A week in reviews: 25 - 29 August
As September looms, that means the IFA trade show is incoming, so keep eyes on the site next week for all the latest coverage. We expect big things from Samsung, Sony and the usual suspects.
But as we wrap up the month of August, we've got a spread of various goodies on review this week. The Microsoft Surface 3 lands in the UK, spearheading our line-up, alongside the plastic-bodied HTC One E8 and the only UK review of the budget Alcatel OneTouch Idol Mini smartphone.
Elsewhere we've been driving the new 2-Series BMW, the 220d, booming out the beats via the latest Samsung Level Over over-ear headphones, and after many weeks of living with the Wi-Fi-extending Devolo dLAN 500 AV Wireless+ have come to the conclusion that it's an ideal way to expand the home Wi-Fi network with ease.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review
Quick review: Is the Surface Pro 3 the "laptop killer" it claims to be? It's not out and out murder, more a viable laptop alternative with full Windows 8.1 that will suit a certain audience. But despite finding its large 12-inch screen size perplexing at first, a week of use in the laptop form (and with the optional keyboard accessory attached, of course) has come to make sense. Often great sense thanks to the significant screen resolution and multi-window multi-tasking, variable position stand, touchscreen controls and included stylus.
Pros: Finally has a proper stand with variable positioning, significant screen resolution with decent viewing angles, a viable laptop alternative (if used with keyboard cover)
Cons: Screen is horribly reflective, expensive, no keyboard included in price, nowhere to store stylus, far bigger than most tablets, no discrete graphics, no MS Office as standard
Price: from £639 (add £109 for the keyboard)
Full article: Surface Pro 3 review
HTC One E8 review
Quick review: The plastic version of the flagship HTC One M8, the E8 is a compelling and affordable Android phone option. The core hardware and software is the same, which makes for a great experience, but the plastic finish began to wear after just a few weeks of use, while the camera experience is just average.
Pros: Powerful handset, battery life is good, display is great, sound quality unsurpassed, refined software experience
Cons: Camera performance is average, tactile finish rubbing off is disappointing, lacks the M8's wow factor and premium feel
Full article: HTC One E8 review
Alcatel OneTouch Idol Mini review
Quick review: The Alcatel OneTouch Idol Mini does a good job of disguising its budget asking price by delivering a slim, good-looking smartphone package. It's not the perfect package, though, but then that's hardly a surprise given the £80-ish asking price. Given that the Idol Mini 2 will be on the shelves later this year and the Motorola Moto E is an invariably stronger device (save for its chunkier build) there is the suggestion that waiting or spending a few extra quid would serve a better purpose. But budget smartphones aren't about waiting around, they're here to fill an immediate need - and the Idol Mini does that just fine.
Pros: Bright screen with decent viewing angles, microSD slot for expansion, slim build that doesn’t look budget, familiar Android operation
Cons: User interface can sometimes lag, plasticky materials (a given for the price), no 4G , poor camera, Moto E/EE Kestrel prove stiff competition
Full article: Alcatel One Touch Idol Mini review
BMW 220d review
Quick review: We find ourselves a little torn when summing up the new BMW 2-Series. On one hand it's a car that's a joy to drive; a car more practical than you'd expect that we found not only painless but really enjoyable to use in everyday life. The headline entry price is reasonable and, in this SE guise, its efficiency makes it an appealing company car choice. Yet we can't help feeling that BMW's missed a trick here and given the shift to a new name, as the 2-Series ought to have more emotional appeal in terms of the exterior design, the interior finishes and the standard kit on offer.
Pros: Great to drive, great combination of power and efficiency from the 2-litre diesel engine, spacious, good ergonomics and iDrive continues to impress (if you upgrade to the ProMedia Nav system)
Cons: Diesel engine is a little noisy, lacks some basic kit in this guise and needs speccing carefully, design and technology fail to wow - especially in a showroom setting
Price: from £25,865 | £33,360 as tested
Full article: BMW 220D review
Samsung Level Over headphones review
Quick review: After a number of days with the Samsung Level Over mounted to our ears we've come to appreciate just how comfortable they are to wear. Which is a good job, because take these cans off and you'll have to look at their shiny, budget-looking plastic finish. But the price is far from budget: at £300 it's more game over than Level Over, especially given that audio quality can be matched by other over-ear headphones for far less money.
Pros: Comfortable earcups and headband, wireless Bluetooth connectivity, noise-cancellation works well without impacting listen
Cons: Plasticky build, can deliver an unclean listen, sharp top-end, limited mids, way overpriced for what they are
Full article: Samsung Level Over headphones review
Devolo dLAN 500 AV Wireless+ review
Quick review: Despite routers getting better and delivering stronger, further-reaching Wi-Fi signals, that's still not good enough for many households. To boost that Wi-Fi signal using the existing electrical setup in your home the Devolo dLAN 500 AV Wireless+ Starter Pack is an ideal way to do it with nothing more than a spare plug socket. And it does exactly what it says on the tin: even in our over-100-year-old home the signal was delivered with around 40 per cent loss of strength, but at around 32Mbps that's still strong enough to stream 4K via Netflix. Seems good to us.
Pros: Easy to setup, works really well - even on old electrics setup, good range and speed, doesn’t block existing plug sockets, three Ethernet ports included for wired connections too
Cons: Runs hot, speed not as fast as source, flashing lights can be a distraction (software off available), security/passwords on plug side of product, a little bulky
Price: £129 (Starter Kit price)
Full article: Devolo dLAN 500 AV Wireless+ Starter Pack review