A week in reviews: 12 - 16 August
It's been a mad week - by which we mean a mad-fun week, chock-full of review products from many corners of tech.
From visiting Iceland to explore the landscape in which Joseph Kosinski's movie Oblivion was shot - with a Fujifilm X-M1 in tow, no less - to climbing mountains and boating along the fjords of Norway with a Panasonic Lumix GX7. Great cameras, great pictures, just great fun.
It's also the week in which brands best known for their specific product areas have broken out of the mould: TomTom is known for satnav devices, but we've been testing its Runner GPS smartwatch; while Archos of media-playback fame has delivered a dual-SIM phone to the 'Lint offices. We like to twist it up.
But despite all of that top-drawer tech, it's gaming that's landed the big punches this week. In addition to reviewing the restyled Xbox 360 console, we've had a proper hands-on with the Xbox One - and they look like the perfect couple when sitting side by side - while Popcap/EA's gaming app epic Plants vs Zombies 2 has also been under review scrutiny
Archos 50 Platinum
Dual-SIM phones aren't particularly common in the UK, so choice is limited if that's a must-have on your checklist.
But is the Archos 50 Platinum any good? Often we'd say that yes, it is. But there are issues with the dual-SIM management and such a set-up has major implications for battery life - which is none too great here.
Archos has been using the Android operating system for just about as long as anyone else, however, so the 50 Platinum certainly makes sense. It's not like a dip into the unknown, while media playback - the company's forte - is a force to be reckoned with as ever.
Quick verdict: If you're looking for a dual-SIM phone, the Archos is a solid performer. But remember, dual-SIM handsets struggle with battery life at times, and you really need to want that second slot for a purchase to be worthwhile. They are not the sort of phones you should buy just because you think it might be handy for a holiday in Spain once a year.
Full review: Archos 50 Platinum review
TomTom Runner smartwatch
Say TomTom to most people and they'll think "satnav". They wouldn't be wrong, but the Dutch company has long had its hand in the smartwatch world - it's the company behind the Nike+ SportsWatch after all.
That's a good place to start, as surely this experience will kick the TomTom Runner out of the starting blocks at great speed? Yes and no. We like the Runner as a watch, but there are too many shortcomings for it to excel.
We wanted wireless connectivity, app support, far better software, easier sync methods and custom control. At this stage that's not the case - the Runner feels very much like a 1.0 product. It's not a write-off, but we suspect it will take a future version 2.0 to hit the shelves before TomTom's anywhere near the finish line.
Quick verdict: The TomTom Runner is frustrating. The watch itself is great, but the support and those other all-important factors - such as docking, app support, data management and lack of wireless sharing - disappoint.
Full review: TomTom Runner smartwatch review
Xbox 360 (2013)
If you're new to Xbox then the 2013 design revamp asserts that there's plenty of life in the old dog yet. This is the year for big games and if next-gen is looking out of reach then the more affordable current-gen rework makes great sense - even if it's just to grab a couple of big titles like GTA V nearer to the Christmas season.
If you're an Xbox 360 S user then there is little here for you outside of the visual - but then you probably knew that already. If anything there's less: the lack of an optical out and one less USB slot is a pain, even if it's unlikely to affect your set-up drastically.
Visually the 360 in 2013 looks like an Xbox One "mini" - its finish matches up perfectly with the Xbox One's design. And given that the One won't be backwards compatible with 360 titles, you'll need both consoles if you want to continue playing those older games. We see your game, Microsoft. But we're on board - we're suckers for matching design.
Quick verdict: The Xbox 360 2013 model breathes new life into the console only from an aesthetic point of view. If you're an Xbox 360 S user there is little here for you, but then you are probably already saving up for the Xbox One. But that doesn't stop the 2013 model being a great thing: it's the year of huge current-gen titles, the price is fair for that last minute grab, and upgraders wanting to design-match with their pre-ordered Xbox One will be pleased as punch.
Full review: Microsoft Xbox 360 (2013) review
Plants vs Zombies 2: It's About Time
When gaming giant EA snapped up Popcap following the success of its original Plants vs Zombies game the reaction was two-fold: on the one hand such huge backing had to be great for the franchise, on the other the inevitable EA "freemium" model would mean in-app payments to assist progress might encroach on the gameplay.
We've played through Plants vs Zombies 2: It's About Time for a fortnight to get a true balance of the game. In short we love it, it's bags of fun. At first you won't feel you need to part with any cash at all. But play on and try to beat the considerably tougher levels - now arranged in that app-typical three-star system - and you'll be raiding your in-game piggy bank in no time. But that still doesn't necessarily mean parting with real cash - it's up to you if you want to buy into some of the classic plants from the original game or not.
It's a big game and it's free to download. Considering its brilliance we can't aim much criticism at the title. If we'd change one thing it would be the addition of a "speed up" button to spin through some of the more boring early-level stuff at a faster pace.
Price: Free (in-app purchases available)
Quick verdict: Free-to-download and bags of fun. Plants vs Zombies 2 takes all that was good about the original and makes it better. Wrap that up in a Super Mario-style mapped-out world and there's considerable depth to this game. It's a true top-tier title that shows you needn't own a console to play excellent games any more.
Full review: Plants vs Zombies 2: It's About Time review
Panasonic Lumix GX7
We met the Panasonic Lumix GX7 with great expectations, and it didn't disappoint. This all-in-one compact system camera comes complete with a tilt-angle viewfinder, tilt-angle LCD and a brand new Micro Four Thirds sensor. It's full tilt, and it's almost full marks.
The only things holding the GX7 back from perfection is its limited battery life, viewfinder delays and the level of colour noise in some mid-high ISO shots. That and the might of the (pricier) Olympus Pen E-P5 - picking a favourite is likely to come down to price above all else, and that's where the GX7 wins out.
Quick verdict: The GX7 is the package deal: it's got everything on board and everything is covered well. Even if it's not quite as thrilling as the Olympus E-P5, it's the Panasonic price-point which elevates the GX7 to the next level. It's luxury, it's exciting, it delivers on deserved hype and despite the shortcomings we've found it to be a modern great in the compact system camera world.
Full review: Panasonic Lumix GX7 review
The X-M1 is a compact system camera not to be overlooked, and was one of the stars in our tour around Iceland. It captured much of the varying landscape beautifully, but getting those shots - which, in image quality terms are exceptional - can feel like a long haul. Fujifilm is lagging behind in the autofocus speed and accuracy department, while other small quirks such as a misplaced exposure compensation dial make this camera's performance a little more B-movie than the Hollywood A-list all-rounder that we expected. But, like we say, it's one not to be overlooked as it's image quality and the sharpness of the XF lens series is something that can't be ignored.
Quick verdict: Even if the X-M1 loses much of the earlier and more powerful X-series models' retro style, it loses none of the image quality prowess. If that's your number one priority then we still think that Fujifilm offers the most capable compact system camera solution. However, in this case, it's just not as fast in operation or as usable as some of the competition out there. It's a little more B-movie than Hollywood, but by that judgement it's a likely to be a cult classic too. A CSC not to be overlooked.
Full review: Fujifilm X-M1 review