The 12 treats of Christmas: 2011's best tech releases
From the perfect camera to the top phone, read David Phelan's guide to this year's must-have gadgets
Thursday 22 December 2011
Nokia Lumia 800
While Apple only gently upgraded its splendid iPhone 4 by adding an S, Nokia had the best bounce-back of any technology company for years. The Lumia 800 is a great-looking handset that feels spectacularly good in the hand, has an outstanding display and the latest mobile phone operating system: Windows Phone. The OS looks fresh and stylish and though it’s not perfect it has amazing potential. Apps are way short of Apple’s roster but at 40,000+ there are plenty to choose from and they look great. This is the ideal handset for anyone who wants a classy, different phone.
From free with contract www.carphonewarehouse.com
I know, you can’t buy it any more, but I love the TouchPad. Its interface is brilliant fun to use, the hardware, while lacking the speed of the iPad, is decent enough. And now it’s been discontinued, the number of apps won’t be growing any time soon. But for sheer joy of use, it was hard to beat. In its absence, the best tablet is still the iPad, and is a perfect combination of lustrous hardware, endless apps and great intuitive system. The iPad is still the tablet every other tablet is trying to beat, but the TouchPad came closer than others. If you buy an iPad, you need protection for it. The best case by a mile is the Knomo iPad 2 Folio, (£49 from www.knomo.com) which includes magnetic closure that wakes the iPad screen on opening. Nobody knows when the next iPad will be released, but my guess is Spring 2012.
iPad from £399, www.apple.com/uk
So you like games, you like 3D but you don’t like those funny specs you have to wear? Enter Nintendo with its latest handheld console. It plays all Nintendo DSi games (though only with two dimensions). And then it plays new 3DS cartridges with an impressive 3D effect. If you find it gets too much, you can dial it down as far as flat old 2D. Meantime, there are some splendid titles to enjoy, like Super Mario 3DLand and Mario Kart 7. The 3DSisn’t cheap, but it packs an amazing amount of advanced technology into a tiny case.
The latest Kindle available in the UK is the cheapest yet. It loses the keyboard from earlier models and it doesn’t have 3G connectivity, so you can’t download books just anywhere, but it’s still compelling. Typing in text is done using a direction pad which can be a faff but most of the timeyou’ll be reading. And for that it’s spectacular – it’s light and small with a 6in screen that is the best yet. E-ink, the technology on most ebook readers, flashes when you turn the page but this version flashes every six pages, which is much better. A colour screen Kindle is due in the new year, but e-ink is the best for reading in direct sunlight.
This has been a great year for games, but for mind-frying genius, unending puzzle fun and spectacular, sarcastic voice-acting, Portal 2 was unbeatable. What’s more, it was a first-person shooter where you didn’t have a gun, only a way of creating two holes in the wall, floor or ceiling. The two holes are linked so if youjump into one you come out of the other. Sound simple? It is, but the ingenuity of the game developers turned this premise into a wholly engaging game. Worth playing until the very end for the excellent final song, too.
It’s not a D-SLR and you can’t change the lens, but this is one of the most beautiful cameras you’ll see. It’s the younger brother of the highly desirable X100. Like the X100, this is determinedly retro in styling. It has a 12-megapixel sensor way bigger than regular compact cameras, and a glorious, bright viewfinder as well as a pin-sharp screen. There are lots of controls to perfect your shot, film simulation modes to create natural tones, and a fast processor to make high-speed shooting and HD video recording possible. Results are stunning, too.
Two wi-fi audio stand-outs
Revo Heritage Radio Monocle 24 Edition and Sonos Play:3
If you’re after an internet radio, Revo’s handsome model is glorious. It looks solid, classic and inviting. You can listen to FM, DAB and internet stations and the special edition Monocle 24 version even has a dedicated button to take you to the new current affairs internet radio station. Not cheap, but worth it. Meanwhile, the new speaker from Sonos is tremendous. The Sonos uses a bridge unit which connects to your broadband router and lets you play the music from your computer wherever you place the speaker. Even better, you can connect it to your Spotify account and use a smartphone or iPad to control what youplay.
Revo Heritage Radio Monocle 24 Edition £300, www.monocle.com
Sonos Play:3 £259 www.sonos.com
Real-world tech innovation
Spencer Hart Samsung Galaxy Note collaboration
Fashionable suit maker Spencer Hart has teamed up withSamsung to use its Galaxy Note tablet for fittings in its Brook Street flagship store. Instead of chalk, paper and scribbles, your fitting can be accompanied by delicate additions using the Note’s screen and built-in stylus. It promises great flexibility and outstanding accuracy. The Galaxy Note is bigger than a phone but one notch smaller than a full-blown tablet with its 5.3in display. The service is just for bespoke customers, though made-to-measure and off-the-rail suits are also available.
Samsung Galaxy Note from £59 depending on contract www.o2.co.uk
Two home entertainment hits
Sony BDP-S780 Blu-ray player and Samsung UE55D8000 LED-Backlit LCD TV
Blu-ray discs offer great high-definition video and audio quality. Some of the latest movies have special effects of such detail and richness, DVDs and digital downloads don’t do them justice. The recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes has such realistic effects, it’s only with the help of a player like this and a decent HD TV that you can see them in full. Blu-ray players also handle DVDs, evenupscaling them to match the higher resolution of HD-ready TVs. This player works with 3D Blu-ray discs, so it will work with 3D-capable tellies. It connects wirelessly to the internet to stream extra content.
The Samsung 55in screened UE55D8000 is a great match for the Sony Blu-ray and is one of the most beautiful TVs yet made, even when it’s switched off. This is thanks to its slim profile from front to back and super-thin bezel. The 3D quality is extremely good but it really excels with 2D content which, after all, is what you’ll be watching most of the time. Highly recommended.
Sony BDP-S780 £219, www.sony.co.uk
Samsung UE55D8000 TV £1,999, www.johnlewis.com
Philips Sonicare Airfloss
Do you like flossing? Thought not. But you need to do it. Although it’s not quite as perfect as the real thing, the Airfloss is an effective alternative that’s even fun to use. Fill the chamber on the back with water or mouthwash and hold to your gum line between gnashers. Press the button and the liquid is shot out at 45mph, dislodging plaque effortlessly. And, more importantly, painlessly. It’s especially great for hard-to-reach parts of the mouth. The battery lasts a week or two between charges. A perfect gift for the person who has everything.
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