Sony Alpha A7 II Review

on Thursday, November 27, 2014

This time last year the first-generation Sony A7 took the Pocket-lint Awards gong for best interchangeable lens camera. As a small-scale full-frame model with Sony'sE-mount lens fitting, it had innovation clearly in its sights. But it wasn't quite perfect in every way.
The evolution of that product brings its logical continuation in 2014: the Sony A7 II. A complementary model to the now-four-strong range, rather than a straight successor to the original, it's a camera that tweaks the design into an altogether more manageable body, while adding autofocus improvements and a new 5-axis image stabilisation system.
We got our hands on Alpha A7 II ahead of its January 2015 launch to see whether it elevates the full-frame Alpha range up yet another notch.
The first thing that can be clearly felt is the enlargement of the A7 II's grip compared to the first-gen model. A necessary adjustment when trying to balance the model with a larger chunk of glass attached to the front. It's this which adds to the depth dimension of the product, as at 59.7mm it's 11.5mm deeper than the first-gen model.

But that's not the only design change. The shutter button has also moved forward into a more logical position, which feels less compact camera and more compact system camera in its operability.
With the shutter placed further forward, the arrangement of front- and rear- thumbwheels has also been moved slightly. The front thumbwheel is still present, but it's hidden more into the body rather than the large stylised dial of the original model to make way for the shutter button's new home. A small change, but an important one.
The A7 II also introduces an additional function button - which can be user assigned - meaning C1 and C2 reside on the top of the camera, while C3 sits to the rear. In our arrangement a tap of the C2 button could be used for switching between autofocus area options, in conjunction with the rear rotational d-pad - the third rotational control on the body.

And it's autofocus where the A7 II arguably sees its biggest push forward. Eagle-eyed readers will see the 117-point phase-detection system, paired with 25-area contrast detection, reads the same as it did in the original A7. It's the same system, but with algorithm tweaks inherited from the A6000.
Sony's stance: the A7 II can recognise subjects and backgrounds more quickly, therefore knowing which direction to drive the autofocus, with a 30 per cent jump in speed.
That's all well and good, but is it actually better? We got to play with the original A7 and the A7 II and did find the new model to be quicker. Perhaps most notably in continuous autofocus, where it's automated adjustment between subjects at different distances wasn't as far behind our Nikon D810 (which we also had in tow) as the earlier system.
Part of the appeal of the A7 II is that, via an A-mount adaptor, it's possible to use a variety of Sony lenses. With the LA-EA4 adapter connected and a Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 A-mount lens attached, the 15-point phase-detection system is centrally arranged - perhaps too much so.

With E-mount lenses attached (i.e. no adapter) the arrangement of autofocus points is better spread, although again the phase-detection section is more centralised.
Is it a big enough boost to warrant jumping from A7 to A7 II? Part of that will depend which lenses you're using and on an unknown entity: the Mark II's price. We'll have to wait until January 2015 to discover that.
The headline-grabbing feature in the A7 II is its inclusion of 5-axis image stabilisation. Olympus already has this in its APS-C sensor cameras, and Sony is the first to implement it in a full-frame sensor model. Interestingly the system will work in combination with lens-based image stabilisation where available, to get the best possible preview to the viewfinder (EVF), while adjusting for pitch, yaw and roll on the free-floating sensor. If there's no lens-based stabilisation then the sensor will cater for it all.

The sensor itself is the very same 24.7-megapixel offering as in the original model, with tweaks to signal processing made for supposed better image quality. Various lovely example shots were on display, but we'd warrant you won't notice a difference between first-generation and the follow-up MkII model. Still, that large size, significant depth-of-field control and big resolution was already a winner.
There are other design points of note, with the 3-inch, 1.23m-dot WhiteMagic screen said to perform better in sunlight. Not that the UK winter feels like dishing out much of that at the moment. We've seen the tech in other Sony screens, such as that on the RX100 III compact, and it is impressive. But in the case of the Sony A7 II it's how the slim screen nestles into the body that's most standout. It doesn't look as though it can tilt 107-degrees down and 41-degrees up, indeed it doesn't look like it pulls away from the body at all. Perhaps that's because it's a little fiddly to get a finger around to pull it outward.

In the viewfinder department things are the same as the original: the 0.5-inch OLED panel delivers 1.23m-dots of resolution and looks great. Auto activation from the eye-sensor when switching between LCD and EVF isn't immediate, but it's as fast as these things come. The only change is a softer rubberised eyecup to make things altogether less stressful for those who wear glasses.
Then there's movie recording. Although 4K capture is absent from the list - something the sister model A7S can perform via HDMI out only - the addition of XAVC S format (50Mbps at 1080p60/50/30/25/24fps), S-log2 gamma and time code will add Brownie points to the videographer's arsenal. There are 3.5mm headphone out and microphone inputs already on board, making for a decent rig.

If, that is, you have a spare battery or two. Despite an increase in the A7 II's scale, the same NP-FW50 battery as used in the first-gen model is utilised. Great for upgraders, but we'd like a more capacious battery for a longer-lasting capacity. Official figures state you'll get the same 270 shots per charge when using the EVF as before - not bad considering the in-body stabilisation system, but it's the area we were most disappointed with in the original lineup, and that still stands now with the A7 II.
The Sony Alpha A7 II is an E-mount evolution. The first model was forward-thinking, the A7 II one year on takes that concept and shows off Sony's alternative approach, complete with some welcome enhancements. We hope the price is accessible too - then we'll be onto a full-frame winner.

Amazon Fire Stick TV Review

The Fire TV Stick works. That’s about all there is to it. It streams videos from Amazon, Netflix and more. It plays simple games and streams from local network shares. But it’s not for everyone. There are better products on the market for some users. That said, the Fire TV Stick is well worth its $40 price tag.
The price is right at $40
Access to Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus and others
A clean and logical interface

Slightly laggy interface
Voice search is not available through the remote, only the app (which is out for Android, iOS is coming soon)

This is the Fire TV Stick, not to be confused with the Fire TV. It’s $40 and another device in Amazon’s growing stable of Trojan horses. While appearing innocent and offering a bevy of 3rd party streaming apps like Netflix and ESPNgo, the Fire TV Stick is just another device to sell Amazon content. But a damn good one, too.
The Fire TV Stick is the little brother to the Fire TV. Where the latter is a full-fledged streaming device complete with optical output and a quad-core CPU, the Fire TV Stick takes a decidedly more casual approach. As the name suggests, it’s just a stick like Google’s Chromecast or the Roku Streaming Stick. It plugs into an HDMI port and is powered by microUSB.
The device works as advertised. There’s not much to say besides that. Plug it into an HDMI port and it powers up. After sitting through a 5 minute video explaining the ins-and-outs of the system, the Fire TV Stick is ready to go. Click a movie or TV show and it starts streaming. Select an app and it works.
Sadly, it doesn’t work as well as the big brother, though. There’s a bit of lag and hesitation while navigating items on the Fire TV stick. The navigation is smooth enough, but not silky smooth like on the full fledged Fire TV. The lack of the quad-core CPU will be noticeable to users of the Fire TV. The Stick also lacks the Ethernet port, optical output and the ability to search by voice from the remote (although Amazon will happily sell Stick owners the voice remote).

The Fire TV Stick shares an operating system and user interface with the Fire TV. It’s logical and easy to jump right in — if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber. The Fire TVs are foremost a way to watch content from Amazon Instant Video. All the content displayed throughout the main menu is from Amazon. The search function only returns results from Amazon as well. If you want to watch or search within Netflix, the app has to be running.
Only having access to Amazon Instant Video from the homescreen isn’t a big deal, really. The library is comparable to Netflix and now has HBO’s back catalog. And Netflix and others are just a click away.
Have a Fire TV in the living room and a Fire TV Stick in the bedroom on the same account? They will share a watch history and watchlist as long as their on the same Amazon Prime account. Start a video in the livingroom and you’ll be able to finish it in the bedroom.
Amazon packaged a basic remote with the Fire TV Stick (right). It sports the necessities such as navigation and media playback buttons. A dedicated voice search button is absent, but will be available on the upcoming Fire TV companion app. During my testing, I found the lack of the voice search startling. Having used a Fire TV since its release, I never knew how much I leaned on that function. It’s still possible to search on the Fire TV Stick, but only with a clunky on-screen keyboard.

The Fire TV Stick is directly competing with the Roku Streaming Stick and Google’s Chromecast. But they’re for different people. Chromecast is great for the mobile aficionado — someone who lives on their mobile device. It’s not ideal for a multi-person environment with children where a dedicated remote and an interface on a TV is just easier to navigate.
The Roku Streaming Stick stick is a great alternative to the Fire TV Stick. It offers more streaming stations than Amazon’s device. If a person just has Netflix or Hulu Plus, the Roku is the best bet. But if a person also has Amazon, the Fire TV Stick simply has a better interface for viewing Amazon’s selection and the rest of the apps are available like on a Roku device.
At $40 the Fire TV Stick is a great buy for an Amazon household. The library selection rivals Netlfix. It’s true, the $100 Fire TV is a better device, but for $60 less, a person gains access to the same content and experience. And I can deal with a touch of lag if I’m saving $60.

SanDisk Extreme Pro 480 GB Review

While Samsung's SSD 850 Pro turned in superb results when we reviewed it in late June, we couldn't quite crown it the performance king without having benched SanDisk's new flagship. Released nearly a month before the 850 Pro, SanDisk's Extreme Pro is the successor to the venerableExtreme II, which was among the best SSDs of its generation in terms of performance and reliability.
Like Samsung's 850 Pro, SanDisk's flagship SSD is aimed at gamers, enthusiasts and professionals who demand the highest real-world performance, so it's no surprise to see them trading blows on pricing. As of writing, the 256GB SSD 850 Pro beats the 240GB Extreme Pro at roughly 10 cents cheaper per gigabyte, the 480GB Extreme Pro and512GB SSD 850 Pro both cost around 77 cent per gig while the 960GB Extreme Pro is cheaper than the 1TB SSD 850 Pro by around $100 or 7 cents a gig.
Those prices are pretty evenly matched and although it's significantly less than you would have paid for a high-end drive a few years ago, budget models that have continued to make the most headway. Crucial's MX100 512GB costs nearly half of both the Samsung SSD 850 Pro 512GB and SanDisk Extreme Pro at just $215 or 42c per gigabyte, so that is worth keeping in mind when analyzing the benchmark data.

SanDisk Extreme Pro

The SanDisk Extreme Pro series is shipping in capacities of 240GB, 480GB and 960GB, all of which have a slim 2.5" design, measuring 7.0mm x 69.85mm x 100.5 mm. Power consumption is very low compared to conventional hard drives, as the Extreme Pro uses a maximum of 3.6 watts when writing and 2.9 watts when reading.
The 240GB model has read and write speeds of 550MB/s and 520MB/s, while the 480GB version (which we have for review) boasts a similar read/write rating, though surprisingly the write throughput has been downgraded to 515MB/s -- same for the 960GB model as well.
Once formatted in Windows, the original 480GB is converted to 447GiB, though Windows shows this as 447GB, so it seems like 7% of the original capacity has been lost. With a current retail price of $370, the Extreme II 480GB costs $0.77 per gigabyte, a reasonable value for a high-performance SSD.

The Extreme Pro is really a new revision of the Extreme II rather than an entirely new product. SanDisk is sticking with the proven formula for now, giving the Extreme Pro the same controller as its predecessor. Rather SanDisk has opted to refine the firmware while using its own second generation 64Gbit 19nm MLC (same as Toshiba's A19nm).
The Marvell 88SS9187 controller (codenamed "Monet") features a dual-core Marvell 88FR102 V5 CPU with shared DTCM and ITCM SRAM. The controller supports up to a 1GB DDR3-1600 memory buffer though this is only taken advantage of on the larger two models while the 240GB model receives a 512MB buffer. In the case of the 480GB model, that's four times the buffer of its predecessor.
All Extreme Pro models are loaded with 1Ynm eX2 ABL MLC toggle flash memory. Our review sample has eight 64GB SanDisk 05445 064G ICs for a capacity of 512GB. That said, it's advertised as a 480GB model, as 12.7% of the original capacity is used for over-provisioning.

The nCache technology seen in the previous models makes a comeback in the Extreme Pro, though it has been updated and is now called nCache Pro. The changes seem minor as far as we can tell. Previously nCache has used firmware and NAND mapping table caching.
nCache Pro is more optimized for user data caching but with less than 1GB of SLC caching memory it is probably being used more as a buffer than a serious performance enhancing feature. The Extreme Pro 480GB does feature a 1GB DRAM cache as well, but the SLC cache is used for writes smaller than 4K.

The Extreme Pro is qualified to deliver 80 terabytes of written data with a MTBF of two million hours, meaning roughly 22GB can be written to the Extreme Pro over a 10-year period. That's a heck of a lot and regardless of its MTBF, the Extreme Pro carries a respectable ten-year warranty.
It's worth noting that unlike older SSDs, such as the OCZ Vertex 4, the SanDisk Extreme Pro lacks any sort of AES encryption or eDrive support, though hardware encryption support was absent from the previous Extreme II model as well.

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Review

Sony’s Xperia range of Android devices has included smartphones, phablets, and large-screened tablets. Now its attention has turned to the 8 inch market with the release of the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact. It captures Sony’s mobile essence of the last few years, but it doesn’t quite have the polish to make it stand out. That said, it doesn’t have any disappointments lurking in the background.

A Familiar Design
Unlike the Xperia Z3 Compact smartphone, which was happy to add a bit of depth to get more volume (and more battery life), the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact has decided to go for thin and light. At just 6.4 mm, the Z3 Tablet Compact clocks in at 1.1 mm thinner than the iPad Mini 2, which is the obvious comparison.
The Z3 Tablet, thanks to the ratio of the screen, is a little bit more letterbox in ratio than the iPad Mini. It’s relatively comfortable, but if you have spent some time with the iPad Mini it’s going to feel a little bit restrictive. Of course if you are going to be using the tablet for a lot of video watching, the dimensions are going to be far more easy on the eye for the Hollywood spectaculars and modern television presented in HD.
At 270 g, the tablet is light enough to be easily carried throughout the day. It does this with a lot of plastic in the construction, which is especially noticeable on the back of the unit. The edges are metallic, with plastic bumpers at the corner to help absorb any drops and provide some limited expansion if the tablet were to overheat.

It sticks with Sony’s omni-balance design cues, and it clearly belongs in the same family as the other Xperia handsets.  Given the size of the tablet, the omni-balance language works better with the tablet – providing it curved edges, the maximum amount of screen real-estate possible, and a decent amount of friction on the back of the tablet so it feels secure (or at least as secure as any tablet can be).
Top Of The Range With Some Future-proofing In The Specifications
As you would expect, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is another Android handset powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon family. Running a Quad-core 801 processor at 2.5GHz, alongside 3 GB of RAM, the tablet is no slouch, and should be able to handle the vast majority of tasks asked of it, and it’s a dream to play rich games and graphical experiences on it.
The clock speed is slightly slower than ultimate performance, but this will help preserve battery life. The inclusion of 3 GB of RAM (and a microSD slot for further expansion) means the Z3 Tablet Compact is going to remain relevant and future-proofed for at least a year, probably two.
The tablet also continues Sony’s tradition of waterproofing and dustproofing its hardware – in this case to IP68 certification levels.
A Step Behind The Rest With The Screen
Looking back over Sony’s Android range, you can see that the Japanese company has never taken any risks or pushed hard on the display. As other manufacturers push for larger screens, with more resolution, Sony has always stayed a step or two behind. The same approach is on show here with the Z3 Tablet. At 1920 x 1200 the screen will happily show HD video, but it’s not going to win any points for tablets with the most pixels.
As always, Sony is relying on its use of vibrant colors, deep blacks, and proprietary graphics processing technology to make up the shortfall. The Z3 Tablet certainly shows off its colors well, although it does tend to feel a little bit too ‘poppy’ when looking at natural images.

It works well in bright sunlight, although I am disappointed at the shallow viewing angle – for a device that is likely to see a lot of video being shared on it, the angles on offer mean that anything more than one person looking will see washout on the screen of the colors (although the definition does remain).
Surprisingly for Sony, the sound quality of this tablet is only average at best. It does have two forward facing speakers, placing the audio in the right location when using the tablet (as opposed to having all the sound blasting out of one side of the screen), but the volume of the speakers is poor. This could be down to the thin nature of the device and a lack of depth in the speakers, or it could be the additional requirements of waterproofing, but this is one quiet tablet.
Audio reproduction through the headphone jack is fine, there’s no complaints about the processing – but there rarely is on modern hardware – it’s just that lying on a desk, it’s too darn quiet.

Sonim XP7

on Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Hands up: Who thinks I’m crazy for leaving my phone outside on purpose in the rain and near freezing cold for two days? I’m guessing most every hand is going up right now. Here’s the thing: This was an actual test of a smartphone. And the Sonim XP7 passed with flying colors, firing up and getting me back online after a dreary 48 hours.
You might not know the Sonim brand here in the U.S. The company is focused on a particular niche, creating capable phones for those who lead active lifestyles or work in challenging conditions. AT&T just started offering the Sonim XP6 last week, however, and the new GSM-based XP7 I’ve been using is available through an Indiegogo campaign that starts today. The first 500 backers also get a SIM with a $49 service credit — one month of text, data and voice — from Ultra Mobile (U.S. only).

If I had to explain what the XP7 is for someone who hasn’t seen it, I’d say it this way. This is possibly the most rugged Android smartphone out there, thanks its unique integrated case-style design. It looks like an Android phone inside of a rugged case, for example, but there is no case: It’s all armor and protection that’s part of the phone. And it’s well-protected.
The XP7 is IP68 rated for water so it can withstand being submerged up to 6.5 feet for 30 minutes. It can work in temperatures ranging from -4° C to 131° F. It’s shock resistant and you can drop it from as much as 6.5 feet without damage. And the company says it can handle up to a metric ton of pressure. Best of all, if the phone fails due to elements, accidents, water or something else — which sounds unlikely to me after using it for a while — it has a 3-year comprehensive warranty: It breaks and you get a replacement.
There’s a bit of compromise in terms of hardware, which is likely meant to keep the cost down on the $579 Indigogo price. But it’s done in the right places.
There’s a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chip powering the Sonim XP7 with Android 4.4.4, paired with 1 GB of memory. Internal storage tops out at 16 GB and the rear camera is an 8 megapixel sensor. The phone does have NFC, GPS, 802.11 a/b/g/n/r Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE and an FM radio. The 4-inch display uses an 800 x 480-pixel display, but is glove-friendly. Oh and the speaker is super loud to my ears: 103db according to the company. That speaker pokes out like an antenna nub atop the phone where it also houses a notification LED.
No, these aren’t flagship specifications but in my experience with the phone, I think it’s an acceptable tradeoff. Performance is solid for what’s inside and you’re getting the peace of mind knowing that no matter what the environment throws at you, you don’t have to baby your phone. In my testing, I had no hiccups running apps or viewing online content — things are just a bit slower than I’m used to since I gravitate towards flagship-type devices. My LTE and voice connections (with my AT&T SIM) were just as good as on recent high-end phones I’ve tested.
I like that the phone has a dedicated push to talk key: Handy say for a fleet of field workers with XP7 handsets. And the average but capable specs help bring long battery life. So too does the massive 4800 mAh battery inside the phone: I’ve easily gotten two days of runtime on a single charge, with power to spare.

Obviously, this type of design brings some bulkiness. The Sonim XP7 measures 137 mm x 72.1 mm x 20.8 mm, so it’s easily twice as thick as many phones currently available. I chalk that up to the outer case, shock absorption and large battery. It also weighs more than most, topping the scales at 290 grams.
If those dimensions sound ludicrous and you’d rather have a thin, 7 millimeter phone, you’ve clearly got options. But you’re also not the target audience for this handset. Neither am I since I work in a home office, although I certainly appreciate the fact that you can toss the XP7 around and not worry about it.
If those dimensions sound ludicrous and you’d rather have a thin, 7 millimeter phone, you’ve clearly got options. But you’re also not the target audience for this handset. Neither am I since I work in a home office, although I certainly appreciate the fact that you can toss the XP7 around and not worry about it.

HP Stream 11 Review

The HP Stream 11 is clearly both inexpensive and a great value. At just $200, it's cheap, of course. But it also features a solid-feeling construction, a bright and fun form factor, a surprisingly high-quality typing experience and a wonderful screen. This isn't a bargain bin throwaway. The Stream 11 is something special.

I knew that HP had gotten something right the moment I opened the plain cardboard box and saw the Stream inside It didn't just not scream cheap, but immediately seemed well-made. But the point was really driven home when my wife and daughter—neither of whom really cares about technology per se, both saw the Stream and then started fighting over who could have. This was most unexpected.

Some will describe this device as a modern netbook. I get that. It seems small, with its 11.6-inch screen and a reported 97 percent full-sized keyboard. But the screen is surrounded by a healthy amount of bezel and the keyboard, surprising me, given my large hands, isn't just serviceable, it's great, with a solid feel.

But the HP Stream 11 couldn't be more different than the also-$200 Acer E15 behemoth I recently acquired. It's comparatively tiny, but it's not Ultrabook thin, and sports full-sized USB and HDMI ports with plenty of room to spare. It's also a bit heavy and solid-feeling, but that contributes to the quality of the device. It doesn't seem flimsy at all.

Performance isn't terrible at all. Word runs acceptably fast, as does IE and the bundled Modern apps I've tried—including Xbox Video with HD streaming—all worked well.
I happened to also spend part of yesterday getting that Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro up and running with all my usual apps, and in doing so on the Stream, I didn't see much difference. That might seem like I'm damning the Yoga a bit, but the point here is that while these machines are not comparable price-wise ($1300 vs. $200), or from any other perspective for that matter, the Stream is holding its own well outside its weight class.
Whether the Stream's Celeron process, 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of eMMC storage will stand the test of time will of course require some, well, time. But I can offer a few quick observations.
First, this configure seems perfectly capable of running Windows 8.1 (and thus Windows 10 as well) and doing well for the types of casual computing tasks one should expect of such a machine. You can run Word and Office 2013. IE. Facebook. That kind of thing. My bloated Chrome configuration, with multiple add-ons, quickly overwhelmed available memory, and while it does run fine, you won't want to run Chrome alongside any other heavy hitters.

I realize the storage might be a concern for some. Out of the box, the available storage was 17.3 GB of 21.5 GB, and Disk Management reports that the recovery partition is about 7.2 GB. I installed Office 2013 through the bundled Office 365 Personal subscription, again, a $69.99 value, and after a few other app installs it's at about 10.3 GB free. Absolutely fine for casual use.
Obviously, I won't be using the HP Stream 11 personally, and certainly not on work trips. But I'll use it around the house this week and install a few Modern games and see how that goes. If it works out as expected, I'll see about dispersing this to the family. I'll let them fight that one out, but so far, so good. The HP Stream 11 is a pleasant surprise.

Pentax X5 Review

on Tuesday, November 25, 2014
The Pentax X-5 features an impressive 26x optical zoom, full manual control, a tiltable LCD screen and design styling akin to the manufacturer’s range of DSLRs. Furthermore, the X-5 is priced so as not to break the bank and thus is an appealing prospect. As to how is fares in our test, you’ll have to read on to find out.
Owing to the combination of a large focal range, compact body, full manual control and invariably a high specification, bridge cameras continue to be popular with consumers. More often than not they are seen as the first step up in to more advanced photography, and in many cases judged as a reasonable alternative to a DSLR for those not wanting to deal with a selection of removable lenses.
On the face of it the Pentax X-5 seems like just such a camera – ticking all of the boxes with regards to imaging specification, whilst bearing more than a few similarities to models in Pentax’s DSLR line-up, almost a K-5 lite.

Pentax X-5 review – Features

The chief selling point of the Pentax X-5 is the model’s large optical zoom. The Pentax X-5 features a 26x optical zoom that covers a focal range with an impressive wideangle of 22.3mm through to a tele end of 580mm. The zoom benefits from Pentax’s dual shake-reduction system – a combination of sensor-shift and digital shake reduction – which will no doubt ease any worries about sharpness at the tele end of the zoom. There’s also the added bonus of extra close-up functionality, with the Pentax X-5 capable of capturing images at a focal length of just 1cm.
The model’s 26x optical zoom is paired with a 1/2.33in BSI CMOS sensor that features an effective resolution of 16 megapixels. The sensor is supported by Pentax’s ‘Super Resolution’ technology that is aimed specifically at image processing performance. The sensor also supports full HD video capture at a resolution of 1080p and 30 frames per second although, somewhat unfortunately for a bridge camera, the Pentax X-5 does not offer Raw capture.

On the rear of the Pentax X-5 sits a 3in LCD screen with a resolution of 460k-dots. A major selling point with the LCD screen that it’s tiltable and can be pulled away from the body of the camera and rotated around a range of horizontal angles. Unfortunately the hinge of the LCD screen is poorly implemented – while it allows the screen to sit at 90 degrees to the body facing upwards, it only allows a 45 degree angle facing downwards, and overall the Pentax X-5 feels a lot more restrictive than the side-hinge variety found on other models.
Accompanying the vari-angle LCD screen is an electronic viewfinder, something that is always popular with bridge camera owners. The viewfinder features a resolution of 230k-dots and, although it is lacking in eye sensor technology, the Pentax X-5 does offer dioptre adjustment if necessary.
Despite not offering Raw capture, the Pentax X-5 does cater well for the advanced photographer. The model features a program shooting mode as well as full manual control. Other shooting settings available on the mode dial include a full auto setting, a range of scene modes and a handheld night setting that takes a series of images and then blending them together in camera for one well-exposed shot. One final option for those looking for the easier route towards good images is Pentax’s proprietary ‘Green’ shooting mode, which takes care of every camera setting in a single press.

One final point of note regards the Pentax X-5’s specification is the way in which the camera is powered. The model necessitates four AA batteries, rather then the standard Li-ion rechargeable unit that’s now common in digital cameras. This can be something of a mixed blessing – while it does mean that replacement batteries are readily available should the ones you’re using run out in the field, although if the performance isn’t up to scratch then this can involve lots of costly trips to the shops if you’re not using rechargeable AAs.

Sony Xperia C3 Review

An Oxford Dictionary blog post states that the word 'selfie' (derived from 'self-portrait') was selected as the Word of the Year 2013. Apparently, there was little to no argument about this decision. It shouldn't be surprising, considering there is even a chartbusting pop song with that title. At the time of writing this review there are reports of a new $20iPhone case that has a hairbrush extension on the side. Truly, vanity knows no bounds.
Naturally, smartphone companies are trying to cash in on this trend by creating devices with powerful front cameras. The Sony Xperia C3 Dual is the latest smartphone to feature a 5-megapixel front camera. This camera has a 25mm wide-angle lens to accommodate more faces than even Ellen managed with her Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (review pictures) at the 2014 Oscars. What's more is that the front camera also has a soft LED flash. As usual, we put the device through our battery of tests.

Look and feel
The moment we opened the box, the mint-coloured Sony Xperia C3 Dual grabbed our attention. This is probably the snazziest colour we've ever seen on a smartphone, and we expect fashionistas will approve. The phone is available in plain old black and white as well for those who aren't feeling too adventurous. The C3 Dual is designed with Sony's tried-and-tested (and overused) 'omnibalance' design style. While the entire body is made of plastic, a chrome trim runs along each side. Overall, the phone feels sturdy.

After playing with the ergonomically fantastic LG G3 (review | pictures), which manages to cram a 5.5-inch display in a compact design, the Sony Xperia C3 Dual feels ginormous with the same 5.5-inch screen size in comparison. It has dimensions of 156.2x78.7x7.6mm. It is pretty thin, and for a device of this size it is also lightweight at just 150g. Unless you have huge hands, operating the phone with one hand is going to be problematic.

The flap covering the memory card slot sits on the left edge along with the Micro-USB port. The right edge is crowded with the, dual SIM card tray, power button in the center, volume rocker below it, and dedicated shutter button for the camera. On the back of the device is the primary camera (or is it really?) and the loudspeaker grill.
Specifications and Software
Like quite a few mid-range devices, the Sony Xperia C3 Dual has a quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor clocked at 1.2GHz under the hood with its staple Adreno 305 integrated GPU. The phone has 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, of which only around 5.09GB is available for use. Fortunately, one can add up to 32GB more space using a microSD card.

The phone accepts two SIM cards, both of which can connect to 3G networks. They work in dual standby mode. The rest of the connectivity is in the form of Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC. Providing the juice to run the device is a 2,500mAh battery. The 5.5-inch Triluminos display is supported by Sony's proprietary Bravia Engine 2 and has a resolution of 720x1280. The colours are slightly oversaturated but the screen does look good. Viewing angles and sunlight legibility are pretty good.
Sony ships the Xperia C3 Dual with the latest Android 4.4 (KitKat) and slaps its own skin on top of it. One thing we noticed is the addition of a One-handed Operations option in the settings menu. Unfortunately, this feature is not as useful or dense as the implementations by LG or Samsung on their phablets. Switching on the feature allows users to do only two things: use a pattern to unlock the screen using one hand, and double tap the Home button to access notifications and settings at the bottom instead of the top. 
There is no split-screen mode or a windowed mode to speak of. Swiping from the left on the app drawer brings up a set of options which helps users search for apps, uninstall them and change the order they appear in. There are quite a few extra apps, most of which are not useful and cannot be deleted. Except for the Walkman and Album apps, the rest of the Sony-branded bloat is not worth your time.
After testing the front camera extensively we can safely say that selfie lovers can blindly pick up the Xperia C3 Dual. The camera captures a good amount of detail and trumps the HTC Desire 816's 5-megapixel front camera thanks to the addition of the soft LED flash. The captured colours are natural and the software automatically works to reduce noise. The soft flash is also great since it doesn't throw harsh light at a subject, and instead highlights the features of faces nicely.The 8-megapixel rear camera, on the other hand, is a disappointment. By default, the software sets it to shoot images at 5-megapixel resolution. The camera has problems in focussing on subjects and is slow as well. Most times, we ended up with blurry shots because the camera couldn't focus. Even if it did manage to focus, the captured images were of average quality to say the least. Details were smudged and we noticed some chromatic aberration as well. The quality of the captured 1080p video is strictly okay.

As far as Sony is concerned, the company's marketing strategy for the Xperia C3 Dual is spot on. For those who want a competent smartphone which can capture great selfies, the Xperia C3 Dual is the best bet at the moment. With its official price of Rs. 23,990, the phone competes directly with the HTC Desire 816 (review | pictures). HTC's phablet has a bigger screen and an infinitely better rear camera, whereas the battery life on the Sony Xperia C3 Dual is better. Both phones are great in their own rights, so in the end it boils down to the brand affinity of the buyer.

Sony Xperia M2 Review

The Good The Sony Xperia M2 has a sleek, attractive design, enough power for your day to day tasks and doesn't cost the earth.
The Bad It's got a disappointingly low resolution display and arrives with the old and outdated Android Jelly Bean on board.
The Bottom Line Although the Sony Xperia M2 looks pretty slick, it's let down by its low resolution display and its old version of Android, which makes even its affordable price way too high. For much less money, you could snap up the Moto G or spend a little more and pick up the older Xperia Z with its full HD display and waterproof design.
The Sony Xperia Z2 is one of my favourite flagship phones this year, thanks to its slick, metal and glass design, superb screen, tonnes of power and brilliant camera. The downside is that all that great technology costs quite a lot of money. If your budget is more limited but you still want the Sony name and an attractive phone, take a look at the Xperia M2.

Its slim body with its glass front and back makes it reminiscent of Sony's pricier phones, while its vibrant purple colour helps it stand out from the crowd. It's got a 4.8-inch display, runs on a 1.2GHz quad-core processor and has an 8-megapixel camera around the back.
The Xperia M2 is available now in the UK direct from Sony for £230, or free on contracts starting at £13.50 at Phones 4u. There's no word yet on availability in the US, Asia or Australia, but we'll update this article when hear more from Sony. The price directly converts to $390 and AU$415.


It's easy to see the Xperia M2 has been cut from the same cloth as the rest of the recent Xperia range. It has the same glass front and back design, with the speaker sat on the bottom edge, subtle Xperia branding on the back and it's available in the same black, white or vivid purple colours.
It doesn't have the metal edging of the flagship Xperia Z2 (or its predecessor, the Z1) so actually looks almost identical to the much earlier Xperia Z. I think it's quite an attractive bit of kit -- the glass panels both look and feel pretty luxurious and that purple colour really stands out from the masses of grey and black smartphones out there -- although you can get it in black and white if you're not keen on purple.
Although it looks a lot like the Xperia Z, it doesn't have the same waterproof skills -- pop the M2 in water and all you'll be left with is an attractive, but useless slab of glass. It's disappointing that it's not waterproof, as it's not a feature currently available at the more affordable end of the phone world -- it would be a good reason to opt for the M2 over its rivals.

Unusually, the SIM card and microSD card slots are covered by a flap much like the ports are on the Xperia Z in order to keep the water out. I suspect that the phone was originally going to be a waterproof model, but perhaps Sony found it too costly to implement for a budget phone.
It measures 140mm long and 71mm wide, housing a 4.8-inch display, which makes it a little easier to hold in one hand than the 5.2-inch Xperia Z2. Its 8.6mm thickness makes it easy to slide into your jeans and you probably won't be too bothered by its 148g weight either.
Around the sides you'll find the micro-USB port for charging and data transfer, a 3.5mm headphone jack, the SIM card and microSD card slots under that flap of course, a volume rocker, dedicated camera shutter button and the same silver, sticking-out power button you'll find on most of the recent Xperias.
The phone comes with 8GB of storage, of which a little under 5GB is available for your own apps, music and videos as the Android software and Sony additions take up quite a lot of room. That's not a whole lot of space, so you should probably factor a microSD card into the price, particularly if you like keeping a lot of music stored on your phone.


The 4.8-inch display has a 960x540-pixel resolution, giving a pixel density of 229 pixels per inch. That's very disappointing, particularly when you bear in mind that the considerably cheaper Motorola Moto G has a 4.5-inch display with a much higher 720p resolution. I would expect a minimum resolution of 720p on a display this size so it's not good at all to see less.

Unsurprisingly then, it's not particularly sharp, with icons, text and images lacking the same clarity you'd find on higher resolution panels -- it's certainly nowhere near as crisp as the full HD Xperia Z2. If you only stick to basic tasks like texting, tweeting and calling, you won't find the display lacking, but if you're keen on browsing new images on Flickr, watching TV shows on Netflix or reading a lot of text on Web pages, a higher resolution phone will come in handy.
It's reasonably bright at least -- although the harsh overhead office lights in the CNET building did throw up some reflections -- and it has a good handle on colours. I've certainly seen worse displays, but it's seriously hobbled by its resolution.

Android Jelly Bean software

The poor resolution isn't the only major disappointment on this phone -- it arrives with the now rather outdated Android Jelly Bean software on board. Android KitKathas been the most common version of the software on flagship and budget phones for some time now, so to see a new phone launching with such old software is unforgivable, particularly when ultra budget phones like the Motorola Moto E even have the latest KitKat software.