Monthly Archives: January 2016

2014 Honda CTX700 First Ride Review

  • Easy to ride; agile handling
  • Excellent fuel economy
  • Fantastic automated DCT drivetrain
  • Mundane engine acceleration performance
  • Could have more cornering ground clearance
  • The Honda Civic of motorcycles

Have you ever wanted to reap the benefits of motorcycling but have always been intimated by the art of riding? Honda has the answer with its 2014 CTX700 (starting at $7799 plus $310 destination fee). The CTX blends some of the finer attributes of both cruiser and sport motorcycle genres while infusing new technologies, creating the ideal two-wheeled platform for those who have ever dreamt of swinging a leg over a motorbike.

Ease of operation is at the core of the CTX. With its low 28.3-inch seat height, road hugging center of gravity, and optional fully automated Dual Clutch Transmission ($1000—also includes anti-lock brakes) it is tailored to people who don’t have a whole lot of experience behind a handlebar. With its five-foot wheelbase and 494 pound curb weight this Honda is a full-sized machine, making it a perfect fit for riders who still seek a sturdy-feeling mount too. But plop you butt into the seat and it feels more diminutive than the aforementioned specs, and in motion it feels even more svelte. We’ll talk about that in a minute…

Flip the key, thumb the starter button and the CTX’s 670cc Parallel Twin engine fires to life and immediately sets into idle. It’s both quiet and smooth running. Since it’s fuel-injected and liquid-cooled this Twin runs perfectly whether you’re riding in the mountains or at sea level, day or night, hot or cold. It comes equipped with a manual-style six-speed transmission that’s controlled through a cable-actuated clutch lever mounted on the traditional left-side of the handlebar. The set-up is refined and about as friendly as they come, but the real magic lies with its automated DCT.

The cockpit of the CTX is comfortable with a deeply swept handlebar. The forward fairing does an admirable job of shielding its rider from excess wind buffeting at speed.

Honda’s optional DCT/ABS package deletes the clutch and shift lever and replaces it with a series of buttons on the handlebar controls. The DCT continues to impress us with its smooth, seamless functionality and is worth every penny of its $1000 option price.

This flip-up compartment in front of the rider’s seat houses the gas cap and a small storage pocket. 

Despite employing only a single brake rotor at the front, the Honda CTX700 stops with authority. The optional ABS functioned well too and will be a great feature for inexperienced riders.

Instrumentation is basic but legible even in direct sunlight. Strangely, the manual gearbox manual however doesn’t offer the convenience of a gear position indicator like it does on the DCT model.

The optional gearbox removes one of the biggest hurdles for a new rider: learning how to shift gears using a clutch. The DCT set-up deletes both mechanical components and replaces them with a series of pushbuttons on the handlebar controls. There’s also a lever-actuated parking brake. The electronic drive mode selection toggle engages the drivetrain at a standstill and offers two automatic riding modes: D mode (upshifts into the next gear based on vehicle speed) and S mode (sport mode—holds onto gears longer before upshifting and downshifts earlier for more engine braking). It also allows the rider to select gears manually via a pair of videogame like triggers on the left clip-on.

Honda was the first motorcycle brand to introduce dual clutch transmission technology for 2010. Three years later it continues to be the only manufacture offering this smart and new rider friendly technology.

When you press either the up- or downshift trigger, the ECU engages the clutch that operates the requested gear (see sidebar). This shifting exchange happens within a fraction of a second thereby achieving smooth, seamless acceleration. DCT allows this Honda to be ridden with the simplicity of a scooter yet still delivers enough speed for overtaking maneuvers on the expressway. Another plus is how refined the powertrain is with no lurching or clutch shutter when launching from stop signs.

The technology does come with a weight penalty, the set-up adding 22 pounds and increasing its fully fueled curb weight to 516 pounds. But considering how well it functions and the potential stress savings for those who aren’t familiar with the mechanics of working a clutch, riding the DCT option will be a big convenience, allowing them to better focus on their surroundings and the road ahead.

In spite of its heft the CTX’s brakes get the job done and provide easy and surefooted stopping. Braking hardware is comprised of a perimeter style 320mm cross-drilled disc clamped by a twin-piston caliper. A single-piston caliper pinches the smaller 240mm rear disc. Unlike some of Honda’s other street bikes the brakes aren’t linked and can be applied independently of one another– a feature that we like. We had a chance to ride a model outfitted with ABS and it functioned flawlessly and will be a welcome safety feature for all riders.

The engine complements the up-spec gearbox offering a smooth spread of power with peak torque arriving at 4750 rpm, but it lacks the punch of a sporty middleweight or big bore cruiser riders expect. Although you won’t win any stop light drag races it does have enough power to keep up with automobile traffic. We also appreciated the engine’s subdued V-Twin like power pulses, a product of its uneven firing order that just makes it plain more fun to ride. It’s pretty easy on fuel too netting just over 60 mpg during our slower paced ride netting a range of nearly 200 miles based on the 3.17-gallon capacity of its fuel tank.

The way in which the engine is positioned within the chassis further contributes to the handling of the motorcycle. With the cylinders sporting a 62-degree forward cant it has an exceptionally low CG which is evident the first time you swing it into a parking lot or bust a U-turn. It’s simply incredible how agile the CTX is which will be a boon for those that routinely ride in and out of traffic and tight parking spots. With just over four inches of travel the suspension glides over asphalt and delivers a comfy ride. The CTX’s forward fairing offers some degree of protection from wind and road debris, helping to reduce fatigue on longer trips. There are also passenger grab handles and a small storage compartment in front of the rider adjacent to the gas cap.

The ergonomics of the CTX are relaxed similar to that of a cruiser. The handlebar has a deep rearward sweep that is not only cozy but functional too, especially during low speed steering maneuvers. The forward position of the footpegs is also very cruiser-ish and while we appreciated the leg room it hindered ground clearance in steeper turns. The front brake lever also doesn’t offer any position adjustment which could make it more difficult to use for those with smaller hands.

Whether you’re on a strict budget or seeking a more traditional riding experience you should take a second look at the ‘N’ variation of Honda’s CTX700. This motorcycle shares the same running gear as its brother including its 670cc Parallel Twin engine and quick handling chassis but deletes the forward fairing and passenger grab handles. It also carries an $800 less expensive price tag with it priced under seven grand (plus $310 destination charge). Of course, it’s available with the safety and simplicity of Honda’s fabulous DCT and ABS for a $1000 upcharge.

Although the new CTX700 is comfortable, nicely assembled and of course easy to ride, it certainly isn’t for everyone. It lacks the handling and acceleration performance for fast-paced folks and doesn’t have anywhere near the character of an American or metric cruiser. Still for those that have always lusted over the idea of riding but have up until now been tentative to fulfill their fantasy because of the mechanics and coordination required, the CTX could be the machine that finally enables them to experience life first hand with the wind in their hair.


MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800 First Ride Review

So here’s the first challenge for the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce. Customers don’t buy MVs to go for a 1000-mile ride on a solid, dependable bike with anonymous looks. If you want an affordable workhorse, look for a nice, second-hand V-Strom 1000. The twin sister of MV’s sporting heritage is that the Varese built bikes are motorcycle art on wheels so much so, that this is MV’s tagline.

What does this mean in practice? When I first rode one of the very, very early 750 F4s in production, I almost crashed it. Too much throttle? Trail braking into a damp corner? No, quite simply because the [expletive deleted] thing trapped my hand underneath the handlebar while doing 5 mph in a parking lot and I came within a gnat’s eyelash of T-boning a large van.

I later mentioned this to Claudio Castiglioni, the legendary savior of MV, and he smiled: “Yes, Frank, of course you are right – but doesn’t the F4 look perfectly beautiful with the handlebars where they are?”

And, of course, the answer has to be in the affirmative.


However, having a touring bike which doesn’t work is a waste of metal – no matter how beautiful it is. While you can smile – well, as long as you don’t end up dead under the front wheels of a van – at the idiosyncrasies of a hyper sportbike, the tourer just has to do its job effortlessly and effectively. No ifs, buts or maybes. The thing has to work.

MV faced a third issue – or two twin sisters to be precise. If you want a thoroughly practical, go anywhere, do anything, stone-axe reliable Adventure-Tourer then you can own the utterly lovely Triumph Tiger 800 for around $12,000. Another $7000 on top of this will buy the testosterone laden BMW R1200GS in Premium Package trim, or you could save a couple grand from the GS and go down the touring route in sublime luxury with a Yamaha FJR1300. Finally, and the elephant really is in MV’s bathroom with this one, Yamaha will sell the thoroughly excellent, three-cylinder FJ-09 to you for a mere $10,490.

Now, wait for the roll of drums to fade away. A Turismo Veloce is going to relieve you of a shade under $16,000 whilst the all-singing-all-dancing Lusso (deluxe in English) is just two dollars shy of $19K – and that’s an awfully big hit on your bank account.

For this sort of money, customers will want not only a supremely effective touring motorcycle but one which captures all the magic of MV – a bike you want to caress, last thing at night, before you go to bed – and then dream about in the restless, pre-dawn hours.


In every way, the heart of the Turismo Veloce (TV) is its engine. It’s a familiar powerplant, being found in the Stradale, Brutale and MV sportbikes, and it really is a peach of a thing. The latest version of the 798cc, three-cylinder motor remains radically oversquare with a 70mm bore, 54.3mm stroke and 12.2:1 compression ratio. There are also new pistons, a change of gearbox ratios and a hydraulic chain tensioner for the TV.

In the olden days a powerplant like this would have been a real screamer, fit only for the race track, but with the aid of MV’s MVICS (Motor and Vehicle Integrated Control System) 90% of the torque is available between 3500 and 10,500 rpm.

This hardly makes the Triple an electric scooter, but it is practical for a real world tourer. The maximum torque of 61.2 lb-ft arrives at 8000 rpm and the peak power of 110 horsepower coming 2000 revs later. As an aside, this is 15% more torque than the TV’s Brutale and Rivale stablemates.

Out on the road the results are impressive – almost to a ludicrous degree. As a test, I put the TV into sixth gear climbing a steep-ish hill and it pulled away from 30 mph as if it had a magnet in front. Now clearly no one would ever ride the bike like this normally but it does show how flexible the motor is.


Replicating real riding, the motor was happiest between 5000 and 9000 rpm. In this fat part of the power and torque band it was truly effortless – silky smooth with plenty of revs to spare both above and below the 4000 rpm range in which I used the engine. I rode up into the mountains behind Marbella with the TV in third and fourth gear – 50 mph to 75 mph – in the company of Brian Gillen, MV Agusta’s Technical Director, and later he described our ride as “brisk and yet effortless.” This is what the motor gives the rider – a sublimely relaxed and yet deeply involving ride.

Normally, I am not a fan of high-tech electronics, with 58 zillion options, but in the case of the TV they do start to make some sort of practical sense. The five main parameters are throttle sensitivity, torque, engine braking, engine response and rev limiter. Ridden all day, in what could be varying conditions, there is an argument for being able to dial up a gentler bike in the dew damp dawn and a sparkier one in the dry, warm midday.

It is also possible to design your own maps and have these saved as custom settings. For example, as a motorcycle racer I hate any throttle delay. When I move the throttle drum I want instant response. So, on a snotty, leaf-strewn autumn day I could reduce the TV’s power and torque but still have immediate throttle response to everything which I had allowed the engine to provide. Truly, smart engineering.

Against this is my Darwinian view of riding which says that if you can’t feel what the bike is doing, and don’t understand that the throttle works both ways, then you really should be riding a Chinese 125 with sissy bars and tassels hanging from the end of the handlebars – but I have been riding for 5000 years now, so I am hardly a rich, young 30-something – which is MV’s key market.

Interestingly, for me at least, the Sport option is not the one I would choose if I owned a TV. In this mode, there is too much harshness in the power delivery to be fun – and I don’t know if it is much, if any, quicker than the Touring program. There is still a quick, intimate relation with the throttle response in Touring mode but there is also a creamy, electric motor smoothness which really does inculcate a King of the Road sense. Bow before me, ye lesser mortals because I am riding an MV Turismo Veloce and therefore I am truly your superior. Or something along those lines…

The Turismo Veloce 800 gearshift has quick shift and autoblipper.

One part of the electronics’ package I really do love is the quickshifter. I have said that I am hardly first in the line for rider aids but MV’s quickshifter and autoblipper really is a thing of wonder. It is impossible to make the system not work – no matter how deliberately cackhanded or abusive the gear changes. There is, however, one way to make the system fail and that’s by not switching it on. There is such a vast amount of information on the dashboard that my quill-and-ink, medieval brain just didn’t find the right option for the auto-shift. This allows me to report with confidence that the gearbox works just fine with the traditional clutch, which is feather-light and effortless to use.

Naturally, there are eight levels of traction control – who wouldn’t need eight levels of traction control to go for a ride on a Sunday? Thankfully, the system can be switched off altogether if you wish.

Disregarding the fact that I am still coming to terms with such newfangled ideas as flushing toilets and electric lights, the colored dash is incredibly packed with information, even if it were being read by a 10-year-old PlayStation master. The smart move would be to have the equivalent of a computer’s visual desktop, displaying all the options available – and there are an immense amount – and then a choice of screens so that the rider could choose the most appropriate one.


The Turismo Veloce 800’s display is now state of the art.

Personally, I would like a simple screen with speed, rpm and miles to empty, displayed clearly – followed by the various riding modes, astrological predictions based on the rider’s zodiac sign, what you want for dinner and all the other myriad choices the TV offers to you on separate screens. If you get bored with the dash, there are also two 12-volt power sockets and two five-volt USB sockets so that, presumably, you can answer your e-mails while playing games, booking movie tickets and all the other activities which are far more important than riding your motorcycle.

If you are buying a Turismo Veloce just because of the electronics then $19,000 is too much to pay. But stand back from the TV and you can see precisely why MV’s stylist, Adrian Morton, is worth every penny of his salary. Quite simply, the motorcycle is beautiful – from every angle and in every way. And here’s the really clever thing, it is also a credible touring motorcycle.

2016 MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800 ECU options.

The key thing is that the panniers are now of a sensible, 30-liter size. I went ballistic when I rode the MV Stradale because the panniers were too small to take a full-face helmet, but now they are the correct capacity. The first thing everyone does when they stop for a tourist walk or lunch break – especially if they have a pillion – is put their helmet away so they are not carrying an awkward lump around. My wife, Carol, has a very clear system. Purse in pannier until we stop. Dismount; release purse; put helmet and gloves in pannier; walk around in comfort. Q.E.D.


Not only are the Veloce’s panniers of a sensible size but they are very clever too. The Turismo is a svelte beast being over three inches narrower than a Multistrada. But here’s the thoughtful thing – the panniers are actually narrower than the handlebar width. So wherever you can thread the bike rest assured the panniers will fit too – an absolutely essential benefit for close combat, urban riding. A further essential touring feature are the pannier leg cutaways, because your pillion will rarely ride without the panniers extant. And experienced two-up riders know that you’ll never make it past the end of your road, let alone to the boutique restaurant in the mountains, if your pillion can’t sit comfortably.

And the Veloce is extremely comfortable. The hard, rectum-assaulting lump in the middle of the Stradale’s saddle has been replaced by a much softer piece of foam. There was lot of room to wriggle about and yet still feel supported for my 5’ 10” height. I am confident that Carol would be comfortable and happy on the back too, because there is a decent seating area instead of the chocolate box sized pieces of thin foam found on regular sportbikes.

The adjustable screen gives plenty of protection and the ergonomics of the bike are excellent. Only the front brake lever is odd. For some reason, it can’t be adjusted to suit the hand size of smaller riders, or those like me who want the lever really near to the ‘bars for control reasons.

The bike oozes lovely touches, and the fit and finish is impeccable. Ironically, this is why Adrian and MV have got to raise their game with the stainless silencer/catalytic converter. With any other manufacturer a big lump of brown colored stainless steel visible beneath the bike would be fine, but not on an $18,000 machine. In this price bracket, the styling – the motorcycle art – needs to penetrate every pore of the motorcycle.


So, let’s stand back and consider the Turismo Veloce with a bit more thought than might normally be necessary. The reason for the thinking time is that the TV is truly the first of its kind – a genuine hyper sport-tourer. I rode the TV in the company of a group of journalists who were really pressing on, evaluating the new MV Brutale – a true street racer. Even with this group, the Turismo Veloce was able to comfortably keep up without struggling for power. Okay, it can be fast: tick that box.

The TV is a true sportbike in terms of handling, brakes and performance. At 439 pounds, the Turismo is light and with a 56-inch wheelbase it’s nimble too. The handling is completely neutral and undemanding, yet involving. If you want to know precisely what the bike is doing, the information is there through the wheels and, with two big, 320mm discs carrying radial-calipers, the TV stops like a sportbike too. Equally, if you prefer to look at the views, then the TV isn’t going to bite you in the bum for not paying attention.

Can I imagine riding 300 miles in a day? Yes, front brake adjustment apart, the bike is incredibly rider friendly and a pleasant place to be. With a 5.28 gallon tank, it has proper touring range and the luggage means that it is the first MV where you could realistically spend a week away from home.


What the bike is missing, and it really is annoying, is a centerstand and heated grips. These are on the $4000 more expensive Lusso model, but they are such basic items on any current touring machine that they should be an automatic fitment.

And now to the question you should never ask a journalist – would I buy a Turismo Veloce with my own money? The answer is yes. In fact, rarely have I been so impressed with a motorcycle because you get almost a garage full of bikes wrapped up in one. It is a real sportbike and, with the right rider, would run in the middle group at any track day. Equally, the TV can be a relaxed, dignified tourer which Carol would enjoy riding with me.

Finally, it is pure MV in a way I never thought the bike could be and that, more than anything else, is perhaps the cleverest thing that the good folk at Varese have done with this bike.

Adrian Morton’s designs are always unique, and the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800 is no exception.

2015 MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800 Specs

  • Engine: Liquid-cooled 798cc Triple
  • Bore x Stroke: 79 x 54.3mm
  • Compression Ratio: 12.2:1
  • Clutch: Wet, mutli-disc hydraulic
  • Transmission: Cassette style, six-speed constant mesh
  • Frame: ALS steel tubular trellis
  • Front Suspension: 43mm Sachs semi-active hydraulic fork with MVCSC (Marzocchi manually adjustable fork on Standard model)
  • Rear Suspension: Sachs semi-active single shock, hydraulic spring preload adjustment and MVCSC (Sachs manually adjustable shock on Standard model)
  • Front Brake: Dual 320mm discs, four-piston radial-mount Brembo calipers
  • Rear Brake: 220mm disc, two-piston Brembo caliper
  • ABS: Bosch 9 Plus with RLM
  • Front Wheels: Aluminum alloy, 3.5 x 17
  • Rear Wheels: Aluminum alloy 5.5 x 17
  • Front Tires: 120/70 ZR17
  • Rear Tires: 190/55 ZR17
  • Wheelbase: 56.1 inches
  • Seat Height: 33.46 inches
  • Dry Weight: 439 pounds (421.1 pounds on Standard model)
  • Fuel Capacity: 5.28 gallons


2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R First Ride Review

That was with six weeks’ notice, and I immediately started packing. But I also had six weeks to worry. The last ZX-10R I rode was a 2005, and though fun, it was sort of a beast. Even though 12 years have passed since the ZX-10R first appeared, that original bike’s 433-pound measured wet weight and 160-ish rear-wheel horsepower are good enough to compete in 2016. That little green monster was entertaining, to say the least, but not known for being civil, gentlemanly or comfortable. The interim years have been a process of refinement, and if it’s been a long journey, it wasn’t fruitless – the 2016 ZX-10R is refined, easy to ride, comfortable… and still fast enough to scare you.

Six weeks and 8000 miles later, I found myself in a nicely appointed pitlane garage at the Sepang International Circuit, sweating through jetlag and an hour-long tech briefing in a 95-degree tropical soup. I don’t want to go over every detail – you can read MotoUSA Editor Madson’s 2016 ZX-10R First Lookstory for that information – but I gleaned some interesting new tidbits during the hour-long presentation from the Kawasaki illuminati including product manager (for two-wheeled USA models) Croft Long, Project Leader Yohsimoto Matsuda, 2015 World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea and others. The gathered crew wanted us to know that this bike is “built for laptimes,” with the goal of being easy to ride and available to racers at a good price point.

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R review

The new motor parts won’t yield too much extra power – maybe 5% or so – but that’s not the whole story. The changes help make it quieter (which allows potential for more mid-range power from the aftermarket) and amenable to tuning; for instance, the titanium-alloy headers are so light and similar to race-only headers that Two Brothers racing couldn’t make more power with their own header design, according to Kawasaki’s Media Relations Supervisor Brad Puetz. Other racer-friendly features include a cassette-style gearbox (allowing transmission changes and servicing without splitting the crankcase) and a back-torque limiting clutch.

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R review 12

The frame looks a lot like the old frame, but it’s totally different. Apparently you really can go too low with your center of gravity, so Kawasaki raised the engine and moved it forward in the frame to improve weight distribution and quicken steering while improving stability. The swingarm is all new, stretching the wheelbase to 56.7 inches as well as changing the mount position, and if the swingarm position and steering angle aren’t just to your liking, you can adjust them with Kawasaki race kit parts. The downside is the new frame and other modifications have added about 17 pounds to the claimed wet weight.

Kawasaki calls the 43mm Showa Balance Free Fork “WSBK influenced,” and it looks the part, with external compression chambers that separate compression and rebound functions. The rear shock is more conventional looking, but also claims a “balance free” design, with an external damping force chamber and independent compression and rebound damping. Showa suspension engineer Tomoyuki Minoura told me the new fork is serviceable by independent suspension-tuning shops, meaning spring, oil and seal changes are relatively simple, but it may be difficult for independent suspension shops to tune the damping by altering the shim stacks.

Showa is searching for shops to work with, and is also working to develop a remote preload adjuster for the rear shock. Minoura-san didn’t understand the phrase “remote preload adjuster,” so I mimed scraping the skin off my knuckles adjusting the rear shock and he instantly got it. That’s the international language of suspension adjustment. Brakes are special bits also, Brembo M50 cast monobloc calipers that tasted like money when I touched my tongue to one. The stainless brake lines don’t just look good – they are top-spec items, and the entire system is the same as the $50,000 H2R‘s.

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R review 5

The Bosch IMU – the traction control’s sensors, located in a small black box screwed to the airbox – looks just like what other manufacturers use, but Kawasaki’s “secret sauce” is what it calls the “Sixth Freedom” (which I thought was an Ayn Rand novel) but which is actually the yaw rate – angular velocity, such as when the rear tire is stepping out in a power slide. The engine management unit (EMU) measures yaw as well as receiving data on the other dynamics – acceleration, pitch rate, roll rate and cornering force. Kawi claims its system is better because it is “predictive,” using all the variables the ECU can measure to control power to the back wheel and boost rider confidence. It also works with the available Kawasaki Intelligent Braking System (KIBS) ABS to adjust braking force based on lean and acceleration, similar to the systems on the Yamaha R1 and BMW S1000RR.

There’s new bodywork for better wind management and aerodynamics, and the rear turn signals and tail lamp make it more racer/trackday friendly, but what Kawasaki emphasized at the technical briefing was the electronics package.

Kawasaki ZX-10R fork adjuster for 43mm Showa Balance Free Fork

Instrument display isn’t as sexy as the big-buck TFT units you find on the competition, but it tells you what you need to know in a hurry and lets Kawasaki spend its money on components like brakes and suspension.

So here are some numbers, the ones I always skip to when I’m reading a new-model review. The 2016 ZX-10R’s claimed wet weight is 454.2 pounds (about 20 pounds more than that 2004 model), makes a claimed 200 horsepower (expect about 165-170 at the wheel), and pricing starts at $14,999. But how well does it work? Kawasaki had very generously rented Sepang (a guy I met on the train from the airport told me how to say it: “seh-PONG!”) for the week. It’s a 15-turn, 3.4-mile GP track with two long straights and a mix of high-speed and low-speed twists. Pavement, as you’d expect, is smooth and almost seamless. We’d get one session with ABS and street tires, and the rest of the day we’d be on slicks. Oh, how I suffer for my work.

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R review 17

You know you’re on a Kawasaki when you hear the ZX-10R’s motor start. It sounds deep and authoritative cranking over, then it catches and settles into a smooth, throaty idle. Clutch and gearbox action are effortless and light, and I liked the easy low-speed maneuverability and low reach to the ground (my inseam is 30 inches). This isn’t a street test, but I’m thinking the ZX-10R should be comfortable and easy to handle.

Acceleration, as you may expect, is volcanic. Come off the corner and get on the gas as early as you like, and be prepared for WSBK speeds as you approach the next corner. That early throttle, fast-revving engine, buttery transmission and fast-acting quickshifter bring the brake markers faster than you thought possible, but it’s a surprisingly undramatic experience thanks to the traction control, launch control (which makes it tough to get the front wheel up), and reactive Öhlins steering damper that telegraphs its input to the rider.

The brakes and suspension are remarkable. I don’t know if it’s the radial-pump master, the high-spec brake lines or those delicious calipers, but no matter how I used those front binders – hard, light, trailing, or oh-shit-is-that-the-corner-already – they responded with firm, steady and measured pressure, never grabby or fading. In ABS mode, hard braking failed to produce any judder or other evidence the electronics were cycling and interrupting braking pressure. That exotic-looking front suspension provided good feedback, bump absorption and control, though honestly everything feels good at a track like Sepang.

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R review 22

The slipper clutch gives you noticeable feedback, but there’s no tire chirping or other drama, even dropping into first gear, which I normally never do on a racetrack. But why not? The bike’s probably geared to go-to-jail speeds in first gear, and the fueling, traction control and drivetrain lash is such that you can roll on gas in first with surprising smoothness and confidence – no fear of briefly watching the bleachers from 12 feet in the air. In fact, there were no crashes after five waves of journalists from Monday to Friday. That’s including French and Englishmen, which must be a first in human history.

Steering wasn’t as light as I expected – you won’t forget you’re on an open-classer – but it’s not heavy, either. It’s stable, predictable and lets you focus on your cornering line. It did feel long, which is great for mid-corner stability, but it didn’t have that Dinklage-esque teeny-ness I noted in the 2004 model. That gives you confidence to rail through sets of connected high-speed turns, which is probably the most fun you can have on a literbike. Being jetlagged in 95-degree heat with high humidity isn’t the ideal state to learn a new track on a 200-horsepower race machine, but it was still a relaxed and comfortable morning… and then it started raining, ending my dream day.

I know my laptimes would have improved. I know I may have started lofting my front wheel, in MotoUSA Road Test Editor Adam Waheed-style, maybe even feeling comfortable enough to test the electronics’ capabilities in different modes. Alas, we’ll have to wait for the full test.

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R review 20

Even without a full day, I’m impressed by the ZX-10R. It’s wild and hairy enough to be called a Ninja, but it’s still civilized, comfortable and easy to ride, with a smooth engine, good ergonomics and excellent wind protection (until you sit up for braking at 150 mph). It would make a good street bike, but because of the outstanding (and expensive) braking and suspension components, it’s also a good starting point for racers and the kind of trackday junkies that feel the need to be the hero of the A Group. Kawasaki is sweetening that deal by offering millions in racer incentives, including a $2000 rebate to licensed racers, and an array of race-kit parts will also be available at your local dealer – the race ECU should uncork 20 or more horses, and you’ll be able to defeat the ABS in just the front wheel as well as tune engine braking separately in each gear and more.

Has the gas-powered superbike hit a performance ceiling? After all, the ZX-10R, which won the 2015 WSBK title, is pretty much the same weight and makes roughly the same power it did when the guys racing it today were still in grammar school. But those numbers are no longer the story. What’s important is how much of that power you can use, and the ZX-10R lets you use plenty – and safely. It’s a blend of performance, comfort and value that will be tough to beat.

2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R Specifications

  • Engine: Liquid-cooled Inline Four, DOHC 16 valves
  • Displacement: 998cc
  • Bore x Stroke: 76 x 55mm
  • Compression Ratio: 13:1
  • Fuel System: DFI with four 47mm Keihin throttle bodies, two injectors per cylinder
  • Ignition: TCBI with digital advance and Sport-Kawasaki Traction Control (S-KTRC)
  • Transmission: 6-speed
  • Final Drive: Chain
  • Front Suspension: 43mm inverted Showa Balance Free Fork, adjustable stepless rebound and compression damping, spring preload adjustability with 4.7 inches travel
  • Rear Suspension: Balance Free Rear Cushion shock, stepless, dual-range (low/high-speed) compression damping, stepless rebound damping, fully adjustable spring preload with 4.5 inches of travel
  • Front & Rear Tire: 120/70 ZR17; 190/55 ZR17
  • Front Brakes: Dual semi-floating 330mm discs with dual 4-piston radial-mounted Brembo M50 monobloc calipers
  • Rear Brakes: Single 220mm disc with aluminum single-piston Nissin caliper
  • Frame: Aluminum perimeter
  • Rake & Trail: 25°/4.2 inch
  • Seat Height 32.9 inch
  • Curb Weight* 449.8 pounds (454.2 pounds ABS model)
  • Fuel Capacity 4.5 gallons
  • Wheelbase 56.7 inch
  • Color Choices Metallic Matte Carbon Gray, Lime Green / Ebony (KRT Edition)
  • MSRP: $14,999 (non-ABS), $15,999 (ABS), $16,299 (KRT Edition ABS)


2014 Honda Pioneer First Ride Review

The North American market for side-by-side (SxS) off-road vehicles – also commonly referred to as Utility-Terrain Vehicles (UTVs) – grew by 97,900 units, or nearly 43.5%, from 2009-2012, according to Power Products Marketing, a Minneapolis-based research firm.

Where did that growth come from? Primarily from extraordinary sales successes by Polaris, John Deere, Kawasaki, Kubota and BRP/Can-Am.

Honda, the world’s largest purveyor of powersports vehicles, was late to the SxS market and attracted sales of around 4500 units per year since the introduction of its 675cc Big Red in 2009. The company’s sole UTV offering is decidedly utilitarian and can’t, on its own, stack up against the range of the competition from Polaris, Kawasaki, John Deere and Kubota. On the other end of the customer spectrum, Honda’s die-hard powersports fans wondered why the company’s fun factor had disappeared.

The 2014 Honda Pioneer replaces the Big Red UTV in Honda's lineup and is built at Honda South Carolina Mfg., Inc.

The 2014 Honda Pioneer replaces the Big Red UTV in Honda’s lineup and is built at Honda South Carolina Mfg., Inc.

Ultimately, it appeared to simply be brand recognition for Honda product that drove Big Red sales.

Now, four years after Big Red’s introduction, Honda has decided to discontinue the model and replace it with an all-new vehicle, the Pioneer.

The 2014 Honda Pioneer ($9999) and Pioneer-4 ($11,699) represent “not only a new name but a new product family,” a Honda spokesman told us during our recent stint with the vehicle.

Honda says only 500 dealers in the U.S. retailed the Big Red. So far, the OEM has more than 900 dealers signed up to retail the Pioneer. Current production of about 55 units-a-day is likely to ramp up considerably, we were told. Dealer orders started June 20.

The Honda Pioneer’s 8-inch front tires along with the suspension and general geometry made the vehicle easy to turn.

The Big Red was built in Mexico, but the Honda Pioneer is built at Honda South Carolina Mfg., Inc. (HSC) inTimmonsville, S.C. where the newly installed SxS line joins two ATV lines.

The vehicle originated at Honda Research & Development in Ohio – the first time a design was led solely by a U.S. team from concept to production. Honda says that, aside from the engine shared with the Big Red, everything was conceived uniquely for the Pioneer. Because of consumer response, Honda needed to get to market with the product quickly and managed to halve the development time usually needed.

The Honda Pioneer joins two ATV lines already produced at Honda South Carolina Mfg., Inc. in Timmonsville. It’s built from frame to finish within 12 stations along the production line.

Honda Pioneer production continues with the placement of the lower roll cage, fuel tank wheels.

Honda Pioneer assembly continues…

Plastics, doors, the bed, steering wheel, fuel cage, seats and seat belts are next in the Honda Pioneer’s assembly.

The OEM, for its market research, created what it calls its “Appeal Tree” – what they found is that consumers are looking for capabilities that rival more expensive models, convenience, trail ride comfort, fun, affordability, durability, that it shows quality and offers rider protection.

Ultimately, Honda says it created a vehicle that offers more features than the Big Red at a similar price.


The Pioneer is powered by Honda’s proven 675cc liquid-cooled OHV Single. The four-stroke four-valve fuel-injected engine is coupled to an automotive-style automatic transmission that features a hydraulic torque converter, three hydraulic clutches and an Electronic Control Module (ECM) to regulate a new dual shift-mapping program. Honda does not list horsepower data, but the Pioneer’s output is estimated at slightly above that of the 34-horsepower Rincon.

The ECM program selects between two transmission shifting modes – either Cruise or Sport mode – for optimum shift timing depending on the driver’s throttle operation. During aggressive use, the Sport mode kicks in and holds the transmission in gear longer. If you’re taking it easy, the Cruise mode shifts up sooner for extended range.

Honda put a lot of effort into passenger safety so the Pioneer comes with three-point seatbelts and safety nets.

As for drive modes, the Pioneer offers 2WD, 4WD and 4WD with mechanical differential lock, and features a three-speed (plus reverse) Hondamatic Transmission rather than conventional belt-drive CVT.

Power is sent down the shaft to a new rear-wheel drive setup that now incorporates a non-differential rear end – one related to the setup used on Honda ATVs equipped with IRS.

The first thing you notice upon start-up is a lack of vibration found in the Big Red. Thanks to a newly developed engine-mounting subframe and vibration-isolating bushings, every contact point for the driver and passenger now transmits noticeably less engine vibration.

While it weighs in at 1,396 pounds, the Pioneer-4 we drove felt light and nimble. Power delivery isn’t overwhelming but adequate, with the three-speed Hondamatic engaging the vehicle in a decidedly regulated manner even when the accelerator is stomped on.

Once underway in 2WD, roosting the rear end wasn’t a problem on loose terrain and the speedometer in my vehicle showed Honda’s stated 43 mph top speed while traveling on a gravel road.

The Pioneer uses 25-8×12 front and 25-10×12 rear tires especially made for Honda by OTR. There is no power steering, but Honda insists the eight-inch front tires, along with the suspension and general geometry, make the vehicle easy to turn. Our time on the machine found that to be true.

Bringing the Pioneer down from speed was easy with the 200mm discs up front and an inboard 170mm in the rear bitten by Nissin calipers.

The Honda Pioneer's double-wishbone independent front suspension features 7.9 inches of travel.

The Honda Pioneer’s double-wishbone independent front suspension features 7.9 inches of travel.

When the trail became more difficult, use of the 4WD and 4WD with mechanical differential lock performed as advertised. There is no hill descent assist, with only the transmission, brake and slight engine braking to keep you where you want to be.

We used that 4WD while exploring a South Carolina swamp and, thanks to an airbox that sits in the vehicle’s cabin between the front seats and the bed wall, the only water we came in contact with was the bottled type stored in the molded cup holders.

One of the big attractions of the Pioneer-4 is its convertible seating arrangement, which can be easily converted from two-seat to three-seat to four-seat configurations and back to an open load-carrying bed without the use of tools.

Each of the two rear seats simply tilts up out of the bed structure with the release of a latch and locks into place. The four-step conversion takes only about 15 seconds to complete and the manual, strut-assisted tilt bed comes with a safety mechanism that won’t allow bed adjustment when the rear seats are employed. By the way, that bed offers a payload limit of 1000 pounds.

It’s obvious Honda put a lot of effort into passenger safety. But, at this point, accessing these vehicles has become akin to strapping into a NASCAR ride: Open the door, unbuckle the safety net, climb in, close the door, buckle the safety net and attach three-point seatbelt. It sounds easy enough, and it is thoughtful for the sport-minded rider, but consumers using the Pioneer for utility purposes will find the process a bit of a hassle.

The same situation occurs for the two occupants utilizing the rear suicide doors to access the jump seats. However, traveling in the rear jump seats proved surprisingly comfortable and expectations of jostling quickly diminished. In this case, the suspension provides the perfect amount of damping.

As for that suspension: The Pioneer features 7.9 inches of travel via its double-wishbone independent front suspension and 9.1 inches of travel in the rear via its independent rear suspension with shocks adjustable for preload.

This, together with 10.3 inches of ground clearance, allows the Pioneer to traverse a wide range of undulating obstacles. The machine became hung up on the crest of a sand berm only once during my day-long test, but I was easily able to engage 4WD with mechanical diff. lock and reverse out of the situation to find a new line.

The design of the 2014 Honda Pioneer originated at Honda Research & Development in Ohio, marking the first time a design was led solely by a U.S. team from conception to production.

The design of the 2014 Honda Pioneer originated at Honda Research & Development in Ohio, marking the first time a design was led solely by a U.S. team from conception to production.

Honda paid a lot of attention to the center of gravity on this vehicle, but the inside rear tire could be lofted easily in a turn at speed or during an errant roost. It’s important to note that operating any vehicle at its limit will ultimately result in negative effects. Nevertheless, curving around trails at speed with the correct amount of brake and throttle kept the front tires pointing the vehicle in the desired direction and I felt very little push while cornering rapidly.

Like to get wet? Dry storage is minimal, with only a glovebox and a small space that is shared with the radiator under the hood.

Inside, the dash layout is simple, with only a speedometer and basic warning lamps. The gauge cluster was made smaller than on the Big Red, but the speedo itself remains the same size. The gear selector and drive mode selector are in the middle of the dash, just above the vehicle’s sole 12v power outlet.

Located to the left of the steering wheel, the handbrake offers automotive-style actuation that allows it to easily disengage while parked on an incline. Often times, with other side-by-sides, operators will have to rock their vehicles to disengage a handbrake in that situation.

The swamps of South Carolina proved no match for the Pioneer’s 4WD capabilities.

Deliveries of the Pioneer-4 will begin in mid August while deliveries of the two-seater Pioneer will begin in mid September. Available colors include Red, Olive Green and Honda’s trademarked Phantom Camo ($600).

Interested? Then you also may want to look into the 50-some accessories that are to be made available with the rollout of the vehicle.

Waiting for a Honda SxS designed to compete with the best-selling Polaris RZR, Arctic Cat Wildcat and Can-Am Maverick? The industry is rife with tales of Honda having tested multiple sport-recreational vehicles to compete against class leaders. But, at this point, you’ll just have to sit back, wait, and enjoy the Pioneer.

2014 Honda Pioneer Specs

  • Engine: 675cc liquid-cooled OHV single-cylinder four-stroke
  • Bore x Stroke: 102.0mm x 82.6mm
  • Compression Ratio: 9.2:1
  • Induction: Fuel injection (PGM-FI), 40mm throttle body
  • Ignition: Full-transistorized with electronic advance
  • Clutch: Automatic
  • Transmission: Automotive style with hydraulic torque converter, three forward gears and reverse. Three drive modes include 2WD, 4WD and 4WD with differential lock
  • Driveline: Direct front and rear driveshafts
  • Suspension: Independent double wishbone, 7.9 inches of front travel and 9.1 inches of rear travel
  • Brakes: 200mm hydraulic disc front, 170mm hydraulic disc rear
  • Tires: 25×8-12 front, 25×10-12 rear
  • Length: 114.8 inches
  • Width: 61.1 inches
  • Height: 78.3 inches
  • Ground Clearance: 10.3 inches
  • Wheelbase: 76.8 inches
  • Turning Radius: 14.8 feet
  • Towing Capacity: 1,500 pounds
  • Payload Capacity: 1,000 pounds
  • Fuel Capacity: 8.2 gallons, including 1.2-gallon reserve
  • Colors: Red, Olive, Honda Phantom Camo
  • Wet Weight: 1396 pounds
  • Warranty: One-year limited warranty, transferable
  • Model: SXS700M4


2014 BMW F800GS Adventure First Ride Review

Adventure riding means many things to many different riders. For some it’s knocking out 1000 miles in a day; to others it’s going to new destinations, but for me it’s not an adventure until the pavement ends and the trail gets so difficult you don’t know if you’ll make it around the next ‘bend or over the next hill.


This is why I’ve always seen BMW’s Adventure series of GS models as the real deal. These models are the more hardcore and capable versions of BMW’s massively popular GS motorcycles. BMW invited MotoUSA out to Moab, Utah recently to sample the latest of this variant, the 2014 BMW F800GS Adventure.

The testing loop would consist of nearly 80% off-road goodness through the mountains bordering Utah and Colorado. Dirt quality varied from desert sand and silt to alpine gravel and just about everything in between. Some sections bordered on full dirt bike terrain. BMW choose to fit the factory optional Continental TKC 80 Twinduro off-road tires to make our jobs a little easier.


Based on the standard F800GS the Adventure gets over a dozen changes or additions to create the Ultimate Riding Machine (see what I did there?). First off, nothing is worse than running low on fuel when exploring, so BMW fitted a larger tank under the rear seat. The overall capacity has been increased to 6.3 gallons, which can get you over 300 miles on a fill-up. The windscreen is larger for better wind protection, as are the radiator shrouds. A two-tone seat offers more padding for long days on the trail and road, but it comes with a price of a very tall 35-inch seat height. Engine crash bars have been bolted on up front, and at the rear dual-purpose crash bars/saddlebag mounts protect the larger fuel tank. Wide footpegs, an adjustable brake pedal and hand guards add to the off-road capability of the Adventure. Lastly a luggage rack and more rugged front fender complete the transformation of the 2014 F800GS Adventure.

Our test units were the “Fully Loaded” spec that adds three equipment packages called the Enduro, Comfort and Active. The Enduro adds traction control (ASC) and an off-road mode for the ABS brake system. Comfort equips heated grips, an onboard computer and a handy centerstand. Lastly, Active gives the Adventure LED fog lights and BMW’s Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA).

What has not been changed is the 798cc Parallel Twin powerplant that has been well-tested and proven in the base F800GS. BMW claims 85 horsepower and 61 ft-lb of torque from the unchanged mill. Twisting the throttle on the F800GS rewards the rider with a nice grunt right on the bottom that climbs steadily to a mellower top end. However, saying the top end is not strong doesn’t explain the whole story.

That less punchy top end allows for a settled chassis when traveling at high speed on less than perfect surfaces. I found myself flirting with the redline most of the time as it kept the torquey nature of the Beemer’s bottom and mid in check. But when you needed to claw up a chucked out hill or to bounce through a technical rock garden, the torque was there to take you through with ease. The 800’s engine is easily one of the best for exploring the world or your local wilderness.

Off-road, I’ve always been an opponent of any electronic nannies, but I have to say that BMW’s traction control (ASC) works excellent. Press the mode button on the right to select enduro mode and the ASC is tailored for duty in the dirt. The cut in the power is not abrupt and you can even get nice predictable slides on the power. The only real downside is that you can’t snap out the rear end quickly to square off a corner. For that the ASC needs to be disabled, which is easy as the press of a button as well. Overall it’s a well-calibrated system.

BMW also decided that the suspension did not need any changes for the Adventure, running the same front fork and rear shock offering 9.1 and 8.5 inches of travel respectively. ESA on the F800GS Adventure has the BMW standard comfort, normal and sport modes. Comfort is useful for pounding the pavement on long stretches but is too soft for pounding the desert. Sport firms things up nicely for the curvy bits of road but on the dirt you lose some feel in the chop and washboard.

Normal is the mode you need when you want to turn the screws off-road. The feedback from the front and rear is excellent, and it is compliant in the smaller bumps. I do think, however, BMW should have re-sprung and re-valved the Adventure as the extra 33 pounds tacked on from the larger tank and off-road gear make an already soft suspension even softer. On squared-edged bumps and G-outs the rear-end blows through the stroke easily. If you are a heavy rider, your first purchase should be heavier springs.


Just as with the ASC, BMW has the ABS calibrated damn near perfectly on and off the road. On the street the Brembo front binders have a solid initial bite and haul the Adventure down from speed with power. Getting into the ABS takes a very heavy trigger finger. Out back the ABS kicks in a little more eagerly as the feel is not quite the same as the front. In the dirt the off-road setting is truly amazing. I’m not a big fan of ABS in general, but if every system was as good as the BMW’s I’d be changing my tune. The rear-end actually slides a bit before the electronics take over, giving the braking a very natural dirt bike feel. Up front the ABS also holds out until the very limit and when it does activate it stops the bike rather than limiting braking force. I only turned off the ABS for one quick test and preferred to leave it on. It’s that good.

The rider’s compartment is comfortable and roomy with wide bars that give plenty of input to the front end. A large windscreen keeps the wind off of the rider’s torso and helmet and buffeting is nonexistent. The large foot pegs are comfortable when standing and provide room to move while seated. At 35 inches the two-tone seat is tall and has just the right amount of cushion for a day in the saddle. There is an accessory low seat available, but I’d take the extra padding of the taller seat.

After spending an entire day in the dirt with the latest Adventure for BMW, I was left more than impressed and would go as far as saying this is my favorite BMW available right now. The 2014 BMW F800GS Adventure fully lives up to its moniker, and would be my first pick when heading out on dirt-heavy adventure.



Acer Predator X34 Review

  • Impressive design
  • Gorgeous picture quality
  • Strong G-Sync performance
  • Low latency
  • Solid built-in speakers
  • Pricey
  • Navigating menus can be a pain

The Acer Predator X34 curved gaming monitor provides an impressive level of immersion and strong G-Sync performance — if you’re willing to pay up.

The Acer Predator X34’s specs read like a wish list for gamers. A 34-inch, 3440 x 1440 curved display? Check. G-Sync and 100-Hz overclocking? You bet. Built-in LED lights? Yeah, why the heck not? Fortunately, all of these elements blend together wonderfully, resulting in a rich and immersive monitor that makes playing games an absolute joy — so long as you can afford the Predator’s high price tag and put up with its pesky interface.


Acer’s curved gaming monitor definitely earns its name, with a fierce-looking Predator logo below the display and a scaly, triangular pattern lining the monitor’s mouthlike rear vent. It’s just as sleek as it is savage, though, thanks to its jet-black paint job and slim, aluminum legs.

Courtesy of Acer

Courtesy of AcerThe Predator is even further distinguished by its set of bottom-facing LED lights, which will help illuminate your probably already-glowing keyboard and mouse. You can set the lights to glow red, green, blue, orange or white, as well as dictate whether they stay static, pulsate in and out, or — my personal favorite — ripple side to side. This is a nice touch, especially for those who swear by gaming gear that oozes with RGB backlighting.

In order to make sure the Predator fills up as much of your peripheral vision as possible, you can tilt the display 5 degrees forward or 35 degrees back, as well as raise or lower it about 5 inches up or down. You can’t, however swivel the monitor left or right; this makes sense for a display with such a wide viewing angle, but I would have appreciated having an easy way to access the Predator’s fairly hidden rear ports.

Ports and Interface

You’ll find all of the Predator’s inputs tucked away toward the bottom of the device’s rear panel. The monitor’s DisplayPort (required for G-Sync) and HDMI port should handle whichever PC, console or media box you want to attach to it, while the device’s four USB 3.0 ports, USB Type B port and headphone jack should be more than enough for your peripherals.

Courtesy of Acer

Courtesy of AcerWhile the Predator’s port selection covers all of the essentials, I didn’t enjoy having to crane my  neck to get around its massive display in order to plug my gadgets in. Placing a few USB ports and a headphone jack on the side might have messed with the Predator’s sleek design, but I’d prefer the extra convenience.

I had never been truly sold on curved gaming monitors, but that all changed the minute I booted up Batman: Arkham Knight.

You’ll navigate the Predator’s menus using six small buttons hidden under the right side of the screen, a process that took some getting used to. The buttons are tiny and fairly close to each other, which sometimes made it hard to figure out how to move left and right or select a submenu. I accidentally turned the Predator off more times than I would have liked.

Still, the monitor’s actual menus are pretty intuitive. Once you press a button, you’ll see large tabs for activating Game Mode, switching profiles, activating overclocking and switching inputs. Once you’re in the Predator’s main menu, you’ll be able to adjust finer settings — such as brightness, contrast and color — as well as control the system’s external lights.

Gaming Performance

I had never been truly sold on the concept of a curved gaming monitor, but that all changed the minute I booted up Batman: Arkham Knight on the Predator. I found myself immersed in Rocksteady’s version of Gotham City like never before, enjoying a wide view of the game’s beautifully moody skylines as I glided from building to building. Wide angles aside, the game looked simply stunning at 3440 x 1440 resolution, from the reflective neon lights that litter each street to each gritty, lifelike character model.

Courtesy of Acer

Courtesy of AcerFortunately, I found the Predator to be just as dependable for competitive games as it was for cinematic ones. Tactical shooter Rainbow Six Siege ran smoothly and played responsively, and in a game where a few shots can kill you, I appreciated having the extra field of view for spotting bad guys. I was able to distinguish every clump of snow and chunk of ice when battling on Hoth in Star Wars Battlefront, and had no problem picking out camouflaged snowtroopers in my peripherals.

The Predator is one of the first curved monitors to tout Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, which is designed to eliminate stutters and screen tears by syncing a monitor directly with a PC’s graphics card. The feature definitely made a difference during my playtime; I noticed some nasty horizontal lines when quickly looking up and down in Arkham Knight, a problem that activating G-Sync cleaned up immediately.

Multimedia Performance

Naturally, there’s more to do on a curved, ultrawide monitor than just playing games at super-immersive resolutions. The Predator proved to be an impressive all-around multimedia display, whether I was watching movies or getting some work done.

Watching a 4K trailer for Elysium on the Predator made me feel like I was in a mini movie theater.

Watching a 4K trailer for Elysium on the Predator made me feel like I was in a mini movie theater, from the sheer sharpness of the film’s futuristic landscapes to the engulfing 21:9 aspect ratio. Colors looked impressively vivid on Acer’s monitor by default, though one colleague watching with me suggested that the blacks could be a bit deeper.

I found the Predator especially useful for multitasking on Windows 10, as I split the screen between a Google Doc and a Netflix video and never felt like I was sacrificing space on either side. If you want to run a game in windowed mode on one side while viewing your Twitter feed or Twitch chat on the other, Acer’s display makes it pretty easy to do so.

Brightness, Color and Latency

Acer’s curved gaming monitor was just as impressive in our lab tests as it was during everyday use. The display registered a strong 261 nits on our brightness test, topping our 223.5 gaming-monitor average.

The Predator delivered mixed color results. The monitor recorded a Delta-E color-accuracy rating of 1.77 (closer to 0 is better), beating the 4.9 average. The panel covered 98.9 percent of the sRGB color gamut, falling a bit short of the 103 percent average.

A bright, colorful monitor is no good if it’s laggy, but fortunately the Predator proved to be as responsive as it is good-looking. The monitor netted a latency of 9.7 milliseconds, which is notably quicker than our 14.42-ms average for gaming displays.


While far from room shaking, the Predator’s built-in 7-watt speakers are impressively loud and crisp. The monitor preserved the impact of most in-game sounds, from the rattle of an assault rifle in Rainbow Six Siege to the thunderous superhero gut-punches of Arkham Knight. You should probably pick up a good headset or set of speakers if you want to get as immersed as possible, but the Predator’s speakers are perfectly suitable.

Modes and Features

The Predator features a handful of extra bells and whistles, including the ability to add a special crosshair overlay to the screen for some extra aiming help in shooting games. You have a choice of three different crosshair types, and while there’s no guarantee that they’ll help you play better, they all lined up perfectly with the in-game interfaces of shooters like Rainbow Six Siege and Borderlands 2.

Courtesy of Acer

Courtesy of AcerOther features include an on-screen frame-rate counter, as well as Dark Boost, which allows you to lighten in-game environments without blowing the whole picture out. Once you’ve created your ideal combination of all of these settings (on top of color and brightness), you can save up to three custom profiles for booting up all of your favorite features at once.

While the Predator’s refresh rate maxes out at 60Hz on standard settings, the monitor can be overclocked to a faster 100Hz for those looking to eliminate motion blur as much as possible. While I didn’t notice much of a difference when playing games at 60Hz versus 100Hz, those with an especially discerning eye for smoothness may appreciate the option to ramp the rate up.

Bottom Line

If you’re willing to shell out $1,299 for a gaming monitor, the Acer Predator X34 is worth every premium penny. The monitor’s rich 34-inch, 3440 x 1440 display makes it easy to get lost in your favorite virtual worlds, while the device’s G-Sync capabilities and fast response times provide an optimally smooth experience for competitive players. Its bottom-facing LED lights probably aren’t necessarily, but they sure as heck look cool.

The Predator isn’t alone in the curved gaming monitor arena; BenQ’s $999 XR3501 features a bigger 35-inch display, a faster 144Hz refresh rate and picture-in-picture capabilities, but lacks G-Sync and has a lower 2560 x 1080 resolution. Overall, if you’re looking for pure immersion (and some pretty good looks) and don’t mind splurging, the Predator X34 is one of the best high-end gaming displays you can get.



Cambridge Azur 851N review

  • Another knockout Cambridge streamer, whose performance more than justifies the premium price tag
  • Full-bodied, balanced and rhythmic
  • Open and spacious
  • Vast file support
  • Intuitive control app
  • Bluetooth only optional
  • No analogue inputs

Say hello to the daddy of Cambridge Audio’s network streamers… and then, if you’re fortunate enough to have the spending money, think seriously about welcoming it into your hi-fi system with open arms.

The Azur 851N, part of the company’s flagship Azur 851 Series, is a ‘step up’ from the mid-ranging CXN (our 2015 music streamer Product of the Year), and as you’d hope for the price a pretty giant step at that.

Just like the CXN, it doubles as a preamplifier and can plug straight into a power amp thanks to a volume output controlled by a 32bit Blackfin digital signal processor. Music signals pass through two 24-bit Analog Devices DACs in dual differential mode, meaning each stereo channel processes information separately for, Cambridge says, greater accuracy.

Connections are greater in number too – it adds second coaxial and optical and third USB inputs, as well as a AES/EBU input – and in terms of build it’s more Hulk than Popeye to look at.

But it’s the leap in performance over the CXN that really gives it grounds for the heavier price tag around its neck.


The CXN’s muscular, full-bodied presentation, lathered in enthusiastic drive, bone-rattling punch and class-leading insight, is present in the Azur 851N, yet everything is served with extra helpings of expression and dynamic skill, not to mention extra space and openness.

The thrashing electrics in the opening of Band of Horses’ Cigarettes, Wedding Bands that feel a little mashed together through the CXN, are more coherent through the Azur. And even with a low-res Spotify stream of Cold War Kids’ Lost That Easy, there’s a sense of isolation to the vocals and depth to the recording that isn’t palpable through the CXN.

It just about one-ups its little brother in every which way, as flagships should do, leaving you with a remarkably entertaining and versatile performer. Rhythmic cadence and precision comes to the fore; the track’s polyrhythmic structure isn’t lost on the shrewd Cambridge as it keeps tabs on the hypnotic bass beat and jagged and melodic synth rhythms, juggling the two without compromising their close collaboration.

It’s punctual, decisive and quick on its feet with the fluctuating tempo too.

With balance on point, there’s punch and depth down low and sparkling bite up top, with all-you-can-eat solidity fleshing out what’s a clear and articulate midrange.

In Sufjan Stevens’ Jacksonville, cascading violins, treading keyboards and lucid banjo strumming are all wonderfully textured around his exalted, tender vocals. Trumpets soar freely through the mix, and the delicate bells never have to fight for attention.

Striking a balance between power and delicacy, the Cambridge ensures there’s never a dull moment in John Williams’ Cadillac of the Skies. It drives home cymbal crashes while choral vocals fill the room with power, scale and openness, and the pensive instruments that work away underneath don’t suffer for it.

It draws out the finer flurries of detail, and as building strings creep ever nearer to their subtle climaxes, the Cambridge proves just as capable of communicating the sweeping dynamic swings as the subtler strokes.

While the Azur really shows what it can do with a 24-bit/192kHz of Hans Zimmer’s Born In Darkness – giving it a wonderfully insightful, open and layered presentation – it doesn’t sound too compressed when fed an MP3 either; the sound closes in notably, yet there’s still plenty of space and detail to enjoy.


The 851N’s design looks ‘expensive’ and we don’t doubt its solid full-metal casework or polished (silver or dark grey) finish would stand the test of time. It towers over the CXN, being taller and chunkier – and is just as elegant.

The crisp 11cm display looks almost identical to that of the CXN, and the colourful album artwork that fills it piles on the class. The on-unit buttons move away from the side of the screen and instead run across the front and although it makes the Azur’s panel look busier, we like it all the same.

The large volume dial turns with ease and is helpful for manually scrolling large music libraries.

While the intuitive remote is on hand too, the free Cambridge Connect app (iOS and Android) is the best way to access and browse your music. It works well, opening doors to thousands of radio stations and promptly picking up the servers on our network (just make sure both your device and streamer are on the same network).

The interface is easy to navigate, and libraries can be browsed in your choice of listed or grid format, although it’s more functional than fancy.

If you have more than one Cambridge streamer in the household, it’s easy flicking between them in the app too.


Whether you connect the Azur over wi-fi by plugging in the supplied USB adapter, or via Ethernet cable, networked music files up to 24-bit/192kHz can be streamed (and upsampled to 24-bit/384kHz) from your PC, laptop or NAS drive.

And where file compatibility is concerned, it can handle everything from DSD64 to FLAC and WAV.

Spotify Connect and AirPlay are there, as is Bluetooth if you purchase an optional dongle at £70. However, it goes without saying we’d prefer it built-in or, especially at this price, at least included in the box.

Building on the CXN’s impressive connectivity list, the Azur 851N is well furnished around the back. Analogue outputs are taken care of by a pair of RCAs and balanced XLRs, and there are digital optical and coaxial outputs too.

Twin optical and coaxial inputs join a single asynchronous USB input for your laptop, and there are three standard USB sockets (one on the front, two at the rear) for connecting external hard drives and memory sticks.

Like the CXN, all the digital inputs are capable of playing hi-res files up to 24-bit/192kHz.

There are also system connections for universal control of a multi-component Cambridge system too.

It’s an exhaustive list, although if we’re being picky we’d like to see a pair of analogue inputs onboard for hooking up older kit.


Cambridge has done it again. The Azur 851N, a natural sonic upgrade to the CXN, says all the right things, and is the ideal high-end streamer if you’re looking for a capable digital pre-amp or are after something to simply slot into your existing system.

We’d like wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity to be more streamlined, but having dongles sticking out of the box is a small price to pay for its accomplished, all-round performance.


Hyundai i10 Review : Practical supermini has five-year warranty and big boot


  • Fun to drive
  • Comfortable ride
  • Spacious interior


  • Some odd trim colour choices
  • No sat-nav option
  • Volkswagen Up is more stylish

If you are looking for a practical and spacious city car then the Hyundai i10 should be top of your list. It’s more expensive than rival city cars – including the SEAT Mii, Skoda Citigo and Peugeot 108 – but comes with good standard equipment levels and an excellent five-year warranty. Prices start from £8,995/$13,492 and if you buy the i10using carwow you can save an average of £1,350/$2,025.

One of the biggest selling points of the i10 is its practical interior. It has the biggest boot in class and the back doors give excellent access to the rear seats. Cabin quality is also decent, with plenty of soft-touch plastics.

Buyers can choose from 1.0 and 1.2-litre petrol engines. Both are very cheap to run, but the 1.2’s extra power makes it the better choice if you regularly use motorways.

The Hyundai comes into its own in town, where its tiny dimensions make it easy to manoeuvre. Although the i10 is a city car, it still feels safe and secure at a 70mph cruise and is quiet enough for long journeys, too.

All models come with central locking, a USB port and electric front windows. SE trim is worth paying extra for, though, because it adds air-conditioning as standard. All i10s come with a warranty that covers the car for five years or 100,000 miles – only the seven-year plan offered by Kia is better.

Read our colour guide to see all the Hyundai i10’s paint options or check out our Hyundai i10 dimensions guide to see if it’ll fit into your life.

Cheapest to buy: 1.0-litre S petrol

Cheapest to run: 1.0-litre SE Blue Drive petrol

Fastest model: 1.2-litre Premium petrol

Most popular: 1.0-litre S petrol

Interior — Good space, high quality, nice and bright

The i10’s interior has taken a big step up over its predecessor. Where once uniform grey plastic dominated, the new car has a splash of colour and a more interesting design. Testers say it doesn’t quite have the minimalist charm of the Volkswagen Up and its siblings, but quality is high. Like the previous car, the gear lever has a useful high-set position for snappy changes.

Hyundai i10 passenger space

There’s considerable cabin space and critics describe the interior as “airy and comfortable”.There’s also good visibility and even a decently-sized rear bench, with its own pair of doors  (the i10 is five-door only), not always the case in cars with tiny exterior dimensions.

Hyundai i10 boot space

With 252 litres of space with the seats up, rising to 1,046 litres when you fold them away, the i10 has the biggest boot in its class. The only downside is that the seats do not fall flat on the floor and the high load lip makes loading long and heavy items trickier.

To help you make sure the i10 will fit all you need it to – take a look at our guides to its dimensions and colours.

Driving — Plenty of fun and a fine ride

Here too the i10 does well with the critics. Several go as far as saying the i10 is fun to drive, with “light and direct” steering and good levels of grip. There’s plenty of body roll but not enough to catch you by surprise, and the tradeoff is a comfortable ride. It also has a tight turning circle, which’ll prove handy in town driving. It’s not as fun as an Up, but it’s more than respectable.

The effective brakes are also praised, one tester saying the pedal has great feel. And as for refinement, it scores well too – the i10 is hushed at speed, and a low drag coefficient for the class ensures wind noise at higher velocities is kept to a minimum.

Engine — Good economy but not much choice

There are just two engines available in the new i10, both designed to sip petrol. The first is a one-litre unit with three cylinders and a modest 66hp output. That doesn’t sound a lot and on paper it only gets to 60 mph in 14.9 seconds, but testers are actually quite positive about it.

It’s both characterful and refined and on the road, feels a little sprightlier than the figures suggest. With a top speed of 96mph it’s not as suited to motorway travel as the brawnier 1.2 though – the four-cylinder unit makes 87hp and knocks almost three seconds from the 0-60 sprint. It’s even more refined but not quite as economical – 57.6mpg compared to the 1.0’s 60-65mpg.

Hyundai i10 automatic

The manual gearbox is described by reviewers as slick and easy to use, but for even less hassle in city traffic you can opt for the five-speed automatic. Unfortunately, there are drawbacks. Fuel economy for the auto sits at 47.1mpg and 45.6mpg for the 1.0 and 1.2-litre models respectively.

If you opt for the automatic gearbox be ready to pay more for road tax, too – £130/$195 a year for the 1.0-litre and £145/$217 for the 1.2. In manual form they cost £20/$30 and £30/$45 respectively.

Safety — Not the last word in driver protection, but scores well

It’s reassuring to know the i10 still scores four stars in Euro NCAP’s crash tests, with good protection for both adult and child occupants – actually a little higher for the children – and suitable pedestrian protection too. It’s worth noting the VW Up scored higher though, with five stars.

In terms of safety assistance, the i10 has the equipment you’d expect – seat belt warnings, stability control, and an optional speed limiter. You also get braking assistance (the car increases brake pressure in an emergency for a shorter stopping distance) and a tyre pressure monitoring system, too.

Value for money — Low purchase price, low road tax, low insurance

Pricing is more or less as expected for this class. The VW group trio does sneak in a little cheaper, but only by a few hundred quid at the most. It doesn’t stray much above £10,000/$15,000 either, while each trim level has enough equipment to justify the outlay.

Some rivals are a little more economical, but the i10 should still be cheap to run – virtually all models get within sniffing distance of 60 mpg (several do more), tax is low to non-existent and insurance isn’t too scary either – starting at group 1A. There’s also a huge, five-year, unlimited mileage warranty.

The most common recommendation from reviewers is to go for a 1.0-litre car with a mid-level trim grade – the performance will be more than enough for most and you’ll get the important equipment such as air-conditioning and driver’s seat height adjustment.


Several testers have given the i10 top marks – not something you’ll see too often in this class. It’s not hard to see why though – the i10 drives and looks better than ever, yet remains practical, easy to drive and inexpensive to run. That’s pretty much everything you’d want from a city car.

Until now, the city cars we’d have recommended were the VW Up, Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii trio. Now, the i10 is well worth a look too.


Dell XPS 12 Review

The Pros

Sparkling 12.5-inch touch screen; Thin, sturdy design; Detachable keyboard comes included; 2 USB C ports with Thunderbolt 3

The Cons

Weak battery life; Slow SSD; Only one choice for CPU; Travel keyboard isn’t very comfortable ;


Dell’s XPS 12 offers multiple keyboard options and a great display, but this 2-in-1 lacks the battery life to compete.

Dell’s XPS 12 is a 2-in-1 that looks to lower the barrier to entry for premium detachables with a price that starts at $1,000 with an included keyboard. It features a brilliant full-HD 12.5-inch screen and a thin, but strong, tablet body. It offers you a choice of some useful add-ons that include an active stylus and a optional folding magnetic keyboard with more mobile users. Dell also includes two USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt 3, so the XPS 12 will be ready for the big port switchover. Unfortunately, the XPS 12’s anemic battery life and slow SSD speeds prevent it from being a top pick.


Unlike other current XPS devices that use a combination of brushed aluminum and dark carbon fiber, the XPS 12 eschews the flashy metal for a more clandestine black-on-black look. There’s a magnetic dock port on the bottom for connecting one of Dell’s two keyboard options. Overall, the boxy chassis feels really durable, and I appreciate the inclusion of a capacitive touch Windows button along the bottom.

The XPS 12 differs from competitors like the Surface Pro by skipping a built-in stand and instead relying on its detachable keyboards to provide support, with one featuring an adjustable kickstand, and the other employing a single, fixed docking slot.

At 11.46 x 7.6 x 0.31 inches and weighing 1.75 pounds for just the tablet section, the XPS 12 is ever-so-slightly smaller than both the Surface Pro 4 and the Spectre x2 as a tablet. However, when each device is attached to its respective keyboard, the XPS 12 (11.46 x 7.8 x 0.63-0.99 inches and 2.8 pounds) is thicker and heavier than Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 (11.50 x 7.93 x 0.43 inches and 2.37 pounds). HP’s Spectre x2 (11.81 x 8.23 x 0.52 inches and 2.68 pounds) is also thinner and lighter.

Slim Keyboard Dock and Folio Cover

All XPS 12s come with a slip-on folio cover and a rigid keyboard dock. The folio cover features a dark gray cloth cover that breaks up the XPS 12’s black facade while also making the package a little friendlier for life on the road. Unless you plan to carry the tablet by itself, there’s no reason to use the folio cover, because while it does shield the tablet from scratches and bumps, you can’t use it in combination with the folding keyboard, which also protects the screen. Furthermore, the magnetic spine on the folio cover is pretty weak, which causes the tablet to slip and slide as you carry it.

The rigid backlit keyboard offers solid typing experience. It’s a big boon for people who often type on their laps, and the 65-gram actuation weight and 1.5mm travel distance felt springier and livelier than the optional folding magnetic option. While it didn’t help me type that much faster (83 wpm), the slim keyboard was vastly superior in terms of pure comfort.

My one minor complaint is that when trying to slot in the XPS 12 to the slim keyboard, I often needed to give the tablet a little jiggle or shake for it to recognize the accessory and connect.

The 4 x 2.2-inch touchpad is wider than what you normally get on a system this size, and it features a smooth soft-touch finish that begs to be caressed. During my time with the system, clicking was responsive, and I really liked how quickly the system acknowledged gestures such as pinch-to-zoom and two-finger scrolling.

Optional Stylus and Magnetic Folding Keyboard

You can accessorize the XPS 12 with Dell’s $50 Active Pen, which connects via Bluetooth, features 2,048 levels of sensitivity and two buttons on the barrel for erasing and selecting objects and third on top for opening OneNote. In OneNote, it was really easy to control the thickness of varying lines, making this pen a great addition for frequent note-takers or sketchers.

For those who aren’t satisfied with just the standard non-adjustable keyboard, there’s also a magnetic travel keyboard which requires a $50 premium (available separately or as part of a bundle) and provides a decent typing experience and a study, adjustable kickstand and loop for holding Dell’s optional Active Pen (the folio cover has a pen loop, too). However, with an actuation weight of 50 grams and a travel distance of just 1.2mm, typing on the travel keyboard doesn’t feel as crisp as on the Surface Pro 4’s Type Cover or what you get on the base slim keyboard. I often bottomed out at the end of the stroke, and even though I hit a speedy 80 words per minute clip, my hands weren’t very comfortable while doing it.


The 12.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 touch screen on the XPS 12 is wonderfully bright and colorful. It made the trailer for Suicide Squad sparkle as it recreated raging gouts of orange flames from El Diablo’s hands and accurately captured the Joker’s blinged-out grill and neon green hair.

The XPS 12 pushed out 413 nits of brightness, even more than the Surface Pro 4’s 382 nits, and a good deal greater than the HP Spectre x2’s 322 nits and the 298-nit ultraportable average.

Dell’s premium 2-in-1 also recreated an impressive range of colors, which covered 114.3 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That’s more than the Surface Pro 4’s more neutral 100 percent, and much wider than the HP Spectre’s x2 77 percent.

However, the XPS 12 stumbled slightly on color accuracy, where it registered a Delta-E rating of 4.39 (closer to zero is better). Both the Surface Pro 4 and the HP Spectre x2 were more precise, with Delta-E ratings of 0.4 and 1.4, respectively.


Hidden behind cutouts on the top edge of the chassis, the XPS 12’s stereo speakers put out a satisfying amount of volume, but struggled when recreating some low and mid tones. When I listened to Ratatat’s “Cream on Chrome,” I liked the Dell’s crisp reproduction of the wailing Jamaican-inspired guitar, but the way the bass and percussion cracked and distorted made the band’s funky beats hard to enjoy.

Ports and Cameras

With the XPS 12, Dell has fully embraced the switch to USB Type-C by featuring two of the tiny rounded ports on the bottom left side of the tablet. Both ports support Thunderbolt 3 and can be used for charging, transferring data at speeds up to 10 Gbps, and pushing video to an external display. Dell also includes a microSD card reader for expandable storage, which is hidden under a little flap halfway up the XPS 12’s left side, and a USB Type-C power adapter for charging.

When I used the 5-megapixel front camera to shoot a photo of my face, the camera captured accurate colors and details and even showed the content on a TV in the background. However, an unusually high amount of noise detracted from overall clarity.

The 8-MP rear cam also impressed, delivering accurate colors and the sharp details of a metal car and an owl figurine. But, as with the front cam, photos were noisier than I’d like or expect given the decent amount of ambient light.


Featuring a 1.1-GHz Intel Core m5-6Y75 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD, the XPS 12 had a difficult time keeping pace with faster detachables from Microsoft and HP (especially when it came to storage speed). Still, even with a big spreadsheet and 10 tabs open in Edge, the XPS 12 streamed a 1080p video from YouTube without a hint of lag.

In Geekbench 3, which tests overall system performance, the XPS 12 scored 4,875, well behind the $1,149 HP Spectre x2 with a Core m7-6Y75 CPU (5,814) and a $1,429 Surface Pro 4 featuring an Intel Core i5-6300U CPU (6,811).

On our OpenOffice spreadsheet test, the XPS 12 matched 20,000 names and addresses in 5 minutes and 13 seconds. Once again, the Surface Pro finished faster with a time of 4:11, although the HP Spectre x2 was about the same (5:34).

The real disappointment is the XPS 12’s SSD. The 128GB drive recorded a transfer rate of just 82.09 MBps, while the SSDs in the Spectre x2 (149 MBps) and the Surface Pro 4 (318 MBps) were two to four times faster.


Featuring integrated Intel HD Graphics 515, the XPS 12 is a decent platform for playing casual games. In Hearthstone, attacks and spell animations looked fluid, and I rarely encountered any lag or stuttering.

On the 3DMarkFire Strike graphics test, the XPS 12 posted a score of 598. That’s just slightly behind a Core m7-equipped HP Spectre X2 (668), but the Intel Core i5-equipped Surface Pro 4 scored much higher (843).

Battery Life

Even among detachable 2-in-1s, many of which have mediocre battery life, the XPS 12’s endurance is underwhelming. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Wi-Fi surfing at 100 nits), the XPS 12 lasted 5 hours and 17 minutes. That’s 45 minutes less than the Surface Pro 4 (6:45) and more than an hour less than the HP Spectre X2 (6:31).

When compared to a 2-in-1 with a 360-degree rotating hinge, such as Lenovo’s Yoga 900, the Dell’s runtime looks even worse. That hybrid lasted nearly 3 hours longer.


Despite its thin profile, the XPS 12 stayed under our 95-degree comfort threshold during our heat test (15 minutes of streaming HD video). The spot on the back between the Dell logo and rear cam pushed the line at 94.5 degrees Fahrenheit, while the front remained cooler at 88 degrees.


There are two main configs for the XPS 12: our $1,000 review model, which has an Intel Core m5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 128GB SSD and 12.5-inch 1920 x 1080 touch screen, and a $1,300 version with a higher-res 3840 x 2160 4K touch screen and larger 256GB SSD. Most of the customization choices come from optional extras, such as the $50 Dell Active Pen, $75 USB Type-C adapter dongle and folding magnetic keyboard (which costs $50 more than the standard magnetic keyboard). The slim keyboard comes standard.

Software and Warranty

The XPS 12 features a nearly pristine install of Windows 10 that’s only bogged down by a few software trials and a copy of Candy Crush.

For support, users get a one-year limited hardware warranty out of the box, but you can choose to upgrade it up to four years of Dell Premium Support for $299, which includes 24-hour hardware and software support, onsite service (after remote diagnosis) and automated alerts, which can notify you of potential issues.

Bottom Line

I really like the XPS 12’s sturdy carbon fiber body and glowing 12.5-inch screen, although I’d stay away from the 4K model for fear of getting even less battery life than the full-HD model. The dual USB Type-C ports make it simple to connect the XPS 12 to peripherals while also helping reduce the number of wires you need to lug around. But there’s little excuse for the slow SSD speeds, which compare better to a budget 2-in-1 than the premium device the XPS 12 is trying to be.

Starting at $1,000, the XPS 12 is cheaper than the Surface Pro 4 (starting at $1,028 with keyboard and weaker Core m3 CPU) and has a display that’s almost as good. HP’s Spectre x2 is about the same in price, but it has a battery that lasts more than an hour longer than the XPS 12, features a slicker design, and can be configured with components to better suit your needs. Though it’s worth considering if you really like its design and combination of accessories, the Dell doesn’t offers as much endurance or flexibility as competitors.


How to Stop Safari From Crashing

This week (Jan. 27), users have been complaining about the Safari browser crashing on iOS on the iPad and iPhone and OS X on the Mac. Apple hasn’t made any statements about the issue and the exact cause is still unknown, but it appears to have to connected to the Safari Suggestions setting.

Most users have seen their browsers crash while typing in a URL, but some have had it happen as soon as tapping or clicking on the URL bar.

Some users on Twitter have noticed that turning off Safari Suggestions fixes the issue. Here’s how to stop Safari from crashing on iPhones and iPads (scroll down for instructions for your Mac):

1. Choose “Settings” from your apps.

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2. Scroll down and tap on “Safari.”

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3. Tap the switch for Safari Suggestions to turn it off. Your browser should stop crashing.

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If you’re having the problem on Safari for OS X, just follow these steps:

1. Click Safari in the top bar and choose “Preferences” from the menu.screen shot 2016 01 27 at 9.53.45 am 224262
2. Choose “Search” (with the magnifying glass icon) from the top navigation bar.

screen shot 2016 01 27 at 9.52.47 am 532.58657243816403

3. Uncheck “Include Safari Suggestions.” Your browser should stop crashing.

screen shot 2016 01 27 at 9.53.23 am 675232.51001335113


Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Battle of the stylish smartwatches

Before the Fitbit Blaze was unveiled earlier this month, you couldn’t really consider the Charge HR or the Surge as a genuine rival to the Apple Watch. But that’s all changed.

Whichever way you slice it, the Blaze is Fitbit’s first smartwatch, even if the company flat-out refuses to call it such. It’s a fitness watch, got it? And regardless of how much the company wants to avoid comparison to the Apple Watch, the truth is that people only have one wrist for tech – and for many, it will be a choice of whether to buy the Watch or the Blaze.

That’s why we’ve compared specs and features in detail to see if the Blaze is set to be big competition for Apple’s first generation smartwatch.

Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Design

The Blaze is Fitbit’s best-looking device by some distance. The rugged elastomer plastic band has not entirely disappeared though, but there’s now a selection of different straps to give it a more smartwatch feel. It’s clearly taking an Apple-like approach to design with the option of metal and leather bands, which pop in and out enabling you to customise for different looks – if you fork out for the replacements.

If you want variety though, there’s only one winner here and that’s Apple. Along with offering the Watch in three distinct models (Sport, Watch and Watch Edition), the Apple Watch comes in two different sizes with a host of (unofficial) Watch straps and watch cases. If you like your smartwatches stylish, there’s even an Apple Watch Hermès Collection, but expect to pay a lot more for the pleasure of an Apple Watch with a designer strap.

Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch

Both watches have colour touchscreen displays, though they use different screen technologies. Apple employs OLED screen technology in two different sizes with a Sapphire crystal glass protection. The 38mm version has a 340 x 272 pixel resolution, while the 42mm model packs in a more impressive 390 vs 312 pixel resolution. Fitbit opts for an 1.6-inch LCD screen with 240 x 180 resolution and Gorilla Glass 3 coating to give it an extra layer of durability. By any metric, Apple’s tech is far superior.

In terms of navigation, the Blaze follows in the footsteps of the Surge, using two physical buttons on the right and one on the left. There is of course the touchscreen display as well, letting you swipe to view notifications or hit the buttons to view progress. Apple keeps navigation minimal and discreet with its digital crown that’s not not like a crown on a traditional watch. You can use it to open the app launcher, but a twist will let you zoom into apps which is handy for maps. There’s also the Force Touch-enabled screen, which means you can press a little harder to unlock more information from your apps.

If you care about having a waterproof smartwatch, you out of luck on both fronts unfortunately. Neither the Blaze or the Apple Watch is built for swimming, despite the Apple’s smartwatch being stamped with an IPX7 certified rating, which means it’s water resistant up to 1m for 30 minutes. They should both hold up for a run in the rain though.

Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Activity tracking

Fitness tracking is unsurprisingly the Blaze’s big play here, but there’s not a lot that’s radically different from what we’ve seen on Fitbit’s previous trackers. It’ll track steps, sleep, calories and there’s an optical heart rate sensor to deliver resting HR and active time.

In terms of other sensors, theres a 3-axis accelerometer, gyro sensor and an altimeter to track elevation. There’s no on board GPS, so you’ll have to rely on your phone’s GPS to track runs and hikes via a feature called ConnectedGPS (a renamed version of the old MobileRun). You do get sleep tracking though and it’s done automatically using the accelerometer to detect movement.

The Blaze can also track a whole host of activities and uses the recently introduced SmartTrack feature to automatically recognise what activities you’re doing. You now get on-screen workouts as well powered by Fitstar taking you through sessions one exercise at a time.

There’s still an abundance of third party app support here as well, so you can feed data from the likes of Strava, Endomondo and Weight Watchers into the Fitbit companion app if you don’t want to give up data from your existing health and fitness apps.

For the Apple Watch, activity tracking is certainly an area that needs some work, whether that’s through software updates or for when the Apple Watch 2 turns up.

Much like the Blaze, it has an accelerometer, gyro sensor and a heart rate monitor that uses flashing green LED lights to detect changes in blood volume. It’s a very similar to the way Fitbit’s monitor works. There’s no GPS here either, so you’ll need to piggyback on your iPhone if you want to track runs.

Apple’s Activity app is the focal point for activity tracking giving a snapshot of your day and giving you a nudge when you’re lagging behind the trio of targets for calories, active minutes and standing time. A step count is available on the wrist, but the rest are worked out automatically, and will be downgraded if you repeatedly fail to hit your target. At the moment, there’s no sleep tracking but there’s a strong possibility it could be added in the future.

To soften the blow, there’s a pretty comprehensive collection of fitness apps that are optimised for the Apple Watch, which means if you already use Strava, Nike, RunKeeper or the like, you’ll be able to continue on the Apple Watch. However, while there are plenty of apps, none bring much new to the table.

Clearly, the Fitbit ecosystem is better geared towards fitness tracking. While Apple’s app is decent, the lack of comparison, insights into health trends, resting heart rate data and proper workout recording means it still can’t hold a candle to the Fitbit, even if there’s little difference in the hardware.

Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Notifications

Smartwatches are billed as smartphone companions and that basically means reducing the need to dip into your pocket for your phone to check a text, see an email or you know, take a call.

Apple certainly does a better job of this than Fitbit does currently. With the Blaze, you’ll be able to do things like reject or accept calls, receive notifications from emails and control music playback. Where it’s lacking is the ability to handle notifications from third party apps such as Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter.

With the Apple Watch, you get all the notifications you could want including third party apps, plus you get the Glances (widgets) for small bite-sized bits of real time information from your favourite apps – and perhaps even more importantly, you can control which notifications you see.

To complete a barnstorming smartwatch performance there’s music playback control, and storage onboard to download music from iTunes/Apple Music for offline playback.

You can also answer calls from Apple’s smartwatch and use Siri too add appointments to your calendar, set an egg timer or finding out whether Sean Astin was definitely in the Goonies. (Yes, he was).

Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Battery life

This is one of the biggest debates surrounding smartwatches right now. How much battery life is enough?

If you want lots of staying power, there’s only one winner here and that’s the Fitbit Blaze. While the Apple Watch can deliver between one (38mm) and two (42mm) days of mixed use, the Blaze promises five.

That will of course depend on which features you use on a regular basis and whether you decide to crank up the screen brightness to the max. Without power-sapping features like GPS onboard, the Blaze is up there with the Pebble Time for stamina and that’s not too shabby.

Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Price

The Fitbit Blaze is available to pre-order right now for $199.95 from the Fitbit website and it’s expected to arrive some time in March.

For the Apple Watch, prices start at a significantly more expensive $349 but that can jump to anywhere near the $1,500 mark.

Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Initial verdict

The gulf in price difference alone, even with Apple’s entry model indicates that these are two wearables playing in two very different playgrounds.

Fitbit’s new design is a welcome change, and for activity tracking fans its focus on fitness is a winner. But for feature diversity the Apple Watch is hard to beat.


PC Specialist Octane review

  • Outpaces the competition in games and applications
  • Good screen and speaker quality
  • Solid build
  • Versatile features and specification
  • Heavier and thicker than other notebooks
  • Pricier than the competition
  • Others have better screens and keyboards

Key Features: 15.6in 1,920 x 1,080 screen; Intel Core i7-6700 processor; Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M GPU; 16GB DDR4 RAM; 256GB SSD; 1TB hard disk; 3yr RTB warranty

Manufacturer: PC Specialist

PC Specialist Octane

What is the PC Specialist Octane?

This laptop comes from a firm that’s better-known for its gaming desktops. PC Specialist is based in Wakefield and has been building high-end systems since 2003, but the Octane is the first time I’ve gone hands-on with one of its notebooks.

The £1,549 machine comes with a desktop processor and high-end graphics chip, which certainly bodes well for impressive framerates.


It may be first time I’ve reviewed a PC Specialist laptop, but there’s something familiar about the Octane. That’s because this machine is built using a shell from Taiwanese notebook firm Clevo. The model used here is the P751DM – the 15.6-inch version of the 17.3-inch base used by the XMG U706.

That’s no knock on PC Specialist, though; Clevo’s hardware is hard-wearing and packed with features. It has loads of USB 3 ports, a USB 3.1 Type-C connector, an eSATA socket and four audio jacks, and the chunky power plug on the rear is sandwiched between an HDMI socket and two DisplayPort connectors.

PC Specialist Octane

The versatility extends to the interior. Two base panels peel away to reveal the components: the first grants access to the memory, M.2 SSD and cooling gear, and the latter hides the hard disk and spare 2.5in and M.2 connectors. That’s about as good as it gets for gaming notebooks – it means the components are accessible and that it’s easy to clean the cooling gear.

The Octane is a sturdy lump of a laptop. There’s a tiny bit of give in the wrist-rest and the underside, but the minor flex in those panels isn’t enough to make me worry about lugging the Octane to LAN parties or friends’ houses. The screen is similar: it does move, but the desktop itself isn’t distorted. It’s a similar bill of health to the MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro, and it’s not far behind the rock-solid Alienware 15.

I have no qualms about taking the Octane out and about, but I’d invest in a decent backpack to protect my shoulders. PC Specialist’s system weighs 3.4kg and is 36mm thick: miles bigger than the MSI, and a little heavier and thicker than the beefy Alienware.

The Octane isn’t the slickest-looking laptop. There isn’t a logo anywhere on its matte black lid, and the same understated material is used to surround the keyboard and the screen. There are ridges and seams around the screen and the base, and no illumination around the touchpad. The power button is lit with a green LED, the keyboard is backed with blue lights, and there’s a raft of stickers along the left-hand edge.

If you want an understated notebook that’ll surprise with its power, this is ideal.


The Octane isn’t the first gaming laptop to mix desktop and notebook components – XMG’s Clevo-made U706 did the same thing.

PC Specialist’s machine is powered by the Core i7-6700. It’s the most modest chip from Intel’s desktop Skylake i7: its four Hyper-Threaded cores run at 3.4GHz with a Turbo Boost peak of 4GHz, and the chip has 8MB of L3 cache and a 65W power requirement.

The Octane grabs attention by locking and loading a desktop chip, but there’s not much between the basic i7-6700 and the mobile i7-6700HQ that’s used in the MSI and the latest revisions of the Alienware 15. The i7-6700HQ runs at 2.6GHz with a Turbo peak of 3.5GHz, and it’s still got those four Hyper-Threaded cores.

PC Specialist Octane

Elsewhere the Octane is more conventional. It’s got 16GB of DDR4 memory clocked to 2,133MHz. The boot drive is a 256GB Samsung SM951 M.2 SSD, and it’s alongside a 1TB Toshiba hard disk. That’s an entirely normal storage loadout for a high-end gaming notebook in 2016.

Graphical grunt comes from the GTX 980M. It’s the most popular Nvidia mobile chip right now – no surprise, since it’s top-of-the-range silicon. The chip has 1,536 stream processors and a 1,038MHz base clock, and PC Specialist has opted for the full-fat version of the chip with 8GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory. It’s a step up from both rivals – they used the GTX 970M.

There’s another area where the PC Specialist eases ahead of the competition: specification options. Every part of this machine can be altered. The screen can be switched for a 2,880 x 1,620 panel or even a 4K variant, and processor options range from the cheaper i5-6400 to the high-end i7-6700K. Memory choices run from 4GB to 32GB, and the graphics core can be switched down to the GTX 970M.

There are dozens of storage options for multiple SSDs and hard disks, and the Octane can also be augmented by sound cards, 4G cards, spare batteries and different networking options.

It’s almost infinitely customisable. The cheapest manageable model – I’ve opted for a 500GB hard disk and 8GB of memory with Core i5 and GTX 970M silicon – costs £1,168. Ramp the components up to stratospheric levels, meanwhile, and the price soars beyond £2,000.

The Octane also comes with a more generous warranty than its rivals. PC Specialist’s default deal is a three-year labour deal that includes a year of parts coverage, and two more comprehensive levels of coverage are available. The Alienware has a single year of next-business-day protection. The MSI also has a one-year deal.

The most disappointing part of the Octane’s feature set is its lack of software – the only third-party tool installed here is Bulldog Security, which did nothing but serve up intrusive pop-ups. The MSI and Alienware machines both have apps for LED customisation, fan modes, audio tools and network optimisation. I tend to find these apps mixed, but at least other laptops give the user those options.

Screen & Sound Quality

In most departments the Octane’s 1080p matte screen is good, but not great. The measured contrast ratio of 909:1 is good enough to deliver vibrant colours and rich black tones, and the individual measurements are both decent: the brightness level of 318 nits is ample, and the black level of 0.35 nits is deep.

The colour temperature of 7,088K is only a little too cool, and the average Delta E of 3.45 is fine for gaming – not quite below 2, as I prefer, but close enough that the difference won’t be obvious. The Octane’s panel rendered 86.4% of the sRGB colour gamut, and didn’t fall down in any one area: it’s just a little short when rendering reds, pinks, purples and some light greens and blues. Again, that’s not something I’d notice during gameplay or other tasks.

Viewing angles are fine, and uniformity is reasonable. The panel loses a middling 10% of its brightness along the top edge, and only 5% across its middle and bottom row. That’s a decent result, and colour temperature didn’t vary much either – it only warmed up by 6% at its worst. The biggest issue in this department was the occasional bit of backlight bleed, which occurred in sharper areas along the top edge and in wider, weaker bands along the bottom of the screen. They’re only noticeable if the entire screen is dark – and they’ll only be obvious if frantic gameplay has slowed down.

PC Specialist Octane

This screen might not stand out with extreme levels of quality in any one department, but it never falls behind in any crucial area. There’s a lot to be said for such consistent, decent results. Games look good, with black levels and contrast that can do justice to darker areas while picking out colours and detail in the rest of the range. Colour accuracy is solid, too.

The Octane’s panel competes well with rivals. It’s just as good as the Alienware, with similar contrast and better colour temperature despite its poorer Delta E figures. The MSI’s panel has better colour temperature and contrast, which means I prefer that panel – but the PC Specialist isn’t far behind.

The audio kit is similarly comprehensive. There’s a decent thump of bass, a well-defined mid-range and a high-end that’s distinct without being too tinny. It’s absolutely fine for gaming, but it lacks the bite, clarity and liveliness that personifies the best laptop speakers.

PC Specialist Octane

Keyboard and Trackpad

The Octane has a traditional keyboard – similar to the Alienware 15, and miles away from the SteelSeries-made Scrabble-tile unit on the MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro.

The increased size and height of the keys only bodes well for gaming. The Octane’s buttons have more travel than the MSI’s keys, and they depress with consistency and speed – more than enough to play the fastest games without complaint.

As with several other aspects of the Octane, I only have minor complaints. There’s a little bit of travel in the keyboard’s base, which doesn’t compare well to the rock-solid Alienware, and the PC Specialist’s keys aren’t quite as snappy and rapid as the Alienware’s buttons. The Octane also doesn’t the macro keys and other special features found on some gaming notebooks.

The trackpad is reasonable. I like its friction-free surface, but the two discrete buttons are a little too soft – definitely less responsive and snappy than the MSI’s hardware. As ever, truly competitive gamers will want to deploy a USB rodent.

Battery Life

The Octane is supplied with a removable 82Wh battery. That’s an entirely normal power pack for a conventional gaming notebook specification, so it’s no surprise that this machine’s longevity was predictable.

PC Specialist’s machine lasted for three hours and fourteen minutes in the PCMark standard battery test with the screen at 40% brightness. That’s exactly what I expect from a gaming notebook, and it falls between the competition. MSI’s machine was about half an hour worse, but Alienware’s machine confounded expectations with a five hour lifespan.

That result means that the Octane won’t last long away from the plug with the screen at full brightness and games at full pelt – expect about an hour before low battery warnings start to appear. This machine will handle a bit of gaming on the daily commute, but nothing more.


The Octane deploys Nvidia’s best single-core mobile graphics chip, and it blitzed the games tests without breaking a sweat. With every graphics option in Bioshock Infinite turned up it still averaged a smooth 79fps, and it then rattled through Battlefield 4’s Ultra settings at 67fps. Crysis 3 is the toughest test title, but it still averaged a mighty 64fps. There’s enough power here to play games at 1080p – and to output to 1440p panels using the machine’s DisplayPort or HDMI connectors.

That’s a fair way ahead of its GTX 970M-powered rivals. The MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro’s Bioshock and Battlefield 4 scores of 61fps and 52fps are reasonable but a long way back, and the Alienware 15 could only manage 71fps in Bioshock.

PC Specialist Octane

The clear air between the Octane and its rivals is illustrated by 3D Mark Fire Strike. PC Specialist’s machine scored 8,586 points. That’s at least 2,000 points ahead of the competition.

The Octane’s desktop processor rattled through Geekbench 3 to a score of 15,932. That is excellent: a couple of thousand points beyond the i7-6700HQ in the MSI. It also scored 806cb in Cinebench R15 – better than the MSI’s 639cb. It’s clearly a capable chip that won’t balk at any intensive work software or the latest games.

The SSD is fast, too. Its sequential read and write speeds of 1,836MB/s and 1,265MB/s are stoking – a little ahead of the MSI and miles ahead of the SATA drive inside the Alienware. The Samsung drive is about as quick as it gets right now, which means optimal loading times.

With the processor and graphics core individually stress-tested they peaked at modest temperatures of 72 and 68 degrees, and with both components tested simultaneously those results rose to 83 and 75 degrees. They’re good results that didn’t cause the key chips to throttle, and the cooling system also ensured that hot air was ejected from the rear of the machine. That’s good, because it means there’s no danger of gamers’ laps being unduly warmed by toasty internals.

The modest temperatures were accompanied by reasonable noise. There’s a noticeable whirr from this machine – as I expect from any gaming portable – but it’s quieter than both of its rivals. That’s important if the user is relying on speakers rather than a headset.

PC Specialist Octane

Should I Buy the PC Specialist Octane?

This is an unashamedly old-school gaming laptop. It’s packed with fast hardware that’s got the power to scythe through the latest games, and its 1080p screen offers high enough quality levels that the latest titles look great while running smoothly.

It’s good ergonomically, with a fine keyboard and trackpad. It’s got internal access, plenty of ports, and solid speakers.

The Octane’s retro style does mean that this system suffers in some areas. It’s far thicker and heavier than its rivals, and its battery life is underwhelming.

PC Specialist’s Octane makes no major mistakes, but that size could be an issue for anyone who wants a lighter system to carry around – and it’s also a little pricier than the competition. If power is more important than portability, though, this is excellent.


The PC Specialist Octane is an old-school gaming laptop that crams hugely powerful hardware inside a thick, heavy chassis.

Scores In Detail

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


Nikon D500 vs D7200 Specifications Comparison

Here is a quick review and comparison for the Nikon D500 vs D7200 DSLR cameras with APS-c sized image sensors.

To see the difference between Nikon D500 vs D7200 digital SLR cameras we have put together Nikon D500 vs D7200 specs comparison table below.

Nikon D500 camera $1,999.95 – (Amazon | B&H | Adorama) features a 20.9-megapixel APS-C sensor that’s coupled with the new Expeed 5 image processor found in the D5. It also has the same 153-point AF system with 99 cross-type sensor and can able to shoot continuously at 10 fps with a 200 shot buffer for Raw images. See the offcial announcement.

Nikon D7200 camera $1,196.95 – (Amazon | B&H | Adorama) a 24.2 megapixel CMOS sensor with no optical low-pass filter powered by an EXPEED 4 image processor and comes with next-generation 51-point AF module with increased low-light sensitivity. The D7200 comes with built-in Wi-Fi with NFC and an improved 100-shot buffer depth when shooting JPEGs at 6 fps (18 14-bit or 27 12-bit Raw files).

Specifications Comparison of Nikon D500 vs D7200 Cameras


Below you can see the specs comparison table of Nikon D500 vs D7200 digital SLR cameras. Some differences like sensor, image size, shooting speed, lcd size etc.. detailed as bold on the table.

Feature Nikon D500 Nikon D7200
Effective Pixels (megapixels) 20.9 Million 24.2 Million
Sensor Type CMOS CMOS
Sensor Size 23.5×15.7mm 23.5×15.6mm
Sensor Pixel Size 4.22µ 3.92µ
Low Pass Filter No No
Sensor Dust Reduction Yes Yes
Image Size 5,568 x 3,712 6,000 x 4,000
Image Processor EXPEED 5 EXPEED 4
Viewfinder Type Pentaprism Pentaprism
Viewfinder Coverage 100% 100%
Viewfinder Magnification 1.0x 0.91x
Built-in Flash No Yes, with flash commander mode
Storage Media 1x XQD, 1x SD 2x SD
Continuous Shooting Speed 10 FPS 6 FPS, 7 FPS in 1.3x Crop Mode
Buffer Size (RAW, Lossless 14-bit) 200 18
Continuous Shooting 20 seconds 3 seconds
Max Shutter Speed 1/8000 to 30 sec 1/8000 to 30 sec
Shutter Durability 200,000 cycles 150,000 cycles
Exposure Metering Sensor 180,000-pixel RGB sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering III 2,016-pixel RGB sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering II
Base ISO ISO 100 ISO 100
Native ISO Sensitivity ISO 100-51,200 ISO 100-25,600
Boosted ISO Sensitivity ISO 102,400-1,640,000 ISO 51,200-102,400 (B&W only)
Autofocus System 153-point, 99 cross-type AF system 51-point, 15 cross-type AF system
AF Detection Up to f/8 Up to f/8
AF Detection Range -4 to +20 EV -3 to +19 EV
Auto AF Fine-Tune Yes No
Articulating LCD Yes No
Flicker Detection Yes No
Video Output MOV, MPEG-4 / H.264 MOV, MPEG-4 / H.264
Video Maximum Resolution 3,840×2,160 (4K) up to 30p 1920×1080 (1080p) up to 60p
LCD Size 3.2″ diagonal TFT touch-sensitive LCD with 170° viewing angle 3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD
LCD Resolution 2,359,000 dots 1,228,800 dots
Illuminated Buttons Yes No
Articulating LCD Yes No
Touchscreen LCD Yes No
Built-in GPS No No
Built-in Bluetooth Yes No
Built-in Wi-Fi / NFC Built-in, with NFC Built-in, with NFC
Battery EN-EL15 Lithium-ion Battery EN-EL15 Lithium-ion Battery
Battery Life 1,240 shots (CIPA) 1,110 shots (CIPA)
Weather Sealed Body Yes Yes
USB Version 3.0 2.0
Weight (Body Only) 760g 675g
Dimensions 147 x 115 x 81mm 135.5 × 106.5 × 76mm
MSRP Price $1,996.95 (as introduced) $1,199.95 (as introduced)

Nikon-D500-vs-D7200-TopNikon D500 vs D7200 Top

Nikon-D500-vs-D7200-BackNikon D5500 vs D7200 back view


Sony HT-RT5 review

  • A pricey soundbar system with plenty of features, but doesn’t deliver satisfying surround sound
  • Clear and detailed sound
  • Fast, attacking delivery
  • Excellent features and connectivity
  • Useful set-up and remote control
  • Surround experience isn’t satisfying
  • Rival soundbars offer neater solutions and more engaging performances

The Sony HT-RT5 is not your typical soundbar. It’s a hybrid: half soundbar, half surround package.

If you want the convenience of a soundbar, but still want proper surround sound with the help of rear speakers, this ‘home theatre system’ is for you. All you need is space to put the kit, and a spare £600/$900.

Build and design

Sony calls the HT-RT5 a 5.1 system, consisting three drivers (a tweeter and two woofers) housed inside the bar, two rear speakers and a sub. The main bar is long and slim, with a sloped front so it doesn’t obstruct the screen.

All components are built to a high standard.

But the HT-RT5 isn’t as neat a solution as a straightforward soundbar. You still need to find space for the two compact rear speakers, which connect wirelessly to the main bar and need to be plugged into the mains (unlike those of a Philips Fidelio B5). The same goes for the rather large subwoofer.

Sony helpfully provides an auto-calibration set-up and mic with the system, so you can get the best possible surround sound from the HT-RT5 – just like you would with a traditional speaker package.

Make sure the rear speakers are placed equidistant from the bar, and the calibration will sort out the rest. It’s quick and accurate, and you can tweak the speaker settings manually in the menu.


Once calibrated, play the Mad Max: Fury Road Blu-ray and let the HT-RT5 roar into life. The soundbar delivers detail with clarity and speed, with each utterance and guttural sound effect crisply conveyed. It’s fast, attacking and refined. But that’s where the good news stops.

There’s little weight or punch to the Sony’s performance. It’s too thin, with the midrange needing more solidity to convince. With music, that disconnection between the treble and bass is more pronounced, despite the clarity and subtle detail.

The top end is thin and hardens up easily, leaving you with little natural warmth or enjoyment.

More worryingly, there’s little sense of any cohesion between the channels because of poor integration between the speakers. The HT-RT5 doesn’t spread sound wide enough, leaving a huge gap between soundbar and the rear speakers.

There’s decent control over the dynamics, with quieter moments making their mark against the thunderous action. But we want more authority to underpin that insightful detail.

Connectivity and features

Sony has taken pains to ensure the HT-RT5 has everything you need for a cinematic experience. It offers a generous three HDMI inputs and one output, which all support 4K passthrough and DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. A single optical output is also available.

The HT-RT5 uses Sony’s own LDAC codec for higher quality streaming over Bluetooth (instead of the more popular aptX), while the soundbar also features NFC, wi-fi and ethernet, Spotify Connect and support for Google Cast.

It can also be part of a multi-room system, using the SongPal app to link other Sony products together.

Sony deserves credit for its remote control. The slim wand is instinctive to use, with buttons that are responsive and logically placed.


But those extensive features don’t make up for that disappointing performance. Despite Sony’s intentions, the HT-RT5’s thin, hard sound isn’t exciting or engaging, and those rear speakers fail to deliver on the promise of true surround sound.

They also make the HT-RT5 a clunky system; you might as well opt for a full 5.1 speaker package if you have enough space for this system’s components.

There are alternatives, such as the Philips Fidelio B5, that do the job better. It’s £50/$75 cheaper, too. Sony’s HT-RT5 may have refinement and clarity, but the lack of engagement and an insubstantial sound means that it can’t justify that premium price tag.


Intel Compute Stick review (2016): Second time’s the charm

I had high hopes for Intel’s original Compute Stick, but it ended up being a massive disappointment. Sure, it was cool to have a fully functional computer the size of a few thumb drives. But it was awfully slow and limited in some truly baffling ways (only one USB port?!). Now with Intel’s second-gen Compute Stick ($159), it’s another story entirely. It may look similar, but it packs in enough upgrades — a faster processor, better networking and more USB ports — to actually make it a usable computer.

  • Powerful enough for most computing tasks
  • Inexpensive
  • Very portable
  • 2GB of RAM limits multi-tasking
  • Still needs to be plugged into an AC adapter

Intel’s new Compute Stick bundles just about everything you’d need for a basic computer into a compact, inexpensive package.And unlike its predecessor, it works.


The first Compute Stick felt like a prototype that left Intel’s labs before designers ever laid their eyes on it. This new model, on the other hand, looks and feels like a solid piece of consumer kit. Instead of a boring rectangular design, it has smooth curves and perforated openings for its tiny fans (previously they looked like cheap fan grilles molded into plastic).

Even though it’s a device that’ll mostly live behind monitors, it’s also meant to be portable, so being attractive is a plus, as you’re bound to show it off. It feels more solid in your hand, thanks to a tasteful balance of matte and glossy plastic. Heck, even the placement of the Intel Inside logo seems better (it’s now lower on the device instead of in the middle and has less garish coloring).

Intel has also included two USB ports this time around (one of them USB 3.0), so that you can connect a keyboard and mouse without resorting to a hub. (If you were one of the readers who thought I was being unfair by complaining about the first model’s single USB port, this is why. It’s not as if Intel couldn’t fit in another port the first time around, and a USB hub kind of defeats the purpose of such a compact device!) I tested the Compute Stick with a wireless keyboard and mouse, so I only needed to use one of the USB ports for a wireless dongle. But the extra port came in handy for transferring files and updating the BIOS without removing my input devices.

Once again, the Compute Stick features a microSD slot for an additional 128GB of storage (on top of the 32GB of internal storage). There’s also a micro-USB port for the power adapter. You still need to plug it into an AC adapter, unfortunately, which makes it a tad less portable than it may appear at first. An Intel spokesperson said the company is looking into the SuperMHL standard, which could power future models entirely over HDMI. A small power button lives on the side of the Compute Stick, and this time around there’s a small cap to protect the HDMI connector. That should make it less dangerous to chuck it in your bag or pocket.

If your HDMI ports are too crowded on your TV or monitor, Intel has also packed in a small HDMI extension cord to give the Compute Stick a bit of breathing room.

Setup and performance

Installing the Compute Stick was a cinch: I plugged it into my TV, connected the power adapter and plugged in the wireless dongle for my keyboard and mouse. It booted up immediately, and it took about four minutes for me to run through the initial Windows 10 setup process. After a reboot, it took another five minutes to plug in my Windows login details and wait for my user account to bake. That may seem a tad lengthy, but it’s on par with what I’ve seen while setting up other Atom-based computers.

Intel Compute Stick (2016) (1.4GHz Atom x5-Z8300) 2,419 2,677 E610 / P382 92 MB/s (reads); 176 MB/s (writes)
Intel Compute Stick (2015) (1.3GHz Atom Z3735F, Intel HD Graphics) 2,320 1,544 E266 / P173 77 MB/s (reads); 175 MB/s (writes)
Microsoft Surface 3(1.6GHz Atom x7-Z8700, Intel HD Graphics) 2,839 3,920 E941 / P552 163 MB/s (reads); 39.2 MB/s (writes)
HP Stream 11(2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840, Intel HD Graphics) 2,607 N/A E374 168 MB/s (reads); 72 MB/s (writes)

Once I hit the desktop, I immediately opened up Microsoft Edge and then YouTube to test the Compute Stick’s media capabilities. It loaded 1080p streams far faster than the previous model, though there was a bit of slowdown as I swapped between full-screen and windowed views. But, feeling a bit cheeky, I also played some 4K streams and was surprised to see the Compute Stick managing them just fine. Occasionally it would get stuck on a frame and then catch itself back up, but the fact that it was able to load and play 4K without any buffering or major slowdown is still notable. Of course, the Compute Stick’s 1.44GHz Atom x5-z8300 processor was pretty much maxed out while playing 4K, but that’s not terribly surprising.

After suffering through slow download speeds with the original Compute Stick, I was surprised to see that the new model doesn’t have any issue bringing down large 4K files. That’s mainly due to improved networking hardware: a 2×2 antenna array and 802.11ac WiFi support. The first Compute Stick only had a single WiFi antenna, which limited its overall speed and also made it tough to both download and upload data at the same time.

Emboldened by its YouTube performance, I started using the Compute Stick as I would a typical computer. I loaded several browsers with multiple tabs; opened multiple programs in the background, including Spotify and Slack; and proceeded to go about my usual workflow. And, surprisingly, the experience wasn’t half bad. The Compute Stick slowed down a bit as I quickly alt-tabbed between programs or streamed Spotify music while downloading large files; but while the first model felt too slow for comfort, this one simply feels comfortable.

It wasn’t long before I felt the limits of its limited 2GB of RAM, though. While that used to be all you needed for a decent computing experience, these days browsers and most web pages eat up memory quickly. Hopefully next year Intel will be able to include 4GB of RAM in its base Compute Stick (this year’s upcoming faster models all include 4GB of RAM).

As the benchmarks show, this Compute Stick is significantly faster when it comes to 3D. And while its PCMark 7 score is only marginally faster, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Real-world performance matters a lot more to me than benchmark numbers, and doing just about everything on the Compute Stick felt significantly faster than it did with last year’s version. The new model even managed to play some simple games, likeHotline Miami 2 and Undertale, which the original version couldn’t even touch.

One potential issue for some: The Compute Stick’s tiny fan made itself known while I was running benchmarks, even though it was about 12 feet away from me in my living room. Thankfully, I didn’t hear it much during normal usage. But it’s not the sort of device I’d leave running high-load tasks (or at least, as much as you can make the Atom x5 do) in my bedroom overnight.

Mostly I’m impressed by just how versatile the new Compute Stick happens to be. It’s more than powerful enough for kiosks and computer labs, but it can also be a solid cheap home theater computer. I was able to access network shares on my desktop and play back HD video files without any issue.

Configuration options and the competition

This year, Intel isn’t going to offer a cheaper model of the Compute Stick (last year, there was a Linux-focused model for $110 with a 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM), but that seems like a wise choice. Instead, the company is going a bit higher end.

Upcoming Compute Stick models will include Core M3 and Core M5 processors for $399 and $499, respectively. They also pack in 4GB of RAM, which means we should expect performance along the lines of slower Ultrabooks, and three USB ports (two on the power adapter). Intel says both models can spit out 4K video at 30Hz, and the Core M5 version (which doesn’t come with an OS) also includes its vPro hardware-level security technology. Of course, they don’t offer the same amount of value as the cheaper $159 model, but I’m still intrigued to see how much power Intel can stuff into this tiny case. You can bet we’ll put them through their paces when they’re available.

You might be tempted to grab last year’s Compute Stick at an even cheaper price or the (practically identical) Lenovo Ideacentre Stick for around $100, but I’d advise against that, unless you enjoy torturing yourself. There are also a handful of other PC sticks out there, but most of them use slower CPUs than the new Compute Stick. If you want a simple stick for web browsing, the $85 ASUS Chromebit will let you bring Chrome OS to any monitor. (I didn’t include this in the benchmark table, but the new Compute Stick clocked in a 550ms SunSpider browser test score while running Edge, compared with the Chromebit’s slower score of 780ms score. Do with that what you will.)


Well, Intel did it. The Compute Stick bundles just about everything you’d need for a basic computer into a compact, inexpensive package, and unlike its predecessor, it works. It’s no wonder we named it one of our Best of CES finalists this year. If you have a spare monitor laying around, you could easily turn that into a machine for your kids or some sort of household kiosk. And no matter how you use it, it’ll make you rethink your notion of what a PC can be.


2014 Honda CRF125F First Ride Review

  • Smooth engine power
  • Clutch and transmission are easy to use
  • Electric start and fun to ride!
  • None – this is a fun, and affordable motorcycle to learn how to ride on.

Honda’s line of junior-sized dirt bikes has nurtured young riders for decades. And Big Red is poised to carry the newbie torch for years to come with its freshly released Honda CRF125F (starting at $2799). Available in standard and Big Wheel variations, Honda’s latest trail bike replaces the CRF80F and 100F models and offers owners more bang for their buck than ever before.

Pictured is the big wheel-equipped CRF125F ($3199) that rolls on 19/16-inch wheel combo compared to the 17/14-inchers on the standard machine.

A fun ride and easy operation were the main goals for Honda’s latest trail bike. To achieve these, engineers fitted a larger displacement engine. Still air-cooled for simplicity sake, the 125cc four-stroke Single employs a longer piston stroke compared to the 80 and 100 CRFs boosting torque and making it more adept at tackling inclines or hills. The engine is still fueled through a carburetor and 1.1-gallon gas tank. Additionally, the motor can run on regular 87-octane gasoline instead of the more expensive premium blend.

The CRF125F big wheel features the identical seat height of the outgoing CRF100F at 30.9 inches.

Electric start was added and the engine lights with a simple push of the button. A kickstart lever remains as a backup in case the battery runs out of juice. Either method performed flawlessly and we were especially pleased by how little muscle the kickstart lever demanded.

(Top) Honda’s venerable air-cooled four-stroke Single gets a longer stroke engine boosting displacement to 125cc. (Center) Suspension was cozy for our 110-pound tester. This made it easy for her to get a feel for it on the dirt. (Bottom) The cockpit of the CRF125F is neutral-feeling and functions well for tall and short riders alike. We also love that the CRF now offers the push-button convenience of electric start.

“It’s smooth,” says our lady tester and novice-level rider, Mayra Tinajero, when asked to describe the CRF’s motor performance. “When you go to give it throttle, the way it takes off is so easy. It’s never jerky and I always felt in control.”

Power is transferred to the back knobby tire through a four-speed transmission and manual, cable-actuated clutch. Lever pull is light yet has a positive and responsive actuation akin to a premium, full-sized motorcycle. Paired with the engine’s low-end grunt this CRF is easy to get moving forward from a standstill. Although the gearbox no longer offers fifth gear you won’t miss it due to the 125’s broader powerband.

The Honda is styled after its top-of-the-line CRF450R and CRF250R motocross bikes.

“It’s really easy to shift,” shares Tinajero. “So for anybody new to riding that is stressed about controlling the throttle, the brake, your feet, just know that it’s really easy with the 125. That’s something that definitely alleviates the mind when you’re starting out.”

As she points out it is an easy-shifting bike that delivers precise feel at the shift lever along with an audible and reassuring thud when the next gear is engaged. Finding neutral position (between first and second gears) at a stop was equally simple.

The standard CRF125F rolls on 17-inch front and 14-inch rear spoked wheels with a seat height at 28.9 inches (identical to the outgoing CRF80F). Taller riders will appreciate the $400 more expensive Big Wheel which makes use of a larger 19/16-inch combo boosting saddle height by two inches and ground clearance by 2.1 inches (the same seat measurement as the ’13 CRF100F). It also uses a larger 49-tooth rear sprocket compared to the standard model’s 46-tooth piece (due to the larger diameter of the wheel).

Suspension and brakes are the same on both options, with a non-adjustable fork soaking up bumps at the front and a spring preload-adjustable shock providing rear damping. Front suspension travel is rated at 5.5 inches with the back measurement coming in at 4.5 inches for the standard model. The Big Wheel CRF gets added travel with nearly six inches fore and aft.

“The suspension was awesome,” said 110-pound Tinajero who spent most of the afternoon riding the standard model. “Going over any rough spots or jumps, and around turns it was great. It was smooth riding all the time.”

(Top) Honda’s all-new CRF125F makes use of a larger engine that produces more torque. This not only makes it easier to ride but more fun, too. (Center) Both CRF125F models get a 220mm cross-drilled hydraulic disc brake up front. (Bottom) Big smiles are what the CRF125F is all about. It’s a great learning tool for beginners and plenty fun to play around for seasoned riders, too.

Braking components consist of a 220mm front cross-drilled disc clamped by a twin-piston caliper actuated hydraulically with a simple and more cost-oriented lever-operated drum brake keeping rear wheel speed in check. Both brakes provided effective stopping power and were easy to operate. Another plus is how grippy the OE tires are even on silty hard-pack.

While our 5’5” tester got along with the smaller wheeled version, she still felt the larger wheeled version would be the right one for someone her size.

“I felt a little big on the small one,” she said. “It was still comfortable and really fun to ride, but I think I would outgrow it kind of fast. If I had to choose, I’d probably go with the bigger one.”

Much to my surprise the larger wheeled CRF was adequate for my six-foot tall frame, too. Obviously I was a little cramped but not enough to keep me from blasting across berms all the while grinning like a Slurpee-drunk schoolboy beneath my helmet.

And that in essence is the coolest thing about the CRF125F—it’s friendly and non-intimidating for a novice yet still delivers adequate performance for more seasoned riders.

“I would completely recommend this bike for someone that is looking to start out riding and hasn’t necessarily had a whole lot of experience,” sums up Tinajero. “It’s definitely an excellent bike to start out on.”


Ducati Diavel Strada First Ride Review

It is fairly obvious to anyone who has spent more than a few minutes on this site that the staff of MotoUSA love the Ducati Diavel. When it was introduced in 2011, it hit the cruiser/standard/streetfighter scene with more controversy than any motorcycle from Ducati since the 999. And with good reason. What is it? Is it a cruiser? Yes. Is it a standard? Absolutely. Streetfighter? Sure. What about a tourer? Not exactly. The lack of wind protection and storage made long stretches in the saddle a blustery and minimalist experience.

Ducati now has a solution for those looking to strike out past the horizon on its muscle-bound cruiser, the 2013 Ducati Diavel Strada. For the 2013 model year the Italian marque has bestowed the Strada treatment to both the Diavel and Hypermotard to broaden their demographic appeal with touring features. But does the concept really work? Do bags, a windscreen and a few other tweaks make for a touring motorcycle?

The equipment change list for the Diavel Strada from the standard model is not long, but it is notable. Most prominent is a windscreen mounted above the Duc’s headlight and a set of molded textile side bags. A rear backrest and grab handles up the passenger amenities, while the entire seat gets more padding without raising the low 30.3-inch reach to the pavement.

The 2013 Ducati Diavel Strada gets a windshield, bags, passenger backrest and more comfortable bars over the standard model.

We are glad to see the Strada treatment didn’t dilute the Diavel’s performance one bit.

The handlebars are swept back 2.4 inches further than the standard and rise just over a half inch as well. Revised foot peg placement adds to the more relaxed rider position. Heated grips and two auxiliary power outlets finish off the transformation to a Strada. These changes add 13 pounds to the overall weight, tipping the MotoUSA digital scales at 540 pounds with a full tank of fuel.

All other details and specs are identical to the standard model, including the 1198.4cc Testastretta 11, L-Twin powerplant that cranked out 137.62 rear-wheel horsepower and 81.99 lb-ft of torque on the MotoUSA dyno. Twisting the throttle on the Diavel Strada brings forth acceleration unmatched by any stock cruiser or tourer. Wheelies and burnouts are a snap of the wrist away. For those not looking for such behavior, the engine’s output and delivery to the rear 240mm Pirelli can be tempered via Ducati’s Riding Modes (Sport, Touring and Urban) that can deliver as low as 100hp in the Urban setting. For me the choice was either Sport or Touring as the two settings give full power, but the later softens the initial hit for a more controlled response. No matter the mode, the Diavel Strada’s engine is one of our favorites.

The side bags of the 2013 Ducati Diavel Strada are smaller than we would like for a touring machine.

The split level gauges and info screens of the 2013 Ducati Diavel Strada are easy to see even in bright daylight.

One downside to the Diavel’s wonderful engine (besides the risk to your license) is the fuel economy and range. While testing we averaged 31.6 mpg with a combination of highway, back roads and city work combined with a overactive throttle hand. That gives you 142 miles out of the 4.5-gallon tank, not very good for a model meant for touring duty. The tank will be dry long before your body needs a break. Go easy and you could probably get closer to 40 mpg in touring or urban mode, but that only increases the Strada’s reach by another 40 miles. You want power? You’re gonna have to pay for it at the pump.

Another gripe with the Diavel Strada is with the two most obvious features of the machine – the windshield and the side bags. At highway speeds the air coming off of the shield takes the pressure off the rider’s chest but lands it squarely on the helmet. This causes quite a bit of buffeting and gets annoying quickly. Every tester that rode the Duc looked for an adjuster to raise or lower the screen to smooth the turbulence. Alas, there is no adjustment causing us to hunker down behind the shield, negating the comfortable bend of the handlebars and roomy cockpit.

The side bags on the Diavel Strada are not what we could classify as roomy, and to be honest they barely classify as adequate. The 10.8-gallon capacity is good enough for a couple changes of clothes, a pair of shoes, toiletries and not a whole lot more. Locking the bags requires the use of a combination luggage lock. Overall the bags feel like an afterthought especially when compared to the Ducati accessory bags for the Multi.

Suspension on the Strada is firm, but not too taut to make life on the super slabs uncomfortable. You will want to avoid contact with potholes and ridiculously rough pavement, but the solid ride has an upside. When the road goes ‘round the bend the Diavel will blow other cruisers and touring cruisers into the weeds. Turn-in effort is slightly heavy thanks to that massive meat at the back, but once it’s leaned over the feel is so stable you’ll think of taking a shot at streetfighters and standards in the bends. Yes, the weight can be an issue if you come in too hot, but ride within the very generous safe zone and you’ll be rewarded with a bike that handles far better than expected. This is where the Diavel Strada shines. Pick a mountain or curvy coastline and enjoy the sure-footed handling and copious amounts of power on tap.

As mentioned before, the Diavel will run out of go-juice before your body needs a break thanks to an easy reach to the bars and extra cushion in the seat. Five-hundred-mile days are achievable, and you’ll arrive no worse for wear. It just takes a little longer due to the extra fuel stops. The heated grips are a very nice feature to have and heat up quickly with three levels of warming goodness.

The larger 240mm rear tire requires extra effort to lean into a turn initially, but once in the turn the steering is light and stable.

Overall the Diavel Strada is a great bike, and we still love it for its wonderful engine, stable handling and unmistakable Ducati-ness. The added comfort makes it a bike that you can tour on – if you are willing to accept it for its diminutive saddlebag capacity, short fuel range and less than perfect windscreen. Unfortunately the Diavel Strada is not the very best bike to chew up miles. For that, Ducati offers the Multistrada. But if your idea of touring is traveling light, stopping more often and enjoying what’s along the way, the 2013 Ducati Diavel Strada is one of the coolest ways to do just that.


2014 Kymco MyRoad 700i First Ride Review

  • Strong and easy-to-use brakes
  • Great throttle response
  • Ample storage
  • Way too heavy and bulky feeling
  • Clumsy low speed handling
  • Lacks refinement; could have better build quality

Motorcycles come in all shapes and sizes and those that seek a full-sized riding experience without the extra effort of a manual-style clutch or gear shifter might consider the 2013 Kymco MyRoad 700i ($9699). This Taiwanese-built scooter combines the power of a mid-sized motorcycle with the everyday and around town convenience of a moped.

The MyRoad is the brand’s top-of-the-the-line offering. Under the hood it boasts a 700cc Parallel Twin engine that is liquid-cooled and fed from a 4.0 gallon fuel tank via fuel injection. It puts power to the pavement through a belt drive and continuously variable-style automatic transmission. This simplifies the riding experience and makes accelerating from a stop as simple as a twist of the wrist with no gears to change as speed increases.

Pop open the seat and the MyRoad has a fair amount of storage, capable of swallowing just over 13 gallons of gear. A smaller storage pocket for a cell phone or camera is just beneath the handlebar while the fuel cap is hidden on the other side. Another nice touch is the tail section has passenger grab handles that can double as a mounting point for bungee cords to hold more gear.

(Top) The MyRoad 700i has a comfy saddle and a fair amount of storage beneath the seat. (Center) The cockpit is cramped for a taller rider with our six-foot tall tester complaining that the handlebar would occasionally touch his knees. (Bottom) Instrumentation is functional however its appearance is dated and not at the level we’d expect based on the MyRoad’s lofty price tag.

Press the starter button and the engine fires right to life, well, most of the time. Curiously, on occasion we had to depress the red button a couple times before the engine would light. Once fired it settles into idle with no other hiccups. Twist the throttle and it rolls forward smoothly without lurching. The throttle’s accurate response paired to the engine’s mild low-end power are a great recipe and make the big Kymco less intimidating to ride, especially in situations that require a delicate throttle hand. Acceleration becomes brisker as the scooter gains momentum and it has enough passing power at freeway speeds and can even sprint in excess of 100 mph. The engine runs quietly, is smooth and free from vibration at all speeds. Due to the short nature of our ride we weren’t able to record actual fuel mileage.

The engine is positioned inside a sturdy double cradle steel chassis and rolls on a 15-inch front and 14-inch rear wheel shod with tubeless radial tires from Maxxis that are rated up to 112 miles per hour. A conventional fork and twin shocks soak up bumps and provide the push-button convenience of three-way electronic damping control. Meanwhile braking components consist of a pair of sturdy radial-mount four-piston calipers that latch on to 280mm discs up front with a smaller 240mm diameter disc and twin-piston caliper combo out back. The front and rear brakes also feature anti-lock functionality and can be used independently of one another (not linked).

Lifting it off its side or centerstand requires considerable effort due in part to its 608 pound weight without accounting for fuel or any other fluids. Also working against it is how large it is dimensionally. Nose-to-tail the Kymco measures 7.64 feet long with a wheelbase of 63.6 inches. It’s wide too, taking up nearly three feet of lane space. Its seat is also pretty lofty measuring 30.7 in. above the ground.

Seated at the controls the 700i has a relaxed riding position for a six-foot tall rider but the handlebar is too close and on occasion bumps into the knees. There also isn’t a whole of leg or foot room making the lower half of the cockpit feel cramped. Wind protection was decent despite the fixed height of the windscreen. The brake levers offer four-way position adjustment but curiously it’s opposite in comparison to Japanese and European motorcycles. Instrumentation is effective but appears dated giving the MyRoad a cheaper overall feel. The buttons also lack the tactile feel of a motorcycle in this price range.

(Top) The MyRoad 700i offers plenty of ground clearance and can be ridden briskly with no hard parts touching down against pavement. (Center) The MyRoad 700i’s ABS-equipped brakes are strong and very friendly to operate. We love that the brakes aren’t linked front to back, or vice versa. (Bottom) The MyRoad 700i is a capable tourer but needs additional refinement or a substantial price reduction to be a true contender in the class.

At parking lot speeds the MyRoad feels top heavy, but add velocity to the equation and its clumsiness fades. The suspension delivers a so-so ride and doesn’t respond as accurately to bumps as other motorcycles or scooters we’ve tested recently. This compromises ride quality and makes it less comfortable to ride on longer trips. Its electronic suspension damping also proved to be ineffective with no discernible change in ride in any of the three modes. Lean into turns and it responds predictably and has considerable ground clearance. At a moderate pace handling is acceptable but faster rides exposes a propensity to wander around the road slightly.

Stopping performance was strong and the brakes are easy to apply due to their mild initial pad-to-rotor bite as well as the well-sorted calibration of the ABS. It would be nice if it could be manually disabled if the rider so desires.

We applaud Kymco for finally bring over its premium 700cc scooter stateside. It’s got a smooth engine that’s plenty peppy on America’s open roads plus it has great brakes that are simple to use. Heck it even looks kind of of cool, too. Problem is it lacks the refinement necessary to compete at the top level based on its current price tag. If it could slash the price by a couple thousand or improve the calibration of the suspension and rework the cockpit it’d have a winner on its hands.


Suzuki Boulevard M50 First Ride Review

For Suzuki, “M” stands for “Muscle.” In this case, we’re talking about the 2013 Suzuki Boulevard M50, Suzuki’s mid-sized cruiser with the muscle bike styling of the company’s apex “M” class member, the M109R. The 50 part of the M50 equation comes from the displacement of the motorcycle’s V-Twin engine, 50 cubic-inches. Adding to its brawny disposition is a Softail-style frame with its single shock tucked neatly out of sight.

The M50 certainly looks the part of a muscle bike. The tires mounted on its cast aluminum wheels are thick and beefy. It sports Suzuki’s signature headlight cowling leading to low-rise handlebars on chrome pull-back risers set within easy reach for riders. Meaty slash-cut pipes streak down the right side and end at about the same point as the bob-tail rear fender. You can take off the removable pillion pad for an even more aggressive look or leave it on and invite your favorite partner along for the ride because its 805cc powerplant has enough pull to competently do double duty.

Throttle up the 45-degree V-Twin of the 2013 M50, dump the clutch and it hooks up pleasingly out of the blocks with a gratifying surge of low rev torque. A peek at the numbers on our dyno chart reveals the 2013 M50 reaches peak torque output of 43.78 lb-ft at 3300 rpm and is already in the 42 lb-ft range as early as 2700 rpm. Wind out first gear and it gives until hitting redline just short of 40 mph. The spread of power isn’t overly broad, with top horsepower (42 hp) coming on at 5900 rpm. Overall, power is decent without being overwhelming, making it an attractive option for riders still getting introduced to the world of motorcycling. Suzuki has off-set the engine’s crank pins to cut down vibrations without the use of a counterbalancer, so the bike doesn’t rattle your teeth at idle. As a package, the engine operates efficiently, averaging 43.27 mpg under conditions that varied from highway commuter miles to stoplight-to-stoplight city use.

The M50 carries much of its weight low between so the bike transitions fluidly and has decent clearance banked over.

2013 Suzuki Boulevard M50 Dyno Chart

Be it bar-hoppin’ or commuting, the Suzuki Boulevard M50 is up to the task.

The motorcycle’s rider-friendliness is one of its strong suits. The M50’s rider’s triangle is nice and compact, its footpegs at a comfortable stretch and 27.6-inch seat height allowing for sure-footing at a stop. The combination of a double-cradle frame, truss-style swingarm and an inverted fork set at a modest rake angle equate to an easy-handling motorcycle. The M50 carries much of its weight low between its 65.2-inch wheelbase, so the bike transitions side-to-side fluidly and has decent clearance banked over. Add in bars that provide solid leveraging and the M50’s manageability, whether leaning in at speed or putting around a parking lot, is high on the list of the bike’s best attributes. At speed it can be ridden into turns aggressively thanks to a wide contact patch that maintains stability in corners.

Upon initial inspection, we were a little suspect of what looked like a relatively small disc on the front, questioning whether it was up to the task of hauling in the momentum of an almost 600-pound motorcycle. Turns out, it’s a 300mm rotor and the twin-pot Tokico calipers have a solid bite. Used in conjunction with the drum rear, the M50’s brakes had no problems bringing the bike to a stop. Get on the rear hard, though, and it will lock up the back drum.

The analog speedo of the 2013 Suzuki M50 is mounted so that it’s easily visible.

A 50 cubic-inch 45-degree V-Twin lies at the heart of the 2013 M50.

Braking duties on the front of the 2013 is handled by a 300mm rotor and twin-pot Tokico calipers.

Ride quality overall is comfortable thanks to a well-padded seat, an inverted 41mm fork and a single hidden shock absorber on the back with seven-way spring preload adjustment. While the front and its 16-inch wheel felt consistently planted, the rear suspension had limited travel and occasionally was taxed to the limits of its compression with a 220-pound rider onboard.

One of the signature styling points in Suzuki’s ‘M’ class is the front cowling.

A neutral indicator, turn signals, and high beam indicator reside in a console on the M50’s tank a bit below a rider’s line of sight.

A shaft final drive spins the back wheel of the M50 with power consistently distributed throughout the rev range.

Hitting the highway and banging through gears, the M50’s five-speed transmission is well-sorted and transitions between gears are crisp and clean. Fifth gear is diverse enough to provide roll-on passing speed at 65 mph, yet it can settle into a steady cadence at 70 mph without climbing high in the rev range. While we had no issues with the clutch, we did catch our toe under the stock shift lever at times as the gap between the footpeg and lever is tight. The same concern ws expressed even by a petite rider with smaller feet. A shaft final drive spins the back wheel with power consistently distributed throughout the rev range.

The 2013 Suzuki M50 is a capable cruiser that is very rider-friendly, wherever the road may lead.

Instrumentation is fairly Spartan, the solo gauge integrated cleanly into the cowling and above the risers. The analog speedo has a big face and is highly visible. The top gauge also includes a small digital fuel gauge while a neutral indicator, turn signals, and high beam indicator reside in a console on the tank a bit below the line of sight. Lighting consists of bullet-style turn signals front and back while we noticed the red triangular LED taillight is highly visible when trailing the bike. While its headlight is on automatically after the bike is started, it switches off when you fire up the bike to reduce the load on the battery, a nifty feature.

The M50’s combination of a double-cradle frame, truss-style swingarm and an inverted fork set at a modest rake angle equate to an easy-handling motorcycle

If the M50’s got one fault, it’s the cost-saving measures used in its fit and finish. Hard plastic serves for covers, fenders and cowling and its cylinder fins lack the machining and styling of American V-Twins. The two plastic shields filling the gap between the fork and tank are flimsy and cheap. A Harley Sportster comes standard with steel fenders from the factory to go along with striking paint and lists for less than the $8799 sticker price of the 2013 M50, which just doesn’t match the quality of its competitor’s finish.

That’s not to say the 2013 Suzuki Boulevard M50 doesn’t have its own admirable qualities. It is a comfortable bike that’s easy to ride and handle. The M50 has enough power to dodge through traffic without overwhelming less-skilled riders and has an aggressive stance that gives it universal appeal, regardless of skill level. Its brakes are strong, tranny smooth, and its suspension provides a solid buffer against most of what the road throws at you. It is up to the task of bombing around town or making the daily commute and does so with Suzuki efficiency and a flash of muscle bike style.


Victory Hard-Ball First Ride Review

“Thanks, it is a good looking bike, isn’t it? No, I didn’t build it. Yeah, it’s totally stock. It’s a Victory Hard-Ball.” I felt like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” and was suffering from an acute case of deja vu. At every stoplight, every gas station and every parking lot at the 2013 Laughlin River Run I repeated the same script concerning the 2013 Victory Hard-Ball that I had for my dedicated ride during the weekend. I know it is a great looking machine, but I had no idea the attention it would garner over four days in the desert.

The Hard-Ball is the bad-boy of Victory’s cruiser line, replete with a menacing blackout treatment, ape-hanger bars and wire-spoke wheels. Around town the stance of the Hard-Ball commands respect and looks from just about anyone it rolls past. It’s a mean looking bagger but underneath that tough exterior is basically a Victory Cross Country. Sharing the same platform means civilized road manners, even with the grips at shoulder height and no windshield to knock down the wind at speed.

Unlock the top-opening sidebags, which are the same used on the Cross County model as well, and you’ll discover copious storage space that is easy to use.The reach to the bars is easy for my 5’10” frame, except on tight turns in parking lots with my feet on the floorboards. Shorter riders will have to do a little foot down peddling when negotiating tight quarters at full-lock. The low 26.3-inch seat height will allow most to get both feet flat on the ground. And, wow, is that seat good! After four days in the saddle I would say it is one of the best cruiser perches ever.

On the road, however, the cockpit feels more natural than it looks. The handling is light and neutral thanks to a very low center of gravity. The Hard-Ball rolls into corners with just a dip of the sky-high bars and completes an arc without much pressure from the legs or arms; it is wonderfully balanced.

Ride quality from the mean looking Victory is downright sweet. The air-adjustable rear shock soaks less than perfect bits of asphalt with a cushiness you wouldn’t expect from the Hard-Ball. Out front, the inverted cartridge fork is not quite as smooth as the rear, but it handles most pavement irregularities with control. Every so often a bridge seam or other square-edged bump will have a harsh feel from the fork, but 99% of the time it is well behaved.

The torque spread from the Victory Hard-Ball’s Freedom 106 V-Twin is broad and flat.

One feature of the Hard-Ball that matches its bad-ass look is Victory’s Freedom 106 engine. Although the tone of the motor is mellow coming from the long flat black dual mufflers, one twist of the wrist and the HB rockets forward with authority. The power comes on low, and the meat of the torque carries through the mid-range before tapering off as the rev limit approaches. Making a pass on the highways is easy as rolling the right grip, no downshifting needed.

The 2013 Victory Hard-Ball shares the same chassis and engine with the Cross Country.

The flat black paint job of the 2013 Victory Hard-Ball gives it a sinister look.

Victory transmissions and I have always has a bit of a love/hate relationship, and I’ve often been less than impressed with the shifting prowess in past models. The Hard-Ball, however, has me more pleased than before. Shifts are clunky from the 6-speed, but solid. Not once did I experience a false neutral or missed shift. I guess you could classify the feel as classicly American.

The Victory Hard-Ball’s ABS works well, but we wish the front brakes had more power.

ABS is standard on the Hard-Ball, and it works well. The long chassis helps keep things stable while braking hard, but the ABS does slow things down with control when grabbing a handful on lever and stomping on the pedal. And that is what it takes to get the system to activate, which I think is a good thing.

Overly intrusive ABS systems will turn my smile upside-down quicker than just about anything, but I was pleased with the Victory’s anti-lock. My only gripe is that the dual 300mm discs and four-piston calipers are a bit wooden and lack the outright power that should be on tap for any 800-pound cruiser.

The 2013 Victory Hard-Ball is my new favorite offering from the Minnesota manufacturer. The ride is comfortable for a blast down to the local hangout or to Sturgis and back, and the Freedom 106 V-Twin is too much damn fun. Even without a windshield this would be my pick of the Victory litter every time, no matter the situation. Not only for its fine road-going qualities, but also because it looks so bad-ass.


Samsung ATIV Book 9 Pro Review

The Pros

Bright and colorful UHD screen; Attractive aluminum design; Lots of ports; Solid speakers; Good overall performance

The Cons

Short battery life; Older, slower discrete graphics; No configuration options


Samsung’s 15-inch ATIV Book 9 Pro features an attractive aluminum body and a bright UHD screen, but weak battery life and underpowered graphics prevent it from being a top pick.

A 15-inch laptop designed for power users, Samsung’s premium ATIV Book 9 Pro ($1,600) packs some noteworthy features, including Nvidia 950M discrete graphics, a 3840 x 2160 UHD touch screen and a top-notch design. Inside, the system is powered by a speedy Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. But in an increasingly competitive market, the ATIV Book 9 Pro doesn’t quite do enough to keep up with the 15-inch MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 15.


Aside from a few polished metal accents on the sides, lid and elsewhere, the laptop’s pure black chassis looks quite stealthy. The body is constructed out of aluminum and is thin enough to give the system a pretty sleek profile. However, the matte finish picks up fingerprints and smudges too easily.

The ATIV Book 9 Pro measures 14.72 x 9.83 x 0.7 inches and weighs 4.45 pounds, which makes it slightly larger than both the 2015 MacBook Pro (14.13 x 9.73 x 0.71 inches and 4.49 pounds) and the XPS 15 (14.06 x 9.27 x 0.66 and 4.4 pounds),although there’s only a tenth of a pound difference in heft.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Even though key travel on the ATIV Book 9 Pro’s keyboard was only 1.07mm (1.5 to 1.6mm is more standard), in my experience typing felt swift and accurate. The keys’ 60-gram actuation weight helps prevent the keyboard from feeling too dead or lifeless, and the sturdy deck has very little flex.

The 4.2 x 3-inch touchpad features a ton of space to move around, and I like the thin strip of polished metal around its edge, which adds some subtle flair to an otherwise understated design. The touchpad’s surface is brushed metal that feels even smoother than the finish on the rest of the system, and with its quick and responsive movements to both clicks and gestures, the touchpad is a pleasure to use.


The 15.6-inch, 3840 x 2160 UHD touch screen on the ATIV Book 9 Pro is a joy to look at, but like other systems that feature an extra wide color range, certain hues are somewhat exaggerated. In the ATIV Book’s case, its display features a subtle green tint that made the paint on Tom Hiddleston’s face in the trailer for High Rise look more like Tiffany blue than the chalky sky blue I saw on other displays. That said, with an abundance of pixels to work with, the ATIV Book 9 Pro’s pictures and videos looked sharp and featured good black levels as well.

According to our colorimeter, the ATIV Book 9 Pro’s screen can reproduce 129 percent of the sRGB spectrum, which is much wider than the 86 of the MacBook Pro and the 107 percent of the Satellite Radius P55. However, the one panel that topped the Samsung’s color range was the UHD version of the XPS 15, which featured a super-vibrant color range of 191 percent.

The one area where the ATIV Book 9 Pro stumbled was in color accuracy, as it recorded a Delta-E rating of 9.5 (closer to zero is better). That’s worse than most of the other panels in this class, including the XPS 15 (0.7), the MacBook Pro (2.1) and the Satellite Radius P55 (1.1).

With a brightness of 405 nits, the ATIV Book 9 Pro outshines its 15-inch competitors. Dell’s XPS 15 comes the closest at 382 nits, but that’s with a 1920 x 1080 anti-glare screen. On an XPS 15 with a 15.6-inch UHD display, the screen measured just 282 nits. The 2015 MacBook Pro measured 303 nits, and the Toshiba Radius P55 was even dimmer at 260 nits.


For your audio enjoyment, the Book 9 Pro features quad 4-watt speakers positioned in pairs on either side of the system. The ATIV Book’s volume was above average, and easily filled our 15 x 15-foot lab with music, although its slightly airy soundstage took away from the crisp handclaps and percussion in Kygo’s “Stay.” Strong highs and good treble performance helps cover that up, and I liked the way the ATIV recreated Maty Noyes’ delicate vocals.


The aluminum chassis on the ATIV Book 9 Pro distributes heat well, and on our heat test (15 minutes of streaming HD video), the hottest spot on the system (the bottom vent) measured just 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys was slightly cooler at 88 degrees, while the touchpad was only a touch higher than room temperature at 77 degrees.

Ports and Webcam

The ATIV Book 9 Pro comes with a healthy amount of ports, including four USB connections (three Type-A and one Type-C), HDMI, a combo headphone/mic jack, and an SD card reader.

The 720p webcam above the display captured photos with decent detail, but often struggled to recreate colors accurately.

When I took a selfie in our well-lit office, a picture from the ATIV Book turned part of a wall from white to light blue, and added a little too much red to the skin tones on my face.


Featuring an Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, Nvidia 950M graphics and a 256GB SSD, the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus provides plenty of performance for productivity, graphics work or heavy multitasking, but not enough oomph for high-end games. This meant I had no trouble powering an extra 1920 x 1080 display while streaming multiple full HD videos on YouTube and 10 Chrome tabs open in the background.

On Geekbench 3, which measures overall system performance, Samsung’s ATIV Book 9 Pro scored 12,344. That’s quite a bit higher than the 8,936 mainstream laptop average, but falls slightly short of the XPS 15’s score of 13,502 (Intel Core i7-6700HW, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD) and the 2015 MacBook Pro’s 14,423 (Intel Core i7-4870HQ, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD). Toshiba’s Satellite Radius P55, however, scored much lower at just 6,053 (Intel Core i7-5500U, 12GB of RAM and 512GB SSD).

When we ran our spreadsheet macro test, which uses OpenOffice to match 20,000 names and addresses, the ATIV Book 9 Pro finished in 3 minutes and 36 seconds. Dell’s XPS 15, which features the same CPU, also finished in 3:36, while the 2015 MacBook Pro (Intel Core i7-4870HQ) and the Toshiba Radius P55 (Intel Core i7-5500U) were further behind at 4:14 and 4:35, respectively.

When we duplicated 4.97GB worth of mixed media files, the ATIV Book 9 Pro’s 256GB posted a transfer rate of 133.9 MBps. Unfortunately, that’s slower than competing SSD-equipped machines, including the 2015 MacBook Pro (636 MBps), the Dell XPS 15 (254 MBps) and the Toshiba Satellite Radius P55 (212 MBps).


Don’t expect much graphics prowess from this Samsung. On 3DMark’s Fire Strike graphics test, the ATIV Book 9 Pro and its Nvidia 950M GPU scored 3,236. Dell’s XPS 15 (3,949) posted a score almost 25 percent higher, due to its newer Nvidia 960M GPU.

Those results carried over to gaming, where the ATIV Book 9 Pro reached only 16.2 frames per second in Rainbow 6 Siege at 1920 x 1080 and low settings, while the XPS 15 posted a significantly better 76 fps at the same settings.

Battery Life

The ATIV Book 9 Pro can’t keep up with its closest competitors when it comes to endurance. The notebook lasted 5 hours and 31 minutes on Laptop Mag’s Battery test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness. Dell’s UHD XPS 15 lasted an hour longer at 6:36, and Apple’s 2015 MacBook Pro was even more impressive with a battery life of 9:08. The Samsung also trailed the 15-inch laptop average (5:50).

Software and Warranty

The ATIV Book 9 Pro comes with Windows 10 and Samsung’s suite of PC apps and utilities. If you already own a Samsung phone, you’ll want to check out the SideSync app that allows you to connect your phone to the PC (via USB or wirelessly), transfer files by simply dragging and dropping, and even add a picture-in-picture view of your phone’s screen to the ATIV Book’s display.

Unfortunately, there’s a little bloatware, including Candy Crush and a link to Adobe Photoshop Express, but nothing too intrusive or annoying.

Samsung backs the ATIV Book 9 Pro with a one-year warranty on parts and labor.

Bottom Line

In the end, The ATIV Book 9 Pro highlights what Samsung often does well on its laptops: combine a sleek, seductive aluminum design with a bright colorful touch screen. At $1,600, the ATIV Book also compares favorably with the Dell XPS 15’s $1,800 price when equipped with discrete graphics and a UHD touch screen. However, you can pick up the XPS 15 for $1,000 if you’re willing to forego a 4K display and discrete graphics. The Book 9 Pro also makes the $1,999 starting price of the 2015 MacBook Pro (with no GPU) look downright exorbitant

Unfortunately, the Nvidia 950M GPU in the ATIV Book 9 Pro pales in comparison to the 960M in the XPS 15 which helps justify the Dell’s higher price. Samsung also doesn’t offer any other configurations, so what you see here is what you get. But the biggest problem is the ATIV Book’s subpar 5.5 hours of battery life, which makes picking up the system and walking out the door a less attractive proposition. The ATIV Book 9 Pro is a sweet-looking system with a bright, rich display, but the MacBook Pro and XPS 15 both offer better performance, lower starting prices and longer endurance.


Fujifilm X-Pro2 vs X-T1 vs X-Pro1 Comparison

Here is a quick review and comparison for the Fujifilm X-Pro2 vs X-T1 vs X-Pro1 mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras with APS-c image sensors.

To see the difference between Fujifilm X-Pro2 vs X-T1 vs X-Pro1 mirrorless cameras we have put together Fujifilm X-Pro2 vs X-T1 vs X-Pro1 specs comparison table below.

The Fujifilm X-Pro2 ($1,699.95 – Amazon | B&H | Adorama) features 24.3 megapixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor, new focal plane shutter with a top speed of 1/8000 sec. and flash sync up to 1/250 sec. The X-Pro2 also offer a robust, weather resistant body with 3.0″ 1.62m-Dot LCD Monitor on the back. It can capture images at sensitivities as high as ISO 51200 and record Full HD 1080p videos at 60 fps also supports compressed Raw (a first for the X-series).

The Fujifilm X-T1 ($1,299 – Amazon | B&H | Adorama) features a 16.3 megapixel APS-C X-Trans CMOS II sensor, 2.36m dot resolution OLED electronic viewfinder with the world’s highest magnification and a lag-time of just 0.005 sec, phase detection AF with a world-beating response of just 0.08sec.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 ($499 – Amazon | B&H | Adorama) features a 16-megapixel X-Trans CMOS sensor with a hybrid electronic and optical viewfinder. The camera released back in March 2012..

Specifications Comparison of Fujifilm X-Pro2 vs X-T1 vs X-Pro1 Cameras


Below you can see the specs comparison table of Fujifilm X-Pro2 vs X-T1 vs X-Pro1 cameras. Some differences like sensor, image size, shooting speed, lcd size etc.. detailed as bold on the table.

Feature Fujifilm X-Pro2 Fujifilm X-T1 Fujifilm X-Pro1
Sensor resolution 24-Megapixels 16-Megapixels 16-Megapixels
Sensor size / type APS-C (23.6 x 15.6 mm) APS-C (23.6 x 15.6 mm) APS-C (23.6 x 15.6 mm)
Processor X-Processor Pro Engine EXR Processor II EXR Processor
AF System 273 points (77 of which PDAF) hybrid system. All directly selectable. 77 point (15 of which PDAF) hybrid system 49 directly selectable (9 of which PDAF) 49 point CDAF system All directly selectable.
Viewfinder 2.36M-dot OLED/Optical Hybrid 2.36M-dot OLED 1.44M-dot LCD/Optical Hybrid
ISO Sensitivity 200-12800 (100-51200 Extended) 200-6400 (100-51200 JPEG-only) 200-6400 (100-25600 JPEG-only)
Auto ISO settings 3 1 1
Continuous Shooting Speed With AFC/With Live View 8 fps / 3 fps 8 fps / 3 fps 6 fps / 3 fps
Maximum shutter speed 1/8000 (Mechanical), 1/32000 (Electronic) 1/4000 (Mechanical), 1/32000 (Electronic) 1/4000 (Mechanical)
X-Sync Speed 1/250 sec 1/180 sec 1/180 sec
Movie shooting 1080/60p 1080/60p 1080/24p
Wi-FI Yes Yes No
Customizable Q Menu Yes Yes No
Custom ‘My Menu’ Yes No No
Custom buttons 6 6 (2 if direct AF select chosen) 2
Exposure Comp Dial ±3EV (±5EV using front dial) ±3EV ±2EV
Rear screen 3″ Fixed (3:2), 1.62M-dot (900 x 600) 3″ Tilting (3:2), 1.04M-dot (720 x 480) 3″ Fixed (4:3), 1.23M-dot (640 x 480)
Command dials 2 (Push-button type) 2 1 (Push-button type)
Card slots 2 (1 of which UHS-II) 1 (UHS-II) 1 (UHS-I)
Film Simulations 9 8 7
AF Tracking Yes Yes No
Eye-detection AF Yes Yes No
AF in MF mode AF-C or AF-S AF-C or AF-S AF-S
Panorama mode No Yes Yes
Compressed Raw? Optional (Lossless) No No
Battery life 350 OVF
250 EVF
350 EVF ~300 OVF
Maintain zoom when changing image in playback Yes Yes No
Lens Modulation Opt Yes Yes No
Grain simulation Yes No No
Split prism focus guide Color/Mono Mono No
Brightline display Yes N/A No
Dimensions 140.5 x 82.8 x 45.9 mm 129.0 x 89.8 x 46.7 mm 139.7 x 81.3 x 43.2 mm
Weight 445 g body only 440 g body only 451 g body only


Samsung Level On Wireless Pro review

  • Comfortable
  • Smooth and refined sound
  • High-quality wireless streaming
  • Flat presentation
  • Poorly defined central channel
  • Too loose for sports use

Key Features: Bluetooth with Samsung UHQ; 40mm drivers; Active noise cancellation

Manufacturer: Samsung

What are the Samsung Level On Wireless Pro?

The Samsung Level On Wireless Pro are on-ear headphones that are designed mainly for use with phones. Ideally Samsung ones, from their maker’s viewpoint at least.

Thanks to clever Samsung tech, they offer much higher-quality wireless audio transmissions than you get with rivals such as Beats or Sennheiser. The sound signature isn’t perfect, but these headphones are accessible and enjoyable to listen to, for the most part.

Level Wireless Pro 11

Design and Features

The Samsung Level On Wireless Pro are Bluetooth headphones, the kind you might wear on the way to work. Design-wise, they take an interesting approach.

They’re a little large for an on-ear set, with pads that sit both on and around your ears. The pads are larger than the ones featured on the Sennheiser Momentum On-ear Wireless, perhaps this set’s closest rival.

Level Wireless Pro 5

It’s a style that works well. The Samsung Level On Wireless Pro use very soft, faux-leather-topped foam pads and light to mid-level headband tension, spreading not-too-firm pressure across a pretty wide area. Specs-wearers may find them uncomfortable to wear for prolonged periods, but this is true of most headphones of this style. In my opinion, they’re among the most comfy headphones in their class – though the headband grip is really too light for use when running.

Level Wireless Pro

The Samsung Level On Wireless Pro look a little like a more grown-up, slightly lower-key Beats headphone. They’re not beautiful, but they aren’t visually offensive either.

There’s nothing too flashy about the Samsung Level On Wireless Pro’s construction, either. The outer part is all plastic, all the padding – as mentioned – is made of faux leather rather than the real deal, and even the visible sections of the metal headband have a brushed finish to take the shine off.

Ready for the road, the Samsung Level On Wireless Pro fold up, come with a carry bag and offer decent isolation for an on-ear pair of headphones – even without the active noise cancellation feature turned on.

Level Wireless Pro 7

These are some of the techiest headphones I’ve used over the past 12 months, though. Wireless is the main feature, but as the Samsung Level On Wireless Pro need a mic to take calls and a battery to power the Bluetooth connection, Samsung has also added active noise cancellation.

It’s not Bose QC25-grade cancellation. Instead it’s designed to take the edge off ambient sound rather than totally zap it. As such, you probably wouldn’t use these without any music playing just to silence crying kids in Starbucks, but it does stop passing cars from cutting into your listening. Plus it avoids the odd sense of in-ear pressure you get from more intense ANC models.

You can also turn ANC on and off using a switch on the Samsung Level On Wireless Pro, because it does affect the sound a little. It also halves battery life from 20-23 hours to only 11.

Level Wireless Pro 3

There are Samsung-exclusive features, but they don’t stop them from working with other phones. On the wireless side, these headphones will work with just about any Bluetooth device: iPhones, all Android phones and laptops.

You can also continue to use the Samsung Level On Wireless Pro when the battery is dead because, like most wireless headphones, they have a 3.5mm socket; a 3.5mm jack cable is supplied in the box too.

The Samsung Level On Wireless Pro’s special move is ultra-high-quality wireless transmission. Most other Bluetooth wireless headphones offer aptX if you’re lucky, but Samsung’s custom codec promises transmission at 24-bit 192KHz. It’s called UHQ, and we’re likely to hear more about it in the future. For now, it works only with the very latest Samsung phones – such as the Galaxy Note 5 and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+.

It’s exciting technology that addresses many of the long-standing “audiophile” gripes about portable wireless audio. However, at this level, focusing on it too much is to get your priorities in the wrong order. No amount of high-grade audio tech is going to mask bad tuning or a poor driver. Using both the Edge+ and a couple of other phones, Bluetooth performance was nigh-on perfect.

Level Wireless Pro 9

Sound Quality

As was the case with the first Samsung Level headphones I listened to, the Level On Wireless Pro offer a particularly smooth and rich sound that, while not quite as exciting as some others, is pretty good.

Common to just about all portable headphones, bass is meaty – but it’s actually smoother and more natural-sounding than the fairly well-regarded Sennheiser Momentum On-ear. These are easy-listening headphones, with no sense of distortion, sibilance or harshness. Compared with the much more aggressive Beats Solo 2, they’re velvety smooth.

Like the fit, the Samsung Level On Wireless Pro sound is ear-caressing. They provide a very accessible tone, and one without veiled-sounding treble or boomy bass. However, a series of sound limitations make them appear rather flat and undynamic compared with some headphones at this price.

First, the mids are soft, and take a back seat compared to the treble and bass. As with the rest of the sound, they’re smooth as you like – but they just don’t offer quite enough definition.

Level Wireless Pro 13

The real Samsung Level On Wireless Pro weak point, though, is how these headphones manage their soundstage. It’s diffuse: often unable to present a properly defined central channel. Vocals bleed freely into the left and right channels, which is what makes the sound presentation of these headphones seem a little flat, and at times lifeless.

This is a real shame, since it makes the Samsung Level On Wireless Pro less appealing than the Sennheiser On-ear, even though their low-frequency control is significantly better.

Having that flat-sounding mid-range/central channel also reveals the mid-bass boost that most style/portable headphones have to some extent. This further congests the mid-range – much of the sound from the Samsung Level On Wireless Pro seems flat with poorly defined imaging rather than veiled, murky, foggy, for example.

It almost seems as though Samsung was aiming for an open-back style sound here, where greater “airiness” can work with this smooth signature.

All this criticism may appear to suggest that you’re best steering clear, but it isn’t quite that simple.

Price-wise, the Samsung Level On Wireless Pro’s main rivals are the Beats Solo 2 Wireless and Sennheiser Momentum On-ear Wireless. However, in terms of tonal fidelity and control, these headphones are much closer to non-wireless, non-ANC models that are a similar price, or more expensive. I’m talking about sets such as the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0, the Denon AH-MM400 and even the Oppo PM-3.

The Samsung Level On Wireless Pro are just so much smoother and more controlled in their sound, they make rivals such as the Beats Solo 2 sound embarrassingly bloated in comparison. Are you willing to trade away a little energy and excitement for a sound that comes across as more refined – even if its presentation is flat?

Should I buy the Samsung Level On Wireless Pro?

The world of wireless headphones is a tricky one to survey. Bluetooth is included in phones costing only £30/$45, but put the feature into a pair of headphones and you’ll pay £100/$150 extra for the privilege.

I’d suggest you think about whether it’s really necessary; whether you’d be better opting for a “normal” pair. In my opinion, the premium it adds to the cost means that no wireless headphones offer that great value for money.

So how do the Samsung Level On Wireless Pro fare in context? Well, there are highs and lows.

The sound signature is smoother than the alternatives from Sennheiser and Beats. However, the mids are ill-defined and so is the soundstage. As a result, they sound flat and low on energy, but in other respects far more refined than the alternatives.

It’s a head-scratcher. You need to determine what’s of most importance: do you value balanced bass and a smooth sound over energy and clear positional audio?


The Samsung Level On Wireless Pro are smooth and tech-laden wireless headphones offering good, if somewhat flat-sounding, audio.


Roccat Nyth review

  • Supremely customisable
  • Very comfortable
  • Handy carry case for spare parts
  • Suits wide range of game genres
  • Easy to accidentally press buttons
  • Software bugs
  • Occasionaly tracking blip

Key Features: 12,000 DPI laser sensor; 2x hot-swappable side-grips; 18 buttons; carry case; Roccat Swarm support

Manufacturer: Roccat

What is the Roccat Nyth?

It’s a tricky business to buy high-end gaming mice, because most are designed to cater for a select demographic. Mouse X is great for MMO gamers, while Mouse Y suits those who tend towards shooters.

Then there’s the Roccat Nyth, a mouse that aims to be all things to all people. This highly customisable mouse is a pricey bit of kit at £90/$135, but it’s built to be as versatile as they come.

For the unaware, Roccat is an increasingly popular peripheral manufacturer that, while not as well known as Razer or Steelseries, has plenty of solid products to its name.

The Roccat Nyth is one of its most recent entrants, arriving to the market in 2015. But in its effort to please all, does the Roccat Nyth tick any of the right boxes?

Roccat Nyth 9

Design & Ergonomics

The Roccat Nyth is a difficult beast to accurately describe, because its design can vary wildly depending on how you choose to customise it.

There are some constants however, namely its hulking chassis that feels more hand-tank than gaming mouse. The body of the device is a smooth, matte plastic that’s sufficiently grippy for comfortable use. The Nyth’s curvature is subtle because it’s spread over a long body. But its substantial width means it’s very comfortable to hold, unlike the awkwardly thin Razer Diamondback.

I’ve always been partial to larger gaming mice; you’re using these devices for extended periods of time, so you need them to be as ergonomic as possible. Thankfully, the Roccat Nyth is one of the most comfortable mice I’ve ever used, and ranks alongside the Razer Mamba (2015) – a personal favourite – for well-considered design.

Aesthetically, the Roccat Nyth is an obvious gaming mouse. It has prominent buttons, some harsh angles, and a fearsome presence that means you won’t mistake it for an ordinary desk mouse. I prefer the more refined approach generally taken by Steelseries and Razer, which look a a bit more subtle on the mouse mat. But it’s down to preference; if you like big, pointy mice and scaring little children with your peripherals, the Roccat Nyth is perfect.

Roccat Nyth 21

Customisation & Features

In terms of buttons, you’ve got plenty of choice. On the left side of the device, there are a total of 12 programmable buttons. On the top, there’s another button, a textured, rubber scroll wheel (clickable, of course), and a flick switch that you knock from side to side with the knuckles of your index and middle finger knuckles. It’s a slightly awkward motion to get used to, but it’s placement means it’s hard to accidentally knock. All of these are reprogrammable – but wait, there’s more.

The Roccat Nyth lets you remove every single button on the left panel, and comes with a wide roster of spares. Overall, you have access to 12 standard buttons, 12 curved buttons, six larger buttons, and three ‘dumb’ panels that render the button rows useless. The buttons are unlocked from their position using a release slider on the underside of the mouse, so don’t worry about knocking any of them out mid-game.

These side buttons are a little small, which makes them tough to hit accurately. And worse still, they all rest directly under the thumb; if you squeeze very slightly while making quick motions, it’s very easy to accidentally hit a key. Letting your thumb drop to the very bottom of the mouse is a simple workaround for this, mind.

It’s also worth noting that the buttons are made entirely from plastic, so Roccat recommends particularly adventurous users 3D print their own for optimum performance. I think that sounds like unnecessary faffing around, but it’s entirely up to you.

On the right side of the mouse, you’ve got a side panel that’s entirely detachable. The Roccat Nyth arrives with two panel inserts. One is large and gives your pinky finger somewhere to rest for palm grip, while the other is very nearly flat, to keep the mouse svelte for claw grip. These panels attach magnetically, and pop in and out with ease.

The buttons and the side-panels all arrive packaged in a neat little carry case. It’s a welcome addition, as having them all loose in a bag or desk drawer would be an absolute nightmare. Roccat aimed for impressive customisability with the Nyth, and it’s hit the nail right on the head.

Roccat Nyth 29


Most gaming mouse manufacturers have a corollary software suite they peddle with their wares – in this case, it’s Roccat Swarm.

Roccat is still green to the mouse game, and Swarm feels a little unrefined at present. It doesn’t offer some features available on rival platform Razer Synapse – like heatmapping, for instance. What’s more, I found that changes I made to button layouts and DPI settings would sometimes inexplicably revert. Simple bugs are easy to iron out however, and it’s likely that Roccat Swarm will improve over time.

What’s more, the Roccat Swarm has all of the features you’d expect at a minimum. I’m talking about the core stuff like sensitivity adjustment, settings profiles that load based on the program running, lighting colour customisation, and adjustable lift-off distance. Most users will find plenty to tinker with in Roccat Swarm, even if you’re not getting the depth offered by Razer Synapse.

Overall, Roccat Swarm isn’t perfect just yet, but it’s a commendable effort for a company still taking its first steps in the industry.


Roccat Nyth 35


All of this fancy design is no good if the Roccat Nyth doesn’t actually work well as a mouse, right? Fortunately, it performed excellently when tested over well north of 20 hours of gaming.

The Roccat Nyth uses a twin-tech R1 laser sensor with a maximum DPI (dots-per-inch) of 12,000. The sensor tracked very accurately, although I still experienced a smoother ride with the 5G sensor featured on the Razer Diamondback and Razer Mamba (2015). I used the Nyth on several gaming mouse mats and (very occasionally) experienced slight cursor jumps. I’d say the Nyth’s sensor is more on par with the 4G sensor on the Razer Orochi – by all means an excellent bit of kit. This is all enhanced by a top-end reponse time of 1ms, and a polling rate of 1,000Hz – more than you’ll ever likely need.

The Roccat Nyth’s DPI – effectively sensitivity – is high enough to satisfy gamers of all ilks, bottoming out at 200, and capped at a lofty 12,000. Most gamers with Full HD displays won’t be treading too far beyond 3,000, but users with 4K/UHD panels will get good use out of the wider DPI range.

Overall, the Roccat Nyth’s performance as a gaming mouse is excellent, and is only let down by an occasional misplaced prod of a button on the left-hand panel.

Roccat Nyth 43

What games work best with this mouse?

This section is easy; the Roccat Nyth will suit anything you want to play. Roccat went to great lengths to ensure gamers who play a variety of genres won’t need to look beyond this mouse.

When it comes to RPGs and MMOs, which are a usual sticking point for gaming mice, the Nyth excelled. Its wide array of buttons, combined with the impressive customisability, means the Nyth is a formidable opponent versus a market leader like the Razer Naga. Similarly, eschew some (or all) of the buttons and you’ll have no problem playing low-hotkey games like shooters, MOBAs, and action titles.

In summary, if you plan on playing anything at all, the Roccat Nyth probably has a setup that’ll suit your style.

Roccat Nyth 15

Should I buy the Roccat Nyth?

The Roccat Nyth is a great choice for gamers who enjoy playing a very wide range of genres. It’s an accurate mouse with fantastic hardware and a well-considered design that makes it one of the most versatile mice on the market.

That said, it misses the mark in a few ways. In an effort to promote customisability, Roccat failed to make the Nyth look very beautiful. The left-side buttons are easy to accidentally press. And occasional – and bewildering – tracking/software errors can be frustrating.

At £90/$135, it’s an expensive mouse, but some retailers are peddling it at a discounted £70/$105 rate. That’s not so bad, but the Logitech G602 (now around £50/$75) is still a better pick if you’re cash-conscious.

And if you’re not bothered about customisability, the Razer Mamba Tournament Edition (£70-90/$105-135) is prettier, more consistent, and ships with tried-and-tested software.


A spatter of mistakes showcase Roccat’s infancy in the market, but the Roccat Nyth is a true feat of customisability. The Nyth is versatile, comfortable, and performs well – all at a reasonable price.


View Master Virtual Reality Starter Pack review

  • Decent design
  • Nostalgic eye-side lever
  • Easy to operate
  • Lack of hands-free head-strap
  • No place to feed a headphone cable

Key Features: iOS and Android support; Variety of educational content; Classic design

Manufacturer: Mattel

What is the View Master?

The View Master is a collaboration between Mattel and Google. It’s based on Google’s Cardboard technology and aims to bring virtual reality to a younger audience.

The design offers just the right amount of retro to pay homage to the 75 year View Master brand’s history. This combined with its affordable price, and wealth of education focused apps, help the View Master hold its own amongst the increasingly competitive VR pack.

View Master

Design and build

The View-Master isn’t the most sophisticated looking VR headset currently available, but I’m a fan of the ski-goggle styling and the kids I showed it to were also suitably impressed.

As it works on the Google cardboard platform the headset offers access to a growing number of VR experiences for free, as well as a selection of paid for bespoke ones created specifically for it.

The starter kit includes a sturdy smartphone holding headset that connects the View Master to your wrist. The fact it’s attached to your wrist means, slightly annoyingly, you will always have to hold the View-Master in place when playing with it.

I’m certain this is a purposeful omission to prevent kids using it for long periods, but a head-strap option as a grown-up accessory would be welcome.

Inside the box is also an adaptor to dock phones into the View-Master. People with older phones should note, View Master content isn’t optimised for 4-inch screens. The headset’s been designed with the larger Apple iPhone 6, plus a decent list of the latest Android devices in mind.

The official Mattel approved list includes the latest Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola and Nexus smartphones and offers a disclaimer that other 5-6-inch devices could well work too.

View Master

If you want to delve outside of the basic Cardboard experience the starter pack comes with demo versions of the Space (351MB), Wildlife with National Geographic (291MB) and Destinations (351MB) iOS or Android apps.

After downloading the apps the demos are launched using old school looking “preview discs”. The Experience pack for each app unlocks additional content via add-on reels. Each pack costs a slightly hefty £7.99/$12.

Content Check

The full versions’ up front cost may sound pricey and like the View Master is money grabbing, but the preview reels provide a reasonable amount of content. When I tested the demo wildlife app I was seriously impressed. With the headset on I was transported to the Acropolis, where I was able to wander around the Parthenon and enjoy some stunning 360 degree imagery.

The detail of the view is stunning. I opened a bottle of ouzo picked up on my last trip to Greece and, despite the climate here in blighty, felt completely immersed in the virtual world. The app also provides on-screen information about the place you’re visiting. The information is mainly designed for kids, but is at a high enough level for you to get some background knowledge – and potentially points in your next pub quiz.

With the full experience disc for Destinations you can head off to a variety of locations including New York, London and Mexico. In each location you’ll be treated to outstanding 360 degree tours. For those that prefer a gentler pace, the apps also let you stop and gaze like a tourist at specific points along the way.

In every tour I tested I found there’s just enough information to keep things interesting as an adult. My 13 year-old scored his View-Master experience a ”pretty cool” – which is about as high praise as you can expect from a teenager.

View Master

Over in the wildlife app In preview mode I jumped into the savannah, a rainforest and the Australian outback. The largely digitised landscapes all have very good depth of field and, by working with National Geographic, offer a truly immersive experience.

Each area offers video content pertaining to one animal, as well as a selection of real world animal imagery.

The full version of the app offers more immersive selection of walks, more animals to goggle at and an enhanced safari mode. The safari mode is immensely enjoyable and sees you take the role of a wildlife photographer. In each safari setting you’re challenged to take pictures of three animals. From there you’re free to freely wander the digital world looking for your illusive subject matter. This mode will be a blast for kids and is full of nicely authentic ambient sounds that really help set the tone.

The space preview area on the reel is the least populated with taster content. There is a static VR space shuttle suspended in the dark starlit sky. You can manoeuvre around the shuttle and click on information symbols to learn bite-size facts about some of its attributes.

Luckily the space mini-game is a little more entertaining. In it you’re tasked to pull certain levers to fire up the shuttle, get it into the sky and ditch the boosters. It is simple enough but the detail of the cockpit is impressive and makes each task suitably enjoyable.

The full version unlocks a wide selection of spacecraft to explore, an entire solar system to interact with and a selection of old View-Master images – which I remember fondly from the eighties. My five year old squealed with excitement as she visited the sun, moon and earth.

View Master

Should I buy the View Master?

For an affordable VR experience I’ve no hesitation in steering anyone toward the buy button. The content has been carefully crafted to offer enough information and settings to cater for kids and adults alike.

The headset, despite its lack of strap, is ideal for viewing the bespoke and other VR content on offer and I’m eager to see what reel sets are released next.


An ideal gift for curious kids, keen to explore the universe.


Opel GT Concept is as red hot as its tires

Germany’s Opel has officially unveiled its new GT Concept, a modern re-imagining of the original Opel GT, a sport car legend produced from 1968 to 1973. The new version stays true to its roots, with rear-wheel drive, a low-slung profile, and a long hood that flows into a fastback rear end. But completely modern design details include a windshield that stretches from the front of the car to the back in a single piece of panorama glass, the appearance of no side windows, and, of course, those bright red front tires.

Starting with the doors, while it looks like they have no windows, the glass has been smoked and is directly integrated with the side panel, so while they don’t open, they do match the car’s color and give it its seamless appearance. The lack of side mirrors is also addressed with small digital cameras on each side of the vehicle that send their images to a pair of screens on the inside.

Opel GT Concept is as red hot as its tires

The use of technology doesn’t stop there, as the electrically powered doors feature touch-pads on the outside that must be pressed before opening. The lack of door seams is also thanks to the placement of the hinges, which are found farther forward than usual, with the front portion opening into the wheel arches.

While the Opel GT Concept may have the looks of sports coupe, it’s far from having the power needed to be a true sports car. Under the hood is a 1.0-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine with 143 horsepower 151 pound-feet of torque. It weighs only 2,205 pounds and features a paddle-shifted six-speed sequential transmission.

General Motors-owned Opel says the GT Concept will shown off at the 2016 Geneva Auto Show in March. There’s been no confirmation that the car will actually be produced, but instead promises that future vehicles could be inspired by its design.


Galaxy S7 Snapdragon 820 and Exynos 8890 chips compared

Rumors are flying about the Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphones and word is that the chips inside the S7 smartphones will be split between an Exynos 8890 and a Snapdragon 820. The question in the enthusiasts mind is which of the smartphones will perform better. Recently the Galaxy S7 packing the Exynos 8890 passed through GeekBench 3.

Galaxy S7 Snapdragon 820 and Exynos 8890 chips compared

A version of the smartphone using the Snapdragon 820 passed through the same benchmarking applications previously allowing direct comparison of the devices. The GeekBench 3 benchmark shows that the Exynos 8890 version of the S7 is the much better performing device.

In GeekBench 3, the Exynos 8890 version scored 5946 while the Snapdragon 820 version put up a score of 4979 in multicore testing. In this benchmark a Galaxy S6 using the Exynos 7420 scored better than the S7 with the Snapdragon 820.

The results are different in single core testing with the Snapdragon 820 positing up 2,282 and the 8890 posting 1,873. With the software for the S7 not finalized, the performance in benchmarks could change before launch. That launch is expected to happen on March 11. We learned this week that Samsung might have an upgrade program for fans to take advantage of when the Galaxy S7 launches.


2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible 5.0 California Special Review

As I’ve discovered on several occasions, often it’s only when you go topless that things start to make sense. Ford’s 5.0 liter Mustang is a good example: when I drove the 2015 coupe last year, I questioned the need of such a large, naturally-aspirated V8 when the company’s EcoBoost engines were so polished.

Chop the roof off, as is the case with this 2016 Mustang GT California Special convertible, and those five liters make a lot more sense because all of a sudden you can hear them in action.


First things first, though, and clearly someone in Detroit didn’t get the message that California is going green, not orange. In this case it’s a rather eye-searing “Competition Orange”, complete with contrast black pin-striping and grilles. I’m not entirely sure I’d pick the color were it my $47,380, but it’s certainly noticeable, and the 19-inch black-painted wheels earned me no small number of approving comments.

Where you sit on the Mustang style issue depends on how comfortable you are with retro cars and how attentive you are to Ford’s detailing. I think it’s still a pretty car, particularly from the front three-quarters with its claw-slash daytime running lights glinting, though the rear is starting to look a little fussy, and of course trunk space is on the small side – just 11.4 cubic feet – given that it’s a convertible.


Dropping the roof is a straightforward process, though not quite one-button simple. There’s a big handle to pull down and twist to unlock the fabric hood from the windshield, after which point a button sends it motoring back behind the vestigial rear seats that should probably be considered extra storage rather than suited to human occupancy. It takes about ten seconds in all.

Though the coupe is probably the more practical Mustang option, I’m not sure sensible should take priority here. While removing the roof gave my anemic British skin a chance to bask in what winter sun California could muster, more importantly it let the full throat of the V8 be heard.


Listen, there’s nothing wrong with Ford’s EcoBoost engines. Yes, they’re down on power compared to this V8 – 310 HP versus 435 HP, and 320 lb-ft. or torque versus 400 lb-ft. – but peak horsepower and torque both arrive sooner than in the naturally aspirated engine, and the economy gains are what you might expect when you’re looking at less than half the capacity.

EcoBoost doesn’t give you that V8 bellow, though – we’ll leave the merits of the turbocharger soundtrack for another day – and you hear it loud and clear when the Mustang goes topless. All of a sudden I could understand the full appeal; the fact that the six-speed manual transmission of this car was far less agriculturally crude than the version in the 2015 coupe I drove helped considerably, too.


No, low speed traffic is never going to be as convenient with a manual as it is with an automatic – something Ford will charge you $1,195 for – but hearing the interplay of clutch, gears, and engine adds a welcome extra aural tickle.

There’s even only a scant penalty in fuel economy with the six-speed, with the EPA suggesting 15 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 19 mpg combined. Wet roads curtailed some of my fun, but helped with a 20.4 mpg average in my own testing.


For $1,995, the California Special gives the Mustang’s interior a polish, with grippy suede inserts in the leather seats and contrast stitching on seats, doors, and other trim areas. Otherwise, though, it’s the same dimly-lit retro cave as before, better looking to the eye than the switchgear feels to the fingertips.

Happily the old MyFord Touch infotainment system has been retired on 2016 cars, at least those with Premium level trim, and replaced with SYNC 3. It’s still not my favorite platform, but it’s a huge improvement over the painful system of before: quicker and more responsive, and with a more intuitive interface.


Sadly there’s still no interaction between the 8-inch touchscreen in the center stack and what you see in the smaller driver display between the speedo and tachometer. Navigation is a $795 upgrade.

As for the $1,795 Shaker Pro audio package, which throws twelve speakers into the cabin, it struggles a little to compete with the engine’s soundtrack.


I gave up on music and let the Mustang do its own singing. The California Special package includes a strut tower brace which promises to stiffen the body and help cut down on the usual sprinkle of shimmy cutting the roof off a car can introduce. That and the independent rear suspension – the solid axle thankfully retired in this sixth-generation car – helps keep flex to a minimum, though the ride can be bouncy on less-than-perfect roads.


In the EcoBoost’s favor, still, is the cut in curb weight. A Mustang with the turbocharged engine is around 200 pounds less than the V8’s 3,705 pounds, all in the nose, and you notice that in the corners. Slowing considerably for turns – the brakes neither grumble nor scream their proficiency, but they do the job – and then powering out with all five liters howling not only keeps you on the road but plays to the GT’s strengths.


With a starting price of $41,895 for the GT Premium Convertible, going topless in a V8 Mustang isn’t cheap. Ford’s entry-level V6 slips in under the $30k mark for open-air motoring, in contrast, while the excellent EcoBoost is a smudge over $35k.

Personally, I’d do without the California Special glitz and the other various upgrades, and try to stick as close to that minimum price as possible. After all, the two things you’re really looking for here are the V8 and the drop-top that allows you to hear it properly. You won’t have the most refined convertible out there, nor indeed the fastest, but I suspect that Mustang GT wail will help you overlook such quibbles when you mash your right foot.


New Apple Watch models rumored to also debut in March

If all these rumors have any ring of truth, then Apple’s expected March event will be packed with new devices. First, there is, of course, the 4-inch iPhone5se, not 6c, which will see the return of a diminutive size not seen since 2013. The, there’s the iPad Air 3, which will be the first time a 9.7-inch tablet will make an appearance since 2014. And now there is also word that new Apple Watchmodels, actually new bands, will also be making a debut in one grand stage presentation.

Rumors of a smaller iPhone have been around ever since Apple put out the large iPhone 6 and the even larger iPhone 6 Plus, perhaps hinting at a collective wishful thinking of a return to smaller, handier handsets. Those wishes might indeed be fulfilled in less than two months. There is still some debate on what will run inside the smaller smartphone, with many pointing to, or hoping for, the latest Apple A9 processor and M9 coprocessor, making it pretty much like a shrunken down iPhone 6s. Unlike the iPhone 6s, however, and here we seem to have some consensus, there will be no 3D Touch functionality, despite having a Live Photo feature.

Rumors about the iPad Air 3 are also interesting, though less definite. The jury is still out on the specs, though an Apple A9X processor is probably likely, considering the iPad Air 2 already had the A8X. Recent leaks also show that it might have a four-speaker setup pretty much like the iPad Pro. And, wonder of wonders, it might even have a rear camera flash, a first for any iPad of any size.

Apple might also take the opportunity to introduce new Apple Watch bands to the audience. These include new colors for the rubbery Sports line, new colors for the luxurious Hermes bands, a black Milanese Loop edition, and even a completely new band line using new materials. Whether those bands will come with new Apple Watch hardware isn’t yet known or even rumored.

Of course, none of these are set in stone and neither is the date. Apple might make the grand announcements on the week of March 14, just a few weeks after MWC 2016, but there is, of course, no assurance of that yet.

( & 9to5Mac)

VAIO Z, VAIO S “professional” notebooks arrive in the US

If you haven’t heard of a VAIO computer for a while, that’s because the new Japanese company temporarily closed its doors to the international market soon after Sony sold off its PC business. October last year saw the first ever VAIO computer from the new company, the VAIO Z Canvas, arrive in the US. Now, VAIO is bringing not one but two, actually three, new notebooks, the VAIO Z flagship model and the VAIO S standard model, to the US as well, addressing what VAIO says are the pain points of business professionals: lots of battery and lots of ports.

VAIO Z, VAIO S “professional” notebooks arrive in the US

Both models come with an Intel Skylake processor, the latest generation CPU for desktops and laptops. The “standard” VAIO S also has a 13.3 inch display with a Full HD resolution. For connectivity, it boasts not only of HDMI, LAN, and three USB 3.0 ports but also analog RGB output, something you rarely find in laptop these days. The VAIO S is really designed for work, with a molded magnesium alloy body to provide a bit of toughness, a specially coated keyboard for both quiet typing and smudge-free usage, and a trackpad that has two distinct physical left and right mouse buttons.


The VAIO Z flagshp actually comes in two models, a clamshell and a flip 2-in-1 convertible. Interested buyers of the clamshell model can choose between a 13.3-inch Full HD display similar to the VAIO S or upgrade to a WQHD screen of the same size. Both models have common characteristics, like aluminum and UD carbon bodies that provide lightweight properties and a touchpad that uses a type of stone called mica that offers better haptic feedback to the fingers.

The flip version of the VAIO Z allows users to transform the notebook into a tablet, in the manner unique to VAIO’s convertibles even back when Sony handled the business. There is only one screen configuration for this particular model, the higher end 13.3-inch WQHD resolution option. And to take advantage of the tablet form factor, the VAIO Z flip comes with a pressure sensitive stylus as well.


The VAIO Z flip will be the first to arrive in the market on February 8, with a starting price of $1,799. The clamshell variant, starting at $1,499, as well as the VAIO S at $1,099, won’t arrive until March this year. All models will be available from VAIO’s online US store, the Microsoft Store, and authorized resellers.