Monthly Archives: August 2015

LG dresses its luxury smartwatch in a gold suit

LG’s Watch Urbane was a pretty watch, but it was hardly going to impress the super-rich with its sub-$300 price tag. That’s why the Korean company has teamed up with Reeds Jewelers to craft the LG Watch Urbane Luxe, a shinier version of the hardware for the most conspicuous of capitalists. The insides haven’t changed, but the outside has been dipped in 23 karat gold, while the strap is now made of gen-u-ine alligator leather.

In addition, the timepiece comes in a piano gloss lacquer case and will be produced in a limited run of 500. As the company’s Chris Yie says, “Wearable devices shouldn’t be thought of as an extension of one’s smartphone, but as an extension of oneself.” Presumably the part of yourself that really likes spending $1,200 on a $300 smartwatch.

(engadget.com)

Sony spokesman says the Xperia Z5 ‘Premium’ has a 4K screen

Sony’s incoming Xperia Z5 flagship will be the first smartphone with a 4K screen, according to a leaked video from Clubic.com. In it, Sony’s marketing director says the company will release both a 5.2-inch Z5 and 5.5-inch Z5 ‘Premium,’ and the video (below) is focused on the larger model. On top of the 4K screen (which yields over 800 pixels per inch), the device also packs a 23-megapixel camera with a 0.03 second autofocus and 5X digital zoom, confirming a previous leak. The new flagship will be just as waterproof and dustproof as the Xperia Z3+ model, but with an interesting twist — the micro-USB connector is waterproof, even without a cover.

The all-metal phone retains Sony’s boxy design language to a ‘T,’ though it now has the Xperia logo engraved into the side for a more premium look. The Z5 will also be Sony’s first phone with a fingerprint sensor, which is mounted in an unusual spot: the tiny side power button. As for the rest of the specs, previous rumors had both of the new Z5s equipped with Snapdragon 810 SoCs, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal memory. (Unlike it’s bigger brother, the 5.2-inch Z5 is said to have a 1080p screen.) Given the nature of the video, we wouldn’t treat this info as gospel just yet. However, Sony will reveal all at IFA in Berlin later this week.

(engadget.com)

Android Wear now works with iPhones

The rumors are true: Google has officially announced that Android Wear is coming to the iPhone. But there are a few caveats. For one thing, only the latest iPhones — those that are running iOS 8.2 and up — are supported (that includes the iPhone 5 onwards). More importantly, this app only works with the very latest in Android Wear watches. Right now, the only watch that works with this is the new LG Watch Urbane, which is the most recent Android Wear watch to launch. We’re told that the app will also work with all future Wear devices, including upcoming watches from ASUS, Motorola and Huawei.

But what about older Android Wear devices? Well, we’re told that the iOS app won’t work with them because they don’t run the latest Android Wear release out of the box. Only the latest Android Wear watches have this capability, a spokesperson said, in order to ensure a streamlined setup pairing with an iOS phone. That said, while older Android Wear devices aren’t technically supported, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone somewhere were able to make it work. Of course, we won’t be able to find this out until we can try it out for ourselves.

All told, Android Wear for iOS should work almost the same as it does for Android phones. You’ll get notifications from your favorite Google services like Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Now, as well as Apple’s Calendar, Google Fit, the weather, alarm, agenda, Translate and so forth. It’ll work with voice queries and you can change the watch face just as you can with the Android app. According to Google, you don’t need to have any of these apps installed; they’re all built into the iOS app itself (We’re guessing that you’ll be asked to login with your Google credentials and it’ll go from there). Any third party app notifications that show up on your iPhone will also show on the watch. Google did say that Android Wear for iOS doesn’t support notifications from any Google Play store apps, but that’s to be expected.

So there you have it; if you were a little upset at the limited wearable options available for the iPhone, now you have the latest Android Wear lineup at your disposal. If you happen to have an LG Watch Urbane and you have an iPhone lying around, you can go ahead and try out the app — it’s slowly rolling out on Apple’s App Store starting today.

(engadget.com)

LG sensor adds smarts to your ‘dumb’ home appliances

Sure, it’s easy to find connected home appliances, but what if you want to add a dash of intelligence to many of your existing appliances (not just one or two)? LG might come to your rescue before long. It’s launching a SmartThinQ Sensor which uses feedback like temperature and vibration to tell you what your devices are doing. It can tell when your washer has finished by waiting for the shaking to stop, for instance, or tell you if someone left the fridge door open while you were out.

In some cases, you can even remotely control those older machines. There’s no word on when the sensor arrives, but it’ll be joined by the smartphone-controlled Smart Lightwave Oven and Smart Air Conditioner at the upcoming IFA trade show.

(engadget.com)

Motorola’s new Moto 360 Sport model breaks cover

We’ve already seen the upcoming Moto 360 sequel(s) quite a bit, but now another model has surfaced. Thanks to @upleaks, there’s the news that the next line of Motorola smartwatches will also include a sport option. Based on what appears to be a leaked press image/render, the Moto 360 Sport will arrive in three colors while still carrying the same circular face and dreaded “flat tire” look.

The bands on the active model also don’t carry the same pins as the leaked 2015 unit, so we’ll be curious to see if you can swap out the straps with ease. If you’ll recall, Apple did something similar with its Watch byoffering options for both active and fashion-minded folks. @upleaks also says that while the new Moto 360 will arrive in September, this newly outed Sport model won’t be available until November.

(engadget.com)

 

2015 Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30 review

They’re not flashy but these popular picks are at the peak of their game in the showroom.

Popularity is often scorned. Just look at McDonald’s, One Direction and My Kitchen Rules. Purists argue that biggest doesn’t necessarily mean best.

In the car industry popularity equals success. SUVs may be the latest craze but the humble hatchback is still the main game in the new car market. Last month, the country’s three top-selling cars were small hatches.

To better understand the attraction, we pitted enduring favourites the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 against the Hyundai i30, which last month toppled both in the sales race thanks to an unbeatable drive-away deal.

A new Mazda3 was launched to widespread acclaim last year but the Corolla and i30 have had upgrades in recent months.

Hyundai i30 Active X

There was a time when Hyundais sold on price alone. That all changed with the i30, the first Hyundai that was a decent drive, well put together and capable of selling on substance alone. For the doubters, there was a five-year warranty.

But it still sells best when there’s an unbeatable deal on the table. Last month it was $19,990 drive-away with auto for the cheapest model. This month, it’s $21,990 for the Active X model, which adds leather, alloy wheels and other goodies. That’s roughly $6000 off.

The April update added a bigger screen, retuned suspension and standard reversing camera across the range. Styling tweaks brought the front end look into line with more recent Hyundais.

Inside, the i30 is showing its age. The centre screen is smaller than the other two here and the layout doesn’t feel as modern. It’s still easy to use and well laid-out — and now connects to the Pandora music app — but lacks a little pizazz. And there’s evidence of cost-cutting in the rear, with no middle armrest and plastic instead of cloth seat backs.

On the road, it’s much the same. The 1.8-litre engine is the noisiest under hard acceleration and the thirstiest. The suspension, tuned for local conditions, is pretty well sorted, feels comfortable and composed but doesn’t feel as sporty as the others through the corners. The nose will push wide when provoked and the steering lacks feel.

Price from: $24,390
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km
Servicing: 12 months/15,000km. $747 over 3 years
Safety: 7 airbags, 5 stars
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl, 107kW/175Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; FWD
Thirst: 7.3L/100km
Dimensions: 4300mm (L), 1780mm (W), 1470mm (H), 2650mm (WB)
Weight: 1240kg
Spare: Full-size

Mazda3 Maxx

Mazda’s most popular Mazda3 isn’t the cheapest. At $1900 more than the Neo, the Maxx is the punters’ pick. Unlike the Neo, it gets a standard reversing camera, and a $1500 safety pack includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and auto braking.

Other goodies include satnav, fog lamps, seven-inch screen and internet radio apps. To seal the deal, the steering wheel, gearknob and handbrake handle are leather-wrapped. It’s easy to see how buyers get talked up to a Maxx.

The cabin is the most attractive of the three — in the front. Further back the beancounters have won the day. The Corolla and i30 get padded armrests, the Mazda’s are hard plastic. It also gets only one seat back pocket.

The Mazda’s engine wins back points — it’s more sophisticated, more powerful, quieter and more economical, thanks to stop-start technology that shuts down the engine at lights. The push-button starter on the dash makes the car feel more modern too.

On the road, the Mazda is the pick, although the margin of victory is much tighter than it once was. It feels the most relaxed on the freeway, while on country back roads it delivers a firm, controlled but comfortable ride.

The steering is lighter and, while lacking the feel of the Corolla, is still precise. The Mazda sits flat through corners and isn’t upset by quick changes of direction. It’s also quieter than previous generations, although the tyres still roar on coarser road surfaces.

Price from: $24,390
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Servicing: 12 months/10,000km. $971 over 3 years
Safety: 6 airbags, 5 stars
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 114kW/200Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, FWD
Thirst: 5.8L/100km
Dimensions: 4460mm (L), 1795mm (W), 1455mm (H), 2700mm (WB)
Weight: 1267kg
Spare: Temporary

Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport

Stroll through Toyota head office and you’ll come across the term Kaizen, or continuous improvement. The boffins have been tweaking the Corolla since it launched in 2012 and their latest effort includes a more modern-looking front end, retuned suspension, more equipment and a redesigned dash.

A reversing camera is now standard across the range, displayed on a new seven-inch touchscreen that can be linked through a smartphone to internet radio, weather updates and map functions.

Interior design has been a Toyota weakness but the latest Corolla’s more integrated and cohesive design includes brushed metal and faux carbon-fibre highlights. The centre screen no longer looks as if it was installed at Repco and the detailing all-round is less fussy.

The only complaint is that a touchscreen is harder to navigate on the run than Mazda’s central knob controller.

The Kaizen boffins also tackled another Toyota weakness, producing a car that matches the Mazda through corners. Gone is the mushy suspension and vague steering, and in its place is a car that is fun to punt through the twisty bits.

The previous model traded off improved handling for more road noise but the latest variant is quieter.

Fuel efficiency improves from 6.6 to 6.1L/100km, but it can’t match the Mazda for refinement. The engine can get a bit buzzy and the noise is exacerbated by the continuously variable transmission, which makes the engine drone more noticeable.

Price from: $22,790
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Servicing: 6 months/10,000km. $840 over 3 years
Safety: 7 airbags, 5 stars
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl, 103kW/173Nm
Transmission: 7-speed CVT, FWD
Thirst: 6.1L/100km
Dimensions: 4330mm (L), 1760mm (W), 1475mm (H), 2600mm (WB)
Weight: 1310kg
Spare: Full-size

VERDICT

At the recommended retail price, the Hyundai is the first out of this contest. It’s still a very good car but a fraction off the pace on the road and a little dated inside. But if it were to stay at $21,990 drive-away (about $4500 less than the Corolla and $6000 less than the Mazda3), it would be the winner.

The next battle is tougher to call. The Corolla is roughly $1500 cheaper and the recent update has narrowed the Mazda’s advantage on the road and in the cabin. It’s also much cheaper to service, with six services costing less than three at Mazda.

However, the Mazda’s more powerful engine that is also slightly more efficient, and has more technology, including standard satnav and stop-start. It wins by a whisker.

(carsguide.com.au)

Slazer Arms Your Pebble Time With A Wrist-Mounted Laser

The Pebble Time may not have the trendy appeal of the Apple Watch or the Moto 360, but there are plenty of reasons why it’s still considered by many to be the best smartwatch in the business. But even the best can get better and nothing improves the Pebble Time better than this badass Slazer.

slazer-2

A laser device, it connects to the wearable’s smart accessory port, allowing you to shoot a laser beam straight out of your wrist. Whether for blinding attackers coming at you in an alley, pointing out which menu item you want at McDonald’s (yes, I know, you always buy the Happy Meal), or playing with your cat, this thing lets you do just that while feeling like a superhero with a wrist-mounted weapon.

slazer-3

The Slazer is compatible with both the Pebble Time and the Pebble Time Steel (works with all straps), where it can attach indiscernibly by the lugs on the underside of the case. An accompanying app allows you to control the laser through the wearable’s buttons, as well as through its motion sensors, so you can switch the laser on by simply shaking your wrist. It uses a standard laser pointer (class 2 red laser), with a quick release spring bar that lets you mount and remove it in seconds. Do note, the laser draws its power from the smartwatch, so excessive use could put a damper on that week-long battery life.

A Kickstarter campaign is currently running for Slazer. Pledges to reserve a unit starts at $20.

(coolthings.com)

ZTE Blade S6 review

Pros
  • Good screen
  • Smooth design
  • Decent CPU
Cons
  • Awkward, issue-afflicted camera
  • Patchy UI
  • Feels cheaper than it looks

Key Features: 5-inch HD Display; Dual-SIM support; 1.7 GHz octa-core 64-bit Snapdragon 615 processor; 16GB internal memory; microSD expansion slot; 13-megapixel main camera, 5-megapixel rear camera; 4G

What is the ZTE Blade S6?

The ZTE Blade S6 is a sub-£200 phone, putting it in the increasingly crowded mid-range zone. It’s more expensive than a Motorola Moto G, but does it justify the extra money?

It has more power and storage, which is nice. And some may like the iPhone-style design. However, it still feels fairly cheap and the rubbish photo software means the camera disappoints. It’s good, not great.

ZTE Blade S6 15

Design

There’s no mistaking the ZTE Blade S6’s design inspiration. It’s an iPhone 6 rip-off, almost to the extent of the near-no-brand phones you can import from China.

That sounds pretty bad, but it means the phone itself looks pretty good. And there are some things that tell you this really isn’t an iPhone, once you get within a few feet of it.

First, while there’s an iPhone-like circular marking under the screen, there’s no button. Instead the ZTE Blade S6 has three touch-sensitive soft keys, and the other two are pretty much invisible. Until they light up.

There are blue LEDs under the little circle, and marking those other keys. It gives the phone a bit more of a juvenile angle than an iPhone 6: a bit less class, a bit more bling.

ZTE Blade S6 29

You’ll get a bit of a shock when you pick up the ZTE Blade S6 too. From arm’s length the back looks a lot like aluminium, but it’s actually plain old plastic. As smooth as it is, trying to look like aluminium only reinforces how plasticky it feels. The back picks up scratches pretty easily too.

The ZTE Blade S6 is best appreciated from a distance, where its smooth lines and unibody style impress.

ZTE Blade S6 27

Early impressions are good, followed swiftly by the bad. But after a few days you get used to the cheaper feel, and its ergonomics are otherwise pretty nice. The smoothly curved sides continue around to the glass front, which has rounded-off edges.

The ZTE Blade S6 has a few interesting ideas that have slightly patchy results. Take the light-up main button: it’s used as a notification LED, but is really too bright when firing-off at night time. You can tweak its behaviour in the Settings menu, though.

ZTE Blade S6 5

For pure features box-ticking, it does fine. The ZTE Blade S6 has trays that hold the SIM and microSD card slots on its sides, and there are actually two nano SIM slots in the one tray. There’s 4G too, and NFC. Just no IR transmitter.

With 16GB internal storage it has a decent amount of memory too. Do we wish the body was actually metal, though? Absolutely, especially when phones like the Huawei Ascend G7 use metal at a similar price.

ZTE Blade S6 35

Screen

The ZTE Blade S6 also uses a screen of lower quality than the iPhone 6, but that’s no surprise when the phone costs less than £200. It uses a 5-inch 1,280 x 720 pixel screen, matching popular budget phones like the Motorola Moto G.

Consistent with the price, it has a screen better than a real bottom-rung 720p phone like the Huawei Ascend G620S, offering reasonable outdoors viewing and pretty good colour saturation. We didn’t find the lack of pixels too distracting either. Even among 5-inch 720p screen phones there’s some variation in how apparent the ‘sub-Retina’ nature of the screen is.

Here it’s not obvious until you get quite close.

ZTE Blade S6 7

This is a fairly good screen, and we appreciate that the ZTE Blade S6 gives you the option to either make the screen more vivid or more natural-looking. This option lives in the Settings menu, and unusually we were even pretty happy with the ‘vivid’ mode. Most vivid modes end up over-saturating red tones in particular.

The difficulty here is that we’re getting close to the sort of price you can get a 1080p phone at. Mobiles like the Honor 6, the Nexus 5 (no longer as widely available) and OnePlus One get you phones with significantly higher pixel density for that desirable ‘you can’t see the pixels’ effect. At this point £170 is getting towards the higher end of the price scale for a 720p phone, especially from a lesser-known name like ZTE.

Android 5.2.2 and MiFavor

The ZTE Blade S6 runs Android 5.2.2 (at present) with a custom ZTE interface called MiFavor 3.0. That’s a very up-to-date version of Android. Nice work ZTE.

However, we’re less convinced with what ZTE has piled on top. MiFavor 3.0 feels a bit like a community-made interface, the sort of home-brew UI you might download from Google Play onto to realise it just doesn’t have the gloss of what you used before.

ZTE Blade S6 25

It also gets rid of the apps menu, meaning everything sits on your homescreens. It’s unusual, but not unique. So what’s a bit off about MiFavor?

It actually keeps a fair bit of Lollipop, but the changes it does make, including the extra apps and the naff-as-anything screen transitions, just seem a bit amateur-hour. Like the front notification LED, the results are simply slightly off-target.

ZTE Blade S6 13

Of course, being the types that look at phones all year round, we’re liable tho be particularly picky about these things. And there are some nice touches too.

For example, take the ZTE Blade S6’s MiColor feature. Taking a bit of inspiration from Windows Phone, this makes your wallpaper a plain colour, making the interface text either black or white depending on what suits the colour best. It’s a touch of class in a patchy interface, and a neat feature if you like your phone to look pure and simple.

ZTE Blade S6 11

Aside from the front page, most of the ZTE Blade S6 is pure Android Lollipop. The Settings menu, the notification style and locks screen are all vanilla-style. Unusually, the notifications screen pulsates on and off after the phone is left on its side, kinda mimicking the pulse of the front LED (although not quite in time with it).

It’s a little distracting, more so than Microsoft’s Glance screen (which stays on consistently, and is seen in mid-range and high-end Lumias), but it will also be very useful for some of you. You can also uninstall some of the less useful preinstalled apps, such as Camera360 and Navigation. These are basically rubbish alternatives to Google’s own app suite, cheapening MiFavor as a whole.

ZTE Blade S6 23

There are some slightly odd app choices too. It appears to have the old ‘stock’ Android browser as well as Chrome, where most manufacturers dropped the stock version ages ago. A few times we were left wondering, “what were they thinking”. Not with much venom, mind.

Performance

When we first started using the ZTE Blade S6 it seemed a bit slow in spots. However, after an update it feels a lot smoother.

Is it lag-free? Not quite. There are odd spots of lag in some places, such as when browsing through photos when anything else is happening in the background, that may be a sign of spotty memory management and, as we’ll cover later, a rubbish camera app. But post-update the ZTE Blade S6 wasn’t frustrating to use in general.

ZTE Blade S6 19

It has pretty good specs too. The ZTE Blade S6 uses the Snapdragon 615 CPU, an octa-core processor that uses eight Cortex-A53 cores. You get four at 1GHz and four at 1.7GHz, where the lower-end Snapdragon 410 has four 1.2GHz Cortez-A53 brains.

It’s a 64-bit CPU and this is one of the cheaper phones to use it (not that all that many have yet). In Geekbench 3 it scores 2300 points, almost doubling the performance of something like the Motorola Moto G (which uses a Snapdragon 400 CPU).

To put it to the test we tried a few high-end games. A favourite to test a phone’s powers is Gameloft’s Asphalt 8, because it shows up little frame rate drops so clearly. The ZTE Blade S6 handles the default ‘medium’ detail mode of Asphalt 6 as well as a real top-end phone runs the game.

Asphalt 8

Switching to ‘high’ detail, which adds some more neat motion effects and more vehicle decals, we get the sort of performance you get with something like the Moto G running ‘medium’. There are very slight frame rate blips, but nothing to stop the game being fun.

Whatever else we might say, the ZTE Blade S6 makes a pretty good budget gaming phone. The one annoyance is that the internal speaker causes the back to buzz a bit, which feels a bit weird.

Camera

The ZTE Blade S6 has a fairly impressive-sounding camera setup for a phone costing well under £200. It has a 13-megapixel rear camera with an LED flash and a 5-megapixel front camera.

It uses the same Sony IMX214 sensor as the OnePlus One and has a pretty fast f/2.0 lens.

ZTE Blade S6 9

Unfortunately it’s let down by some quite dreadful software and camera management. First, there’s the ZTE Blade S6 camera app. It’s a custom app, and is among the worst around in the way it operates.

The main interface of the app isn’t too bad, but getting back to the actual camera from checking out the images you’ve taken feels like trawling through a labyrinth. And the app doesn’t default to heading back to the camera interface should you have checked out some images earlier in the day.

That may sound like a small criticism, but it makes the ZTE Blade S6 a bit of a headache to use day-to-day.

ZTE Blade S6

The ZTE Blade S6 camera also seems to view focusing as nab optional extra of photography. The actual focusing process itself isn’t disastrously slow, but getting it to start focusing is. As such you have to pick you focus point carefully and actually check on-screen that the phone has actually locked on. And not simply decided not to bother, as it frequently seems to.

To complete the trio of complaints, there are also real metering issues. On the minor side, it takes spot metering a bit too far at times. Sometimes we’d be trying to take a close-up nature shot, but actually selecting the subject would overexpose the shot a little, only for the camera to return to the ‘correct’ exposure after shooting. Better phone cameras are a bit smarter than this.

More seriously, any night-time or evening shots look seriously dark. We tested it next to the iPhone 6, and while we wouldn’t expect quite the same level of quality from the ZTE (despite the iPhone-beating specs), the metering was worlds apart, with the iPhone photos being much brighter and clearer.

Blade S6 samples 7

The foreground is way too dark here. And raising it in Photoshop, we found there’s virtually zero colour information in there. There’s a bit of shadowed-out detail to find, but underneath, those trees are grey.

This seems an almost bug-like problem with the ZTE Blade S6, as the HDR mode massively ramps up the brightness level, providing much more than just the usual dynamic range boost. The HDR mode in general is pretty effective, but it’s also very slow and doesn’t produce natural-looking results a lot of the time. It’s no good to use 24/7.

Other sins of the camera include, as mentioned earlier, very slow browsing of photos a times and the use of two auto modes. Do we really need a mode called ‘normal’ and another called ‘auto’?

The camera software behind the ZTE Blade S6 is plain bad. It’s deeply unreliable. ZTE had packed a fairly comprehensive manual mode into it, and clearly should have worked a bit more on the basics instead.

However, the hardware underneath is perfectly good, as seen in the detail and shallow depth of field effects we still managed to get. We tried using the Google camera app instead, available from Google Play instead and found the ZTE Blade S6 camera much easier to use. However, it doesn’t seem to fix the ‘dark pictures at dusk’ issue. Oh well.

Get this: the front camera doesn’t seem to have the same issue, making dark scenes much brighter. Weird, right? The front 5-megapixel camera is fair, but uses a fixed focus lens and produces limited detail given its resolution, in most cases, likely because of its use of a very small sensor.

Here are some photos we took with the main ZTE Blade S6 camera:

Blade S6 samples 3

HDR can fix the exposure issue a bit, but the results to look pretty Instagrammed. #nofilter and all that. The full-size version was also pretty soft, though.

Blade S6 samples 9

Blade S6 samples 13

Sometimes crushing darker details into blackness doesn’t ruin a photo.

Blade S6 samples 11

Blade S6 samples 15

Bokeh-y effects are possible with close-ups.

Blade S6 samples

Again, HDR fixes brightness issues. But would you guess this photo was taken at night?

Blade S6 samples 5

Yep, this is a rubbish photo. But the lens flare shows we’re dealing with optics of somewhat limited quality, despite the f/2.0 apreture.

Battery life

The ZTE Blade S6 fares better with battery stamina. It has a non-removable 2400Ah battery, and it gets you solid, if not standard-setting, battery life.

General-use stamina is actually fairly similar to this year’s most expensive Android phones, getting you around 30 per cent charge by bed time with mid-level use. When playing a looped 720p video it lasts for approximately 10 hours, showing a decent improvement over the 5-inch Motorola Moto G.

ZTE Blade S6 3

Sound quality

Call quality disappoints a little, though. Top volume is not very high and voices can sound a bit scratchy. There is an active noise cancellation mic on the back, but then every phone at this price and above has one.

The speaker isn’t too great either. It’s a single-driver unit on the back, and it’s not particularly loud or powerful-sounding. Its output is fairly thin.

ZTE Blade S6 25

Should I buy the ZTE Blade S6?

We like what the ZTE Blade S6 is about. It wants to get you something a bit snazzier and more powerful than an ‘upper-entry’ level model like the Motorola Moto G, while still staying significantly below £200.

We’re just not all that sure about how ZTE has handled it. The custom UI feels a little unprofessional in parts, and some of the custom software loaded onto the ZTE Blade S6 is rubbish.

The LED notification style is a bit dubious and the camera simply doesn’t work as well as it should either. Plus, well, it looks like a fake iPhone. And we prefer our phones not to look like a ‘fake’ anything. For the most part this is a solid and capable device, but there’s a lot to finesse.

Verdict

A mid-range phone packed with sensible specs, but let down by some questionable software and design decisions.

Scores In Detail

Battery Life : 8/10
Calls & Sound : 6/10
Camera : 5/10
Design : 6/10
Features : 7/10
Screen Quality : 8/10
Software : 7/10
Value : 8/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Olympus Pen E-PL7 review

Pros
  • Great sensor performance
  • Charming retro design
  • Decent touchscreen
Cons
  • Underwhelming video capture
  • Not ideal for bigger hands
  • Odd tilt-under screen

Key Features: 16.1-megapixel Live MOS MFT sensor; 1080p/30fps video recording; Wi-Fi; In-body image stabliliser; 8fps max burst mode; 357g; 114.9 x 67 x 38.4mm

What is the Olympus Pen E-PL7?

The Olympus E-PL7 is a 16-megapixel compact system camera with a Micro Four Thirds sensor. It’s the smaller, cheaper, more stylish alternative to the company’s very popular OM-D cameras.

Olympus has taken the idea that this needs to be a casual camera a bit too far in the E-PL7: it’s rather selfie-centric. However, it doesn’t stop this from being a camera that can take serious photos, just like its bigger brothers.

While physical controls could be a little better, this is a very solid Micro Four Thirds camera. You’ll pay around £400 for it with the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 (max aperture) kit lens.

Design and Handling

Like the Olympus E-PL6, which only launched in some areas as recently as this summer, the E-PL7 has a retro-style body made using a mix of plastic and metal.

Metal body build, Leathered body, high grade dials and buttons control

Most of the frame is aluminium, giving the camera a very hardy feel. It’s the leather-effect parts on the grip that are plastic, and they don’t detract from the feel that the E-PL7 could really take some abuse.

You may notice that Olympus has tweaked its logo style for this year’s Pen Lite, using the same retro look as the Olympus E-P5. It’s a minor tweak, but one that fits well with the retro style. Like most other Pen models, it’s a good-looking, well-made camera.

However, we do think that those with larger hands may find it a bit dinky, and may prefer a slightly larger frame. Benefit or compromise? It depends on your perspective, and how you like to shoot, and the Olympus E-PL7 does have both a small front contoured grip and a small thumb rest on the back. It’s 114.9 x 67 x 38.4mm in size and weighs 357g.

It was when trying to shoot manually that we encountered a few handling niggles. There’s a manual control dial we didn’t get in the E-PL6, but the E-PL7 does seem a little cramped when trying to get fully involved in the camera’s settings.

It does feel as though the Olympus E-PL7 is intended for more casual photographers, something supported by the lack of any viewfinder. You have to use the screen to compose with this camera, which may take a bit of getting used to if you’re accustomed to a viewfinder.

Want one? The Olympus E-M10 offers an EVF and an integrated flash. It’s this camera’s bigger brother.

Screen

The screen itself is decent. Three inches across and 1.04 million dots in resolution, it offers fairly good image quality. It’s a touchscreen too, letting you touch-to-focus.

Again, this is handy for more casual shooting. But other elements of the E-PL7 screen suggest Olympus may care a bit too much about the casual crowd.

Olympus PEN E-PL7 180 Flip Screen

The camera uses a rather unusual tilt mechanism where the screen flips out under the body rather than, as is more common, above it. Olympus claims this is there to offer the best selfie experience, but in person it feels overengineered and awkward.

There’s an obvious reason why it has this inverted screen, though. The Olympus E-PL7 doesn’t have an integrated flash, instead offering a bundled slot-in unit that sits on the hot shoe. By flipping the screen under, its usable with the flash attached.

We did find that the flash has a tendency to overexpose people’s faces, but flash selfies explains one of the E-PL7’s design oddities. The til screen also makes shooting below head level easier – it’s not just for the selfie crowd.

Features and Performance

The OIympus E-PL7 offers a few extra features over the last major model the E-PL5, but it doesn’t have everything. You get Wi-Fi for image transfers and remote shutter control. However, there’s no NFC. It’s a minor sacrifice, although why it’s missing is not clear.

Olympus has packed a few more ‘fun’ modes into the E-PL7, though. It offers 25 scene modes and 16 filters, a few more than older PEN models.

Battery life is reasonable. You’ll get 350 shots off a charge. That’s actually 10 fewer than the E-PL5, and not quite as good as the Sony Alpha 5000 rival’s 420, but not disastrous.

Stamina naturally will drop down if you use the flash, but we got a solid 5-6 hours shooting from a charge.

Autofocus performance is reasonable, but not perfect. The Olympus E-PL7 has a pure contrast detection AF system that offers 81 focus points. That’s far more than the E-PL5, which only had 35 points.

Being able to select focus using the touchscreen is handy too. It’s how you get the snappiest feel out of the E-PL7.

However, it’s not 100 per cent reliable. We found that on occasion the camera seems to jump the gun a bit, activating the shutter before the AF system has got a solid focus. It’s something you need to consider when shooting. Factor in a few security frames to ensure you get a solidly focused result.

Actual focus speed isn’t too bad, though, with little in the way of focus seeking. The E-PL7 also manages to focus successfully in fairly poor lighting. Its timing may not be perfect, but the AF is mostly solid.

Burst shooting performance is very good, though. The Olympus E-PL7 manages 8fps, enough for real action shooting. For all its casual leanings, the TruePic VII processing brains here are the same seen in Olympus’s more expensive models.

The three-axis stabilisation helps out when shooting handheld in lower light conditions too. As a more accessible CSC it seems the PL7 is unlikely to be used with a tripod all that often, making the new OIS a great addition.

Image Quality

With the same 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor as the Olympus E-M10 we were hoping for more-or-less the same photographic results as that early-2014 smash, and that’s just what we got.

The Olympus E-PL7 can produce some excellent shots, and the camera’s 324-zone metering system is a good performer. As with the E-M10, low light shooting is very good given the relatively small size of the MFT sensor.

Noise is well-handled up to ISO 1600, and still quite passable at ISO 3200. High sensitivity performance is much better than the earlier generations of PEN cameras, offering low-light skills not miles off an APS-C sensor CSC in noise terms.

There is a limit, though, and we’d suggest staying away from the top 12,800 and 25,600 sensitivity settings. Stick to 6400 or below and you’ll be fine.

Dynamic range is fair, at 11.2EV with base ISO settings, but you do have to be careful to avoid blowing out highlights. DR naturally degrades quite significantly through the ISO range, meaning you do lose out on quite a low of shadow detail when shooting at higher ISOs.

Detail is very good at lower sensitivities for a 16-megapixel sensor. Like the noise and dynamic range, it degrades fairly seriously at ISO 6400 and above, but the very good base ISO detail performance is a sign that this is a very high-quality 16-megapixel sensor.

Here are some samples:

Video

Stills performance is good, on par with other current Olympus PEN models. However, video is fairly basic. Capture tops out at 1080p, 29.97 frames per second.

Other models offer 60 frames per second at 1080p, and the roll-out of 4K video to more cameras means it may not be all that long until we see 4K video start to come to cameras like the E-PL7. If video is a priority, the Olympus E-PL7 may not be the right camera for you.

Should I buy the Olympus Pen E-PL7?

The Olympus E-PL7 misdirects some of its energy, with a selfie obsession that’s perhaps a bit too intense for the camera’s own good. Despite not having the design and features to impress the hardcore crowd, its sensor offers the same sort of performance you see in the step-up Olympus E-M10.

We’ve seen Panasonic struggle to justify releasing a follow-up to its similar Lumix GF6 — the rumoured GF7 failed to appear in 2014. These days, we’re seeing more of a focus put on true high-end CSCs, or those with bodies much smaller than the E-PL7’s.

With no NFC and slightly limited video skills, we’re not convinced Olympus has made all the little tweaks it should have implemented. We’re not sure about the odd tilt screen, either. However, the performance of the processor and sensor are both very sound.

Its direction is a little odd in parts, but its up-to-date core elements make this a good MFT choice if the viewfinder of the E-M10 doesn’t appeal.

Verdict

The Olympus Pen E-PL7 isn’t a hit in every respect, but the high-quality build, sensor and processor see it offer a good entry-level MFT option.

Scores In Detail

Build Quality : 8/10
Design : 8/10
Features : 7/10
Image Quality : 8/10
Performance : 8/10
Value : 7/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Pros
  • Massively improved screen quality
  • Great speakers for watching films
  • Really helpful and comprehensive guide
  • New child safety features
Cons
  • Battery drains quickly
  • Heavy for smaller hands

Key Features: 8.3-inch 1920 x 1,200 Full HD display; Dolby speakers; 1.83 GHz Intel quad-core processor; Android 4.4.2 KitKat; 5-megapixel main camera; 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera; 8 hour battery life; 16GB storage; micro SD card support.

What is the Tesco Hudl 2?

Launched in October 2014, the Tesco Hudl 2 follows the supermarket giant’s first venture into the tablet market with the original Android-powered Hudl. Given that Tesco isn’t exactly renowned for its tech innovation, the first Hudl caught us a little off guard with its competence, and this sequel continued the good work, winning TrustedReviews’ Best Value Tablet of 2014.

It may not be able to challenge the likes of the iPad Air 2 at the top-end of the market, but it still offers excellent value for money, decent performance and a well-considered design.

Less than one year on from launch, the Hudl 2 is now available for just £99, down from the original price of £129. At launch the Hudl 2 was £10 more expensive than its predecessor, and that extra tenner brings improvements right across the board. The screen size has increased from 7 to 8.3 inches, bringing with it Full HD resolution. It’s now powered by Intel and has new child safety features, making it a tablet the whole family can use.

Design

While the first Hudl was a small, stumpy 7-inch tablet, the Hudl 2 now has an 8.3-inch display giving it a more narrow frame, which is better suited to using the Tesco tablet in landscape mode.

Tesco Hudl 2

Weighing 410g, it’s heavier than the first Hudl (370g) and it’s definitely noticeable when holding it in one hand in portrait mode. Smaller hands will definitely find it more manageable in two hands. It’s slightly thinner though at 9mm thick, which does somewhat make up for the extra bulk.

It’s still a comfortable tablet to get to grips with and that’s helped once again by the soft touch plastic back, that sits even more snug against your hands and extends to the trim around the edges of the tablet where the corners are gently curved.

Tesco Hudl 2

Tesco is sticking to its colourful, child-friendly theme with the Hudl 2 available in eight different colours with names like Tropical Turquoise and Bubblegum Pink. We had the Slate Black model, which is obviously the most serious and dullest looking of the bunch but whether you want something that’s bold or more understated, you have plenty of options here and there are cases to go with it too.

Build quality on the Hudl 2 feels similar to the first Hudl. The rubbery plastic has a nice durable feel however it seems the iPhone 6 is not the only hardware with bending issues. The Hudl 2 has some serious flex even with the slightest of pressure applied. It doesn’t have that worrying feel that it’s going to permanently turn the tablet wonky though and feels like a measure to make it more robust and child-proof.

Looking around the tablet you’ll find the micro USB charging port on the bottom edge with the volume rocker and standby button situated high up on the right edge. Unlike the Nexus 7 (2014 Edition), you’ll find a micro SD card slot so when you use up the 16GB onboard storage (which is actually closer to 9GB of usable space) this can be bumped up to 48GB. An additional 8GB micro SD card can be bought for as little as £4 on Amazon, so it doesn’t cost a lot to make more room for content.

Alongside the SD card slot is a micro HDMI port so you can hook the Hudl 2 to a HD TV to watch video or view photos on a bigger screen. Again, the micro HDMI cable you need is not supplied in the box, but you should be able to pick one up online for around £5, so it’s not an expensive investment.

Around the back is where you’ll find the new 5-megapixel camera sensor, which sits in close proximity to one of the two redesigned speakers that now have a nicer-looking drilled holed design that definitely adds to the Hudl 2’s already pleasing aesthetic.

hudl2 colours

Screen

The most noticeable hardware change is the screen. The murky, slightly washed out 1,400 x 900 resolution model of the original Hudl is no more, replaced with a Full HD 1920 x 1200 IPS LCD display that’s sharper and so much nicer to watch video and read on.

The higher resolution may be spread across a larger 8.3-inch screen but pixel density has still been given a decent boost ramping up to 265ppi. As such it’s so much better than the original and there’s not many £120 tablets that can offer this kind of screen quality. The Asus Memo Pad HD 7 is in the same price range as the Hudl 2 but only packs a 1,280 x 800 resolution display.

If we are going to be picky, and it’s our job to be really, it’s not the brightest display we’ve used even on its maximum setting. Also, whites are not exceptional and it lacks the punchy, vibrant colours you’d find on a Super AMOLED. You’d have to pay more to see improvements in those areas on similarly sized tablets though.

A nice added bonus is the use of IPS display technology to improve on the average viewing angles of the original plus it offers some improved visibility using the Hudl 2 outdoors in bright sunlight.

Speaker Quality

To add to the Hudl 2’s video-watching credentials is the inclusion of new stereo speakers with Dolby optimized audio. Positioned on the back of the tablet, they offer significantly better sound quality, especially for watching films, but it’s not perfect.

Amazon has used Dolby optimized audio in its Kindle Fire tablets with the aim of offering greater depth, richness and warmth so you don’t get that tinny, grating audio quality you usually find on most cheap tablets.

Tesco Hudl 2

Tesco hasn’t revealed specifics about the Dolby-powered technology but it looks likely to be the same Dolby Digital Plus used in Amazon tablets to create surround sound through the speakers and headphones adding qualities like constant volume across all applications.

There’s some Dolby Audio options in the settings where you can opt for default mode for video and gaming, a dedicated music playback mode or one for improved voice clarity when making video calls.

It doesn’t take very long to notice how much better sounding these speakers are. Watching a film through Blinkbox Movies, sound has the directional quality to make audio sound more immersive and the detail is great as well – stereo speakers on a tablet really are worth looking out for. When you need to turn things up louder however, it loses its stability and some of the bad qualities you find in tablet speakers begin to creep in.

We’d say the Kindle Fire HDX tablets are still slightly ahead, but these are still a great set of speakers that surpass the quality of a host of more expensive tablets.

Software and Apps

The Hudl 2 runs Android 4.4 KitKat with some Tesco touches that don’t feel too overbearing or intrusive on what is overall a slick and intuitive Android experience. If you have used an Android tablet before, then you’ll find all the key components in place. There’s capacitive buttons below the display, Google Now access, multiple homescreens, a notification drop down menu when you swipe from the top of the screen and the all-important ability to download apps from the Google Play Store.

It’s fully stocked with Google’s collection of apps including Play Movies & TV, Google Camera, Chrome and Google Maps. Like the first Hudl, Blinkbox services are there too, including a new books service. The Blinkbox music service is definitely the pick of the bunch, and the Hudl 2 comes with a book of vouchers to get you started with Blinkbox and other Tesco services.

Tesco Hudl 2

The Tesco T is still up in the corner and whether you press or swipe left you’ll find access to the supermarket’s other shopping-centric interests. Here you can view Clubcard points, offers on Blinkbox content, groceries deals and find out opening times for your nearest Tesco store.

Tesco Hudl 2

Tesco has gone to the effort of placing folders on the homscreen where you can also get quick access to other services like Tesco Direct, Tesco Bank and new services like Tesco Photo. The same is done for Blinkbox services and it’s also where you’ll find the Hudl 2’s most useful features.

The first is ‘Get started’. This is essentially an interactive manual for using the Hudl 2. It’s something Tesco did a great job with on the first Hudl and it’s even better this time around. Information is clearly presented with the kind of visually appealing interface that will quickly help you to get to grips not only with the hardware and software but tasks like using the internet.

Tesco Hudl 2

It’s a comprehensive guide and gives you all the information you need without feeling overwhelming. Our only minor gripe is the lack of a search bar function but on the whole, tablet manufacturers could learn a thing or two about this approach to help first time tablet users.

Like the first Hudl, Tesco wants to make the entire experience a family-friendly one and this time it’s doing a whole lot more. The Child Safety feature introduced last year now goes beyond recommending third party software to protecting the little ones from accessing unsuitable content.

Tesco has worked with parent support group Parent Zone to develop the new Child Safety software where you can now set up separate child profiles. These are based around age groups and the main tablet owner can control how much time children can spend on the tablet, which apps they can access and set what type of websites they can access.

Tesco Hudl 2

The child profiles are set up for under 5, 5-8 years old and 8-11 year olds all with different conditions based on what Tesco and Parent Zone deem children should be able to access.

We set up profiles for the different age groups to test how secure the profiles were and they are largely rock solid. You need to set up data encryption, which is basically a lock that only the main tablet user can unlock. Once you’ve set up the profiles you will be able to access them from the lock screen.

Tesco Hudl 2

If you’ve set up time limits to use the Hudl 2 during the week and at the weekend, once that limit is up, the tablet will be inactive and no longer usable. This is a similar feature to the Freetime mode used on Kindle Fire tablets and is similarly effective.

App restrictions is something that was introduced in Android Jelly Bean and while we only had access to those permitted apps we also scanned around to see what other features we could still access. You can still turn on Bluetooth for instance, which could be an area of concern but elsewhere there’s very little you can do. You can’t reset the tablet or access any other user profiles.

Tesco Hudl 2

Last up is the web safety feature. Here you can control the nature of content users can access and if they do try to stumble on something unsuitable only the main tablet user can unlock access to it. YouTube seemed like a good place to get potentially find a crack in this safety feature but it even made videos unsuitable unplayable. Tesco and Parent Zone have done a great job here to make this one of the safest tablets to use.

Tesco Hudl 2

Performance

The Hudl 2 sees the Tesco tablet move from an ARM-based chip set up to an Intel Z3735D chipset with integrated Intel HD Graphics GPU commonly found inside cheap Windows 8 tablets. There’s also 2GB of RAM to help with more intensive tasks and as a result it’s a more pleasing tablet to use in every aspect.

Swiping through homescreens and launching applications is a breeze and the extra gigabyte of RAM improves its multitasking prowess. It’s gaming though where there’s a big difference from its predecessor. There’s no signs of lag and framerate drop and while it might lack the extra visual sheen you get on Snapdragon powered tablets and phones, the Hudl 2 is well equipped to play games.

The benchmark results back this up as well. In Geekbench 3, it delivers a multi core score of 1,914. The original Hudl in comparison scored 1,360 in the same tests, although it’s still someway behind the Snapdragon-powered Nexus 7 (2,672).

There was one sign of concern and that’s when the tablet refused to boot up despite having battery. After entering reboot mode by holding down the standby and volume buttons we were able to get back to normal and it was the one instance where we encountered an issue with the Hudl 2’s performance.Tesco Hudl 2

Camera

Taking photos was one of the most underwhelming experiences on the first Hudl, whether that was with the main or front-facing camera. Now the main camera is up from a 3-megapixel to a 5-megapixel sensor, while the front-facing model is down from 2-megapixel to 1.2-megapixel, making it adequate at best for selfies and video chats. That’s the same camera setup as the £129 Asus Memo Pad HD 7.

While performance is better on the rear camera, and there’s more modes to play around with, you still wouldn’t want to use it in place of a decent mid range-smartphone camera.

There are more modes this time when you swipe left in the camera app. You’ve now got the 360-degree photo sphere mode, panoroma mode, bokeh-style lens blur and a video mode, which shoots in a pretty underwhelming 720p HD resolution.

The fidgety nature of stitching images together in photo sphere and the panorama mode make it difficult to yield good results while the lens blur mode takes an age to process images and doesn’t deliver in the same way the feature does on the Galaxy S5 or the One M8 – you’ll soon grow bored of it.

As the close up image below shows, the focus handles better than it did on the first Hudl but images struggle for vibrancy and detail and still look washed out. Colour accuracy underwhelms as well and on the whole, it produces the kind of images you are unlikely to want to share.

Tesco Hudl 2

When you shoot from further out like the photo sample below, things are a little more stable, but beyond the colourful orange building in the forefront of the image, everything behind it struggles for sharpness.

Tesco Hudl 2

When it comes to shooting video don’t expect anything special either. You can actually film at 1080p HD with the main camera and 720P HD with the front-facing one. There’s no added features to enhance footage, though, so results can still look grainy and lacklustre.

Battery Life

Tesco doesn’t specify the capacity of the Hudl 2’s battery but does claim that it’ll last eight hours, which is an hour less than the first Hudl was capable of.

In our experience that’s about as much as you can expect from the Hudl 2 and there’s no power management modes to push things further.

In general use you can get a day’s play but you will have to charge it when you get home. In our more intense testing, running a SD video on loop with 50% brightness and Wi-Fi turned off, it doesn’t take long to see how quickly the battery drains. We managed around the seven hour mark but what was more of concern was that after an hour and 20 minutes of video, it was down to 77%. That’s a big hit in battery life. What’s to blame? The first thing we’d point the finger to is the screen. Powering that higher resolution can be demanding and surely contributes to a battery life, which is a bit below par.

Things don’t get much better when you need a quick charge adding around 10% from flat with a 30 minute charge from the supplied mains adaptor.

There’s similarly priced tablets that can definitely offer more battery like the Asus Memo Pad HD 7 tablet, which can get up to the ten hour mark in the same testing scenarios. If you plan to use it mostly at home with a plug socket nearby, it shouldn’t be a problem though.

Tesco Hudl 2

Should I buy the Tesco Hudl 2?

For a tablet that costs £129, the Tesco Hudl 2 is the best we’ve used and that should be a wake up call for more manufacturers who have failed to deliver the same quality for the same money. The screen is fantastic for the money, the speakers are better than the ones you can find on more expensive tablets and the Intel-driven performance is so much better than last year’s slightly sluggish Hudl. It’s also the other elements that Tesco gets right that others can learn from.

The Get Started guide and Child Safety features show a better appreciation of how daunting owning a tablet can be for some and that helps give the Hudl 2 added appeal. If you compare it to the competition like the Asus Memo Pad HD 7 (£129) or even the £200 Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX 7, it can stand proudly next to those 7-inch tablets and does an equal if not better job in many respects.

The Hudl 2 is a family-friendly tablet with high end features and if you can live with the far from overbearing Tesco services and some battery life gripes, this is a tablet you will not be disappointed with.

Verdict

The Tesco Hudl 2 is the best budget tablet we’ve tested at this price. If you have £129 to spend on a tablet, this is the one to own.

Scores In Detail

Battery Life : 6/10
Build Quality : 8/10
Design : 9/10
Features : 9/10
Performance : 8/10
Screen Quality : 9/10
Software & Apps : 8/10
Sound Quality : 8/10
Value : 10/10

(trustedreviews.com)

2015 Volkswagen Jetta review

Though Volkswagen doesn’t like us calling the Jetta a Golf with a boot, that’s exactly what it is.

WHAT WE LIKE
  • Timeless Jetta styling
  • Charleston 18-inch alloy wheels on Highline variant
  • VW’s Extended Electronic Differential Lock (XDL) across the range
WHAT WE DON’T
  • Currently on older Golf 6 platform.
  • Tall front passengers will need the room behind to best adjust seat

Some buyers prefer sedans to hatches for a couple of reasons: you get a bigger boot in a sedan thanks to the car’s extra length, albeit without the large opening offered in hatches; and the ride comfort and body strength is even better in sedans than the equivalent hatchbacks.

The latter is due to the fact it has the added bracing underneath the rear window that’s obviously not offered in a hatch. More body rigidity stands you in good stead if you’re driving on rough roads and, these days, you don’t need to be in the great Australian outback to find harsh surfaces – sadly there are plenty in the suburbs, as well.

However, the Jetta usually runs a bit behind Golf in its introduction and the recently updated VW sedan doesn’t share the brilliant new MQB platform of the Golf 7. That will be coming later; VW won’t tell us when, but given the facelift done in March this year we would speculate an all-new Jetta around mid-2016.

DESIGN

In the meantime the face of VW Jetta has been remodelled to give it a family resemblance to both the Golf 7 and the larger Passat. Indeed, there are shapes in the face of the VW Polo that are now following the same theme. It’s interesting to see Volkswagen following the same path as the upmarket German marques in shaping its cars to give the same effect as upmarket matching luggage. Small, medium, large.

As it’s aimed at relatively conservative buyers, timeless styling is a feature of Volkswagen’s updated Jetta, so no complaints from us about it not leaping out from the crowd.

However, our Jetta did stand out more than the rest of the range. The newly introduced flagship of the range, the Jetta 155 Highline Sport is powered by the 155TSI petrol engine as installed in the Golf 6 GTI. Also on the sporting front the Highline Sport uses dynamic suspension with 18-inch Charleston alloy wheels, has bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime driving lights and tail-lights.

Gearshift paddles are mounted behind the leather multifunction steering wheel and there is dark tinted rear-side and rear window glass.

FEATURES

Jetta Comfortline has Volkswagen’s RNS510 satellite navigation system, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, automatic wipers and lights, even an automatically dimming interior mirror.

Jetta Highline has Vienna leather upholstery with Comfort sport front seats, an electronically adjustable driver’s seat, keyless access and starting, 17-inch Lancaster alloy wheels and front foglights with static cornering lights.

Volkswagen-Jetta-Highline-2015(1)
Volkswagen-Jetta-Highline-Sport-2015(8)
Volkswagen-Jetta-Highline-Sport-2015(9)
Volkswagen-Jetta-Highline-Sport-2015(9b)

ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS

The 155TSI Highline Sport, 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine has a power output of 155kW, it drives the front wheels through a six-speed DSG double-clutch automatic.

Interestingly, Volkswagen’s own Extended Electronic Differential Lock (XDL) – which reduces understeer by braking the inside wheel while cornering under load – is installed not only in the high-performance Highline Sport, but is now across the entire Jetta range.

If you hammer it, as some drivers attracted by the 155kW Golf GTI engine will, you can feel the special differential helping you keep the Jetta online

There’s a surprising variety of engines and transmissions sitting below the performance 155 Highline Sport. The 118TSI engine come with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG transmission in the Jetta Trendline. The seven-speed DSG is standard on Comfortline and Highline models.

The 118kW 1.4-litre TSI petrol has an official fuel consumption of 6.2L/100km with the seven-speed automatic, and 6.5L/100km with the six-speed manual gearbox. It’s offered in Trendline, Comfortline and Highline specification.

A 103TDI 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine sits beside a six-speed DSG. It has 320Nm and a fuel number of 5.5L/100km during the combined cycle. The TDI is sold only in Highline specification and uses a six-speed DSG transmission as standard.

SAFETY

The aforementioned XDL differential helps drivers stay out of trouble should they make a mistake. There’s also a Driver Fatigue Detection System, something very handy if your attention wanders because of low Australian speed limits. Jetta has a rear-view camera and front and rear parking sensors.

DRIVING

There’s comfort for four adults and a child, though in Australia most Jettas are likely to be used with pre-teens in the back seats. Should you have tall people in the front seats they may not be able to have their seats set well back if there are grown ups back there.

Boot space is not only large but also easy to load, though heavy items well back in the area can be hard to move about.

On the road the high-performance VW Jetta has the hewn-from-stone feel Volkswagen buyers have loved for generations. It presumably will be even better in the next generation as it seems sure to have the MQB platform. As a major bonus the next generation will be also lighter, further improving engine and dynamic performance.

Handling is safe and predictable and if you hammer it, as some drivers attracted by the 155kW Golf GTI engine will, you can feel the special differential helping you keep the Jetta online. Even without calling on that electronic aid the Jetta will feel as though it enjoys being driven by a keen punter.

Comfort is probably not quite as good as in a standard Jetta – we weren’t able to test two back-to-back – but is pretty good for a performance car with this suspension and steering set-up.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price : From $22,990

Thirst : 7.8L/100km, 180g/km CO2 Tank 55L

Safety : 5-star ANCAP

Seats : 5

Warranty : 3 years/unlimited

Service Interval : 12 months/15,000km

Engine : 1.984L turbo 4-cyl Petrol, 155kW/280Nm

Transmission : 6-spd dual-clutch automatic, FWD

Turning circle : 11.1m diameter

Dimensions : 4744mm (L), 1778mm (W), 1473mm (H)

VERDICT

Want a small-medium sedan with a timeless shape that has more than average engine performance and dynamic suspension? Then the latest Volkswagen Jetta should be sitting close to the top of your list of vehicles to test drive.

(carsguide.com.au)

 

Polar M400 review

Pros
  • Tracks GPS, heart rate and daily fitness
  • Slim and light for GPS tracking
  • Excellent features for price
Cons
  • No underwater heartrate monitoring
  • No route navigation
  • Chest belt needed for heart rate

Key Features: Daily activity fitness tracker; GPS activity tracking; Wireless heartrate monitoring; 8hr battery for GPS and HRM tracking, 24 day battery for fitness tracking only; 30m water resistant; Slim (11.5mm) and light (56.6g); Highly configurable.

What is the Polar M400?

The Polar M400 is one of a new breed of fitness wearables – combining the simplicity of fitness bands such as the Fitbit Flex with the heartrate and GPS activity tracking of high-end running watches such as the TomTom Runner Cardio in one device. And all at a price that is closer to a fitness band than GPS watch.

The result is a device that’s surprisingly functional, particularly when you consider it costs barely more than a higher-end fitness band – if you already have a Bluetooth chest strap, it’s £30 cheaper still. It lacks one or two notable features, but it’s a great option for anyone buying their first proper running watch.

Design and screen

The first and foremost thing about the Polar M400 is that it’s incredibly slim (11.5mm) and light (56.6g). It is no more arduous or bulky to wear than most fitness bands and is certainly less obtrusive than just about every other GPS-tracking watch on the market.

Quite where its antenna is hidden is unclear, but it’s vital it doesn’t get in the way when you’re wearing a fitness band day and night. The Polar M400 gets this right more than any other rival. That also means that it works better on skinnier wrists. Again, this is in stark contrast to key rivals.

The light weight and low profile may be to its credit, but elsewhere it is perhaps too unobtrusive – and borders on plasticky. The 128×128 pixel, 33mm screen may not set a smartwatch fan’s hair on fire, and the resulting info screens are bereft of design flair or interest. But at least everything’s bright enough to be visible even in fairly direct sunlight and, there’s loads of information on display. There’s a backlight for those late evening runs, too.

The five buttons (up, down, select, back, light) all work well and are designed so you don’t trigger them accidentally. On the back, there’s a micro-USB socket – which means you can travel with one phone and watch cable to charge. You can sync via Bluetooth to a smartphone app if you prefer. The socket is rated to 30m water-resistant without its cover, which may turn out to be important.

If there is a let-down to the Polar M400’s design, beyond its blandness, it is that both the USB cover and main watch strap – made of similar material – seem worryingly flimsy. It’s that kind of slightly cheap plasticised rubber that can be prone to brittleness.

There was no sign of any tearing, stress or breakage in either during testing, but the combination of the design of the clasp and the rubber may give rise to concern long-term. That said, pins hold the strap in place, so it’s clearly replaceable, and the USB socket is waterproofed without its rubber cover.

Features

The key thing to understand about the Polar M400 is that it functions as a fitness band and activity tracker.

As a fitness band you wear it non-stop and it tracks steps and sleep like rivals. Unlike many fitness bands, it even works out automatically when you’ve gone to sleep – you don’t need to tell it “night night”.

Like the Polar Loop, if paired with your phone (via Bluetooth), the Polar M400 will also send inactivity alerts to your phone and wrist, reminding you to get out of your seat and jump around if you’ve sat still for too long. You then have a few minutes to move, or you get a bad mark in your daily diary in the app.

So far, so fitness band. But press the central button on the watch and you’re into a menu of potential fitness activities. Choose an activity and hit start and the GPS signal from the watch, and any heartrate data from a compatible Bluetooth HRM strap, will be logged until you stop. With eight-hour GPS and heartrate-tracking battery life, nearly all likely fitness activities can be tracked.

In choosing an activity, you select from a list of “sport profiles”, with the ones displayed on the watch selected via the Polar Flow site. This ensures Polar’s customised calorie counter is highly accurate.

There’s a wide range of profiles to choose from, ranging from “Aqua fitness” to “Classic roller skiing” and “Yoga” – enough to ensure you can get a fairly accurate sport profile for just about anything you do.

The sport profile you choose also dictates what information you see (customisable from the Flow site) and what’s turned on – obviously, if you’re on an indoor rowing machine, there’s not much point wasting battery life on GPS.

As well as setting up sport profiles on the Flow site, you can also custom-rig your heartrate zone and, brilliantly for a watch this price, set up complex interval workouts as a “favourite” or in your diary. These mean you can configure warmup and cooldown periods and set conditional targets, such as staying within certain heartrate zones for a certain time or distance.

On the watch itself, you can do a 15-minute “fitness test” that gives you a very accurate measure of your V02 Max and get a “running index” score at the end of each run that – based on age, gender, your speed and heartrate – ranks your performance. And you can trigger laps, or set up auto-lap conditions.

On top of that already impressive feature list, there’s 30m water-resistance. Sadly, in-water heartrate monitoring isn’t available – unlike in the higher-end Polar V800.

Also out, compared to the Polar M400’s more-than-twice-the-price sibling is recovery status, navigational routing (there’s only a simple “return to start” compass pointer) or cycle-accessory support (power, cadence etc.). New-fangled in-watch optical heartrate monitoring isn’t in either – meaning you need to wear a wireless Bluetooth strap. Again, at this price, those are hardly expected. There is, though, foot cadence via the footpod, for indoor running.

App

The Polar M400’s smartphone app is really nothing to write home about. There’s none of the competitive/social stuff Fitbit and Nike do so well.

Instead there’s a very simplistic presentation of recent tracked activities (map and graph) and daily fitness and sleep – all rendered in a stark design mostly reminiscent of just about every PowerPoint presentation you’ve ever seen.

In the app (and on the Flow website), a diary tracks your historical activities, letting you see mapping, charts of heartrate zones, pace and laps. There’s also Polar’s “training benefit” summaries and very accurate, sport, height, weight, age and gender-specific calorie counts for each activity.

The real action, though, is on the desktop Polar Flow site. The same basic info you get in the app is bolstered by a series of additional options. Most obvious is Flow’s Strava-rivalling map.

Naturally this global, zoomable map of other people’s public activities is not as well-populated as Strava, but seeing as you can export easily to Strava also it’s easy to be on both. This, however, is the only real “social” element. You can also “request to follow” nearby people to see their training data. But it’s hardly sociable feeling and there’s no real interaction built in.

Where the main Flow site loses on sociability, it scores on training power. On the site you can create custom training activities – this is where you can setup warmup and cooldown, distance/heartrate triggers and more – so you can do interval training. For a device at this price, that’s rare. These are then either scheduled into the calendar or saved into your favourites, to store on the watch after the next sync.

You can also setup your sport profiles – not just to tell the watch whether to turn the GPS or HRM on or off, but also what data to show on which screens. So if you’re running, you may only want current pace, distance and heartrate on one screen. But if you want you can have other screens with all sorts of variable on also. And chances, obviously, are you’ll want a different set of data if you’re cycling, or “aqua fitness”-ing.

You can also export data to MyFitnessPal, Strava and others in standard GPX route or TCX training file formats.

Setup

The Polar M400 is very simple to get going. The profile creation process on app, watch or Flow desktop site are essentially identical and involve putting in date of birth, gender, height, weight, and some basic indicators of how fit you think you are (how much sitting you do for work, and how often you do fitness activities in a week).

After that, Polar will automatically guess resting and maximum heartrates, your heartrate zones and your VO2max. Or you can work them out yourself and customise.

Similarly, syncing with desktop via USB, or smartphone via Bluetooth, is fairly easy (and works on Android and iOS).

Performance

Particularly given the Polar M400’s small weight and low profile, performance is excellent. GPS signals were clear, even under tree cover and the watch got up and running marginally ahead of most of its rivals in the GPS watch pack.

The Polar’s H7 Bluetooth heartrate sensor that’s optionally supplied in the box with the M400 can be finicky to fit and get working (on several people tested). But once in place, it works accurately and doesn’t tend to budge. And the M400 worked just fine with several other Bluetooth straps tested.

The result is a device that tracks steps, GPS and heartrate well. And, combined with the extra functionality – such as water-resistance, interval workouts and customisable sport profiles – makes it a high performer at this price point.

The let downs are the lack of cycle accessory support, route navigation or in-water heartrate monitoring, the slightly flimsy-feeling strap, the lack of social elements to the Polar Flow app and site and the lack of built-in optical heartrate monitoring, requiring a wireless strap instead. But most of these you’d only demand from devices at least double the price of the M400.

Battery life

The Polar M400 lived up to billed battery life of eight hours tracking both GPS and heartrate or 24 days of just steps/sleep tracking. In other words, across several weeks of testing, the watch only needed charging once a week generally, and once after three days during a heavy week which had a long fitness activity in every day.

Should I buy the Polar M400?

If you want to track fitness, across multiple sports, the likely answer is yes.

Currently, this is a nigh-on unbeatable combination of fitness band, that monitors daily steps and sleep, with GPS and heartrate activity tracking and complex workout support – so you can setup heartrate zone and pace alarms. To get both in one device is rare. To get both in one device at this price makes the Polar M400 unique.

Where the M400 fails, its big sibling the Polar V800 largely picks up the ball – but is twice the price. So if you need accurate cycling cadence or power stats, or if you want to track heartrate during swims, then look in that direction (or to other higher-end fitness watches).

Or, if you don’t really care about tracking heartrate or GPS data (or do it fine via your phone already, thank you very much), then plain fitness bands will be better for you.

Of course, the M400 is also just the first in a wave of new devices – some with optical heartrate monitoring built-in, so you don’t need a strap; some with GPS also; some with both and smartwatch functionality too – such as the Fitbit Surge.

So the Polar M400’s top-of-the-pile position may not be long-lived. But it’s unlikely even in the medium term, you’ll get such a fully-functioning multisport fitness watch, from a fitness-focussed company, at this price.

Verdict

Fitness band, GPS and heartrate tracker in one well-designed device that’s currently unbeatable on budget and size.

(trustedreviews.com)

Kazam Tornado 455L review

Pros
  • Large screen
  • Glass front and rear add class
  • Good day-to-day performance
Cons
  • Deceptively lower-end CPU and screen
  • Fairly poor camera execution
  • Design issues in water resistance and speaker

Key Features: Quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 410 CPU; Android 4.4; 13-megapixel main camera with dual-LED flash

What is the Kazam Tornado 455L?

The Kazam Tornado 455L is the company’s take on the Sony Xperia Z series of phones. It’s a slim, rectangular handset with a glass front and back – and it’s waterproof.

Priced around £200, the 455L seems at first like a good alternative to Sony’s high-end unit. However, limited or dated features in some areas and a lack of attention to detail in others leave this 4G phone an also-ran.

Kazam Tornado 9

Design

You can accuse Kazam of being a few things, but original is not one of them. The Kazam Tornado 455L is the spitting image of the Sony Xperia Z3+, and we don’t think this is a coincidence.

Just as visually the Kazam Thunder 450W shares a similarity to the HTC One, the Kazam Tornado 455L might appeal to some folk precisely because its looks are close to a top-end Xperia, but it’s cheaper. The 455L doesn’t look or feel like a true budget phone.

Kazam Tornado 3

The Kazam Tornado 455L features Gorilla Glass panels on both its front and rear, where many affordable phones of this style simply impersonate glass on the back of the phone using clear plastic. Its sides are plastic, however, so at best it seems to fall into the mid-range category rather than competing with today’s top-end phones.

Still, there’s no creaking in the frame. This is in contrast to the Kazam Thunder 450W we reviewed, which sounds like an ancient unoiled door hinge as soon as you put some pressure on it. As well as lacking originality design-wise, Kazam’s phones at present are mostly rebrands of Chinese designs that haven’t yet made it to markets such as the UK.

A key design trait of the Kazam Tornado 455L is that it offers waterproofing. However, it’s an inconvenient kind of water resistance.

Kazam Tornado 5

Waterproofing on the 455L is in the form of rubber flaps that cover the phone’s four ports – the micro-SIM, the microSD, the headphone jack and micro-USB. Some of the latest flagship phones such as the Sony Xperia Z3+ include already water-resistant USB and headphone jacks to avoid having to unseal and reseal flaps time and again. With the Tornado 455L, it’s just what you have to do. It becomes tedious, and given time this repeated action is likely to wear down or distort the rubbery seals unless you’re quite careful.

The seals themselves are poorly designed too. Just placing them back in place isn’t enough; they require a concerted push at both ends.

As far as the rest of the design goes, the Kazam Tornado 455L is about as well laid out as it can be for a phone of this size. The buttons along the edge sit under your right thumb and the sides of the unit feel nice and smooth. However, a phone of 5.5in is always going to seem pretty big so make sure you’re up for it.

Kazam Tornado 15

Screen

For just about any sort of activity you perform on a phone – be that games, apps, browsing – a bigger screen is always going to be better. However, the only drawback will be that the overall size of the handset will have to be larger to accommodate it.

The Kazam Tornado 455L houses a 5.5in display. That’s a lot of screen space – but it’s quite a way to stretch that 720p resolution over.

In use the Tornado 455L’s display is looks good, but when browsing you can clearly see that characters are pixellated. Colour performance isn’t great among IPS LCDs, either.

Kazam Tornado

Colours can look a little anaemic, lacking the liveliness and punch of those on most current 5.5in phones. This is always a bit of a risk when tuning an LCD to have less vibrant colours than the norm: thanks to the limited contrast of the panel, images can look lifeless. As they can do here.

In fact, there are niggles in each area. As well as noticeable sacrifices in sharpness and colour, the auto-brightness setting is also fairly poor – an issue that was apparent in the last Kazam phone we tested. It won’t let the Kazam Tornado 455L’s screen go either dim enough indoors or, more importantly, bright enough on a sunny day. So while the display is perfectly able to cope with super-bright conditions, you won’t be aware of this unless you manually set the backlight to max.

While it isn’t flawless, the Kazam Tornado 455L’s screen is reasonable once you learn to live with its quirks.

Software and Performance

The Kazam Tornado 455L runs Android 4.4 KitKat, a now quite old version of Google’s mobile OS. As we’ll see, this comes with both positive and negative effects.

There’s no custom UI over the top, so you feel as though you have a nice blank canvas to work with here.

The negative side of using Android 4.4 KitKat is that the Kazam Tornado 455L looks and feels a little dated. Although in real terms Android 4.4 phones were cutting-edge not so long ago, the significant visual improvements made in the Lollipop update are missed.

Kazam Tornado 11

As well as improving the OS’s look, Android 5.0 also added more fluidity in operation, both of which are lacking in the Kazam Tornado 455L.

Are these reasons enough to steer clear of the 455L? Not really. By downloading the Google Now Launcher app, you’ll be able to achieve much of the look and feel of Android 5.0 Lollipop in a KitKat phone such as this. And an added bonus is that by using Android 4.4, the Kazam Tornado 455L manages to side-step just about all the performance issues we’ve encountered recently in some budget Lollipop phones.

In short, the Kazam Tornado 455L feels pretty quick even though the processor is a lowly quad-core Snapdragon 410. The only exception to this is the camera, which we’ll cover shortly.

Kazam Tornado 27

The Snapdragon 410 may seen out of place in a 5.5in phone, but it’s really no stranger than it appearing in smaller 720p phones such as the EE Harrier Mini and Vodafone Smart prime 6. Screen resolution will affect performance; screen size shouldn’t.

Also in the Kazam Tornado 455L’s favour is that it includes 2GB of RAM – most 720p Snapdragon-powered phones have only 1GB.

However, this 2GB of RAM does little to boost the Kazam Tornado 455L’s performance in our benchmarks. It achieved 1,327 points in Geekbench 3, which is exactly what we’d expect from a phone with a Snapdragon 410 chip at its heart.

Kazam Tornado 25

This 64-bit chipset is at the lower end of the 2015 Snapdragon line-up and tends to keep phones fairly cool under pressure. However, we did find that the upper rear of the Kazam Tornado 455L did become pretty warm when we were making good use of its 4G mobile internet. This is nowhere near as hot as the Sony Xperia Z3, for example. It’s more that any rise in temperature is more apparent in a dual-sided glass housing.

As with other Snapdragon 410 CPUs, higher-end games such as Gameloft’s Asphalt 8 run perfectly fine unless you put them up to their top graphics setting. Even then, however, they’re playable – they’re just not quite as smooth.

Camera

The Kazam Tornado 455L has a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front one. Its main sensor is reported to be a Sony IMX135, which can be found in a whole host of slightly older high-end phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Motorola Moto X and LG G2/G3.

Old as it is, it isn’t bad company. Sure enough, the Kazam Tornado 455L is capable of taking some great shots. Even in poor light, you can get a fair amount of detail as long as you keep your hand steady. There’s also a dual-LED flash on hand to light up people’s faces, should that be needed.

Kazam Tornado 19

However, the phone doesn’t exactly make it easy for you. The main problem is speed. The Kazam Tornado 455L’s shutter behaves as if it’s painting a watercolour with each shot. Shutter lag, poor shot-to-shot speed and an almost jaw-droopingly slow HDR mode made taking photos quite a trying experience.

Unless you’re shooting still objects, you’ll have no clear idea if you’ve actually captured the scene you’re after until you check it out in the gallery. Kazan has done a pretty poor job with what is fairly good hardware. The HDR mode is poor too. Rather than increasing dynamic range, it dims down the highlights so that images end up looking unnatural and almost universally dull. This is especially true of shots taken outdoors. HDR also ruins the overall colour of shots, making the tone look quite otherworldly.

The quality of the lens appears to be quite poor too. While there were no issues with sharpness, compared with the very best cameraphones, purple fringing was evident in high-contrast objects alongside a more obvious lens flare/light distortion in lower-light conditions. This was evident in shots taken with the Kazam Thunder 450W, too – although, to be fair, plenty more expensive phones are subject to such issues as well.

It sounds damning, but it really just means you’ll have to wade through 70 per cent of dud shots to find the good ones. That is, until you work out how to squeeze the best out of the Kazam Tornado 455L.

Here are some sample images:

Kazam Tornado 33

Very obvious, strange-looking clipped highlights – thanks HDR

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The Kazam hasn’t brightened up the scene and the details are soft, but it’s not a bad low-light shot for a non-OIS camera

Kazam Tornado 37

We get smearing of the street light, but there’s actually a good amount of detail here

Kazam Tornado 39

Avoid HDR and you can get some nice-looking colours. And yes, this is in London

Kazam Tornado 41

At pixel level images can looked a little stressed/sharpened, but there’s plenty of detail

Kazam Tornado 43

Kazam Tornado 45

Here’s the classic purple fringing. You can also see it on the edge of the pavement

Kazam Tornado 47

Kazam Tornado 49

Lens distortion: XL edition

Kazam Tornado 51

Plenty of fine detail – but again, close-up it doesn’t look quite as natural as the very best

Kazam Tornado 53

Kazam Tornado 55

A classic example of why the HDR mode is horrible. Highlights are blown and look nasty, plus the church appears overly orange and just unnatural

Kazam Tornado 57

Here’s the soft-touch noise reduction at work. Plenty of colour noise going on here, but a good amount of detail too

Much like the Kazam Tornado 455L’s screen, the camera is a qualified half-success, let down by poor implementation of solid hardware. Learn to work around it and you can get some decent results, but don’t expect a great hit rate. Plus, it doesn’t perform greatly on the the processing-front either. It’s easy on the noise reduction and a bit too keen on the sharpening, making fine detail look a little stressed.

Video capture is limited, too, going up to only 720p. Surely the Snapdragon 410 in the Kazam Tornado 455L should be able to handle 1080p?

The selfie camera is pretty decent, though, clearly capturing a fair bit more detail than a 2-megapixel camera.

Battery Life

The Kazam Tornado 455L has a 2,600mAh battery, which appears to be reasonable for a phone with a 720p screen – even if it is a large 5.5in one. In our usual video test it lasted for just over 8 hrs 30 mins, playing a 720p MP4 film at a brightness setting you might use when watching something in a reasonably well-lit room.

That’s unremarkable territory – and this is where it stayed in real-world use.

While the 455L will last a whole day if you don’t overdo it, it’s the phone’s poor LCD backlight management in auto mode that contributes to it draining fairly quickly over the course of a day. We achieved better results from the latest Motorola Moto G 4G – the one with the 2,390mAh battery upgrade – and it’s way off what more expensive large-screen phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or Sony Xperia Z3 are capable of.

Kazam Tornado 23

Sound and Call Quality

At the start of this review, we compared the Kazam Tornado 455L visually to the Sony Xperia Z range of phones – but there’s one crucial bit of the latter’s phone that the 455L seems to be missing.

There’s no obvious grille to denote an outlet for the speaker. When you put your ear to the unit while it’s playing, it seem as though sound is filtering out through the tiny seams that join the glass panels to the plastic sides nearer the bottom of the phone’s rear.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Kazam Tornado 455L’s sound quality is pretty poor. It lacks clarity, and the volume isn’t anything special either.

Call quality is fine, but nothing more. The 455L does, however, benefit from a secondary noise-cancellation mic on the back.

Kazam Tornado 31

Should I buy the Kazam Tornado 455L?

While the company is well known for its low-price, high-value handsets, much of the Kazam Tornado 455L’s budget seems to have been spent on surface concerns such as the dual Gorilla Glass front/back panels, rather than on important elements such as the screen and CPU.

It’s a tarted-up budget phone. Unfortunately for Kazam, its ultra-competitive rivals such as Honor are offering handsets with better basics for your cash. Features on the 455L that could have been strengths – such as the decent camera sensor and water-resistance – are let down by poor implementation.

Verdict

The Kazam Tornado 455L is a fair phone, but it suffers in too many areas to be considered a top deal for its mid-range price.

Scores In Detail

Battery Life : 6/10
Calls & Sound : 5/10
Camera : 7/10
Design : 6/10
Performance : 8/10
Screen Quality : 7/10
Software : 6/10
Value : 6/10

(trustedreviews.com)

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C vs. 2014 Porsche Cayman – Comparison Tests

Do your tax returns routinely trigger DEFCON alerts at the IRS? Are your personal finances cited in biz-school case studies of the filthy rich? If so, please skip this story. This comparison test is for sports-car enthusiasts of somewhat lesser means—those with Moët tastes and, well, a Moët budget, once in a while, if the kids are already out of college.

After years of threatening a comeback and delivering a few 8C moon rocks, Alfa Romeo has resumed shipping cars to America. If images of star-crossed Milano sedans or Benjamin Braddock from The Graduatecome to mind, you’re way overdue for a software upgrade. The Alfa 4Cchallenging Porsche’s second-generation Cayman in this test is a legit exotic with a base price barely above that of a Corvette Stingray.

In pitting this tantalizing newbie against the reigning authority in the affordable mid-engine sports-car class, we logged 650 miles, hot-lapped a challenging racecourse, and subjected the cars to a full work-up of performance tests. As always, our goal is to identify the better all-arounder, not the quicker quarter-mile sprinter or the superior track car.

For our real-world driving portion, we scouted fresh (to us) northeastern Kentucky roads. This is coal country, where pickup-truck brands create tribal affiliations and rebel flags fly. To extract coal, mining companies simply blow the tops off Appalachian Plateau foothills. Laying pavement through this region also required deep cuts into mountainsides. We blitzed 66 miles of pristine Kentucky Route 32 between Morehead and Louisa, a dizzying mix of switchbacks and sweepers with more elevation changes than Six Flags’s Kingda Ka coaster. Traffic and enforcement were blissfully light.

The Cayman is the sports car that Dr. Porsche and his son first dreamed of building in 1939; two seats under a sleek roof, with the engine in the middle and the suspension cinched tight. In case you slept through physics class, a mid-engine layout enhances acceleration, braking, and handling dynamics with optimum tire loading and a low polar moment of inertia [“Location, Location,” July 2011].

A $53,595 Cayman starting price buys you an aluminum-intensive body, a 275-hp 2.7-liter flat-six, and 18-inch wheels and tires. Adding a $4690 infotainment package, $2320 power sport seats, $1790 adjustable dampers, $1560 19-inch wheels and tires, a $1320 brake-based torque-vectoring system, and a few other options bumped the Porsche’s as-tested price to $70,345.

The Alfa Romeo 4C is for all intents a cub Ferrari 458 Italia. Aping the blank-check mid-engined sports cars offered by Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren, the 4C’s core is a carbon-fiber-composite tub that weighs only 235 pounds. A new 1.7-liter inline-four engine boasts aluminum-block-and-head construction, an over-square bore/stroke ratio, forged internal parts, and direct fuel injection.

A BorgWarner turbo adds 21 psi of boost, and an intercooler dumps unwanted heat into the atmosphere. The 4C’s 237 horsepower doesn’t sound that impressive until you factor in its 2471-pound curb weight, a 609-pound advantage over the Cayman. Its wheelbase is shorter than the Porsche’s by 3.7 inches, with 14.9 less inches of overall length.

Adding nearly every available option inflated a $55,195 base 4C into our $68,495 test car. Extras included a $2750 leather package, a $2400 Track package, $3000 18- and 19-inch wheels with stickier summer tires, an $1800 Convenience package, $1000 red leather seats, a $500 racing exhaust, and $1850 for other nonessentials, such as a battery tender, bixenon headlamps, and Rosso Alfa paint. The only available transmission is a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Here’s what we learned when we put both cars in the ring.

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

Second place: Bob & Weave.

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C vs. 2014 Porsche Cayman

Every 4C hop-in/drive-off event makes you feel as if you just roared away from the start of the 24 Hours of Spa. You’ve got an 11-inch-wide sill to negotiate, pedals that hinge from the floor, and the car’s aluminum-and-carbon-fiber construction proudly on display. The unmuffled four has a raucous idle. Once up and running, it pops and farts during shifts, whines from the turbo, and impolitely sneezes following abrupt throttle lifts. We found no hint of insulation against noise or heat in this car.

As with any racer, there is some pain to endure. A brutal ride, a shoulder belt chafing your neck, visors that won’t swing to the side, no armrests, and a bucket-seat bottom that requires tools to adjust height and angle are among the 4C’s hostilities. Without steering assist, parking maneuvers are a workout, and if you like to use the radio, note that the Alfa’s reception and sound quality are abysmal. Things you might use once in awhile, such as the cruise-control switch and headlamp high-beam indicator, are hidden behind the steering wheel.

Top left: Steering-wheel stitching is a thumb-skin zester.

On the road, cabin noise is so high that you reflexively check for an open window and click the upshift paddle hoping for a higher gear. The 4C feels like Alfa dusted off a competition machine, added leather and air conditioning, and dispatched its warrior to the street. Some of you might call that the definition of perfection.

And there is indeed ample joy to offset any hardship. The combination of a hellbent engine, aggressive launch control, the dual-clutch automatic’s snappy power shifts, and modest weight spanks the Porsche Cayman by more than a second to 60 mph (4.1 seconds) and through the quarter-mile (12.8 seconds at 107 mph). The acceleration is strong enough to make C7 Corvette drivers nervous. The 4C is also an accomplished stopper, with a firm pedal and no fade. The 70-to-zero braking distance of 144 feet falls four feet shorter than the Cayman’s. Even though it’s a touch less grippy on the skidpad, the 4C pirouetted through the slalom cones with grace and earned pole position around Grattan Raceway’s 12-turn road course. On the rare instance this Alfa slid its tail, the nose joined the fun in a classic four-wheel drift.

Concentric tailpipes mean a 4C with the muffler-free exhaust.

On Kentucky’s Route 32, we loved the Alfa’s unassisted steering and tenacious grip as much as we hated its tendency to self-steer over bumps and cambered pavement. The run-up to understeer at the adhesion limit is nicely predictable except for those moments when the boost kicks in and you and the chassis are surprised by a wallop of torque. Snacks and beverages are forbidden in this sports car because both hands—three if you had ’em—are essential for maintaining the desired line. A long stint of gripping the Alfa’s steering-wheel stitches leaves hands red and numb.

On the freeway, left-lane slowmos dive out of the way when a Rosso Alfa speck swells in their mirrors. The scoops and swoops adorning the 4C are so gorgeous that any cut would surely seep Ferrari blood.

This Alfa is essentially a track car with holes for license plates. The harder you whip it, the more composed it feels. But it’s been yanked from the autoclave before it was fully baked. The 4C will enthrall its owner a few times a month and then inflict suffering if pressed into daily service. Wouldn’t it be lovely if Alfa finished what it’s started with a more polished 5C?

2014 Porsche Cayman

First place: Bob & Weave.

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C vs. 2014 Porsche Cayman

Never mind their mid-engine, two-seat commonalities, the Alfa and the Porsche are polar opposites. The 4C is feisty and rambunctious, the Cayman always reserved. One is an Italian Viper, the other a German aristocrat. Even though the uncouth child pipped the fully matured sports car in most of our objective measurements—acceleration, braking, track speed, even fuel mileage—at the end of the day, we’d spend our $70K on the Cayman.

The Porsche’s flat-six, stick-shift powertrain is old school, at least versus the 4C’s, with high power and torque peaks. At 6000 revs, when it’s time to think about clicking the next gear in the turbo 4C, the Cayman’s free-breathing six crescendos with a clean, clear wail. There’s another 1600 rpm of motor music left to enjoy in the Porsche before pushing the shifter at redline for the next ascent. The Cayman syncs into hand, foot, and eye coordination as if its levers and pedals were mutant growths from the driver’s body. The controls are low-friction and perfectly weighted, and each movement delivers satisfying feedback.

Everything in the Porsche is honed, and it reeks of refinement. The 14-way power seats provide excellent lumbar support for long drives, and the thigh restraint is superior to the 4C’s on the track. The $1780 Premium package’s leather trim is cowhide raised to couture. Unlike in the 4C, the 360-degree visibility you’ll need for spotting officers at felonious velocities comes standard.

Even though it’s electrically assisted, the Cayman’s steering clearly communicates the tire and road information essential for venturing beyond 1.0 g. The Cayman is larger and heavier, yet it beats the 4C’s traction on the skidpad with superior balance and matches the Alfa’s agility in our slalom test. The dampers curb motion so meticulously that you can focus on dialing in the right amount of steering instead of fretting over body pitch and roll. At Grattan, the Porsche lapped a touch slower than the Alfa but with a higher level of confidence and control.

The Alfa 4C is a toy. It’s a raucously fun and adorable toy, but a toy nonetheless. The Porsche Cayman is a real car—a really great car.

Moving from track to street, the Cayman goes with the flow. Its two cargo holds, astute nav system, in-dash cup holders, and in­teri­or storage slots provide welcome flexibility on drives ranging from daily commutes to cross-country trips.

Even though the Cayman lost key points to the plucky 4C, it won the overall competition by a mile. The 4C’s saving grace is that, with its carbon-fiber tub, it’s the first sports car to bring truly exotic technology within reach of still-working stiffs. And for that, Alfa, we say, mille grazie.

COMPARISON TESTS

VEHICLE
2015 Alfa Romeo 4C 2014 Porsche Cayman
BASE PRICE $55,195 $53,595
PRICE AS TESTED $68,495 $70,345
DIMENSIONS
LENGTH 157.5 inches 172.4 inches
WIDTH 73.5 inches 70.9 inches
HEIGHT 46.6 inches 50.9 inches
WHEELBASE 93.7 inches 97.4 inches
FRONT TRACK 64.5 inches 60.1 inches
REAR TRACK 63.1 inches 60.5 inches
INTERIOR VOLUME 47 cubic feet 50 cubic feet
CARGO 4 cubic feet 15 cubic feet
POWERTRAIN
ENGINE turbocharged DOHC 16-valve inline-4
106 cu in (1742 cc)
DOHC 24-valve flat-6
165 cu in (2706 cc)
POWER HP @ RPM 237 @ 6000 275 @ 7400
TORQUE LB-FT @ RPM 258 @ 2200 213 @ 4500
REDLINE / FUEL CUTOFF 6500/6500 rpm 7600/7600 rpm
LB PER HP 10.4 11.2
DRIVELINE
TRANSMISSION 6-speed dual-clutch automatic 6-speed manual
DRIVEN WHEELS rear rear
GEAR RATIO:1/
MPH PER 1000 RPM/
MAX MPH
4.15/4.3/28
2.27/7.9/51
1.44/12.5/81
0.98/18.3/119
0.76/23.7/154
0.62/28.7/159
3.67/5.5/42
2.05/9.9/75
1.46/13.9/106
1.13/18.0/136
0.97/20.9/159
0.84/24.2/165
AXLE RATIO:1 4.12 3.89
CHASSIS
SUSPENSION F: control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
BRAKES F: 12.0-inch vented, cross-drilled disc
R: 11.5-inch vented, cross-drilled disc
F: 12.4-inch vented, cross-drilled disc
R: 11.8-inch vented, cross-drilled disc
STABILITY CONTROL partially and fully defeatable, launch control fully defeatable
TIRES Pirelli P Zero
F: 205/40ZR-18 86Y
R: 235/35ZR-19 91Y
Pirelli P Zero
F: 235/40ZR-19 (92Y)
R: 265/40ZR-19 (98Y)
C/D TEST RESULTS
ACCELERATION
0–30 MPH 1.5 sec 1.9 sec
0–60 MPH 4.1 sec 5.3 sec
0–100 MPH 10.7 sec 12.9 sec
0–130 MPH 23.1 sec 23.7 sec
¼-MILE @ MPH 12.8 sec @ 107 13.9 sec @ 103
ROLLING START, 5–60 MPH 5.1 sec 6.2 sec
TOP GEAR, 30–50 MPH 2.9 sec 8.5 sec
TOP GEAR, 50–70 MPH 4.2 sec 7.5 sec
TOP SPEED 159 mph (drag ltd) 165 mph (drag ltd)
CHASSIS
BRAKING 70–0 MPH 144 feet 148 feet
ROADHOLDING,
300-FT-DIA SKIDPAD
1.00 g 1.03 g
610-FT SLALOM 45.3 mph 45.3 mph
2.0-MILE ROAD COURSE LAP TIME, MIN:SEC 1:31.5 1:31.9
WEIGHT
CURB 2471 pounds 3080 pounds
%FRONT/%REAR 41.1/58.9 45.1/54.9
CG HEIGHT 19.5 inches 19.5 inches
FUEL
TANK 10.5 gallons 16.9 gallons
RATING 91 octane 93 octane
EPA CITY/HWY 24/34 mpg 21/30 mpg
C/D 650-MILE TRIP 24 mpg 21 mpg
SOUND LEVEL
IDLE 56 dBA 49 dBA
FULL THROTTLE 84 dBA 89 dBA
70-MPH CRUISE 78 dBA 74 dBA
Final Results
VEHICLE
RANK

Max Pts. Available

1

2014 Porsche Cayman

2

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

DRIVER COMFORT 10 10 5
ERGONOMICS 10 10 5
CARGO SPACE* 5 5 1
FEATURES/AMENITIES* 10 10 1
FIT AND FINISH 10 9 7
INTERIOR STYLING 10 9 6
EXTERIOR STYLING 10 7 10
REBATES/EXTRAS* 5 0 0
AS-TESTED PRICE* 20 19 20
SUBTOTAL 90 79 55

POWERTRAIN
1/4-MILE ACCELERATION* 20 15 20
FLEXIBILITY* 5 3 3
FUEL ECONOMY* 10 7 10
ENGINE NVH 10 9 4
TRANSMISSION 10 9 6
SUBTOTAL 55 43 43

CHASSIS
PERFORMANCE* 20 20 19
STEERING FEEL 10 8 7
BRAKE FEEL 10 7 9
HANDLING 10 10 9
RIDE 10 10 6
SUBTOTAL 60 55 50

EXPERIENCE
FUN TO DRIVE 25 24 19

GRAND TOTAL
230
201
167

* These objective scores are calculated from the vehicle’s dimensions, capacities, rebates and extras, and/or test results.

(caranddriver.com)

Nikon Coolpix P7800 review

Pros
  • Strong build quality
  • Impressive vari-angled LCD screen
  • Stand-out lens performance
Cons
  • Confused control set-up
  • Bulky and heavy
  • Sluggish operation

Key Features: 12.2MP, 1/1.7-in BSI CMOS sensor; 3-inch, 921k-dot vari-angle LCD screen; 7.1x optical zoom, 28-200mm in equivalent terms; ISO 80-6400; Full HD 1920 x 1080 video @ 30fps.

What is the Nikon P7800?

Nikon’s advanced compact offering has long taken the form of the Coolpix ‘P’ series, with the four-digit range sitting at the top and looking to offer a suitable companion to it’s DSLR range for those wanting at times to travel light. The Nikon P7800 is the latest model that looks to build on the success of the previous models in the series with a range of new features and take on the Canon G16.

But, with the growth of the advanced compact market, as well as the drop in price of competing CSCs, the question is does the P7800 remain a relevant shooting proposition, or has technological advancement rendered it obsolete?

Nikon P7800 12

Features

One of the core features that has made the high-end P series a success in previous generations is the fact that it features a larger sensor than is normally found in a compact, and the P7800 retains this selling point.

The P7800 retains the same 12.2MP BSI CMOS sensor as seen in the P7700, which measures in at 1/1.7-inches, as opposed to the smaller 1/2.3-inch sensor. The P7800’s BSI sensor should handle noise better then the equivalent sensor technology, although it only has a native ISO 80-1600 – extendible to ISO 3200 and 6400.

Nikon P7800 5

Another feature maintained from the previous generation model is the 3-inch, 921k-dot LCD screen which, thanks to a side-mounted hinge, can be rotated around a 270 degree axis for viewing at a variety of angles.

The Nikon P7800 also retains the same 7.1x optical zoom as seen on the model’s predecessor, covering an equivalent focal range of 28-200mm and offering an impressive maximum aperture between f/2 and f/4.

One of the standout new additions to the Nikon P7800 is sure to be popular amongst some enthusiast photographers. It now features a relatively substantial electronic viewfinder that measures in at 0.5-inches, has a resolution of 921k-dots and also features a dioptre adjustment.

Nikon P7800 Review -- Bottm view showing battery and memory card

Another notable feature is the Nikon video capture functionality that’s better than some competing models. The P7800 captures full HD video at 1920 x 1080 and at 30fps, while advanced functionality such as wind noise reduction, in-built ND filter and manual exposure control also feature.

While there’s no doubting the P7800’s positioning as an advanced compact – as shown through the inclusion of PASM shooting modes – it also caters for those that might want to let the camera do the work.

It does so through the presence of an auto shooting mode, a range of scene modes and a host of creative ‘Effects’ such as ‘Cross Process’ and ‘Zoom Exposure’.

Nikon P7800 1

One feature which is sorely missed, owing to the fact that it’s now commonplace on competing cameras, is Wi-Fi functionality. Both Wi-Fi and GPS tagging are available with the P7800 although only through the purchase of optional accessories.

Design

While the previous model in the series – the Nikon P7700 – was an attractive camera with intelligently assigned controls, the same cannot be said about the P7800.

Although there’s no denying that having access to the camera’s core functionality through buttons and controls placed around the body is a good thing, but the controls themselves need to be well-considered in their layout.

If they’re not, the result is a confusing interface that does more harm than good, and unfortunately this is the case with the P7800.

Nikon P7800 11

The controls themselves seem to have been placed around the body with little thought as to how they may function, and as such the user experience is fiddly and over-complicated.

There’s also the fact that some of the camera’s functionality can’t be used at the same time – such as high ISO settings at longer shutter speeds – while different restrictions are placed over shutter speeds in different shooting modes, further adding to the confusion.

The P7800 feels somewhat bulky in comparison to its predecessor, owing to the inclusion of the EVF. Although it might be a welcome feature for some more advanced photographers, it feels somewhat bolted on and spoils the overall look of the camera.

Nikon P7800

It’s not an entirely negative picture when it comes to the camera’s design, however, as there are certain highlights.

One such plus point is the camera’s build quality. The undeniable bulk, along with a solid metal chassis, give the P7800 the feel of a camera that will take any bumps and bruises in its stride.

The body also benefits from a substantial rubber handgrip and solid control dials, giving the camera an assuring feel in use.

Nikon P7800 3

Performance

Much like the P7800’s design, the performance is by no means faultess. When you’re considering the camera’s price tag, and in relation to other models available around the same price, these problems are less forgivable.

Most of the performance issues concern the speed of the camera in action, or the relative lack therein.

To begin with, the P7800’s continuous shooting performance is less than impressive. The two headline quoted speeds of 8fps and 4fps are delivered somewhat undercooked, in that they can only shoot six frame bursts and during shooting the rear monitor is blank.

Nikon P7800 9

The 1fps shooting mode allows for 30 frames to captured, which although better than the other modes is still somewhat restrictive, while if you choose to shoot Raw JPEG then the P7800 takes around 20 seconds to clear its buffer after shooting just six frames.

Getting the camera started also takes longer than desired, with it taking nearly three seconds to go from powered off to ready to shoot.

Shot-to-shot speed is also disappointing. During testing we used a fast Class 10 SDHC card and even then when shooting JPEG files, we were presented with a two second wait.

The delay is lengthened if you’re wanting to shoot Raw JPEG, with the shot-to-shot speed deteriorating to around five seconds – this delay is markedly worse than almost all other cameras in its class and it’s sure to result in some missed images.

Finally, although the P7800’s AF performance is by no means terrible it is still noticeably slow, especially in low light conditions and towards the tele end of the zoom.

Image Quality

So far the Nikon P7800 has struggled in terms of performance, while it’s hardly been a glowing picture when it comes to design. However, when it comes to image quality it has to be said that the P7800 delivers a slightly better set of results.

Nikon P7800 photos

1/125 sec @ f/2.8, ISO 80, -2EV, AWB

Metering performance is generally accurate, although there was the odd issue with consistency, while an impressive dynamic range captured in most scenes.

The P7800’s dynamic range can be further boosted by switching on Nikon’s D-lighting setting, which manages bright highlights more capably.

If you’re presented with a particularly challenging scene then, as is often the case, it’s best to shoot Raw files as well as JPEG as Raw files manage to maintain even more detail in shadows and highlights.

Nikon P7800 photos

1/60 sec @ f/4, ISO 200, 0.7EV, AWB

In terms of colours rendition, the P7800 delivers JPEG files that appear somewhat muted on closer inspection, with the green end of the scale lacking any particular vibrancy. The good news is that, once again, if you choose to shot Raw files you’ll be rewarded with greater colour depth and tailor colours to suit in post production.

Nikon P7800 ISO

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news, as when it comes to quality at higher ISO settings the P7800 certainly struggles. Noise begins to be an issue even at ISO 200, with detail beginning to suffer in areas of shadow.

Although it’s fair to say that ISO 1600 and 3200 are still usable, results are far from impressive with colour noise affecting fine detail and, on the whole, images lagging some way behind the competition.

Nikon P7800 12

Should I buy the Nikon P7800?

On paper, the Nikon P7800 offers a full specification and several additions that are sure to please the target market. However, when you dig a little deeper and put the P7800 through its paces, ultimately it’s a camera that disappoints.

This disappointment is accentuated by the high price tag – a price tag that places it amongst some really impressive cameras.

The Fujifilm X20 and Canon PowerShot G16, for example, are both similarly priced, and on the basis of the P7800’s performance alone it’s difficult to recommend it in the advanced compact market.

Basic Specifications
Full model name: Nikon Coolpix P7800
Resolution: 12.20 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/1.7 inch
(7.6mm x 5.7mm)
Kit Lens: 7.10x zoom
(28-200mm eq.)
Viewfinder: EVF / LCD
Native ISO: 80 – 3200
Extended ISO: 80 – 6400
Shutter: 1/4000 – 60 seconds
Max Aperture: 2.0
Dimensions: 4.7 x 3.1 x 2.0 in.
(119 x 78 x 50 mm)
Weight: 14.1 oz (399 g)
includes batteries
Availability: 09/2013
Manufacturer: Nikon
Full specs: Nikon P7800 specifications

Verdict

Although the Nikon P7800 impresses on paper it fails to deliver when put through its paces, with its shooting performance a particular lowlight. When you consider the current price tag of just short of £500, while there are some redeeming features with the P7800 it’s difficult to recommend in the advanced compact market.

Scores In Detail

Design : 6/10
Features : 8/10
Image Quality : 6/10
Performance : 5/10
Value : 5/10

(trustedreviews.com)

iOS 9 Preview

First Impressions of iOS 9 on iPhone and iPad

We’ve been using the iOS 9 public beta for a few weeks and beta 4 has just been released, but what’s like to use and will it change your iPhone or iPad for the better? Here’s what we’ve made of it so far.

iOS 9

Max Parker on the iPhone 6 – Similar yet more powerful

While iOS 9 is clearly an update aimed at making the iPad more productive, something it does fantastically well, it doesn’t completely leave the iPhone out in the cold. In fact, in the short time I’ve been using the iOS 9 public beta on my iPhone 6 I have been impressed by some of the new additions. It’s far from revolutionary, but it fleshes out some stalwart iOS features and takes the game to Google’s upcoming Android M.

Since Siri’s introduction with the iPhone 4S, I’ve never been sure what it’s really for. Yes, you can ask it to set an alarm and search the web for basic facts, but it always felt limited. As Google Now and even Cortana on Windows Phone have grown smarter, Siri has been left behind. Thankfully, iOS 9 gives the virtual assistant a bunch of welcome new features.

ios9 15

Siri’s new Suggestions panel gives you quick access to apps

A swipe to the right from the home screen (sound familiar?) brings up the new Siri integrated Spotlight search, giving you quick access to suggested contacts, apps, nearby points of interest and a couple of latest news stories.

The suggested apps tended to be ones I’ve been using frequently, same goes for the contacts. It’s a nice way to quickly send a message or open up Twitter without searching for it.

Nearby places is implemented well, tapping on ‘Restaurant’ will open up Apple Maps and populate your location with highly-rated places. While it’s certainly nothing unique, Google Maps has had a similar approach for a while now, it’s great having it built directly into iOS.

Siri has grown some smarts in other areas too, with Apple claiming she’s much more ‘proactive’ than before. Receive a call from someone not in your address book and It will search through your emails and try to put a name to the number.

This worked great, though it would be nice it if scanned the internet too, like Google’s Dialler, as it’s a bit limited in it’s current state. It also learns your app habits, notably what you tend to do when you plug in some headphones. It’s not limited to Apple’s native apps either, so if you open up Overcast to listen to a podcast on your morning commute every day it will suggest this on the lock screen.

ios9 13

When you plug in headphones, your most used music player will pop up

Commonplace in Android, iOS finally has a Power Saver mode that should eek out a couple of extra minutes of juice before your phone dies. It’ll nudge you to turn it on when you hit 20%, and then again at 10%, and it turns the battery icon a shade of yellow. I’ll save my final judgement on this feature for the full release, but I’ve managed to get an extra 30 minutes of use with the phone at 10% and the setting enabled.

As an Evernote user, the iPhone Notes app has mostly been resigned to an ‘Apple Stuff’ folder along with Stocks, Game Center and all those other apps that can’t be deleted. But, it’s been completely rebuilt and it’s not quite so awful in iOS 9. You can doodle little drawings (signs of a stylus possible coming in a future iPhone/iPad?), annotate pictures and make handy check-lists. It’s certainly not the prettiest app around – the muddy yellow and textured paper combo looks odd – but it’s a massive step forward.

Another app that gets an honourable mention for ‘not being as awful as it once was’ is Apple Maps. The biggest addition here is transit directions – so you can use bus, train and tube routes in your journey.

ios9 5

The new Notes app is a massive step forward

The tube and train stuff is excellent – it’s accurate and detailed to a point where it’ll show each exit out of a station and which one is best for you to enter. The app has been spruced up too, with more colour and quick links to local places like cinemas and cafes. I haven’t made it my default mapping service yet as it’ll take a lot for me to budge from Google Maps, but it’s heading in the right direction.

The new look multitasking screen ditches the card view for a more sideways rolodex style, though it doesn’t alter functionality and I actually prefer the old look. It just seems like change for the sake of it.

Change is minimal in the Notification Center, though finally it lists your alerts by day rather than grouping them by app. This is already one of my favourite iOS 9 changes, as is the search box in Settings that makes finding the option you’re after so much quicker.

A lot of the tweaks in iOS 9 revolve around performance and battery life, though judging these on the strength of the beta seems somewhat unfair. This is a work in progress and it’s clearly not ready for the wider public yet.

lowpower

A Low Power Mode has finally come to iOS

I have, though, suffered with some strange battery behaviour – some days I barely reached 6pm while others I wouldn’t have to plug in until midnight. There are some visual bugs – especially in Apple Music and Podcasts – and stutters that are to be expected with beta software. Text also randomly disappears in Messages and the Siri Suggestions panel is often blank.

But, first impressions are good. It’s a step forward for iOS, one that might look similar on the surface but has some powerful additions underneath.

Andy Vandervell on the iPad – Little things makes a big difference

Despite all the success of the iPad, it’s often felt like iOS was holding it back. Its origins are as a smartphone operating system, and that’s shown in the design decisions Apple’s made. The iPhone has, historically, come first and the iPad has made do with what it was given.

iOS 9 iPad

More icons in folders just makes sense

iOS 9 feels like the first update where the iPad hasn’t played second fiddle – it’s an equal partner. Speculation suggests it’s all in preparation for the much talked about but as yet unconfirmed iPad Pro, but whatever the reason the changes are most welcome.

Many of my favourite changes are silly, little things. For example, folders fit more apps in on a single screen now, which just makes more sense on a larger screen. Likewise, the Today View works better in landscape mode, as you can arrange your widgets better to fit the screen.

I’ve taken to having my iPad on my desk next to me, using the Today View as an at-a-glance summary of what’s coming today. That was always the point of the feature, but it works much better on the iPad now.

iOS 9 iPad 3

The new landscape Today View makes better use of the larger screen

Like Max, I’m less convinced by the new app switching design. Its sideways scrolling previews are reminiscent of the same interface on Android, and I don’t like it much on Android either. The old version, which used less whizzy depth of field effects, felt smoother and more efficient, but this is a beta so it might yet improve.

I also like the revamped Notes app – it’s a huge improvement. In fact, I’d seriously consider dropping Evernote in favour of Notes. The way formatting icons are built into the keyboard is helpful, while the new method of moving the cursor with two fingers dragging across on the keyboard is a revelation. It’s so much easier to make quick notes using the on-screen keyboard.

iOS 9 iPad 5

Safari on a non-responsive website doesn’t really work

But the most significant iPad specific feature is the split screen and ‘side loading’ app options. They’re limited to Apple apps at the moment, such as Mail, Safari, Maps, Notes and Reminders, but Mail and Safari are particularly useful.

Swiping in from the right edge pulls in the split screen option, though you can only go ‘side-by-side’ on the iPad Air 2. You can then interact and use the apps as you would normally do so. It’s a nice way to check a detail without leaving the app you’re in, and on the iPad Air 2 you can then dismiss the primary app and go full screen if you prefer.

iOS 9 iPad 7

But those that are responsive work a treat

It’s nicely implemented, though as someone who mainly watches Netflix and reads the news on my iPad, I haven’t used it all that often. It also works best when you view websites that are responsive, as the content shapes to the fit the smaller Safari window. Those that default to a desktop version on iPad aren’t so useful, but that’s beyond Apple’s control.

ios9 21

Split screen on the iPad Air 2

One thing that’s very within its control, however, is the iCloud Drive app. It’s hidden by default and it’s easy to understand why – it’s stupidly limited. All you can really do is manage your files, but you can’t actually launch an app and open a file from the iCloud Drive app. It’s a baffling limitation if Apple’s intention is to make the iPad more productive, so I hope it’s a feature Apple adds in subsequent beta updates.

iOS 9 iPad 9

Improved search could transform iOS 9 once third-party apps implement the new search API

That’s my only serious complaint against iOS 9, though. Overall, the beta is a promising start for iOS 9 on the iPad, though I hope Apple has a product that will expand on some these new features. We’ll see.

Michael Sawh on the iPhone 5 – Don’t upgrade yet if you use fitness apps

When you run a beta version of an operating system, you’re accepting that things are not going to run as buttery smooth as they once did. When I made the hassle-free move from iOS 8.4 to iOS 9 I knew that, but I now want to plug my iPhone 5 back into my PC, boot up iTunes and hit that restore button.

While iOS 9 on the iPhone 5 is not broken in a really big way, it’s glitchy enough in the most important places to make me want to go back a more stable version of iOS. It’s sapping the life out of my phone’s battery, which means dimming the screen and closing all of the running apps has to be done much earlier in the day.

Then there’s the infrequent app crashes mostly when I’m trying to browse Facebook or Twitter. Running and fitness apps like Runkeeper and Jawbone UP simply doesn’t happen in iOS 9 beta at present, either. So if monitoring step count is something you value, I wouldn’t recommend upgrading to iOS 9 right now in its current state.

iOs 9 screen shots 1

Fitness apps like Jawbone UP and Runkeeper open, then crash seconds later

I’ve been able to bear with the issues this long because the iOS 9 beta gives you an insight into the subtle changes Apple is making, the kind you notice everyday.

The keyboard is the best example of this. Apple has finally seen sense and made the keyboard switch between uppercase and lowercase lettering as you switch, finally removing a relic from a bygone era of iOS. Android phone users have had no such problem for some time, so it’s nice for Apple to catch up. The same can be said about the search bar in the Settings. It’s an obvious addition, but still very necessary and helpful.

Continuing this theme, the new Search when you swipe right on the homescreen has a very Google Now feel to it. There’s Siri suggestions to quickly jump to contacts and apps. Below that is a Nearby section where you can find restaurants, cinemas all in close proximity. It’s all laid out on a map, ready to navigate you to your destination.

iOs 9 screen shots 5

The shift key is one of the smaller changes that makes a world of difference

Just like Google Now, there’s a news stream as well, which gives you a snippet of news but doesn’t let you launch the story to expand and read more. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s taking inspiration from an Android feature that actually works really well.

As for changes to native apps, I’m also happy Notes has been given a revamp. I spend a lot of time jotting down ideas and writing a fair few reviews in here. While syncing those ideas across devices requires running the same iOS 9 beta on everything, I’m happy with the ability you now have to assign contacts to notes or even scribble a drawing on a note. Again, it’s the little things, but something that will make a difference on a daily basis.

iOs 9 screen shots 7

Apple takes some inspiration from Google Now with its new improved Search

I’ve saved arguably the most interesting feature for last. That’s the new Low Power Saver Mode. As any iPhone owner will know, battery life on an Apple smartphone is average at best. If you’ve got an iPhone 6 Plus, then you’re probably okay. Anyone else, then you can feel our pain.

Tucked in between the Passcode and Privacy is where you’ll find the Battery setting. Here you’ll find a new Low Power Mode that you’ll be prompted to turn on when you hit 20% and 10% battery life. When you power up back to 80%, the mode will turn itself off.

What the feature is essentially doing is reducing power consumption, shutting off mail fetch, app background refreshing, automatic downloads and dialling back the processor. That means you can still continue using most things all while getting a little more life out of your phone.

At least that’s the theory anyway. I can’t honestly say I’ve noticed a difference in the same way I do when using similar features on Sony or Samsung phones. In my experience, I can eek out an extra half an hour to an hour when in standby. That might be enough in an emergency, but on this evidence this new mode won’t extend battery life all that much.

(trustedreviews.com)

Nikon Df review

Pros
  • Superb sensor
  • Great noise control
  • Non-AI lens compatibility
  • Solid specification
  • Too big yet too light
Cons
  • Very pricey
  • Finish not quite as premium as it should be
  • No video
  • Disapointing maximum shutter speed
  • Awkward position of the exposure compensation dial

Key Features: 16.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor; 3.2-inch, 921k-dot LCD; Nikon F mount, compatible with non-AI Nikon lenses; ISO 100-12,800 extendable to 204,800; No video capture.

What is the Nikon Df?

Nowadays, the word cool isn’t one necessarily associated with cameras. But, back in the golden age of film SLRs, the 1960s and 1970s – both eras of iconic design, the classic models were not only triumphs of engineering but simply beautiful – the epitome of cool, in fact

Recently, there’s been a return to those design aesthetics. Fujifilm and Olympus brought out their own retro-inspired models such as the beautiful X100S and OM-D E-M5 and that tempted Nikon to have a stab at a retro-tinged DSLR.

So here it is – the full-frame Nikon Df – the camera to finally satisfy those who, since the arrival of the D1 almost 15 years ago, have yearned for the digital equivalent of film SLRs such as the F3 or FM2. Or is it?

Features

The Nikon Df has been designed not just for Auto-Focus (AF) lenses, but also for use with old and new manual-focus optics.

The standout feature is perhaps the inclusion of a collapsible metering coupling lever to allow non-AI Nikon lenses to be attached. To facilitate this, the Df’s AI indexing tab can be folded out of the way.

However, before setting it physically on the lens the Df will need to be told via the menu what to expect. Then to meter you’ll have to use the command dial on the front to set the desired aperture. A long-winded process, but a welcome addition for those with non-A1 lenses.

While it’s not intended for action photography, the Df is still capable of shooting at a pretty fast 5.5fps, while the shutter has been tested for 150,000 cycles.

Disappointingly, the maximum shutter speed is only 1/4000 sec – not 1/8000 sec as with the D800/E or D4 – while a flash sync of 1/200 sec is a little slower than the D800’s 1/250 sec.

It’s also more than a little disappointing that there’s no video functionality. In this day age – regardless of the perceived target market – that’s just unacceptable.

The Multi-CAM 4800FX module offers 39-point AF, the central 9 points of which are the more consistent cross-type variants, with the system able to lock on in conditions as poor as -1EV.

The AF is hooked up to the Df’s Scene Recognition System to allow for sophisticated predictive AF tracking in continuous AF, making it easier to keep a lock on moving subjects.

For a power source, the Df uses the relatively small EN-EL14a battery, which Nikon considers good for approximately 1,400 shots.

Finally, in terms of the DF’s sensor Nikon has opted for a full-frame model, but instead of using either the 24.3MP one from the D610 or the 36.3MP version from the D800/E, it is the 16.2MP unit from the flagship D4.

This is perfectly understandable – while the extra resolution of the others may be desired in some situations, the flexibility and performance of the 16.2MP chip at higher ISO speeds is much more in tune with the spontaneous situations for which the Df is designed, not prolonged tripod-mounted work.

Furthermore, it’ll also be more forgiving with pre-digital optics than the ultra-critical 36.3MP sensor.

Design

The Nikon Df is made of magnesium alloy and is weather-sealed, while its styling echoes the Nikon F3 and FM2/FE – sporting the same angular pentaprism with a leatherette finish either side.

Other touches that hark back include the slender grip and ridged dials, along with the high position of the shutter button and old, thin Nikon logo sitting upright on the front of the pentaprism.

The Df’s viewfinder is large and bright so manual focusing is relatively easy. It’s taken from the Nikon D800, so has a 100% field of view and magnification of 0.7x.

Meanwhile, there’s a 3.2-inch 921k-dot LCD display at the rear, which is razor sharp and has high contrast levels. When in live view it allows you to quickly zoom in on the area of focus to assess sharpness, though there’s no focus peaking.

Now, while the Df looks nice, it’s not instantly charming like Fujifilm’s X100S. This is down to a couple of things. The first being its comparative chunkiness.

Of course, Nikon has had to cram in modern technology, yet the camera still seems rather too big, appearing even more so when alongside those classic Nikon film SLRs.

Then there’s the weight, or lack of it. Nikon boasts that the Df is its lightest full-frame DSLR ye, but it’s a little too light for its proportions – zoom lenses feel slightly off-balanced, although primes sit better.

The textured handgrip is slender and squat with a more aesthetically pleasing finish than the rear thumbrest, which seems slightly more modern and ‘grippy’.

Of course, the features and controls required by a DSLR necessitate extra buttons and switches. However, they are laid out more or less in the standard Nikon fashion with the manual controls for ISO, exposure compensation, exposure mode (PASM) and shutter speeds being obvious.

The shutter speeds increase in 1EV increments, but for a more precise exposure there’s a dedicated 1/3-step setting entered via the rear control dial.

In aperture priority, the aperture can be set via either the lens’s aperture ring or the front command dial. This is angled roughly 90° differently compared to other Nikon DSLRs.

The Df, which in the UK comes in a kit with a re-skinned AF-S 50mm f/1.8G lens, is available in black/silver or matt black. Of the two the latter is the more successful as the silver finish looks rather painted on and plastic.

Performance

The 39-point AF system is the same as the D600 and D610, so no nasty surprises leapt out. The Multi-CAM 4800FX unit inside the Df is a solid and speedy performer, delivering fast AF acquirement in both single and continuous AF, even in relatively poor light

The focus tracking is also very strong. The 39 AF points can be reduced to 11, so that it’s quicker to jump round the AF coverage. However, as the 39 AF points are grouped relatively tightly in the centre of the frame, you find yourself having to focus and then recompose if your subject is off-centre.

The controls can be easily referenced at waist-level. The same is true of adjustments, even with the slightly fiddly locking mechanisms for each dial.

However, it is when the Df is to the eye that adjusting dials is a little more awkward, specifically the exposure compensation dial. It might have been better placed to the right of the viewfinder – where the small LCD currently resides – with the exposure mode dial on the left. Despite this, manual shooting was a very enjoyable experience.

Nikon Df

In terms of resolution, the 16.2MP sensor may seem somewhat behind the times when it comes to resolving detail, but while it can’t quite compete with 24 and 36MP sensors, it will still deliver images that can be happily printed out at A3 .

Shooting at 5.5fps and the Df is capable of an impressive continuous burst of 30 raw files with a Sandisk Class 10 card before the buffer slows up. The Df is also a strong performer when it comes to JPEGs, rattling off 100 files before the buffer needed a breather.

Image Quality

Exposure metering is via the 2,016-pixel RGB pixel sensor used by the Nikon D610. While it would have been nice to have seen the more sophisticated 91,000-pixel 3D Matrix III metering sensor of the D4 and D80 (particularly when it comes to portraits, where there’s a bias towards the face), it still delivers pleasing exposures.

Overall, then, the Df’s metering is very strong but, as with other Nikon DSLRs that use this sensor, a little exposure compensation will be necessary, with backlit scenes requiring around -0.3EV to -0.7EV to retain highlight detail.

Nikon Df 2

The Nikon D4 is widely regarded as the king of image noise and, happily, Df users will experience the same impressive results. Both raw and JPEG files at low sensitivities display pleasingly smooth and detailed results without any signs of image noise. At higher sensitivities – even ISO 6400 – both JPEG and raw files exhibit well-controlled noise levels. JPEGs show some luminance noise, but it’s not to the detriment of the image and detail is still very good despite signs of in-camera noise processing.

Raw files display subtle examples of chroma (colour) noise also, but detail is just that bit better, while post-processing can tone-down the chroma noise. Even at ISO 25,600, results are more than acceptable, and while there is more image noise, it’s not unsightly and detail is still good. It’s only at 102,400 that it really becomes an issue, with chroma noise being quite pronounced along with a slight shift in colour. Nonetheless, in short, it’s an excellent performance.

Nikon Df

Auto white balance produces pleasing results straight out of camera, with nice and neutral looking images. As with other recent Nikon DSLRs there’s a secondary Auto White Balance mode designed to retain the mode of the scene under artificial lighting that can sometimes look too neutral.

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Should I buy the Nikon Df?

If at times this review seems a little harsh on the Df – particularly with regard to the build and handling – that’s because hopes were so high. Nikon could have been a bit braver by making it a little smaller, while the finish should have been as premium as the price.

That said, it’s a wonderful camera to shoot with. After all, it has the D4’s sensor, noise control is excellent, there’s a very good AF system and, ultimately, the photos it produces are superb.

However – and there’s no getting away from this – for what it is the Df is a pricey piece of kit.

With the retro-inspired 50mm lens it’ll set you back £2,749 – much cheaper than the D4, but considerably more than a D610 or D800 with that same, albeit not limited-edition, 50mm lens.

So, whether you should buy it ultimately depends on whether you’ve got the non-AI lenses to use on it so get more mileage for your money. And, of course, the price you put on nostalgia.

Verdict

The Nikon Df is a fantastic DLSR in many respects, but it doesn’t quite manage to re-imagine Nikon’s classic SLRs in a way that we can recommend. If you want a full-frame Nikon, the D610 is a better choice.

Scores In Detail

Design : 6/10
Features : 8/10
Image Quality : 9/10
Performance : 8/10
Value : 5/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Toshiba Kirabook (2015) review

What is the Toshiba Kirabook?

The Toshiba Kirabook has been the company’s premium 13in ultrabook line for a number of years now and its latest incarnation brings with it an optional 2,560 x 1,440 touchscreen, the latest Intel Broadwell processors and nearly 10 hours battery life.

All wrapped up in a slim and light magnesium alloy chassis, on paper it’s certainly got what it takes to beat the likes of the MacBook Air 13in, Dell XPS 13 (2015) and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2015). The question is whether it lives up to that expectation.

Design

Ostensibly the Toshiba Kira is every bit as sleek and premium looking as its competitors. It’s at most 18mm thick, weighs under 1.3kg and is clad, inside and out, in metal. However, it doesn’t quite all come together.

It’s those little design details that let it down. Things like the mismatched corners – the front ones are square, the rear ones rounded – and the rather cluttered looking underside with its swirling grille pattern and oddly large screws just take away from a sense of cohesion.

Open it up and the chromed touchpad surround feels slightly out of place while the rim round the edge of the base looks like something you’d expect of a cheaper device.

Toshiba Kirabook (2015)

The choice of Magnesium alloy doesn’t help either. Although technically a wonderfully light and strong material it can’t be worked and finished in the same way as aluminium. As such the pieces are moulded like plastic, rather than milled from solid billets of metal, and it feels that way. There’s more give in the panels and edges just don’t have that same sharpness you expect.

It also doesn’t have the same quality of finish so needs to be painted to get a uniform look, and this again just puts you in mind of a cheaper, plastic product.

All this said, it is still a nice looking laptop and one that is impressively small and light. At 1.25kg it’s the same weight as the Dell XPS 13 (2015) and 100g lighter than the 13in MacBook Air. Its footprint is also a little smaller than some. While the Dell XPS 13 takes the crown for a machine with a 13in screen (280 x 197mm) the Kira is only 316 x 207mm while the 13in MacBook Air is noticeably larger at 325 x 227mm.

One last disappointment, on the design front, is the power brick. Like the Dell, it’s of the old-school mid-cable variety rather than being integrated into the plug. This makes it markedly more unwieldy than those included with the MacBook Air or Asus Transformer Chi T300.

Toshiba Kirabook (2015)

Features

When it comes to features, the Toshiba Kira (2015) wants for very little. The headline of this flagship model is its 2,560 x 1,440 resolution touchscreen, though a non-touch 1080p version is also available.

This is joined by connectivity that is a clear step above the rest with not one, not two, but three USB sockets (though only one is USB 3.0), a full-size HDMI socket and your obligatory headphone and SD card sockets. The latter being of the standard half-depth variety, where the card sticks out.

One of the USB sockets also supports sleep and charge so you can charge other devices from it without having the laptop on (though it needs to be plugged in).

Inside it’s capable too and comes armed with the latest quad-core Intel Broadwell Core i7-5500U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD – double that of most ultrabooks.

Toshiba Kirabook (2015)

That Intel processor also incorporates the graphics side of things, which in this case is the Intel HD Graphics 5500 GPU (24 Execution Units [EUs] clocked at 300 – 950 MHz). This won’t be a gaming powerhouse but this GPU is an upgrade over those in last year’s equivalent ultrabooks and it’ll play most modern games, just at very low resolutions and detail settings.

Network connectivity is limited to wireless only – unless you buy a USB Ethernet adapter – but you’ve got the latest 802.11ac Wifi and Bluetooth 4.0 onboard.

Backlighting is included on the keyboard, which although fairly common is still by no means something all ultrabooks include.

Toshiba Kirabook (2015)

Removing all those larger than average screws from the backplate and it’s easy to prize the back off to reveal all the components inside. However, very little of it is removable/upgradeable. Things like the memory and CPU are soldered on – as they are on most ultrabooks – leaving only the SSD and WiFi as removable cards.

Intriguingly the SSD uses the mSATA form factor which most laptop manufacturers have moved on from, instead using m.2. That said, you can still get large and fast mSATA drives, such as the Samsung 850 Evo mSATA, so if you fancy upgrading to a 1TB drive, the option is there.

Screen and Sound

First impressions of the Toshiba Kira’s fancy quadHD display are not all that good. Thanks to it being a touchscreen it has a glass covering – in this case it’s ultra-tough Corning Concore glass – and this makes it highly prone to catching reflections.

True enough, the Macbook Pro with Retina display suffers from the same problem but unlike that model the Toshiba also has fingerprints to contend with.

A reasonably effective anti-fingerprint coating reduces their impact – and there’s an anti-reflection coating too – but it still all adds up to a display that in bright conditions can be distractingly full of a smudge image of your own face rather than whatever it is your working on.

We also immediately noticed a bit of backlight bleed. It’s by no means awful but the top edge definitely appears brighter than the rest of the display. Also viewing angles aren’t all that clever with a fair amount of contrast reduction when viewed off axis.

Toshiba Kirabook (2015)

As a result of all this the quality of the display doesn’t immediately leap out at you. However, under test conditions it actually performs exceptionally well.

A black level of just 0.1nits combined with a maximum brightness level of 291nits makes for a massive 1796:1 contrast ratio. Nothing else we’ve tested comes close to this, with the next best being the Dell XPS 13 with a ratio of 1505:1.

It’s 92.7% coverage of the sRGB space is decent too and a Delta E score of just 0.14 is again the best we’ve measured on a laptop in the last two years. Only a slightly high colour temperature of 7639K lets the side down, though this can be tweaked using the preloaded ChromaTune software.

The result is that while you may be distracted by your own reflection and the slight backlight inconsistency, you can see every last little detail, no matter how bright or dark the picture gets.

As for the high resolution, it’s not one you’ll be able to work at without using Windows’ scaling/zoom feature. As such, it really is only of much use when editing/viewing images or video, and even then only in programs that support the feature. This makes more sense in a workhorse machine like a MacBook Pro but on a less powerful machine like this it seems pretty unlikely most people will ever really see the benefit of the high resolution, at least until more Windows programs natively support higher resolutions.

Toshiba Kirabook (2015)

As for audio, the Kira puts in a typical modern ultrabook performance, delivering enough volume for personal, up-close listening but little more. Bass is of course pretty much non-existent but there’s a good amount of clarity and a decent stereo image. As ever, headphones or an external speaker are recommended for any serious listening.

Keyboard and Trackpad

This laptop’s keyboard is very good. It’s kicked off by a very agreeable layout with every key where we’d expect and a decent amount of space for them too. The enter, ‘#’ and ‘]’ keys are a little squashed but in general use we didn’t find this a problem.

However, we’ve come to really like the way Asus and Dell have the Home, End, PgUp and PgDown buttons as secondary functions of the cursor keys and miss the feature on this keyboard. Instead there are dedicated buttons for the latter just above the cursor keys and Home and End keys on the top row.

Toshiba Kirabook (2015)

The key action here is better than many. There’s a reasonable amount of travel with a clear break letting you know when the button has been pressed. It’s certainly at least the equal to its competitors in this regard.

Its slightly out of place chrome trim aside the trackpad is very good too. It’s nice and large and has a smooth-gliding, slightly rough surface. It also tracks very accurately and is well setup right out of the box, with no need to dive in and adjust the sensitivity or speed in the driver.

Performance

The Toshiba Kira is a slim and light ultrabook so performance is not its main focus but of course it still needs to deliver the basics and this it does with aplomb. Its Intel processor and nippy SSD combine to make everyday computing snappy and easy going.

This is reflected in our benchmarks where its PC Mark 7 score of 5167 is nearly double what you’ll get with really entry level tablet-type Windows devices and around 1000 points higher than cheap entry level machines. It’s also a marked improvement over our current favourite ultrabook, the Dell XPS 13 (2015), which score 4879.

That benchmark combines CPU, GPU and storage performance into one score so we look to Cinebench R15 to show raw CPU performance. This is what will matter when it comes to more intensive tasks like video/image editing. Here the Kira again holds a lead over the Dell XPS 13, scoring 287 to the latter’s 258.

However, giving some perspective, these scores are half what you’d get with a larger, more powerful machines.

It’s a similar story when it comes to graphics/gaming. The Kira scores 52,631 in 3D Mark Ice Storm where the XPS 13 scores 46,290. Gaming laptops with dedicated graphics, though, will score over 100,000. For a slightly more tangible benchmark, we run Unigine Heaven where the Kira delivers 14.9fps. Here, bizarrely, the Dell scores 17.9fps, giving it a solitary victory. However, both pale in comparison to the 60fps+ that gaming laptops will get.

Toshiba Kirabook (2015)

Battery Life

Of course the big winner thanks to that modest performance is excellent battery life. While gaming laptops will die after three-five hours of use (not even while gaming) the Kira lasted nine hours and 38 minutes in our test. That’s right up there with the best ultrabooks, though here the Dell also makes up for its slight performance deficit by stretching its battery life to 10 hours and 57 minutes.

Heat and Noise

Like most ultrabooks, the Toshiba Kira does a pretty good job of staying completely silent most of the time as its CPU fan doesn’t spin up unless needed, and of course there are no noisy hard drives to worry about.

Give it a more intense workload, or in fact just too many tabs in your web browser, and the CPU fan will spin up. We found it has a tendency to do this just a little more often than some other ultrabooks, though not enough to be a major concern.

The resultant noise is quite high pitched but again is fairly typical. Moreover, the fan does a good job of actually keeping the device cool so there are no overheating issues here.

Other things to consider

So far it has been a slightly up and down ride for the Toshiba Kira so it’s a shame Toshiba tips the balance in the wrong direction by installing a load of unwelcome software.

The inclusion of a trial version of McAfee anti-virus is to be expected – though still not entirely welcome – but that’s the least of it. WinZip has been installed, despite Windows having basic built in Zip facilities and WinZip again not being a free option, as well as a load of Cyberlink media software and the Symbaloo bookmarks app.

None of it is software we’d recommend anyone use and we feel it takes away from the overall initial experience, though notably it can all be uninstalled.

Toshiba offers the Kira in a couple of configurations, with a £899.99 version dropping to a 128GB SSD and a non-touch 1920 x 1080 screen. The model we’re reviewing costs £999.99.

Prices have actually dropped since the Kira was first released, with prices for the top model approaching the £1100-£1200 mark at launch. These revised figures are much more appropriate.

Toshiba Kirabook (2015)

Should I buy the Toshiba Kirabook (2015)?

The 2015 revision of the Toshiba Kirabook is a solid update to the line and provides a good overall experience. It’s also a touch more powerful than key rivals such as the Dell XPS 13 (2015).

However, aside from that somewhat token victory, rivals have it beat across the board. The Dell has well over an hour longer battery life, as does the MacBook Air. Both those machines also look and feel better, with the Dell also boasting a smaller footprint thanks to its super-slim screen bezels.

We’ve yet to try the non-touchscreen version of the Kira but this touchscreen model is a disappointment. Despite technically impressive scores when it comes to colour accuracy it just lacks punch and reflections on the glass front are distracting.

The high 2,560 x 1,440 resolution is also of limited benefit and we didn’t once feel the desire to touch the screen. In our opinion touchscreens are only appropriate on hybrid devices and this laptop only reinforces that idea.

To top it all off Toshiba has among the worst collections of preinstalled, unwanted software.

This isn’t a bad machine, and for the right price it could serve many people well, but if you’ve got £900 or so burning a hole in your pocket, get a Dell XPS 13 or a MacBook Air, even despite the Air’s poor screen quality.

Verdict

The Toshiba Kirabook (2015) is a perfectly reasonable premium ultrabook but it just doesn’t quite match the competition across a number of key criteria. It may well win in a few categories but not the ones that ultimately count in this sector. Other laptops are better looking, have better screens and battery life, and are cheaper.

Scores In Detail

Battery Life : 8/10
Build Quality : 8/10
Design : 6/10
Features : 8/10
Heat & Noise : 8/10
Keyboard : 8/10
Performance : 9/10
Screen Quality : 7/10
Touchpad : 7/10
Value : 7/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Astell & Kern AK Jr review

Pros
  • Beautiful aluminium design
  • Delivers gorgeous sound
  • Works as DAC amp
Cons
  • Slightly sharp metal corners
  • Software responsiveness is not fantastic
  • Screaming out for streaming service support

Key Features: 6.9mm thick; 1.95 VRMS output; DSD audio format support; works as external DAC for Mac and PC; 3.1-inch LCDW QVGA (240 x 400) touchscreen; 64GB storage; Micro SD card support up to 64GB; Wolfson WM8740 x1 DAC; Support up to 24bit/192kHz Bit to Bit Decoding; 1,450mAh battery; Works with Windows and Mac.

What is the Astell & Kern AK Jr?

The Astell & Kern AK Jr is the high end audio company’s latest portable high resolution music player and it’s the slimmest most affordable one yet. Well, we say ‘affordable’, but that’s only when you compare it to the rest of the A&K range with the most expensive model costing upwards of £2,000.

Priced at a penny under £400, it’s significantly cheaper than Sony’s NWZ-ZX2 (£950) but it’s still more expensive than Paul Young’s Toblerone-looking Pono player (£240).

If you’re sold on the benefits of high resolution audio though, there’s a lot to like about the Jr aside from its sleek exterior.

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Design & Features

Hands down, the Jr is the best looking high resolution player we’ve had our hands on. There’s no Pono player rubber in sight and it’s significantly slimmer than Sony’s ZX2. This is a beautifully crafted piece of hardware and gives the iPod touch and most portable high res players a run for their money.

With a stature roughly about the same size as an iPhone 5S, the Jr is made predominantly from a cool anodised aluminium. It’s all straight lines with no curves and has a machined industrial look that’ll make you want to show it off. Measuring in a just 5.9mm thick and weighing in at 93g, it’s slim and only slightly heavier than the sixth generation iPod touch. With such an angular design however, it does have some handling issues. The edges in the corners can feel a little sharp to hold, pinching into the palm of your hand. So browsing through folders for music for long periods can be an uncomfortable task.

Around the back the Jr’s good looks continue with a thin layer of glass covering the subtle patterned finish. The stand out feature here though is the rotary volume dial. Tucked away on the right hand side of the body, it has that nice satisfyingly click when you crank the volume up or down.

Elsewhere, buttons and ports are spread around the edges of the device making them easy to reach in one hand. On the left edge is the metal play/pause and volume buttons. Up top is the standby button along with a 3.5mm headphone jack, which offers 1.9V VRMS power output up from the 1.5VRMS on the Astell & Kern AK100. That should lead to improved audio fidelity. The micro USB charging port sits below, flanked by two screws, which appears to be there for aesthetic purposes more than anything else.

Astell & Kern 9

There’s a not so impressive-sounding 1,450mAh battery nestled beneath that alumnium body, which Astell & Kern claims should deliver around nine hours of play time. That’s pretty much what we found with it on a daily basis, so it’s not quite the killer battery performance you can get from an iPod. It will get you comfortably through a day and maybe two at a stretch and will turn itself off when it’s inactive to help preserve the power. Clearly the ability to go longer has come at the expense of the slim design.

Just above the rotary dial you’ll also spot a micro SD card slot letting you boost the 64GB internal memory up to a potential 128GB in total. Cheaper high res audo players like Sony’s A15 offers double the onboard storage, but that’s still plenty of room to store music and accommodate the larger files sizes associated with high res audio.

Like other A&K portables, there’s a touchscreen to break up the aluminium body and it’s a sizeable one on the Jr, accommodating almost three quarters of the front of the player. It’s a 3.1-inch LCD touchscreen display with a surprisingly slim black screen bezel and a not very impressive sounding 240 x 400 resolution. Put it next to most smartphone screens at that price range and it pales in comparison for sharpness and vibrancy. But when your only concern here really is reading track information and seeing album covers, it’s more than acceptable.

What’s more of an issue is the screen responsiveness. It can require the additional tap every now and then to open folders or to select items. While it doesn’t make the experience of using it unbearable, it’s a little irritating. We’d hope for something more impressive in this department considering the price.

Astell 13

So what about the all-important audio tech? High resolution audio is the big selling point here. When we talk about high res audio we’re referring to the way the way audio recordings are converted into digital files. The aim is to offer songs that sound much closer to the original recording by offering less compressed file. You can get a more in-depth explanation of how it all works in our what is high res audio guide.

The good news is that the Jr supports multiple formats including the important high resolution audio ones like FLAC, WAV and AAC. It also supports the DSD audio format created by Philips and Sony that ramps up sampling rates above CD quality music but does invariably mean bigger files sizes.

To play those files you need a dedicated digital to analogue converter (DAC). The Jr uses a single Wolfson WM8740 DAC, which is similar to what you can find in the Cambridge Audio CXN network music player. As an added bonus, that DAC feature can be used for your desktop PC or Mac. There’s not a great deal of configuration needed to use it either. Once you plug it in, there’s the option to use the DAC mode and as long it’s selected as the audio output in your sound settings, you are good to go.

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Software

The AK Jr’s software is built on Android although you wouldn’t know it because it’s such a basic take on Google’s operating system and you can’t download Android apps. There’s no Wi-Fi connectivity on board either as well, which is a feature you can get on more expensive models in the range.

You do have Bluetooth 4.0 support to connect a pair of wireless headphones or a portable speaker. The lack of Wi-Fi and a more fully fledged version of Android is disappointing though as it would have been great to tap into a high resolution audio streaming service like Qobuz Tidal or Deezer Elite to broaden the music catalogue.

The user interface as we’ve said is pretty simple. Up top is the now playing section letting jump right into the last track played. Alongside that is a hexagonal icon in the top right launches settings here you can adjust display brightness, turn off the backlight and activate Bluetooth to pair with wireless headphones. You can also set up Line Out and perform an Auto Library scan.

The main home screen is broken up into six sections where you can view Songs, Artists, Albums, Genres, Playlists and Folders. Once you’re into those sub sections you can press the small dot beside a track to add to a queue of tracks, create a new playlist or delete it altogether. Creating playlists are a little fiddly and require a few clicks to add single tracks, but it does the job if it doesn’t do it in any particularly slick way.

Astell & Kern 17

Once you get playing tracks, cover art is the focal point with playback buttons situated at the bottom. It’s all standard fare here with a couple of extras. If the tracks support it, you can view lyrics while a press on the three dotted options icon brings file information including sample and bit rate. There’s also a pretty basic equaliser here but that can largely be left untouched.

Overall, it’s probably the weakest aspect of the Jr as it’s not super slick and slightly sluggish in places. It’s good enough, but we hoped for more.

Sound Quality

The Jr sounds fantastic, but that’s the very least we’d expect from a £400 portable music player. Plugging in a range of headphones from the expensive Audeze EL-8, the Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 and the more affordable Skullcandy Grind it shines across all music genres. The most satisfying results are with acoustic and live performances where the extra detail, the wide soundstage and sumptuous low end warmth really shines through.

If you can afford to spend big, listening to tracks in that maximum 24-bit/192kHz format is a joy. The problem is, trying to find enough of it. It’s also expensive with albums costing around the £15-20 mark and file sizes can be as large as 100MB a track. Scrawling through a host of high resolution audio stores like 7Digital, Qobuz, Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound and Bleep, there’s not a great deal out there that offer the headline audio format. Classical music fans are well catered for, but if you’re looking for something more current, then there’s not a great deal to choose from.

Astell & Kern 33

We managed to find Marvin Gaye’s iconic album Let’s Get It On in the 24-bit/192kHz format on Qobuz for a reasonable £8.73. Literally from the first strum on the guitar on the opening track, there’s a noticeable difference listening to the same album on a streaming service like Spotify.

We also tried out electronic artist Caribou and his latest album Our Love, which we purchased the 24-bit/96kHz WAV format of. It certainly sounds great, but didn’t necessarily feel that discernibly different from listening to it through a streaming service. It just didn’t blow you away the way the Marvin Gaye album did. It was the same story with Lianne La Havas and her new album Blood, which was available on 7 Digital at a maximum 24-bit/44.1khz format. The modern albums didn’t quite have that same wow factor.

Audiophiles will lap up the improvement in sound quality you get with the Jr. It’s just a shame there’s not a wealth of music to really make the most of the great hardware.

Astell & Kern 41

Should I buy the Astell & Kern AK Jr?

The AK Jr is a great place to get your high res audio fix on the move. Despite our ‘sharp’ issue with the design, it’s still a beautifully crafted piece of audio kit that’s easy to use and sounds fantastic. While we’d have preferred some more functionality on the software front and maybe the addition of Wi-Fi, these are some gripes we can live with.

There’s no ignoring the price though. £400 is not cheap, but in comparison to other A&K players, it’s great value for money for the slimmest model in the range that delivers an excellent audio performance.

If you shop around you’ll notice that high resolution players are no longer a rich man’s game. Like Sony’s A15, which is around £150-£200 and the Fiio X-1, which we have a review of on the way, which costs just £100.

But if you want a great combination of looks and audio, the Jr won’t let you down.

Verdict

While it’s not cheap, the AK Jr is blessed with good looks and great sound quality to make it one of the best ways to take your high res audio out and about.

Scores In Detail

Design : 8/10
Features : 8/10
Sound Quality : 9/10
Usability : 8/10
Value : 7/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Top Ten Fastest 6-Cylinder Cars

10. NOBLE M12 GTO-3R

Top Speed: 170 mph
Zero to Sixty: 3.5 seconds

Noble M12 GTO 3R 2003

Built by British auto maker Noble, the M12 GTO-3R is one quick machine. Equipped with a Ford Duratec Alloy Twin-Turbocharged V6 engine, the Noble M12 GTO-3R can hit speeds up to 170 mph. The V6 engine puts out 360 horsepower with 358 lb-ft of twist, and is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. All that power allows the Noble M12 GTO-3R to go from zero to sixty in an impressive 3.5 seconds. The Noble M12 GTO-3R’s exterior is custom made to be aerodynamic enough to handle the wind resistance as it flies down the street, this also gives the car an exotic look. Precision handling delivers a tight and fun driving experience, and the suspension is fine tuned to handle anything the road throws at it.

9. NOBLE M400

Top Speed: 175 mph
Zero to Sixty: 3.5 seconds

Noble M400

British auto maker Noble crafted the M400 to deliver a driving experience unlike any other. Able to hit a top speed of 175 mph, the Noble M400 certainly turned heads in the auto industry. Powered by the same Ford Duratec Alloy Twin-Turbocharged V-6 engine as the Noble M12 GTO-3R, the M400 squeezes out 425 horsepower from the engine, giving it serious speed. The engine is paired with a 6-speed manual transmission, and the suspension is tuned for performance. The Noble M400 has a zero to sixty time of 3.5 seconds, and can blaze down the quarter mile at 11.7 seconds. Much like the Noble M12 GTO-3R, the M400 had a limited production run, making it a rarity on the streets.

8. TVR SAGARIS

Top Speed: 185 mph
Zero to Sixty: 3.7 seconds.

TVR Sagaris

The TVR Sagaris was built between 2005 and 2006 by British auto manufacturer TVR. Debuting at the MPH03 Auto Show in 2003, the Sagaris was designed with racing in mind. Built with a 4.0 liter straight-six engine producing 406 horsepower, and a 5-speed manual transmission, the TVR Sagaris is a force to be reckoned with. With a top speed of 185 mph and a zero to sixty time of 3.7 seconds, the Sagaris holds it’s own with others in it’s class. A multitude of air vents, intake openings, and other bodywork features allow the Sagaris to be driven at high speeds for extended periods without any modifications for cooling or ventilation. The car’s name comes from a Greek battle-axe used by the Scythians, which was feared due to its ability to penetrate armor.

7. LOTUS EVORA 400

Top Speed: 186 mph
Zero to Sixty: 4.1 seconds

Lotus Evora 400

Debuting at the 2015 Geneva Auto Show, the 2016 Lotus Evora 400 boasted some impressive numbers. Powered by a 3.5 liter supercharged V-6 engine and a 6-speed manual transmission, the Lotus Evora 400 cranks out 400 hp and 302 lb-ft of torque. The Lotus Evora 400 has a zero to sixty time of 4.1 seconds, and a whopping top speed of 186 mph. The Lotus Evora 400 hits such high speeds, the rear wing and diffuser deliver 71 pounds of aerodynamic downforce at 150 mph, without which the car might lift off the ground due to wind resistance. As expected from luxury car maker Lotus, the Evora 400 is beautiful to look at. The exterior, while built to be aerodynamic, looks unique and exotic due to all the curves and body lines.

6. TVR TUSCAN SPEED SIX

Top Speed: 190 mph
Zero to Sixty: 3.68 seconds

TVR Tuscan 4.0 Speed Six

British auto maker TVR takes a long time to produce new models, crafting them one at a time, even sculpting the chassis by hand. The end result being some of the fastest, stylish, and most incredible vehicles. The TVR Tuscan Speed Six is a prime example. Built with both luxury and speed in mind, the Tuscan Speed Six has the look of a luxury roadster, and the power of a supercar. With a 3.6 liter inline six-cylinder engine, cranking out 360 horsepower with 290 lb-ft of torque, the Tuscan Speed Six races to sixty mph in 3.68 seconds and hits 100 mph in a staggering 8.08 seconds; that’s faster than most cars get to 60 mph.

5. ACURA NSX

Top speed: 190 mph
Zero to Sixty: 2.7 seconds

New Acura NSX

The Acura NSX has been dominating speed charts since its creation back in 1990. The current model houses a longitudinally mounted, dry-sump, twin-turbo and intercooled, four cam, 75 degree 3.5 liter V-6 under the hood. Along with a nine speed dual-clutch gearbox integrated with an electric motor driving the rear wheels, and two electric motors that power the front wheels, the Acura NSX produces over 550 horsepower. All that equipment under the hood gives the Acura NSX an impressive zero to sixty time of 2.7 seconds, with a top speed of 190 mph and a quarter mile time of 10.8 seconds. The suspension is enhanced with magnetorheological self-adjusting dampers, to keep the ride smooth as glass in this road rocket.

4. NISSAN GT-R

Top Speed: 191 mph
Zero to Sixty: 2.9 seconds

Nissan GT-R

The Nissan GT-R is the Nissan Corporation’s redesign of the Nissan Skyline.With a 545 horsepower engine capable of going 0-60 in 2.9 seconds and a fine tuned suspension allowing it to out-handle most anything on the road, the GT-R is one beast of a car.The Nissan GT-R tops out at 191 mph, which is more than enough speed for anyone. The exterior may look tame compared to many supercars, with small vents and curves along the body, but Nissan built them with a purpose. The vents exhaust air from the wheels to lower brake temps and reduce the build-up of pressure under the car to increase down-force. The handmade carbon fiber spoiler also helps to increase down-force and stiffness at high speeds. It may not look as fancy as its other supercar cousins, but it definitely deserves their respect.

3. PORSCHE 959

Top Speed: 197 mph
Zero to Sixty: 3.7 seconds

1988 Porsche 959

While it was only manufactured from 1986 to 1989, the Porsche 959 still holds the title as one of the fastest built six-cylinder vehicles. When it was introduced it was touted as “the world’s fastest street-legal production car,” with a top speed of 197 mph and a zero to sixty time of 3.7 seconds. The Porsche 959 was hailed as the most technologically advanced road sports car ever built, and paved the way for many of today’s modern supercars. One of the first all-wheel drive high performance cars ever built, the Porsche 959 convinced Porsche executives to make all-wheel drive standard on all 911 turbos. The Porsche 959 houses a 2.8 liter twin-turbo flat six engine under its hood, an engine that wouldn’t be matched for some time.

2. PORSCHE 911 GT2 RS

Top Speed: 209 mph
Zero to Sixty: 3.3 seconds

2011- Porsche 911- GT2- RS- Passenger Front Three Quarters

Following in the footsteps of the Porsche 959, the Porsche 911 GT2 RS is a brute of a car. With a twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve flat six-cylinder engine, and a six-speed manual transmission, the Porsche 911 GT2 RS puts out an insane 620 horsepower and 516 ft-lb of twist. Able to go from zero to sixty in 3.3 seconds, zero to 150 in 14.4 seconds, and with a top speed of 209 mph, the Porsche 911 GT2 RS is pretty much a land rocket. With all that speed, Porsche offers an optional roll bar for the 911 GT2 RS, just in case you decide to drive it like a race car and make a mistake.

1. JAGUAR XJ220

Top Speed: 213 mph
Zero to Sixty: 3.7 seconds

8 IP

The crown prince of six-cylinder cars, the Jaguar XJ220 was produced for only 2 years between 1992 and 1994. Only 275 were manufactured . Built by Jaguar with collaboration from Tom Walkinshaw Racing, the Jaguar XJ220 was at one time the fastest production car in the world; until the McLaren F1 showed up on the scene in 1993. The twin-turbo V6 engine puts out 520 horsepower, and reaches a top speed of 213 mph, with a zero to sixty time of 3.7 seconds. The transmission in the Jaguar XJ220 is a 5-speed manual, with triple-cone syncromeshing on the first and second gears to handle rapid starts, while still remaining easy to engage.

(carophile.com)

Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan preview

El Capitan is a rock formation inside the Yosemite National Park, and OS X El Capitan is, as its name suggests, an enhancement to Yosemite, in the same way as Snow Leopard offered an enhancement to Leopard. Apple’s primary focus with this release is to be performance and stability, both of which should speed up tasks on a Mac – in fact Apple is claiming that older Macs will see significant performance improvements.

If that sounds boring to you, you’ll be glad to here there will be a few new features and some much needed updates to the accompanying software and the user interface.

Apple El Capitan install

For example, you’ll be able to choose to hide not only the Dock but also the Menu bar at the top of the screen, particularly useful with small screen laptops. Also, when you enter Mission Control (usually by pressing F3) you’ll be able to see all the documents you have open as used to be the case in Exposé in earlier versions of OS X – in Yosemite documents associated with apps are gathered together, overlapping each other so it’s harder to select the Word document you wish to edit.

There’s also a new full-screen mode called Split View that lets you have more than one app open at once. To activate it, click and drag the green window-resize button and you can fill the screen with two apps at once.

Also getting a significant change is Spotlight, Apple’s tool for searching you Mac. One of the criticisms of Spotlight in Yosemite was that Apple moved it to the centre of the screen from the right hand corner, this gave Spotlight more space for its results, but people were frustrated that the Spotlight window couldn’t be moved from its new location. Well that’s changing in El Capitan – you will be able to click on the Spotlight result box and move it around the screen. We are disappointed that when you click away from the Spotlight results the box vanishes though – we often find ourselves having to jot down conversions from Spotlight so we can copy them into a document we are working on. Now the box can be moved out of the way it is only logical that we should be able to keep it on the screen if we want to.

Spotlight is also getting natural language search – which hints that Siri may be coming to the Mac. You’ll be able to construct your search query in a more colloquial way, for example: “documents I wrote in July” or “emails sent by Ashleigh”.

Photos for Mac hasn’t been out for long but the new operating system will bring some much needed updates including the return of geotagging (which was present in iPhoto but missing from the first version of Photos). It will also be possible to sort albums by date and title. And Photos will apparently be better at identifying Faces. Photos hasn’t been released in the beta yet so we are unable to comment further.

Safari is getting a few tweaks. We like the fact that we can ‘Pin’ our favourite sites to the menu bar – although it strikes us that we will have too many ways to store our favourites: Pins, Top Sites, and Favourites. Apple really needs to do away with Top Sites now because it is essentially the same as Favourites.

Another new Safari feature is that it will identify which of your open tabs is playing audio and make it possible to mute the audio with a single click on that tab. If there is more than one audio stream open you can click on the speaker icon in the address bar to see a list of all the tabs playing audio. You’ll be able to shut down the audio on the tabs you wish from this view.

While both of these new Safari features are impressive, they have featured in Chrome for some time.

We are glad to see that Apple is giving Notes some attention in El Capitan. Notes will be able to handle photos and PDFs, URLs, and map locations as well as text. And it will allow formatting of text. There’s also a new formatting option that will turn a list into a checklist. There is also a new attachments browser in Notes which you can flick through to find all the media, websites and other attachments you have added to the app from any of your devices.

Finally, Mail is gaining some new features that are reminiscent of the iOS Mail app. There are two new gestures that will be familiar to any iOS users: swiping left to delete an email, and swiping right to mark as unread. You’ll also be able to minimise an email you are composing, just as you can in iOS.

One new feature in Mail is the ability to manage different email threads in Safari-like tabs. The new natural language search also shows up in Mail, making searching for “emails from Ashleigh with photos attached” easier than ever.

There is one more significant change coming to OS X El Capitan, Metal, the graphics technology that was announced with iOS 8. Metal will bring Will bring improved game performance and improved performance in processor hungry apps. Adobe has already committed to adopting Metal for its OS X apps and demonstrated how Metal has improved After Effects and Illustrator. Autodesk and The Foundry have also committed to using Metal and it is thought that using Metal will also drastically speed up the likes of Autodesk’s Maya.

Metal for OS X is also great news if you’re a Mac gamer: major game developers have already confirmed commitment to Metal, including Unity and Blizzard, as well as Feral and Aspyr who specialize in bringing Windows games to the Mac. Along with the performance enhancements coming in El Capital we expect Metal to have a real impact on this sort of processor intensive work.

In a matter of days Apple will give the world a first look at what the next version of OS X will look like. Even now rumours are suggesting some of the new features that we can expect to see in the successor to Yosemite, so we’re going to take a quick look at what they might mean we can expect from OS X 10.11 when it launches. We have high hopes, that we hope won’t be dashed by Apple when the next version launches.

We will update this preview of OS X 10.11 as soon as we have more information. We are hoping that following the WWDC briefing we will be able to get our hands on the beta  version of the software so we can update this article fully.

OS X 10.11 will be the successor to OS X 10.10 Yosemite, so until we know what Californian location it will be named after we will refer to it as OS X 10.11.

It’s not likely to launch until the autumn, but typically Apple will offer a preview of Yosemite at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. There may be a demo version available shortly after for developers, and later in the summer a beta for members of the public lucky enough to make it onto Apple’s beta testing scheme.

Final release data isn’t likely to be until October, based on the past few years. When Apple does release it you can expect it to be a free update via the Mac App Store.

Design

Given that Yosemite was a massive design change, we aren’t expecting a major redesign here, but we have heard that the San Francisco font that’s used on the Apple Watch is making its way to the Mac in OS X 10.11. It sounds like Apple will use San Francisco rather than Helvetica Neue as the system font. This concerns us a bit because we wonder how legible a font that’s been selected for its readability on a watch will be on a high-res display. It appears we aren’t the only ones who are concerned, apparently, some Apple engineers are not fans of the new font either and fear it will not look great on non-Retina screens.

Stability

One major rumour is that the main focus of OS X 10.11 will be stability rather than new features. If this is the case this update will be akin to the Snow Leopard update, which built on Leopard with a focus on quality.

Given the issues and bugs that plagued the launch of Yosemite, we think this focus is a good idea. Hopefully Apple will fix many of the problems users had with Yosemite, and we trust we won’t be subjected to the WiFi connection problems in early versions of Yosemite that made it impossible for some Mac users to even download the fix when it was issued because they couldn’t get on a WiFi network to connect to the internet.

Security

Speaking of WiFi, apparently Apple is working on a new feature called Trusted WiFi that will arrive in OS X 10.11. Trusted WiFi will allow Macs and iOS devices to connect to trusted routers without requiring security measures. However, when you connect to a non-trusted router your data will be heavily encrypted. Apple is said to be testing its own apps and third-party apps to make sure that they still work when this feature is enabled which sounds like a sensible thing to do given the WiFi problems in Yosemite.

Another security measures that Apple is said to be developing is a new kernel-level security system called “rootless”. This is designed to curb malware and will also protect your data and prevent others from accessing protected files.

There is one more security feature that Apple is said to be working on: iCloud Drive file encryption for apps is apparently being rearchitectured.

As a result of this focus on stability and security apparently some of the features that were planned for the upgrade will not arrive until 2016.

iCloud Drive update

Apparently there are some back end changes to iCloud Drive on the way that should protect your data and also improve syncing and speed.

Apple is said to be moving some of its IMAP-based apps over to iCloud Drive. IMAP-based apps include Notes, Reminders, and Calendar and currently they use an IMAP-based back end for syncing content. Moving them all to iCloud Drive will allow Apple to improve communication and offer faster syncing between the apps. Security will also be improved because Apple will be able to offer end-to-end encryption for the data.

We hope the transition from IMAP to iCloud Drive will be simple for users, reports suggest users will just see a dialogue box offering to import the data.

Apple is also said to be upgrading its iCloud Drive servers in order to sustain the anticipated increase in usage. We hope that this upgrade will also put a stop to the too frequent iCloud outages.

Control Centre

Perhaps the biggest change in OS X 10.11, as far as consumers are concerned, will be the addition of Control Center to OS X. Control Centre was a feature rumored for OS X Yosemite, it was even seen in early betas of that software. It appears that Control Centre may finally find its way into the next version of OS X. If it does expect it to be something like the Mac Menu Bar, including music controls, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, as well as other features similar to the Control Center on iOS, like access to Do Not Disturb.

Apparently Control Center will be a pane that slides out from the left side of the display.

Swift

The other feature coming in OS X 10.11 that we are hearing about relates to Swift. Apple’s said to be updating its programming language, which is apparently going to reach “Application Binary Interface (ABI) stability”. This means that its code libraries will come pre-installed in the new Mac operating systems. That might sound boring to consumers, but what it means is that Swift applications will require less space.

Apple will apparently not be shipping Swift versions of its own applications this year, but the company is said to be planning to convert its own apps to Swift in 2016.

VERDICT

We can’t possibly give a verdict yet as we don’t have a crystal ball, but it looks like iOS X 10.11 will shape up to be a necessary update that will fix many of the issues that plagued Yosemite when it launched. Consumers may find it boring, but behind the scenes we hope Apple’s tweaks will make a big differnce.

 

Martian Notifier smartwatch review

If you’re looking for a smartwatch but don’t want a huge screen sitting on your wrist then the Martian Notifier might be the one for you. Read our Marian Notifier review to find out why.

This smartwatch will set you back $129 (UK RRP is £129) and we put the US price because although the firm hopes to sell the device in the UK in the near future you’ll have to get it shipped from across the pond until then. The firm does ship worldwide but shipping will cost a further $50 (£29) roughly, so you might want to hang on for a UK launch.

Martian Notifier review

Design and build

Smartwatches are still in their infancy really and as such are changing and evolving as time goes on (excuse the pun). The stereotypically smartwatch has a reasonably big screen with which to interact with – but not everyone wants a device like this. Luckily you don’t have to go down this route to own a smartwatch – enter the Notifier from American kickstarter firm, Martian.

As you can see from the images, the Notifier pretty much looks like a regular watch. It’s simple but stylish and looks more expensive that it really is. We like the look of the Notifier which you can buy in different colours. It has a regular crown and two push buttons.

It’s a comfortable watch with plenty of holes for different sizes but the rubber strap does tend to get clammy and uncomfortable on hot days. There are other straps available such as leather and stainless steel (both $30) but they are ‘non-quick change’ and require an $8 tool.

Martian Notifier review straps

There are colourful quick-change straps, too, but they are rubber like the one supplied. You can choose a white, red or black Notifier to start with – dictating the watch face and strap colour.

Notifications

As the name of the device suggests, the Notifier is all about giving you notifications meaning you don’t need to get your phone out of a pocket or bag to read a text message or see who is calling. It does this via a small oblong OLED screen at the bottom of the watch face. It’s 96 x 16 pixels so isn’t exactly high res but does the job nevertheless.

As well as texts and calls, you can get all kind of notifications – pretty much anything which is installed on your companion smartphone or tablet. Whether it’s a game, sports feed, news, finance, travel and more. Check out Martian’s website for a list. You can pick and choose which come through to the Notifier via the app (see below). It’s not all or nothing.

Martian Notifier review notifications

Vibration intensity can be adjusted to suit on scale of 0-15 plus you can pick your own personal patterns for different alerts. Four consecutive vibrations can be long, short or paused (nothing). For example, a text message can be long, pause, long, pause while a phone call could be long, short, short, long. This way you know what type of notification you’ve got without looking at the watch at all.

Notifications are read out twice and there’s an LED too (which you can switch off), but if you’re busy and miss one, you can recall it by double tapping the glass front. However, you can only do this for up to five minutes after it was received which isn’t the most helpful. We’d like it to be able to recall the last notification no matter when it came in.

More than notifications

While the Notifier does a great job of providing information to your wrist while looking like a regular watch, it can perform some other tricks – some of which we weren’t expecting. Pushing the top button will activate voice control on your phone but that’s just the start.

Pressing the bottom button once will give you a scrolling list of the time, battery life with connection status (arrows are good), the date and optionally the weather. Martian tells us that for the latter wakes up your phones GPS every hour to check location. We often found it didn’t match up with what our companion phone said. See also: What is Google Android Wear?

Martian Notifier review camera mode

Keep tapping the bottom button and you’ll scroll through a list of options including a light (switches LED to white), do not disturb (switch on to avoid notifications) and find phone (forces your phone to play an alert tone so you can locate it).

Furthermore, the watch can be used as a remote control for your smartphones camera. Point your phone in the right direction, put the watch into camera mode, tap the button and you’ll start a three second countdown to the shutter.

Setup, compatibility and apps

Setting up the Notifier is relatively easy once you learn how to navigate the menu system on the watch. Admittedly, we had to use the instructions but you only need to do it once and you’re away.

The device is compatible with plenty of smartphones and tablets – iPads as old as the iPad 3, iPhones back to the iPhone 4S and the iPod touch fifth generation. You can use any Android device with version 2.3 or higher.

Martian Notifier review app iOS and Android

You use the app to make the initial Bluetooth connection then to control all the settings such as which notifications you receive and the vibration patterns which we mentioned earlier. You can also set alarms and a repeater.

Battery life

It’s really annoying having to charge multiple devices every night, so the good news is that the Martian Notifier isn’t one of them. The firm touts a battery life of six days and we found during our testing that the watch lasted around a week on average. If you have alerts coming in from a lot of apps and you’re really popular then expect this to drop. (We were also turning the device off at night when it wasn’t needed)

Cleverly, the analogue watch part runs from a separate battery so doesn’t die when the smart element of the devices does. It will last two years, according to Martian.

The Notifier charges up pretty quickly and although it receives power over standard microUSB (the same as most smartphones and tablets), you’ll need to use the supplied one. The socket is set quite far back into the body of the watch so a regular cable simply won’t reach. This is a little frustrating as the beauty of microUSB is that you can pretty much use any charger, but that isn’t the case here.

OUR VERDICT

The Martian Notifier is a great choice for those who want a smartwatch within the design of a regular wrist watch. Its affordable but stylish although the rubber strap isn’t the most comfortable. It’s main skill is notifications but the additional features like remote camera control are handy. Our main issue is the extra cost of shipping it over from the US so we’re hoping for a UK launch soon.

(techworld.com)

Nokia Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL with Windows 8.1 hands-on review

The Lumia 640 has been on the market for some time, but its larger (big boned) sister, the XL ‘phablet’ version complete with Windows 8.1 is yet to reach stores. Techworld gets a feel of both devices pre-release.

Design

lumia460

The smaller Lumia 640 comes in a variety of bold, hard and shiny rear covers. It has a 5” HD display, which is enhanced for viewing in sunlight. It weighs 145g and sits pretty nicely in the hand, although I had some issues with fat finger-typos after moving from my usual Sony Xperia model.

The XL version is, clearly, a bigger piece of tech. It’s worth bearing in mind that the XL essentially does everything a bit better than its predecessor – inside and out. Design-wise it has a 5.7” HD display. I was reviewing a prototype, so I can’t speak for the rear cover. The only struggle is getting the back off, but once you give it a whack it comes off in your hand to fit the SIM card in.

Hardware

The Lumia 640 has a 2500 mAh battery, compared to 3000 mAh for the XL. You get a days worth of juice when using applications on each, and extensive battery saving settings help extend life even further. Both phones run on a 1.2 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, which allows the devices to handle multi-tasking pretty well. Office 365 functioned quickly while I had other apps running in the background, for example.

Camera

Pictures were great in both devices. The XL uses a 13 MP, LED flash camera. It’s front facing camera is 5MP – for a really clear selfie should you be so inclined. The Lumia 640 uses a respectable 8MP with a 1MP front-facer.

Software

Here’s where I had issues. I’m a Microsoft fan, and the user interface on both models was pretty intuitive. However, many popular apps aren’t available. Instagram is only in beta version – often rotating your pictures automatically and offering no option to rotate them back around.

If you’re a serial online dater, this phone might not be for you. Tinder and Happn developers have not created a version for Windows 8.1.

Similarly, some news applications and sites aren’t quite optimised for the OS. BBC News often throws up an error page.

Hopefully in time, developers will get on board to boost the choice in the app store. Otherwise, not having my favourite apps is a real flaw for me.

VERDICT

The input from Cortana and a really intuitive interface give the Microsoft OS a thumbs up, but occasional closure of the FM radio app starts to grate. Meanwhile the XL is a brilliant option for someone looking to use their phone in a business scenario like taking HD photos on the go and using Office tools with a large screen. However, a lack of popular apps could stop the device from moving past an enterprise device to one I can’t live without.

(techworld.com)

Lomo Instant camera review

Pros
  • Cool retro design
  • Built-in flash with fun colour gels
  • Good-value bundle with extra lenses
Cons
  • Bulky and a little flimsy
  • Viewfinder doesn’t work with close-up lens
  • Pricey film

Key Features: 27mm-equivalent wide-angle lens; f/8-f/32 aperture settings; Compatible with Fujifilm Instax Mini instant film; 1/125s shutter speed and Bulb mode

Lomo'Instant

What is the Lomo’Instant?

Lomography’s Lomo’Instant is the most advanced instant camera yet, and the result of a crowdfunded Kickstarter campaign.

With the rise of the selfie and concerns over cloud storage of digital snaps, Polaroid-esque instant cameras have made something of a comeback. This model from analogue camera expert Lomography is the latest version to hit the shops, but what sets it apart from the others?

The Lomo’Instant offers far more control than you get with any other instant camera, including a selection of removable lenses, different shooting modes, aperture control and the ability to take multiple exposures.

The first models went out to Kickstarter backers in October, and the Lomo’Instant is now available to everyone.

Design and Handling

The Lomo’Instant sports a pleasingly retro design, although the box-like design means that it’s rather bulky. With the exception of the incredibly cool Fujifilm Instax Mini 90, instant cameras in recent years have tended to feature slightly ugly, uninspiring designs, but the Lomo’Instant is cool and blocky.

The camera sports a similar faux-leather covering to the Lomography Lomokino and Belair models, and is available in black or white. There’s also a model that’s covered real brown leather with a slightly higher price tag of £109. We like the white version best, as its shows off the minimalist design more, but the finish is rather prone to picking up marks and scuffs, and there’s no protective case available to keep it in.

The only accessory that is available – aside from the optional lenses which we’ll look at in more detail later – is a shoulder strap (£8.90), which is good news as it makes the hefty camera slightly less cumbersome.

As with most Lomography cameras, physical controls are kept to a minimum, but these all feel well placed and intuitive.

Lomo'Instant

 Controls and Features

The key control that you’ll need to get to grips with is the mode switch, which enables you to choose between having the flash on, off or on auto, where a sensor will automatically set the flash to the most suitable level based on the ambient light.

If you want to keep things simple, you can just set it to auto each time, but it’s worth experimenting a little – after all, the whole point of this camera is that it offers you the flexibility to do just that. There’s even a handy chart on the underside of the camera that tells you which settings to use for which shooting conditions. The chart is cleverly moulded into the plastic casing, so it doesn’t mess with the camera’s design.

Lomo'Instant

The next major control is the shutter release lever, which is smooth and offers just the right amount of tension not to jog the camera when you’re taking a shot. A simple, sliding focus switch lets you choose from two options – 1m and below for close-ups and 1m to infinity for everything else. Setting the focus to close-up makes the front portion of the camera body protrude slightly, leaving it slightly vulnerable, so make sure you switch the focus back to infinity before plonking the camera back in your bag.

A ‘B’ (for bulb) switch means that you can snap long-exposure shots – ideal for light streaks at night.

An MX control lets you take multiple exposures – just flip the switch before taking a snap and you can take unlimited pictures on the same frame before the picture pops out. While you can take as many multiple exposures as you like on one frame, you’ll get the best results from just two or three.

The exposure-compensation dial can be used to adjust the aperture from -2 (f/32) up to 2 (f/8) – the largest aperture range currently available on an instant camera, which means that you’re more likely to get the right amount of light into your shots.

The settings need a bit of trial and error to get right, but you’ll soon be glad of the control offered when you see how opening up that aperture makes a big difference in dark shooting conditions.

Perhaps the most basic, yet effective, feature of all is the tiny round mirror on the front of the camera, which is great for lining up selfies. For conventional shots, there’s a straight-through optical viewfinder, but it’s rather on the small side.

Lomo'Instant

Film and Lenses

The camera uses the Fujifilm Instax Mini instant film, which is readily available, albeit rather pricey – especially as you only get 10 shots per film. Hunting out bulk buys on eBay is a good way to go.

Loading up the film is as easy as on any Instax-toting cam – you simply tear open the foil wrapper, plonk the cartridge in, making sure that the yellow stripe matches up, and take a picture to eject the cover sheet.

Further adding to the flexibility offered by the camera, the box contains a set of colour gels that can be placed over the built-in flash. As with any colour gels, the lighter colours tend to give better results, as they give a subtle filter effect rather than an overbearing hue.

Lomo'Instant

The camera’s fixed 27mm equivalent wide angle lens is really rather good – it works well on portraits and selfies and also means that you can pack a fair bit into long shots, too.

A bundle pack with three additional lenses will set you back an extra £30, though the lenses can’t currently be bought separately – so you need to decide at the start whether you want the camera with or without the extra optics.

Lomo'Instant

The portrait lens is the best of the three and works well on mid-range photos of people, while the fisheye is probably the lens that you need the least – it’s good for some novelty shots but unlikely to be your ‘go-to’ lens, plus it needs plenty of light to get good results.

The close-up lens attachment is a bit trickier to get good results from – largely because you can’t use the viewfinder to focus on anything that close, so you’re shooting blind. It’s also best to steer clear of the flash on close-ups, with bright daylight giving the best results.

Naturally, all images are slightly on the soft side, but getting the right combination of lens and aperture gets picture as sharp as is possible.

Lomo'Instant

The camera is powered by four AAA batteries, so swapping in new cells is easy and you don’t have to remember to take a charging cable around with you.

Should I buy the Lomo’Instant?

Overall we like the Lomo’Instant a lot, despite its flaws. The design is cool, but for something so bulky, it feels a little flimsy and the faux-leather finish is slightly prone to marking. The amount of manual control is good but not too overwhelming, even for photography newbies.

We love what’s been accomplished in terms of an instant camera, but we’re hoping for a second-gen model with a few refinements, including a more robust build and a more resilient finish.

We also like that the camera uses easy-to-find Instax film, but the costs do rack up as you rattle through those shots.

Verdict

If you fancy diving into instant photography, the Lomo’Instant offers great control and is capable of great results – especially if you splash the extra 30 quid to get the additional lenses. If you just want to dip a toe, some Fujifilm models offer better value.

(trustedreviews.com)

ZenPad 8.0 Z380C review

Pros
  • Customisable appearance
  • Expandable storage
  • Ok Android skin
Cons
  • Poor battery life
  • Underpowered processor
  • Buggy performance

What is the Asus ZenPad 8.0?

Asus pioneered the cheap Android tablet when it partnered with Google to create the 2012 Nexus 7. As a result, it’s no surprise it has continued to release a steady stream of affordable Android tablets ever since.

The 2015 Asus ZenPad 8.0 is its latest effort. However, while the low £119 price tag may make the ZenPad 8.0 sound like a bargain, Asus has cut a few too many corners this time. It won’t be remembered as fondly as the Nexus 7 was.

Design

Budget tablets usually have notoriously dull designs. In general, any tablet – be it in Samsung’s Galaxy, Acer’s Iconia or Tesco’s Hudl series – that retails for less than £200 will feature a dull, cheap looking, design that is about as interesting to look at as a loading screen.

From the front the ZenPad 8.0 looks like Asus has done little to buck this trend. The tablet features a fairly unassuming Gorilla Glass coated screen that also has a slightly junky looking bezel. The fake “metal finish” plastic sides house volume and power buttons on the long right side, but those are the only physical controls.

The ZenPad 8.0’s back is a bit more interesting. The ZenPad 8.0 features a removable, textured, polycarbonate backplate – similar to that seen on the Asus MemoPad 7 – that covers all but the tip of the tablet’s long left side.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 – covers

The slightly raised backplate gives the ZenPad an atypical look that separates it from other affordable tablets, such as the Tesco Hudl. It also lets users customise the ZenPad’s appearance. Asus is currently offering backplates in a variety of colours, each of which retails for £14.99.

While it’s nice that Asus is trying to improve its budget tablet’s visual allure, on a practical level, the design is a mixed bag. In hand, the backplate not only feels cheap, but also makes the ZenPad 8.0 slightly cumbersome to hold. This feeling isn’t helped by its chunky 209mm x 123mm x 8.5mm dimensions and hefty 350g weight.

This would be forgivable if the backplate had some practical value, like granting access to a removable battery. Sadly, it doesn’t. Removing the backplate only grants access to a microSD card slot and dock for the ZenPad’s optional Power Case, which adds a second back-up battery.

That said, the addition of a microSD is no bad thing and lets you add a further 64GB to the ZenPad 8.0’s internal 16GB of storage.

Sound Quality

Asus has loaded the ZenPad 8.0 with a single front speaker with DTS HD Premium Sound that sits next to the tablet’s front camera on its top.

The single speaker isn’t terrible as things go. Watching Netflix, the speaker was suitably loud and clear. However, with music the speaker could sound slightly tinny and didn’t really have much low end – meaning bass heavy songs sound slightly weak and flat.

Asus also includes an AudioWizard app that lets you tweak the speaker’s settings. The feature comes with preset Movie, Music, Gaming and Vocal modes that are designed to optimise the speaker’s settings for specific types of audio.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 backplate removed

It also features an Advanced setting that lets you manually control the speaker’s volume, bass, treble and EQ. While the feature looks impressive, we found the settings didn’t make much of a difference to how the speaker performed and audio quality remained fairly average.

For audiophiles, Asus is offering an Audio Cover that adds six speakers to the ZenPad 8.0 for £69.99, but we weren’t sent one to test.

Display

On paper the ZenPad 8.0s 8-inch, IPS, 1,280 x 800 display isn’t anything special, even by budget tablet standards. Other affordable tablets, such as the £100 Hudl 2, feature Full HD displays that are noticeably sharper than the ZenPad 8.0’s.

However, considering its price the ZenPad 8.0’s screen is hardly a deal breaker and is more than usable. Text and icons are sharp enough to remain legible, and we never found ourselves squinting to read text. Brightness levels, while far from dazzling, are also fairly good – though like 99% of the tablets we test, the screen will become barely usable when hit with direct sunlight.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 display settings

Asus has also done a reasonable job calibrating the ZenPad 8.0’s screen. Colours on the display are nicely vibrant, without being oversaturated, and in general the colours are faithful to real life. Whites look good, too. For example, standing the ZenPad 8.0 next to the Hudl 2, whites on the Tesco tablet looked slightly dirty and had a yellow tinge.

As an added perk, Asus has also added a number of controls that let you adjust the screen’s colour settings. The controls are in the display submenu of Android’s settings menu and let you adjust the display’s colour saturation using a colour temperature slider.

The only slight issue we noticed with the screen’s colour settings is that ZenPad 8.0’s began to take on a blue hue when viewed from even a moderate angle. It’s a tolerable issue on a cheap tablet, but it’s another way the ZenPad falls a little short of ideal.

Software

The display controls are one of many additions Asus has made to the ZenPad 8.0’s software.

The ZenPad 8.0 runs using Android 5.0.2 Lollipop overlaid with Asus custom ZenUI skin. It’s no secret, We’re not huge fans of Android skins for two key reasons. First, because in general the skins don’t do much to improve Android and make needless changes to the operating system’s user interface.

Second, because the skins radically delay how quickly devices can be upgraded to new versions of Android. This is because the company, in this case Asus, has to tweak the skins custom code to work with the new Android version – a process that can take weeks, if not months.

While our first issue with skins remains true on ZenUI, in general the changes Asus has made to Android’s user interface aren’t outright bad and some of the custom services border on being useful. Key positives include the additions of Asus’ ZenMotion and Autostart Manager services.

ZenMotion is an optional service that lets users add custom gesture and motion commands to the ZenPad 8.0. For example, it lets users put the tablet to sleep by double tapping the ZenPad 8.0’s screen, or take a screenshot when the shake it.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 OS

While the features aren’t revolutionary, after a few days with the ZenPad I did find myself using the controls – particularly the double tap sleep command.

The Auto-start Manager is a useful feature that lets you approve which applications can launch and run in the background when you turn the ZenPad 8.0 on.

While this sounds small, when you consider the fact the ZenPad 8.0 only has 1GB of RAM, the feature is very useful, and makes it easy to control which apps are eating up the tablet’s precious memory.

Sadly even with the addition of the app manager, the ZenPad 8.0 still has some performance issues.

Performance

Powered by a quad-core Intel Atom X3 CPU, ARM Mali-450 GPU and 1GB of RAM the ZenPad’s specs aren’t anything to write home about when compared to more expensive tablets, but they are reasonable when you consider its price.

The X3 was unveiled in March and is the least powerful Atom processor in Intel’s current mobile line-up and places affordability above performance. Even with this in mind, the tablet should be more than powerful enough for basic things, like web browsing and streaming video.

The majority of the time we found this is the case and generally the ZenPad runs fairly smoothly. However, after a few days with the ZenPad 8.0, it developed a number of niggling performance issues. For example, at least two or three times a day, the tablet would inexplicably stall and stop recognising commands for no clear reason. This was particularly annoying when typing messages or playing games.

In one incident when updating a spreadsheet, the ZenPad 8.0 stopped recognising my commands for a good five seconds. Adding insult to injury, it then suddenly responded and enacted every command given it during its downtime – which included manic attempts to spur the tablet back to life and left the spreadsheet is a state of disarray that took more than a couple of minutes to fix.

Because the ZenPad is one of the first tablets to run using Intel’s new Atom chip, we’re not sure if the performance issues are due to the tablet’s hardware or software. Either way the ZenPad 8.0’s benchmarks are equally disappointing, even when judged by budget tablet standards.

The ZenPad got a 854-multi-core score in the Geekbench performance benchmark, and 3,293 score in the 3DMark gaming performance benchmark. By comparison, the £170 Acer Iconia 8 scored 1,805 on Geekbench and 13,097 on 3DMark, which is a huge gulf in performance.

Camera

With one or two exceptions, cameras on tablets aren’t great and budget tablets even less so. Featuring basic 5-megapixel rear and 2-megapixel front cameras, the ZenPad 8.0 struggles to shoot even moderately decent photos and is all but useless for selfies.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 test shot flowers

Shooting using the ZenPad 8.0’s rear camera, we found the tablet’s autofocus is hit and miss. Even shooting static object, the camera would occasionally choose to not focus on my intended subject matter even after manually tapping to focus.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 test shot city

Shots also feature fairly average, or poor, contrast and colour balance. The 2-megapixel front camera was similarly poor and is only really useful for video calling purposes.

Being fair to Asus, this is an issue we see on most tablets and considering the fact we can’t see many people using it as their primary camera of choice is more than forgivable.

Battery life

The ZenPad 8.0 is powered by a non-removable 15.2 Wh Li-Po battery Asus lists as offering eight hours of multimedia use.

Battery burning the tablet by looping a 720p video file stored on the tablet with its screen set to mid brightness, the ZenPad 8.0 generally matched Asus’ projection.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 back

On our first test the ZenPad 8.0 only lasted seven hours, but creeped up two eight hours on our second and third.

The eight hours is slightly disappointing as competing tablets in the same size bracket, such as the Nexus 9 or iPad Mini 2, generally offer superior 10-hour battery lives.

Luckily for those that wish to Asus is selling a Power Case it claims will bring the ZenPad 8.0’s battery life up to a more robust 16 hours.

The case is a replacement backplate that physically attaches to the ZenPad 8.0. Running the same battery test with the plate attached, while we never got the full 16 hours listed by Asus, it did markedly improve the tablet’s life.

Asus ZenPad 8.0 home screen

During our video tests, the ZenPad 8.0 generally lasted between 13 to 15 hours with the Power Case attached. While this is great, the power case does bump up the ZenPad 8.0’s upfront cost. Asus is currently selling the attachment for £34.99.

Should I buy the Asus ZenPad 8.0?

While Asus may have been the first company to create a truly great affordable tablet in 2012, it’s 2015 budget follow up is slightly disappointing.

It’s ok for basic tasks, like video streaming and web browsing, but a mix of low powered hardware and software bugs hamper its overall appeal.

As a result, while the ZenPad 8.0 will meet most user’s basic needs, we’d recommend those that can pay a little more and invest in something more powerful, like the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 or Tesco Hudl 2.

Verdict

The ZenPad 8.0 is a functional, but uninspiring tablet that’s only capable of basic tasks.

Scores In Detail

Battery Life : 4/10
Build Quality : 6/10
Design : 6/10
Features : 5/10
Performance : 5/10
Screen Quality : 7/10
Software & Apps : 7/10
Sound Quality : 6/10
Value : 8/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Huawei P8 review

Pros

  • Creative camera features
  • High-end design
  • Mid-range price
  • Solid battery life
  • Great screen

Cons

  • Some App crashing issues
  • Minor performance lag

Key Features: 5.2-inch, 1080p Full HD display; 13-megapixel OIS-enhanced camera; Android 5.0 Lollipop; 2600mAh battery

What is the Huawei P8?

Released in April 2015, the Huawei P8 is the Chinese firm’s first real shot at making a mark in the flagship market, having dipped its toes with the Ascend range. Although Huawei lacks the big-hitting brand name that comes with a Samsung or an Apple handset, it hopes to tempt users away with the P8’s sleek design, iPhone-like aluminium body, along with some solid specs. For the most part it succeeds, too.

The Huawei P8’s octa-core processor, 3GB RAM and high-quality camera proves it’s serious about going toe-to-toe with the big boys. The fact that it’s considerably cheaper than the likes of the iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S6, or even the HTC One M9, makes it an even better alternative to one of the big-brand rivals, if you’re looking for something a little different.

Design

Metal body; 144.9 x 72.1 x 6.4mm; 144g

The Huawei P8 looks and feels a lot more expensive than its price tag would suggest. It’s beautifully crafted, taking obvious inspiration from the iPhone 6 and Sony Xperia Z3, but with a more angular look and feel.

The Huawei P8 adds some refined touches that distinguish it from the competition, including a smooth glass rectangular section on the back of the phone where the camera sits. The front face of the phone is clean, with no branding, no home button and no unsightly plastic-looking speaker grilles. Take note, Samsung.

Huawei P8

The chiselled curved edges of the P8 are similar to the Samsung Galaxy S6, while the softly textured metal back of the phone echoes that of the iPhone 5. Huawei hasn’t just taken design cues from its rivals though, it’s also followed the trend different colours with ridiculous names. As a result, the 16GB version P8 is available in Mystic Champagne/Titanium Grey, and a 64GB P8 is available in Prestige Gold and the less ludicrous Carbon Black. Colours may vary by territory, though.

The power button and volume keys on the right hand side of the P8 are the only physical keys on the P8, and they’re our only real gripe with this phone’s design. The power button is miniscule and is so close to the volume keys that it’s easy to to hit the wrong button.

Huawei P8

A double tap of the bottom volume key opens the camera and takes a picture when the phone screen is off. It’s a good feature, but it would be easier if the power button was larger, further away or on the opposite side of the phone.

Yet this small weakness doesn’t detract from what’s otherwise a solid and well-built phone. It’s heavier than the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6, but it’s lighter than the HTC One M9 and looks as good as any of them despite costing nearly half as much.

Huawei P8 – Screen

5.2-inch; 1080 x 1920 pixels (Full HD); 424ppi; IPS LCD; Gorilla Glass 3

The 5.2-inch screen on the Huawei P8 is a touch larger than the one on the Galaxy S6, but the thin bezel means it doesn’t take up too much more space. And, while it isn’t Quad HD like the S6, it’s one of the finest Full HD screens we’ve seen in a phone. It’s big, it’s bright and it’s useable in all lighting conditions.

Huawei’s Emotion UI includes some options for adjusting the P8 screen’s colour temperature and we used it to counter the phone’s apparent natural bias towards warmer tones. The display options in settings offer a sliding scale between warm and cold, and we found that nudging the slider one position to the right gave us a more natural colour balance.

Huawei P8

That isn’t to say that this phone is particularly bad when it comes to colour reproduction, though. Overall, it does a good job of rendering colours vibrantly, but if you pay attention to Red and Magenta tones, it’s clear there is some oversaturation taking place.

Side-by-side with some of the other flagship phones, the P8 manages to hold its own. Next to the Galaxy S6, the P8 appears to deliver slightly punchier colours, but it can’t match it for detail, deep blacks or clean white tones. Held up next to the HTC One M9, the P8 edges its more expensive rival.

The P8’s screen looks good at acute viewing angles and adapts to changing light conditions well, too. This is one particular area where the P8 really impresses, though it’s by no means the only area – it’s a great screen all round.

Camera

13-megapixel main camera; f/2 lens; Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS); 8-Megapixel front-facing camera; dual LED flash; Director mode; Full HD video

Huawei P8

Huawei made a big deal about the P8’s camera during its announcement and, looking at its specs, you can understand why.

The P8 has a Sony-developed 13-megapixel RGBW sensor with a dedicated image processor and f/2 lens, which is designed to deliver better low light performance and noise reduction. The company also claims that the P8’s optical image stabilisation (OIS) is significantly better than the iPhone 6 Plus’.

This is because the OIS unit on the P8 can handle up to 1.2 degrees of motion shift, compared to only 0.6 degrees on the iPhone 6 Plus. The OIS does decently in low light, helping to reduce camera shake in still images, but it also works very well during Full HD video recording at 30fps, keeping handheld shots relatively stable.

P8 pics 19

Here, the P6 has done a great job of enhancing the blue skies, but the S6 captures a wider range of tones.

P8 pics 5

The S6 has a larger 16-megapixel sensor so it can capture larger images, it’s also sharper than the P8, but the P8 has produced some punchy colours

In use the P8’s camera is great, especially in good light. We found it easy to use and responsive, but the autofocus could be better. The P8 recognises faces quickly and tracks them well. It takes about a second to focus, which isn’t too bad, but if we weren’t focusing on faces it needed help to pick the right subject to focus on.

The P8 has some fancy camera modes that help people to capture creative and enhanced images without needing any technical know-how. Light painting is probably the most complex of the Huawei’s photo modes and helps people to capture photos with a range of different effects, such as Car light trails, star tracks and smooth flowing water.

P8 pics 9

We experimented with some of the light painting modes, a tripod or stable surface is definitely required to produce anything half decent

The mode works by using slow shutter speeds to allow the camera to capture light for longer periods of time, but saves people from having to learn about shutter speeds. If you can hold the phone steadily enough – Huawei recommends using a tripod – the results are decent and it can be fun experimenting with light. It’s an accessible way to introduce people to some advanced photographic technique.

The camera’s 8-megapixel front-facing camera is ideal for selfies and comes complete with some built-in ‘beauty’ tools, to help scrub up our otherwise ugly mugs. The list of beauty enhancements (which some may find offensive) include teeth and skin whitening, face slimming and eye bag removal. If used sparingly, the results are half decent, but we prefer the natural look produced by the camera without the beauty mode. It’s a gimmick, really, albeit one you can ignore.

Huawei has done some great work on its camera processing to produce images that enhance colours and convey sharpness. The result is that the P8’s images look great on the phone’s screen and social media.

P8 Sunset

Both cameras produce images with good contrast, but the S6 has better dynamic range performance

Comparison shots from the P8 and the Galaxy S6 show just how well Huawei has done. In a number of different lighting conditions, the P8’s images are immediately more attractive. Of course, on closer inspection the S6 is in a different league for colour accuracy and detail, but for the majority of smartphone users, the P8’s camera is more than capable enough.

Software and Performance

HiSilicon Kirin 930 octa-core chipset; Mali T628 GPU; 3GB RAM

The P8 may look a little iPhone inspired on the outside, but inside it will be freakishly familiar if you’ve used an iOS device in recent years.

Even though the P8 runs Android Lollipop 5.0, it has the company’s own Emotion UI over the top of it and there’s no attempt to hide its Apple-likeness. Everything from the shape and styling of the phone’s icons to the home screen pull down gesture that activates the Spotlight Search function have been replicated.

What makes the Apple-aping so obvious is the fact that the Huawei phone has the Android system search feature included in it anyway, so the copied spotlight function is redundant and included probably just because Apple phones do it.

Home screen

iOS users will find the Huawei Emotion UI very familiar

But don’t let these observations put you off as Huawei has used its admiration for one of the best operating systems around and created an Android user experience that is mostly responsive, clean and clutter free. For example, swiping down give you access to notifications on one tab and the quick settings menu on another. It’s a good solution for separating the two areas and makes them easy to navigate.

That said, Huawei ought to have left in some Lollipop features, such as the Rolodex style active app shortcut. Instead, pressing the option button brings up a stagnant tile based active app browser, which allows you to select or close open apps by pressing them or swiping up. It works, but it isn’t as attractive as the stock Android 5.0 method of dealing with open apps.

In an attempt to create some points of difference, Huawei has given the P8 some unique features. We mentioned some of them in the camera section, but another add-on is ‘Voice Wake’ that allows you set a voice trigger to wake and to find your phone. By default our phone’s trigger phrase was “Ok Emy”, but you can type a custom phrase that’s a little more personal.

We had mixed results with the feature and didn’t find it much easier than just picking up the phone and pressing the power button. It ignored us most of the time and occasionally interrupted conversations to ask us to repeat what it overheard as if we’d commanded it do something.

The other “feature” lets you use your knuckles to carry out additional gesture commands, such as screen capturing. The phone knows the difference between fingertips and knuckles and will screen grab instantly if you knock on the phone twice for example. It’s good for screen grabs as it’s easier than the traditional volume key + power key combination.

The system is powered by a Huawei developed 64-bit HiSilicon Kirin 930 chipset, made up of two ARM Cortex-A53 quad-cores in a big.LITTLE configuration. One set is clocked to 2.0GHz to handle intense tasks, while the other 1.5GHz quad-core takes care of standard phone functionality and operations, such as calls, email, web browsing and listening to music.

This setup is very power efficient, proven by our experience with the P8. For the most part we found the phone to be responsive and capable when it comes to tackling intense tasks. We did experience some minor application freezing and lag on occasion, but managing open applications sensibly should negate this issue.

P8 pics 7P8 pics

Benchmark tests put the P8’s processing performance not far off the HTC One M9, which uses the top spec Snapdragon 810 chipset. That would be impressive in and of itself, but considering the Huawei flagship is around £220 cheaper, it’s a very big deal.

Speaker and Call Quality

The speaker and microphone of the P8 are at the base of the phone, either side of the the micro USB port. The speaker’s position means it can be covered by a hand when viewing videos in landscape orientation, but the speaker is big enough to avoid being totally obscured.

The mono speaker is loud, but it doesn’t sound great. You’ll quickly become a figure of hate if you dare to play audio at even 50% volume in a public space – crank it up to 100% and you’ll have projectiles and abusive words raining down on you within seconds. The quality of the audio is noticeably top heavy and can distort quite easily, but there’s still respectable level of bass to be heard.

Huawei P8

The provided headphones are tough plastic and they don’t fit well unless you have large lug holes. The earphones are loud though, and give a good frequency response across the board, but they leak sound badly so will annoy people around you. Head to our best headphone round-up for better alternatives.

Overall, we’d say the audio from the P8 sits somewhere between the HTC One M9’s class-leading BoomSound stereo speakers and the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6 – another decent result considering the price.

During our time with the P8 we didn’t have any issues with mobile signal or call quality. We received good signal strength anywhere we could reasonably expect to receive service. The phone is 4G compatible, and uses a special antenna design with what it calls ‘seamless switching technology’ to keep call signal strength consistently good. In our experience, it works.

Battery life

The Huawei P8 has a 2,680mAh capacity battery – it’s slightly more than the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, but significantly less than its larger twin the P8 Max and its enormous 4,360mAh battery.

p8 battery

The graph gives some indication of the phone’s charging and draining times on an average day’s use. The phone conserves power when idle and drains steadily with drastic declines

Used moderately, the P8 battery will last a day and a half. The battery level barely moves when idle, but declines steadily at a rate of about 7% for every hour of video or playing games it . Listening to songs doesn’t seem to impact the battery any more than having the phone active but on standby, which is great for music lovers.

P8 pics 21

A morning commute with social media checking, some video watching and then a morning of going through emails leaves the battery at about 85-90% by midday. Huawei’s Emotion UI offers some comprehensive power management tools, the most useful of which monitors the phone’s usage and indicates which apps are causing a particular strain on the battery.

The phone also offers a range of solutions to help optimise battery performance, with suggestions for which apps and settings to optimise. This fine-tuning is a good alternative to standard power saving options that just throttle the phone’s performance across the board. Those are also available of course and can be set to kick when the battery reaches a certain level.

Other than the fact that it takes a lengthy 3.5 hours to charge from critical to 100% – the S6 charges in half the time – we were mostly happy with the P8’s battery performance. It still needs to be charged once every 24 hours if used moderately, but you’ll rarely be caught off guard by critical battery status alerts.

Should I buy the Huawei P8?

Don’t rule it out. Sure, it lacks big name prestige, but it’s much cheaper than phones it matches and sometimes surpasses, and what you lose in recognition you gain in owning a phone few people will know. They’ll certainly notice it when they see it – it looks great.

Moreover, the P8 has all of the features a flagship phone should have, including a great screen, fast processor and a good 13-megapixel main camera. A larger 3,000mAh battery would make it a no brainer, but its battery life is still a match for more storied rivals.

All this comes at a price similar to last year’s flagships such as the LG G3 and HTC M8, super mid-range phones like the Samsung Galaxy A5 and Sony M4 Aqua and compact versions of flagships. Yet, on specs and performance alone, it rivals some of this year’s biggest flagship phones, including the Galaxy S6 and HTC One M9. It’s a powerful argument in the P8’s favour and certainly puts it among the best smartphones and best android phones of 2015.

Verdict

This could be the best value phone you’ll see this year. If it gets the attention it deserves then you’ll hear the Huawei name a lot more in future.

Scores In Detail

Battery Life : 8/10
Calls & Sound : 9/10
Camera : 9/10
Design : 8/10
Performance : 8/10
Screen Quality : 9/10
Software : 8/10
Value : 9/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Panasonic Lumix FZ72 review

Key Features: 16.1MP, 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor; 3-inch, 460k-dot LCD; 60x optical zoom, 20 – 1200mm equivalent; ISO 100 – 6400; 1080p 50i Full HD video capture

What is the Panasonic Lumix FZ72?

It used to be that it was impressive when a bridge camera came with a 20x optical zoom. But lens technology has moved on so much that we now see that in compact cameras, while bridge cameras like the Panasonic Lumix FZ72 move things on to a different level. And that’s the right phrase because the FZ72 has a 20–1200mm focal range, which means an extraordinary 60x optical zoom. There are obvious risks associated with such a large optical zoom, so has Panasonic managed to pull off the inclusion of such a lens?

 

Panasonic Lumix FZ72 12

Features

The Panasonic Lumix FZ72 may feature an extensive focal range – a feature we’ll look a little closer at in a moment – but it has a fairly small sensor by conventional standards. The 1/2.3-inch, 16.1MP CMOS is about the same size and resolution as most pocketable compacts, which could prove a handicap in our photo tests later on.

But the FZ72 isn’t just about photography as a hallmark of Panasonic digital cameras, including the FZ series, is their high-quality video capture performance. The FZ72 continues this tradition and as a result doubles as a respectable camcorder.

It shoots Full HD video in either AVCHD or MP4 formats, making it more versatile with regards to post-production software compatibility, while video can also be captured at a range of different frame rates. Furthermore, the FZ72 now features extra wind noise prevention technology through a new Wind Shield Zoom microphone. One thing it is lacking, however, is support for an external microphone.

Panasonic Lumix FZ72 6

One welcome feature for those looking for a more advanced shooting experience is the model’s electronic viewfinder. It measures in at 0.2-inches with a resolution of 460k-dots, featuring a 60fps refresh rate. Although this specification is by no means lacklustre, in fact it’s more impressive than a host of competitors, it’s still not quite large or sharp enough to fully support manual focusing.

The other composition and review tool – the FZ72’s LCD screen – is somewhat disappointing. Its 3-inch size is respectable, but the 460k-dot resolution is underwhelming and the fact that it’s fixed, rather than of the vari-angle variety, is also disappointing.

This brings us back to the real blockbuster feature on the Panasonic Lumix FZ72: the humongous 60x optical zoom. The lens is some 20% larger than the closest competitor, and it boasts some impressive figures.Panasonic Lumix FZ72 10

The lens covers a focal range of 20-1200mm in traditional 35mm terms, sporting an f/2.8 maximum aperture at the 20mm wide-angle of the lens. The lens features 14 elements in 12 groups, including 3 Extra-Low Dispersion elements.

The zoom is also accompanied with Panasonic’s Power O.I.S image stabilisation technology complete with Active Mode for support during both video and stills capture.

As you’d expect from a camera falling squarely in to the superzoom bridge camera market, the FZ72 features a range of manual exposure modes accessible through a DSLR-style mode dial. A host of ‘Creative Control’ filters and effects, as well as a range of automated shooting modes, accompany these shooting modes.

Design

The FZ72’s huge optical zoom translates in to quite a substantial physical optic, and as a result turns the Panasonic Lumix FZ72 in to a rather bulky camera. It measures in considerably larger than its predecessor – the FZ62 – as well as being larger than Panasonic’s flagship CSC – the Panasonic GH3.

Not only is it physically larger than these cameras, but it’s also heavier. It weighs in at over 600g including battery and card, and as a result is not far off the weight of a reasonable DSLR with kit lens.Panasonic Lumix FZ72 5

The similarities to a DSLR don’t end with the physical dimensions of the FZ72, as it also takes several of its design hallmarks from this camera type as well. It has a large handgrip and a textured grip at the rear, too. The combination well-spaced buttons, rear adjustment wheel and top panel mode dial also add to this effect, and on the whole it’s a good-looking camera.

While the large size does aid the camera’s handling in terms of comfort, there’s not a great deal which can be done to aid handling at the tele end of the large zoom. Despite the effective image stabilisation system, at the maximum focal length of 1200mm it’s very difficult to keep the camera still enough to capture a sharp shot.

The only metal element of the camera’s body is the surrounding ring of the lens barrel, with the rest of the camera’s body constructed from plastic. That’s not to say that the camera is poorly put together, however, as the overall build quality is up to Panasonic’s high standard.Panasonic Lumix FZ72 3

Performance

While there are issues with the Panasonic FZ72’s performance, including the camera’s write speed, it’s not all bad news.

Despite the camera featuring a relatively small 895mAh li-ion battery, and considering the amount of power needed to operate the substantial lens, it still manages a respectable shot count. During testing, the FZ72 managed several long movie clips, lots of mode adjustment and over 200 test shots and it still displayed a full battery, thus rendering the stated 400 test shot claim entirely feasible.

The Panasonic Lumix FZ72 also impresses in terms of both start-up speed and shot-to-shot time. The camera goes from dormant to ready to capture a picture in just less than two seconds – while powering off in the same time – making it about average in this area.

Panasonic Lumix FZ72 10

Shot-to-shot speed in JPEG only mode is also impressive, coming in at under a second. This is thanks to the excellent AF system, a feature which has become synonymous with Panasonic cameras. The AF system does begin to slow towards the tele end of the focal range, although that’s no real surprise and not unique to the FZ72.

The major issue with the FZ72’s performance is with its Raw JPEG write speed. After the first few shots the camera’s buffer fills, and the result is a wait of around five seconds for the file to write, even with a fast SD card.

Slow write speeds are also noted when shooting at higher ISO settings even in JPEG only mode, and these two issues hint at the FZ72 being somewhat underequipped in the processing department.

Image Quality

The first area of consideration when it comes to the FZ72’s image quality performance has to be the camera’s lens.

When you cram such an extended focal range in to one retractable optic there are always fears about overall image quality, but the Panasonic Lumix FZ72 avoids the worst pitfalls.

Panasonic Lumix FZ72

Although it doesn’t excel in one particular area – be it its 20mm wide angle or 1200mm tele end – it manages to produce respectable images at either end.

The FZ72’s in-camera processing handles distortion at the wide angle, while it does the same with chromatic aberration towards the tele end of the zoom.

Another concern is how the FZ72 handles noise at higher ISO settings, owing to the relatively small sensor size in comparison to some more advanced compacts. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t perform as well here, and ISO noise is visible even at the lower end of the scale.

Panasonic Lumix FZ72

At ISO 800 there are clear signs of noise reduction technology working hard, while at the highest setting of ISO 3200 image quality is very poor. Although there is no clear noise as such, noise reduction has removed almost all of the fine detail found in the images.

There is an extended setting of ISO 6400, although that’s best avoided all together.

There’s good news concerning the camera’s exposure control however, as the metering performance is excellent. Not only does it deliver even exposures in standard conditions, but it also handles more difficult scenes well.

Panasonic Lumix FZ72

Although the smaller sensor does deliver a slightly limited dynamic range, the Panasonic Lumix FZ72 generally manages highlight and shadow detail well in all but the highest contrast scenes.

Colour reproduction is also impressive, no doubt in some part thanks to the reliable Venus Engine image processing. It delivers punchy and vibrant colours in standard settings, with a whole host of other picture settings available for those wanting some variety.

Panasonic Lumix FZ72 7

Should I buy Panasonic Lumix FZ72?

As the Panasonic FZ72 stands alone in terms of its 60x optical zoom, it’s a touch complicated to draw a direct comparison with other cameras. Its closest competitor is the Canon PowerShot SX50HS, and that offers 50x optical zoom, while the Fujifilm SL1000 offers the same fat a lower price.

Compared to these two the FZ72 not only offers a greater wide-angle lens, but it also handles better. There are issues with image quality, although you’d expect to make such compromises if you were in the market for a 60x optical zoom.

Overall, if you can handle a smaller optical zoom you’ll get better photos from either rival, but if you decide to go for the FZ72 it could be worth waiting for the price to fall just before the festive period.

Verdict

The Panasonic Lumix FZ72 is a solid camera, but there’s no doubt that compromises have been made in cramming in the 60x optical. If image quality is your number one priority then it may be wise to look elsewhere, but if the extra range is worthwhile to you then it’s a decent camera and camcorder in one.

Scores In Detail

Design : 8/10
Features : 7/10
Image Quality : 6/10
Performance : 7/10
Value : 6/10

(trustedreviews.com)

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite vs. 2015 Kia Sedona SXL, 2015 Toyota Sienna Limited – Comparison Tests

What do minivans and waterslides have in common? No, not fun. The answer is kids—loads and loads of screaming kids.

It’s possible that none of this matters. Billions of years from now, after all of humanity’s great struggles and achievements, the universe will collapse back in on itself, and all that exists and all knowledge of all that was will be compressed into a singularity so inescapable that not even Katniss Everdeen will be able to shoot her way out. Meanwhile, perpetuating life on Earth is, for whatever reason, our most basic urge. And that’s not such a bad thing—right up until you succeed. Then it’s all sympathy weight; poop in unimaginable colors, textures, and places; and, later, insolence. But the biggest bummer of all is that your best option, if you think about it rationally, is to drive a minivan.

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite vs. 2015 Kia Sedona SXL, 2015 Toyota Sienna Limited

As America’s most accessible philosopher, Jack Handey, once wrote, “If life deals you lemons, why not go kill someone with the lemons (maybe by shoving them down his throat)?” At the very least, spike your citrus with all the ­garnishes of a mobile man cave: widescreen TV, Blu-ray player, and a name-brand audio system. Maybe even, uh, a vacuum cleaner? You might say its vacuum makes the Honda Odyssey more of a woman cave, but we wouldn’t say that because we don’t want our wives to slap us.

We have no Chrysler/Dodge or Nissan entrants here because neither one has been sufficiently updated since last losing a comparison test. Meanwhile, our reigning champ in the segment, the Honda Odyssey, which won every minivan comparo we’ve conducted in the last decade, was refreshed for 2014. The update includes said vacuum (only on the top-of-the-line Elite trim), new aluminum sheetmetal for the schnoz, and prettier interior fixings. A sturdier front structure helps the Odyssey on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s new small-overlap front crash test, securing the Institute’s “Top Safety Pick” rating. With a 16.2-inch video screen in the headliner and a 12-speaker stereo, our Odyssey Elite rings in at $45,480.

Toyota’s Sienna is also fresh off a fluffing, with a stiffened structure, updated dashboard, new grille and headlights, and the “Driver Easy Speak” built-in bullhorn. The latter uses the voice-control microphone already embedded above the driver’s head and broadcasts scoldings through the rear speakers. The Toyota is a “Top Safety Pick Plus” on account of its available Pre-Collision automatic-braking system. (The Honda was a TSPP last year, but isn’t for 2015 because the criteria changed this year to require an automatic-braking system.) The Sienna is still the only minivan to offer four-wheel drive, but we had a front-driver. Our Limited model included dual sunroofs and a Blu-ray player. That plus the $1800 Advanced Technology package (adaptive cruise control, Pre-Collision System, and hill-start assist) punted the price up to the test’s highest: $48,035.

The Kia Sedona is all-new this year. Joining the Odyssey on Safety Pick Tier Two (because its collision-warning system only screams of impending doom, rather than braking to do something about it), it also boasts eight different electronic systems to mitigate the loss of traction or stability. All this for an eminently controllable transportation appliance. Our SXL also packs 19-inch wheels, matches the Toyota’s sunroof count, and includes a $2700 tech package that adds lane-departure and forward-collision warnings, adaptive cruise, and a surround-view system. Yet at $43,295, it’s the cheapest in this test.

Our Kia is, however, missing one $995 option that could make all the difference: a back-seat entertainment system. That feature matters more in this test than most. Seizing on the notion that, in a minivan, the left-front seat is for an adult and everything else is for kids, Alterman decreed that, rather than follow our usual comparison-test regimen, we’d swing by managing editor Mike Fazioli’s house on a Saturday morning and take his kids’ birthday parties on the road. We’d drive two vanloads of 11-year-old boys and one of 15-year-old girls to an indoor water park four hours away. Along the way, the kids would rate the vans for comfort and entertainment value. The drivers would wish for bulkheads behind their seats. Cannonball!

2015 Kia Sedona SXL

Third place: Minivans.

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite vs. 2015 Kia Sedona SXL, 2015 Toyota Sienna Limited

This idea of having the kids rate the vans started showing cracks early on. Upon entering the Sedona, we asked the quartet of 11-year-olds in back what they thought of this van. First response: “It’s a van?”

Maybe they were confused by its appearance. Kia calls the styling of the new Sedona “CUV-like,” a foreboding classification. The last time anybody tried to pretend their vans were crossovers was 2005, when GM transmogrified its minivans into awkward pseudo-SUVs (remember theSaturn Relay?) before finally pulling them from the market a few years later. Sedona sales have been dragging through lake-bottom muck for years, and Kia hasn’t sold more than 10,000 per annum since 2012.

Unlike GM’s mutants, though, the Sedona is sharply dressed— a simple, clean van design contrasted against the aqua-mech styling of the Honda and Toyota. But inside, simple and clean gives way to bland. At least Kia’s infotainment system, called UVO, now comes with a suite of kid-tracking apps. As if driving a minivan isn’t enough of a social torpedo, the Sedona has speed, geo-fencing, and curfew alerts that immediately send mom or dad a text if the teen driving their Sedona goes too fast, goes to the wrong places, or goes anywhere at all after hours. To the therapists of the future, Kia says, “You’re welcome.”

But when our test kids discovered the leg rests that are part of the Limited’s first-class second-row seats, they amended their initial reaction from “It’s a van?” to “Is it heaven?” With four adjustment levers apiece, the Sedona’s seats are almost Germanic in their complexity. They adjust fore and aft so far that they can touch either the front- or third-row seats, a dangerous range of motion for warring tribes who might want to crush the legs of way-back dwellers. They also adjust side to side, the inward movement necessary so that when pushed back, they clear the interior trim and slide all the way aft. And if you pull both releases simultaneously, the seat will careen about in two dimensions as the van goes down the road, your own private Tilt-A-Whirl.

But the Sedona’s second-row seats are the only ones here that can’t be removed. Even in their outboard positions, they offer the narrowest passage to the third row, at just eight inches wide. And that third-row seat feels small, ranking lowest for space in the back. All three vans sport third rows that fold flat into wells behind the seat, but collapsing the Kia’s summons ghosts of Korea’s low-quality past. It’s by far the sloppiest mechanism, with a startling amount of wobble and play as the seat settles into its hold. And the effort required to raise it into position could put undue strain on backs.

The Sedona’s new 3.3-liter V-6 sports variable intake-manifold geometry for a best-in-test 276 horsepower. That makes it slightly quicker than the other two, but it needs to downshift more often to maintain speed up hills, and those shifts are not smooth. On the plus side, the Sedona’s 167-foot stop from 70 mph is only four feet l­onger than that of the lastVolkswagen GTI we tested.

Stopping was much on the minds of the Kia’s passengers. Even though most of our brood had at least one mobile device, they balked at the idea of copying media onto those devices before bringing them into the vehicle. They seemed to think that the only way to watch movies or TV on their phones and tablets was via streaming, which meant a lot of stopping, buffering, and restarting of media on our remote route. On the trip home, the kids spent the first half-hour griping about how the Sedona didn’t have a TV, before finally resorting to a sort of 20 Questions/I Spy hybrid. Fazioli’s son kicked it off. “I’m thinking of something red.”

The immediate response: “Is it the red van, with the DVD player in it?”

“Yeah,” said little Faz, dejected.

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite

Second place: Minivans.

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite vs. 2015 Kia Sedona SXL, 2015 Toyota Sienna Limited

We spent our last minivan comparison menacing California’s roadside shrubbery with squalling understeer, an environment that favored the Odyssey’s faithful steering and predictable handling. But during that test, no child was overheard saying: “I’ve never tasted baloney. I’ve never tasted zombie, either.” Or made any references whatsoever to ninjas riding on dolphins or to the use of food-based weapons to kill doughnuts. (Often, childhood looks like an endless acid trip.) This time, we turned the steering wheel past 90 degrees maybe on nine occasions. And with that shift in priorities, the Odyssey dropped to second place. When Pacific Rim’s warring Kaiju and Jaegers are decimating Hong Kong at ear-splitting volume on the TV, quick steering is just one more annoyance.

The Honda lags behind the Toyota in other regards, too. According to measurements, the Odyssey’s front quarters are only one cubic foot smaller than the other vans, but subjectively, its forecabin feels a lot tighter. Our tallest drivers’ knees were close to the dash—pressed against it, in fact, in the fixed-height front-passenger seat—and our hair brushed the headliner. The middle-row seats are firmer and flatter than the Toyota’s, but the Odyssey did have the only three-person second row here, and its seats were lighter and easier to remove than the Sienna’s. Its outboard positions weigh 55 pounds apiece; the middle, 41. Toyota’s are each a back-busting 69 pounds, though that includes the leg rests. The Honda’s low step-in height is great for small children, as well as for the elderly retirees who make up the sizable balance of the mini­van market. With the middle seat removed, the Honda offers the widest passage to the rear, and the ease and speed with which the Odyssey’s third-row seat manually stows make the Sienna’s power-folding seat seem like a needless luxury.

Speaking of needless luxury, both the Odyssey and Sienna have split-view monitors so kids can simultaneously watch two different movies on side-by-side screens. That strikes us as complete sensory overload, albeit useful for developing the skills necessary to focus on what a modern newscaster is saying while also reading the unrelated ticker at the bottom of the screen. And, as ridiculous as the Odyssey’s ability to simultaneously charge four phones might seem, our teen-girl squad pointed out the fact that this is four short of the number of seats in the van, and therefore four less than the number of phones that might all need charging at the same time. (Sigh.) More stuff is just more stuff to complain about.

The Odyssey might be the sportiest of the minivans, but it also achieves the highest fuel economy. And it has a vacuum.

Whether a screen is in their hand or hanging from the ceiling, everybodywill be staring at it. As we neared our destination, way up in Michigan’s far northern woods where Big Lumber still calls the shots, one kid happened to glance away from the movie for a second. Maybe he had something in his eye. “Hey, snow!” Everyone got very excited, for about one minute. Then they clammed up and went back to watching the movie. As any parent will tell you, pleasing these creatures often means forgoing your own wants and needs. If it’s a modicum of sportiness that you’re looking for in your family hauler, the Odyssey is still the van to get. Its steering is more responsive than the others’ and its body stays flatter in corners, even if its handling numbers do trail the Kia’s and Toyota’s. But it’s not like the Odyssey is actually fun to drive. It’s just a little bit more so than things that are no fun at all. The Toyota Sienna’s serenity, on the other hand, is an absolute.

2015 Toyota Sienna Limited

First place: Minivans.

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite vs. 2015 Kia Sedona SXL, 2015 Toyota Sienna Limited

Did you know that a giraffe can kick off a lion’s head—just boot it clean off? It’s true. Or, at least, it is if 11-year-old boys are to be trusted. A short while after making that proclamation, said boy hoovered down an entire bag of potato chips, a package of Oreos, and a baseball-sized jawbreaker—then got carsick. This added to his credibility among his peers.

Top right: To paraphrase the least-funny Marx, “Built-in video entertainment systems are the opiate of the preteens.

Kicking the head off a lion is kind of what the Sienna is doing here in defeating the 10-year minivan champion. It starts with plenty of space and comfortable seats in all rows. The second row sits significantly higher than the fronts, affording kids a good view forward and out, not that they’re looking. Like the Kia, the Toyota has a sliding second row that can move all the way back until it touches the third row’s bottom ­cushion. But with the Sienna’s more-spacious interi­or, its seats don’t need to squinch inboard for access. The back half of the center console also slides rearward to provide cup holders to the kids in the second row, or can be retracted forward to revoke juice privileges when you tire of stopping at every rest stop (and sometimes in between them). Our Sienna was the only van to include a power-folding third row, a push of the button taking about 12 seconds to stow the seat and 18 to raise it. Dual sunroofs, as both the Toyota and Kia have, can present a problem. If you open the rear one with the kids all sugared up, they’ll scramble to unbuckle their seatbelts and stick their heads through it, or at least to throw food and garbage out of it. Establish some ground rules before pressing that button.

Toyota boasts that the renewed ­Sienna’s unibody has an additional 142 spot welds throughout to enhance stiffness. It feels more like a Mercedes S-class than either of the other vans, with an isolated, imperturbable ride. The engine note is unobtrusive, and the transmission swaps ratios as seamlessly as a CVT. Not that there won’t be plenty of noise otherwise. As features editor Jeff Sabatini and our panel of 15-year-old problem solvers noted, in neither the Honda nor the Toyota can rear-seat passengers hear the dialogue in a movie very well. Surround-sound systems route most of the dialogue through the center channel, which is the speaker in the middle of the dash. Meanwhile, background sounds are piped through the speakers right by the kids’ ears, drowning out much of what’s being said.

We’d hoped that the Driver Easy Speak would allow us to be heard over the movie, but it’s not the bullhorn we’d anticipated. It’s more like bugging your own bedroom and broadcasting the signal to the kids’ rooms. It replays everything you say through the rear speakers barely louder than your un-amplified voice. And it doesn’t reduce the audio volume, so you’re just adding more noise to an already chaotic cabin. If you leave it on in the rain, though, the microphone’s placement in the headliner picks up each drop. It sounds like you’re driving around in a rainstick, furthering the mobile-spa ambiance. Well, when there aren’t kids aboard.

That the Sienna’s gimmicks spark our harshest complaints speaks to the excellence of its basic package. When life cruelly impels you toward a minivan, surrender to the Toyota.

COMPARISON TESTS

VEHICLE
2015 Honda Odyssey Elite
2015 Kia Sedona SXL
2015 Toyota Sienna Limited
BASE PRICE $45,480 $40,595 $42,535
PRICE AS TESTED $45,480 $43,295 $48,035
DIMENSIONS
LENGTH 202.9 inches 201.4 inches 200.2 inches
WIDTH 79.2 inches 78.1 inches 78.1 inches
HEIGHT 68.4 inches 68.5 inches 67.7 inches
WHEELBASE 118.1 inches 120.5 inches 119.3 inches
FRONT TRACK 68.1 inches 68.5 inches 67.7 inches
REAR TRACK 68.2 inches 68.8 inches 67.7 inches
INTERIOR VOLUME F: 58 cubic feet
M: 59 cubic feet
R: 53 cubic feet
F: 59 cubic feet
M: 55 cubic feet
R: 44 cubic feet
F: 59 cubic feet
M: 53 cubic feet
R: 44 cubic feet
CARGO BEHIND F: 149 cubic feet
M: 93 cubic feet
R: 38 cubic feet
F: 142 cubic feet
M: 78 cubic feet
R: 34 cubic feet
F: 150 cubic feet
M: 87 cubic feet
R: 39 cubic feet
TOWING
MAX 3500 pounds 3500 pounds 3500 pounds
AS TESTED 3500 pounds 3500 pounds 3500 pounds
POWERTRAIN
ENGINE SOHC 24-valve V-6
212 cu in (3471 cc)
DOHC 24-valve V-6
204 cu in (3342 cc)
DOHC 24-valve V-6
211 cu in (3456 cc)
POWER HP @ RPM 248 @ 5700 276 @ 6000 266 @ 6200
TORQUE LB-FT @ RPM 250 @ 4800 248 @ 5200 245 @ 4700
REDLINE / FUEL CUTOFF 6250/6575 rpm 6750/6500 rpm 6500/6400 rpm
LB PER HP 18.6 17.3 17.7
DRIVELINE
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic 6-speed automatic 6-speed automatic
DRIVEN WHEELS front front front
GEAR RATIO:1/
MPH PER 1000 RPM/
MAX MPH
3.36/5.8/33
2.10/9.5/58
1.49/13.4/80
1.07/18.8/110
0.75/26.5/120
0.56/36.3/120
4.25/6.1/39
2.65/9.8/65
1.80/14.7/96
1.39/19.3/116
1.00/26.9/122
0.77/34.8/122
3.30/6.2/38
1.90/10.6/68
1.42/14.1/91
1.00/20.1/113
0.71/28.1/113
0.61/33.0/113
AXLE RATIO:1 4.25 3.04 3.94
CHASSIS
SUSPENSION F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs
F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: torsion beam, coil springs, anti-roll bar
BRAKES F: 12.6-inch vented disc
R: 13.1-inch disc
F: 12.6-inch vented disc
R: 11.9-inch disc
F: 12.9-inch vented disc
R: 12.2-inch disc
STABILITY CONTROL partially defeatable partially defeatable, traction off partially defeatable, traction off
TIRES Michelin
Primacy MXV4
P235/60R-18 102T
M+S
Continental
CrossContact LX Sport
235/55R-19 101H
M+S
Goodyear
Eagle RS-A
P235/55R-18 99V
M+S
C/D TEST  RESULTS
ACCELERATION
0–30 MPH 2.7 sec 2.8 sec 2.7 sec
0–60 MPH 7.7 sec 7.4 sec 7.6 sec
0–100 MPH 21.0 sec 19.4 sec 20.5 sec
0–110 MPH 26.9 sec 24.6 sec 26.3 sec
¼-MILE @ MPH 15.9 sec @ 88 15.8 sec @ 91 15.8 sec @ 90
ROLLING START, 5–60 MPH 7.7 sec 7.7 sec 7.9 sec
TOP GEAR, 30–50 MPH 3.8 sec 4.0 sec 4.3 sec
TOP GEAR, 50–70 MPH 5.5 sec 5.0 sec 5.2 sec
TOP SPEED 120 mph (gov ltd) 122 mph (gov ltd) 113 mph (gov ltd)
CHASSIS
BRAKING 70–0 MPH 178 feet 167 feet 180 feet
ROADHOLDING,
300-FT-DIA SKIDPAD
0.77g 0.81 g* 0.78 g
610-FT SLALOM 39.5 mph* 39.7 mph* 40.2 mph*
WEIGHT
CURB 4615 pounds 4772 pounds 4719 pounds
%FRONT/%REAR 55.9/44.1 55.9/44.1 56.3/43.7
CG HEIGHT 27.0 inches 27.0 inches 26.5 inches
FUEL
TANK 21.0 gallons 21.1 gallons 20.0 gallons
RATING 87 octane 87 octane 87 octane
EPA CITY/HWY 19/28 mpg 17/22 mpg 18/25 mpg
C/D 500-MILE TRIP 22 mpg 20 mpg 19 mpg
PRACTICAL STOWAGE
NO. OF 9X11X16-IN
BOXES, BEHIND F/M/R
98/45/19 69/46/18 101/54/19
LENGTH OF PIPE 151.8 inches 146.3 inches 150.8 inches
LARGEST FLAT PANEL,
LENGTH X WIDTH
92.5 x 47.5 inches 64.0 x 47.5 inches 93.5 x 43.5 inches
SOUND LEVEL
IDLE 37 dBA 38 dBA 39 dBA
FULL THROTTLE 75 dBA 75 dBA 73 dBA
70-MPH CRUISE 69 dBA 70 dBA 69 dBA

*stability-control inhibited

Final Results
VEHICLE
RANK

Max Pts. Available

1

2015 Toyota Sienna Limited

2

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite

3

2015 Kia Sedona SXL

DRIVER COMFORT 10 9 7 7
ERGONOMICS 10 8 6 7
SECOND-ROW COMFORT 5 5 4 4
SECOND-ROW SPACE* 5 3 5 4
THIRD-ROW COMFORT 5 4 5 4
THIRD-ROW SPACE* 5 2 5 1
CARGO SPACE* 5 5 5 3
TOWING CAPACITY* 5 5 5 5
FEATURES/AMENITIES* 10 10 6 8
FIT AND FINISH 10 9 8 6
INTERIOR STYLING 10 8 8 7
EXTERIOR STYLING 10 8 7 7
REBATES/EXTRAS* 5 0 0 0
AS-TESTED PRICE* 20 18 19 20
SUBTOTAL 115 94 90 83

POWERTRAIN
1/4-MILE ACCELERATION* 20 20 20 20
FLEXIBILITY* 5 4 5 4
FUEL ECONOMY* 10 7 10 8
ENGINE NVH 10 10 7 7
TRANSMISSION 10 10 8 7
SUBTOTAL 55 51 50 46

CHASSIS
PERFORMANCE* 20 18 18 20
STEERING FEEL 10 7 6 6
BRAKE FEEL 10 8 7 6
HANDLING 10 8 7 7
RIDE 10 9 6 8
SUBTOTAL 60 50 44 47

EXPERIENCE
FUN TO DRIVE 25 15 12 11

GRAND TOTAL
255
210
196
187

* These objective scores are calculated from the vehicle’s dimensions, capacities, rebates and extras, and/or test results.

(caranddriver.com)

HP 255 G3 Review

Pros
  • Low cost
  • Rugged design
  • DVD drive
  • Ubuntu has potential
Cons
  • Terrible screen
  • Poor battery life
  • Lack of compatible apps

Key Features: AMD A4-5000 1.5GHz APU with AMD Radeon HD 8330 Graphics, 4GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, DVD+/-RW drive, 15.6-inch screen, Bluetooth, WiFi, 2x USB 2.0 ports, x1 USB 3.0 port, HDMI-out, VGA-out, SD card reader

What is the HP 255 G3?

This is HP’s entry-level business laptop featuring open-source OS Ubuntu instead of the traditional Windows. Overseen by UK-based Canonical, Ubuntu is regarded as the most secure operating system around, and is slowly but surely gathering traction in the world of business.

The HP 255 G3 is powered by AMD’s A4-5000 1.5GHz APU with AMD Radeon HD 8330 graphics, and comes with 4GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. You also get a DVD+/- RW drive – something that’s missing from rival Chromebooks operating in the same price bracket.

HP 255 G3 4

Design and Screen

The HP 255 G3’s design isn’t likely to get pulses racing, nor inspire jealous looks from other laptop users. It boasts a totally inoffensive design with rounded edges and a matte black finish, which is prone to picking up greasy fingerprints, especially on the lid. Aside from the HP logo, it’s largely free of any detail or markings.

Opening up the HP 255 G3 reveals a little more character. The keyboard surround is fashioned from silver plastic, and the keyboard itself showcases some pleasingly clicky buttons. The trackpad is responsive and reasonably large, and the two mouse buttons are within easy reach, if a little bit spongy.

Along the edges of the laptop you’ll find 3 USB ports (one of the 3.0 variety and the others 2.0), a 10/100 Ethernet port, DVD+/- RW drive, HDMI-out, VGA-out, 3.5mm audio jack and an SD card reader. The latter sits in the middle of the front edge, which is hardly the most intuitive position for such a slot, but at least it’s there.

The 255 G3’s 15.6in LED screen is arguably one of its weakest features. Not only is it quite low-resolution at only 1,366 x 768 pixels, it’s also incredibly washed out and suffers from poor viewing angles. Audio is a little disappointing, too, with the weak speakers lacking punch and bass.

Features and Software

Despite the inclusion of an quick-start instruction sheet in the box that states the laptop is running Windows, the HP 255 G3 in fact comes with Ubuntu version 12.04 LTS installed, an open-source, Linux-based operating system famed for its high level of security. If you’ve previously been using either Windows or OS X then there’s a definite learning curve to be had – features are located in a different place, and certain tasks will be carried out in unusual ways.

A handy quick-launch dashbar can be found down the left-hand side of the screen, while general settings are accessed by clicking an icon in the top-right corner. Despite its differences from other operating systems, Ubuntu is a breeze to navigate. The big issue is that, unlike its rivals, software support is limited – there’s an Ubuntu App Store, but you won’t find anywhere near the same depth of choice as you would on Windows or Mac.

Given the business focus of this particular machine, it should come as no surprise to learn that the HP 255 G3 is supplied with Microsoft Office equivalents pre-installed. LibreOffice’s Writer, Calc and Impress replicate the functionality of Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint respectively, and offer compatibility with files generated in those programs. Of course, you could just ignore these and opt for Google’s excellent web-based suite of office tools instead, but it’s nice to have an option for when you’re offline.

HP 255 G3 3

One of big advantages that the HP 255 G3 offers over its Chromebook rivals is its DVD+/- RW drive. Cloud storage may be slowly rendering physical media obsolete, but if you’re in an office or learning environment then there’s still a need to exchange data on discs. You can also use the drive to create backups, and enjoy watching movies of course.

There are a few games available for Ubuntu via the aforementioned app store, including indie hits Braid, Bastion and Cave Story. However, the majority are crude freeware releases, which are unlikely to hold your attention for more than a few minutes.

HP 255 G3 2

Performance

The HP 255 G3’s performance is mediocre. Moving around the Ubuntu interface is swift enough, but we noticed considerable lag when opening apps. Firefox – the default web browser – takes around 3 to 4 seconds to launch. Even after it’s fully loaded, it doesn’t provide a smooth experience – scrolling through image-heavy pages causes an uncomfortable amount of stutter, and pages with large Adobe Flash adverts take an age to fully render. Thankfully, LibreOffice applications are quicker to respond.

Video playback is a good way to test the power of a laptop, and a quick test with a YouTube video running in HD at 60 frames a second left the HP 255 G3 gasping for air. Drop the resolution down a notch and abandon the 60fps option and things become more manageable, however. The HP 255 G3’s lack of multimedia grunt is hardly a massive problem when you consider that it’s aimed squarely at business types and students.

Battery Life

You’ll get just inside 4 hours of use with a single charge of the HP 255 G3, which isn’t fantastic for a laptop of this size. Tinkering with the power settings will allow you to maximise its stamina – you can have the screen power off faster for example, or reduce the brightness so that it draws less juice. Even when its demands are meagre, the HP 255 G3 doesn’t last long when disconnected from a power socket, so keep this in mind if you’re often away from home for long periods of time.

HP 255 G3 1

Should I buy the HP 255 G3?

When it comes to power, battery life and screen quality, the HP 255 G3 is clearly lacking – especially when compared to some of the leading business laptops out there. However, the price is a vital consideration here – for only £199, you’re still getting a lot of laptop.

The HP 255 G3 is cheaper than Chromebooks of a similar size, and can arguably do a lot more thanks to its versatile Ubuntu OS, DVD drive and roomy hard disc. Clearly aimed at cost-conscious businesses and budget-savvy students, the HP 255 G3 makes more sense when you stop worrying about its drawbacks and consider the value for money it provides.

If you’re simply looking for a machine on which you can carry out tasks such as word processing, compiling spreadsheets and generally get things done – with some movie watching in between – then you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Chromebooks lack full offline functionality and don’t come with optical media drives – the latter being quite important if you have a big library of DVD movies you like watching in bed or on the go. If those features aren’t important to you then it’s well worth looking at the Toshiba Chromebook 2, which benefits from better battery life.

You’ll have to get used to using Ubuntu, of course, but this highly secure OS is only going to grow in terms of software support and functionality, and provides a viable alternative to Microsoft’s Windows platform. It’s easy to see why more and more businesses are using it.

Verdict

Lacking in processing muscle and boasting only a functional rather than eye-catching design, the HP 255 G3 nevertheless represents decent value for money – and serves as a neat introduction to the promising Ubuntu OS.

Scores In Detail

Battery Life : 6/10
Design : 7/10
Performance : 6/10
Screen Quality : 6/10
Value : 8/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Pentax Q7 Review

Pros
  • Very portable
  • Impressive build quality
  • Good handling
Cons
  • Image quality issues
  • Limited lens systen
  • Poor value overall

Key Features: 1/1.7-inch, 12MP CMOS sensor; 3-inch, 460k-dot LCD screen; Pentax Q lens mount; ISO 100 – 12800; 1080p Full HD video capture

What is the Pentax Q7?

Pentax’s Q series was first launched just over two years ago, and it represented a new approach to the Compact System Camera (CSC) market. Pentax took the route of making the Q range as small as possible, and although it achieved this goal in doing so it had to utilise smaller sensors than competing CSCs.

Both the Pentax Q, and latterly the Pentax Q10, both featured 1/2.3-inch sensors more commonly seen in compact cameras. As a result the images were of a poorer quality then other CSCs. Pentax has clearly aimed to address this issue in the new Q7, as it has a larger 1/1.7-inch sensor. We take a closer look to see if it has succeeded.

 

Pentax Q7 6

Features

As mentioned, the real headline upgrade on the Pentax Q7 concerns the camera’s sensor. Where the Q and Q10 had 1/2.3-inch sensors, the Q7 now boasts a larger much larger module. The sensor measures in at 1/1.7-inches and as such is much more in keeping with the advanced compact cameras found in Canon’s PowerShot and Panasonic’s Lumix ranges.

The sensor is also backside illuminated and as such should handle noise better at higher ISO settings. Despite the increase in physical size, the sensor maintains a similar resolution of 12.4MP, and as a result the photocells themselves are larger which should also aid noise control.

The Pentax Q7 also benefits from newly improved ‘Q Engine’ image processor that the manufacturer claims will result in around a 10% improvement in performance.

Pentax Q7 5

One feature carried forward from other Pentax cameras, including the Q7’s predecessor, is the sensor-shift image stabilisation system. This should allow for around a three-stop advantage on equivalent cameras without the stabilisation system.

Another notable feature retained is the camera’s Q-system predecessors is the front-mount Quick Dial. This offers quick access to a host of functionality including the camera’s ND filter and a range of Smart Effects. Unfortunately, the number of accessible options is a touch limited, although further functionality could be added in the future through a firmware update.

Owing to the fact that the 1/1.7-inch sensor is still smaller than a lot of competing CSCs, the Q7 isn’t capable of creating as shallow a depth of field as some of its competitors. As a result, Pentax has included a ‘Bokeh Control’ shooting mode that will artificially create the ‘Bokeh’ effect of the combination of a larger sensor and wider maximum aperture that the Q7 is missing.

The Q7 does have a very impressive maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 second, however, which goes some way to making up for the slightly artificial nature of the Q7’s Bokeh shots.

Design

One of the highlights of the camera’s design is the built-in flash. Not only does it feature a decent guide number of 4.7 at ISO 100, but it’s also spring-mounted; popping away from the body and at an angle to the lens so as to reduce red-eye in portrait shots.

If you’re in to customisation then the Q7 might be the camera for you. The Pentax website sports a colour chooser that lets you select from 6 different grip colours and some 20 body colours, while the model’s 8.5mm f/1.9 prime lens is also colour customisable.

Pentax Q7

As has been the case with previous Q series models, the adoption of a smaller, compact sized sensor means that both the Q7’s body and lens are amongst the smallest on the market. In fact, when the two are combined the resulting package is probably the only of any CSC that you can fit in to your pocket.

Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Q7 isn’t actually the smallest CSC body on the market, with that honour instead falling to the Nikon 1 J3 by just a few millimetres. The Pentax Q7 does, however, handle much better than the J3 thanks to a comfortable hand grip and a body that features a pleasing leatherette finish all over the camera’s body.

The Q7 also benefits from a good standard of build quality. The body itself is tough polycarbonate plastic. The various controls around the camera body are also pleasingly sturdy, offering just enough stiffness so that they won’t be readily knocked during the shooting process.

The only real issue with the camera’s build quality is the standard of the covers for the USB and HDMI sockets – these are comprised of poor-quality rubber and as a result there are doubts about their durability.Pentax Q7 4

Performance

Pentax claims that the Q7 should manage around 260 shots on a full charge, and the good news is that the camera managed to actually exceed this figure.

Over the duration of the test the camera managed to capture around 300 shots on a single charge, with around 15 minutes of video capture and a fair amount of image review thrown in for good measure.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that this was with a brand new battery, and knowing li-ion units propensity for improvement after a few charges it wouldn’t be surprising if you managed more over the life of the camera.Pentax Q7 1

The Q7’s start-up time is also about average for its class. The camera goes from dormant to ready to shoot in a little under two seconds, while the average shot to shot speed is also reasonable at around a second.

When shooting both Raw and JPEG files the shot-to-shot speed is a touch more variable, and is quite closely linked to the standard of memory card used.

With a Class 6 card the Q7 managed four frames before having to stop to clear its buffer – a process which took around five seconds. Utilise a Class 10 card, however, and the Q7 manages around 2 seconds between shots for an indefinite period of time.

Image Quality

While image noise had been a serious issue for the two previous Pentax Q models, the Q7 seeks to improve in this area with the aforementioned new, and physically larger, sensor.

Pentax Q7

On the whole the sensor does perform better in this area. Images display virtually noise-free images right up to ISO 1,600, with even images captured at ISO 3,200 prove usable. At ISO 6,400 noise does become more of an issue, or more precisely the loss of fine detail caused by noise reduction image processing.

The maximum ISO of 12,800 is poorer still, although at least you have it there as an option should it be needed in emergencies.

Pentax Q7

Considering the smaller sensor you might question whether the Q7 could resolve a decent level of detail. No doubt in some part owing to the lack of an anti-alias filter, it actually does well in this area and certainly better than its predecessors.

If you choose to purchase the 8.5mm f/1.9 prime lens with the Q7 then the camera is sure to perform even better in this regard.

Pentax’s heritage in the digital camera market goes a long way towards ensuring some impressive colour performance. The camera produces pleasingly natural tones in its default image processing settings, while the auto white balance is also reliable.

Pentax Q7

The Q7’s metering system is similarly impressive, providing accurate exposures in a variety of lighting conditions, including dimly lit scenes.

The camera’s larger sensor ensures an improved dynamic range in comparison with its predecessors as well. The model copes much better with highlights and shadows, and in extreme conditions an in-built HDR mode is on hand to help out.

Pentax Q7 2

Should I buy the Pentax Q7?

The Pentax Q7 is certainly a unique proposition. At its price point of around £400 it’s competing with some impressive small-form CSCs, including the Canon EOS M and Nikon 1 J2.

It does have the advantage when it comes to size, although its hamstring by its uniqueness when it comes to system lenses. The Q7 currently only has 6 lenses available, 2 of which are ‘Toy’ lenses aimed at the Instagram fanatics rather than serious photographers.

So while it does compare favourably to some advanced compacts around a similar price, the more feature-laden – and better catered for – CSCs around the same price seem like the preferred options.

Verdict

If size were the only concern the Pentax Q7 would rank very highly. But the restricted lens range, so-so image quality and superior alternatives make it an unconvincing option.

Scores In Detail

Design : 7/10
Features : 8/10
Image Quality : 5/10
Performance : 5/10
Value : 5/10

(trustedreviews.com)