Plus the best-ever Android, a treat for vinyl-lovers and more: this month's most exciting new-tech products
There’s been a lot written about the vinyl revival. Whether it's kids discovering the pleasures of 12-inch platters for the first time, or middle-aged men going back to their roots, there is something captivating about the crackle (and quality) of a needle in a groove, as well as a foot-square piece of artwork with liner notes. This is how much of the best pop music is supposed to be heard.
For a long while, vinyl has been left for dust by the digital revolution. This player from Audio Technica, along with an expanding range from other makers, seeks to put it right back in the mix. It allows you to stream records wirelessly to any Bluetooth speaker and, with the right gear, to de-rigueur audio streaming systems from the likes of Sonos.
On that point, you’ll need to connect the RCA cable to a Sonos CONNECT:AMP – as you would to play any record player with a built-in preamp. This model from Audio Technica is affordable and sleek-looking, and comes with dust cover, a 3.5-inch auxiliary input, and a replaceable diamond stylus.
iRobot Roomba 980
Ah, the relentless chore of keeping your home clean – while balancing kids and work and… hang on, what was the other thing? Oh yes, having fun! Well, consider your prayers answered with this clever, clever little device – a vacuum-cleaning robot, that will hoover an entire floor of your home all by itself for two hours straight, and then return to its base to recharge and resume its duties.
The Roomba 980 features localisation and mapping tech, which allows it to build a visual plan of its environment as it goes, and to keep track of its location until it has finished the job. It also has a low profile and bunch of on-board sensors to adapt its course and navigate under furniture and kickboards, and around clutter; it will even detect your dirtiest corners for concentrated cleaning, and rev up its sucking power when it encounters carpets and rugs.
What’s more, you can control it all from an app for Android and iOS devices, so you can set it to go, and even select cleaning options, when you’re ensconced in paper work at the office, or at the kids’ swimming gala. A godsend for every stressed-out, chore-hating homeowner, and a robot you might just come to love.
Oculus Rift, a much-hyped sci-fi virtual-reality headset, is a Kickstarter project that dates back a few years now. It was among the very first to projects to make real the idea that you can strap on a pair of goggles and enter a virtual reality, or play inside a computer game. Well, now, Oculus Rift is a physical reality, and it’s available to anyone with a taste for novel gadgetry and a thirst for tomorrow’s worlds, as well as fairly deep pockets.
This is somewhat like a 3D-cinema experience, except it's intense, highly immersive, and it responds to your every move – and you’ll need some room to move in, along with a compatible computer, which could conceivably set you back more cash.
Helpfully, Oculus has made a compatibility-checker available, and lists recommended PC specs, as well as a range of Rift-ready PCs, on its website. Once up and running, a mesmeric demo, called DreamDeck, takes you through vignettes of magical worlds, and your first steps into virtual reality. Beyond that, you’re off into a wild world of adventure games. But virtual reality is here to stay, and gaming is just the start. Oculus Rift is an eye-opener, for sure.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7
£750 (available with mobile subscriptions)
The best Android phone ever, outsmarting Apple by a distance? That’s the word, certainly. And you get the point. The Galaxy Note 7 is categorised as a ‘phablet’, meaning it sits between a smartphone and a tablet. And for those used to one-handed texting and calling on a regular handset, it sure is big.
In fact, it’s big everywhere it matters. Its performance is out of this world – it’s got more oomph, more juice and more storage space than anything else on the market. Which is good, seeing as there’s a lot to do on its large dual-curved display. More than any other handset maker, Samsung gets the fact a bigger screen affords bigger horizons from a technological point of view, and bigger opportunities from a user point of view. And the Galaxy Note 7 packs in some unique ideas.
For one, it comes with a stylus, called an S Pen, in the manner of the old XDAs from the 1990s. Except this is high-end 21st-century tech. The S Pen is astonishingly responsive, and opens up all kinds of productive and creative avenues – from handwriting, note making and annotations, to GIF-editing, magnification and translation. Indeed, we’re so accustomed to using our fingers and thumbs, the S Pen seems somehow revelatory.
The Galaxy Note 7 also has a remarkable Dual Pixel rear camera, which is phenomenal in low light, and boasts the fastest auto-focus on the planet. It really does take beautiful pictures, all the more thrilling on its quad HD Super AMOLED display. A total knock-out.
Xbox One S
It’s a curious one, this. On face value, it looks like a sure thing – a sleeker, more compact version (the ‘S’ is for slim) of the original Xbox One, plus some added bells and whistles in terms of performance. That’s all well and good but Microsoft, its maker, has slipped out word of a brand new console, going under code name Project Scorpio, which promises to outdo Sony’s PS4 as the 'most powerful console ever built'. That will be released late next year, in time for the Christmas rush.
So, ultimately, if you’re in the market for a new Xbox, you’re presented with a dilemma: whether to upgrade (and downsize) now, or keep your old unit running until the covers come off Project Scorpio. Having said that, if you want a console now, then this is a tremendous option.
Almost half the size of the original Xbox One, the One S packs 2TB of storage, and can play games – as well as Blu-ray movies and streaming video – in glorious 4K resolution. It also includes a built-in power supply, so you don’t have to find room for a gigantic power brick behind your TV set, and the handsome-looking new Xbox wireless controller.