Gadgets & Gizmos: O2 X4
Sony DCR-PC53E
Pure Sonus 1XT
JBL Encounter
Canon Ixus 700

Charlotte Ricca-Smith reviews the best new products


O2 X4, £200 (pre-pay), 0870 225 7879;
www.o2.co.uk

O2 X4, £200 (pre-pay), 0870 225 7879; www.o2.co.uk

O2 may be a latecomer to the 3G market, but it seems to be one of the few manufacturers to understand what consumers want from their mobiles - and contrary to early advertising campaigns, it isn't video calling. So the X4 has ditched this feature in favour of a much more compact handset, which is a far cry from other super-sized 3G models. But it does offer a 1.3-megapixel camera, which takes pretty decent pictures, as long as the lighting conditions are good (its flash seems to be redundant).

But its big attraction is that you can use it to access the recently improved O2 Active Portal, where you can download or stream film previews, music videos, sport, news and more. And its 262,000-colour screen is all the better to view them on.

It also has an MP3 player - and with its USB cable you can get your tunes straight from your computer. It has 10-megabyte of on-board memory, and comes with an additional 64-megabyte memory card, which is enough to keep you entertained on the daily commute.

A nice looking, well-made phone that has all the favourite 3G features, without the added bulk.

Sony DCR-PC53E, £450, 08705 111999; www.sony.co.uk

This is the smallest miniDV camcorder in the world, according to the blurb, and I can well believe it, as it's not much larger than the DV cassette it uses. But, despite its diminutive dimensions, its design isn't very ergonomic and it is awkward to hold - although the manual does show you how, but should it have to?

Thankfully, from here on things get much easier. It has a generous three-inch LCD touch screen, and is incredibly easy to follow, despite its numerous functions and features (white balance, spot meter, spot focus and exposure to name a few). But if you want to keep things really simple, just press the "easy" button for instant access to basic operation. All you have to do is point, zoom (using the powerful 120x digital zoom) and shoot. The large screen is also great for replaying footage - just stick it in its cradle and you've got your own, miniaturised film show. You can also record on to Sony's Memory Stick Duo for easy transfer to your computer.

On usability, functionality and price, the PC53E is hard to fault - if only it felt more comfortable in the hand.

Pure Sonus 1XT, £119, 08456 049 049; www.johnlewis.co.uk

As more and more digital radios appear on the market, it is increasingly difficult for manufacturers to be heard - which, I assume, is why Pure has launched a DAB radio that can shout down all the competition. That's right - it talks. Or maybe I'm just being cynical, as the Royal National Institute of the Blind was involved in the development of the Sonus 1XT. And it will make life a lot easier for those visually impaired. Using a human voice (you can pick male or female), it tells you the available stations as you scroll through them, and if you tap the SnoozeHandle, you'll get a speaking clock; tap it twice and it lets you know the alarm settings. It can verbally guide you through setting up the radio and you can turn the speech off.

Another great idea for all users is its Volume Equalisation Technology, which enables the radio to monitor and adjust the audio levels of every station, so the volume stays at your chosen level.

Whether you think the Sonus is a gimmick, or a great idea, it is a well-made, well-thought-out radio with a reasonable price tag.

JBL Encounter, £105, 020 8731 4670; www.jbl.com

With the advent of internet radio and MP3 music, more of us are using our computers as hi-fis. The problem is, most computer speakers just aren't up to the job. The solution is to buy your own, like the Encounter. JBL is renowned for making quality products and this speaker system doesn't disappoint. It looks suitably high-tech - a bit like the love child of an iPod and those aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (ahh, so that's where the name comes from...). It consists of two small satellite speakers for your desktop, and a large amplifier and woofer combined that you can hide away by your feet. It takes seconds to set up and the sound is very impressive: loud and clear, with no distortion, and a sub bass that could seriously upset the neighbours. Interestingly, the music doesn't sound like it's coming from the speakers - but from your computer

My only gripe is that the bass and treble controls, along with the on/off button, are on the back of the amp/woofer unit, which is tucked away under your desk, so not very accessible. But for the money, you won't find a better-looking, better-sounding speaker system.

Canon Ixus 700, £399, 08705 143723; www.canon.co.uk

Another month, another Ixus. This time it's the 700, with - yup, you've guessed it - 7.1-megapixels, which produce stunning photos. For the time being, it's Canon's flagship model, and with its brushed stainless steel finish and contoured design, it certainly looks the part - and it feels reassuringly heavy. It isn't shoddy on features either. It has a 3x optical zoom, USB 2.0 connection, VGA video clips at 30 frames per second and PictBridge functionality, which enables you to print pictures directly from a compatible printer. Its two-inch LCD screen is great for taking and viewing your images, but if light conditions aren't ideal, its QuickBright function takes the screen to maximum brightness for shooting outdoors, while a Night Display option improves visibility.

For the budding photographer, it has 14 different shooting modes and you can even play about with the colour options with its unique My Colours function. Or you can just keep it on automatic and let the 700 do the hard work for you.

Whichever mode you go for, you'll find the camera incredibly responsive (it doesn't suffer from the usual digital lag) and very easy to use. Grab one before it becomes last season's model.

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