Monthly Archives: October 2015

JBL Xtreme review

  • Bold and powerful, but capable of great subtlety, the JBL Xtreme needs only to tighten up in the bass to become a real all-rounder
  • Full, large-scale sound
  • Care with dynamics
  • Solidly built
  • Bass is a little heavy on its feet

When you look at the JBL Xtreme, you see something of a brute. Its broad shoulders and barrel chest promise power, and it feels tough, too.

The passive bass radiators at either end of the drum are the only areas in which you’d feel tentative about poking around, the rest you feel could be subjected to a considerable amount of torture.


That heavyweight material adds a little to its weight (2.1kg), but it remains a manageable size and there’s a strap in the box for easy carrying.

It isn’t fussed by rain, either; as usual splashproof doesn’t mean entirely waterproof – no submerging – but JBL is quite happy with you washing the Xtreme under a running tap.

There is a charge point, auxiliary input and two USB outputs for your phone to share in some of the Xtreme’s claimed 15-hour battery life – but they’re not waterproof, so keep them dry.


We’re eager to put all this muscle to good use, but start with something more low key: The Tallest Man On Earth’s Love Is All. The JBL captures the lo-fi recording nicely – the guitar warbles and the room is laid bare – but there’s a richness that keeps the sound from becoming clinical.

The solidity doesn’t compromise dynamics, either. The guitar strings are allowed to bounce with the rhythm of Kristian Matsson’s finger picking. His vocal is similarly expressive and keeps its charm despite a thin recording.

Then the opening guitar hook of Ryan Adams’s Gimme Somethin’ Good slashes its way through, followed by a thumping drum kit.

A good wireless speaker is indiscriminate about the music it plays best, so let’s just say the Xtreme feels very comfortable. The vocal is equally bold, and the sound is undeniably big; it is the power we were expecting at first glimpse.

If there is a criticism to be made, it is that the low end, considerable as it is, doesn’t quite show the agility or lightness of feet we’d really like.

The detail shown throughout the rest of the frequency range is lacking down there and when we shift to a song in which the energy comes from a dancing bass line, such as Bedouin Soundclash’s Gyasi Went Home, we’d like a little more composure.

To tighten things up, we try a range of tables, a bookcase, speaker stands and the floor. The results vary, but we are never truly satisfied. A more practical solution, given the absence of options, is to adjust the EQ on your phone or music player.


We’d certainly recommend you take a listen; you may find the Xtreme’s fortes, of which it has many, justify a little of your own work to find the right balance.

If so, this is a versatile wireless speaker with which you can certainly have a lot of fun.


Fujifilm Debuts 35mm f/2 WR and 1.4x Teleconverter

Fujifilm has unveiled two new optics for its growing collection of X-mount cameras, a 35mm f/2 lens and 1.4x teleconverter.

Weather-resistant 35mm f/2

The Fujinon XF 35mm f/2 R WR is a weather- and dust-resistant aspherical lens that offers a 35mm equivalent focal length of 53mm. It’s constructed of nine elements in six groups, including two Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) elements, and offers a nine-blade aperture diaphragm for smooth bokeh when shot wide open.

The XF 35mm f/2 R WR is said to be the smallest (in diameter) of any XF-series lens from Fujinon and weighs only 170g (~6oz). Despite its small size, Fujifilm claims it packs a punch with a minimum focus time of only 0.08 seconds.

The Fujifilm XF 35mm f/2.0mm lens is set to go on sale in November 2015 for US$399 (£299.00).

1.4x Teleconverter

Announced alongside the new Fujinon lens the Fujinon XF 1.4x TC WR teleconverter.

Comprised of seven elements in three groups, the lens takes away one additional stop of light, but offers up a 1.4x magnification.

Unfortunately, there’s only one current lens the teleconverter is comparable with, the Fujinon XF 50–140mm f/2.8 zoom lens. Fujifilm says future lenses will be compatible with the teleconverter, including the Fujinon XF 100–400mm super telephoto lens shown off at CP+ this year.

The Fujinon XF 1.4x TC WR teleconverter will go on sale in December for US$449 (£329.00).


Arrow: First impressions of Microsoft’s Android launcher

What is Microsoft Arrow Launcher?

Arrow Launcher is a new Android launcher made by, of all people, the folks at Microsoft. Like other launchers it replaces the homescreens and app draw of your phone to provide a fresh route into the rest of the handset’s features.

Microsoft’s twist is that Arrow Launcher aims to make your Android-using life easier by bringing to the fore the apps you use most, and pushing aside the least used features. And rest assured it doesn’t push any Microsoft apps or features onto you, except for the wallpaper being provided daily by the Bing search service, if you so choose.

Arrow Launcher – First Impressions

Upon launching Arrow Launcher for the first time the app will analyse and rank your existing apps, picking out up to 16 that it thinks are your favourites. You can confirm which of these are indeed your favourites and then the launcher will fill up your homescreen with these apps.

What’s immediately obvious is that upon doing this you lose all your app folders. The whole point of the app is that it curates the layout of your apps for you so using folders is counter to this.

That’s all very well but if you’re like me and you normally have a dozen folders each containing half a dozen apps, suddenly going back down to a grid of just 24 is something that, at the very least, will take time to get used to and at worst will be a deal breaker for this launcher.

Microsoft Arrow Launcher

The setup process analyses your apps and picks out the top 20 to go on your homescreen

What’s more, although I like the idea behind the curation, the app didn’t seem to do all that good a job of guessing which are the most used apps on my phone. While it got a few correct, most were pretty obvious standard apps anyway – Google Maps, YouTube, Hangouts, etc – and a few were outright wrong.

For instance I’ve not played Punch Quest in over six months, I very seldom use the Contacts app and have never used OneNote.

What’s more, as the launcher does learn what you prefer it’s actually really annoying that it then moves your apps around. That is the core principle of the launcher but it’s also anathema to those that like to keeps things organised and know exactly where everything should be, which of course is one of the basic tenets of good app design.

Microsoft Arrow Launcher

Original layout on the left, after about an hour’s use on the right

After longer use there will likely be fewer changes as apps firmly establish themselves as favourites, unless a new very popular app is installed. But, at least initially, apps are moving all over the place and it’s not to my liking.

The overall layout of the launcher consists of three pages, with Apps in the centre, People (contacts) on the right and Recent activity on the left. Underneath all three screens is a fixed set of four apps and the App Drawer button, all but the latter of which can be rearranged or made into folders, at least giving some way to bring some arganisation back into this interface.

Swipe up from the bottom and you get an iOS-style quick settings area that also houses an extra five apps (again, these can be made into folders). This makes it much easier to access quick settings that would otherwise require you to reach to the top of the screen to swipe down the notifications menu.

Microsoft Arrow Launcher

A swipe up menu provides really convenient access to common apps and settings

It’s a great feature and one that I’d encourage other launcher developers to mimic, though I’d like to see Microsoft let you choose which quick settings are available.

Both the People and Recent pages have their uses too. People seems to do a good job of highlighting who you most often contact and puts them in easy reach. Likewise, the Recent page I can see being useful as a one-stop solution for things like jumping straight to that file you just downloaded or the specific photo you just took, as well as showing you who called and who you just messaged.

I’m not entirely convinced both features work best as dedicated pages on a homescreen but the functionality definitely has potential.

Jump into the Edit Page screen from the swipe up menu at the bottom of the page and you can also choose to add a further two pages to the launcher. One is a Notes and Reminders tool that allows you to type notes right onto the page. It’s actually pretty slicky done and certainly is more convenient than opening up a notes app.

Microsoft Arrow Launcher

The other page is called Widgets, and it’s just a blank page which you can place standard Android widgets on.

The final main feature is the App Drawer itself, which is arranged in an alphabetical list, with a search box at the top and a recently used section below. The strict at-least-one-line-per-letter layout doesn’t feel as efficient as a more conventional continuous list, but the search function does in part make up for this. I wouldn’t say I’m totally convinced by the change but neither does it totally put me off.

Microsoft Arrow Launcher

One final thing to note about Arrow Launcher is that it’s nice and fast. One of the topics not discussed enough when it comes to Android phones is just how transformative a new launcher can be when it comes to phone performance and sure enough the Arrow Launcher so far feels faster than the default Galaxy S6 one.

Early Verdict

Arrow Launcher is a slightly odd venture for Microsoft with there being no clear benefit to the company. Regardless, it’s an interesting twist on an Android app launcher that has a few key features I do like and some I’m less keen on. The iOS style swipe up menu is great and the launcher is fast, but its headline feature of choosing your app layout for you hasn’t convinced me yet. However, with an eye-watering price tag of zero pounds and zero pence, it’s worth giving a try.


Moto X Force: 4 reasons you’ll want Motorola’s shatterproof phone

Moto X Force: Motorola’s latest flagship comes with a ShatterShield display. Here’s everything you need to know, including the Moto X Force release date, features and price.

It’s been a great year for Motorola. We loved the Moto G (2015) and both the Moto X Play and Moto X Style have picked up rave reviews. But the Lenovo-owned company isn’t done yet because it has just unveiled the Moto X Force and it’s got some pretty interesting features.


Judging by the spec list, and the price, the Force will sit at the top of Motorola’s line-up for 2015 and it closely mirrors the Droid Turbo 2 that will be exclusive to Verizon in the US.

But rather than specs, it’s the way the Force is built that really makes it stand out.

1) Motorola’s ShatterShield display is here to protect the clumsy

The headline feature on the Moto X Force is its P-OLED display. But, that’s not because it comes in at 5.4-inches or has a quad-HD resolution, it’s because Motorola claims it has the world’s first shatterproof smartphone screen.

Moto X Force

The Moto X Force contains what Motorola is calling a ShatterShield panel, this is made up of an integrated system of five layers that will absorb shock and impact when you drop the phone on the pavement. Instead of picking up a smashed device, your Moto X Force will be intact.

It’s clear Motorola is confident ShatterShield works, as it’s guaranteeing it won’t shatter.

We will definitely be putting this feature through some rigourous tests when we get it in for review.

2) It has more power than the Moto X Style, but the same camera

The Moto X Style is a powerful phone that barely suffered any form of lag when we put it through the review process, but the Moto X Force takes things to another level. Instead of the Snapdragon 808 processor, the CPU powering the Force is Snapdragon’s high-end 810. That’s the same processor found in the Nexus 6P, OnePlus 2 and Sony Xperia Z5. There’s also a healthy 3GB RAM to keep multitasking smooth.

We’d expect this phone to be a strong performer, though the Snapdragon 810 can run into overheating problems so it’ll be interesting to see whether or not this is an issue. You can pick between 32/64GB of internal storage, plus there’s microSD expansion.


Motorola has stuck with the same 21MP sensor that it used for both the Style and Play. That’s fine by us, as both those phones produced some absolutely stunning snaps with accurate colours and tremendous amounts of detail. Hopefully that faster processor will improve the speed of the auto-focus, and the app in general.

Around the front you’ve got a 5MP wide-angle sensor for selfies, that’s flanked by a flash.

3) The battery should go for two days

While the Moto X Play seriously impressed us with its battery, the Moto X Style didn’t quite match up. The massive 3,760mAh cell tucked inside the Moto X Force should, however, leave both in the dust.

Motorola claims you’ll get 48-hours out of this beast before you’re forced to reach for the charger, which sounds pretty impressive. Especially when you consider the high-res display.

TurboPower is here too, which will give you 13 hours of power from just 15-minutes of charging. You will, of course, have to use the included TurboPower charger to see these results.


Unlike all other Motorola phones this year, the Force supports both the Qi and PMA standards of wireless charging – just like the Galaxy S6 – so it’ll juice up when placed on a compatible pad. We’re big fans of wireless charging, so it’s nice to see it included here.

4) Moto Maker makes things personal

It wouldn’t be a Motorola phone without Moto Maker, the personalisation tool that lets you tinker about the how the device looks.

To go along with the Moto X Force, there are a couple of new options including ballistic nylon – to along with that durable theme – and pebbled leather.

This isn’t just a tough phone, it’s one you can make personal to you. We like that.

Moto X Force release date and price

If you’re one of the clumsy kind looking to get in on the shatterproof action, you won’t have to wait long to get your hands on the Moto X Force.

Shipping starts mid-November, with prices ranging from £499/$749 for the 32GB model to £534/$801 if you want 64GB. We’d assume that some of the Moto Maker options will add to the price, though.

That makes it more expensive than the Moto X Style (£399/$599 but available from most places for £359/$539), but still pretty good value for a phone with such an array of high-end features.


Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy View is giant tablet with a handle

Hands-on – The tablet that wants to be a TV

Samsung’s made a big tablet with a handle. By big I mean 18.4-inches, which is huge. Most laptops have 13 and 15-inch screens, so the Galaxy View is in a different league of big.

The reason is straightforward: it’s a TV. Well, it’s a tablet – it runs Android and does all those Androidy things. But Samsung’s pitch is that’s it’s the perfect tablet for watching TV in bed, on the sofa, in the kitchen and anywhere else you fancy watching TV.

Samsung Galaxy View 23

To that end, Samsung’s included a kind of video service hub that’s designed for the huge screen. It’s nothing special, though, just a big set of tiles that launches various video services.

More interesting is the design of the Galaxy View. It has a built-in ‘2-way’ stand with a handle for toting it about the home.

Samsung Galaxy View 13

The best way I can describe the stand is that it’s like those laptop stands you can buy – the ones that stop your laptop from burning your thighs. It tilts back and forth depending on how you want to use it, and it’s designed to sit comfortably in your lap.

I can’t speak to that point as I didn’t get the chance to sit down with the Galaxy View, but I had plenty of time to admire it’s bigness.

Samsung Galaxy View 31

So much so, I really struggle to understand why it’s quite as big as it is. I can kind of see, within reason, the appeal of a big tablet for TV – I watch Netflix on my iPad at home all the time.

But the difference between a 10-inch tablet and this is astronomical. I can’t help thinking it could feel clumsy – will it fit where I want it in my kitchen, for example?

I only hesitate in dismissing it because I remember dismissing the original Galaxy Note because it was too big, and we all know how that worked out.

Samsung Galaxy View 37

Beyond size, the specs of the Galaxy View seem unremarkable enough. Its screen is only a Full HD LCD, but that’s somewhat understandable – a higher resolution screen would be prohibitively expensive at this size.

It uses Samsung’s Octo-core 1.6GHz processor, so it’ll be more than fast enough, and Samsung claims it will last 8.5 hours of video playback. There’s 32GB of built-in storage and somehow Samsung has found space for a microSD slot as well – an amazing feat.

Samsung Galaxy View 27

But, aside from its size, the Galaxy View is an unremarkable thing. It’s plastic, it’s black – it doesn’t look especially memorable, but that’s not a problem.

Does the world need an 18-inch tablet? Probably not, but I could be wrong. Let us know your first impressions on the comments.


MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro (063UK) review

  • Solid, rapid performance
  • Good keyboard
  • Impressive screen quality
  • Stonking SSD speed
  • Slim and light
  • Hot and noisy
  • Battery life disappoints
  • No quicker than some rivals

Key Features: 15.6in 1,920 x 1,080 screen; Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor; Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPU; 8GB DDR4 RAM; 128GB SSD; 1TB hard disk; 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C; 2 x USB 3

Manufacturer: MSI

What is the MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro?

MSI is a big name in the gaming laptop market, with dozens of models available across several different ranges. Its latest machine, the GS60 6QE, is one of its slimmest model yet.

It’s also one of the first gaming laptops I’ve seen to include an Intel Skylake processor, packing in a current-generation Nvidia GPU and a lightning-fast Samsung NVMe SSD alongside.


This machine is packed with updated components, but the external design remains the same as existing GS60 notebooks. That means a largely black machine clad in a combination of brushed aluminium and plastic, with multicoloured lights, a SteelSeries keyboard and variety of glowing logos.

MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro

The GS60 6QE shares many aesthetic notes with other MSI laptops. The glowing power button sits in the middle, above the keyboard and speaker grille. The front edge is decorated by status lights, and the lid features an illuminated MSI Gaming Series logo. The keyboard also has extensive backlighting: by default, it’s set to glow in several different colours. For a final flourish, the wide trackpad is ringed with chrome.

Some may consider the MSI’s looks a little over the top, especially that multi-coloured keyboard – but this is easy enough to disable. Besides, the MSI is no less extravagant than the Alienware 15, which has illuminated vents around its matte-finish metal body.

MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro

This machine may look like many gaming notebooks, but it has an advantage over its rivals. This 15.6-inch system is only 20mm thick, which is nearly half that of the Alienware 15 and 7mm slimmer than the MSI GE62 2QD Apache.

The GS60 also weighs only 2kg. That, again, is excellent: the Alienware and MSI GE62 tip the scales at 3kg and 2.4kg respectively.

Despite the slim and light design, build quality is good. Push the relatively thin and flexible screen, and while there’s the expected level of movement, there’s no resultant distortion in the LCD panel. Meanwhile, the wrist-rest and base are both sturdy. There’s a tiny bit of give in the metal, but not enough to cause concern.

MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro

Those who are likely to want to perform an upgrade in the future will be pleased to learn that internal access is possible. The base eases away and, once that’s done, the hard disk, cooling gear and wireless chips are all accessible. The SSD and memory sticks can be changed too, but they’re trickier – they require the removal of the whole motherboard.


The most intriguing new component inside the GS60 is the Skylake processor, successor to the popular Broadwell chips seen in many last-generation products. It uses a 14nm manufacturing process but with a tweaked design, which further improves performance and reduces power consumption.

The Core i7-6700HQ is one of Intel’s most powerful mobile Skylake chips. It has four Hyper-Threaded cores, and the clock starts at 2.6GHz. Turbo Boost allows all four cores to run at up 3.1GHz, or one to accelerate to 3.5GHz, and there’s 6MB of L3 cache. Also loaded into this system is 8GB of memory.

The new processor is paired with more familiar graphics. The GTX 970M is a potent Nvidia part that sits towards the top of its current range, but it’s nearly a year old already. It’s based on the GM204 chip, which is also used in the desktop GTX 970 and GTX 980 cards, and it houses 1,280 stream processors running at 924MHz.

We’ve no concerns about the storage. Windows 10 is installed to a Samsung SM951 SSD. That uses the NVMe interface, which deploys PCI Express to offer far more bandwidth than a traditional SATA drive. It’s a 128GB drive with 117GB of formatted space, so there isn’t much room for games, but then you can offload all your other files onto the 1TB hard disk that’s also included.

On the inside there’s dual-band 802.11ac wireless and Gigabit Ethernet, both of which are made by Killer. These are supposed to prioritise network traffic for gaming, but are essentially a software solution and therefore have an impact on CPU usage, while offering minimal benefit for gamers.

Around the outside of the machine you’ll find a mini-DisplayPort, HDMI socket, an SD card reader and two USB 3.0 ports accompanied by a Type-C USB 3.1 connector. There’s no room for an optical drive.

MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro

MSI has installed its familiar Dragon Gaming Center app. This tool has four modules: one to monitor temperature and fan speeds; another to open up gaming apps; a third to quickly boot games; and the last to switch between the GS60’s fan speed modes. Aside from the monitoring module, the Dragon app isn’t particularly useful – most of its functionality is easily replicated in Windows.

Elsewhere, there’s MSI’s Nahimic audio app and its System Control Manager, which is far too basic: there isn’t much it can do beyond changing the brightness of the screen and turning off networking options. There’s also a SteelSeries tool for changing the keyboard’s colours.

The GS60 range is stacked with different configuration options. The cheapest version is the GS60 2QC-017UK, which costs £1,060 and has a Broadwell-based Core i7 processor and more modest GTX 960M graphics.

The GS60 6QE-010UK has the same specification as our sample, but doubles the amount of memory to 16GB and raises the price by £100. There’s also the 2QE-668UK, which costs £1,380 and has a 4K screen alongside an older processor.

The most expensive model is the 6QE-036UK, which costs £1,600 and makes several specification changes. It has 16GB of memory alongside a 256GB SSD, and its GTX 970M has 6GB of dedicated memory – twice as much as the GPU in our sample. It also has a 4K screen.

Screen & Sound Quality

The 6QE’s 15.6-inch screen has a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. That’s sensible, since it means there’s no need to mess around with Windows 10’s scaling options. It also means that there’s no extra strain on the graphics card, since it doesn’t need to run games at higher resolutions.

The MSI’s panel ticks many of the right boxes when it comes to quality. The measured colour temperature of 6,347K barely deviates from the 6,500K ideal, meaning colours will be free from any blue or red hues.

The maximum brightness level of 277 nits is fine, and the black level of 0.27 nits is also very good. The former is high enough to cope with bright lights, and the latter means that darker areas will have suitable depth. The result is a contrast ratio of 1,026:1, which is comfortably up there with the better laptops, giving this screen a punchiness that lesser models lack.

MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro

Colour accuracy is reasonable too. The average Delta E of 3.39 is good rather than great, but that’s fine for gaming, and the MSI’s panel displayed 83.1% of the sRGB colour gamut – a decent figure.

The good benchmark results help the MSI compete with its rivals. It’s more balanced than the Alienware, which is hampered by its cool colour temperature and worse contrast, despite its decent sRGB and Delta E levels.

It’s a close-run thing between the GS60 and the MSI GE62. The older, heavier machine had poorer colour temperature, black levels and sRGB coverage, but the GE62 beats the GS60 on contrast, brightness and Delta E.

That said, overall the GS60’s screen displays great quality in colour temperature and contrast and no major problems elsewhere. This is a satisfying screen for gaming.

By default, the speakers are reasonable. They offer acceptable volume and a pleasant bass, and there’s enough distinction across the range to lend a bit of nuance to music and games. There’s no getting away from the tinny top end, though, which is where the GS60 falls back to standard laptop territory.

MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro

The Nahimic app sets the GS60 to Gaming mode by default, which is a sound move; the Music and Movie modes are duller, with a lack of high-end crunch. Tinkerers will be pleased by the bass boost, reverb, surround sound and other options that can be fine-tuned.

Keyboard and Trackpad

The keyboard is by SteelSeries, which is standard for MSI gaming laptops, and this reliable partnership delivers another high-quality typing unit. The keys hammer down with speed and precision, but the action isn’t harsh – there’s enough softness to ensure comfort. The base is solid, too. For gaming on the go, Scrabble-tile keyboards don’t get much better.

My only issues with the keyboard concern its layout. The single-height Return key isn’t something we’re accustomed to in the UK, and the cursor keys are too small and too close to the other buttons for a gaming laptop. In addition, the Windows key is hoved to the right-hand side, and the number and Function keys are all a little small.

MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro

The trackpad is a wide unit with buttons built in to each corner, and it’s one of the better examples we’ve seen recently. The surface is responsive and works well with gestures, and the buttons are fast and snappy – among the best I’ve seen when it comes to replicating the fast click of a gaming mouse. It’s certainly good enough for games, but it’s no match for a proper USB rodent.

Battery Life

This machine’s 47Wh battery does nothing to dispel the bad reputation that surrounds the longevity of gaming laptops – even with Skylake’s supposedly more efficient hardware on-board.

My standard battery test loops a video-chat and web-browsing simulation with the screen at 40% brightness. In this benchmark, the MSI lasted for 2hrs 41mins – a mediocre result that’s around 40 minutes behind the other MSI laptop and whole hours short of the Alienware 15.

MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro

The situation didn’t improve in the gaming test. With the screen at 100% brightness and the machine looping through Unigine Heaven’s Extreme test, it lasted only 36 minutes – don’t expect much gaming if you’re parted from a plug.

A 30-minute charge saw the MSI regain 41% of its battery. That’s enough for just over an hour of light use, but it won’t provide any serious gaming time.


The GTX 970M is a capable high-end mobile GPU that fell between the MSI’s two rivals in our benchmarks.

In BioShock Infinite the MSI hit an average of 61fps. That’s eight frames beyond the older MSI machine, but ten frames slower than the Alienware. That pattern was repeated in the 3DMark Fire Strike test: the GS60 scored 5,430, which was ahead of the GE62’s 4,098 but behind the Alienware’s 6,308.

The GS60’s gaming ability was further proven by other top-tier titles. In Batman: Arkham Origins, the MSI ran through the standard benchmark at a mighty 110fps – it even managed 58fps with every anti-aliasing setting enabled. It then ran through Battlefield 4 at a smooth 52fps.

MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro

A similar pattern emerged in the processor benchmarks. The GS60’s Geekbench score of 12,530 was a couple of hundred points behind the Alienware and just ahead of the other MSI laptop. The roles were reversed in PCMark 7: the GS60 was ahead of the Alienware but behind the GE62. It’s an impressive set of results.

The GS60’s heatsinks kept the components chilled. In its default Sport Mode, the processor and graphics core peaked at a reasonable 84 degrees and 72 degrees during stress tests, and those numbers remained in the ballpark with Green Mode chosen.

Sadly, the decent temperature regulation comes with a handful of caveats. When Sport Mode is activated, the fan noise is consistent and on a par with other gaming notebooks. That noise is barely reduced when Green Mode is active, but clock speeds take a hit; the GPU’s standard speed of 924MHz is reduced to around 746MHz, so performance will drop.

The fan noise proved too intrusive for our liking. The louder whirring continued long after we stopped our benchmarks and left the system idling. The base becomes hot too – I noticed this machine’s heat during some games tests on the sofa.

Our last benchmarks concern storage, and the Samsung SM951 SSD caused us no issues. Its sequential read and write speeds of 1,755MB/sec and 1,132MB/sec are fantastic – far faster than any SATA SSD, and up there with any other laptop I’ve tested.

MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro

Should I Buy the MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro?

MSI’s latest gaming laptop is divisive in key departments. Its good performance levels are still beaten by other machines, and its screen is decent – but issues that keep it from true greatness remain.

The ergonomics and slim design are both good, but the chassis struggles with the high-end components: it’s just too loud and hot. When it comes to battery life, nothing has changed with Skylake’s arrival – it continues to be disappointing.

MSI’s machine is a good bet if you’re after a gaming laptop that’s slimmer and lighter than its rivals. That said, the Alienware 15 may be chunkier but it’s better-balanced and so would therefore get my vote ahead of the GS60.


The MSI GS60 makes a good start with its slimline design and a high-quality screen. However, disappointing battery life and issues with heat, plus performance that’s only on a par with rivals, mean that other machines have the edge.

Scores In Detail

Battery Life : 5/10
Build Quality : 8/10
Design : 8/10
Heat & Noise : 5/10
Keyboard : 8/10
Performance : 8/10
Screen Quality : 9/10
Touchpad : 8/10
Value : 8/10


Yamaha Sports Ride Coupe Concept

It’s not often we get to write about Yamaha  products – that’s usually left to TopSpeed’s motorcycle page. Today is different, though, as the Japanese bike-builder release its newest four-wheeled creation at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show.

Though details are rather scarce, the photos and a touch of speculation provide a look into what Yamaha may deliver in the future. Meet the Sport Ride Coupe concept.

yamaha sports ride coupe concept - DOC653311

Yamaha says the design follows its iStream philosophy of a oneness between the driver and machine. The Sport Ride Coupe concept is built to mimic the feeling of riding a motorcycle, but with an enclosed cockpit and four tires on the ground.

But what speaks volumes about the car’s design is actually its philosophical designer. It was none other than legendary racer Gordon Murray who pioneered the iStream concept of design – the same guy who designed the McLaren F1. Look closely and you’ll even see hints of the F1 in the Yamaha’s profile.

The Sports Ride Coupe concept has a footprint roughly the size of Mazda’ s latest MX-5, though the Yamaha makes the Miata look like a porky block of concrete. At 2,332 pounds, the MX-5 is a full 679 pounds heavier. That’s a 1,653-pound curb weigh for those mathematically challenged.

There’s no word on what powers the Yamaha, but I suspect its something out of a sports bike. Only time will tell, though.

For now, check out all the details and photos of Yamaha’s latest creation.


Yamaha Sports Ride Coupe Concept

The Sports Ride Coupe concept is very futuristic in its design while pulling in a couple cues from other places in the industry. The front, especially in the headlights, looks like Alfa Romeo. The side profile is unmistakably Gordon Murray and takes after the McLaren F1. The rear even pulls in a McLaren feel, though in the form of the modern 675 LT.

Large glass and a blacked-out roof pillar make the vehicle’s center of gravity seem even lower. The side mirrors ride on long stems, both to help aerodynamics and to better rearward visibility. Lightweight wheels and sticky tires are likely in the mix, though I can only judge from the photos.

Length 3,900 MM (153.54 Inches)
Width 1,720 MM (67.71 Inches)
Height 1,170 MM (46.06 Inches)


Yamaha Sports Ride Coupe Concept

Yamaha might be known for their motorcycles and ATVs, but wow, its designers know how to make a Lotus-like interior. The saddle-colored leather has impressive stitching and detail work all over, and is nicely contrasted by bright and satin-colored chrome and aluminum bits.

Being of such a sporty nature, the driver’s seat is more race-ready than the passenger’s. Stiffer side bolsters, a center track-mount system, and a serious head restrain show just how purpose-built the Sports Ride Coupe is. The passenger’s seat seems built merely for transporting an extra person to and from the racetrack. A small luggage shelf resides behind the passenger’s seat with two leather straps for securing cargo. That’s old-school cool.


Yamaha Sports Ride Coupe Concept

Yamaha has been quiet on what powers the Sports Ride Coupe concept. However, some rumors suggest an electric powertrain while others go so far as predicting a fuel cell.

To put it bluntly, I think that’s wrong.

It’s odd to think Yamaha would forego its wide selection of motorcycle powerplants is has. Similarly, Honda’ s recent Project 2&4 showed that a 999 cc V-4 four-stroke engine works masterfully in an ultra lightweight vehicle. Honda’s open-top roadster put down 212 horsepower and 87 pound-feet of torque to the ground through a six-speed dual-clutch transmission.

What’s more, did you notice those rather large and motorcycle-esque exhaust pipes protruding from its rear deck?

Though the Sports Ride Coupe concept is heavier than the Honda Project 2&4, and an assumed less-impressive power-to-weight ratio, the Yamaha should still provide excellent performance numbers. The sprint to 60 mph should take around 4.5 seconds and have a top speed well over 150 mph. Of course, all that is just speculation.


Yamaha Sports Ride Coupe Concept

It’s interesting to see Yamaha step away from its usual forte to dabble in a four-wheeled, road-going machine. Whether or not Yamaha moves the concept into production is yet unseen, but the company would have many hurtles to jump over in order to make that happen.

Either way, the Sports Ride Coupe concept is a fantastic looking machine that begs to be built. Its light weight, seductive exterior, and minimalistic interior make it worthy of a bedroom poster. Nicely done, Yamaha.


  • Fantastically beautiful
  • Gorgeous interior
  • A motorcycle powertrain?

  • No major details
  • Not likely to enter production

Press Release

This design concept mode takes a uniquely Yamaha approach by putting the involved and active feeling of riding a motorcycle, or “Live and Ride,” into a vehicle with quintessential sports car proportions that adults can enjoy in daily use. Like the MOTIV (displayed at the 43rd Tokyo Motor Show 2013), it employs the iStream* process and is designed to express a driver-machine relationship close in feeling to the world of motorcycle riding. We devoted much attention to the high-quality details and were inspired by the artistic style of Elementarism in designing this proposal for a sports car.

Yamaha Sports Ride Coupe Concept

■Length×Width×Height: 3,900 mm×1,720 mm×1,170 mm ■ Vehicle weight: 750 kg ■Seating capacity: 2

*iStream: A process developed by Gordon Murray Design Limited to produce lightweight, high-rigidity vehicle structures rooted in Formula One technology


Panasonic Toughpad 4K FZ-Y1 breaks rugged conventions

Rugged devices are traditional tough on the outside but more often than not weak on the inside, with specs that are usually standard for the past year or two. Many of Panasonic’s own Toughpad devices, both tablets and phones, fall under that stereotype. The new FZ-Y1 Windows 10 tablet, or table-let practically, is a rare exception. It boasts of rather high end specs, including a 20-inch 4K screen, but at the same manages to be tough enough to survive the field and an occasional, accidental drop.

It’s not the latest Intel processor, but at least the Intel Core i7-5600U vPro running inside is just one generation behind. When paired with up to 16 GB of RAM and 256 or 512 GB of storage, not to mention a AMD FirePro M5100 dedicated graphics chip, then you’ve got quite a formidable workhorse. And if you thought the Samsung Galaxy View’s 18-inch screen was ridiculously huge, it has nothing on this 20-inch display boasting 3840×2560 pixels. Well, at least it’s not as ridiculously huge as the 27-inch Lenovo YOGA Home.

Panasonic Toughpad 4K FZ-Y1 breaks rugged conventions

The size, however, isn’t based on a mere whim. Everything about the Toughpad FZ-Y1 was made with work in mind, particularly in industry and engineering spaces. The display’s 15:10 resolution, for example, was made for viewing plans and designs that come in A3 paper sizes. The optional desktop cradle transforms into a tilted stand, transforming the tablet into a drawing or drafting device.

This Panasonic Toughpad also bears some unique features you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere. For example, it has an HDMI 2.0 input port. Yes, input, not output. This means that large 4K screen can become a second external monitor in a snap. There is also an optional Electronic Touch Pen that doesn’t work like your conventional active stylus. It uses infrared to read the pixels underneath the pen’s tip, which the pen communicates to the tablet via Bluetooth. Panasonic claims this makes it more accurate than any other solution in the market, a claim that the likes of Wacom will likely dispute.

Despite all those fancy features, the Toughpad is, of course, tough, mounted on a magnesium frame and enclosed in a glass fiber case. All of that, however, will cost you plenty. Available starting December, the Panasonic Toughpad 4K FZ-Y1 goes for 3,180 GBP, roughly $4,800. This is definitely the type of device you might not buy yourself but convince your boss to purchase for work.


The 2016 Audi S3 Doesn’t Do Slow: Potent Things Come in Small Packages

Built from solid stock, the 2016 Audi S3 is a car that illustrates America’s new-found interest in smaller, sportier versions of the vehicles we have all come to know and love. From the youthful Chevy Trax and the GT title-worthy Mazda CX-3 to the sharp-looking Hyundai Sonata Sport and the redesigned Acura RDX, Americans are opting for compact models more and more as we reassess the importance of being able to properly parallel park under pressure.

Source: Audi

But don’t let this little German slice of gregariousness fool you into thinking it is just some cheap alternative to the overtly recognized S4, or any of the S5, 6, 7, or 8 models, because while it may be moderately priced, it is by no means interested in fooling you into thinking that, as an enthusiast, you are “settling.” Rocking the same lightweight MQB chassis platform and turbo EA888 2.0-liter four as the Golf GTI we reviewed back in July, the S3 offers a potent alternative for anyone wanting more kick than a basic A3 can offer, with the most recognizable difference being in the numbers department.

Source: Audi

OK, so “kick” might be a bit of an understatement, because unlike the 210 horsepower GTI, the S3 bolts out a white-knuckling 292 ponies, throwing it into the grid with another re-tuned EA8888 car we reviewed this year: the Golf R. Sure, we may not get that six-speed manual gearbox we love, but at least the auto version has a six-gear “S-Tronic” dual-clutch automatic that snaps into gear sharply, a gearbox that still has yet to disappoint critics.

Let us be clear though, the S3 is by no means a game changer for the European luxury automaker. It is a car that maintains a physique that is instantly recognizable as an Audi, and when parked alongside an S4 most people would have issue distinguishing one from the other unless they measured overall length or examined the trunklids closely. This is a great little sleeper sedan, as it’s not overly aggressive-looking, sporting subtle add-ons like a mild aero kit, quad exhaust, and those signature silver mirrors that are staples of S and RS versions. Looking at it from any angle, the S3 is quite the attractive car, while retaining just enough flare to let you know that it isn’t just another Audi.

Source: Audi

Hit the boost head-on in this thing and you will blast to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds, spanking the far more powerful S4 by half a second (because smaller equals lighter in this game). Having an integrated turbo setup with a clever ECU and direct injection gives the S3 the upper hand here as well, as it is virtually devoid of turbo-lag, offers tons of torque, and makes pretty noises that are completely unexpected from something so small. The branded brakes are supposedly solid as well, and while some feel that the S3 is a bit sterile with its approach, typical buyers will likely enjoy how refined an affordable sports sedan can be when they drive one.

While critics may praise the the S3 for its solid powerplant and succinct shift points, the car’s more simplistic all-wheel drive setup leaves certain reviewers wanting: Reports of disjointed driving characteristics and overly lifeless steering feedback from the electrically-driven system headline the complaints. The system works well, and is grippy enough, but like most modern cars, it lacks a certain level of connectivity in favor of a more refined, precise approach to cornering.

Source: Audi

Ride quality is supposedly surprisingly good on this thing too, which is surprising considering that the tires have sidewalls that are about as thick as popsicle sticks. Critics also praised the S3 for its non-constrictive cabin, which is composed and quiet, and features all of the Audi A3 amenities you could ever want. This isn’t some overdone, caged-out interior either, and outside of a throwback boost gauge and some minor S3 upgrades, the cockpit is a refined slice of A3 through and through.

At $42,500, the red-headed runt of the litter is also a surprisingly sound bang for the buck: It costs only seven grand more than the Golf R, and delivering on so many more levels, both in the luxury department and in the styling section as well. Many Americans would still rather have something larger than a Volkswagen hatch. So if you are in the market for a banging European automobile with more bite than an ornery schnauzer, go out and drive a well-equipped S3 — chances are one of two things will occur. Scenario A: You will want it immediately and drive off happy. Scenario B: It isn’t brutish enough, and its big brother the S4 will inspire you to shift to the six-pot model. Either way, there is no loser here. Only winners.


Sonos Play:5 review (2015): a generational leap forward

The all-new Sonos Play:5 is the company’s first major hardware revision; a fresh flagship for its fleet of WiFi-enabled speakers. Sonos’ products have always been praised for their design and functionality, but not necessarily their sound quality or value. The new Play:5 definitely isn’t cheap: At $499, it’s actually $100 more than the original. But the old Play:5 was the company’s first attempt at building a speaker, and although it sounds okay, Sonos has come a long way in the six years since its release. This time around, Sonos finally created a product that looks and sounds as good as its price tag. But it’s still not for everyone.

  • Simple setup and tuning
  • Easy to turn into multi-room system with other, cheaper Sonos speakers
  • Audio quality is excellent
  • Long list of supported services
  • Line-in adds limitless music options
  • Searching for music in app is cumbersome
  • No dedicated remote
  • Priced even higher than previous generation

The Play:5 is the best speaker Sonos has ever made. Its reliance on a single app for controlling all your audio services means the software experience isn’t quite as slick as it could be, but it’s easy to set up and sounds as good as its $499 price tag suggests.

The Sonos proposition

Sonos family

From left to right: the Play:1, Play:5 and Play:3. 

If you’re new to Sonos, it’s a multi-room speaker system that lets you stream audio from a number of web sources or from local storage. The list of services is comprehensive, but not exhaustive. Subscription-based streaming companies like Spotify, Rdio, Deezer, and Tidal are all there, as are music lockers and one-off purchase shops like Amazon Music or 7Digital. In-between options like Google Play Music and Groove are present, and alternative or radio services like Bandcamp, 22tracks, SoundCloud, TuneIn and Radionomy are also supported. For the Play:5 specifically, you can also hook up pretty much anything with a headphone port to the system.

All this support comes through one place: the Sonos controller app for PC, Mac, iOS and Android, which does its best to put whatever services you want into a single, coherent interface. From the app, you can search all your services, browse and create playlists and choose where your music will play. For hardware management the app is great — it’s simple to navigate, and you’ll find it easy to add new speakers, and create speaker zones and groups, as well as tweak volume and EQ settings. For actually playing music, though, it’s a mixed bag.

Generally things work well enough, but the experience of managing music through Sonos’ application is always second-best to just going directly through your streaming service’s app. While playlists and other organizational tools port over nicely, searching for new tracks is a hassle. There’s just no intelligence to it. Say I’m looking for the song “Undercover” from the Solos-Duos album by Pierre Van Dormael and Hervé Samb. Spotify’s app is smart enough to read me typing “samb undercover” and suggest the correct song before I’m done writing the second word. Sonos, on the other hand, only lets you search by artist, track or album, and will fail to recognize any combination of these. If you’re looking for a song with an indistinct name, you’re going to have a hard time finding it without digging through album after album. The song I just referenced is the 41st search result for the word “undercover,” in case you were wondering.

Sonos has its issues, but does a great job of pulling multiple services into a single app.

In spite of its imperfections, the Sonos controller does a commendable job of pulling multiple services into a single place. The search issues are a real shame, as the app is great for mixing and matching multiple services. Being able to build a playlist that effortlessly pulls from, for example, Spotify, SoundCloud, Deezer and my PC is a fairly unique selling point, especially as SoundCloud is home to a lot of exclusives and eclectic stuff that doesn’t typically make its way to other streaming services.

The other benefit of Sonos’ system is that there’s no limit on the number of users that can control it. Anyone connected to the same WiFi network can get involved by downloading the app, making it a great system for parties and get-togethers. You can also connect multiple accounts from the same service, so if you have a large family you can each, for example, have your own Spotify playlists and favorites syncing.



The Sonos logo is surrounded by precision-drilled holes that stop it blocking sound from the tweeter behind it. 

I’ve already touched on the Play:5’s lofty position in Sonos’ broader lineup, but it’s worth looking at the entire selection in a bit more detail. At the bottom of the range is thePlay:1 at $199. The mid-range option is the Play:3 at $299, while the Play:5 is considerably more at $499. The Play:1 is a tiny thing, offering a single tweeter and mid-woofer, each with its own amplifier. The Play:3 keeps the single tweeter, but replaces the mid-woofer with a pair of mid-range drivers (all independently amplified) and a passive bass radiator. For the Play:5, Sonos goes all out, with three tweeters (one central and two side-firing), three dedicated mid-woofers and, in case you didn’t notice the pattern, an amplifier for each.

The Play:5’s six speakers are all neatly enclosed in a subdued, but nonetheless beautiful enclosure. It’s a far sleeker object than the Play:3 and the previous-generation Play:5, with a gentle curve to its front and a mixture of rounded and sharp edges forming pleasing, clean lines when viewed from any angle. There’s barely anything to catch the eye, nothing to distract from its overall form. Even the physical buttons have been replaced in favor of capacitive keys that also accept swipes for things like skipping tracks. What might not be perceivable in the photos accompanying this review is the precision of the engineering here. Seemingly no detail is overlooked. Case in point: Sonos is one of very few companies that designs entirely custom power plugs at both ends for no reason other than it wants them to look and feel good.

If you like colorful speakers, then look elsewhere. Sonos has but two options: gray-on-black or black-on-white, both finished in a matte polycarbonate. I’m a huge fan of the latter, but sadly I didn’t get to choose my review units. Although it’s still a beautiful object, the gray-on-black version just fades away into the background. Most people would probably appreciate that, but I wanted the speakers to be a statement, a conversation piece, and the black-on-white version is really striking.

Getting started

When you first plug in a Sonos, you can use a phone, tablet, PC or Mac to get started. Setup is simple no matter the device, but it works best with iOS. When using an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, after pairing — which involves pressing a sync button on the speaker and not much else — you’ll be invited to use a new Sonos feature called Trueplay to tune the Play:5. We’ve written about this iOS-only feature in detail, but to catch you up, it essentially plays a seemingly random selection of sounds and uses your phone’s or tablet’s microphone to test your room’s acoustics and your speaker positioning. It’ll then modify the speaker output to best suit its surroundings. The idea is not to create a single sweet spot, but to tune your speaker for the entire room.

Sonos Trueplay

So here’s the thing about Trueplay. It’s a simple process to go through, but it requires some thought. The app shows a little video guiding you on how to wave your device in the correct manner and displays a lady wandering all around a room. In practice, this may not be the best way to go about things. I’ve tested the speaker in multiple rooms of my house, and in most locations the general wandering-and-waving technique worked well, but there were a couple of situations where it did not.

In my bedroom/office where I do most of my music listening, I have the speaker on a bedside table, angled to fire over my bed directly at my desk on the other side of my room. With this setup, following Sonos’ instructions and wandering the entire room left the Play:5 tuned completely wrong, with very weak bass notes and overly loud trebles. The second time I ran the tuning, I stayed around my desk and bed, ignoring the rest of the room, and was rewarded with a near-perfectly tuned speaker.

Sound quality


Trueplay does add a real clarity to music by removing or reducing frequencies — especially low notes — that reverberate oddly due to obstructions or room acoustics. But it’s not perfect. Tuning issues aside, it’s a bit overzealous with bass reduction, which can ruin the balance of tracks with a strong focus on the low end. Overall it’s worth the trade-off, but I’d like an easier way to turn it on or off within the app. Right now you have to dig through the settings menu to find the correct checkbox, but I’d like to see a button on the playback screen instead. Sonos already has audio-setting shortcuts like this for its Playbar, so there’s no reason it couldn’t do the same here.

The bass issue introduced by Trueplay has actually been a long-term complaint about Sonos. The Play:5, like the Play:1 and Play:3, has a sealed speaker system with no port to draw or release air. This typically results in bass that’s crisper, but less boomy than ported systems. The effect isn’t noticeable when you’re blasting music out at, say, 70 percent of max volume, but listen at lower levels and things are a little bass-shy. To combat this, there’s a “loudness” setting in the EQ that helps music sound more bass-heavy at lower volumes. I routinely have this switched on, as I don’t tend to blast music ridiculously loud.

These are fairly small issues, and although I’m no audiophile I do accept I’m more uppity about sound quality than most. The Play:5, even with its niggles, sounds fantastic across a broad range of music. An hour-long selection of tracks I used to test the speakers is embedded on the right — I actually used Deezer Elite for the audio testing, but Spotify is there for your convenience. Anyway, this is easily the best speaker that Sonos has ever made. It blows every smart speaker I’ve ever used out of the water, and it truly competes with non-smart options in the same price range.

Audio quality is always a difficult thing to judge. There’s a character to each pair of headphones and speakers that can’t be seen on a spec sheet or a frequency-response graph. Beyond the quantifiable, you just have taste, which is why there are $1,000 headphones that I dislike, and $35 pairs that I love. I don’t actually love the Sonos gear I currently own (two Play:1s, two Play:3s and a Playbar). I invested in Sonos for the multi-room experience, and the two Play:3s that I use daily deliver an adequate sound, but always feel a little limp and lifeless. Using even a single Play:5 in their stead has been a surprisingly pleasant experience. It’s better balanced, clearer and far punchier toward the low end. Stereo separation isn’t perfect, but you can’t expect a single-box setup to totally isolate the left and right channel without it sounding unnatural. Overall, it’s a stellar speaker, and one I suspect will win over many naysayers.

The Play:5 truly competes with non-smart options in the same price range.

I can listen to the same song on different headphones, and it’ll sound distinct on each. I notice a particular mid-range note in one pair of cans — a very “balanced” pair of AKGs — that’ll be entirely missing in my daily “out-and-about” headphones, which in turn will highlight some digital noise added to a bass note. Neither is necessarily better or worse; they’re just… different. I have these little revelations daily with my admittedly expensive headphones, but never with my Play:3s, which, all told, set me back $600. The Play:5, however, joins the conversation. I am noticing new things about tracks on a daily basis, and it feels great. To be clear, this is something I’d expect from a $499 speaker. But it’s not something I necessarily expected from a $499 Sonos.

Two’s company

Sonos Play:5 stereo pair

Those are the broad strokes; now the details. I’ve mainly focused on the experience provided by a single Play:5, but a pair of the speakers can, like the Play:3 and Play:1, be set up to work as a left- or right-channel speaker. Pairing is simple: Add the second speaker through the app; let Sonos know if it’s the right or left channel; and then go through the Trueplay process. Once you have two paired, the experience is truly impressive.

Even after a short hour-long demo last month, I was already sold on just how good the Play:5s sound when stereo paired. In the week or so I’ve spent with them in my home, I’ve been able to listen to a broad range of tracks I know well, and I’m even more convinced of their merits. There are actually two setup configurations for you to try out that will result in a distinct sound. There’s an orientation sensor inside each, and the software will power different drivers depending on which positioning you choose. If you place the speakers vertically, you’ll get quite intense separation, but more targeted at a “sweet spot” in your room. Turn them horizontal, and the side-firing tweeters provide nicely separated stereo sound to a surprisingly broad area. And I mean “surprising” — I can be sitting directly in front of the left-channel speaker and still hear the individual channels.

Because I generally listen to music alone, the vertical arrangement makes the most sense for me. But it’s really useful to have the option to just flip the Play:5s on their sides, have the speakers detect that and let them modify their output to play music to a larger group of people.

Line-in and future-proofing

The Play:5 also has an option unique within the Sonos lineup: a line-in port. With a 3.5mm cable, you can play music from anything with a line-out or headphone port. Sonos seems almost begrudged to hold this port over from the last generation, but it adds a lot of functionality to the overall experience, as you can stream the line-in audio to any speaker in your network with very little latency.

Sonos Play:5 ports

During part of my testing, I had the Play:5 on my desk and used it as a PC speaker. Being able to play my PC’s audio wholesale throughout the house is useful, especially if I’m listening to a video podcast or watching a football game in my browser and need to head to the kitchen to grab some food. There’s a tiny bit of lag, which it seems is a necessity to sync the audio across the entire house. It’s not enough to make lip syncing a huge problem for movies, and games worked well enough also. So, although Sonos probably doesn’t want you to use its flagship speaker to blast out YouTube clips, the Play:5 is more than capable.

Software updates are frequent and often very useful.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is something that’s not really possible to review, but is definitely worth knowing. Sonos regularly updates its speakers and software with new features and functionality. This covers not only basic stuff like adding new streaming services — for the record,Apple Music support is coming soon — but also things like Trueplay tuning, which was announced alongside the Play:5, but also works with the Play:3, Play:1 and the previous-gen Play:5. Perhaps the most notable update in recent memory meant that Sonos no longer needed to be plugged into your network to function properly. Prior to the update, at least one piece of equipment required an Ethernet connection to your router.

The Play:5 actually has some additional hardware that’s not active at launch: a microphone. It could be used for automatically tuning the speaker in the future, or perhaps for voice controls. It’s impossible to know what’s around the corner for this particular speaker — Sonos says it’s actively exploring the possibilities — but you can at least know that the company will support the Play:5 for a long time to come.

Remote constraints

Back to the present, and Sonos’ vision for its products is that they are solely controlled through its apps. While I don’t think the controller app is bad, I do find it a little limiting at times. If all I want to do is skip a track, and the speaker is on the other side of the room, I have no options but to either walk over to the speaker or pull out my phone. Neither of those is the most arduous task, I know, but this is a $499 product. There’s a $10 invention that Sonos could very easily pack in with it: a remote control.

I’m primed and ready for Sonos enthusiasts to tell me that I’m missing the point, but the fact remains that a remote would be super useful. The company used to sell a complex controller replete with a touchscreen, which was superseded by its own app. When I talk about remotes, though, I mean something similar to an Apple Remote that would offer a simple way to control volume and track selection without the need to pull out your phone and open an app.

The competition

It should be clear by now that I’m a firm believer in Sonos as a platform, and even more so in the Play:5 as a standalone product. As someone who’s already invested almost $2,000 in Sonos gear, I obviously don’t represent the typical consumer. Should you get a Play:5? I can’t really give you a one-word answer. If you’ve got a non-smart home audio setup that you’re looking to replace, one or two Play:5s could be perfect for you, assuming the asking price works with your budget.

If you’re new to Sonos and to the idea of spending lots of money on home audio gear, the $499/$998 price tag is probably enough to scare you away. I have friends and colleagues who are happy with a couple of Play:1s dotted around their apartments, and you might be the same. You could even buy both a Play:1 and a Play:3 and still save a dollar over the asking price of the new Play:5, so you really need to care about the differences among Sonos’ offerings.

Replacing old hardware with Sonos speakers might be overkill, though, especially if you’re happy with the sound quality. You can add some basic casting functionality to regular speakers for $35 with Chromecast Audio, or if you want the full range of Sonos functionality, you can stump up $349 for the company’s Connect add-on. Connect plugs into your amplifier or hi-fi via RCA cables, and you always have the option to add some Sonos speakers elsewhere in your home to start building out a multi-room system at a later date.

The Chromecast Audio makes regular speakers smart for $35. 

There are a growing number of competing multi-room systems to consider from the likes of LG, Samsung, Bose and others. Many of these support Google Cast, which works similarly to Chromecast for your TV and lets you send music from your phone to the speakers. I’ve tried all of the above companies’ gear, and regret to report that none of them get close to Sonos’ previous-generation speakers, let alone the new Play:5, for sound quality.

Rival WiFi speakers can’t come close to Sonos, but Chromecast offers a lot for a fraction of the cost.

With Chromecast able to add smart functionality to any pair of speakers — and multi-room support coming soon — buying into a company-specific system that isn’t Sonos doesn’t make a lot of sense right now. Those on a super-tight budget are better off finding a non-smart speaker they’re happy with and adding the $35 Chromecast Audio dongle.

If you’ve got your heart set on a Sonos, but are undecided about which to get, I’d recommend finding a stop along the Play:5 demo tour, a brick-and-mortar store, or an online shop with a bulletproof returns policy; really just any way you can find to spend some time with the different options. Just bear in mind that the Play:3 is probably due for an overhaul sometime soon — it’s now ancient compared to the rest of the lineup.


As for me? I’ll definitely (after an unspecified period of counting coins) be picking up a pair of Play:5s to round off my home audio setup. I was very pleased to see Sonos create a (comparably) budget speaker in the form of the Play:1, but it’s great to see the company trying to push the envelope on sound quality instead of just lowering the price of entry. The Play:5 is a big leap forward for Sonos, finally setting up the company not just as a disruptive tech startup, but also as a bona fide creator of quality speakers. Let’s hope the improvements it’s made here trickle down to the second-generation Play:3.


OnePlus X Hands-on

Hands-on: OnePlus makes a mid-range phone

Chinese upstart OnePlus has been enjoying great success since it launched its first OnePlus One smartphone more than a year ago.

The handset carved a name for itself by offering buyers a top-end specification at a sub-£300/$450 price. A year later, OnePlus pulled the same trick to great effect with its follow-up OnePlus 2 – a handset that scored an impressive 9/10 in Trusted’s full review.

The tactic has proved so successful that numerous other smartphone vendors have since tried to replicate OnePlus’ success this year. Key rivals include Motorola with its stellar Moto X Play, Honor, with its Honor 7 and HTC with its recently launched One A9.

With the OnePlus X the company enters new territory: it’s OnePlus’ first truly mid-range smartphone.

OnePlus X

OnePlus X Onyx (Left), OnePlus X Ceramic (Right)


The OnePlus X will be available in two variants: Onyx and Ceramic. The Ceramic version is the more premium of the two and is made using a laborious crafting process that OnePlus claims takes 25 days.

The process begins with a zirconia mold that’s fire-baked up to 1,482oC for more than 28 hours. It’s then cooled for two days before going through a rigorous “polishing process”.

Both versions of the handset will be sold on the same “invite only” basis as the OnePlus 2 for the first month after release. Following this, the Onyx will be sold at weekly “open sales”, where it will be available to anyone who wants one.

Getting your hands-on the Ceramic version of the OnePlus X will be a battle. The company is going to make only 10,000 units and will continue with the invite-only sales model after the first month.

The OnePlus X Onyx retails at £199/$299, while the OnePlus X Ceramic costs £269/$404. I struggled to distinguish between the two models during my hands-on. The only noticeable design difference is that the Ceramic version features slightly rounded edges and is a little heavier.

I actually preferred the Onyx version during my time with the two. It may not be as exclusive as the Ceramic variant, but it still has a beautiful design.

The phone’s brushed anodized metal frame and cut-glass backplate makes it feel significantly more premium than its £200/$300 price tag would suggest.

The frame has a unique grooved finish that makes the handset comfortable to hold. It also hits the same sweet spot as the Nexus 5X, measuring a small-hand-friendly 140 x 69 x 6.9mm.

OnePlus X

The OnePlus X is reasonably well stacked when it comes to ports. The chassis includes twin nano SIMs and a microSD card slot.

The phone’s alert slider is another novel design feature. With it you can easily set the phone to silent, priority or tell me everything modes. The modes control which notifications the phone will push and alert you about.

My only design quibble with the OnePlus X is that it doesn’t feature a USB Type-C input. Instead, it features an older micro-USB port.

USB Type-C is a nifty bit of technology that speeds up phones charging and data-transfer speeds. It’s rapidly becoming a new standard in smartphone and tablet designs, and its absence could diminish the OnePlus X long-term appeal.

Top-ish specs at a rock-bottom price

The OnePlus X features a 5-inch 1080p screen. Unlike past OnePlus phones, the OnePlus X uses AMOLED screen tech, not IPS. On paper, this suggests that the phone will be able to display deeper blacks and more vibrant colours.

AMOLED panels generate colours by electrically charging each individual pixel – meaning they can create blacks simply by stopping charging the pixels. The deeper blacks in turn make colours pop and improve the screen’s overall performance.

From what I’ve seen, the tech works a treat on the OnePlus X. During my hands-on, colours on the OnePlus X were noticeably more vibrant than those on the OnePlus 2 – which has a tendency to push too much of the blue end of the RGB spectrum. The 441ppi resolution meant text and icons on the display looked suitably sharp.

I’m a little less impressed with the phone’s processor. OnePlus has loaded the phone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chip. This would have been fine a year ago, but these days this chip is beginning to show its age. It also isn’t as power-efficient as some of Qualcomm’s newer mid-range processors – the Snapdragon 617, for example.

OnePlus X

However, I didn’t notice any serious performance issues during my hands-on a result of this inclusion. Backed by 3GB of DDR3 RAM, the phone was reasonably smooth to use and there were no serious bugs or glitches of note.

On paper, the OnePlus X’s 13-megapixel rear camera isn’t anything to write home about. It has an f/2.2 aperture and, unlike the OnePlus 2, doesn’t feature optical image stabilisation (OIS). However, OnePlus claims it’s actually one of the most advanced cameras you can get on a smartphone at this price point.

Specifically, OnePlus claims that its phase-detection autofocus (PDAF) will let you capture images in high detail in less than 0.2 seconds. I didn’t have a stopwatch to hand at the event to check the claim, but found the camera to be pretty nippy.

Shots taken around the showroom floor looked sharp on the phone’s screen, offering decent white balance and colour contrast. In order to judge photo quality properly I’ll have to blow up the images on a big screen, but overall the camera did make a good opening impression.

Skinned Android

I was a little less enamoured with the OnePlus X’s use of OxygenOS, which is a skinned version of Android 5.1.1 Lollipop.

I’ve never been a fan of Android skins, since they delay how quickly smartphones and tablets can be upgraded to new versions of the OS.

This is because the skin’s code needs to be tweaked in order for it to work with each Google update. With Android Marshmallow having been released, and there being no word when the OnePlus X will be upgraded, the skin’s appearance is simply an annoyance.

OnePlus X

I wish more companies would learn from Motorola’s example and start using untouched versions of Android on their handsets.

That said, OxygenOS isn’t the worst skin out there. Sensibly, OnePlus hasn’t messed much with the OS’s stellar, “Material Design” UI and has kept bloatware to an absolute minimum.

The only changes I noticed were the addition of a few optional on-screen gestures, a custom file manager and OnePlus Radio applications.

Opening impressions

The OnePlus X is a beautiful-looking phone – in my opinion, it’s a significant step up from the more expensive OnePlus 2.

For £200/$300, the OnePlus X Onyx offers great internal specifications and could be one of 2015’s best budget smartphones.

However, I’m not convinced that the Ceramic edition is worth the extra £60/$90 – and am a little confused as to why the company went to the trouble of making it.


Microsoft Band 2 review: Still flawed, but a step in the right direction

You really can’t accuse Microsoft of phoning it in when it built the original Band. Between jamming 10 different sensors into a glorified wristband and creating a new health platform to interpret your data, the company shot for the stars… and wound up with one cumbersome wearable. Thankfully, the $250 sequel fixes nearly every gripe we had with the original design, and adds a new sensor too. The Band 2 might not be the perfect fitness partner, but it comes much, much closer to realizing Microsoft’s goal than the original did.

  • Much-improved design
  • Microsoft Health is useful, thoughtful
  • Guided workouts are still great
  • Third-party app selection is getting better
  • Battery life is still short
  • Interface can be a little obtuse
  • GPS can take ages to find you

Microsoft’s first fitness tracker was a clunker, but the Band 2 is more refined, with a comfortable design and a thoughtful software platform that has gotten better over time. Even so, there are still some kinks Microsoft needs to work out, and the short battery life in particular might be a dealbreaker for some.


Microsoft Band 2 review: Still flawed, but a step in the right direction

I’m probably in the minority for not hating the original Microsoft Band, but my fondness never extended to its design. Aesthetically and ergonomically, the thing was a mess. Microsoft, realizing that a wearable should be, well, wearable, went back to the drawing board and finally came up with a design that’s not nearly as cumbersome. The new Band owes its relative comfort in large part to its curved AMOLED screen — the screen follows the natural curve of your wrist more elegantly than the original’s flat display ever could. The downside? It makes the Band look a bit like an ill-fated Samsung wearable. Whatever — it was the right decision to make. That screen is covered with a tiny sheet of Gorilla Glass 3, too, a flourish I wish they remembered last year. When I tried that first Band, Microsoft included a screen protector I quickly lost and it was maybe four hours before the first nicks started marring the screen. It didn’t help that Microsoft suggested you wear the Band with the screen on the inside of your wrist, which gave me pangs of concern every time I plopped my hands on my laptop and started typing.

More importantly, the hefty battery bulges that punctuated the first Band are mostly gone. See, Microsoft used to brag about all the sensors it managed to cram into such a small package, and the designers mounted two separate power cells on opposite ends of the wristband. Neat technical achievement? Perhaps, but it also made for a clunky cuff that tended to squeeze people’s wrists. Microsoft’s solution is more thoughtful this time — the battery lives in a single bulge at the end of the strap so it pushes into the top (or bottom, depending on your preference) of your wrist instead of all around it. There hasn’t been an appreciable dip in battery life, either, so you’ll generally squeeze a good two days out of the thing before connecting it to its charging clasp (the older one won’t work, alas). If you’re itching to use the Band as a smartwatch, expect to get closer to a day and a half of continued use with Watch mode enabled — at least you’ll be able to glance at the date and time whenever you need to.

The rest of the band is made of a comfortable dark gray elastomer — your wrists might get a little sweaty, but at least they won’t feel the pinch of bad design. Make no mistake: This year’s Microsoft Band is a huge improvement over the original, even if it’s still tricky to put on with one hand. Now, about those sensors. All 10 of those original data collectors — the heart rate sensor, accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, ambient light detector, skin temperature monitor, UV and capacitive sensors, microphone and one that measures galvanic skin response — are back and they’re joined by a barometer for measuring elevation changes. It was and remains one of the most comprehensive approaches I’ve seen to mobile health tracking, and it represents a very valuable sort of thinking. Just counting steps is fine and all, but traipsing around gets so many bodily systems working in unison that it would be a shame not to gather all that extra context.


One might imagine Microsoft’s step forward with hardware would be accompanied by some sweet new software functionality. Well, yes and no. The company has been dutifully updating the original Band with new features since launch, so there’s a surprisingly small gap between what these two wearables are actually capable of. Quick Read, for instance, helpfully flashes incoming messages on the screen one word at a time (like Spritz) — that arrived on the original Band back in February. And that impressive, shot-tracking golfing feature? Part of the first Band’s repertoire as of June 2015. I have to give Microsoft props for making sure last-generation Band owners aren’t getting the shaft, but it does make the Band 2 just a little less exciting… for now, anyway.

The coming of Windows 10 also signaled a new era of third-party app support for the Band, with partners like Uber and Subway working on more software for our wrists. Alas, they’re not quite done, so it’ll be a while yet before you can order a Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich from your watch. (Pro health tip: Do not order a Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich.) Beyond those new apps, the Band hooks into a host of popular fitness services, including go-to options like MyFitnessPal, Runkeeper, Strava for bike rides and more. By offering your health data up to the services you already use, Microsoft is worming its way into your existing fitness routine (and doing a pretty good job of it). Of course, Microsoft has a health platform of its own — imaginatively called Microsoft Health — which keeps tabs on your daily steps taken, calories burned, hours slept and more. Chances are you’ll mostly interact with this data on your phone, but I’d recommend poking around in Microsoft Health’s web dashboard — the lack of size limitations means you’ll find more observations, comparisons and pretty graphs.

But what is all of this like to use? It sort of depends — you could just use the Band 2 as a smartwatch and be happy with the way texts, emails, calls, tweets and Facebook messages roll in. I’ve spent the majority of my time testing the Band with an iPhone, and it mostly does a fine job of syncing my (lousy) health data over to Microsoft’s Health app. There are a few extra benefits to be had if your Band is lashed to a Windows Phone — issuing voice commands to Cortana still works very well, and you can respond to incoming messages by pecking words out on a tiny on-screen keyboard instead of just firing off a canned response. I’d have loved to see how the Band plays with Microsoft’s new Windows 10 phones, but they’ve sort of dropped off the radar since the company first unveiled them earlier this month. Soon, maybe!

Here’s the thing, though: Don’t buy a Band 2 just for this. The Band 2 is a fitness gadget first and foremost, and trying to convince yourself otherwise is really silly. Unfortunately for me, this review happened to coincide with an in-office fitness challenge and keeping the Band on 24/7 has left me with a very clear understanding of how out of shape I am. I take about 20 percent fewer steps than other men of my age, height and weight. I work out less than them, too. I hardly sleep (often because I’m a weirdo workaholic). The life of a tech blogger, it seems, is one filled with sedentary peril.

In an effort to prolong my own life, I’ve started to go for late-night runs like I did in college. While the Band 2 seems to keep pretty accurate counts of my steps and heart rate, I’ve been running into some frequent GPS issues. When you click into the Run mode — a dead-simple process — the Band looks for a GPS lock and asks if you’d like to get started while it keeps searching. Sounds like a good idea in theory, but it occasionally took up to five minutes for the built-in GPS to find me, leading to a handful of runs with screwy split times and total distances. The barometer is a neat addition to the sensor mix, and it does seem to notice when I’m clambering up soft hills, but I haven’t yet taken it for a spin on New Jersey’s many hiking trails. Guided workouts have been the biggest boon to my exercise routine so far, especially since my gym is tiny and rarely has helpful people around. At present you can load up routines (my current choice: “Get Ripped Abs”) and go for it while the Band 2 measures reps and heart rate. Even better, you can pull up instructional videos within the Microsoft Health app just to make sure your form is on point. I now hurt everywhere, but in a good way.

The Band interface’s broad strokes are surprisingly elegant, although it’s not always very straightforward. It’s the little things, really. Let’s say you want to fiddle with the screen’s brightness — just pop into the Settings tile, right? Almost! Brightness controls (along with vibration level, reading speed and more) live in a Settings window inside of that first Settings window, presumably because Microsoft didn’t want us scrolling through a too-long list of options. I also spent a good 15 minutes wondering why I couldn’t change my color preferences from the Band before realizing — oops — you can only do it from the app. I appreciate the sentiment at play here, but some of the layout logic seems a little suspect. At least you can rearrange most of those action tiles and axe the ones you don’t use (farewell, Bike and Golf).

The competition

The market for fitness-friendly gadgets has blown up, and there’s really something for everyone now. Even once rare features like heart rate monitoring have become awfully accessible — just about every health wearable maker offers at least one product that keeps tabs on your ticker. That the Band 2 aspires to so much puts it in a class of its own, but you might consider something like the Fitbit Surge ($250) if you’re on the lookout for a wearable workout partner. It’s a GPS watch/activity tracker with a more traditional design and a heart rate monitor, but it costs just as much as the Band 2 and does quite a bit less. Garmin’s $250 Vivoactive is the most normal-looking wearable in the high-end fitness bunch and it’s waterproof too, unlike the merely water-resistant Band 2. It’s definitely one of the more versatile options out there, although it doesn’t allow you to dump that exercise data into other health services. Then there’s the Basis Peak ($200), which does play nice with services like Apple Health and Google Fit as of May, and comes with a battery that should last for about four days. The Peak is less ambitious than the Band 2, but hey — it’s comfortable and good at counting your heartbeats.


A truly good fitness gadget is one that makes you realize your shortcomings and gives you the insight to fix them. While the original Microsoft Band was an ambitious but flawed product, this sequel comes closer to fulfilling that vision. The issues in execution are seemingly fixable ones — the Band still isn’t the most comfortable thing I’ve ever put on my wrist; the GPS can take ages to work properly; and the interface can be obtuse. Still, the Band 2 aspires to so much (and does well enough at most of it) that people serious about health and tech should take a look before immediately writing it off.


AMD Radeon R7 370 review

  • Solid 1080p performance
  • Can handle some games at 1440p
  • Cheapest AMD 300-series card yet
  • Lags behind GTX 950 in most tests
  • Higher power consumption than rival

Key Features: 975MHz core clock; 2GB/GB 5,600MHz GDDR5 memory; 2.8 billion transistors; 1,024 stream processors; Requires one six-pin power connector.

Manufacturer: AMD

What is the AMD Radeon R7 370?

There is usually plenty of fanfare surrounding AMD and Nvidia’s flagship graphics cards but it’s their lower-tier products that make up the bulk of their sales. As such, it’s important for both firms to fill out the rest of their ranges with tempting and more affordable cards.

AMD’s latest effort in this lucrative part of the market is the Radeon R7 370. It’s designed to play games at 1080p, and squares up against Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 950.

AMD Radeon R7 – 370 Under the Hood

AMD’s high-end cards are lavished with the new, barnstorming Fiji core, but lower-end cards such as the R7 370 aren’t quite so fortunate.

Instead, the underlying GPU in the R7 370 is named Trinidad, which is actually a version of the Pitcairn core that debuted way back in 2012 as the Radeon HD 7850.

That core also appeared inside 2012’s Radeon HD 7870, and was recycled in AMD’s following range of GPUs, such as the R7 265. Modified, more powerful versions of the core also appeared as the R9 270 and R9 270X. To say that AMD has got its money’s worth from this versatile sliver of silicon is an understatement.

AMD Radeon R7 370

AMD has been successful with this recycling through tweaking the core while slowly moving it down its respective ranges. In the first incarnation, as the HD 7850 and HD 7870, they were affordable high-end parts, but the 200-series chips sat firmly in the mid-range. The R7 370 is one of the cheapest non-OEM cards from AMD’s current slate of products.

The red team has put together the R7 370 by applying a simple clock tweak to Pitcairn. The R7 370’s 975MHz core adds 75MHz to the R7 265’s original speed.

The only other tweak concerns memory. AMD is producing 2GB and 4GB versions of the R7 370, which it didn’t do last year – the R7 265 was available only with the lesser amount. Elsewhere, the card is still made with 2.8 billion transistors and 1,024 stream processors, and that memory is still accessed with a 256-bit bus.

Little has changed architecturally, but AMD has added features to the updated Pitcairn core. There’s support for Vulkan as well as the older Mantle API, and the company also adds compatibility with its power-saving frame limiter, LiquidVR and TrueAudio.

AMD Radeon R7 370

AMD isn’t making a reference design of the R7 370, so that means it’s up to board partners to produce their own cards. We’ll examine those later, but one common factor should be the relatively modest demands of the R7 370: it requires only a single six-pin power connector.

AMD isn’t alone in squeezing more life from its products. The R7 370’s key competitor, the Nvidia GTX 950, relies on the second generation of the company’s Maxwell architecture.

The GTX 950 uses 2.94 billion transistors and has only 768 stream processors – but it’ll still be a close-run thing. Tests with other Maxwell cards have shown that Nvidia’s newer architecture is far more power-effective than AMD’s hardware. The GTX 950 is clocked to 1,024MHz, and is available with either 2GB or 4GB of GDDR5 memory clocked to 6,610MHz.

Results Analysis

The affordable R7 370 is designed as a 1080p card, so that’s where I started my benchmarks. Thankfully, it proved playable in every game at this resolution.

Its minimum and average score of 31fps and 37fps in Battlefield 4 are enough to ensure smooth play, and the AMD card returned an excellent average of 55fps in BioShock Infinite. Crysis 3 is my toughest game, and here it averaged 35fps. It reached an impressive 84fps in Batman: Arkham Origins.

AMD Radeon R7 370

It’s a good set of results for playing games at 1080p, but the R7 370 is less impressive when compared to Nvidia’s hardware. That 84fps result in Batman can’t compete with the 108fps of the GTX 950, and its averages fell behind in five other titles. In Tomb Raider, for instance, the AMD card’s 67fps average was seven frames behind Nvidia.

There were only small glimpses of hope for the AMD card; its minimum and average results in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor were both better than the GTX 950, and it had a better minimum but poorer average in Metro: Last Light.

The R7 370’s relative lack of power was highlighted by synthetic tests. Its 3DMark: Fire Strike score of 4,969 was almost 1,000 points behind the GTX 950. In Unigine Heaven’s 1080p Extreme test the R7 370 scored 24fps, but the Nvidia card managed 28.1fps.

I tested the R7 370 at 2,560 x 1,400 too – but, unsurprisingly, the AMD card provided mixed performance levels.

Its initially impressive Battlefield 4 pace collapsed to a sluggish 24fps, and in Crysis 3 the AMD card languished with minimum and average frame rates of 14fps and 21fps. Its score in Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was inconsistent – its average of 32fps is playable, but its minimum of 24fps suggests that the game will chug during busier scenes.

AMD Radeon R7 370

Only less demanding games ran at 1440p and their highest settings. The Radeon’s BioShock average of 34fps is reasonable, and it managed minimum and average frame rates of 33fps and 51fps in Batman. It then ran through Tomb Raider at 42fps.

The R7 370 continued to fall behind the Nvidia card at this resolution, too. In the tougher 3DMark Extreme test, the Radeon’s result of 2,364 couldn’t match the 2,901 scored by the GTX 950. Plus, the AMD card’s Unigine frame rate of 14.9fps was almost two frames slower than the Nvidia card.

As predicted, AMD’s older architecture suffered in my power consumption benchmarks too, although perhaps by less than I might have expected. When using the R7 370, my test rig required 96W and 192W when idling and running at peak respectively. The Nvidia GTX 950-powered machine needed just 61W and 171W in the same tests.

AMD Radeon R7 370

Other Things to Consider

The lack of an AMD reference version of the R7 370 can sometimes mean that board partners are able to demonstrate design versatility, but this isn’t the case with this card.

Prices for 2GB versions of the R7 370 range from £118/$177 to £137/$206, and the 4GB model costs between £140/$210 and £150/$225.There are nine cards available in total, but they’re all depressingly similar. Eight of them are dual-slot, dual-fan models, and the sole card with one fan is no smaller or thinner than the other products available.

Most of the cards available are overclocked, but the tweaks are minor. The most ambitious card is the Asus Strix model, which runs the core at 1,050MHz. Several others add only 10MHz or 20MHz to the core, which won’t make a noticeable difference to games.

It’s disappointing elsewhere too. The lack of a smaller design hampers the R7 370’s use in mini-ITX enclosures, plus none of these cards are supplied with any free games.

On Nvidia’s side of the fence things are more positive. GTX 950 cards range in price between £126/$189 and £150/$225, and the majority come with a free game. Some are available in smaller, dual-slot designs, and overclocks are more ambitious. Models from Gigabyte, Zotac and Palit are all available with the 1,024MHz core running at 1,241MHz or higher. The only downside is the lack of 4GB models on the market.


AMD sells the R7 370 as a card designed for 1080p gaming, and I have no quibbles about that – its benchmark results indicate that it’ll handle any game at this relatively modest resolution.

However, this latest card doesn’t look as impressive when stacked up against Nvidia’s GTX 950. The GeForce card is consistently quicker and uses less power, it’s available with more board partner variety, and there’s little difference in price between the two chipsets.

The red team has got a good amount of value out of this old GPU, but it’s showing its age. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 remains the best card to buy for 1080p gaming.

Scores In Detail

Features : 7/10
Performance : 6/10
Value : 6/10


OnePlus X vs OnePlus 2: What’s the difference?

OnePlus has finally announced the OnePlus X, and it comes just two months after the release of the OnePlus 2. What gives?

There’s been rampant speculation surrounding the OnePlus X of late, which you suspect must please OnePlus – a company that doesn’t do traditional advertising – no end.

Is this the ‘OnePlus Mini’ we’ve been expecting since the days of the OnePlus One? Is it a super-affordable OnePlus 2 alternative? Is it a premium-design powerhouse built to mix it with the iPhone crowd?

Interestingly, the answer to all of these questions is the same: No. Not quite.

Here’s how the OnePlus X compares to the OnePlus 2.

OnePlus vs

The OnePlus Mini we’ve been looking for?

The OnePlus X is indeed the smallest OnePlus phone we’ve seen yet, with a 5-inch display that comes in well short of the 5.5-inch OnePlus 2 and the OnePlus One.

However, this screen is too different to its predecessors to warrant the rather belittling ‘Mini’ tag.

Most notably, it’s an AMOLED display. This sets it apart from the OnePlus 2 by enabling far deeper blacks and more vibrant colours. Think Samsung Galaxy S6 rather than iPhone 6S.

OnePlus X

OnePlus isn’t content to settle for a more striking picture, either. It’s capitalised on this AMOLED technology by incorporating an ambient “duochrome” mode, which will alert you to new notifications without powering on the whole screen.

One thing OnePlus has kept the same is the OnePlus X display’s 1080p resolution, which means that it’s actually sharper than the OnePlus 2’s. Those smaller dimensions make for a more pixel-packed 441 ppi output compared to the OnePlus 2’s 401 ppi equivalent.

Design is more iPhone 4 than OnePlus 2

The OnePlus X’s classy display sits well with a bold new design that looks nothing like the OnePlus 2’s.

In its cleanly rounded corners and flat metallic edges, it’s more reminiscent of the iconic iPhone 4 than its immediate predecessor.

As OnePlus CEO Peter Lau puts it, “The OnePlus X is a design-centric device,” which means that the company has invested a lot more in the materials that go into the phone.

It comes in two models. Onyx, which is the main one, has a highly polished black glass back, while the limited edition Ceramic has – you guessed it – a ceramic backplate.

OnePlus X

OnePlus says that this ceramic back is “scratch-resistant with a hardness of 8.5H on the Mohs scale,” so it shouldn’t shatter as easily as you fear it might.

It does weigh a fair amount more than the regular glass model, though – around 160 grams versus 138 grams.

One shared design feature that we’re happy to see returning is the alert slider, which proved to be a rare physical control treat on the OnePlus 2.

However, the OnePlus X doesn’t feature the OnePlus 2’s fingerprint sensor, which is a crying shame for anyone looking forward to making use of Android Pay. It also doesn’t feature the 2’s USB Type-C connector either, so it’s not the most future-proof of phones.

Similar, but not identical, cameras

At first glance, the two phones appear to share the same basic rear camera set-up, but there are notable differences.

While both the OnePlus X and the OnePlus 2 have 13-megapixel images sensors, the OnePlus X has an f/2.2 aperture. The OnePlus 2, by contrast, has a brighter f/2.0 aperture.

OnePlus X

However, the OnePlus X camera balances this out with phase detection autofocus (PDAF), which should make it the quicker-snapping camera overall.

The OnePlus X also has a sharper 8-megapixel front-facing camera, which means that it should take crisper selfies than the 5-megapixel OnePlus 2 equivalent.

A big step back in performance

The biggest compromise with the new OnePlus X comes in the form of its power plant. It runs on a Snapdragon 801 processor, which is the same processor that powered the OnePlus One.

This chip offered flagship performance in 2014. Now, not so much – particularly when you compare it to the OnePlus 2’s significantly more powerful Snapdragon 810.

There’s 3GB of RAM in the OnePlus X, however, which should keep things ticking along smoothly. It’s the same amount as can be found in the 16GB model of the OnePlus 2, but the 64GB model gets 4GB.

OnePlus 2

Debut for expandable storage

One of the biggest things people seemed to ask for – and failed to get – in the OnePlus 2 was expandable storage. OnePlus simply didn’t see the point.

It’s relented in the OnePlus X, but it has stuck to its guns in making it part of a clever dual feature.

The OnePlus X has two nano SIM slots, so you can run two mobile accounts from it simultaneously. This is a common feature in smartphones launched in developing countries, but it hasn’t really taken off in developed countries as yet.

It doesn’t really matter, however, as the second nano SIM slot can be used to accept microSD cards instead. This means that you can expand its 16GB of internal storage by up to 128GB.

OnePlus X

Similar pricing

So is the OnePlus X a cheaper alternative to the OnePlus 2? Kind of, but not really.

It starts from £199/$299 for the basic glass version, which is £40/$60 cheaper than the £239/$359 starting price for the OnePlus 2.

However, if you want to pick up one of the 10,000 limited edition OnePlus X Ceramic models, you’ll have to pay £269/$404, which is more expensive.

Of course, the top model of the OnePlus 2 is the 64GB model with 4GB of RAM, which costs £289/$433. So it’s still the pricier model overall, but there’s really not much in it.

OnePlus 2

Early verdict

The OnePlus X is a curious device, but its arrival is something we have to applaud.

OnePlus hasn’t been content to lazily repackage the OnePlus One as a cheap alternative to the OnePlus 2. Nor has it simply built a cut-down version of its latest flagship phone.

Rather, the OnePlus X is a completely new phone with its own strengths and design principles.

Making a choice between the OnePlus X and OnePlus 2 is far less about price, and far more about your own personal preferences and requirements.

Which do you value most, premium design or performance? Do you demand the biggest screen possible, or do you prefer your smartphones to be compact and easy to wield in one hand? A screen that provides you with low-power notifications, or a phone with a fingerprint sensor for unlocking it?

We’re not sure which of the OnePlus X and the OnePlus 2 we’re going to prefer at this early point. We’re just happy to celebrate the differences.


Uncharted 4 – First Impressions

Exclusive to PS4

Uncharted 4 release date: March 18 2016

Although I’ve still not had a chance to play any of the Uncharted 4 campaign, Naughty Dog and publisher Sony is giving the media an all-access pass to one of the game’s multiplayer maps in 5v5 Team Deathmatch mode. This will be available for owners of the Uncharted: Nathan Drake Collection to play on December 1 – 4.

The multiplayer will eventually have multiple modes when the full game launches in March, but for now we’re just satisfied to get our hands on any new Uncharted gameplay.

Robert Coburn, the game’s Lead Multiplayer Designer explained that “Uncharted 4 multiplayer is a culmination of ideas spanning across Uncharted 2, Uncharted 3 and The Last of Us.”

Uncharted 4 multiplayer 5

The team at Naughty Dog want to create a multiplayer that delivers moments of high adventure, forces players to work as a team and introduce what it’s calling “fast and furious controls”.

To do this, the developer has added in a variety of new gameplay mechanics, ranging from the Mysticals and Sidekicks to Gear and new melee opportunities.

What’s interesting is that the Uncharted 4 multiplayer will include micro transaction opportunities “from the outset”. During a private presentation of the multiplayer portion of the game, Coburn revealed players will be able to buy various weapons, tools and other upgrades.

Uncharted 4 multiplayer 1

“Microtransactions will be available at launch, but we’ll have no gameplay items that will be gated through microtransactions,” explained Coburn.

That’s because you’ll also be able to earn them using in-game currency. In fact, you’ll earn dollars in-game for any kills, assists or other manoeuvres you pull off in the multiplayer, which you can then spend on Sidekicks, Mysticals and more.

Uncharted 4 multiplayer 15

The Mysticals are unique items that you can purchase and use in multiplayer matches and when you need them. They give your character and team the advantage with magical abilities.

The three Mysticals shown off during my behind the scenes presentation were as follows:

  • Wrath of El Dorado: The map designs in Uncharted 4 multiplayer are still arena-like but as you’ll be working more as a team, you may find the map culminating in two fronts. If you find it becoming that your team is on one side and the enemy on the other, you can thrown in the Wrath of El Dorado. It’ll spawn a sarcophagus from the ground and spew out magical spectres that will attack the nearest enemy.
  • The Cintamani Stone: Direct from Uncharted 2, this gives you the power of flame when you reach a pinch and can even provide you with as yet unannounced mystical abilities. When you active the Citamani stone, it’ll also bring all of your team mates out of downed state.
  • The Spirit of the Djinn: On activation, this will give you the power of the Djinn, allowing you to teleport. In Uncharted 4 multiplayer it actually takes three melee hits to down an opponent, but with the power of the Djinn you can get them in two. However, there’s a catch, as while you’re using the power of the Djinn you can’t take cover.

Then comes the Sidekicks. These are AI-controlled allies that you can call in when you’re in a pinch. They have their own health bar, and if they don’t take any damage their health will start to regenerate. Plus, any kills or assists they perform will earn you cash. There are four types – at least so far – and they are: snipers, saviours, hunters and brutes.

They’re pretty self-explanatory, but here’s a quick overview:

  • Snipers – A defence Sidekick responsible for taking enemies out remotely.
  • Saviours – A support Sidekick that can revive you and your team mates, replenish ammo and offer time towards gear regeneration.
  • Hunters – An attack Sidekick that will lock enemies into a grab hold. From there, a grabbed enemy only has three choices: hammer triangle to escape, be helped by another team mate or be killed by the opposing team.
  • Brute – An attack Sidekick that takes the role of the Tank with high health, heavy armour but a slow pace.

Uncharted 4 multiplayer 9

In the 5v5 Team Deathmatch mode I played, you were asked to choose from five characters: Lazarevic, Sully, Cutter, Drake and Elena. You’ll get to pick the load out you want for each one, so your character choice is mostly cosmetic. That’s especially obvious when it became clear more than one person can play as a specific character, which was quite a shock when I realised there was a pair of Nathan Drakes charging round the map on my team.

The map we got to play was a very Uncharted-esque jungle arena, with a variety of levels and pathways winding around a central front where the battle always seemed to come to a head. Crumbling ruins act as excellent cover point dotted around the map, while half decayed masts allow you to swing from side to side on your rope.

This tool has become a major part of the Uncharted 4 multiplayer, with it not only acting as a traversal tool but also enhancing your melee capabilities. There’s not much better in Uncharted 4’s multiplayer than to get a few shots in on an enemy while swinging in on your rope, only to finish them off with the new rope melee attack that sees you fly into their chest.

Uncharted 4 multiplayer 11

Initially I found it very difficult to find the opposing team members; the map felt vast and unsuited for such a 5v5 match. But, Naughty Dog has cleverly designed the space, forcing you to work as a pack – literally five on five – in order to use the area effectively.

You’ll then be able to utilise the Mysticals that your fellow gamers have as a team, and also come to one another’s aid when downed – gaining additional in-game dosh for revivals of course.

Once you’ve figured out the flow of the map, it’s easy to become very familiar with the layout, combining your agility with the rope with melee combat and straight-up shoot-em-up antics.

But what will take some getting used to is the control system. In the time I had to play Uncharted 4 multiplayer at Paris Games Week, I didn’t get the chance to customise the key mapping, but it’s something you’re going to need to consider.

The melee attack sits on Square for one, with the camera swapping from shoulder to shoulder by clicking in the right stick. Your rope is on L1, while Gear/Mysticals is on R1 and strangely enough reload is on triangle. You can access the store whenever you like by hitting the touchpad.

First Impressions

Uncharted 4 multiplayer is quick and easy to get totally absorbed by. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, after all Uncharted for me is very much a cinematic single-player game. It’ll be intriguing to find out what the other modes are and what they play like closer to launch.



Pioneer SC-LX89 review

  • You won’t fail to be entertained by the SC-LX89’s energy and muscle. It’s just a tad short of the delicacy needed to be an all-rounder
  • Powerful sound
  • Good organisation
  • Easy setup
  • Good compatibility
  • Could do with more subtlety

Pioneer SC-LX89 w/ Q Acoustics 3000 Speakers (5.1)

Lean muscle was one of the many fortes of the Pioneer SC-LX89’s predecessor – the SC-LX88 earned a five-star review back in December 2014, blowing away its competition at the time. A year on, and the theme remains; its nine Class D power amplifiers are capable of a total of 850W multi-channel simultaneous drive.


As with its nearest ancestor, the SC-LX89 is Dolby Atmos-enabled, equipped with HDMI for 4K and boasts the AIR Studios stamp of approval. You’ll notice little has changed in terms of aesthetic or setup either.

Inputs for Atmos speakers still aren’t clearly labelled and require a little experimentation, and you’ll need an external power amplifier for surround back speakers if you want 7.2.4, but otherwise, getting this amp off the ground – taking advantage of MCACC Pro or fine tuning yourself – couldn’t be simpler.


Playing the Blu-ray of Edge Of Tomorrow, we are hit with full force by the SC-LX89’s heft. It’s like a kick in the teeth, only more desirable. As planes and aliens explode, the power and detail is seriously impressive.

It has a great sense of organisation, without which these apocalyptic war scenes would be largely incoherent. Here, however, crashing aircraft are separated from artillery fire, and that again from hollering voices.

Impressive, too, is how, no matter how busy the scene becomes, the sound doesn’t harden up or become bright. That may have been a concern with earlier Pioneer amplifiers, but they appear to have taken due care here; you get unwavering attack without it becoming difficult to endure.

Dolby Atmos

That might is also reflected through Atmos. The difficulty is in finding an amp that is not only capable of offering Atmos, but integrating it properly. In that respect, the SC-LX89 excels; there is nothing detached or flimsy here, you are able just to accept the sound without being forced to notice it.

What we would like is greater subtlety, through the midrange especially. Naturally, the lack of dynamic sensitivity is most evident in the voices; it isn’t devoid of intonation and expression entirely, but there is a sense of everything being shouted.

That trade-off with power is well worth it for films such as Edge Of Tomorrow, which thrives on the SC-LX89’s effortless force and organisation, but will lose out somewhat with more nuanced pictures.

Testing it in stereo with the Blu-ray of Stevie Wonder: Live At Last that lack of expression is similarly noticeable. What you do have, added to the organisation, is a decently rhythmic amplifier.

Though perhaps lacking a little of the music’s groove, the band is incredibly tight and the instruments interplay nicely to give some of that musicality back.

We find the same spinning CDs or playing an iPod through the USB port. The iControlAV5 app, which effectively turns your phone or tablet into a wireless remote, is particularly useful for music playback.


If you want extra oomph from your action blockbusters and an immersive Atmos experience, you can’t fail to be impressed by the SC-LX89’s muscle and composure.

We’d like a bit more dynamic subtlety to make this a one-size-fits-all amplifier. Still, for a little over two grand, Pioneer are going to leave you mightily entertained. For that it deserves a healthy dollop of praise.


10 Great Vehicles For Families


The Honda Odyssey is one of the best minivans on the market today. The interior has plenty of room for up to eight passengers to sit comfortably while still having a lot of cargo space. The engine is a 248 horsepower V-6 that’s coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

2014 Honda Odyssey - First Drive

Fuel economy is important in a family vehicle and the Odyssey was designed with that in mind. A cylinder deactivation feature reduces the engine to 3 cylinders to conserve fuel when on the highway. The Odyssey gets an EPA estimated 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Knowing that minivans usually carry children, the Odyssey is equipped with a built in vacuum stored in the cargo area, making it much easier to clean up the eventual crumb piles that will spring up in the back seats.


2011 Dodge Grand Caravan

Able to seat eight passengers and equipped with great features, the Dodge Grand Caravan is a fine choice for a family vehicle. The powertrain is a 283 horsepower 3.6 liter V-6 with front wheel drive and a six-speed automatic. The second row seats can fold up into the floor to make more space for cargo and the rear seats can fold back for tailgate parties. The gas mileage is reasonable for a vehicle this size, with an EPA estimated 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. The Grand Caravan scored high marks in safety, something that is very important when considering a vehicle that will transport your children. The Grand Caravan may lack some of the unique features found in other vans, but it hits all the important notes perfectly.


2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

By mixing what makes the Volkswagen Golf great with the utility of a station wagon, Volkswagen created the greatness that is the Golf SportWagen. Loads of cargo space makes family trips easy, and the ample legroom means your passengers will be comfortable. The SportWagen is powered by a 1.8 liter turbocharged four-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic. Gas mileage is great, with an EPA estimated 25 mpg city and 35 mpg highway, so you won’t need to visit the gas station as often. The suspension is solid and the chassis well built, giving the SportWagen a smooth, stable ride. Cornering is easy, with no noticeable body roll or understeer. The interior is made from quality materials, giving the feeling of a luxury car.


2015 Subaru Outback Expo

The Subaru Outback won the 2015 Best Wagon for Families award, proving that it’s a great choice for a family vehicle. A 175 horsepower 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine coupled to a CVT transmission sits under the hood of the Outback, a six-cylinder engine is optional but has poor gas mileage. The EPA estimated gas mileage of the four-cylinder model is 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, which is good compared to others in its class. The standard all-wheel drive system gives the Subaru Outback superb handling in all conditions, and the Active Torque Vectoring system improves cornering ability. The Outback received high marks across the board for safety, and includes features such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and automatic pre-collision braking, which can bring the Outback to a full stop at speeds less than 30 mph.


My New Honda Fit

The Honda Fit is a small car with big benefits. With an affordable price and superb safety scores, the Fit makes a great choice for families on a budget. Exceptional fuel economy is one of the great features. With an EPA estimated 33 mpg city and 41 mpg highway, the Fit will save you in money at the pump. The Fit handles nimbly, with a comfortable ride and tight suspension. Even though the Fit is small on the outside, it has ample backseat legroom for its passengers, without needing to inconvenience those in the front seat. Compared to its rivals, the Fit has more pep in its step when hitting the gas, and the optional six-speed manual transmission makes it a joy to drive.


Economical, fuel efficient, and fun to drive, the Mazda 3 is a great choice for a family vehicle. Available as a sedan or a four door hatchback, the Mazda 3 has a 155 horsepower 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine. A six-speed manual is standard, with a six-speed automatic offered as an option. The Mazda 3 gets an EPA estimated 26 mpg city and 35 mpg highway, which is higher than many others in its class. Cargo space is plentiful in both models, but the hatchback has a bit more space than the sedan. The suspension is tuned to be sporty, allowing the Mazda 3 to handle winding roads with ease. Traction control and Stability control are standard, giving the Madza 3 tight handling even in inclimate weather.


2014 Ford Fusion

The Ford Fusion is a great family sedan at a great price. With sleek styling and great performance, the Fusion can serve as a road trip car or just a grocery getter. What sets the Fusion apart as a great family car is the Ford MyKey system. MyKey allows the Fusion owner to limit the vehicle’s top speed and the audio volume, and mute the sound entirely until the seatbelt is engaged. Further MyKey functionality includes an audible seatbelt reminder, audible alerts for when the vehicle reaches different speeds, and an enhanced low-fuel warning that notifies the driver when 75 miles of range remain. This makes it a wonderful car for a first time driver, allowing you to rest easy when your teen is traveling the roads solo for the first time.


2014 Chevrolet Malibu

The Chevrolet Malibu is an attractive sedan with loads of backseat space and top notch performance. The 160 horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder has more than enough power to get you and your family where you need to go in a timely manner, and the suspension makes sure you will get there in comfort. Like the Ford Fusion, the Chevrolet Malibu is equipped with a system to monitor and keep a new driver safe. Aptly called “Teen Driver,” it’s a suite of technologies that not only allows owners to set speed alerts and mute the audio system until front-seat safety belts are buckled, but also can display important data that lets those owners keep track of how far the Malibu has been driven, how fast it’s been driven and if it’s been driven in such a way that stability control or anti-lock brakes have been engaged.


Chevrolet Traverse

At first glance, the Chevrolet Traverse looks like an SUV, but it’s really more of a minivan in SUV clothing. The cabin is spacious, with more than enough room for the driver and passenger, while the rear seats have room for an additional 6 passengers. The Traverse is powered by a 281 horsepower V-6 engine coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. Front wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is optional. The all-wheel system is the better choice of the two, offering better stability and control in all weather types. Steering is sharp and responsive, and the suspension is well tuned to handle any road imperfections. The gas mileage is average for a large vehicle, with an EPA estimated 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.


2012 Kia Soul Facelift

Low cost and plenty of interior space are selling points for the Kia Soul when looking for a family vehicle. A solidly built suspension control body roll when cornering and absorb imperfections, giving the Soul a comfortable ride. The Soul won’t be winning any races with its 130 horsepower 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine, but it does get reasonable gas mileage, with an EPA estimated 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. The base MSRP of $16,515 makes the soul very affordable. The interior has plenty of room for passengers and cargo. With ample legroom and comfortable seats keeping your passengers happy on even the longest trips. The undated exterior moves away from the traditional box on wheels look of the past and has curves and rounded edges, giving the soul an eye-catching look.


HTC One A9 Review

  • Respectable performance
  • Impeccable build quality
  • Ships with Android 6.0
  • HTC’s Sense UI is even leaner now
  • The design looks very familiar
  • Middling camera
  • BoomSound speakers are gone
  • The alluring price tag is temporary

After the One M9 failed to find its footing, HTC cooked up a sequel with a new but derivative look. It’s a well-built device and is one of the first to ship with Google’s latest version of Android, but some of the One series’ hallmark features are nowhere to be found. The end result is a phone that, while perfectly good, doesn’t stand apart from the competition.

“Pick your battles” is good advice, especially when you’re a minnow among sharks, but theHTC One A9 seems determined to fight on all fronts. You’d think the company’s newest hero phone would have enough going on just trying to convince us that a flagship needn’t max out the spec sheet, but HTC compounds its challenge by launching a device that can’t not be compared to the wildly popular iPhone.

HTC One A9 Review

I’m all for ambition, but this feels more like masochism.

Much has been made about the One A9’s resemblance to the iPhone 6s, and the discussion around who came up with which stylistic cues first. It’s certainly something I can see the lawyers being interested in but, to be entirely honest, I find myself more concerned about how well the HTC feels in the hand.


The answer to that is “pretty damn good” and it’s down to a solid selection of materials and finishes. Aircraft-grade 6063 aluminum, Gorilla Glass 3 (though not 4, like HTC had originally said), and narrow strips of embedded polycarbonate add up to a device that feels the premium equal of the iPhone 6s.

In fact, some I asked preferred the One A9’s polished sides with their sharper edges versus the Apple smartphone, finding them more comfortable to hold. The grooved power button is a nice touch, too, and it acts as a camera app shortcut – though not a shutter release once the app is open – when you double-tap it.


More striking to me than any aesthetic similarities, however, is how HTC has stepped off the specification rollercoaster when it comes to what would traditionally be some headline features.

So, the processor is taken from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 series – the quad core 617, in fact – when you might expect an 800 series chipset. The 5-inch display is Full HD resolution, not Ultra HD like the latest from Samsung and LG. You get microUSB, not USB-C.


HTC’s argument is that mid-range processors are now sufficient, not to mention pleasingly frugal, for the majority of Android users. Importantly the Snapdragon 617 supports Cat.6 LTE with carrier aggregation, and HTC contends that getting data to the phone rapidly is more of an issue than what onboard processing gets done. As for USB-C, so it tells me, that isn’t really on carriers’ radar yet for accessories, and so microUSB still makes more sense at retail.

It’s not all been compromise. US devices will still pack 3GB of memory (in the UK – and thus in our UK review unit – that drops to 2GB) and 32GB of storage as standard (only 16GB in the UK). The display may not have as many pixels as some of its rivals, but the AMOLED panel is bright but not over-saturated, skews a little warmer than some (though has an optional sRGB mode which tones that down), and text and graphics don’t look gritty or blocky.

The home button doubles as a fingerprint scanner, used both for accessing the phone andAndroid Pay. It’s easily on a par with the iPhone 6s’ for consistency.


Somewhere else HTC hasn’t cut corners – on paper, at least – is in the camera. UltraPixel is, as in other recent HTC phones, relegated to selfie duty on the front, with a 13-megapixel sensor on the back.

Yes, that’s less than the 20-megapixels the One M9 offers, but the underwhelming photographic performance of that device suggests it’s no great loss. Instead, HTC found space for optical image stabilization – something it hasn’t included on a flagship since the One M7 – f/2.0 optics, and a tone-mixing LED flash.


Again, the watchword here is “usable”: enough resolution to avoid cropped shots looking like pointillism, but a recognition that low-light, video, and hyperlapse – the sped-up videos that Instagram popularized and which now get a dedicated mode in the HTC camera app – all benefit from keeping the lens super-stable.

Serve it up with decent lighting, indeed, and the One A9 can produce some great pictures. To be honest that’s table-stakes for even a fairly recent smartphone camera, though, and things become a little less compelling when it gets darker.

Noticeable noise starts to creep in as it gets dusky, and low-light or nighttime conditions are all too often disappointing. The HDR mode – now accessible with a button directly in the main camera UI, but for some reason not turned on automatically as other phones will do – can help, even if it can introduce odd haloing around darker objects in the scene, but the OIS doesn’t assist as much with avoiding blur from hand-movement as I hoped it might, and in general the One A9 has a tendency to over-expose.

Meanwhile there’s a Pro mode which captures RAW shots and allows for more manual tweaking, but some of the other features you’d therefore expect to find are absent. Don’t expect to be taking light art photos or midnight city scenes with streaky car headlamps, for instance, since the shutter length tops out at two seconds maximum.

Viewed as a whole, it isn’t a bad camera. It’s a big step up from the One M8 and M9, indeed. But “not bad” isn’t enough to play against the heavy-hitters in the segment: LG’s G4 and Samsung’s Galaxy S6 are neck and neck for the best Android camera crown, while the iPhone 6s is easy to use and also capable of excellent images.


The same could be said for performance. I respect HTC’s decision not to go for the fastest chipset on paper and instead pick the processor it believes is sufficient for what the One A9 will be asked to do. 95-percent of the time it’s perfectly capable, too: apps load quickly, multitasking doesn’t show undue lag, and although I had a couple of moments of freezing, I’m of a mind to put that down to pre-release software rather than CPU shortcomings.

Unfortunately that remaining 5-percent of the time – when you’re trying to play some of Android’s more intensive games, for instance – reminds you that you’re not dealing with the very fastest silicon, though the 2GB of memory in my review unit might have to share a little of the blame. All the same, while it might not be a problem now, as apps and Android get more system intensive over the lifetime of the device, HTC’s decision may well become more frustrating.


Those upgrades, at least to the latest iteration of Android, should come through without significant delay. HTC has committed – in the US, at least – to pushing out new versions of Android to the One A9 (if bought SIM-free and unlocked rather than through a carrier, mind) just fifteen days after Google releases them for its own Nexus devices.

It’s ambitious and, if HTC can pull it off, will be a final nail in the coffin to the company’s reputation for update tardiness. To help streamline that process, Sense has been further eroded and more of Android’s natural interface and functionality left instead.


In general I approve of that. As HTC points out, Sense originally came about because Android itself was half-baked and confusing. Google’s apps were underwhelming, lacking in functionality, and often more trouble than they were worth, while the native UI left a lot to be desired.

Since then, of course, we’ve seen the rise of Material Design and Google either developing its own must-have features or taking inspiration from the modifications of its friends in the device business. That’s left HTC devoting a large chunk of its software engineers’ time to customizations that not only aren’t really needed any more, but which add hurdles to future updates.


The One A9, then, gets Android 6.0 Marshmallow’s Now on Tap app-specific search improvements, Doze for switching to a low-power mode when idle, and full-disk encryption that’s enabled by default (which does mean you have to punch in a PIN or passcode every time you power-cycle the phone).

Slot a microSD card into the slot on the side, and Marshmallow’s new ability to assimilate removable storage and treat it as internal capacity means you can add up to 2TB more if you can afford such a card. That might come in useful for high-resolution audio files, since the One A9 can support 24-bit / 96 kHz uncompressed audio out of its headphone jack – it sounds good, though you need equally capable headphones to actually enjoy it – which goes some way to make up for the absence of BoomSound speakers.


Perhaps my biggest concern about HTC’s sudden obsession with conservatism is its choice of battery. At a time when rivals are squeezing 3,000 mAh or larger packs into their flagships, the One A9 arrives with a mere 2,150 mAh.

The more frugal processor, less intensive display, and Android 6.0’s power tweaks should make that more than enough to get you through the day, so HTC’s argument goes. If it’s not, the One A9 supports Quick Charge 2.0 out of the box, with a Quick Charge 3.0 update in the pipeline.


That’s the theory, anyway. In practice I can’t say I was ever entirely confident that the One A9 would last morning through to night. With typical use – push messaging turned on, and a mixture of social networking, some music playback, photography, Google Maps, and browsing – I all too often found myself needing a top-up mid afternoon.

Scale back my use and I could go a whole day, but I’m loath to recommend people change their habits simple to accommodate a phone’s shortcomings. At least with a fast charger plugged in the battery topped up swiftly, but I’d gladly find pocket-space for a slightly thicker phone if that meant I also got a bigger battery or wireless charging.

Though I might sound pessimistic, quite honestly, up until yesterday I was all set to crown the One A9 a winner among Android phones. While international pricing may not have been so generous, at $399.99 in the US for the 32GB unlocked and SIM-free model with 3GB of memory, it was a bargain: $50 cheaper than the 2015 Moto X with the same amount of storage.


Now, though, HTC has admitted that its sub-$400 price tag is a mere promotional offer, and one which will expire on November 7. After that, the sticker will leap up a whopping 25-percent to $499.99.

That puts it right up against the Nexus 6P and at that point I’d go for Google’s phone. Its camera and display are better, it’ll get Android updates even faster, and it packs a bigger battery.

I’ve written before that HTC is its own worst enemy: somehow, in the face of victory, all too often it manages to snatch out defeat instead with a good idea that’s poorly-executed or prematurely abandoned. Just when it seemed the One A9 was an affordable no-brainer, HTC harpoons itself with a hard-to-stomach price tag.


Yes, if you want a phone that’s easier to use one-handed, the One A9 lacks many of the compromises smaller Android devices have historically made. I’m not alone in coveting a roughly 5-inch phone with flagship specifications, rather than the phablet screen that generally comes with such hardware, but I’m not sure I could live with such battery life from a $500 device, not to mention the knowledge that there were significantly better cameras out there for the same money.

Get in before HTC increases the price in the US and the value argument offsets all that. A sleek, metal-bodied phone for under $400 is undoubtedly compelling. Beyond that tiny window, though, you’d have to really, really dislike bigger displays – or really, really want an iPhone running Android – to pick the One A9 over Google’s Nexus 6P.

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Surface Pro 4 iFixit teardown earns a terrible score of 2

It’s hard to deny that the latest Surface Pro 4 is Microsoft’s most beautiful device yet, but you do know what they say about beauty sometimes being only skin deep. Teardown experts iFixit took Microsoft’s latest “tablet to replace your laptop” to discover hidden treasures inside as well as to measure how easy, or hard, it would be to repair. Suffice it to say, this is one tablet you will definitely want to handle with extra care, not just because of its price, but also because of its repairability.


Getting into any Surface Pro has always been an ordeal but even iFixit is happy to concede that the Surface Pro 4 is relatively easier to open up. They didn’t even crack the screen this time. Sure, there is great deal of adhesive, cables hidden beneath brackets, and non-standard connectors. Anyone who has experience tearing apart, and hopefully putting back together, the Surface Pro 3 won’t be lost here.

The SSD inside the Surface Pro 4 holds some surprises. For one, it is apparently replaceable, the lone silver lining in the tablet’s otherwise dismal repairability score. For another, it seems that not all SSDs are created equal as far as Surface Pro models go.

Although Microsoft’s Samsung-made SSDs are expected to use the faster NVMe controller, the low power Core m3 model apparently makes use of the older AHCI controller, a subtle but perhaps important detail that Microsoft has kept mum about.


The rest of the Surface Pro 4’s innards are less exciting, though there are, of course, some highlights. Like the IR emitter and IR camera that together make Windows Hello facial recognition possible. The Core m3 model also has a rather sizable blank space where the heat fan would have been.


All in all, the Surface Pro 4 gets a measly 2 out of 10, meaning it will be hard to repair. The SSD is the only easily replaceable part, but getting to it could also risk cracking the screen. That screen also sports a fused glass and LCD panel display, which is becoming the norm to keep devices slim and compact. That said, Microsoft’s tablet isn’t alone in that low tier. Apple’s iPads normally occupy that level as well, indicating that such beautiful but mostly closed devices are specifically designed to be this difficult to get into.


Driving Honda’s Clarity Fuel Cell hydrogen car due March 2016

Honda’s new hydrogen-powered car, the Clarity Fuel Cell, will go on sale in Japan in March 2016, the company confirmed today. Taking on the Toyota Mirai, the car – previously known as the Honda FCV – will be targeted at those in the outer suburbs with an appetite for green motoring, and co-exist with Honda’s existing and upcoming all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars.

Driving Honda’s Clarity Fuel Cell hydrogen car due March 2016

It’s certainly a striking design, with the not-inconsiderable length exaggerated by the sizable overhangs front and rear. Honda actually reduced the size of its fuel cell powertrain versus the previous Clarity prototype, predominantly by slimming the control unit significantly.


That, and rotating the motor – based on that of the prototype but with more power and torque, as well as being quieter – 90-degrees forward meant Honda could fit the entire drivetrain under the hood, where it’s roughly the size of a traditional V6 gasoline engine. The li-ion battery packs are under the floor.

As a result, two hydrogen tanks can be fitted, one large one behind the rear seats, and a second, smaller one underneath them. The trunk is short but fairly deep, and Honda says it’ll still fit three golf bags – presumably the other two potential passengers will just have to be the caddies.

Total range is expected to be in excess of 700 km (435 miles) though Honda says that’s based on its own internal calculations for the Japanese market. Using US EPA metrics, range is predicted to be a Mirai-matching 300+ miles.


The fuel cell itself is rated at 3.1 kW/L, and it’s thinner and lighter than the outgoing version. Inside, the cells are denser, and the stack has been reduced by around 20-percent in size.

Like the Mirai – though fitted as standard and more readily accessible – there’s an external power port which can use the fuel cell system as a generator. Honda will offer the Power Exporter 9000 to plug in there, delivering a stable power supply that could be used during outages or even to keep medical equipment running in an emergency.

Honda says that a full tank of hydrogen in the Clarity Fuel Cell could keep the Power Exporter 9000 delivering juice for approximately seven days based on the average Japanese family use.

Since refueling hydrogen-powered cars is an ongoing headache given the infancy of current infrastructure, Honda has been doing some work there, too. The company envisages Smart Hydrogen Stations – compact localized generators – being deployed, using a new high-pressure water electrolysis system it has developed, and which could tap into whatever renewable energy supply might be available and appropriate for each particular site.

Inside, it’s a typical large Honda sedan, with open-pore wood and metal-effect trim. Look back through the rear-view mirror, mind, and you see that the designers have slotted an extra window in-between the rear headrests, giving an all-important little slice of boosted visibility for when you’re reversing.

Unfortunately I couldn’t take the Clarity Fuel Cell out for much more than a quick spin around a short track, but first impressions suggest it’s a similar proposition to the Mirai. It’s quiet and power delivery is smooth, though it’s not quite so quick off the mark as an electric vehicle. Stab the throttle and you get a faint whoosh of hydrogen being fed through from the tanks.


I also had the chance to briefly try Honda’s newest plug-in hybrid, a sizable sedan with what the company says will be more than three times the range of the current Accord Hybrid.

Potentially more impressive than the extra range, however, is quite how much of the time you can spend in all-electric mode. Whereas anything more than moderate city trundling will see the current car’s gas engine kick in, the new Sport Hybrid i-MMD Plug-In can manage highway speeds of as much as 70 mph without calling on traditional power.


When that does kick in, it’s hardly noticeable, either. The car can be driven in either electric-only mode or hybrid mode, but the transition between systems is practically invisible.

Honda says the Clarity Fuel Cell will be priced at 7.99m yen ($63,595) in Japan including consumption tax, though the car will be offered on a lease basis only. Initially that will be to government and business customers the company has worked with on previous fuel cell trials, before individual sales begin.

US availability is only slated for sometime in 2016, with Europe following on. As for the new plug-in hybrid, availability for that too is something of a mystery at this stage.


DROID Turbo 2 belongs in Top 3, says DxOMark

It seems that DxOMark and Motorola are forming a budding friendship. When the Moto X Style was announced, DxOMark was ready with a review of the smartphone’s camera features. Now that Verizon has similarly unveiled the DROID Turbo 2, also made by Motorola, of course, DxOMark is once again first on the scene. And it’s probably for a good reason too! Based on the scores from one of the most sought after digital photography authorities on the Internet, the new DROID Turbo 2 is right up there in the Top 3 of the list.

Motorola’s smartphones haven’t exactly been notable for their cameras, so when the Moto X Style managed to land in the top 3 back then, it was a pleasant surprise for Moto fans to say the least. And now it seems that Motorola is proving it does indeed have more photography chops these days. While the DROID Turbo 2 may be derived from the Moto X Style, at least in the camera department it has surpassed its predecessor.


DxOMark naturally tests smartphones on their performance in both still photos and video recording. When it comes to capturing images, the DROID Turbo managed to get a score of 84. Though that might sound quite high, it actually trails behind some of the top smartphones in the market, including the Sony Xperia Z5, the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge, the LG G4, the Nexus 6P, and surprisingly even the Xperia Z3+. While the performance of the DROID Turbo 2 was excellent in good light, it faltered in low-light. Still, it managed to surpass Apple’s iPhones in overall total score.


In contrast, the DROID Turbo 2 actually managed to shine when it comes to videos, ranking just 2nd behind the Xperia Z5. The device exhibited good detail preservation and accurate exposures in well lit scenes. Autofocus and stabilization were also decent though not exactly topnotch. That said, again the smartphone tripped up in low light conditions, which seems to be this particular model’s Achilles’ heel.


Overall, the DROID Turbo 2 ties with the Nexus 6P in third place with a score of 84. It surpassed by just one point the Moto X Style, which actually performed worse in low-light photography. The DROID Turbo 2 does sound impressive as far as the camera goes, but, of course, a smartphone isn’t just a smart camera and a lot of factors will play into whether this will actually be a smartphone Verizon subscribers might want to reach for.



Lexus LF-FC Concept is Japan’s sleek answer to the S-Class

Long, sleek, with a massive mesh grille up front and substantial muscle in the rear, no one can accuse Lexus of a boring looking concept here. For all of the futuristic concepts, wacky robots, and sort-of cars we’ve seen today in Tokyo, the Lexus LF-FC may be the most significant, and the most likely to actually be on the road in some form, in the near future.

Lexus LF-FC Concept is Japan’s sleek answer to the S-Class

While Lexus says the LF-FC gives a peek into the design and technology we might see from the brand’s flagship, the luxe Japanese automaker’s president, Tokuo Fukuichi says its not very far out.


It looks like a longer than a limo in person, it boasts the new “L-finesse” design language, this car is meant to be a grand tourer. With its timing, perhaps a replacement for — or the next-gen — Lexus LS?

An evolved version of the Lexus grille, with a new mesh design dominates the front end, with L-shaped daytime running lights complimenting the aesthetic. 21-inch wheels and carbon-fiber reinforced plastic rims gives the sedan presence, if its insane proportions didn’t already.


Interestingly, Lexus is showing off the concept powered by a fuel-cell system that sends power to the rear wheels, while also sending power to two in-wheel motors in the front, making it all-wheel drive. The hydrogen fuel tanks are placed in the rear for optimal weight balance.


As to be expected from any new concept, the Lexus LF-FC boasts automated driving technologies, though we’re unsure how advanced those would be on the production car. We’ll be hounding Lexus product planners and execs for more; stay tuned.


Samsung’s folding smartphone might not launch in the US

Although mostly drowned out by the curved edges and unimetal bodies,Samsung doesn’t seem to have forgotten the boast it made a couple of years ago. Courtesy of its display-making prowess, it would make the world’s first smartphone with a foldable display. Every year, the Korean OEM is rumored to be preparing its launch and this year is no different. Rumor says 2016 will be the year. But rumor also says that while it may be true, Samsung’s exotic smartphone might not actually reach US shores.

The smartphone was said to be nicknamed “Project Valley”. Whether that is a hint to its form or not, it isn’t known. It was, at least, associated with a smartphone with a folding display. At this point, it isn’t clear how Samsung will shape that smartphone. The manufacturer has had several patents showing different designs and Samsung could have taken any one of them.

It was only last month that word went around that Samsung might unveil Project Valley by January next year, perhaps together or a bit before the Galaxy S7 itself. This is definitely out of the ordinary and breaks Samsung’s usual bi-annual cadence. But if the dates do match up, perhaps there is also credence that, like the Galaxy S7, it would also run on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820.

There is more news now, but this time more disheartening. At least for those in the US. According to sources, Project Valley will initially launch in the following countries, with the matching model number:

• BTU – United Kingdom
• CPW – United Kingdom (Carphone Warehouse)
• DBT – Germany
• ITV – Italy
• KOR – South Korea
• NEE – Nordic countries
• XEF – France
• XEO – Poland
• XEU – United Kingdom / Ireland

Your eyes do not deceive. The US is not in that list. There is a possibility that these are just the initial markets and that the US might follow later. Much later. Still, it’s rather surprising and even disheartening that Samsung would not immediately launch in one of the world’s largest, and most profitable, smartphone markets. Perhaps Samsung considers the US to be less receptive of unconventional devices than those countries. After all, it took some time before the stylus-toting Galaxy Note was embraced and neither curved smartphones from LG or Samsung made the cut. But perhaps the times have changed and the US market is also ready for the Next Big Thing in innovation as well.


Samsung reportedly modifying Snapdragon 820 due to heat

If you thought Qualcomm’s woes over overheating were over, it might be time to think again. It’s Snapdragon 810 flagship chip was hounded by inconsistent heat problems. The upcoming Snapdragon 820 is supposedly better, though Qualcomm has chosen not to mention anything about it, instead focusing on its key strengths. All seemed well, enough for Samsung to reportedly get behind the new chip as well. Except now there are once again murmurs of heating problems but this time, instead of turning away, Samsung is digging in to help.

The Snapdragon 810’s infamy also started with such rumors, which some have attributed to Samsung, whose best interest was to make people see how its Exynos chip inside the Galaxy S6 was so much better and more reliable. To some extent, it worked, especially when user testimonies cemented the chip’s fate.

It is, therefore, surprising to hear that Samsung will be using a Qualcomm chip in its next flagship. Even more puzzling that it is getting its hands dirty in trying to resolve rumored heat issues plaguing the Snapdragon 810 as well. Did Samsung paint itself into a corner by committing to the chip for the Galaxy S7? Hardly, since those same rumors also say that there will be an Exynos-powered model as well.

Samsung reportedly modifying Snapdragon 820 due to heat

SamMobile claims that the Korean OEM does have other motives to see the Snapdragon 820 succeed in the market. Qualcomm has used Samsung’s 14nm FinFET manufacturing process instead of its own, since it’s still stuck with the 20nm process reportedly coming from TSMC. If the Snapdragon 820 were to perform well, not only would the Galaxy S7 also sell well, it would also give Samsung even more credibility in the silicon industry. The experience will also most likely transfer to its upcoming 14nm Exynos chips.

Of course, these are still all unverified rumors, but the clock is ticking to make the Snapdragon 820 ready for the public’s scrutiny. Samsung is reportedly eying a late January/early February reveal of the Galaxy S7, leaving little time to iron out the kinks.


Three quirky new microphones from Gibson promise improved audio broadcasts

Neat Microphones, a sub-brand of guitar-maker Gibson, has just unveiled three new desktop mics the feature a style straight out of Back to the Future II‘s idea of the year 2015 from the 1980’s. Dubbed Widgets, the three new mics feature colorful designs meant to look nice on any desk, as well as have their own specialty function. And priced at $99 each, they won’t break the bank when it comes to making a step up from a laptop’s built-in microphone.

Three quirky new microphones from Gibson promise improved audio broadcasts

Each of the Widgets connects to a computer with a single USB cable, so there’s nothing complicated involving things like a pre-amp or adapters. They all feature adjustable heights and a filter to help prevent sudden volume spikes. If the designs weren’t quirky enough, then the naming convention should sell you: there’s Widget ‘a’ (the green one), Widget ‘b’ (red), and Widget ‘c’ (yellow).

Three quirky new microphones from Gibson promise improved audio broadcasts

What’s neat is that each model offers their own strengths, depending on what users are looking for. Widget ‘a’ is intended to serve as a general-purpose mic for just about any home or office use. Widget ‘b’ is meant for clarity in spoken voice situations, so Skype calls or other teleconference situations. Lastly, Widget ‘c’ promises to improve audio quality for musicians and podcasters, so YouTubers can sing their hearts out without the crummy recording quality.

Gibson says the Widget line-up will be launching on November 15th, and can be found at retailers including Best Buy, Walmart, and Amazon.


Porsche Macan GTS powered by 3.0L twin-turbo 360hp V6

Porsche has rolled out a new version of its smaller SUV called the Macan. The new version adds another sexy Porsche that slots into the GTS line with the Macan GTS getting official. Like the Boxster and Cayman GTS models, the Macan GTS gets more power and improved suspension for better handling. The heart of the SUV is a 3.0L twin-turbo V6 engine.

That V6 makes 360hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. The power goes to the ground via an AWD system mated with the Porsche 7-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission. The Macan GTS also gets the Porsche Traction Management system that variably engages the front axle depending on traction.

The Macan GTS is able to reach 60mph in 4.8 seconds when fitted with the Sport Chrono Package and has a top speed of 159mph. Sport Chrono buyers get larger 360mm front rotors with six-piston calipers and 330mm rear rotors.

The Porsche Torque Vectoring system is optional on the Macan GTS. Standard suspension on the GTS includes the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) offering adjustable ride height and stiffness. The GTS is 10mm lower than the Macan Turbo is and the GTS can be had with optional LED headlights. The base price for the Macan GTS is $67,200 and it will go on sale in March.


Nexus 6P delayed, Google refunds $25 to make amends

Excited for the Nexus 6P? We can hardly blame you as it is one of the most interesting smartphones to come out of Google in a long, long time.

But it might be time to curb in that enthusiasm and let patience, and reality, sink in. Google has been reported to have sent out several apologetic emails to some eager Nexus 6P would-be owners. To make it short but not less painful, Google has delayed some of the shipments to next month. The good news? You get $25 of your money back in exchange.

The Nexus 6P represents a couple of firsts for Google and the Nexus line. It’s the first Nexus device to be made by a Chinese OEM, Huawei for this round. It is also the first to be clad in metal, as all previous Nexus smartphones were unabashedly plastic. It is also the first time that a Nexus device has reached to top ranks of DxOMark’s list when it comes to mobile photography.

Given the above, plus the rather high end specs of the smartphone itself, it’s not that hard not to wish the Nexus 6P could come sooner. Google probably wishes the same, but logistics and manufacturing schedules don’t always match our wishful thinking. Google hasn’t exactly revealed the reasons for the delay, only that they are trying to fill up the specific storage capacity and color of the order. This hints that there might be shortages on some configurations, especially since some Nexus 6P have safely landed in new owners’ hands.

The new schedule for the next batch of shipments would be between 7th to 14th November, though that too, might be an estimate. “As a courtesy”, according to Google, they are giving a $25 refund for those whose devices have been delayed. That is, of course, akin to having a $25 discount on the price, since credit cards aren’t charged until the smartphone actually ships.


Blue announces Lola headphones, a follow-up to Mo-Fi

High-end microphone manufacturer Blue has just debuted its second pair of headphones, following after last year’s impressive Mo-Fi. The new Lola headphones feature a similar design, but cut down on weight and offer a more comfortable fit. Blue says that the Lola headphones will still offer the premium sound of the Mo-Fi, due to using the same custom 50mm drivers as last year. But while the Mo-Fi also had a built-in amp, the Lola ditches it in favor of a light weight for longer periods of wear.

The other great thing the Lola keeps from the Mo-Fi is its multi-joint construction, offering several points of pivot. While the headband is a bit slimmer, they can still provide a snug fit.

Blue announces Lola headphones, a follow-up to Mo-Fi

While the weight reduction may not seem like much, with the Lola coming in at 14 ounces, anyone who ever tried on the 16.4-ounce Mo-Fi will immediately notice the difference. But eliminating the amp did more than just reduce the weight, it also dropped the price. The Lola will be available for $250, making them $100 cheaper than Blue’s previous headphones.

Two color options are available, either pearl white or charcoal black, and Blue says they can be found at retailers including Amazon, Best Buy, and Guitar Center starting in November.


Siri answers music chart questions, but only for Apple Music subscribers

With Apple’s release of iOS 9 earlier this year, Siri was given the ability to answer and take action on more requests from users, such showing photos from a specific time and place, or search through email content. However, iOS users this week have discovered one thing that the virtual assistant won’t answer unless a condition is met: questions about top songs from past or present music charts.

Siri answers music chart questions, but only for Apple Music subscribers

The requirement? Users need to be subscribed to Apple Music, Apple’s new streaming music service. Asking Siri what the most popular song in the US is today, or for the top song of September 21st, 1982, will prompt the assistant to give this response: “Sorry, [user], I can’t look up the music charts for you. You don’t seem to be subscribed to Apple Music.”

Siri answers music chart questions, but only for Apple Music subscribers

Among the first to discover the interesting response was Tom Conrad, co-creator of Pandora, who shared his finding on Twitter. Those who are subscribed to Apple Music are automatically re-directed over to iOS’s Music app.

Such music chart questions have been tied to Apple Music since it debuted this summer, with the assistant also able to act on requests like “play the top 10 songs of 1993,” so it’s likely users are discovering the subscription requirement due to the three-month trials expiring recently.


Geek crams all iPhone generations into water

We all know that the average electronic device and water don’t mix. There are a few exceptions to this rule with devices like ruggedized computers, cameras, and a few rugged phones that can survive a splash in water or even being submerged for a bit of time. Most of us spend considerable effort to prevent our phones from coming in contact with water, but have you ever wondered what would happen to all the iPhone generations if water were introduced?

A geek called Zach Straley has taken a collection of iPhones ranging from the iPhone 2G up to the iPhone 6S and put them all into water. That is ten different iPhones in all. For the test it appears that he is hot gluing them all to a cutting board.

I bet all those phones cost a good bit of cash. After the gluing is over, he labels all the devices and then gets a big bucket of water. With stopwatches running on the phones, he douses them into the water all at once.

As you expect the older iPhones tend to succumb to the water first with the iPhone 2G quickly dying. The most surprising thing to me was that the iPhone 3G flittered on and off longer than all of the much newer devices. Perhaps more interesting is that in this test the iPhone 6S seemed to die as quickly as any other smartphone. The surprise in that is that we have heard before that theiPhone 6S is able to survive in water very well, but that wasn’t the case here.