They are not as comfortable as more expensive rivals. Also, they won't top any audio quality charts. However, they are very far from sounding as tinny or as cheap as the pricetag would suggest. Indeed, I have found them useful as workdesk companions as the quality is reasonable and, at under a tenner, there is limited disappointment if they go walkies. They also have a two-metre cable if your audio source isn't directly beside you. I wouldn't recommend them as walking-around headphones (they start to bite after a while), but it's a decent backup unit.

By Adrian Weckler

Irish Independent

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