A week in reviews: 16 - 20 September
It's Grand Theft Auto V week. It's also Apple week with both the iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S all reviewed in full, along with the latest iOS 7 operating system for Apple's mobile devices. Plus we've been spending time with the Sony Xperia Z1 smartphone. Talk about the arrival of the mega products.
GTA V has made us want to give up everything else in life for the time we've been playing it. A truly escapist experience, it's so good that even next-gen console chatter has gone out the window for now (except for that mention just there). Is it the best title yet or just the best marketing hype?
We also bring you a varied mix of other review kit, as always to keep things interesting. There's the Sony Cyber-shot QX10 lens camera for smartphones, an Arcam rBlink Bluetooth adaptor that can bring any hi-fi into the modern age, and even Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 appears ahead of the hotly anticipated arrival of FIFA 14.
We start with GTA V and that's how we'll finish. Even if we went and bought a new iPhone 5S this week, lovely as it is, it's this year's gaming title that's going to bring the ongoing excitement. It's time to spend long evenings doing things that, well, we just shouldn't be doing.
Grand Theft Auto V
GTA V is the best Grand Theft Auto to date. There, we said it. And we're dead sure of it too.
It's a technical marvel, pushing the boundaries of what's possible on the current-gen consoles. Load it up and you won't quite believe what Rockstar North has been able to do - it's truly squeezed every last ounce of graphical juice out of the can.
The three character setup - you control one of three leads at any one time - is a triumph too. Add in excellent writing and acting, and the main storyline missions are brilliantly executed, delivering moments that will stay with you.
Sometimes they'll stay with you for the wrong reason: this game knows it's full of adult content. It's violent, it's misogynistic, it's designed to push the limits at times. But that's sort of what Grand Theft Auto is about; as much a comment on society as it is, it's designed to deliver those thrills and spills in the same way a movie might.
Quick verdict: If you want a wild ride of a game then Grand Theft Auto V is most certainly that. It'll charm, it'll amuse, it might even teeter on the offensive - but it'll keep you coming back for more and more. And it's so huge you'll be digging away at it for a long time to come.
Full review: GTA V
Sony Xperia Z1
Sony's latest flagship smartphone has a lot of promise on the spec sheet. Powerful thanks to Qualcomm's Snapdragon S800 processor, a compact-camera-sized imaging sensor, and a large 5-inch 1080p screen - is there anything that can stop this super smartphone?
Well, yes, its size. Although there's a lot to love about the Sony Xperia Z1 we find the physical size a touch too chunky - a little bit too much for our liking, and we think others will feel the same; either go for one-handed comfortable use or super-sized Galaxy Note size - and the presence of lots of capable competitors out there means the Z1, despite all its positives, doesn't shine as brightly as its spec sheet would suggest.
Great battery life and a user experience that's well refined go a long way. But, and as we've found, the Sony Xperia Z1 isn't the out-and-out winner in this class based on all its fancy specs.
Quick verdict: Sony has created a powerful and decent quality device in the Xperia Z1. It hits all the high points on the spec sheet, but that doesn't always lead to the best results. For us we find it ever so slightly too big and the screen, while good, isn't the best in class.
Full review: Sony Xperia Z1
Apple iPhone 5C
The C in iPhone 5C stands for colourful, and that's the experience Apple wants you to have with its plastic-backed reimagination of the earlier iPhone 5.
As an upgrade to the iPhone 4S the 5C is a perfect option, and the colourful finish refreshes the iPhone 5 in a way that makes it a lot more fun than the iPhone 5 ever was.
But there is no denying that the 5C is merely a lick of paint - and a "downgrade" of materials - on a year-old device, a non-upgrade to the iPhone 5. Some will see it as regressive.
Yet, somehow, that still works in today's world. For all the phones we spend our time using, when we come back to Apple there's just something eminently usable about it. Despite any initial reservations we love the iPhone 5C - it's colourful, joyful, capable, and just works.
Price: £469 (16GB)
Quick verdict: As an upgrade to the iPhone 4S, the 5C is a perfect consideration. But it is little more than the original iPhone 5 with added fun and freshness in the form of colours, complete with iOS 7 as standard. If you're bored of Apple then avoid it and opt in for Android or Windows Phone, but if you're not and want the latest and greatest then your biggest question will be plastic iPhone 5C or pricey, aluminium iPhone 5S?
Full review: Apple iPhone 5C
Apple iPhone 5S
The iPhone 5S fulfils the pre-determined destiny of all Apple "S" devices - it's the one that's normally met with an overwhelming "meh".
But that's not the case here. In many ways Apple has released a phone for tomorrow rather than today. That's a hard sell, but it's also the exciting part. The Touch ID scanner is yet to be fully realised, as are the A7 and M7 processors and the 64-bit support. But the potential for that power is huge - it's got more grunt than its near competitors and that makes it extra exciting.
Stunning to use, complete stacks of power and without gimmicks. It's these simple elements that make the iPhone 5S, for us, one of the best phones on the market. There's a lot to admire about that, even if Apple hasn't fulfilled the super-size screen and resolution of its Android and Windows Phone competitors.
Price: £549 (16GB)
Quick verdict: What Apple has created here is a phone that is as exciting as it is dull. Focus on the exciting stuff and there's lots to love. It's effortless to use - and that's no simple task - but in making it look too easy, you can sometimes forget the beauty and power in your hand.
Full review: Apple iPhone 5S
Apple iOS 7
Apple's new operating system, iOS 7, is finally here. Designed by Apple senior VP of design, Jony Ive, it promises a brave new world for Apple users.
But what else does it offer and should you resist this year's upgrade for as long as you can, in fear that it'll grind your Apple device down a gear, or jump feet first into the new era?
iOS 7 ditches the so called "skeuomorphism" - where a design object represents itself by a real-world visual counterpart - of green felt, yellow note paper, and faux leather, instead moving in a new direction, one with a fresh and modern look. It's flatter, more coulourful and very Jony Ive.
Ive hasn't re-invented the wheel though, and there are no groundbreaking moments that will make you bolt upright in the middle of the night and wonder why a certain feature didn't exist before. But you will enjoy the new crisper, cleaner look. It will make you enjoy your iPhone once again and you'll ask why it hasn't always been like this.
If you've got bored of iOS, iOS 7 might make you stick around for a little longer. But you'll soon realise this is a polish; a veneer - and the problems you may have grown tired of still remain. There's comfort and security in the familiarity, but you may still find yourself with the 7-year itch. Not the iOS 7 itch.
Quick verdict: The Apple iOS is still the most attractive mobile operating system on the market, but when it comes to core features you might find efforts from Samsung, Sony, HTC, and Nokia offer more built-in applications - including plenty of gimmicks, it must be said - as well as more room to tweak for a greater personalised experience. iOS 7 is a considerable improvement, but it's largely aesthetic, not a mighty revamp in most departments.
Full review: Apple iOS 7
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014
After years in FIFA's shadow, last season's, the title better known as PES, was something of a return to form, at least critically if not commercially.
So what do they do this year for PES 2014? Rip it up and start again by introducing a version of the FOX engine, as developed for the latest incarnation of the Metal Gear Solid series from Konami, the publisher of both titles.
An interesting concept, and one that puts some life into the title, but it's a bit washy elsewhere: Premiership (aka 'English League') clubs can't be referred to by their real names except for Manchester United; and control-wise the game didn't always leave us feeling in complete control.
Pro Evo used to have an intensity that required to you to literally sit on the edge of your seat. PES 2014 is more of a slumped-on-the-sofa affair, with a goal eliciting a mild grimace of satisfaction as opposed a full-on knee slide into the kitchen. And with FIFA 14 in the line of sight, PES has got its work cut out.
Quick verdict: Judged on its own merits, PES 2014 plays a tolerable game of Association Football, but we can't help but hark back to the golden era when PES was king. It may find a niche with the online Master League, or hardcore two-player action, but even as we type these words we know that we're probably not going to play it again once FIFA 14 arrives.
Full review: PES 2014
Arcam rBlink Bluetooth hi-fi adaptor
The Arcam rBlink is designed to take audio from your phone, tablet or music player sent via Bluetooth and turn it into the best possible sound at the receiving end. This is a fantastic idea, because most decent music systems don't have Bluetooth, and this solution is built with quality in mind.
We honestly think that if you care about music, and would consider Bluetooth as a viable method of delivery (some just won't) then the rBlink will be something worth considering. We've loved the convenience of it, and the audio quality is simply fantastic too.
It is expensive though. But considering the extra functionality it brings to your audio system, it might also be possible to argue that it's saving you the cost of having to replace your whole system. It brings a new lease of life.
Quick verdict: If you need to get Bluetooth audio in to your existing hi-fi system, then the rBlink is without doubt the way to do it. There are cheaper alternatives, but this one sounds gorgeous, has the signal strength advantage with the antenna and is built like a tank for longevity.
Full review: Arcam rBlink
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10
Is it a lens, is it a camera, is it a smartphone accessory? It's all of those things.
But what looks like just a lens is oh so much more. The QX10 is a 10x optical zoom accessory that can clip onto your smartphone and via the powers of Wi-Fi use the smart device to control shooting.
We had reservations at first, but after a week of use we've come to love the QX10. It's not perfect however, as there could be a lot more user control, and getting it out to clip on does cause delays - particularly if you don't have NFC - but for a first release device it is an exciting product.
Good job Sony.
Quick verdict: The Sony Cyber-shot QX10 is a fun accessory for those smartphone users who want better photos. It could be improved for advanced users, but if you want to ditch your compact camera and add 10x zoom to your phone then the QX10 is a quality device that enables just that.
Full review: Sony Cyber-shot QX10