Budget Tech Issue 21

As a student, living on a budget is a pretty sad state of being. It usually means you can’t go out that much, and when you can, you’ll be drinking Tesco’s ‘everyday essentials’ vodka at parties, which is just as depressing as not going out at all; you’ll be eating more baked beans and tuna pasta than medically advisable too, and you probably don’t think you have any money left over for cool tech, either. While we can’t help you out with your possible liver damage or fishy-ass breath, this guide will hopefully be able to help you find the best technology to buy when on a budget, as well as giving tips on the ways to get the most out of the tech you already own. 

Budget Smartphones
They may not have the looks of an iPhone 6, or premium build of a Samsung Galaxy S5, but these budget smartphones offer an equally high bar when it comes to pure functionality.

EE Kestrel – £89
At just £89, the EE Kestral is the cheapest Android phone with 4G available. It is built by China’s Huawei for the EE mobile phone network, and as the price would suggest it feels a little bit cheap, but it is lightweight and streamlined, when many budget phones suffer from their clunky aesthetic. 
The decent quad-core processor makes the phone responsive, and the battery life is solid, with over a day’s worth of use without power-saving modes activated. It has 8GB of built-in storage and a micro SD card slot for adding more space for media.

The 4.5in screen is not all that sharp, but will suffice for watching videos of cats on YouTube or browsing the web for porn. The 4G network makes downloading and playing videos faster than most other 3G budget smartphones.

A 5-megapixel camera and 1-megapixel front-facing camera capture decent photos, but aren’t too impressive in dim lighting. The Kestrel also boasts a simplified software option which could come in handy for those not too tech savvy.

Motorola Moto E – £75

Available for this budget price with a prepay phone plan, the Motorola Moto E nails the foundations. It feels sturdy and responsive, and its screen excels when compared to most other budget phones. 
It’s scratch and water resistant too, and has an all-day battery life, making it more reliable than even the most expensive phones on the market. It also runs Google’s Android and will be updated to the latest version, “Lollipop”, very soon.

The phone is not without its shortcomings, though. The camera is rather poor, and the lack of a front facing camera means no selfies – it’s a tragedy, we know. As well as this, storage is limited to just 4GB, but there is a micro SD card slot for extra space.

Motorola Moto G 2014 – £150

While slightly more expensive, the Motorola Moto G offers a lot when compared to other phones of the same price. It comes in two models, with the £150 model boasting a 5inch screen compared to the 4.5 inch screen of the £130 model, which offers slightly faster 4G connection.

The Moto G comes with the latest version of Android “Lollipop”, a sharp looking HD screen, solid performance and an equally solid build quality. It’s scratch and water resistant, while a replaceable back cover is available in a variety of vibrant colours.

While its 5-megapixel or 8-megapixel back-facing camera (depending on version) are pretty average, it will do for simple pictures, and the front-facing camera will come in handy for selfies and video chats. Both versions have 8GB of memory and a micro SD card slot.

Budget Laptops and Tablets
Acer Aspire V 13 – £350
The Acer aspire V 13 is the cheap little sister of Acer’s ultrabook, and by removing unneeded bells and whistles such as a touch screen, it packs a surprisingly big punch when given its budget price tag. Whereas many budget laptops feel clunky and cumbersome, the V 13’s design is surprisingly lightweight and portable. It is just over 20 mm in thickness and weighs a margin above 1.5 kg. It’s not too ugly either, with an elegant matt-white finish giving it an aesthetic similar to Apple’s original MacBook, with tough white plastic covering the back for extra protection.

With 4GB of RAM, it’s on the low end, but for lightweight tasks such as web-browsing, listening to music or writing essays, it should cope just fine. Hard-disk based storage is usually the slowest link in the budget notebook chain, but Acer has covered this by utilising a Seagate SSHD – a 2.5in 500 GB laptop hard disk with an added 8 GB of fast flash, which essentially means it should have accelerated performance. Though it can’t compete with a real SSD as seen with more premium models, it will make a difference to the overall performance.

This, along with its sturdy qwerty keypad and impressive battery life of over 6 hours makes it a worthy contender for the best budget laptop around.

Lenovo IdeaPad Z50-70 – £379
With the Z50-70, Lenovo are hoping to offer more than just a budget your standard budget laptop. It boasts a full-HD 1920 x 1080 display, a fourth-generation Intel Core i3, and a discrete nVidia graphics processor, giving laptop gaming capabilities previously unseen in a budget model such as this. It also looks really shiny, which is nice. 

Its design has a premium feel, even if most of the silver on display is just painted plastic. But the top deck as well as the metallic trim around the laptop is made of real metal, and gives it an extra sturdiness. It’s trackpad is a cut above most budget laptops, with a textured feel that allows for smooth scrolling, and a keyboard that, while not feeling premium, is functional and well designed. 

Only 4 GB of memory is installed but easily upgraded if needed, and the 1 TB hard disk is a generous amount of space for a model of this price.

Processor, memory speed and system performance is average as would be expected, but the laptop is more than capable of performing the lightweight tasks it was intended for.

There are two USB 2.0 ports, one on each side; as well as an extra v3 port on the left that joins HDMI and VGA video ports there, which is an added bonus.

Tesco Hudl 2 £129
As uncool as having a Tesco branded product is – believe me, I had an Audio Technika mp3 player throughout secondary school and it killed the style icon inside me – the Hudl 2 is one of the sharpest budget Tablets around, and does surprisingly well given the lame connotations that come with being a supermarket’s branded tablet. It’s a bit like being a supermodel for Cillit Bang. Not the most luxurious gig. 

Nevertheless, the Hudl 2 succeeds. It has a similar but updated look and feel compared to the original. It uses the same type of plastic casing, giving an attractive matt finish and a rubbery grip to it. It feels nice to hold in the hand although, due to being a bit larger, it;s a little heavier – 401 g up from 364 g. It makes up for this though by being a little thinner at 9.1mm. Tesco have made a conscious effort to make the Hudl stand out, and it does, with sleek rounded edges, and a smooth back plate that comes in a bright range of colours.

The tablet’s best feature is its gorgeous screen. It’s bigger than its predecessor, with a not-too small, not-too-chunky eight inch segment which utilises an impressive Full HD (1920 x 1200). The display is vibrant and offers good viewing angles and rich colours.

Tesco claims that the Hudl 2 is three times faster than its predecessor, which is especially impressive considering that it only costs £10 more than the original Hudl when it launched. This is thanks to an Intel Atom quad-core processor which clocks up to 1.83 GHz, and Tesco has doubled the amount of RAM to 2 GB.

The single model of the Hudl 2 offers 16 GB of storage. Though that seems passable, it should be noted that just over half of the internal storage is already being used by the operating system, which is disappointing. Don’t fret, though, as additional space is provided by the micro SD slot which would add up to 32 GB to the systems storage.

Budget Cameras

Canon IXUS 150 £84
The Canon IXUS 150 is a nifty little compact camera that is light in the pocket, but not lacking in features. We’re not exactly sure how Canon can be making a profit on this, but we aren’t complaining.

It sports a 16-megapixel sensor and Canon’s striking Digic 4+ image processor. It’ll also record HD video and there are several art filters to play with, too, for those too cool for Instagram.

The camera is user friendly, with features such as Live Mode that allow the photographer to see the effect of setting changes in real time. As well as this, there’s a help button to explain various functions to, er, help you get the perfect shot. The ability to manually tweak several settings also means the camera allows for a depth of customisation

Unlike some budget compacts, the IXUS 150 doesn’t sacrifice snappy speed. Its quick to focus and you won’t have to waste time waiting for the screen to clear before you can snap another shot.

All this would be pointless though if the camera didn’t capture good photos, and thankfully, it’s very reliable, with steady hands producing very little image distortion

Despite its budget price tag, the IXUS 150 manages to produce quality images and is an excellent choice for novice photographers.

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Hola!
Binging shows on Netflix is perhaps the greatest invention of the 21st century so far, and for an expert binger such as myself, it’s unfortunate to say that after making it through a slew of shows, the British version of Netflix is somewhat lacking when compared to its brother in the States. This is somewhat understandable, with the mess that is TV licencing laws making it very hard for Netflix to bring content to UK shores when owned by an American network. As well as this, it should be noted that the UK Netflix has vastly improved since it first arrived. But to be frank, you’re missing out on some gems if you aren’t tied to a US account. 

Thankfully, the internet gods have heeded our prayers and bestowed us with services such as Hola, a proxy server plugin for Chrome which allows you to access the American Netflix free of charge and with complete ease. What’s even better is that Netflix’s TOC make it that any Netflix account is legally able to access this US version of Netflix, and so there is really nothing to lose. By now, a large number of Netflix users have cottoned onto this loophole, but in case you have not, do yourself a favour, and get the most out of your Netflix account. Now, I’m off to binge watch Bob’s Burgers.