A week in reviews: 17 - 21 February
It's the week before Mobile World Congress 2014, the mobile phone show of the year, so expect plenty of smartphones and tablets to be covering these pages over the coming days.
During the quiet before the storm it's been a week dominated by cameras. From the entry-level Nikon D3300, to the mid-level Samsung NX30, and topped off by the most feature-rich compact system camera we've seen: the Olympus OM-D E-M1.
We also take a look at the Qualcomm Toq, the product rumoured to be the basis of HTC's alleged smartwatch. In its current "showcase" state Qualcomm has only really managed to show off Mirasol display technology rather than making a product worthy of purchase - but it could be the footsteps to greater things.
We tie up the week with a review of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the Wii U. Another great release on the ailing console, perhaps big enough to make you dip into the wallet and take the plunge? We would. It's really that good.
Nutz Pro Headphones review
Quick review: To look at the Nutz Pro Headphones aren't our favourite over-ear cans by a long margin. But once sat over the head they're comfortable and deliver immersive audio that's spot on for electronic music at an affordable price point.
Pros: Comfortable, loud, plenty of bass, generally decent audio, fair priced, passive wired or charged wireless use
Cons: Not keen on plasticky build, considerable size, touch of mid-level distortion, didn't find on-ear controls of much use
Price: £179 (wireless) | £129 (wired)
Full article: Nutz Pro headphones review
Samsung NX30 review
Quick review: The NX30 marks a significant upgrade for the upper-end of Samsung’s mirrorless line-up, and is among the most tempting system cameras we’ve yet tested. Image quality is excellent, aside from the slight softness in images due to the kit lens, and the re-thought design layout makes for a comfortable shooting experience. At £899 it's not pocket money pricing, but don’t be tempted to call it expensive just because it isn’t a "real" DSLR.
Pros: Re-thought body lay-out, flip-up viewfinder and vibrant rear LCD, versatile Wi-Fi features, i-Function lens system
Cons: Plasticky build, slight softening towards frame edges with kit lens, should be available with powered lens kit bundle, wind noise on movies
Full article: Samsung NX30 review
Nikon D3300 review
Quick review: The compact size and weight of the D3300 mean it's fantastic to take around with you. It's ideal for stashing in a bag, and its modest weight won't weigh you down. Ergonomically, it's a nice fit in the hand too, even if you've got massive spades on the end of your arms. As with any camera the main thing that matters is what the photos look like - and it's here that we're coloured impressed by the D3300. The only thing to throw a spanner in the works is what's happening elsewhere in the market: the Canon EOS 1200D confuses things a little because it's a lot cheaper despite a similar spec; while there are all kinds of compact system cameras with interchangeable lenses and faster "live preview" modes that may suit a wider audience. But if an optical viewfinder is a must then the D3300 is an accomplished entry-level DSLR well worthy of consideration.
Pros: Compact, lightweight, great image quality, reasonably priced
Cons: Little has changed since the D3200, competition from Canon 1200D and CSCs
Full article: Nikon D3300 review
Olympus OM-D E-M1 review
Quick review: As far as compact system cameras go there's nothing as fully featured as the E-M1 on the market. The big hurdle for most will be the formidable price: at £1299 for the body alone it's a long way from budget and will time and again bring up the "is it as good as a DSLR?" debate. The answer is a mix of yes and no. And yet the more we've used the E-M1 and got used to its slightly unorthodox layout, the more we've realised just how accomplished a camera it is. As Olympus wraps up its DSLR line it had to be sure that its modern-world replacement would be up to the job. And the OM-D E-M1 is the proof: a camera that's not only visually stylish but a classy performer too. There's arguably no better option in this category.
Pros: Outstanding image quality, super-fast autofocus, great electronic viewfinder, solid build, lots of customisation and function buttons, loads of lens options
Cons: Battery life limitations, colours dull at higher ISO settings, it is expensive, feedback noise from stabilisation system, menu systems are busy, single SD slot
Full article: Olympus OMD EM1 review
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze review
Quick review: As a gameplay style, 2D platforming has been given major boosts by Ubisoft’s most recent Rayman games and a stack of indie titles, but Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze tops the lot in our eyes. It retains many of the essential elements from past glories in the franchise, but brings a number of new tricks to the party that are resounding hits. There are few, if any, misses. It's really that good.
Pros: One of the most rewarding 2D platform games in many years, graphics are sumptuous, cunningly difficult, retains that retro Nintendo feel
Cons: Co-op multiplayer is great for a giggle but not as focused as single-player, difficulty could alienate some less tolerant gamers
Full article: Donkey Kong Wii U review
Qualcomm Toq review
Quick review: Qualcomm has a smartwatch, and it’s called Toq. As in tick tock. It’s a nifty little wearable that serves as a companion device to an Android smartphone, and if you're based in the US you can purchase it right now should you so desire. But there aren't many reasons to do so. The catch is that the Toq isn’t really a true consumer product. It's more of a showcase for Qualcomm’s Mirasol display - a technology that the company developed and is looking to have other manufacturers use in their products. And while that has some successes and improves battery life, there are design issues, applet limitations and various shortcomings that cost this showcase product dear. For now we say save your money. It's probably only a matter of time before Qualcomm offloads the Toq or Mirasol technology anyway. Then this showcase might flower into something of far greater interest.
Pros: Mirasol display is useful in any lighting condition, an ideal push-notification receiver, Activity applet introduces interesting fitness functionality, free Toq app is an easy-to-use setup centre, wireless charging accessory is fun and fast
Cons: Bulky and ugly design, watchstrap requires trimming (with scissors), no camera, no connectivity apart from smartphone, notification previews only, lack of inputs, few applets, expensive, capacitive buttons are tricky to use
Full article: Qualcomm Toq review