Power to the People
A Mobile Generation Has Plenty of Options in High-tech Devices
It’s not the first time, and probably won’t be the last, that Apple has come up with the most buzzworthy tech product of the season, so that’s where we’ll begin in BusinessWest’s annual roundup of popular and well-reviewed devices — right in time for holiday shopping.
We’re speaking, of course, of the recent release of the iPhone 5 ($199). Apple’s latest smartphone offering has drawn raves in the tech press, with the caveat that it’s not that much of a departure from the iPhone 4, an already-beloved product.
“The new iteration of Apple’s phone is everything it should be: faster, smarter, thinner, and lighter,” according to theverge.com. “It boasts LTE data speeds, improved cameras, a larger screen with a higher resolution, and a design which — while not groundbreaking — is unquestionably beautiful. But it’s also very much the iPhone you’ve seen before. Apple’s iOS 6 software is not a leap forward, but a small jump, and the phone design is an evolution of the iPhone 4S, not a revolutionary new spin.”
The phone’s new Lightning port has caused a bit of a stir because it’s incompatible with add-ons that use the old dock connector, and although Apple will make adapters available, some functionality could be lost. According to theverge.com, the new port doesn’t bring much new functionality. “The use of the smaller plug seems to be almost entirely about downsizing components, which is fine, though in the short term it’s sure to annoy a handful of customers.
Still, the iPhone 5 has been met with mostly positive feedback. “Thinner. Lighter. Faster. Simpler,” notes engadget.com. “The iPhone 5 is a significant improvement over the iPhone 4S in nearly every regard, and in those areas that didn’t see an upgrade over its predecessor — camera, storage capacity — one could make a strong case that the iPhone 4S was already ahead of the curve. Every area, that is, except for the OS. If anything, it’s the operating system here that’s beginning to feel a bit dated and beginning to show its age.”
Apple is far from the only player in the smartphone game, of course. The Samsung Galaxy S III ($199) made waves in this year’s third quarter by overtaking the iPhone in sales for the first time, shipping 18 million units compared to 16.2 million, according to Strategy Analytics. Of course, the fact that the iPhone 5 hit shelves at the end of the period probably cut into iPhone 4 sales somewhat, and Apple’s newest hit will probably end the fourth quarter back on top. But the performance also speaks well of the Galaxy’s popularity, which is not without merit, reviewers say.
“The best thing about the Galaxy S III?” asks engadget.com. “That it’s more than the sum of its parts. Individually, the slightly larger and better display, stronger processor, and faster camera may not sound that special, but in daily operation they score major combo points: gathering up all the best bits of the older Galaxy S II and re-working them into a solidly modern device. The power- and storage-hungry Android user simply cannot go wrong with this purchase, and neither can those looking for a great camera.”
The revolution in tablets, spawned by the introduction of the iPad in 2010, has led to a flood of imitators, but Apple remains the benchmark. This year, the company unloaded multiple updated models, and what it’s calling its fourth-generation model ($499) packs a punch, according to cnet.com.
“The newest iPad’s faster A6X processor adds extra system speed and graphics power,” it notes. “Improved worldwide cellular compatibility makes the LTE model a more appealing proposition. And the iOS App Store remains best in class, with the widest selection.”
Among Android tablets, the site recommends the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 ($429), with a high-resolution screen that rivals the new iPad’s display in sharpness and clarity. “Also, apps launch quickly, GPS works well, and its rear camera is the best we’ve seen on any Android tablet.”
So far, not enough Android apps take advantage of the TF700’s higher pixel count, and its battery life could be better. Still, “the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 is one of the fastest Android tablets out there, combining an already-proven design with a better camera, a faster processor, and a beautiful screen.”
Today’s tablets are multifaceted wonders when it comes to consuming media, including books. But for those satisfied with a simple e-reader, the offerings are as intriguing as ever.
Barnes & Noble’s 7-inch Nook HD ($199 for 8GB, $229 for 16GB), with a resolution of 1440 x 900 and 243 pixels per inch, boasts an impressive display compared with its main smaller-screen competition, according to tech writer Edward Baig of USA Today. “I enjoyed watching video on it and reading magazines, books, and catalogs from leading retailers. Nice feature: you can virtually ‘tear out’ or clip pages from a magazine or catalog and add them to a scrapbook app.
Barnes & Noble has a strong library of books and magazines and is making strides to catch up in other areas, such as movies and TV shows, Baig notes. But it’s quite family-friendly; among the features is the ability to set up unique profiles for different members of one’s household. “Barnes & Noble boasts a compelling lineup of children’s content, with 35,000 chapter books and approximately 4,000 interactive kids picture books. A read-and-record feature lets parents or grandparents record themselves reading to Junior.”
For a simpler reading experience, the Kindle Paperwhite ($119) wins raves from cnet.com for “the best screen we’ve seen to date on an e-ink e-reader. The built-in light is great for nighttime reading, and the touchscreen is a notch above the competition.”
The battery life is excellent as long as the wi-fi isn’t in use, the site continues, adding that the screen could be a tad lighter, an AC adapter isn’t included, and there’s no memory expansion slot — and users must pay $20 more for an ad-free version. However, “with an excellent built-in light and Amazon’s best-in-class e-book selection, the Kindle Paperwhite rises to the top of the e-reader pack.”
Meanwhile, for those shopping for computers, notebooks continue to increase in speed and fall in price. Of the upper-end models, cnet.com raves about the MacBook Pro with retina display ($2,179), whose “unprecedented high-resolution screen … makes images — even simple text — look beautifully clear.” The site praises the model’s new ports, including USB 3.0 and HDMI, while lamenting the lack of onboard ethernet jack, FireWire, or an optical drive. Still, it “combines an amazing screen with just enough of the MacBook Air design to feel like a new animal, and to take its place as the best of the current MacBook breed.”
For those on a budget, the same source recommends the Dell Inspiron 14z ($899), which “impresses by including an Intel Core i5 CPU and discrete AMD graphics, all for a very reasonable price.”
On the downside, “there’s still a bit of a budget feel to parts of the body. Battery life, while decent, isn’t going to get you through a full day.” Overall, however, “Dell has managed to give a very upscale feel to its mainstream Inspiron 14z, a 14-inch ultrabook that comfortably juggles price, design, and performance.”
Printers continue to follow a similar cost-power curve, although some of the better models will set buyers back a few dollars. The Lexmark C748de ($1,199) is among the fastest color laser printers pcworld.com has tested, “and its output is second to none,” with print-engine resolution of 1,200 by 1,200 dpi plays a major role in achieving such high-quality prints.
“Photos are reminiscent of an inkjet’s (a good thing), and text is both supersharp and superblack,” the site notes. “Toner costs are quite good, too, though cartridges are available only in high-volume sizes — as befits a corporate printer for large workgroups that has a capacity expandable to 4,300 pages.”
Among more budget-conscious options, the Ethernet- or USB-connectable Dell C3760dn ($649) is an “office workhorse,” according to pcworld.com, with plenty of speed and capacity to handle high-volume printing. “The controls and four-line LCD are simple and effective, the print quality is quite good, and maintenance is easy, too. But before you start printing a ton, note that, although its black toner is very affordable, its color toner can be pricier than average.”
Paper-handling features on the C3760dn include automatic duplexing, the report continues. “You can save $100 by purchasing the otherwise identical C3760n, which lacks automatic duplexing; however, that small savings may cost you later in manual-duplexing hassles as well as paper costs.”
Point and Shoot
Cameras are always popular gift items, and for those with the money to spend, techradar.com raves about the Fujifilm Finepix X100 ($1,200), a retro-styled compact with an 12.3-megapixel CMOS sensor and a lens that provides a bright aperture for low-light shooting and an angle of view roughly equivalent to a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera.
“Its design is aimed to appeal to experienced photographers and enthusiasts, who like direct exposure control with an aperture ring, shutter-speed dial,” the site notes. “It also sports a raw image mode and has a unique hybrid viewfinder that combines an electronic and optical finder in the same view.
For somewhat less money, the Canon Powershot G1 X ($800) is a solid alternative, techradar.com notes. “Although the zoom range is limited when compared to other Canon G-series cameras, the trump card of the Canon G1 X is its unusually large sensor. A larger sensor has more surface area to receive light, improving image quality at high sensitivities and boosting dynamic range.”
Canon has also equipped the G1 X with the latest Digic 5 processor, which promises better control over noise at high ISO sensitivities, faster operation, and smoother 1080p video recording. The 4x zoom lens provides an angle of view equivalent to a 28-122mm lens on a 35mm camera.
Finally, what would navigating the high-tech world be without a little musical accompaniment? Among mp3 players, pcmag.com says Apple’s iPod Touch ($299) still stands alone. “While we still classify it as an mp3 player, the fully redesigned iPod touch is more like a smartphone without the phone, bringing more than 700,000 iOS apps along with iTunes, iBooks, and the rest of the Apple ecosystem to folks who don’t want to pay full iPhone freight. This year’s touch is a significant upgrade: it’s faster, with a much better screen, a new camera, better headphones, and a new body design to die for.”
For those looking beyond Apple, Microsoft’s Zune HD ($289 for 32GB, $219 for 16GB) provides some worthy competition, pcmag.com notes. “The lack of a robust app store is a major drawback for the Zune HD, which otherwise flaunts a beautiful touchscreen, an excellent user interface, HD radio, and the best browser we’ve seen since Apple’s mobile Safari. It’s the strongest device you can buy if you don’t want to use iTunes.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at email@example.com