APPLE is a popular and ubiquitous presence in our lives, but its rivals are catching up with the Californian tech giant’s user-friendly and functional devices. Sofiane Kennouche surveys the best alternatives to Apple staples
SMARTPHONE: SAMSUNG GALAXY S6 EDGE
Apple’s arch-rival Samsung has seen demand surge for its flagship Galaxy models in previous years, and its Galaxy S6 Edge is the flashiest one yet. So-called because of the wraparound screen which tapers off at the edges, the curved 5.1-inch 1440x2560 Super AMOLED display is a striking focal point in a sea of stoutly-bordered competitors.
Under the fancy screen sits a Exynos 7420 processor running 2.1GHz and 1.5 GHz cores respectively. Camera-wise, it comes with a 16 mexapixel rear and 5 megapixel front-facing setup and runs the Android Lollipop operating system from the factory.
Apple’s flagship responds with a 4.7-inch 1334x750 pixel screen and processing power is delivered by the fast and stable A9 processor on i0S 9. Among the myriad of extras included on both models is the fingerprint sensor which allows you to unlock your phone, but Samsung diehards have lamented the Apple-esque switch to enclosed casings, with the loss of memory card and SIM tray access from the rear of the S6 Edge. While previous Galaxies have lacked the fit and finish to take on Apple’s iPhone, it appears that the S6 Edge has both the style and substance to dethrone the newest iPhone. Add into the mix its lower handset price of £529 and higher storage capacity of 32GB for the base model, and the Edge is a sensible purchase for Android fans (Apple iPhone 6S 16GB, £539 via apple.co.uk)
If size really is an issue, both brands offer Plus versions of the flagship models with bigger screens and marginally-improved battery life.
Samsung UK, £529.00
HEADPHONES: SENNHEISER CX-300-II PRECISION
German brand Sennheiser offers the no-frills CX-300-II as their competitor to Apple’s own EarPods. The in-ear design offers a major advantage in sound quality and near-perfect noise cancellation thanks to the different-sized earbuds included in the packaging, and resonant bass is looked after by the headphone’s low frequency response of 19Hz.
The only real fly in the ointment is the higher RRP of the German effort, at £47.99 compared to the £25 EarPods, but you can get either pair for a little less online.
Long seen as the weak point of standard iPod/iPhone kit, Apple EarPods are thinner and better-suited to the contours of the human ear than before. They also come with a remote and mic built-in for iPod and iPhone users and, like the Sennheisers, have a 3.5mm jack output.
But the ergonomic benefits of the newest-generation Apple headphones are cancelled out by the poor sound quality. Both bass and treble sound tinny, while the lack of noise isolation/noise-cancelling means that things like traffic, wind and conversation remain audible.
Factor in the loose-fitting nature of the EarBuds and the Sennheiser wins hands-down, both in terms of value for money and audio performance.
Amazon UK, £42.66
LAPTOP: DELL XPS 13 – 2015 EDITION
With a 5.2mm bezel surrounding the 13in screen, Dell’s premium offering is one of very few machines to have a near edge-to-edge display. Like the MacBook Air, it features a backlit keyboard, but the Dell differentiates itself with Corning Gorilla Glass protection on its UltraSharp Quad+ screen.
Processing power is provided by fourth-gen Intel Core i7 processors, with 512GB of solid-state storage and 8GB of RAM as standard. Portability is boosted by the fact that a 13in screen is maintained within an 11in chassis, thanks to the super-slim bezel mentioned earlier. A Full HD webcam and stereo speakers complete the package, making the Dell useful for conference calls.
Apple’s MacBook Air weighs only 0.9kg and features a dual-core Intel i5 processor as well as 4GB of memory. With up to 12 hours of battery life under normal usage, it falls just short of the 15 hours claimed by Dell and is also more expensive at £849 RRP.
Amazon UK, £799.00
CONTENT SHARING: GOOGLE CHROMECAST 2
Google and Apple have dominated the home digital media market in recent years, despite competition from brands such as Roku and Amazon. Both Apple TV and the Chromecast 2 can stream in full HD, with 4K ability rumoured for subsequent generations once the medium gains traction in the UK and Europe.
The second-generation Chromecast packs a Marvell Armada processor and 51MB of RAM inside its HDMI-output frame, allowing users to share content on their TV via screen-mirroring or content streaming services. The lightweight device packs 256GB of storage space, as it’s primarily designed to shift content from your mobile or tablet to your TV.
Apple TV weighs in with either 64 or 32GB of storage space and a whopping 2GB of RAM. The fourth-generation product costs £129 RRP in the UK, while the Chromecast is approximately 22 per cent of the Apple product’s price.
Where Apple TV excels is in allowing those with iPads and iPhones to use their Apple TV box as a repository for content, as well as a sharing device. If you’ve more than one Apple device, Apple TV is more relevant, though if you’re looking to stream content (including from, say, a solitary Apple device) instead of save it, Google’s Chromecast 2 continues to be popular.
John Lewis, £30
ALL-IN-ONE DESKTOPS: ASUS ZEN AiO Z240ICGT
Apple’s heritage is built on its iMac range of desktops, which have continually reinvented the computing experience over time. Featuring Apple-aping rear connecting USB, HDMI and SD card ports, the Asus differentiates itself from the iMac with a 2.8Ghz Intel i7 processor which can be boosted to 3.6Ghz.
Despite this being down on the 27in iMac’s 3.2Ghz processor during regular performance, the Asus offers a solid gaming experience via its 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics card. It also has a sleek 3840x2160 4K resolution screen and speakers capable of booming bass performance even when approaching high volume.
In a sector of the market traditionally dominated by Apple’s iMac, the Zen is a credible Windows-10 based alternative that is also £99 cheaper than the midrange 27in iMac.
MUSIC STREAMING: TIDAL
The Jay-Z-owned music streaming service underwent a major revamp last year, and costs £9.99 per month for entry-level TIDAL Premium or £19.99pm for the Lossless audio quality of TIDAL HiFi.
As the service is owned by one of hip-hop’s biggest names, many exclusive music videos have found their way onto TIDAL from big-tent artists such as Nicki Minaj, Madonna and Beyonce. Over 30 million songs are on offer, though the high-quality files of HiFi may require a large data allowance if you’re to use them outside of a Wi-Fi connection.
Compared to latecomer Apple Music, TIDAL offers Android usability where Apple Music doesn’t, and features higher-quality audio for the £20pm price. Though the basic cost of Apple Music is the same, the premium package is £5 cheaper at £14.99pm and offers a family sharing mode allowing up to four profiles to listen to the same account.
WEARABLES: SAMSUNG GEAR S2
South Korean tech giant Samsung had a less-than-enthusiastic entry into the smartwatch world with the first-generation Gear. The Gear S2, though, is a much more credible alternative to the new Apple Watch thanks to its rotating bezel which allows users to navigate quickly.
Power is provided via the Tizen operating system and the Samsung offers a pedometer, heart rate sensor, notifications and the ability to answer a call. It’s even got a camera and, funnily enough, a watch.
The Gear S2 is a durable wearable which sacrifices some of the style of the Apple Watch to provide a longer battery life (two days compared to one and a half for the American) and a dust-resistant casing.