Samsung's infinity-screen new smartphone, Google's home wifi fix, a serious sports watch and a 1983 Nintendo (really): the pick of this month's new tech
Amazon Fire TV Stick (£40)
If you’re thinking of cable-cutting, by cancelling your expensive TV contract, then this streaming media stick from Amazon, the latest incarnation, is the one you’ll probably want to consider as an alternative. It is amazing!
Set-up is simple – plug it into an HDMI port on the back of your TV, connect the power adapter and Wi-Fi, and you’re away. It gives access to over 7,000 apps, including most of the essentials – BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Netflix, Amazon Video, and YouTube.
Now TV is the only notable absentee. Everything else is at your fingertips – terrestrial catch-up, major-release box sets, and an array of (fairly) new movies, depending on your streaming subscriptions. Amazon has introduced voice search, in the breathy form of Alexa, with the new version of the Fire TV Stick, affording a cut-down version of the Echo experience.
Hold down the microphone button on the remote, and ask away – it doesn’t stretch to takeaways, but it will switch the telly into the right channel. It’s a nice addition, and the whole system has benefitted from a beefed-up RAM and processor. A no-brainer, as they say.
Garmin Fenix5 (£500)
This is an upgrade of Garmin’s Fenix 3 HR, the go-to watch for serious outdoors types. It is pricey, but it tracks everything.
More than just count steps, paces, ascent, distance, calories and sleep, this takes your pulse, and checks your oxygen volume, training load and lactate threshold. If you’re a Brownlee brother, this is the watch for you.
Whether you’re into running, cycling or swimming, or all of three combined – or even skiing and parachuting – then this has it covered. Garmin has taken some off the back and sides with the upgrade – it is smaller and lighter than its predecessor.
It retains its rather industrial look, featuring screw-heads around the watch face. It has an edge, nonetheless – it looks, well, chiselled and fit, like most of its owners, one imagines. There’s sat-nav, alongside a three-axis compass with gyroscope and barometric altimeter – in case you venture into the wilderness.
It isn’t above the donkeywork of standard smart watches either – it will pair with your phone, so you can receive alerts to your wrist. For mad-for-it fitness extreme sports nuts, this is the only game in town.
Google Wifi (£129)
This might just herald the end of those cheap Wi-Fi repeater devices, which plug into the mains to extend your internet coverage. Google has masterminded a super-easy and super-effective Wi-Fi mesh network, in a most elegant little white cylinder device, the shape of a hockey puck or a half-decent face-cream.
Like other mesh networks, it unites multiple router devices to create a Wi-Fi system, rather than just rebroadcast the signal as it receives it, like standard Wi-Fi extender devices. The effect is to create a Wi-Fi blanket, providing a consistent signal everywhere.
It raises the performance of the overall network, delivering more consistent speeds and a number of other handy control mechanisms, rather than just boosting reception in the odd hard-to-reach corner. The set-up is a blast – plug it into your router / modem combo (this doesn’t replace the box from your ISP), and configure your network on the app.
Google recommends a single unit (they are interchangeable) for a flat, and a couple or more for a larger home. Compared with other mesh network units, this is a steal – cheaper, more attractive, and more effective.
Nintendo Classic Mini NES (£50)
Retro is all the rage, and the 1980s is right ‘on trend’ right now. The era of synth pop and big hair, of buddy movies and high school dramas, was also when computer gaming took hold in popular culture.
This takes it back to the start, and the grey box console that kick-started the whole revolution. Nintendo has lovingly recreated its 1983 Nintendo Entertainment System, in miniature. The 2017 version fits in the palm of your hand, and is completely sealed off.
There is no port for games cartridges, and no internet connection for games downloads – just an HDMI cable to plug into you TV, and a selection of 30-odd pre-installed games of every genre. These are a combination of old familiars like Mario and Donkey Kong, and bunch of lesser-known titles.
The attention to detail is remarkable – Nintendo has even included a retro telly screen to star from. The price is affordable, and the games are fun.
Samsung Galaxy S8 (£689)
Following the embarrassment of its exploding Note 7 devices at the end of last year, a lot is riding on the Galaxy S8 for Samsung, as well as its big brother, the S8+.
As with the Note 7, first impressions are fantastical. Once again, the Korean maker has produced a real show-stopper. The Galaxy S8 is, arguably, the latest in to take the title of ‘best phone on the planet’, a title it will hold for all of a couple of months until the iPhone 8 or Google Pixel 2, or whatever else, ups the ante.
The very highest end of mobile phone making is a rarefied place, after all, which can be occupied by only a couple of big brands, rather like the Spanish football league. Samsung is one of those, and the S8 shows its total mastery of the form – everything is immense, from the screen and camera on the outside, to the processor and storage under the hood.
The biggest tweak is the ‘infinity’ screen. Samsung has achieved, here, what phone makers have been talking about forever – the screen wraps around the edges, like a posh swimming pool. The camera is retained from the S7, simply because it was already spectacular.
For once, Samsung has adhered to the old if-it-ain’t-broke adage. Ultimately, if you’re an Android enthusiast, this is the phone to go for. If you’re an Apple loyalist, then nothing will change your mind.