Year in review 2014: Standouts in a busy time

Here, as selected by Alice Haine, editor of The Life page, are the top gadget reviews of 2014. The list is heavy on smartphones, but also has a video projector, a tablet and an airfryer.
Nokia si increasingly focusing on the lucrative mid-range and budget smartphone segments. Josh Edelson / AFP
Nokia si increasingly focusing on the lucrative mid-range and budget smartphone segments. Josh Edelson / AFP

One of the Business section’s most popular online features is our weekly gadget reviews. Here, as selected by Alice Haine, editor of The Life page, are the top gadget reviews of 2014. The list is heavy on smartphones, but also has a video projector, a tablet and an airfryer.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Forget the iPhone 6, the Sony Xperia Z3, the Blackberry Passport and the LG G3. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 is the biggest phone launch of the season – in terms of size, at least.

The Note 4 is the latest version of Samsung’s hugely popular phablet range, for those who want a phone and a tablet in one package. While sporting the same 5.7 inch display as its predecessor the Note 3, the new version has better design quality and a number of extra bells and whistles, making a great handset even better.

Set for release in the UAE this month, the phone’s most noticeable update is the Super Amoled display, already in place on the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy Tab S. While one could argue that LG’s G3 may have more natural-looking colours, the Note 4’s display is a true stunner, with wonderfully rich hues and sharp definition, making it a great tablet alternative for watching movies on a flight or a treadmill.

Samsung has listened to its users and upgraded the materials on the Note 4, which feels much less plasticky and cheap than its predecessor, with a metallic trim and a faux-leather back that sits comfortably in the hand.

* Reviewed by John Everington

BlackBerry Passport

It is difficult not to gasp in shock when first seeing the new BlackBerry Passport.

Its 4.5-inch square screen is unlike any other phone on the market, and it looks odd. Simply odd. But then after a fiddle and a few swipes, you realise that BlackBerry has stumbled upon something unique and brilliant.

There are no pretensions with the Passport. It is a business phone designed for the professional with a work life that revolves around communication. This is not a phone to Snapchat or make Vines with, it is a phone to create spreadsheets, word documents and emails.

As a user of an all-touchscreen phone for the past two years, going back to a full qwerty keyboard felt a little alien at first, but with the ingenious predictive texting feature typing is faster and more comfortable. I’ve already become more productive where emails are concerned and respond immediately rather than wait until returning to my laptop.

* Reviewed by Triska Hamid

Sony waterproof Sports Walkman

The new Sony W273 Waterproof Sports Walkman may just be the best portable music gadget to be released since the iPod. I realise that is a big claim to make, but while it doesn’t have the design and beauty of Apple’s offering, Sony has seen a niche in the market and provided a product that does what it sets out to do. So what is that, exactly?

It weighs almost nothing, it is waterproof to a depth of 6 feet, and it fits and sits in your ears imperceptibly, which means swimming takes on a whole new dimension. No longer do you have to swim with the Jaws theme running through your mind to keep you motivated – you can actually have it playing in your ears.

* Reviewed by Andrew Scott

Nokia Lumia 930

While Nokia is increasingly focusing on the lucrative mid-range and budget smartphone segments, it hasn’t by any means abandoned the high-end market. The Lumia 930, launched in the UAE in July, is one of the latest in the company’s attempts to compete with the likes of the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S5.

Straight out of the box the Lumia 930 looks great and feels nice in the hand; its 5-inch Oled display looks beautiful, with deep, crisp colours. The build quality of the handset is impressive, with a silver trim and a choice of green, orange, white and black backings.

But at Dh2,199 the Lumia 930 is still a very good high-end smartphone and excellent value for money, particularly given its generous 32GB built in memory. It’s not quite up there with the Galaxy S5 and the newest iPhones, but you feel that Nokia is getting closer all the time.

* Reviewed by John Everington

Sony Xperia Z3 Dual

So far, Sony has been unable to break the iPhone/Samsung Galaxy stranglehold in the smartphone market.

It has taken the approach of releasing two flagship phones within a year to try to win over consumers with the most up-to-date technology. The latest, the Xperia Z3 Dual, took centre stage at the IFA Berlin consumer electronics show last week.

“Sony is relentless in its pursuit of innovation and we believe that consumers shouldn’t settle for good experiences, but demand great ones,” I was told by Kunimasa Suzuki, the president and chief executive of Sony Mobile Communications, in Germany, along with everyone else listening amid the razzmatazz.

And this time around, Sony has been as good as its word and delivered the kind of technical innovation that may just make Apple fans think twice.

* Reviewed by Ian Oxborrow

Canon Powershot G16

I’m no camera whiz, but while in Hamburg I wanted to see how easy it was for an amateur with a tourist’s curiosity about a foreign environment to take pretty holiday snaps with the G16.

The answer – very. The camera is quick and easy to use, and its interface is uncluttered.

It can connect through Wi-Fi to local devices, enabling you to wirelessly transfer photos and images. This is handy, although in this post-Snapchat world the feature is not as useful as an instant sharing feature might be. In testing, it was easier just to plug it in.

Resolution is monumental at 12.1 megapixels, and the camera’s HD video shooting at 60fps beats even The Hobbit’s frame rate.

* Reviewed by Adam Bouyamourn

Sony HW40ES video projector

When it comes to watching television, I’m not that bothered how it’s delivered. As long as it’s in focus and the colours are as God intended, I’m a happy man.

But after trying out the Sony HW40ES video projector, my appetite for images has been give a tweak and I’ve found that size matters.

This is particularly important when the family is glued to the Fifa World Cup. As an England supporter, watching your team crash out in the group stages in full size makes for emotional viewing.

And when I say size, I am not talking about the insignificant 85 to 105-inch panels that are available at prices only affordable if you sell your car. I am talking wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor, images that enhance your life, your universe and the size of your flat. Images that become part of your existence, part of your DNA. You sleep dreaming in sizes you didn’t know were possible and wake wanting to watch something, anything, as long as it’s super-sized.

* Reviewed by Andrew Scott

LG G Flex

When the regional manager of LG first demonstrated the G Flex phone, he did so with a bang, quite literally. Casually placing the phone screen-side down, he punched it with great force, to show just how flexible and durable it was, while unintentionally showing that the world’s first curved phone can also be used as a weapon.

Despite the spectacle, it still did not occur to me why anyone would need a curved phone, but after a week with the device it became clear.

If you like carrying your phone in the back pocket of your jeans, the G Flex slips in comfortably, without bulging out or poking into your posterior when you sit. It really is quite ergonomic when it comes to this aspect, and given its ability to withstand a Korean punch it should also withstand your weight.

* Reviewed by Triska Hamid

Philips Airfryer

I found the best thing to make in the Philips Airfryer was chicken breast (marinated quickly in fresh coriander, mint, garlic, ginger and a teaspoon of olive oil). In just eight minutes the air fryer offered up the juiciest, most succulent bit of chicken I had tasted in a long time, maybe ever. It was so juicy that I thought it was undercooked, so I put it back for another four minutes of cooking. You will never look at chicken the same way again after the Airfryer.

The downsides to this miracle machine are several. It is unattractively big; it is also loud, like a windy version of a blender, and with 25 minutes to cook chips, it is more of a mini-oven than a fryer. Otherwise it a great machine to have if you’re health-conscious but still want to enjoy “bad” foods.

* Reviewed by Triska Hamid

Acer Aspire P3

So you want a new tablet but can’t bear to say goodbye to your laptop? Well, now you can have both. At least that’s the pitch for Acer’s Aspire P3, a Windows 8 tablet bundled with a Bluetooth keyboard case that offers the best of both worlds.

The P3 joins the ranks of a growing number of “convertible” Windows 8 devices that attempt to build on the tablet experience by offering the functionality of a traditional laptop. Such attempts have over the years largely fallen flat, with most failing to offer a compelling user experience in one or both functions.

* Reviewed by John Everington

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Published: December 21, 2014 04:00 AM


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