Technology Editor with the Irish Independent Adrian Weckler joins Marian in studio.
Google Chromebook (Asus, HP or Toshiba) -- €240-€300;
Brilliantly effective budget laptops with proper keyboards that help kids learn how to type and use non-phone, non-tablet computers.
Best option: Google Nexus 7 -- €200, 16GB; Android,
- great screen, great performance
Reasonable budget option: Asus Memo 7 -- €130, 16GB; Android;
- reasonable performance
- [NB Cheapest iPad iPad mini -- €250]
AVOID (i) Amazon Fire tablet -- €110;
- great if you live in US or UK where you can watch Amazon streamed movies and telly but useless in Ireland
AVOID (ii): Any Windows tablet e.g. Linx 8-inch Windows tablet for €130.
- It’s fine for adults but on Windows, there is no Snapchat, YouTube or a host of games that you can get on Android devices, iPhones and iPads. (There are copycat apps for these, but they are a poor imitation.)
Vodafone Smart 4 -- €70;
- good for a budget Android model
AVOID (i) Samsung Galaxy Young 2 -- €40;
AVOID (ii) Nokia Lumia phones
- An important note for parents about Nokia Lumia phones, which are some of the cheapest smartphones you can get...
- On the face of it, some of the best-value budget phones and tablets are now Windows phones -- you can get a four-inch Nokia Lumia 530 smartphone for €90 which has a great screen and good camera. But while it’s good for adults it’s bad for kids because of lack of apps. On Windows, there is no Snapchat, YouTube or a host of games that you can get on Android devices, iPhones and iPads. (There are copycat apps for these, but they are a poor imitation.) Sure, you get some apps (Instagram is now there). And the lack of Snapchat probably isn’t a deal-breaker for a 45-year-old. But there’s no point in getting a Windows phone or tablet for a 15-year-old.
Raspberry Pi -- €30;
- circuit board that plugs into keyboard and monitor and lets you start from the ground up
3 Doodler -- €100;
- handheld 3D printing device that lets you create small things.
- For many people, drones conjure up images of small autonomous military aircraft, used to spy on or attack enemy territory.
- But for thousands of hobbyists and businesses, they mean small, remote control devices that hover, fly and take photographs.
- There are thousands currently being used in Ireland, most of which can be purchased off the shelf, starting at €100.
- Most have limited ranges of around a few hundred metres and flight times of under 20 minutes per battery charge. Legally, they can be used if kept below 120 metres in altitude, within 500 metres from the operator and at least 150m away from anyone else or any “structure or vehicle”.
- But they cannot be used “over any assembly of persons”, in “congested” residential areas or near airports unless special permission is granted.
- “In ten years’ time, we’re all going to look up and see hundreds of drones above us.” - Jay Bregman, Hailo founder who is now starting a drone company in Ireland.
Drone 1: Phantom 2 Vision +Price: €1,130
- What it does: This is the top model from one of the most popular consumer drone companies. Weighing just over a kilogram, it includes a 14-megapixel high definition video camera that is stabilised and shows you what it sees live on your phone or tablet. It can fly for up to 25 minutes on a single charge and up to 700m away. Cheaper versions (Phantom 2) are available without the camera.
Drone 2 (great for kids): Parrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider Price: €100
- What it does: This entry-level drone is more of a toy than a tool. It has a very limited range and includes a mediocre 0.3 megapixel camera for basic shots and video. The miniature drone works via a remote control app on your phone or tablet. Its flight time is limited to between six and eight minutes per charge. It’s expected to be a popular Christmas gift this year.
- Note: in general, smartwatches are quite limited. They definitely won’t replace a phone or tablet. They’re also quite ugly and they’ll be obsolete within a year. BUT for those who really want one...
Moto 360 €250
Sony Smartwatch 3 €230
Misfit Shine €120
60-inch LG plasma -- €770 (no Irish Saorview tuner)
55-inch Panasonic, TX55AS650B (LED but no 4K) -- €1,200 (Irish tuner for Saorview)
AVOID (UNLESS YOU’RE A RICH MOVIE ENTHUSIAST): 78-inch Samsung curved TV -- €7,500
TIP ABOUT BUYING TVs
- Don’t pay a premium for ‘4K’ or ‘smart’ TVs
- The TV industry’s dirty little secret is there is almost no purpose to ‘4K’ tellies, despite them marketing it heavily as the new, new thing. ‘4K’ is a resolution standard twice that of current ‘full HD’ tellies. It looks fantastic on any screen above 40 inches in size. All of the top-end TVs now come with it and it’s touted as one of the main reasons to splurge over €1,000 on your new set. But there’s almost nothing to play on 4K sets right now. The best anyone can get is from a Blu-ray DVD, which is 1080p -- half the 4K standard. Broadcast HD, such as that from Sky or BBC, is even weaker, at 1080i. And there may not be any improvement in the foreseeable future, either. Sky says that it is still “looking” at 4K. While Netflix has made it available (for those with broadband of at least 25Mbs) the number of things it stocks that can actually watch in 4K is tiny, with little sign of much more to come. While it is true that there may be a (distant) future-proofing argument, right now you’d be far better off with a 50-inch or 60-inch TV without 4K. You’ll likely get the same standard of picture and save around €500.
- Also, ‘smart’ TVs are arguably the biggest disappointment of the last five years. Other than the bit where they let you connect to Netflix, they’re a complete waste of money. Twitter or Facebook on your telly? Come off it. Home-grown ‘apps’ that tell you the weather in Osaka? Sorry guv, we just want to watch Corrie, the news and maybe a movie. Any ‘smart’ feature that people use -- recording programmes, access to online movies -- is generally best done on cable or satellite set-top boxes or on much cheaper peripherals, such as Apple TV. ‘Smart’ features can even make things much worse. Features such as eye-recognition are forever causing the sets to shut down when it (wrongly) thinks no-one is present. At other times, firmware or software ‘update notices’ interrupt your viewing at key moments in a programme. Not really very ‘smart’ at all. Do yourself a favour: get the least ‘smart’ model you can.
GoPro Hero 4 Silver action cam -- €375;
- For anyone remotely interested in the outdoors or adventure sports, it’s impossible not to like GoPro cameras. They’re endless fun. The new Hero 4 Silver is arguably the best of the lot, despite not being the top technical model (which is the Hero 4 Black). This is because it’s the only one that has a touchscreen on the back. It records in beautiful ‘2.7K’ (about half as good again as ‘full’ 1080p HD) resolution and is easily attachable to things like bikes, surfboards, helmets and other sports peripherals.
Cheaper option: GoPro Hero -- €125;
- no touchscreen, not quite as good quality video recording
[NB can talk all day about regular cameras, but they’re expensive and often not gifted)
iPhone 6 Plus -- €800
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 -- €750
Nokia Lumia 635 -- €135 sim free, 4.5-inch screen (but no Snapchat, YouTube etc)
Sony Xperia M Black -- €100 sim free, 4-inch screen
Sony MDR1RBT -- €450;
- They perform three functions. First, they give much better (and much safer) sound than in-ear buds. Second, they block out external noise better. Third, they signal strongly to others that you’re focusing on something and you should not be trivially interrupted. Easily connected over Bluetooth with any phone or tablet, it also has a microphone built in that allows for hands-free phone calls. This is endlessly useful to me. But the clincher is the soft leather padding on the earpieces and the headband. When you’re wearing headphones a lot at work or on walks, this is critical. And this pair of headphones is the most comfortable I’ve ever used.
TABLETS FOR GROWN UPS
iPad Air 2 -- from €510;
- best overall tablet on the market
Nexus 9 -- €450;
- nine-inch tablet and best overall Android (non-Apple) tablet
GENERAL BUYING TIP: For senior adults, make sure the tablet is at least 8 inches in size; some older people find 7-inch tablets (like the excellent Nexus 7) too small.
Kindle Paperwhite -- €140 from PC World;
- still the standard-bearer for e-readers
Kobo Aura eReader -- €150 from Easons;
- decent alternative to Kindle that allows you to synchnonise your library across several devices
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro -- €1,350
Surface Pro 3 -- €800