The return of a cult laptop – and a little cloud of sound

Jonathan Margolis test-drives the latest gadgets

Vaio A12, from £1,999
Vaio A12, from £1,999 | Image: Hugh Threlfall

Vaio returns with a laptop-tablet hybrid

Those who love Windows PC laptops rightly regard Sony’s Vaio range, which was discontinued in 2014, as the coolest ever. Far from the ho-hum designs of the competition, Vaios were as presentable as MacBooks, at least once you had levered off those vile, hyper-sticky Intel and Windows labels. As well as being easy on the eye, Sony Vaios also performed superbly.

Well, Vaio is back, bought from Sony (which retains 25 per cent) by another Japanese company, totally redesigned apart from the logo and now available in Europe. I tried the A12, a hybrid model (the 12in UHD screen pops out to become a tablet) with a beefy Intel i7 processor. First impressions were not great: the carbon-fibre and aluminium body seemed a bit shiny and hollow, the trackpad so-so, the aesthetics only OK. Considering the scorching price – at least 10 times that of the cheapest laptop – it seemed way off the mark. But then it grew on me. First thing – it’s pretty light at 1.1kg. My 12in MacBook is lighter, but a 13in MacBook Air weighs 50g more – and, like the basic MacBook, is without the benefit of a detachable screen. Lightness is key to me in a laptop. But also, why, I found myself wondering, doesn’t Apple do a hybrid? At the time of writing my son has “borrowed” my 12.9in iPad Pro for a design project, so when I want a late‑night Netflix-a‑thon, I have to take the MacBook to bed, which isn’t ideal. Another distinct benefit of the Vaio is the mechanism that raises the keyboard as you open the device to a comfortable, slightly inclined angle for typing.

The Vaio’s advantages may not be immediately obvious, but, with a top‑rank performance, it ably keeps the Vaio flame burning – perhaps just more pragmatically than stylishly. Vaio A12, from £1,999, from uk.vaio.com.

Audiowave, £40
Audiowave, £40 | Image: Hugh Threlfall

A portable speaker that sits on your shoulders

Well, here’s a piece of technology you will either take to or not understand at all. It’s a stereo Bluetooth speaker you wear around your neck. The only other one I know is by Bose (its £259.95 SoundWear) and it’s heavier; whereas this, the Audiowave, is within the range of tolerability – for me, anyway. Even though the audio quality is not magnificent and your first thought might be, “When will I ever use this?”, you may end up wondering how you lived without it. Take cycling, for instance. There are other bone-conduction and open-ear headphones, but this, synced to your phone running the BBC Sounds app, is quite different. You can have the radio on clearly and audibly while being fully aware of your surroundings. I’ve also enjoyed wandering around the house in a bubble of Radio 4. Unsurprisingly, it leaks more sound than headphones (don’t try it on public transport), but it is still fairly localised. The effect of being in its sound cloud is quite odd but impressive. Audiowave, £40, from thumbsup.com.

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The cordless vacuum that packs down to nothing

I’m not sure how or why, but Britain is a world leader in vacuum cleaners. It’s not just Dyson; don’t forget Numatic’s ubiquitous and ludicrously cheap Henry. Gtech of Worcester, however, was hitherto off my radar. But this, its latest model, is a remarkable piece of electrical engineering – a fully fledged cordless vacuum cleaner that packs down small enough to fit in a shallow drawer. It weighs just 1.5kg and runs for 20 minutes per charge – it even has a motorised head like a Dyson.

The Gtech HyLite is not as powerful as a Dyson, nor does it have WiFi-connected modes, but it does a sterling job quietly. I spent time marvelling at the way the detachable telescopic handle docks with the business end. So why, aside from supporting British design, might anyone want a vacuum cleaner that packs down to nothing? I’m not sure, although a friend immediately bought one after he saw the sample to use on his yacht. Gtech HyLite, £199.99, from gtech.co.uk.  

Gtech HyLite, £199.99
Gtech HyLite, £199.99 | Image: Hugh Threlfall

Samsung scorches into the 5G race

One of the surprises about the iPhone 11, announced in September, was that it does not have 5G (next year, apparently). So if you want to enjoy the scorchingly fast new networks ahead of the herd and prefer premium brands to new ones like OnePlus (whose pioneering 7 Pro 5G I reviewed recently), the Galaxy S10 5G from Samsung is your best bet. Vodafone, which had first dibs, lent me one as it began to roll out its 5G this autumn. It has a bigger battery than the regular S10 and sports a huge 6.7in screen. (I oscillate between thinking Samsung’s to-the-edge screens look more, or less, modern than the iPhone’s; currently the Korean contender looks a fraction more 2020.) The S10 5G is a prolific performer and will be a leading light in the market. As for its 5G, I got a maximum 176 MB/s in London – less than the EE-powered OnePlus, but that’s largely academic. It’s fast enough for anything. Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, from £68 a month (£29 upfront), from vodafone.co.uk.

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, from £68 a month (£29 upfront)
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, from £68 a month (£29 upfront) | Image: Hugh Threlfall

A filter for water worthy of an alpine spring

I’m rather taken with this new Swiss water-filtering machine, Lang. It filters tap water to a molecular level, then adds minerals and salts to create a liquid with the chemical composition of natural mineral water – without using plastic bottles.

Clean tap water is a quiet miracle of modern life in developed countries. London’s isn’t bad, but New York’s tastes really beautiful – thanks to its coming pre-filtered through the rock of the Catskill Mountains, which is low in the limestone that makes water bitter. Nonetheless, pipework and industrial processing can all make water less than delightful. Lang puts tap water through a cassette of sediment filter, one of activated carbon and another that sucks out remaining nasties by reverse osmosis, leaving it, so they say, free of appreciable contaminants. There are also sugar-free additives, such as natural lemon, that slot into the machine as required. It’s the solution to a first-world problem, sure, but an elegant and environmentally kind one. Lang, €499, from drinklang.com.  

Lang, €499
Lang, €499 | Image: Hugh Threlfall

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