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If I had £200 to spend...

What would you buy with 200 imaginary pounds?

Contrary to popular opinion, the editors of PC Advisor can’t lay their hands on the latest tech goodies simply by batting an eyelid toward any number of sycophantic manufacturers. Often, we have to – whisper it – purchase the PCs, laptops and smartphones we desire from the meagre stipend afforded us by the world’s greatest technology magazine.

Matt Egan, Editor:

Kodak Hero 9.1 printer
£199 inc VAT

Far be it from me to add to the perception of the editor as the boring one, but a printer is, for me, an indulgence. Especially a top-of-the-range wireless multifunctional model such as the Kodak Hero 9.1, which has all the bells and whistles you could wish for, and is inexpensive to run. You see I have a printer at home, and I think it even works.

But the only things I have printed over the past couple of years have been boarding passes for business flights, and these days I can use either my iPhone or Android tablet to do that. I just don’t have the inclination to boot up the PC, wrestle with a paper jam, and shell out for consumables in order to produce a piece of paper featuring a barely legible image that, in the case of the boarding pass, is 99 percent guaranteed to see me earmarked for the queue marked ’potential terrorist’.

But the Hero is different. It even looks like the kind of home-entertainment device you’d want within sight of guests. More importantly, it produces staggeringly good-quality results on text, graphics and photos. And notice the lack of the caveat ’for an inkjet’ in the preceding sentence.

Of course, having a good-quality printer is one thing. What would make the Hero an indulgent purchase for me is the way that I could casually use it to print photos, instead of my life’s memories living on a hard drive and in the ether on Facebook. It’s cheap to run, so even my Yorkshire upbringing wouldn’t stop me banging out the occasional frivolous print. More importantly, with a free app installed in each, I could print in a single touch from my Android tablet and iOS smartphone. From anywhere in the world where I have connectivity – and that includes the pub. Google Cloud Print extends even those options.

There are other high-end printers with these functions from the likes of HP and Epson, but I’ve spent a bit of time testing the Hero 9.1 and, if I had an extra £200 to hand, it’s what I would buy.

 


Rosemary Hattersley, Associate Editor:

Apple iPod touch MP3 player
£169 inc VAT (8GB)

I wasn’t convinced by the first iPods. I didn’t like the clickwheel navigation, and iTunes on XP (and later Windows 7) drove me to distraction. But I can’t but help admire – and desire – the iPod touch. It has a beautifully sleek profile, and a large, gorgeous screen with a 960x640-pixel resolution that’s sharp enough to comfortably watch TV programmes and music videos.

It’s also ideal for gaming. In landscape mode, the widescreen display tilting between your thumbs lets you flick, leap and spin in response to the gyroscope inside. The music player and App Store need no introduction, while bonus items such as podcasts, iTunes U, the digital Newsstand and iCloud
with its auto-synching cleverness lauded on the iPhone – are all present, too.

I’d hope for 16GB rather than the 8GB my £169 buys me, as the 101g iPod touch would double as my portable hard drive, ensuring I was never without a file or photo, but these are mere quibbles. The touch is exceptionally good-looking, well connected and comes without the hassle
and expense of a monthly contract. This gadget is the jewel in Apple’s crown.

 


Andrew Harrison, Reviews Editor:

Custom Asus X101 netbook
£200 inc VAT

If stripped of my phone, laptop, pocket drives and assorted USB gadgets, a £200 netbook might just keep me wired and happy – but I’d opt for one closer to the original Asus Eee PC (page 134): fast-booting, flash storage and a Linux OS.

Problem is, how to find such a beast, when Microsoft is punishing its hardware partners if they dare to sell a PC without Windows preloaded? A colleague tip-off suggested that Asus is reprising its Eee PC netbook with MeeGo Linux, and in fact he told me that he’d already bought two from PC World for his kids. It turned out to be a false dream. In some markets, yes, you’ll get a fast-booting secure netbook with a speedy SSD. In Blighty, there’s just the version saddled with treacly malware-magnet Windows.

So where does that leave my £200 quest? Tempted for a microsecond by the idea of a sub-£200 tablet, I then remembered just how dreadful these devices are. The hardware is crippled by short battery life, cheap grainy screens and Google Android. Ironically for this budgeted project, I find Google’s ’free’ OS too expensive for my taste – expensive in the cost to my personal privacy.

Back to the idea of a netbook, I thought about this virtual investment in an Asus X101 from Dixons. It’s a predictably Wintel netbook spec – just 1GB memory, an audible and fragile 250GB hard disk, but hey, at least it’s got a matt screen. I could install Ubuntu or Linux Mint, then try to get a refund on the unwanted software onboard. After all, Microsoft’s EULA states ’By using the software, you accept these terms. If you do not accept them, do not use the software. Instead, contact the manufacturer or installer to determine its return policy.’

But I found an easier solution. Amazon.de sells the very Linux netbook I’m looking for, an Asus X101 replete with 8GB SSD, for just €169.90. That’s £145 or thereabouts, so I could even get a spare battery (£45) to supplement its undersized three-cell job, and swap out the 1GB memory for 2GB for another tenner. Thank you very much.



Marie Brewis, Production Editor:

HTC Wildfire smartphone
£169 inc VAT

The one gadget that’s always by my side is my smartphone. Back in 1995, when PC Advisor first hit shop shelves, such a concept was unheard of – forget broadband and apps, I didn’t even send my first SMS until 1996, when a schoolmate was making good business charging an extortionate amount of money per text on her Ericsson GA 628. Thankfully, I was her best friend: I got a discount. Shame I had very few people I could contact via SMS.

But that hideous brick was nothing like today’s large-screen mobile phones – and it did none of the things for which I now use my smartphone. It rang people and it sent texts; fast-forward to 2011, and calls and texts now take a back seat. I might communicate in this way if I have to, but you’re more likely to get hold of me on Facebook or by email.

I go online, I email, I play games, I watch web video and catch-up TV, I take (and edit) photos and video, and I download all manner of useful apps – mostly for free, thanks to Google Android’s open-source platform. I can’t edit PC Advisor from my mobile, but I can do pretty much anything else for which I would normally use my computer.

So if the kindly folk at PC Advisor Towers were to slip an extra £200 into my wages, there’s no other gadget I’d consider spending it on. I’d need a little more to get one of the better phones on the market, of course, but some entry-level models are worthy of consideration.

HTC’s Wildfire is a good example, selling on Amazon for £169 SIM-free at press time. This Android handset has a 3.2in touchscreen and a 5Mp camera, and accepts MicroSD memory cards up to 32GB in capacity for all those apps and media content.

We also like the Samsung Galaxy mini. This costs just £109 and has a faster 600MHz processor (the Wildfire has a 528MHz CPU), although its 3.14in screen and 3Mp camera are inferior.

 


Carrie-Ann Skinner, Deputy News Editor:

Humax Foxsat HDR500 set-top box
£199 inc VAT

Having bought my first home last year, money is tighter than ever. One of the first luxuries to go was cable TV. Once upon a time I could have made do with the four or five terrestrial channels, but that’s no longer an option – the final switchover to digital-only TV is expected to materialise in London in April.

And it’s not just the wealth of channels paid-for TV services offer that I miss, it’s also the convenience of being able to record programmes to a set-top box for later viewing and functions such as series record, which ensures all episodes of a show are recorded to disk no matter when they’re broadcast.

With this in mind, if I had £200, I’d purchase the Humax Foxsat HDR500. This set-top box with integral hard drive can be picked up for around £199. It connects to an existing satellite dish and picks up the free-of-charge Freesat TV service, in standard definition and HD where applicable. The box not only offers the ability to record two channels at the same time, or watch one while recording another, it’s also got 500GB of storage. That leaves me plenty of space to store all those episodes of Come Dine With Me.

Freesat also offers access to online catch-up TV services, BBC iPlayer and ITV Player, through a dedicated channel and a net connection (an ethernet port is situated on the back of the device). At the time of writing, the Humax Foxsat HDR500 is one of just a handful of compatible devices that can access both catch-up TV services – most offer only BBC iPlayer. This is much less fiddly than hooking up my ancient laptop to my TV via VGA (my PC doesn’t have an HDMI connection).

 


David Court, Online Editor:

Sennheiser HD 25-1-11 by Adidas Originals headphones
£199 inc VAT

If I had £200 I’d buy the Sennheiser HD 25-1-11 by Adidas Originals headphones (try saying that in one go). The reason? Although £200 is a considerable amount of money in the real world, it doesn’t stretch too far in the tech space – you certainly couldn’t buy a laptop or a tablet that’s worth having for that sort of money. Headphones are one of the only categories where £200 will buy you a toy that’s top of the range… and I’m shallow enough to need something that’s top of the range.

Now, even though I’d look a complete berk on a train or a plane wearing a pair of these DJ headphones, I was mightily impressed by the sound that they produced when I reviewed these cans last year – and I don’t know the first thing about DJing (nor do I pretend to like the music that baseball cap-wearing ’artists’ produce). Nevertheless, the dulcet tones of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel sounded as complementary to my ears as they ever have.

The only down side to these cans is that they’re not the comfiest. In fact, if you’re a wimp like me you’ll need to give your ears a break after about 40 minutes. But the tightness of the headphones is there only to improve the
audio experience and keep them on your head, so I shouldn’t complain about that.If you love music and happen to have £200 burning a hole in your pocket, the Sennheiser HD 25-1-11 by Adidas Originals will bring you a lot more pleasure than a budget smartphone, laptop or tablet.

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