A week in reviews: 30 September - 4 October

It's Samsung week and, as promised, we bring you the full verdict on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone and Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Have we been impressed with the companion duo, or does the Gear lack, well, the right gear to enable it to excel?

We've also been listening to the Philips Fidelio HTL9100 soundbar and 5.1 system for many weeks. A great soundbar with separate active subwoofer, we've found it top for music, TV, movies and any audio you happen to want to throw its way.

Always suckers for Apple accessories we've also been using the Twelve South HiRise stand to transform our iPhone into more of a business tool. The stand positions the phone - or iPad mini, if you'd rather - at an angle for quick and easy browsing without needing to fish around for your phone. It also looks cool and keeps charge constant. At first we thought it sounded a bit unnecessary, but weeks later and we're converted.

In closing it's Blackberry's latest handset, the Z30, that attempts to fend off Blackberry shutting its doors. A company in turmoil, that much is known, but a company able to produce it's best BB10 OS phone yet. Is it too late?

Philips Fidelio HTL9100 Soundbar

Big sound is all too easily overlooked, but it's an essential for the majority of flat-sounding flatpanel TVs these days. Philips Fidelio has got you covered: the HTL9100 is a soundbar with detachable satellite speakers and a separate wired subwoofer for a full-on 5.1 surround experience.

It's a big package and dominates much of your home cinema space, but then it's good looking and just as good sounding. It'll quickly make you realise just how limited your TV's audio is, and the inclusion of that subwoofer really carries things to the next level throughout the frequency range.

It's certainly not cheap, though, but it's well worth consideration on your 5.1 surround system shortlist. We've been using it for many weeks as a Bluetooth soundbar to listen to music and it does just as great a job with that as it does with home cinema audio.

Price: £600

Quick verdict It's hard to say a truly bad word about the Philips Fidelio Soundbar. It looks good, it sounds good, is super simple to set up and the modular satellite speaker experience is fun. There might not be the advanced on-screen adjustments that you may (or may not) crave, but that's in the interests of keeping things simple. We like.

Full review: Philips Fidelio HTL9100 5.1 system

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

We're massive fans of the (massive) Galaxy Note 2, so the Note 3was already off on the good foot - it was going to have to do something really stupid for us to not like it.

Fortunately - save for a silly handwriting bug and SIM-locking oddness - it's a solid slab of smartphone or, dare we say it out loud, "phablet". Great screen, great features, great interface updates. It's just great.

It is, however, a monstrously large phone with a 5.7-inch screen and the faux leather on the back is a bit naff. If, like many, you find the screen too big for practical use then you may want to look elsewhere. But if you're after a large-screen handset then we can think of few competitiors to match - the Note 3 is very much the one to get.

Price: £600

Quick verdict There will be some who will dismiss this phone out of hand for being too big. But you'll never know what you're missing. Bigger screen, smaller footprint, just all-round better than the Note 2, we reckon there are few phones comparable to the Galaxy Note 3's excellence.

Full review: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

 

Samsung Galaxy Gear

We couldn't review the Note 3 without reviewing the Galaxy Gear too, Samsung's companion smartwatch.

At first we weren't convinced we'd like the Gear. It's been getting a pretty bad rap from lots of sources, but we've been persevering with it to give it a good chance. And, you know what, we rather like it.

It's only compatible with the Note 3 at the moment, but more Samsung phones will be able to sync up to the Gear in the future. It's a similar story with apps - a lot of notifications are pointless as apps like Facebook can't (yet) show you specifics. But a few months down the line and the potential here is immense.

Ultimately, the audience for this watch is limited both by the number of people who own the compatible phone, and the number of people who want a smartwatch. To some this techie angle on an area many see as jewellery just won't cut it. But, to those considering the Gear, we don't think you'll be disappointed, and given six months, and loads more apps, we could be looking at an incredible device.

Price: £300

Quick verdict We see so much potential in the Gear, but it's limited by hardware and software compatibility at the moment - and that costs it dear. It might not be quite there yet, but with some work it could be a great addition to your wrist in six months' time.

Full review: Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch

 

Twelve South HiRise stand for iPhone 5 & iPad mini

Charging your iPhone at your desk should be an easy experience. Wall, plug, cable - it's not rocket science. So why would you want to buy an iPhone or iPad mini stand such as the HiRise? We were skeptical at first, but decided to use the device for a number of weeks to see if it could change our perception.

And you know what? It did. We rather like the Twelve South accessory. It's a great way of checking though the river of info that pours in throghout a day without power depleting. It gives your Apple device a second lease of life and a new position of functionality.

At £45, the HiRise may seem a HiPriced, especially considering you'll really need to invest in another Lightning cable on top of that, but given several weeks of use we've found that price tag to be worth it.

Price: £45

Quick verdict We really love the HiRise's Apple-like design, convenience and build quality. It's a simple and sleek desktop stand for iDevices. We're converted.

Full review: Twelve South HiRise stand

 

Blackberry Z30

The BlackBerry Z30 is the best Blackberry 10 model so far, bringing the benefits of the new BB10.2 operating system, a large display, plenty of power, a much imporved design compared to the Z10, and solid battery life that has seen us through the day.

But all of these positives are set to the context of uncertainty. What's going to happen to BlackBerry? It's hard to tell. Although the company is set to continue to work in enterprise and "prosumer" markets - whatever that means - it's difficult to wholeheartly recommend a BlackBerry at this moment in time with those dark clouds looming overhead. And while other manufacturers surge forward with multiple device options, it's taken BlackBerry this long to reach this point. Too little too late?

That's a great shame, because the BlackBerry Z30 feels like the device where BlackBerry finally got it right.

Price: £600

Quick verdict The Z30 feels like the device where it all comes together for BlackBerry. It's the best of the BB10 handsets, but it feels a year too late and there's that one all-important question: is anyone still interested?

Full review: Blackberry Z30