A week in reviews: 26 - 30 August
The final Bank Holiday of the summer is behind us, the sun setting earlier each day, and September is just about to begin. But on the cusp of summer's end we've tested so much cool tech this week that you'll have that summery smile back on your face in no time.
The gaming season has started to trickle in - just before it blows the valve and goes full-flow. In the year where PS4 and Xbox One are just around the corner, it's current-gen that continues to impress. Splinter Cell: Blackllist revives the series with some interesting stealth-meets-action gameplay, and bobs along with the vigour of an episode of TV smash-hit 24. Some will love it, others will already be yawning.
The largest-yet Windows Phone 8 device also lands in the office, in te form of the Lumia 625. Plus we've been playing with LightStrips to add on to the Philips Hue smartphone-controlled lighting system, driving the Toyota Rav4, testing out the typing experience of the iPad mini complete with Logitech Keyboard Folio, and thumbing our way through super-cute - yet taxing - app Sprinkle Islands.
Fun, you say? Darn right it is - read on to see what we made of this week's bevvy of techie goods.
Nokia Lumia 625
With Nokia's flagship phone, the Lumia 925, there's lot to love. That phone acted as a pre-cursor to the Lumia 625, a half-the-budget, larger-screen Lumia offering.
The build is solid for a fair-priced phone, there's 4G connectivity, and the Windows Phone 8 experience continues to grow in strength. So far, so good.
But as the Lumia 625 represents Windows Phone's foray into larger screen displays, it feels as though it's missed a trick; it's just an odd compromise. The screen is expanded but the operating system doesn't take greater benefit, while the resolution is low and we therefore find ourselves missing the display quality that you'll find elsewhere.
Quick verdict: The Nokia Lumia 625 brings you a large display and 4G on the cheap. But the display doesn't bring quality with it so the benefit feels slightly lost, leaving us with an oddball device - it's good considering the price, but not great on the whole.
Full review: Nokia Lumia 625 review
Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Games are just about as subjective as movies. Some will love, others will loathe - and we have a feeling that Splinter Cell: Blacklist is one such title that will split the pack. We're certainly sitting on the fence over this one.
The stealth-meets-action title tries to please all with its mix of gun-toting shooting and in-the-shadows stealth. It meets somewhere in the middle with some success, but with a rote storyline and new lead voice it's not going to please all the fans.
Well worth a look, though - some will eject after an hour of frustration, others will become the "Ghost" master; the stealth king and love every second of it.
Quick verdict: All in all Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a game that you have to take for what it is. It's got highs, it's got some lows, and while it's certainly not going to redefine the genre, it's an approachable stealth shooter that seems to assert there's more life in this series yet.
Full review: Splinter Cell: Blacklist review
Logitech Keyboard Folio mini for iPad mini
Want to transform your iPad mini into a typing machine to act as a netbook-like replacement? Logitech has an attractive solution in the form of the Keyboard Folio mini.
It does add bulk to the iPad mini, but it's worth it for the added protection offered. If you're looking for a simple clip-on keyboard then we'd suggest looking elsewhere - perhaps to the Logitech Ultrathin, for example. Of course the Folio mini case does come off, but it's a fiddle because of the tight fit.
If you want to type on the go, while being safe in the knowledge that there's added protection for your iPad mini, then this stylish solution could well be the answer you're looking for. It's not perfect, but we've found it to deliver a decent typing experience overall.
Quick verdict: The Logitech Keyboard Folio mini for iPad mini is well made, works a treat and does exactly what it sets out to do. If you want to type safe in the knowledge that there's on-the-go protection for your iPad then this stylish solution could well be the answer. Lovely.
Full review: Logitech Keyboard Folio mini for iPad mini review
Philips Hue LightStrips
Philips Hue, the intelligent lighting system that you can control - in both colour and brightness terms - via your smartphone, has gained a new accessory in the guise of Philips LightStrips. Light up your life with these bendable strips of LED lights that you can place around the home for dramatic mood lighting.
We use Philips Hue every day and we love it. The addition of LightStrips we've got heaps of praise for - it's easy to set up and taps into the Hue system with relative ease too. It's all just easy - and looks great thanks to the choice of one of 16-million colours. Yup, sixteen million.
Get creative, with mood lighting for under the sofa, the breakfast bar, or just about anywhere. You will need Philips Hue first, and LightStrips aren't exactly cheap, but we think it's oh so worth it.
Price: £80 (for 1.8m)
Quick verdict: Even if LightStrips won't illuminate a whole room with ultra-brightness - that's not what they're designed to do - we found that they were spot on to set the mood wherever installed. It's five star hotel kind of stuff. Brilliant.
Full review: Philips Friends of Hue LightStrips review
Sprinkle Islands is a fun puzzler that's a prime example of how gaming apps should be made. Fight fire with water in this cutesy yet taxing game that's so good it's kept us playing for hours.
The difficulty level is pitched just right too: the puzzles go from simple to more complex as the game progresses, the learning curve feels spot on and the effortless controls require little thought.
One for all the family.
Quick verdict: Just because Sprinkle Islands has super-cute graphics doesn't mean it's not a challenge for all. Whether young, old, or a fervent gamer, there's something here for everyone. We adore it.
Full review: Sprinkle Islands review
Toyota Rav4 Icon 2.2 Diesel 4x4
In such a competitive market space, the fourth-generation Toyota Rav4 looks to offer little to nothing of distinction. So why should you buy one?
With low expectations, one week later - and after living with the Rav4 properly - our presumptions had been turned on their head. Okay, so the Rav4 doesn't offer the flashiest of interiors - it's all a bit mish-mash really - but it's a cracker on the road and there's plenty of kit on board as standard.
Whether it's the SUV for you is another matter, but despite not being the prettiest of cars on the road we reckon it's well worth consideration - even if the likes of the Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage and VW Tiguan are likely to lay on the pressure.
Price: £28,645 (as tested)
Quick verdict: Toyota makes its segment-defining Rav4 more family-friendly, spacious and easier to live with than ever before. It also looks more vanilla than ever and loses some character along the way compared to the earlier generation models, which means it doesn't really stand out in such a competitive class. But it comes well equipped as standard and is cracker to drive - surprisingly so - given this diesel engine. Overall a pretty decent experience.
Full review: Toyota Rav4 Icon 2.2 Diesel 4x4 review
Sennheiser IE 800
Say hello to the Sennheiser IE 800 in-ear headphones. Now wave goodbye to £600, or for our American friends, $1000.
These are serious audiophile-aimed in-ear monitors. And they deliver serious sound. Big bass and uncompromising quality are let down by some cable length and splitter positioning, while the top-end frequencies are too cutting at the higher volumes.
Turn things down, listen at a sensible volume and everything sits wonderfully in the mix. It took some getting used to for us - in-ears won't be everyone's personal preference either, and we found all too common slip-ups with the fit when on the go - but eventually we loved stepping into that other world of sound delivered by the IE 800 IEMs when sat, stationary, at our desk.
Quite incredible stuff, yet incredibly expensive stuff. We can't tell you how to spend your hard-earned money though, and for some these will be worth every penny.
Quick verdict: A bit of patience and a lot of listening later and we've definitely got swept up in IE 800 land. When that proper in-ear connection is made it's like stepping into another world. And, for some audio-heads at least, it'll be impossible to put a price on that.
Full review: Sennheiser IE 800 in-ear headphones review