Science & Technology Correspondent, Will Goodbody, takes a look at some of the latest gadgets and gizmos on the market.



Nokia Lumia 1020 – it’s all about the camera

Is it a phone, or is it a camera? For some time it has been clear that the era of compact digital cameras is coming to an end, as smartphone manufacturers pack more and more imaging power into new handsets. The Nokia Lumia 1020 is the clearest example of that trend. Packing a massive 41 megapixel (MP) sensor, it is almost without doubt the best smartphone camera on the market. It is clear that Nokia, and indeed Microsoft, are pinning much of their future plans for growth on attracting converts through ever improving camera quality.

The concept behind the 1020 is that the high number of megapixels make up for the lack of optical zoom – the eternal problem for smartphone cameras. Every time you take a picture the camera captures a full res 34-38MP image and smaller 5MP image that can be shared more easily on social media sites or peer-to-peer. It is a clever idea, although it does water down a little the claim that the camera takes 41MP images.

The dual picture system also has an impact on performance, with a fairly obvious lag after the images are taken, while the device stores them. Although that may be more the fault of the 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor. That said, image quality is excellent, with very little loss in definition with post-capture zooming and cropping.

There are a couple of native camera apps pre-installed on the handset. Nokia Pro Cam delivers a full manual style shooting experience, allowing the user to adjust white balance, exposure, etc. Nokia Smart Cam, on the other hand is for the trick shots, if you can figure out how to use it! The camera uses Zeiss optics with six physical lenses and a Xenon flash, which together combine nicely for good performance in low light. It also has Pureview image stabilisation and shoots 1080p video at 30fps.

Away from the camera (which let’s face it is really what this phone is all about) the Windows Phone 8 device has the type of spec we now expect from a high-end smartphone. The 4.5 inch AMOLED WXGA display with Gorilla 3 glass is crisp and super-sensitive, reacting to finger nails and gloved fingers. It is next generation network ready, with coverage across five bands. It also comes with NFC Tap and Send and 32GB of on board storage – which may seem a little small if you intend using the camera to the max.

The phone is available in yellow, white and black. Personally, I think the Nokia Lumia 1020 looks and feels a little downmarket compared to its high end peers. That said, with the iPhone 5C about to hit the shelves here in the next few weeks, that “premium” market is clearly about to shift. One feature that some won’t like is the protruding camera lens at the back of the handset, which makes it feel quite awkward and bulky. Although it is a lot less obtrusive than the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom.

All-in-all though, the Nokia 1020 is a great handset – IF you are an avid photographer. If you aren’t, then there are plenty of other smartphones out there which do the same thing, but at a significantly reduced cost.



The waterproof Sony Xperia Z1

First impressions out of the box – the Z1 is angular, heavy, slim, elegant and big. 5 inches big in fact, making it a bit of a handful for those with dainty little pinkies. The upside, of course, is that a big high quality screen makes it easier to watch your favourite flick or view the pictures you’ve just taken using the impressive on board camera (more on that in a minute).

The Z1 looks much like its predecessor the Z. The buttons etc on the outside are similar, its glass finish front and back attractive. Sony claims the new aluminium band around the edge give it extra strength. It certainly feels like a robust handset. It would want to be, because the Z1, like the Z, is dustproof and waterproof. I didn’t try it (too chicken) but Sony claims it will work to a depth of 1.5 metres for up to 30 minutes. Though it doesn’t like salt water, or chemicals for that matter! The downside to the waterproofing is the fiddly and a bit annoying little plastic covers over the SIM card, SD and charging slots.

The display is full-HD. And as you would expect given Sony’s cross product marketing theme, it loves colour. Perfect for the significantly improved camera, which has been upgraded since the Z and now boasts 20.7 megapixels – almost 50% bigger than its predecessor. It has an upgraded camera sensor chip, which is only beaten by the Nokia Lumia 1020 (see above). It has a wide angle 27mm lens as well as 8x digital zoom. It takes excellent quality sharp pictures in full and low light. It also comes with a suite of imaging apps, which offer a variety of functions, like time burst, animations and live streaming to Facebook. Sony claims that in independent testing by Strategy Analytics, the Z1 was found to have the best overall image quality of all leading smartphones. It could be true.

Under the bonnet, the handset has good quality mechanics. It is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor, running at a very healthy 2.2GHz. That said, I did find it was prone to crashing, which is something users of super-stable iOS mightn’t be impressed with. It has a new 3000mAh battery, which it clearly needs to power the improved imaging capabilities. Its performance seems alright – but not fantastic. The handset also runs on 8 LTE bands.

Other than that, it comes with Sony’s “WALKMAN” and Movies applications, which provide access to more than 22 million songs and more than 150,000 Sony movies and TV series.

In summary, the Z1 is a pretty decent all round handset, particularly if you are prone to dropping your mobile down the toilet. It looks smart and boasts a camera that arguably is every bit as good as the Nokia 1020, if not better. But in such a competitive market, it is unlikely to remain so close to the top of the pile for long.



10 devices can connect to the Vodafone R208

The R208 is one of a growing number of standalone gizmos that allow you to connect one or more mobile devices to the internet via a personal Wi-fi zone. In total you can connect up to 10 laptops, tablets, smartphones etc to the device at any one time.

It has an embedded SIM, which you must pay for through a monthly plan, and runs on the Vodafone HSPA+ network. That promises notional speeds of up to 43.2 Mbit/s, although in reality you’d be lucky to get a third of that most of the time.

The device is powered by a built-in rechargeable battery, mains or USB, allowing the user to move it about to maximise the available network connection and therefore speed. Its operation is pretty simple once set up, and any administration can be done through the built-in interface or through a web application. If you add a Micro-SD memory card to it, it can also be used as a device to store and share files.

At a monthly cost of €25-30 for 10GB (12 month contract and device costs from €9.99 to €39.99), it is probably primarily aimed at the business market, although it could prove useful for families living in rural areas where decent quality fixed line broadband is not available, but the mobile broadband network has been upgraded to 3G and the signal is relatively strong.

I found it a handy, fast, easy to use little device, particularly when on the move, although for most people the Wi-fi hotspot on their phones will probably suffice.