By Will Goodbody, Science and Technology Correspondent



Sony DSC-QX100 – clever but at a cost

When it comes to new gadgets, some are smart, others are innovative. But the new DSC-QX100 (and its little brother the QX10) detachable smartphone lenses from Sony are undoubtedly both smart and innovative.

The principle is this. On your mobile handset you probably have a reasonably good camera, with gazillions of megapixels, and software giving you lots of post shooting filters, fun effects and sharing options. But the problem comes when you need to zoom, which can only be done digitally, not optically. And no matter how many megapixels you have, digital zoom will only achieve so much, before you start to lose clarity and definition on the images. And of course when it comes to video, it isn’t possible to use digital zoom at all.

Enter the DSC-QX100. A self contained lense that attaches onto the back of any (according to Sony) smartphone, connects to it wirelessly via NFC or Wifi and allows you use the phone screen as a viewfinder and controller for the 3.6x optical zoom lense. But more than that, the device also has its own chip, capture button, zoom, focus control and memory card slot, meaning it can also be used detached from the phone as a standalone camera (albeit without a viewfinder!).

The PlayMemories Mobile app which allows you control the lens via your phone, can be downloaded free of charge and is easy to use. It has a variety of modes on it, which allow you to shoot automatically or adjust settings like exposure, etc manually. It has a 20.2MP Exmor™ R CMOS sensor & Carl Zeiss optics, and  I found image quality to be very good, even in low light. Connecting the lens to the app via Wifi was a little fiddly and slow at times, although it is probably easier via NFC. The lens also has an Optical SteadyShot image stabiliser and can shoot HD video (30p).

On the downside, the device is quite slow to respond once the capture button has been pressed. Once the image/video is captured, it takes a second or so of processing before it appears on screen on the smartphone. Also, one wonders how many people will carry this awkwardly shaped and presumably fragile object around in their pocket, or around their neck, in anticipation of wanting a zoom lens.

The biggest issue, however, is the price. At €229 the QX10 (10x optical zoom and 18MP) is the cost of a good compact camera. At €499 the QX100 is the price of an entry level digital SLR. Which raises the question, if you are into taking pictures and want a camera with an optical zoom, what would you be best spending your money on?


The improved but not perfect Surface Pro 2

The Surface Pro 2, Microsoft’s tablet laptop hybrid, has undergone a makeover. Well, actually more of a make-under, as most of the changes have taken place inside the shell or the software.

Outside, the annoying one angle kickstand (and accompanying pain in the neck) on the original Surface Pro, has been replaced by a dual position stand designed for desk and lap use. There’s also a USB 3.0 port, mini DisplayPort, and microSD card reader , along with audio jack, charging connector, keyboard and docking point. There are still two front and rear facing 1.2MP 720P cameras. The 10.6-inch full-HD display gives a clean bright colour rich performance and is still one of the device’s strongest features. While the magnetically attached stylus remains unchanged – still vulnerable to being knocked off.

The two high quality magnetic snap on keyboards – the touch and the type – have also been upgraded. The pressure sensitive touch cover is thinner, has had more sensors added apparently and is now back-lit. While the type cover is also thinner and comes in varying colours. They are often quoted as being among the best aspects of the Surface – though I found the touch version a little awkward to use.  They also remain accessories, which have to be purchased in addition to the main unit, even though they are a pretty important feature.

Size wise, the chassis is unchanged – coming in at 10.8×6.8×0.5 inches – and weighing 900g, almost twice the weight of the new iPad Air. There is no doubt that the Surface and Surface Pro 2 are bulky in comparison to other high end tablets. But, some of that may be forgiven when you consider what you are getting inside.

Because the Surface Pro 2 comes with a new fourth generation Intel Haswell Core i5 processor which has noticeably improved the speed and the battery life. It comes with either 4GB or 8GB of RAM, depending on the amount of storage opted for, with the choice being 64, 128, 256 or 512GB. In terms of connectivity there’s Wifi and Bluetooth 4, but still no built in mobile broadband , GPS or NFC.

The Surface Pro 2 runs Windows 8.1 Pro (hail the return of the Start button) very nicely. Boot up is reasonably quick from power down, and wake up from sleep is also quick. Apart from the return of the Start button, there are a number of other changes to the OS, which make the experience of using the touchscreen device more pleasant. Although my many attempts to get the touchless gesture gizmo (which is billed as a must have for budding chefs, who can move the recipe page up and down without touching and dirtying the screen) all ended in failure.

The Surface Pro 2 starts at €899 for the 64GB version, rising to a whopping €1,809 for 512GB. Those prices include 200GB of SkyDrive storage space, but don’t include Microsoft Office. It is a hefty price to pay for a device that’s still firmly aimed at the business market. Although for that you do get both a laptop and tablet, all in one versatile well finished device.

But at that price, you’d want to.