Monthly Archives: February 2016

Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 Lens Test Results Review : Wide-angle Prime King

DxOMark published their test results for the Zeiss 25mm f/2.0 Batis Series lens for Sony Full Frame E-mount cameras which is currently priced for $1,299 – B&H | Adorama.

Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2.0 lens test results shows the lens score of 39 points and performed an excellent optical performance. The lens tested on Sony A7R full-frame mirrorless camera.

According to DxOMark test, they find the lens offers homogenous resolution at all aperture settings except f/2, and outstanding sharpness over 70% at apertures between f/2 – f/11, with resolution dropping to just under 60% at f/22.


Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 Lens Gets DxOMarked : Wide-angle Prime King — Key specifications


  • Focal length: 25mm
  • Lens mount: Sony E / FE
  • Max. aperture: f/2
  • Min. aperture: f/22
  • Autofocus: Yes
  • Minimum focus: 20cm
  • Field of view: 82 Degrees
  • Filter thread: 67mm
  • Weight: 335g
  • Dimensions: 92x78mm (LxD)

Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 vs. Zeiss Distagon T 25mm f/2 vs. Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21


From DxOMark conclusions :

The new Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 will be a desirable lens for many Sony FE landscape, architecture, and street photographers looking for an optically-strong wide-angle solution.

The Batis is still outstandingly sharp, however, and offers a faster maximum aperture with better light transmission, as well as marginally better results for vignetting and chromatic aberration than the Loxia 2.8/21. All in all, the Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 is a champion wide lens and that’s why it currently sits at the top in our database.

The Zeiss Batis 2/25 FE lens is a wide-angle prime lens, and Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 FE lens is a fast prime lens. These two lenses are the first full-frame autofocus lenses with an OLED display for the Sony Alpha full frame E-mount cameras.

Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 Lens for Sony FE-Mount Highlights

  • E-Mount Lens/Full-Frame Format
  • Aperture Range: f/2 to f/22
  • Distagon Optical Design
  • Four Double-Sided Aspherical Elements
  • Floating Elements System
  • Zeiss T* Anti-Reflective Coating
  • OLED Display for Focus Distance and DoF
  • Linear Autofocus Motor
  • Dust and Moisture-Resistant Construction


Razer Blade Stealth Review

The Pros

Sexy, lightweight design; Lovely 4K display; Customizable Chroma keyboard; Excellent overall and graphics performance

The Cons

Below-average battery life; Uncomfortable keyboard


The Razer Blade Stealth is one of the sleekest and most powerful ultraportables you can buy, but is hampered by short battery life.

What do you do when you’ve consistently created some of the fastest lightweight gaming laptops? You turn your attention to ultraportables and try to dominate there. Razer’s Blade Stealth ($1,399 as configured, $99 starting) is a 12.5-inch beast, packing a powerful Intel Core i7 processor into a sleek chassis, complete with gorgeous 4K display and keyboard that grows millions of colors. The Stealth’s short battery life disappoints, but overall this is one speedy stunner.

Editors’ Note: The Stealth will soon have the ability to turn into a full-blown gaming PC via an optional graphics amplifier called the Core. We will update this review once that accessory is available.


For a notebook named Stealth, this lightweight laptop really knows how to stand out in a crowd. Razer didn’t try to reinvent the wheel and kept the same black aluminum chassis with the glowing three snake emblem we’ve come to know and love on its other systems.

The laptop’s interior is comprised of more obsidian-colored aluminum. The keyboard, which lights up in different colors, is flanked on either side by two slim speakers with the power button sitting just below the hinge and the touchpad barely fitting onto the abbreviated palm rest. Overall, the presentation is still stunning, but the oil from my hands quickly marred the system’s beauty.

Weighing 2.75 pounds and measuring 12.6 x 8.1 x 0.52-inches, the Stealth is a light heavyweight compared to Samsung Ativ Book 9 (2.09 pounds, 11.2 x 8.4 x 0.46 inches) and the waiflike Apple MacBook 12-inch Retina (2 pounds,11.8 x 7.6 x 0.68 inches). The touch screen enabled-XPS 13 (12 x 8 x 0.33-0.6-inches) is slightly heavier at 2.9 pounds.

It's hard to look away from the Stealth's 4K Display


It’s hard to look away from Stealth’s vivid 3840 x 2160 12.5-inch touch display. As I watched a sample 4K video of outdoor scenes, I was transfixed by a leafy seadragon as its delicate greenish-gold appendages floated gracefully through an aquamarine sea. Details were sharp enough to see the white ribbing across its side and the tiny tears in the fish’s fins.

The high-gloss panel did capture my reflection more often than I would have liked, but I appreciated its generous viewing angles. The colors retained their brightness no matter how far back I tilted the display. The bezel is a bit thick for for my taste, especially compared to the XPS 13’s infinity display with its barely-there sides. However, Razer’s thicker presentation allows for proper mic and camera placement, which is important when livestreaming games.

The laptop’s color reproduction capabilities are quite impressive, as it showed 173 percent of the color gamut, which tops the 100 percent minimum and the 82 percent ultraportable average. The competition fell woefully short with the XPS 13, MacBook and Ativ Book 9 all notching 104 percent or less.

However, with a score of 4.2 on the Delta-E test (0 is ideal), the Stealth’s color accuracy could be better. It barely cleared the 4.3 average.

At an average 402 nits, the Stealth’s panel is hella bright, easily outshining the 309 nit average as well as the MacBook (353 nits), XPS 13 (336 nits) and Ativ Book 9 (303 nits). The 10-point capacitive touchscreen was very agile and responsive when I used pinched to zoom on documents and web pages or swiped my fingers to re-arrange open windows.


I was pleasantly surprised by the Stealth’s svelte speakers, which produced audio that was both loud (for an ultraportable) and clear. As I listened to Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall) the bass guitar grounded the track and set the stage for the accompanying guitar and keyboard to shine without taking away from the artist’s iconic voice. Little details like the crash of the cymbals were easy to make out.

Keyboard is capable of displaying 16.8 million colors

Dolby’s Digital Plus audio software and its four profiles (Movie, Music, Game and Voice) definitely help to amplify the laptop’s audio. During my testing, I found myself using the Music profile the most as it provided a nice balance of warmth and clarity. You can also create your own custom profiles using the Intelligent Equalizer and Surround Virtualizer.

Keyboard and Touchpad

On the bright side, the Stealth represents the first time Razer has placed put its lovely Chroma lighting into one of its laptops. Capable of producing up to 16.8 million colors by way of Razer’s Synapse software, the keyboard is truly a sight to behold.

Unfortunately, once I stopped staring at it and starting using the layout,, the Stealth provided one of the least comfortable typing experiences I’ve had.. The island-style keyboard has a 1 millimeter (1.5-2 mm is optimal) key travel with just 55 grams of actuation (60g is the minimum).

Such shallow travel and weak feedback means that the keys bottom out immediately on the hard surface beneath. I ended up with a dismal 48 words per minute on the 10FastFingers typing test, well below my typical 60 wpm.

With such a small palm rest, the 4.2 x 2.5-inch Synaptics touchpad looks bigger than it actually is. That didn’t stop it from delivering a snappy response when my fingers brushed across it’s cool surface to perform a pinch-zoom gesture or a three or four-finger flick. I appreciate that Synaptics had the good sense to add it’s SmartSense palm rejection software because your palms or wrists are bound to inadvertently hit the touchpad with such a small space to work in. Oddly, the corners of the touchpad seemed to have more feedback than the keys.


Razer’s included Synapse software lets you configure macros, set trackpad sensitivity and track of your keystrokes and tweak your keyboard’s color palette. Similar to other Razer Chroma products, you can also access the Chroma Apps store, which allows games such as DOTA 2, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Overwatch to integrate their unique lighting effects into the game. Best of all, all of your carefully created masterpieces are saved in the cloud and can be used with other Razer devices.

Razer Synapse


The Stealth has one of the better webcams I’ve tested. Despite some visual noise, the 2.0 megapixel camera still managed to convey the texture in my locs and sweater. My skin color looked a little washed out, but the various blues in my shirt definitely caught my eye.


Razer knows how to keep things cool. After streaming video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 81 degrees Fahrenheit while the space between the G and H keys hit 90 degrees. The bottom of the system registered 95 degrees, matching our comfort threshold.


With a notebook this small, you don’t have room for a lot of ports and jacks. Razer gives you the bare essentials with a full HDMI port and USB 3.0 port on the right. Another USB 3.0 port sits on the left with a headset jack and a Thunderbolt 3.0/AC charging port.


For such a slim laptop, the Stealth can throw a haymaker or two thanks in no small part to its 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U processor with 8GB of RAM. Despite running a full system antivirus scan with 8 additional Google Chrome tabs, my episode of “Black Mirror” streamed with no problem.

The Stealth’s CPU continued asserting its dominance on the Geekbench test, delivering a score of 6,893, thrashing the 4,797 ultraportable average. The XPS 13 and its 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-2467M CPU came closest to the Stealth with a score of 6,374. The MacBook (1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor) and the Ativ Book 9 (0.9-GHz Intel Core M-5Y10c) produced below average scores of 4,631 and 4,603.

When we ran the File Transfer Test, the Stealth’s 256GB PCIe SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 28 seconds for a result of 181.8 MBps, beating the 162.2 average. The Ativ Book 9 and XPS 13 hit below 160 MBps. The MacBook’s 256GB Flash memory put the others to shame with a result of 254.5 MBps.

During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Stealth paired 20,000 names and addresses in 4 minutes and 8 seconds, blowing past the 7:32 category average. That was enough to keep it at the head of the pack.

Every rose has it's thorn, and for the Stealth, it's battery life.


The Stealth’s integrated Intel HD Graphics 520 GPU won’t be playing anything more strenuous than Candy Crush Soda Saga or a high-def video. But that’s to be expected for an Ultrabook of this caliber.

The notebook did extraordinarily well on 3DMark11 Ice Storm Unlimited, a synthetic graphics test, hitting 67,733, smoking the 41,788 average. The XPS 13, which also has a Intel HD Graphics 520 GPU was a distinct second at 57,102 while the Ativ Book 9 (Intel HD Graphics 5300) obtained 43,373.

But this is a Razer laptop and at some point you’re going to want to kick back and play something a bit more challenging. When that happens, Razer’s head-turning graphics amplifier, dubbed the Core, will be there to satiate that craving. Unfortunately, the Core wasn’t available for review at the time of the writing, but stayed tuned for an update.

Battery Life

Every rose has its thorn, and for the Stealth it’s the battery life. The laptop tapped out after 5 hours and 5 minutes on our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits), which is well below the 8:10 ultraportable average. The Ativ Book 9 fared somewhat better at 6:23 while the XPS 13 clocked in at 8:08. The MacBook went the distance with a time of 8:43.

If you want more endurance, you’ll be better off buying the 2560 x 1440 version of the Stealth rather than the 4K version.

Software and Warranty

Outside of the usual Windows 10 suite of apps, the Stealth’s software load is pretty light with only a few Razer-branded and third-party programs. On the Razer side of things you have Comms, the company’s voice chat gaming messenger, which lets you chat for free on mobile and desktop. It also features a handy in-game overlay so you can talk without leaving your game.

Third-party apps include Flipboard, Twitter, Killer Diagnostic, which keeps tabs on network speeds and Killer Network Manager, which allows you to maximize online gaming performance by configuring the network card.


Our review unit of the Stealth costs $1,399 and has 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U processor with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD, Intel HD Graphics 520 GPU and a 4K (3840 x 2160) touchscreen. The $999 base model drops the storage to 128GB and swaps out the 4K touchscreen for a high-res, 2560 x 1440 touch panel. If you’re concerned about storage, there’s the $1,599 model, which offers 512GB with the 4K display.

Bottom Line

It’s not a MacBook Killer or XPS slayer but, Razer has done an amazing job of combining its love of high performance devices with a reasonable price. For $1,399, you get one of the most powerful Ultrabooks on the market and a simply stunning 4K display. And later this year, when its graphics amplifier starts shipping, the Stealth will transform into one formidable gaming machine.

But there are a couple of downsides that can’t be ignored. The super-shallow keyboard and short battery hurt the Stealth’s value as a productivity machine. If you want a laptop that’s better for work, consider the $799 Dell XPS 13 or $1,299 Apple MacBook 12-inch Retina, which both offer stronger typing experiences and longer endurance. Overall, the Razer Blade Stealth is a good choice for mobile professionals who want an ultraportable with equal parts power and personality.


Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 review

  • Warm and detailed midrange
  • Clear, present dialog and upper register
  • Rich musical bass
  • Play-Fi multiroom technology
  • Upper mids can sound a bit pinched
  • Needs a better remote

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbar

Time and again, Definitive Technology has proven its prowess for packing serious power into packages both small and stylish. That includes excellent efforts like the Solo Cinema Studio sound bar, which matches sleek, minimalist styling with brawny, yet elegant performance.

The company’s latest effort, the 3.1-channel W Studio Micro, may just be its most ambitious piece yet in the mighty mouse set. Building on the success of the Solo Cinema and others in the Def Tech family, the Micro condenses the package into a silver-brushed bar that stands less than two inches tall. Packing DTS Play-Fi technology, the Micro can stand on its own as your audio centerpiece or be incorporated into a full-fledged multi-room sound system or surround system.  While it isn’t without a few limitations, this system is proof positive you can get plenty of vigor and precision from a pint-sized bar.

Out of the box

Opening the W Studio Micro’s L-shaped box reveals a whole lot of foam and packaging, eventually giving way to a 44-inch beam surrounded by sharp-angled corners.

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbar

The unit’s silver-brushed topside is made of rigid military-grade aluminum for less distortion as well as superior  heat dissipation for the amplifiers. The finish is matched by a black fabric speaker screen that stretches across the front and sides, and a plastic back panel stocked with inputs. While there’s no HDMI connection, the bar does include dual optical inputs, a 3.5mm input, and even a subwoofer output. A small blue button at the left side initiates setup for Wi-Fi connection.

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbarDefinitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbar

A small black box contains all the necessities for connection, including power cables, an optical digital cable, and a funky little rubberized remote with diamond angles along the top. And, of course, we can’t forget about the cubed subwoofer beneath it all, which boasts a down-firing driver on the bottom and little more than a power switch and power port at the back.

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbar

Features and design

While Def Tech’s new bar takes its name from the company’s flagship W Studio sound bar, that’s pretty much where the aesthetic similarities end. Unlike the blocky design of the original Studio, the Micro is wrought with hard angles and diagonal corners that make it look both refined and just a tad menacing. The machined aluminum topside is a nice stroke of elegance, but the real standout trait is, of course, the size: The Micro’s 1.75-inch height may not be the smallest we’ve seen, but it’s darned close, and the bar virtually disappears when set beneath today’s mammoth flat screens.

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbar

While the height is truly “micro,” the bar does stretch back a smidge further than some of the slimmest sound bars in the segment, which is actually a relief considering the anemic sound of most bars this height. The three-inch depth allows just enough room for four oblong 1 x 3-inch drivers (tasked with building some warmth and punch in the midrange), matched by three 1-inch aluminum dome tweeters. The unit is powered by seven individual amps that pack a claimed 96 total watts.

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbarDefinitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbar

The flat-paneled wireless subwoofer boasts an eight-inch down-firing driver cut in a similar design to the sub for the Solo Cinema we reviewed last year, which provided rich and thundering bass crafted with a pleasant blend of musicality. Though powered by just 50 watts of amplification — as opposed to 200 watts in the Solo Cinema — this new unit brings more of the same. But we’ll get into that below.

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbar

One bit of disappointment in the design comes from the angled remote, which is covered with the soft, rubbery coating that seems to cover the surface of so much tech these days. The controller is tiny and easy to lose like most sound bar remotes, but the real issue is the rubberized material that easily picks up oil stains from your fingers after just a few uses. That said, control is comprehensive, offering keys for power, volume, inputs, bass (i.e. sub volume), and even a center-channel volume control — a key feature that any listener who has trouble catching dialog will adore.

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbar

Luckily, the Studio Micro will follow commands from your TV remote (if it’s an Infrared remote, that is), though you’d never know it from the terse instruction booklet riding with the system. You won’t find it there, but we’ve listed the instructions in the “setup” section below.

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbar

Thanks to Play-Fi, of course, a lot of the control of the bar may come from your smartphone, as the unit will sync up over Wi-Fi to playback music from your favorite streaming services (save Apple Music), and even storage drives via the Def Tech mobile app. You can also sync the system with multiple speakers throughout the home. And unlike most multi-room setups, Play-Fi is open source, meaning you can mix and match a smorgasbord of speakers from a growing list of manufacturers. If Sonos’ closed system is the Apple of multi-room wireless audio, think of Play-Fi as its Android competitor. And Def Tech is one of the top brands in the growing Play-Fi family.

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbar

Other features for the Micro include support for Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS HD, and SRS Trusurround decoding, as well as IR input/output for an optional IR repeater. And, at CES 2016, Def Tech announced that its Micro bar will soon be equipped with what the company is calling rear-streaming capabilities, allowing users to add two Play-Fi speakers to the system for true 5.1 wireless surround sound (though the speakers must be connected to a power source). That’s the power of Play-Fi at work.


Connecting the included cable to either of the Micro’s optical inputs is the best way to listen for TV, game console, or Blu-ray output. Setting up the Play-Fi connection is also a simple affair, with step-by-step instructions provided by the Definitive Technology app.

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbar

To program your TV remote: First, hold down the source key for around five seconds till you hear a tone. Then press and release the button on the bar that corresponds with the command you’d like to set, and do the same on the remote, which should cause another tone. Repeat for each command, and then hold the source button again for five seconds to exit “learning mode.” Unfortunately, this option is only for IR remotes — if you have a newer TV with Bluetooth remote connection, it may be time to invest in a universal remote.


You might assume that Def Tech’s decision to put its latest sound system (quite literally) into a very small box comes with some performance handcuffs — and you’d be right. But, despite some minor drawbacks from its miniature profile, the W Studio Micro brings the same brilliant sonic colors we’ve come to expect from Def Tech sound bars: open air up top, warmth and detail in the middle of the sound, and tight, musical bass below for impressive overall performance.

The primary goal for a large portion of sound bar shoppers is improvement in dialog performance — i.e. being able to understand a word on screen without cranking the volume. The Micro shines on like a crazy diamond there, lending a smooth and rich touch to dialog and a pleasant drop of sparkle at the attack that makes details really pop. The autonomous center channel is a key asset to dialog improvement, as well, allowing you to adjust the center to the subject matter, assuring every word comes through clear as vodka.

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 ScreenshotDefinitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 ScreenshotDefinitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 ScreenshotDefinitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 Screenshot

Those sonic talents alone would suffice for SportsCenter or your favorite sitcom, but the Micro doesn’t stop there, adding some bombastic thump to action scenes thanks to its brilliantly matched ambassador of bass. The little sub has plenty of power up its sleeves, pounding like a jackhammer when necessary, yet keeping bass rigid and musical. From booming explosions in space (which technically should be silent, we’ll add), to soothing string bass, this sub will rattle your cage and purr like a kitten, while still playing nicely with its sound bar buddy.

One limitation of the Micro’s size — we all have to abide by physics, after all — is a tight pinch in the upper mids that can give a flat, almost synthetic timbre to some instruments, especially brass. While the Micro’s penchant for extra buzz is a plus for the reedy textures of woodwinds, the bar leans a bit too far into the sputtering blatt of trombone and trumpet at times, making them sound a little toyish. Snare and even cymbals are also affected by the issue occasionally, which can put a slight damper on music playback.

That said, the Micro is definitely no slouch when tasked with tackling your music catalog — whether you want to chill out or rock hard. After the passing of alt-rock pioneer Scott Weiland, we put our DT STP playlist on 11 and the Micro never flinched. The little unit blasted the raucous mix with pure style, filling not just the room, but the entire level with bombastic sound. It was enough to make us worry the brushed aluminum cap might just blow right off. It didn’t, and the Micro proved that going small doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice power. Add in a polished, yet ruddy glow to acoustic guitars, clean and clear vocals, and plenty of detail throughout the sonic spectrum, and the Micro is more than up to the task of being your musical maestro.

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro 3.1 soundbar


With the new W Studio Micro, Def Tech has proven that small stature doesn’t have to mean small sound. This slim and stylish unit has little big man syndrome — in a good way — and it’s more than up to the task of livening up movies, gaming, and music playback for any room in the house. The inclusion of Play-Fi is a welcome addition as well, and those looking for an unobtrusive way to branch into multi-room sound will definitely want to consider the W Studio Micro as a primary building block.


Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 Review

Triumph has long been one of the most recognized motorcycle brands in the world, and though fans can name a whole host of worthy models, the Bonneville family stands out as one of the most beloved.

 Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 picture - doc665290

The Bonnie DNA evolved from the TR6 Trophy and has persisted through three generations, and a few different factory owners, since the original came out in 1959. Nobody could ever accuse Triumph of neglecting its roots, indeed it would be closer to the truth to say they nurture and embrace them, an assertion I am comfortable making considering the looks of the new family of Bonnies.

 Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 picture - doc665288

Join me while I take a look at this particular incarnation in the form of the 2015-16 Bonnevillle T100, T100 “Black” and T214 Special Edition built as a nod to the record-setting run at the Salt Flats back in 1956.


By all accounts, the Bonnie falls within the Standard category, and fits, indeed defines, the Universal British Motorcycle genre. It exudes English style in a way you can only find in a plate of bangers and mash, or a pint of lager.

While the exposed struts on the front fender aren’t as clean as most contemporary bikes, it serves as a thread to tie into the past and adds to the charm, rather than detracting from it. Tank design also takes a page from history, with its distinctive “knee pockets,” pads and tank badges. The bench seat is typical, and while I confess I like a stadium perch for my passengers and rely on the scoop formed by that detail to keep myself from sliding right off the back once I twist into the funzone of the powerband, it is in keeping with what I expect on a Trumpet like this.

Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214

This may sound like a mundane thing to be excited about, but one of my favorite features is the throttle bodies that look like the old carburetors. From an engineering standpoint, such a detail was totally unnecessary, but it adds a crucial detail that those in the know will notice and appreciate. Nicely done, lads.

 Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 picture - doc665279

Adding to the T100 family, the T100 Black comes in a blackout theme — hence the devilishly clever name — and the T214 Special Edition comes in a Caspian Blue/White colorway to commemorate its speed-record-setting past. In 1956, Johnny Allen rode a Triumph-powered Texas Ceegar Streamliner across Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats at 214.40 mph, which was jaw-dropping at the time, to establish Triumph as the force behind the World’s Fastest Motorcycle. Go Johnny! The T214 was made and named with you in mind.


Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214

Given the classic look the factory was going for, it was a given that it didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, or frame as the case may be. Tubular-steel members make up the double-downtube, double-cradle skeleton, and once fleshed out with skin and muscle we see that classic Triumph stance.

The steering head is set at a 28-degree angle with 4.33 inches of trail, which looks fairly typical on paper but leaves the Bonnie feeling a little wooden in the corners. To me, a little stiff is better than too squirrelly since riding techniques can go a long way toward compensating for the former, where the latter can be a little unsettling to say the least. What isn’t unsettling is the rider triangle that encourages an upright riding position

 Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 picture - doc665281

A set of 41 mm Kayaba forks support the front end on 4.72 inches of travel, and a pair of coil-over, Kayaba shocks with adjustable preload float the rear on 4.17 inches of travel. Laced rims mount the 19-inch front hoop and 17-inch rear. I like laced rims, not just for their aesthetic appeal but for that extra little bit of give that takes some of the edge off the bumps, a win-win as far as I’m concerned.

The Bonnie weighs in just under 500 pounds soaking wet, which really encroaches on the safety envelope for a single front brake, so it is no surprise that these Bonnies respond somewhat reluctantly to control inputs at the brake levers. That said, the single, 310 mm front brake disc is almost as big as they come at 310 mm while the rear disc runs at 255 mm with twin-pot Nissin calipers to bind both ends — sufficient, but you had better give yourself plenty of stopping room with the added weight of cargo and a passenger.


Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214

Some manufacturers treat the engine as just another component, but to Western/European eyes, the lump serves to bolster the aesthetic appeal of the overall machine. Such is the case with the Bonnie mill. Built to emulate the style of the old Trumpets, the air-cooled, parallel-twin engine runs a considerably over-square configuration with a 90 mm bore and 68 mm stroke for a total displacement of 865 cc.

 Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 picture - doc665291

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but to mine eyes, this engine is pure sex-on-wheels. Best of all, it delivers its power with considerably less vibration than riders of V-twins are accustomed to, something I can certainly appreciate after a trip on my hard-mountedSporty , to be sure.

 Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 picture - doc665302

Electronically controlled, sequential fuel injectors within the carburetor-looking throttle bodies maintain the stoichiometric ratio while keeping emissions down and fuel economy around 43 mpg in the city and 57 mpg at 56 mph. Air-cooling does away with the water-buffalo radiator, but a much smaller and less conspicuous oil cooler adds another layer of thermal protection for the engine.

 Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 picture - doc665304 Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 picture - doc665305

Power flows through a wet clutch to the five-speed tranny, and an X-ring chain carries said power to the rear wheel. Speaking of power, this engine seems to punch a bit above its weight with 67 ponies at 7,500 rpm and 50 pounds of grunt at 5,800 rpm. Somewhat mild by some standards, but certainly enough for some thrills on your commute or weekend jaunts.


Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214

The 2015 Bonneville T100 “Black” has the distinction of rolling for the least amount of cheddar at $9,299, while the same year T100 came out for $9,599 in Intense Orange/Jet Black or Caspian Blue/Jet Black. At $9,999, the T214 comes in Caspian Blue/White with a racetastic checker pattern on the side cover.

For reasons that are unclear to me, the 2016 T100 and T100 “Black” are exactly one dollar more than the ’15 models. The ’16 T100 comes in Fusion White/Aurum Gold or Jet Black/Cranberry Red, while the ’16 T214 sports the same livery for the same price as last year at $9,999.


Star Motorcycles Bolt
 Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 picture - doc665289

My first inclination was to consider the Iron 883 Sportster , or one of the Star Bolts as a competitor, but decided that was a little too predictable, a trifle too pat. So, I instead looked to the V7 II Stone ABS from Moto Guzzi for my head-to-head.

Both fall within the Standard category, and visually have much in common, down to similar bench seats, tank indents and rider posture. Sure, the shape of the Stone’s tank is more about easing the visual transition between the protruding engine components and the rest of the machine whereas the Bonnie sports an indented tank for handling purposes, the end result is the same — both tanks carry an unusual, if fetching shape.

 Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 picture - doc665293

Styles diverge sharply when we look at the engines. Trumpet runs a classic parallel-twin mill that is typical of the family, while the Stone carries the equally typical-of-the-brand, transverse-mount, 90-degree V-twin. Engine design is one of my most-favoritest features on both bikes, as both tie into their respective history, and show a depth of character that perpetuates what most would consider to be defining features from each family.

The Bonnie mill displaces a total of 865 cc, while the Stone’s lump measures out at 744 cc, and the performance numbers reflect that size difference. The Stone cranks out 48 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 44.2 pound-feet of torque at 2,800, a shade under the 67 horsepower and 50 pound-feet from the Bonnie. In spite of the rubber mounts on the Stone, riders can expect a bit more vibration out of MG’s V-twin, just an unfortunate by-product inherent with that engine configuration.

MG manages to offer the ’16 Stone for $8,990, a little lower than Triumph’s $9,300 sticker on the T100 Black, and it sports an ABS feature that is a nice feather for its cap, but to me, isn’t worth the power you give up with the MG mill. You will have to decide for yourself where you land on that point.

 Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 picture - doc665307

He Said

“At the risk of sounding repetitive, I have always liked the classic Bonnie design, and this incarnation is no exception. As far as I’m concerned, this style of bike was perfected by the time the early ’80s rolled around and is impossible to improve upon, so Triumph gets major kudos for sticking with it and thumbing their nose at the more “progressive” designs flooding the market. Some may call that a risk, but those persons probably don’t “get it,” and never will. I would ride/own the T100 in a heartbeat were I to find myself in a position to score a second bike. ’Nuff said.”

She Said

My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says “Back in 1959, the Bonneville T120, built for the American market, was a real boon for Triumph. Fifty-plus years later, the Bonneville name still conjures up the glory of salt-flat speed records. It’s a classic style with modern tech to give us modern performance, which in my opinion is always a plus.”

 Triumph Bonneville T100 / T100 Black / T214 picture - doc665308


Engine and Transmission:
Type: Air-cooled, DOHC, parallel-twin, 360º firing interval
Capacity: 865cc
Bore: 90mm
Stroke: 68mm
System: Multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection with SAI
Exhaust: Stainless steel headers, twin chromed silencers.
Final drive: X ring chain
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Gearbox: 5-speed
Oil capacity: 1.2US Gallon
Chassis Running Gear and Displays:
Frame: Tubular steel cradle
Swingarm: Twin-sided, tubular steel
Front Wheels: 36-spoke 19 x 2.5in
Rear Wheels: 40-spoke 17 x 3.5in
Front Tires: 100/90-19
Rear Tires: 130/80 R17
Front Suspension: Kayaba 41mm forks, 120mm travel
Rear Suspension: Kayaba chromed spring twin shocks with adjustable preload, 106mm Rear wheel travel
Brakes front: Single 310mm disc, Nissin 2-piston floating caliper
Brakes rear: Single 255mm disc, Nissin 2-piston floating caliper
Instrument display and functions: Analogue speedometer and tachometer with odometer and trip informat
Dimensions and Capacities:
Length: 2230mm
Width handlebars: 840
Height without mirror: 1100mm
Seat height: 775mm
Wheelbase: 1500mm
Rake: 28º
Trail: 110mm
Tank capacity: 4.2us gallon
Wet weight: 225 kg
Dry weight: 214 kg
Max power ec: 68 7500
Max torque ec: 68 5800
Fuel Consumption:
Urban: 43us mpg
56mph/90kph: 57us mpg
Color Options:
2015 T100: Intense Orange/Jet Black, Caspian Blue/Jet Black
2016 T100: Fusion White/Aurum Gold, Jet Black/Cranberry Red
T100 Black: Jet Black
2016 T214 Special Edition:
2015 T100: $9,599
2015 T100 Black: $9,299
2016 T100: $9,600
2016 T100 Black: $9,300
T214 Special Edition: $9,999


Panasonic Lumix ZS60 Digital Camera Review

There is no such thing as the perfect camera. Everyone wants a camera that’s compact, has tons of zoom, takes great video, and doesn’t cost a lot of money. Usually, you can pick three out of those four. With the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS60 (MSRP $449.99) you very nearly get all four.

The ZS60 is the latest in a long, successful line of “travel zoom” point-and-shoots, compact cameras with long optical zooms. But while the original cameras in this class boasted zooms of about 10x, the ZS60 extends that all the way out to 30x. That’s about par for the category these days, but the ZS60 also backs that up with some new features like 4K video capture.

Replacing the Panasonic Lumix ZS50, the new model bumps the sensor resolution up to 18 megapixels. That hurts it a bit in low light, but not to any serious degree. The end result? One of the most full-featured cameras you can buy for under $500.

Design & Handling – Meet the ZS60

Panasonic essentially invented the travel zoom category, and it’s mostly been content to stick to minor updates ever since. The ZS60 continues that hand-me-down trend by borrowing quite a lot from it’s older brother, the ZS50. Both have similar proportions, a control ring around a 30x zoom lens, and a virtually-identical control scheme. Really, one of the only visible differences is the cross-hatch pattern on the ZS60’s grip.

On the inside, the ZS60 brings a 18.1-megapixel sensor to the table, backed by a beefier processor that allows for 4K video capture. Panasonic doubles down on that by introducing many of its excellent 4K Photo features from its top-notch cameras like the GX8, GH4, and G6. These features use the camera’s ability to capture 4K video (approximately 8 megapixels per frame) at 30 frames per second as a kind of ultra-fast burst mode.


An electronic viewfinder is a nice hat tip to old-school shooters, but you can use the fixed LCD instead if you want.

While that’s cool and all, it’s clear that the real attention-grabber here is the 30x f/3.3-6.4 zoom lens. It’s an impressive bit of glass for a pocketable camera, though it’s dwarfed by the 60x zoom lenses you’ll find in cameras like the Canon SX60 HS or the Nikon P610. The obvious difference is the ZS60 is about 1/3rd the size of those cameras and will easily slip into a jacket pocket when you’re not shooting with it.

Shooting with the ZS60 is mostly the same as it is with any point-and-shoot. You’ve got a 3-inch touchscreen LCD for basic framing and menu navigation. Additionally, there’s also the (surprisingly good) 1,166k-dot equivalent electronic viewfinder in the corner. It’s a lot of equipment in a small camera so things are a bit cramped, but it’s an invaluable tool on bright days when the rear screen is washed out.

Top controls

A mode dial flanks traditional point and shoot controls on the top.

In general, we really liked shooting with the ZS60. There’s not much that’s revolutionary here, but the entire combination comes together well to form a camera that is small, compact, but gives you enough latitude to shoot plenty of subjects. It’s not perfect—the autofocus is quick but slower than most higher-end cameras, the lens has some issues we’ll discuss in a moment, and the grip is just a strip of rubber—but for less than $500 there’s a lot to like here.

Features – Panasonic breathes new life into an old idea

Travel zoom cameras are popular for many reasons, but their main draw is that they are an attempt to check off as many items on a casual shooter’s wish list as possible. Long zoom? Huge list of features? Can fit in a pocket? Sounds great, right? But there are lots of compromises made in the design process—some minor, some more worthy of attention.

Back controls

They’re simple to use, but the rear controls of the ZS60 are quite fleshed-out.

Unlike most other point and shoots, the ZS60 has quite the array of advanced features that even novices will appreciate. For example, the autofocus modes allow you to use a traditional 49-point autofocus, manual focus, or even tracking AF—which will take the object you select and remain locked on it wherever it is in-frame. This is a big help with moving objects (kids, wildlife, sports), which are notoriously difficult to capture well. It breaks down a bit at full zoom, though, so you’ll have more success with slower-moving subjects.

A mode dial on the top of the camera gives you access to all the different shooting modes, with dual control wheels for tweaking settings if that’s your thing. With the ability to shoot in RAW and JPEG, even photo junkies will be satisfied with the flexibility the camera offers. There are plenty of scene modes and filters for intrepid shooters to explore, and Panasonic’s bevy of 4K photo—and video—features also make their appearance on the ZS60.

ZS60 Sample - CDs

The ZS60 isn’t the best camera around, but you can capture some nice photos with it if you pick your spots. 

These are some seriously cool features. For example, the ZS60’s software allows you to use the immense shooting resolution that 4K offers to make a well-edited HD video with panning, zooming, and cropping—all in-camera. You can also use the 4K post-focus feature to take a short burst of snaps, and then adjust where the photo is focused after the fact, similar to what you could do with the Lytro light-field camera. This is really fun especially if you like to take a lot of close-up photos, but don’t always get the focus right, or just like to tinker with your shots.

For social media lovers, the ZS60 comes equipped with onboard WiFi so you can port your photos from camera to smartphone. Using the Panasonic Image App, you can even use your smartphone as a remote live-view monitor. This is great not only for group shots, but also for tough to reach angles or long exposures.

But that’s the main anchor dragging the camera down. As you can see from the score, it doesn’t really drag it down that far, and the rest of the performance points are great. Color accuracy is spot-on, camera noise isn’t really an issue you have to worry about, and the ZS60’s automatic white balance function is tops among point and shoots. It struggles a little bit with incandescent lighting, but so do all cameras.

Action shooters will appreciate the ample burst speeds and buffer. For example, you can crank out 10 frames per second shooting RAW+JPEG, but if you don’t need to shoot in RAW, you can rip off JPEGs at the highest quality at a rate of a hair over 40 frames per second. That’s crazy-good, if a little worrying for your SD card. Better make sure to grab one of the newer, UHS-1 (or 3) SD cards that can handle that much data at once. SD memory is pretty cheap, so it’s a good time to stock up anyway.

Video is hit or miss, but not for the expected reasons. For example, you can shoot 4K video with this camera so it’s nice and sharp, but it has a lot of artifacting and aberration issues. The result is much better than what you’ll get with a point-and-shoot that only shoots 1080p video, but there’s definitely a clear difference between what the ZS60 will get you compared to a similarly priced mirrorless camera like the Panasonic GF7.


HTC Vive (2016) preview: An experience that’s out of this world

After years of betas, prototypes and demos, virtual reality is here. There are five main ways to enjoy virtual reality – or VR – at the moment. Each device is aimed at different markets, with a variety of different prices to suit different budgets, all the way from HTC Vive down to Google Cardboard.

HTC Vive sits at the top of the VR tree, above Oculus Rift in terms of what you can do out of the box. Both devices need a powerful PC to run them rather than a console or mobile phone, however Vive supports full movement within a specific space, offering a more comprehensive range of possibilities than many other units.

HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world - photo 2

We’ve been plotting the growth and development of HTC Vive from way before our first play at the MWC 2015 reveal in Barcelona up to the present day, with numerous demos in-between. We’ve climbed Everest, explored shipwrecks, and picked out supercars all from the comfort of a demo room.

So is HTC Vive something to be excited about? We’ve spent a lot of time withHTC Vive in all its guises so far.

The HTC Vive can be broken down into three distinct bits of hardware: Theheadset, the controllers, and the motion tracking sensors you place in the corner of the rooms. Outside the headset you will also need a PC to be able to run the software, as with out, the HTC Vive is really just a glorified hat.

Looking like a giant scuba diving mask, the virtual reality headset is worn over the face to fully immerse you. There is no glass to see out of, and the device holds in place via a hefty strap that you wear over your head. The headband, more akin to a gas mask fitting rather than skiing goggles, is very comfortable and reduces some of the front weighting of the unit.

The foam gasket is interchangeable, allowing you to change it to suit different heads, or those who wear glasses. Having experienced it first hand, we can confirm it is on the whole comfortable to wear, although we would be interested to see how we felt after more than 30 minutes, our longest VR stint so far.

HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world - photo 3

Part of the comfort in the latest design is a result of the headset being made considerably smaller and curvier than early editions, as well as adding new features like a camera, so that users can see the actual world while they are in a virtual one. In practice and we found it takes away some of the isolation that VR headsets bring with them.

Rather than display a live video feed through this camera, HTC Vive gives you a more of a “Predator” heat map interface. It takes you out of the game world, but not completely. It meant that in our demo we knew where to pose for the camera – something we’ve not been able to do in early versions of the headset- and enables a greater realisation of the world beyond the virtual playground you’re in. That means you’ll be able to see objects in the room too, like the chair you’re trying to sit in.

Key to the experience is the display, and although HTC aren’t fully detailing it at present, the company has confirmed that it has updated the screens from the original developer build. The latest iteration is brighter and crisper than before and features something called “mura” correction (from Japanese?) which deals with unevenness, irregularity, lack of uniformity, nonuniformity and inequality. It is the same technology that is used by some television manufacturers in their high-end TV sets.

One of the things we’ve noticed in all our testing is how smooth the experience is. Graphically there’s no sign of lag, no delay as you move your head, hands or body. The display runs at 90fps, which should keep it all clear visually. There’s no flicker and the headset is pretty comfortable too, with the soundtrack being completely enveloping – you simply plug in a separate pair of headphones that you supply.

In many of the demos we’ve almost forgotten that we’re wearing the demo rig – that’s how immersive the experience is, aside from the single bundle of wires that hang out the back of the headset to connect to your PC. HTC Vive headsethas an umbilical cord of cables coming out of the back that can be cumbersome at times, and while it is a vast improvement on what we experienced in early versions, it’s currently an inescapable constant.

The entire headset is scattered with familiar motion tracking points, meaning the rest of the Vive system can see exactly where the headset is, how it’s moving, whether you’re looking up, down left or right and so on. We’ve talked about motion tracking a little more below.

HTC says it is continuing to work alongside Steam to create the best VRheadset it can, regardless of price, so we suspect refinement to continue up until launch.


The HTC Vive controllers have the same motion tracking that the headset does, meaning you always know where your hands are – you can see them, if they are hands, so they can play an integral part in the Vive visual experience, as well as providing a control interface.

HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world - photo 11

The Vive controllers are well balanced, come with 4-hour battery life, and have a number of buttons. There is a trigger that’s operated with a squeeze of your hands, and the controller features dual stage trigger support that works like the shutter button on a DSLR. A light squeeze and you can lock on to a target, a tighter squeeze fires.

HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world - photo 16HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world - photo 7

There is a circular sensitive pad on the top that you can use your thumbs to control, as well as a selection of other buttons. It feels natural and it is versatile, and more importantly easy to use without your eyes. The main “home” button is inset so you can find it quickly, while there is plenty of rough and smooth texture contrast to help your fingers find where they are too.

HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world - photo 18

That said, we would still like more emphasis of the all-important home button, and a more textured back panel for better grip. We are sure though with continual use the button location will become as familiar to us as the Dual Shock controller on the PS4 is.


The HTC Vive lets you walk around the room by being able to map your every move. To do that you have to have two small base stations in two corners of the room you are planning on using.

The small black boxes are minimalist, wireless, and about the size of couple of packs of playing cards stacked on top of each other. Mounted up high on a wall bracket once installed you can forget about them.

These base stations contain the lasers, and when mounted on the walls, transect the whole space. The Vive headset and controllers are covered with detection points, so they know exactly where they are within that space. That sort of 3D motion mapping isn’t a new technology – it’s similar to how Hollywood captures movement that then underpins CGI models in blockbuster movies.

HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world - photo 19

But here it is used to let you roam in Vive’s “full room scale” virtual reality, meaning you have more freedoms than before. You can sit, stand, kneel, walk, jump, bob, weave, punch, skip, spin, dip, dive, duck, and dodge, as well as probably stand on your head, and Vive knows what you’re doing and where you’re doing it.

This makes it different to most of the other systems that offer a seated or static experience: HTC Vive is going to be about getting up, moving around and getting more involved.

This room mapping is also there to stop you walking into your walls if you get too immersed int the experience. Walk towards the outward perimeter and a blue grid softly appears in front of you.

That’s Vive telling you where the wall is, and akin to hitting the edge of the arena in The Hunger Games or the edge of the Holodeck in Star Trek. This is where the matrix ends. If you keep walking, you hit the wall. It’s as simple as that.

HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world - photo 13

If all that kit sounds expensive, that’s because HTC Vive is. It costs $799 in the US, £689/$1,033 in the UK. But for that you get a whole load of kit in the box, not just the headset.

Vive comes with the headset, two controllers, a microphone, two room sensors and all the connections and cables to hook it up to a high-end PC.

That is a lot pricier than the Oculus Rift, its main rival, which costs $600 (£500), but you do get more for the money. You also get three VR experiences bundled for free, for a limited period: Google’s Tilt Brush, Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives, and Fantastic Contraption.

HTC opened its pre-order process for the Vive virtual reality headset on 29 February. It will ship on 5 April.

HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world - photo 17

Now that pre-orders have opened for the consumer model of HTC Vive, the company has revealed what kind of PC you ideally need to run the device at its best.

Many of the experiences might require less than the following high-end recommendations, but if you really want to make the most of your swanky, new VR headset, these are the specifications you should match in your computer:

  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, AMD Radeon R9 290 equivalent or better
  • CPU: Intel i5-4590, AMD FX 8350 equivalent or better
  • RAM: 4 GB or more
  • Video Output: HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort 1.2 or newer
  • USB Port: 1x USB 2.0 or better port
  • Operating System: Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8.1 or later, Windows 10

HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world - photo 6

Turn on Vive and you are instantly presented with a futuristic polygonal landscape stretching off over the horizon. There are some buildings a long way off and the shape of the ground keeps shifting around us.

It briefly reminds us of an Inception dreamscape, before we are asked to press a couple of buttons and a balloon appears out of the controller in front of us. This open world is a holding pattern designed to allow you to load further content. Think of it as the menu interface on your Xbox One, but merely in an environment that is three dimensional and that you can walk around.

From here you can load further content. HTC and Steam haven’t confirmed what software will be bundled with the final consumer ready units, but over the last year we’ve experienced plenty showcased either by HTC themselves, or other developers keen to show off what they’ve been able to create with the hardware already.

Here’s a range of the experiences that HTC Vive has taken us through in the many demos that we’ve had.


“Next, I’m going to take you deep underwater,” a voice says quietly out of the tranquil darkness we’re standing in. Our ears tell us we’re underwater a fraction before the scene appears around us. “You’re standing on the deck of a sunken wreck.”

We look tentatively around the wreck’s foredeck. The waters are crystal clear and far above us we can see the sun’s broken rays refracting through the waters. There’s a blissful tranquillity, a sense of calm, as we gaze through scene surrounding us. The wonderfully enveloping soundscape matches the visual depths.

There’s a rail at the edge of the deck and we take a few steps towards it. Small clusters of fish scatter as we move. We reach out to grab some, but they dart away, the light glistening off their scales as they slip through the water.

As we look over the railing, we’re hit with a real sense of vertigo. With a sharp intake of breath, we look into the inky blackness of the depths beneath us, quickly stepping back from the edge.

There is no ship, no railing. The vastness of the whale that glides up isn’t real, but neither are there words to describe its scale as we turn around to look behind us.

But the vertigo is real. The emerging sense of wonder is real. The total immersion we’re fooled into believing is real. The feeling that the Blu:Encounter from WEVR is giving us a VR experience like nothing we’ve ever seen before is very real indeed.

TiltBrush is a painting demo which has been seen before in VR on Oculus and Cardboard but now appears here in a new format. It is one of three titles HTCis giving away with purchases of the Vive for an initial, limited period.

The experience gives you the chance to really put your hand controls to the test. Using the top pad of the right controller we can change the thickness of the painting tool we’re using.

A squeeze of the trigger and there’s a green light line painted as we scribble around. The left hand is much more exciting, however. A touch of the top pad and we’re looking at our tool palette, but it’s a carousel that rotates around our hand, letting us pick colours and tools. It’s ultra futuristic, like a holographic wrist tool.

It’s a special day when you get to paint your own rainbow across the sky. That compounds another eureka moment. We walk under our own rainbow and look at it from the other side. It’s painted in a 3D world, the boundaries of two dimensions don’t apply. We’re giggling as we fill the room with colour, and walk around to inspect our handiwork from all sides. It’s not art, but it is fun and it gets us thinking creatively.

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The zombie apocalypse is on us, and this time it’s in room scale virtual reality. That’s the premise of Arizona Sunshine. The game is a fully immersive virtual reality experience, and immersive beyond your imagination.

The premise is simple. You are holed up in various settings with zombies charging towards you from all directions. All you’ve got to do is shoot them before they get to you.

With an array of weapons, and a constant fear that a zombie is about to creep up behind you, this is certainly one for making you spin around on the spot lots of times.

It’s also a demo that shows some of the limitations of the Vive system, although you can walk around, the mechanics of that room confinement means you always have to be in a designated space, whether that’s with walls or with rocks. That said Arizona Sunshine is a blast.

Created by Nurulize, this demo allows people to see their customised McLaren before they sign on the dotted line. The demo is all about “object desire”, and like the Audi demo we’ve tried is all about seeing it as if it was in the room with you.

There are some jarring elements – like how you can’t touch the car, can’t open its doors, or can merely walk through it as if you are a ghost – but you can do things like sit inside it.

It is something we found ourselves doing almost without thinking about it. And yes, we realise that to anyone watching we must have looked stupid sitting on the floor in an empty room in a make-believe car, all so we could get a better feel of what the visibility out of the windscreen would be.

You could easily see car showrooms having a setup complete with a car seat to sit on to get the full experience.

Audi HTC Vive VR Configurator - 3

We’re on the hip Left Bank of the Seine River in Paris. It’s a sunny, breezy spring morning and you’re staring into the engine bay of your brand new, Ara Blue Audi R8 V10 Plus. As you move around the side of the car, you can’t help but wonder if you shouldn’t have got that split side blade in Matt Titanium Grey instead of Mythos Black.

Wonder no more. A wave of your hand and the side blades are re-rendered in the Titanium. Much better, now let’s go the whole hog and add 20-inch 10-spoke Y design alloys too. But hang on, do they clash if we get them in gloss anthracite…?

Soon, this fantastical world of kid-in-a-sweet shop car configuration will be available in a select handful of Audi brand stores. Virtual reality is the very latest way to allow the company’s customers to configure their cars, thanks to Vive.

Having already teemed up with Oculus in some stores to allow a first-gen VR configurator, Audi is now getting together with HTC and using the Vive for its next step on in the world of virtual configurators.

But why? Audi currently has – if you include variants – something like 52 models for sale. More car customers are shopping online. Big, out of town dealers aren’t places people love visiting, even if they’re architectural shrines to steel and glass, and serve decent coffee as Audi dealers tend to be. City centre brand stores are the way forward. The chances of a dealer having the car you’re shopping for in stock is actually decreasing. So how do you serve someone who walks in and has decided online that, yes, they’d very much like to spend £119k/$178k on a new R8, but needs to see if they like it better in grey or orange before ordering? Or can’t decide if they want a red or stone coloured interior. And just what those carbon trim options might do to change the cabin ambience.

VR is opening up opportunities for Audi to help the customer decide on these things, without needing to keep literally hundreds of thousands of pounds of cars in stock. Today, even if they kept one of every model at each dealer, they could never hope to showcase the myriad options modern premium cars offer, and which form such a critical part of the shopping experience.

With the Vive system, Audi can allow the customer to view the car just about anywhere. We checked out a Red R8 on the moon, which was a little surreal, but ultimately quite cool. The rendering engine and power of the technology means the car looks absolutely realistic: shadows, light, pressing of the metal all crisply rendered. And when you move your head to look around, no jerkiness. You can even crouch down and look right into the jewel like detail of the headlights.

A swipe of the iPad screen that your Audi assistant will be carrying, and his hand to guide you to sit down onto the bench, and you’ll be transported from outside the car to being sat in the driver’s seat, able to look around the interior and even lean in to get a closer view of details, materials, trim finishers.

Back to that Paris street, and the coolest part of the entire demo. Open the rear engine bay cover, and lean over to peer into the engine. As your nose approaches the virtual cam cover, the VR image changes from fully rendered, to holographic orange. Continue to dip your head and you’re now descending through a holographic engine. A valve, into the engine’s cylinders and a full inside tour of the internals of that utterly magnificent, high-revving V10.


Virtual reality experiences work very well when you are in confined space, and this demo is completely from the perspective of you sitting in the cockpit of a spaceship. It doesn’t use the room tracking element of Vive at all, but still delivers a very good virtual reality experience.

Like the game, already available, you command a spaceship flying around the galaxy selling, trading, and fighting your way out of trouble.

The gameplay is enhanced by the fact that you can look around within the cockpit to see what’s going on and where those bogies actually are. As you can imagine banking hard left and looking up and behind you can be quiet nauseous, but that merely adds to the experience rather than take away from it.

Elite: Dangerous is probably the most “traditional” game experience we’ve played on the Vive to date, complete with pilot controllers. Although it lives up to the VR experience promised, it doesn’t show off Vive’s full potential.

Aperture, created by Valve, sees you in a workshop, being given instructions. They are pretty fast and we’re wondering if something is going wrong. We open the door and Atlas, the robot from Portal 2, staggers in. It’s time to run some repairs.

With a swipe of the hand, Atlas expands into an exploded component view across the room in front of you. It’s incredibly detailed as you try to figure out how to repair the damaged robot. The instructions keep coming so fast that you have no idea what’s been said. It’s exhilarating, it’s confusing, we’re lost in Valve’s world, puppets on a virtual string.

It’s this use of existing and familiar characters that has us excited, especially when you’re pairing the IP that Valve has, with a system that’s so capable and dynamic from HTC.


Perhaps the most exciting demo we have experienced so far is called Everest. Created by Iceland-based Solfar Studios in partnership with Nordic’s leading visual effects and animation house, the experience starts with you floating above the world’s highest mountain. The computer-generated scenery is breathtaking.

For this demo, presented to us by Nvidia, the company took the immersive angle way beyond what you can expect to get in the box. Nvidia chilled the demo room, so much so we had to put on a heavy winter mountain jacket to keep warm, and the company added a wind machine to give us more reason to believe we aren’t in London.

It works. For a moment, we found ourselves stumbling for balance, as we struggled to take it all in. The cool air, the wind in our face, and the crisp visuals all worked to trick our brain – even just a spilt second – into believing we were somewhere else. This is visual stimulus on another level.

The demo, which lasted around 10 minutes, had us crossing a crevasse by holding on to a guide rope before climbing a ladder to get to the top. It was very good, but it does highlight an area for improvement: tracking your feet.

While the controllers can be replicated to look like gloves or guns or paintbrushes, VR doesn’t track any other part of your body at the moment. Look down, especially when you’re crossing a crevasse that in real life would have your heart racing, and you see nothing. It breaks the continuity of it all.

We are sure this could be solved with tracking stickers to pin to your shoes, but it is certainly something that brings you back to reality rather than allowing you to stay in the virtual world that little bit longer.

At the summit, all that was left to do was stare out across the huge vista knowing that we can now tick it off our list of things to see, even though we know we’ll never actually summit Everest.


Another demo we’ve experienced is the ability to walk around a family room in an imaginary house. The Vive supports movement so walking around a room like a kitchen or out on to a veranda is really easy.

As with the car experience, we can easily see this being offered by architects, interior or lighting designers. It will give you the chance to see how something will look in your house before you build it. Forget model making, you’ll be able to walk around and see it first hand.

While this demo still has a “computer feel” to it when it comes to graphics, we can see this getting better over time. We expect that – within a couple of years – designing and buying a kitchen will involve donning a VR headset and walking around a virtual room instead of looking at some 3D CAD drawings on an ageing PC in a DIY superstore.

Clearly designed to look like a video game rather than a real life representation, the demo found us in a futuristic office cubicle left to our own devices. The demo really highlights how you’ll be able to, using the controllers, pick up objects in the game world by moving your hands in the real world. The demo lets you pick up everything from coffee cups to telephones – yes we clunked our head lifting the controller to our noggin – to pressing buttons to turn on computers or scan something on the printer.

It’s pointless, has little entertainment value and if you get a chance to play it will tire of it quickly, however it shows what huge potential VR experiences have beyond a “games controller” and one that the Vive will enjoy over non dedicated controller supporting devices.


The Secret Shop is one of the Vive experiences we’ve tried so far that really shows the gaming potential of the headset. It is based on Valve’s hugely popular multiplayer game, Dota 2, and the experience is set in a magical wonderland that features spell locations that once found and enabled shrunk us down and placed us in different, often scary situations – including being faced by one of our major fears in the shape of a giant spider.

Where the demo was a magical as its theme was in its interactive denizens. A small, friendly dragon, for example, followed you around the room as you explored – recoiling when you approached directly. It made the whole room feel tangible and real, even with a heavily cartoon aesthetic. This is VR gaming at its best, placing the wearer into a detailed environment and giving them multiple options.

HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world - photo 4

HTC Vive currently has some real challenges before it will work in a typical home environment. As you’ve probably gathered, content is going to be everything and content is where VR currently struggles. We’ve seen demos or showpieces from Cardboard to Gear VR, through to bigger systems like OculusRift, and this needs to be more than being able to look around the inside of a car, or falling out of a plane.

Yes, we have played Elite: Dangerous and Alien: Isolation on Oculus, but even they felt like test demos at the time (mainly because they were). The real key is finding ways to make VR work in new ways.

How do we use Vive’s freedom of movement and what sort of play space will you need? Is this going to lead to people converting their garages into VR playrooms? Can we build a Holodeck in the garden?

But on the creative side, it’s not going to be about isolated demos. Virtual reality will need worlds that can use the movement. Many VR experiences are confined to a seat, so how do you make movement work in games? Head movements make perfect sense, but what about running and sidestepping? How does this become a first person shooter experience for the mass market?

Then we have the price – £689/$1,033 is a lot to risk on a new technology. With such bold ambitions, we have the feeling that the first experience you’ll have of VR via HTC Vive won’t be in your living room, but more likely in a car showroom or another commercial setting.

HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world - photo 14

First Impressions

We’ve been wowed by HTC Vive, that much is obvious. The demos we’ve played since our first experience in early 2015 show that it’s a very exciting space, and goes well beyond experiences of VR in the past. That serves as a great showcase for what can be done, but to make this into the home there needs to be a rich variety of engaging content. It’s going to be creative genius that makes a convincing argument for virtual reality at home, rather than the hardware itself.

Whether that is helping you see an underwater shipwreck or the view from the highest peak, the chances are you’ll be able to experience places you’ve never been before or will never be able to go to, all from the relative comfort of your own home.

But then there’s the other side of Vive, and whether that’s picking a kitchen or seeing what your new car will look like in hot pink, we suspect you’ll start to see VR pop-up in lots of places, many of which you hadn’t initially thought of before.

HTC Vive is hugely impressive and for any technology fan, something that needs to be experienced. It delivers an experience that offers the potential to go beyond its VR rivals, but that doesn’t come without challenges. Being able to take advantage of Vive’s technology in a practical way, with mind-blowing content, will determine Vive’s eventual success.



Apple OS X 10.12 Fuji: What’s the story on the next Mac system update?

Apple typically unveils the next version of the Mac operating system at its annual Worldwide Developer Conference. And wouldn’t you know it – WWDC 2016 is right around the corner.

Although the company started shipping OS X 10.11 El Capitan just last autumn, rumours about the next system update are already beginning to surface. It’ll likely be labelled OS X 10.12, for instance, but it also currently goes by the codename Fuji. We’ve discussed these details and more, including some of the latest rumors of new features. So keep this page bookmarked.

Apple of course has not officially announced OS X 10.12, let alone a name for the system update. Several reports so far however have been calling it the codename “Fuji”. Keep in mind Apple usually sticks with California-themed monikers, and Fuji apples are frequently grown in the US state.

New versions of OS X tend to release in the autumn, likely in September or October. We expect Apple to release Fuji during one of those months this year as well, but the company will probably give a demo of the new operating system at WWDC 2016 in June or July.

Apple in recent years has given away all updates to OS X, so we expect the successor to El Capitan to be a free update as well.


According to 9to5Mac, Apple is working on a major update to OS X El Capitan called OS X 10.12. It’ll likely arrive this autumn with an impressive expansion of Siri capabilities. Siri, which debuted on the iPhone years ago, has since been added to iPad, Apple Watch, and most recently, the Apple TV. So it makes sense that Apple would want to bring its smart assistant to desktop machines.

Apple had been testing Siri integration since 2012 but only now has a better idea of how Siri can work on the Mac. The company has developed a slick user-interface and is almost ready to go public with it. In fact, Apple is expected to unveil OS X 10.12 at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June. During the demo, you can expect to see how Siri for Mac works and functions.

The feature is thought to live in the Mac’s Menu Bar as a Siri icon. It will support voice control, but when you click the icon, a dark Siri interface will appear in the top right corner of your screen. A mockup of this was supplied by 9to5Mac and can be seen below. It looks a lot like Siri on the iPhone and elsewhere, with colourful sound waves and all. Siri will also have a System Preferences pane so you can enable keyboard shortcuts.

There might be an option to enable a “Hey Siri” command under this pane, because – similar to Siri on the iPhone or even Alexa via the Amazon Echo speaker – Siri on the Mac will be always-listening when plugged into power.


According to Japanese site Mac Otakara, Apple is working on new versions of the Photos app for both iOS 10 and OS X 10.12.

The Photos app for iOS and OS X will be updated with features to bring them up to speed with the now-discontinued iPhoto 2.0.1 for iOS and iPhoto 9.6.1 for Mac, respectively. While the updated iOS app will have tools for editing EXIF data and touch-based brushes, we only know that the updated OS X app will have improvements (but don’t expect Aperture-level features to be added).

Here’s a list of features many people have long-requested from Apple, though there’s been no word yet to suggest they will be added to Fuji (once we hear more however, we’ll let you know):

  • Health app for OS X – There’s a Health app for iOS and Apple Watch but nothing for OS X. It’d be cool to track health stats from a desktop.
  • Apple Music app for OS X – The iTunes app needs to be refined, obviously, but apart from that, many people want Apple to break up iTunes into smaller apps, which includes offering a dedicated Apple Music app.
  • Clock app for OS X – A dedicated app with Alarm, Stopwatch, and Timer functionality would be so handy.


Asus ZenBook UX303UA review

  • Stellar screen
  • Great specs at affordable price
  • Packed with bloatware
  • Underwhelming design
  • Intel Core i7 6500U processor
  • Integrated Intel HD Graphics 520
  • 13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 Full HD screen
  • 256GB SSD internal storage
  • HD webcam
  • Manufacturer: Asus


Asus has been churning out some great Ultrabooks in the form of its ZenBook range. I’ve been particularly impressed with the stellar UX305, which offers premium build quality and design at an affordable price.

With the UX303UA, the company has once again delivered the same superb build but this time with improved hardware to compete with the likes of Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13. Inside the UX303UA sits one of Intel’s new Skylake Core i7 processors, 12GB of DDR3 RAM, and 256GB of solid-state storage.

The Ultrabook is available in a range of configurations, offering either a i3-6100U or i5-6200U chip, with 128GB, 256GB, 500GB or 1TB storage options. But it’s the i7, 12GB of RAM, and 256GB storage version that appears to be the standard configuration, judging by a quick glance at online stores.

At £899/$1,348, the UX303UA isn’t the cheapest laptop, but neither is it the most expensive Ultrabook. In fact, it’s very reasonably priced, which makes it an exciting prospect for anyone looking for a top-performing Windows machine.


What’s strange about the UX303UA is that while the build quality is great, the design is a little underwhelming.

First, that signature Asus concentric circle, brushed metal finish has been retained for the aluminium case. It’s available in three colours: Smoky Brown, Icicle Gold and Rose Gold. I was sent the Icicle Gold version for my review and can say that while it certainly doesn’t feel cheap or flimsy, there’s something about the simple aesthetics that almost undermine Asus’ premium aspirations.


Prior to the UX303UA I reviewed Asus’ much lower-end Transformer Book Flip TP200SA, and to be honest, there’s very little to distinguish the two in terms of pure looks. The UX303UA obviously has a better build quality and feels decidedly sturdier, but from the outside both laptops look the same.

Perhaps it’s the “Icicle Gold”, which was more like a faded silver, that made it appear as though the laptop had seen better days. Or maybe it was that there was no standout design feature – the Lenovo Yoga 900’s intricate hinge, for example. Whatever it was, I just wasn’t getting the idea of “premium” that Asus is promising here.


The large bezel doesn’t help either, detracting from any attempt to establish a high-end finish. Unlike the super-slim bezel on the Dell XPS 13, Asus’ laptop proudly sports a huge screen border that doesn’t do much for its overall look.

In terms of build quality, however, this laptop can’t be faulted. It feels robust, there are none of the issues that often come with lower-end devices – such as a rattling trackpad – and the top half of the case feels sturdier than the rather flimsy effort on the more expensive Lenovo Yoga 900.

The laptop is also fairly light at 1.45kg. That’s slightly heavier than the previous ZenBook UX305 and the XPS 13, which both weigh in at 1.2kg, but it’s about the same as the 13-inch MacBook Air’s 1.35kg.


At 19mm, the UX303UA’s is thicker than the MacBook Air’s 17mm and the Dell XPS’s 15mm. It’s also bulkier than the UX305, which was an impressive 12.3mm at its widest point. The UX303UA isn’t the lightest or thinnest laptop you can buy then, but it’s still fairly compact and, like the Dell and MacBook Air, you’ll have little issue carrying it around.

In terms of ports, Asus has made decent provisions. The right side of the case features the power socket, mini-DisplayPort, USB 3.0 port, HDMI port, and the combo audio jack. On the left sit two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader.

Unfortunately, there’s no USB Type-C support, which would have made the UX303UA a much more attractive option in terms of future-proofing, although it’s great to see that Asus has included the HDMI-out port.



While some may find the UX303UA’s keyboard a little shallow when it comes to travel, I didn’t find it an issue. The non-backlit keys do feel a little spongy, but in my opinion layout is more important. If arrows are in an unfamiliar place, or the Enter key has been reduced in size, it can throw you off. Thankfully, there are no such issues with the UX303UA; I could type easily without hitting wrong keys.


It would have been nice to have included backlighting, a feature offered by both Dell and Apple, especially since Asus has gone to the effort to provide impressive specs elsewhere. These days it seems backlighting has become a standard addition for many companies.

The size of the trackpad is impressive for a 13-inch laptop. It’s surrounded by a silver trim, and doesn’t suffer from any rattling.

I did have a recurring issue with tapping and dragging, however. When opening tabs in Chrome for instance, I’d tap on an open link, then move the cursor downwards only to have the tab follow me. It’s a minor issue, but one that I haven’t experienced with the MacBook, nor any other laptop in this price category.


Overall, though, the trackpad felt responsive and I experience no other issues using its features, including the three-fingered app switching and two-finger zoom functions.


The UX303UA’s screen is simply superb. Asus has added a matte finish to the screen to reduce glare, and it’s the first thing you notice when you turn on the laptop. As a result, viewing angles are vastly improved by the reduced reflections on the screen.


In addition, the IPS panel makes colours look dynamic and vivid, without seeming overcooked, and there was no sign of backlight bleed.

The 13.3-inch display is available in three versions according to the Asus website: an HD 1,366 x 768 version, an Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 version, and a quad-HD+ 3,200 x 1,800 version. I was sent the Full HD version and can say that it was more than adequate for the 13-inch screen.


The inclusion of unwanted software on new Windows laptops has become pretty standard, and the Asus ZenBook UX303UA is no better in this regard. Here’s a list of what comes with the UX303UA: Asus Install, Asus Live Update, Asus On-Screen Display, Splendid Utility, USB Charger Plus, WebtStorage, WinFlash, eManualk, Asus Giftbox, Flipbook, McAfee LiveSafe, Netflix, WildTangent Games, Dropbox, Evernote.


Isn’t the whole point of having a desktop web browser that you don’t have to download a load of apps to access online content, filling up the internal storage with extra files?

Also, I know Microsoft is trying to integrate the tablet and desktop experience with Windows 10, but I’ve always rather enjoyed not having adverts in the Start menu. The deluge of extra programs, alongside the Start menu marketing just detracts from the positive aspects of these Windows laptops.

Asus would have done well to consider Dell’s approach with the XPS 13, which the company kept relatively free of bloatware.


The i7 processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics 520 is a step up from the MacBook Air’s £999/$1,498 configuration, which comes with an Intel Core i5 chip. The UX303UA also packs in 256GB SSD storage and 12GB of DDR3L RAM , which is more than any casual user will ever need.

As you’d expect, this equates to super-speedy performance, although the standard integrated graphics chip means you won’t be using the UX303UA for any serious gaming.


This was confirmed in our performance tests, with the UX303UA returning a score of 6,731 in the Geekbench multi-core test. That’s better than the updated XPS 13 Skylake, which scored 6,242 in the same test.

On the PCMark 8 Home test, Asus’ machine returned a respectable score of 2,693 – again, putting it ahead of the XPS 13 Skylake’s score of 2,543, but also ahead of the more expensive Lenovo Yoga 900’s score of 2,403. Things were slightly different in the 3DMark tests, with the UX303UA coming in below the XPS’s 5,844 score in the Cloud Gate test with 5,789.

Still, the overall point here is that the UX303UA will run programs smoothly and should have little issue with intensive tasks too, although it still isn’t ideal for those wanting to take part in heavy gaming.


In terms of daily use, I encountered no problems at all. The laptop was always responsive, never suffering from random crashes. The UX303UA turns on and wakes up from sleep very quickly, while programs open instantly. Video streaming didn’t cause any issues – all in all, this is a very speedy machine.

It’s also incredibly quiet, thanks to the solid-state components. The UX303UA’s fans rarely kicked in and I found the device never reached temperatures that made it uncomfortable to use on my lap.


Asus says that the sealed 3Cells 50Wh polymer battery in the UX303UA will last up to seven hours, thanks to the various energy-efficient components it uses.

Based on my experience, that claim holds up. I used the UX303UA as my main work laptop, which involved constant word processing and web browsing. In that situation, with the screen brightness set to 50%, the battery lost around 14% of charge per hour. Time-wise, this works out to just over seven hours.


When it comes to video streaming, the laptop held up well, with only a slight increase in the amount of power lost. The UX303UA lost an everage of 17% per hour with the screen brightness at 50%. That means you’ll get just under 6 hours of constant streaming.

Charge times were pretty standard, with the laptop going from 0 to 100% in just over two hours, which is nothing special but also nothing terrible.


As with most laptop cameras, the UX303UA’s lens isn’t going to be taking any award-winning photos. Images seem slightly washed out and colours aren’t reproduced particularly accurately. Asus says the camera is “HD”– however, the images captured don’t live up to what’s expected.


In short, the camera can be used for Skype sessions and it will perform adequately.


On the case of the UX303UA, Asus proudly boasts of “Audio by ICEpower” and “Bang & Olufsen Technology”. It seems that manufacturers have become increasingly keen to pack various audio tech into their laptops in recent years. Most of it translates as ‘this laptop sounds like every other device with small speakers and no sub”.

And in the case of Asus’ machine, I can say that this description is accurate. The sound isn’t awful as far as laptop speakers go, but it certainly sounds no better than any others I’ve heard. If anything I would say it was worse than others such as the Lenovo Yoga 900.

Still, they’ll do the job for the odd Netflix sesh or Skype call. Just don’t expect ‘ICEpower’ to add anything to the experience.



The UX303UA offers some impressive specs for a laptop in this price range. The inclusion of an i7 Skylake processor with 12GB of RAM means that you’ll rarely have an issue with this laptop when it comes to performance. Combine this with a superb screen and you have a fantastc offering from Asus.

This machine has its drawbacks, however. I’m not convinced that the laptop lives up to the “premium” feel that Asus promises, with the wide bezel and odd colouring of the shell distracting from what is overall a nicely built machine. It also doesn’t escape the bloatware curse, which has plagued Windows machines for decades.


With that in mind, the Dell XPS 13 Skylake offers a better alternative, with all the performance power of the UX303UA but with a better finish and far less bloatware. For close to the £1,000/$1,500 mark, you might even consider the 2015 13-inch MacBook, which impressed with it’s unmatched design and build quality and Force Touch trackpad.


A speedy, reliable and reasonably priced Ultrabook with a stellar screen suitable for anyone looking for a mid to high-end laptop. But there are slightly better alternatives available.


ASUS ZenFone 3 VS Lenovo Vibe X3: Which is the best budget smartphone?

ASUS ZenFone 3 is on the way but we’ve already known what it offers. So, let’s see how Zen 3 competes with the beautiful, powerful and some months older Lenovo Vibe X3!

ASUS ZenFone 3 VS Lenovo Vibe X3: Which is the best budget smartphone?

Great specification battle

About ASUS ZenFone 3 specs, the handset is said to come with 2 variants coded as Z012D and Z010DD. The first one is will have a pretty common 5.5-inch Full HD display, a Snapdragon 650 chipset, a 13MP rear camera, 3GB of RAM paired with 32GB of internal storage. Meanwhile, the other model, Z010DD, will pack a bigger 5.9-inch HD screen, a Snapdragon 615 chip, 3GB of RAM and the same 32GB ROM. So, to make the comparison more specific and clearer, we would like to only take Z012D into consideration because it boasts the same size as Lenovo Vibe X3 display, which also measures 5.5 inches with Full HD resolution.

Asus Zenfone rivals

Apart from the similar screens, other Lenovo Vibe X3 specs are much different. Specifically, it uses a Snapdragon 808 processor, 32/64GB ROM (expandable up to 128GB), and 3GB RAM to be basic. They are just a bit stronger than the Zen 3. Yet, if it comes to camera comparison, the Lenovo product is surely the champion here thanks to its 21MP main shooter working with an 8MP selfie one.

Lenovo Vibe X3 camera testing

In general, we cannot deny that Lenovo Vibe X3 is the better smartphone here in terms of hardware. However, perhaps we also need to look at their prices to see which one is the more suitable device for consumers. Check out the following part for more information.

Price and availability

No doubt both phones are very good machines that can do any task you want. In case of focusing more on photography, the Lenovo product will be an ideal choice. Lenovo Vibe X3 price is 2,499 Yuan or about $385 for the 32GB version and 2,999 Yuan or about $460 for the 64GB. Though, if you need a decent but more affordable handset, Zen 3 can be the one. Despite no words made for official ASUS ZenFone 3 price, we are predicting it will not cost more than $250.


Final Drive Review : Bidding a Fond Farewell to the Scion tC

With Scion officially in the midst of its final death throes, there’s a part of me that feels like it’s dying right along with it. Granted, I was never a huge fanboy of the brand or anything, but for many members of the millennial generation, this was the car brand of our people.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

So for Scion to suddenly go belly-up is a bit of a blow for those of us who recall its early years when the Toyota offshoot paraded across campuses with its xB, xA, and tC trifecta of flashy, moderately priced options. But over the years, we began to lose interest in the youthful brand, and even after a series of new product launches, Scion still struggled to recapture our attention the way it once had back in 2003.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

While cars like the sporty FR-S, the inexpensive iA, and the iM hatchback will all be absorbed by the Toyota brand and rebadged, both the xB and the tC are set to expire entirely. So in an effort to offer an homage to the ailing brand, and to better understand what all went wrong, I secured a one-week loan of the vehicle you see here. The sporty coupe that was once offered with an optional supercharger straight from the factory has been thoroughly redesigned since its inception, and in certain ways is better than ever. Here’s how it was able to fill a sizable gap in the Toyota lineup for a while, and why its demise has been warranted.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet


When Toyota decided to restyle the tC a few years back, it did away with a lot of the styling cues that made it so memorable. Long gone are the soft, bubbly headlamps and tail lights, the rounded lower motifs have been replaced by jagged edges, and although it still remains a coupe in essence, this final rendition is a far more angry-looking animal than its previous self.

I personally like the refresh, as the jutting lower air dam, glass roof, and hooked lights all add a bit of flare that is not an eyesore. The addition of fog lights alongside standard 18-inch alloy rollers improve things in the aesthetics department as well.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior pros and cons

+ Stylish 18-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in performance rubber, with just enough sidewall to make the wheel wells not look completely forsaken.

+ The continuously flowing sheet of tinted glass that rolls down the roof until it hits the trunk lid is pretty sharp-looking. The front fascia is also a strong point, and the tapered lower air dam is perfectly proportioned.

+ While the taillights may not be to everyone’s liking, the reshaped headlamps and LED accent lights look quite nice, especially during night driving.

– The elongated, spiral antenna, blocky decklid, and funky tail lamps are all a bit unsightly and misproportioned.

– Not having a third door on one side for the backseat like what we found in the Hyundai Veloster is an oversight, as it is more of a practical misstep than an aesthetic one.

– Even though it is sharp-looking, the restyled front fascia has this solid block of plastic in the center of the lower grille that is quite unsightly when looked upon head on.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet


Once equipped with a lackluster engine that really deserved a supercharger, the tC’s redesign landed it a new 2.5-liter motor that returned 179 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. This is by no means a screamer of an engine, but in something this small it didn’t have to be. Getting up to speed and around town in an orderly fashion was not much of a problem, and even though its manual gearbox was anything but memorable, the transmission itself didn’t raise any major red flags.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain pros and cons

+ It may not be a fire-breather, but this 179-horsepower 2.5-liter motor felt more than capable enough for daily driving purposes and is notoriously reliable.

+ This manual gearbox is very straightforward. While throws were a hair long and widely spaced, the clutch’s bite point was in an acceptable area and, much like its motor, is virtually indestructible.

+ While there is a TRD exhaust upgrade out there, the stock unit sounded pretty nice.

– There is no longer a TRD supercharger upgrade option, so getting more power will need to be done the old-fashioned way, with aftermarket parts and extensive shop time.

– For as reliable as this manual transmission is, getting it to engage gears consistently can occasionally be a challenge, with reverse being a primary culprit.

– There aren’t any drive mode options here, so being able to hit a “Sport” button or engaging “Eco” mode won’t happen.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet


Having driven the new iA and iM back-to-back, it’s pretty obvious that out of the doomed Scion legion the tC has the worst cabin of the bunch. It did have a few notable sweet spots that kept it from being a complete loss, but there definitely was an economy-car level of cheapness here that was a little too prevalent when compared to equally priced vehicles in its segment.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior pros and cons

+ For as cramped as it may seem from the pictures, the rear is roomier than one might expect. Even with the driver’s seat set to a position where it would accommodate my 6-foot frame, I still had ample legroom when seated behind it. The deeply carved reclining seats also allowed surprising headroom beneath the sloping rear glass.

+ Seats both front and rear may appear inexpensively made, but they aren’t horrid to ride around in, with just enough bolstering to keep you firmly positioned when cornering sharply.

+ Small perks include a nicely sized, D-cut leather steering wheel, a deeply ensconced set of gauge pods, trunk storage cubbies, and a full-size spare.

– Cheap interior plastic trim pieces and a sunshade that rattled loudly with every bump were very annoying when driving.

– Road noise is one thing. But this ride was filled with noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), some of which was partially due to the low profile all-season performance Yokohama tires.

– Visibility is a pretty mixed affair, and while forward-facing views are boosted by a driver’s seat that is height adjustable, blind spots are pretty sizable out back.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech and safety

There really isn’t a whole lot of tech one can expect in a stripped down car like this. It has some basic features that keep it in the race, but in today’s market a base Scion tC is more audio and crash safety focused than anything else. Sure, it has Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port with iPod connectivity, and Aha Radio capabilities, but so does everyone else for the most part. On the bright side, it does come standard with power windows and locks, keyless entry, a push-button start, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech pros and cons

+ It may be small in stature, but with a five-star overall crash safety rating from the government, both stability and traction control systems, and smart stop technology, the tC offers a nice array of safety measures that are tested and proven.

+ The 7-inch Pioneer touchscreen unit is well placed, houses audio and Bluetooth capabilities, and has voice recognition.

+ Keyless entry, eight Pioneer audio components, and USB/iPod connectivity are solid standard features that are actually usable on a daily basis.

– The multi information display (MID) is non adjustable and about as bare bones as it gets, even when other automakers offer fully loaded version in competing cars for around the same price point.

– No back up camera or blind spot monitoring options here folks, so reverse and merging have to be done the old-fashioned way.

– While this model came equipped with optional fog lights and it does come standard with LED mirror signal lamps, the interior lighting was bland, and long gone were the wild mood lights from Scion’s early days.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The drive

Featuring double wishbone rear suspension and disc brakes all around, the drive that week was a far more rewarding one than when it first appeared on paper. Steering inputs were more precise than predicted, body roll wasn’t overly obnoxious, and traction was never an issue, though it remained relatively dry that week. Performance did seem lacking without a Sport button, and both cabin noise and the overly base drivetrain made it a bit less enjoyable to drive after a while.

Gear shifts, engine responsiveness, and driving enjoyability were all pretty much on point most of the time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a turbo motor like many of its competitors, nor does it have the performance pedigree to be called a sports coupe, especially in stock trim. This is a machine for someone who doesn’t want a jarring ride but still craves a splash of sportiness, and from just a driving perspective, there’s quite a lot to appreciate.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Wrap up and review

For being so simplistic and inexpensively clad internally, the Scion tC is really not that bad of a car to operate for a number of reasons, especially since it starts at just under $20,000 for those of us who can drive stick. It also might have one of the most bulletproof drivetrain combos I’ve ever seen, an area where less often means more in the longevity department.

But it still has more flaws in its hide than perks, and while it filled the gap nicely for a while as the Corolla coupe for younger buyers, the introduction of the FR-S all those years ago cannibalized everything. Which leads me back around to my eulogy for the Scion tC, a reflection of the brand itself, which ultimately served a purpose, if just but for a short period of time.

Scions were cars that we bought and forgot, and try as it might, the brand’s Japanese parent company has been relatively unsuccessful at attracting generation Z buyers in order to fill in where we left off. The tC is a prime example of this entire evolution, as it was once a hot seller that got restyled to attract a new buyer, and ultimately failed. It’s a car that to an extent is well made and sporty but, much like the driving experience it offers, isn’t all that memorable. The puck has been passed, and the interest in our generation now rests heavily upon Lexus. Meanwhile, the flame within Scion starts to flicker and fade, for it is just a matter of time before it gets extinguished once and for all.


Sony PXW-Z150 Compact Professional Camcorder Announced

Sony has announced the lightweight PXW-Z150 professional camcorder with new functionality to enable wireless operation and 4K shooting.

The Sony PXW-Z150 features a 1″-type stacked Exmor RS CMOS image sensor with a resolution of 20 megapixels and a 4K compatible 29-348mm equivalent zoom lens with an integrated four-stop ND filter, and supports Sony’s 4K XAVC-L recording format.

Full HD 120fps shooing is also supported for 5x slow-motion playback. The PXW-Z150 can be easily controlled by a smartphone or tablet using a Wi-Fi remote, and has a battery life which delivers a 400-minute recording time. High visibility is delivered with the wide view-angle and high contrast 0.39-type 1440K OLED viewfinder, alongside the 3.5-type 1550K LCD panel.

Sony PXW-Z150 Compact Professional Camcorder Announced


Sony PXW-Z150 Camcorder Price

The Sony PXW-Z150 camcorder will be available for $3,595.

Sony PXW-Z150 Camcorder Specifications

  • Single 1″ Exmor RS CMOS Sensor
  • UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) up to 30p
  • HD up to 120 fps
  • Sony G Lens with 12x Optical Zoom
  • 24x Clear Image Zoom, 48x Digital Zoom
  • Discrete Manual Focus, Zoom, Iris Rings
  • XAVC, AVC/H.264, AVCHD 2.0, MPEG-4
  • Slow and Quick Motion Function
  • Two SD Memory Card Slots, Wi-Fi
  • 2 x 3-Pin XLR Audio Inputs


Sony introduces brand new PXW-Z150 compact professional camcorder, delivering 4K quality with built-in live streaming and wireless workflow capabilities

Content creators can now take advantage of fast, effortless set up, broadcast-quality images, and true versatility to exceed any brief

Basingstoke, February 23rd 2016: Sony has today announced the PXW-Z150, the latest addition to its XDCAM range of lightweight, easy to use professional camcorders with new functionality to enable wireless operation and 4K*1 high quality shooting. The flexible, effortless set up capabilities of the portable PXW-Z150 enables content creators of all experience levels to deliver impressive imagery for content and events shooting scenarios, no matter how tight their brief. The PXW-Z150 features a 1.0 type stacked Exmor RS CMOS image sensor, providing users with spectacular 4K recording and impressive 5x slow motion in Full HD – essential functionality for content creators looking to deliver corporate or personal productions to the highest quality.

Go beyond what’s been traditionally possible with a camcorder; catch every moment in up to 120 frames per second (fps) High Frame Rate continuous recording, in full HD quality. The Clear Image Zoom technology operates at 24x zoom and 18x zoom in HD and 4K modes respectively, in addition to the standard optical 12x zoom. The single 20 megapixel*2 1.0 type large sensor size offers clear pictures even in low light, giving filmmakers superb clarity and sharpness, opening up the opportunities for flexible shooting in a variety of environments. In response to rising expectations in the fast paced corporate industry, users can now enjoy live streaming capabilities and FTP wireless connection with built-in Wi-Fi.

Ensuring creative expression isn’t subject to an extensive set up; the PXW-Z150 is ergonomically designed to facilitate shooting with ease. The compact, lightweight body includes integration with advanced features, removing the need for multiple external accessories. The built-in 4-step ND filter is included to offer the flexibility of exposure and depth-of-field control, and the Multi-Interface (MI) Shoe avoids cabling with easy integration between the PXW-Z150 and Sony’s peripherals, such as the UWP-D series wireless microphones. The PXW-Z150 can be easily controlled by a smartphone or tablet using a Wi-Fi remote, and has a battery life which delivers a remarkable 400*3 minutes continuous recording time – allowing you to always be on hand to capture what’s needed. High visibility is delivered with the wide view-angle and high contrast 0.39-type 1440K OLED viewfinder, alongside the 3.5-type 1550K LCD panel.

The PXW-Z150 lends itself to a variety of environments and editing requirements, supporting the conventional broadcasting format MPEG2HD (50Mbps/35Mbps) in addition to Sony’s advanced XAVC format (Long GOP) format. The PXW-Z150 provides a wide variety of built-in connectivity options including professional standard 3G-SDI, XLR inputs, HDMI, USB, REMOTE and Composite (phono), eliminating the need for adapters. To extend recording times and workflow flexibility, the camcorder is equipped with two memory card slots and is compatible with SDXC and SDHC cards. The dual media slots enable various recording options such as backup, simultaneous and relay recording.

“We wanted to introduce a portable camcorder which supports our customers in demanding situations, where there is the need for a solution which provides a quick set-up yet with high quality creative options,” said James Leach, Product Marketing Manager at Sony Professional Solutions Europe. “The compact, lightweight camera body coupled with high quality creative features and 4K capability gives filmmakers the tools needed to take their work to the next level, whether it’s corporate, event or online videography. Clients’ expectations within the creative landscape are constantly evolving and content creators need solutions that can not only provide high quality images, but also deliver this in a timely and professional manner. The effortless set up ensures flexible shooting, while the Wi-Fi integration means you can take advantage of live streaming, ensuring the PXW-Z150 is ready when you are.”

Key features of the PXW-Z150

4K high quality shooting with a 1.0-type Exmor RS image sensor and premium G lens

The PXW-Z150 supports: 4K*1 XAVC Long maximum 100Mbps high quality shooting. The 1.0-type Exmor RS image sensor provides high sensitivity and high performance in low light environments. The high-speed read-out ensures high-speed motion shooting with minimum distortion. Videographers can deliver high resolution and contrast from the centre to the edge of the lens, with the high performance 4K-compatible 29-348mm wide-angle lens with 12x optical zoom.

Use on a wide range of applications with 120fps slow motion, rich recording format and network functions

The camcorder supports full HD 120fps continuous high-speed shooting, which enables 5x slow motion expression. High quality FHD XAVC Long 4:2:2 10bit 50Mbps and the broadcasting format MPEG2HD (50Mbps/35Mbps) are also supported. Users can take advantage of the advanced network functions – such as the camcorder’s built-in Wi-Fi for live streaming capabilities (QoS will be supported by a firmware update) and FTP wireless connections – to integrate wireless workflows, enabling users to keep pace with ever changing client deadlines.

High operability and rich interface, within a compact and lightweight body

The PXW-Z150 provides extended functionality with 3 independent lens rings, in addition to high visibility with wide view-angle and high contrast 0.39-type 1440K OLED viewfinder and 3.5-type 1550K LCD panel. Sony’s MI Shoe wireless microphone receivers are supported, increasing the mobility and limiting the need for external cables and multiple accessories. The camcorders rich interface includes: 3G-SDI, HDMI, XLR, Cold Shoe and REMOTE. In addition to this, dual media slots facilitate various recording options such as backup, simultaneous and relay recording.

*1 –  4K (3840×2160) up to 30P is supported
*2 –  14.2 million effective pixels
*3 – Using optional NP-F970 battery while recording XAVC 1080/50i or 60i, 50 Mbps with LCD on.


Snapdragon 820: All the phones from MWC that will use Qualcomm’s latest chip

Snapdragon 820: All the phones from Mobile World Congress that will use Qualcomm’s latest chip

We knew they were coming, but at the biggest smartphone show of the year MWC in Barcelona we have finally got our first glimpse of the mainstream phones that are going to be powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 820 CPU. And they come from pretty much all the usual suspects.


Check out our Snapdragon 820 vs 810 feature for a full round-up of what’s new this time around, but in short the new chip should offer double the performance of the 810. It’s also quad-core, rather than octa-core, which Qualcomm says shouldn’t negatively alter the performance.

The Snapdragon 820 also features aptX HD, which offers 24-bit music playback through compatible wireless headphones. However, not all phones packing the 820 will support this – the LG G5 does, but the Galaxy S7 doesn’t.


We’re also keeping our fingers crossed that the 820 will run a lot cooler than the 810, which hampered a number of phones by overheating.


We love, well most of us do anyway, LG’s complete rethinking of its flagship phone. The G5 isn’t just iterative update of last year’s pretty good G4 but a real overhaul of the formula.


The modular design lets you pop off the bottom and attach what LG calls ‘Friends’, basically these are accessories that increase the functionality of the phone. So far we’ve seen a B&O DAC for improving audio and a camera grip that adds in a bit more battery, a separate shutter button for both video and photos and zoom toggle. But, we hope there’s a lot more to come from this port.

For the G4, LG decided against using the then flagship 810 CPU instead going for the slightly less powerful but cooler Snapdragon 808. This time around though, the Korean company has switched back to a high-end chip with the 820.


After using Qualcomm’s chips throughout the entire Galaxy range, Samsung notably switched over to its own Exynos processors for the Galaxy S6.

But, this year it has made a U-turn – at least, in certain countries. In the US, the Galaxy S7 will ship with the Snapdragon 820, but it seems like everywhere else will be getting a version powered by an Exynos processor. Samsung has yet to fully confirm all this information, though so we’ll have to wait and see what powers our review unit. Both will have 4G RAM, though.

Another interesting note about the S7 is that Samsung had added a water cooling element inside, to ensure there isn’t a repeat of the 810 overheating fiasco.

This seems to indicate that Samsung still has some concerns about how hot the processor runs.


Instead of announcing a new entry into its long running Z series of phones, Sony finally laid the troubled line to rest.

But, in its place is the brand-new ‘X’. Wait, we’re getting a bit of deja vu here. If you thought Sony switching up its naming scheme would see a big change in design, then you’re wrong.

The X Performance looks just like pretty much every other Xperia phone, but there’s plenty of power under that familiar body.

Sony Xperia Ear

Once it’s released in the summer, the Asia only X Performance (us Brits are getting the slightly less powerful X) will be the first Sony phone to sport a Snapdragon 820 processor, along with 3GB RAM.


Still a fairly unfamiliar brand in the west, Xiaomi is making great strides in the Chinese market with its excellently priced devices that pack some serious oomph.


Its latest flagship, just announced at MWC, is the Mi5 and boy it’s an exciting prospect. This Snapdragon 820 powered phone really takes the fight to Samsung, LG and Apple with 4GB RAM, 128GB storage, a 16MP Sony sensor and a curvy, metal and glass body.

But, the biggest surprise about this phone is the price. When it goes on sale in early March, sadly only in China, it’ll set you back just $350. That’s half of what we expect the Samsung Galaxy S7 to cost.


Currently the only Windows 10 phone powered by a Snapdragon 820 chip, the HP Elite x3 really does want to use the CPU to its fullest. Aside from being a powerful phone with 4GB RAM, it connects up a laptop dock and through Microsoft’s Continuum to a monitor. Basically, HP has tried to cram an entire portable desktop into this waterproof smartphone. Hats off to them.


Obi MV1 Hands-on Review : A Sweet Budget Phone with a Big Mission

With the MV1, Obi Worldphone returns with its third phone that’s made for emerging markets but good enough for the developed world. In fact, the company says it hopes to release this cheap but attractive handset in the U.S. by mid-year.

Starting at just $139, the MV1 is certainly priced low enough to make smartphones more accessible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a quality device. It comes with your choice of Android 5.1 or Cyanogen OS, a 5-inch 1280 x 720 display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. There’s also a $149 model featuring an extra gig of RAM, and in case 16GB of storage doesn’t cut it, both versions support micro SD expansion.

That’s a set of specs that seems perfect for a budget phone in the good ‘ole US of A, even though the 2-MP and 8-MP front and rear cameras could be better. But at least at first, the MV1 Is destined for more tech-strapped places such as large parts of Asia and Africa. Before all the MV1’s could be sent away to faraway lands, I took a trip down to the Obi Worldphone booth at MWC 2016 to see them for myself.

The first thing that struck me about the MV1 is how sophisticated it looks. I bet few people would ever guess without knowing that Obi’s phone is a sub-$150 device, let alone a piece of hardware meant for people living on the outskirts of modern civilization. The lock screen is bright and cheery, and with its sort of retro-modern design, the MV1 pleasantly surprised me with a reassuring feeling of density and heft.

I can’t quite get on board with Obi’s decision to set the MV1’s screen on the chassis in a way that creates a pretty pronounced, and somewhat uncomfortable ridge, but its overall look is sleek.

I’m thinking that a phone like this doesn’t need to be just for emerging markets. And Obi seems to agree, because after the company rolls out the phone to parts of Latin America and Europe after Asia and Africa, it’s hoping to sell the MV1 right here in the U.S., perhaps by this summer.


Samsung R6 review

  • With good 360 degree sound, multi-room features and a portable design, the R6 is worth a flutter
  • Clear and balanced sound
  • Hi-res support
  • Smart, sleek design
  • Rechargeable battery
  • Extensive streaming services
  • Lovely app
  • Soft bass
  • Lacks attack
  • No ethernet port
  • No 3.5mm input

While multi-room speakers are all about filling every room of the house with sound, the Samsung R6 is about filling every corner too.

Designed to spread sound 360 degrees so people can ‘enjoy music freely as they move from room-to-room’, it’s rather unusual.


The dome shape – which resembles a modern kettle minus handle and spout – doesn’t just make the R6 look sleek and stylish; Samsung says that it’s also the best shape for producing omnidirectional sound. But that’s not all…

In order to achieve even distribution, a 12.5cm downward-facing woofer fires sound towards a conical base, while in a 25mm tweeter on the R6’s peak acts in a similar fashion with a small, arched plate. And it works.

With a nice open spread of sound from all directions, it doesn’t discriminate whether you’ve got the front-row seat or are in your favourite armchair off to the side.


It’s a sound you won’t mind following you around the room, either. It traipses through Electric Light Orchestra’s When I Was A Boy with balance, clarity and enough space, integration and organisation to keep things coherent.

Showing its dynamic talent, the track’s opening piano chords vault forward. Jeff Lynne’s melodic ramblings are articulate and solid in equal measure, and while the R6 isn’t the last word in conveying texture, there’s detectable detail within guitar chords.

It applies enough weight and power to give the thunderous orchestrations in Hans Zimmer’s Gotham’s Reckoning (24bit/192kHz) their fair due, without giving the cold shoulder to the fainter trumpets underneath. It allows the Samsung to communicate the track’s deliberately menacing build effortlessly.

For a humble speaker, the undertowing bass is deep and rumbling, if a little soft. The driving beat of Drake’s Hold On, We’re Going Home doesn’t kick quite as hard as it should, so a sprinkle of bass punch wouldn’t go amiss.

Favouring refinement over outright attack, the R6 can feel a little too easy-going at times.


Samsung hopes you have a secure wi-fi network, because with no ethernet port or physical connections the R6 can only play music via wi-fi or Bluetooth. Audio from a Bluetooth-compatible Samsung TV can also be streamed directly to the R6 via Samsung’s TV SoundConnect feature.

Whether you listen to internet radio or subscribe to a streaming service, Samsung has it covered with access to TuneIn, Spotify and Deezer, as well as the lesser-known 7digital and 8tracks services – all accessible via Samsung’s Multi-room app.

Building your own digital library? Everything from low-res MP3s to WAV, FLAC and ALAC files all the way up to 24bit/192kHz can be played.

The smaller, portable sidekick to the R7, the R6 has a six-hour battery life (it also runs off mains power) so you can DJ your afternoon picnic down the park.

It’s small enough to tuck under one arm, although with the semi-exposed soft dome tweeter and a gap between the woofer and base, we’d be careful about shoving it in a bag, as you might do with the Bose SoundTouch 10.

Across the bottom, a light indicates battery level, while touch controls are handy for switching inputs, pausing playback and changing volume. They require a bit of precision pressing – but a voice command lets you know when you’ve got it right.


Given a 3.5mm jack and more sonic expression and energy, we’d be looking at the full star set.

But the R6 achieves what it sets out to do: produce sound all around, seamlessly throughout your home and from a neat, well-equipped portable speaker.


DS 3 first drive review : Fun French fancy

Rolling out originally with the chevrons of Citroën on the front, the DS 3 has had a revamp and refresh, now sitting pretty in the avant-garde livery of DS Automobiles.

Ok, so they may be one and the same, but with the DS 5, DS 4 and now the DS 3 getting a more established identity, we’re well on the way towards seeing DS Automobiles establishing itself as a fresh brand, looking to bring you exquisite French design and challenge some of the premium German cars that are so common on the roads.


The DS 3 has been something of a success, and what’s perhaps surprising is that the DS 3 has sold more in the UK than it has in its home country France. In this latest twist of the tale, DS Automobiles is looking to pitch the DS 3 as an alternative to the Mini Hatch, another car that’s been a success in the UK, and for many of the same reasons.

A cursory glance at the new DS 3 reveals that the lines are very similar to the previous model. That’s a trend reflected in the DS 5 and the DS 4 too and we’re happy with that: it’s not a brand new model, but there are subtle changes to the exterior, as well as an update to the interior.

DS 3 first drive: Fun French fancy - photo 6

The look and feel of the DS 3 is very much the same however. DS Automobiles says that this car embraces the spirit of avant-garde, but for us this is a young and fun 3-door hatchback. It’s a good looking car, distinct enough to set it apart from many of the similar compacts, but really going head-to-head with some cars like the Mini (particularly) or the Fiat 500, sitting in that space offering something that leans more towards quality while still staying compact and, importantly, original is design.

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The changes on this model are really about leaving the Citroën brand behind and that means reworking the front of the car around the grille. That grille pattern is now more unique and more DS, cutting across the front of the car and underlining the new headlight cluster. It gives the DS 3 a smarter look, adding a little prestige.

The DS 3 – and the DS 3 Cabrio that sees a parallel launch – is still about personalisation, with a wide range of colours to choose from, so you can have contrasting body and roof options for not a lot of cash and in some cases, free with particular trim levels.


There are Chic, Elegance and Prestige trim levels, before stepping up to Ultra Prestige, Performance and a new Performance Black that tops the range. TheDS 3 in its new guise starts at only £700/$1,050 more than the old model, but you are getting more kit for standard. Alloys are now standard, rather than offering asteel wheel with trim at the bottom end, which helps move the DS 3 more into line with some of its notable rivals.

We still think the DS 3 looks good. It’s the same overall body shape as it was before, but it offers slightly softer lines than the likes of Audi or VW and offers a slightly more practical arrangement than the Mini Hatch, with a higher ride and larger boot opening and more headroom for those rear seats.

DS 3 first drive: Fun French fancy - photo 29

We’ve always had a soft spot for the interior of the DS, marking itself aside from some of the compact cars of Citroën with more elegance. Much of the interior of this DS 3 reflects that of the previous model. The driver display is the same and the general layout is too, but now the 7-inch touchscreen is standard, dominating the central cluster of controls.

DS 3 first drive: Fun French fancy - photo 17

The line that DS is pushing with this move is that it’s enabled them to reduce the clutter in the interior: there are 20 fewer buttons and controls, as more is handled through that central display.

The interior is light and airy, even with the dark finishes that DS offers, thanks to the spread of the windows. It’s a compact car, sure, but there’s plenty of space in for the driver and passenger. The back seats are comfortable, but there’s not a huge amount of legroom, even if there’s plenty of headroom. If you have a long-legged driver, you’ll probably find it a bit of a squeeze in the back, but that’s a given for this size of car.


For the driver, however, things are neatly arranged and we like the looks of the floating driver display cowl. The quality of the interior is good too. Leather is widely used once you’re up to the Prestige level, with highlights and touch points having a quality feel to them. Soft plastics are also used, with DS avoiding some of the finishes and textures that put its Citroën cousins slightly less premium place.

DS 3 first drive: Fun French fancy - photo 21

There’s also bags of character. Like the Mini Hatch or Fiat 500, this is a car that uses funkier design without getting too ridiculous, where some of it’s German rivals can be a little serious in the interior. It’s not all perfect though. The armrest blocks access to the handbrake and there’s no hill hold, so you’ll need to be deftly-footed on the clutch at times, although we’d rather have that armrest as it’s a comfortable addition on longer drives.


Then we have the touchscreen. This gives you plenty of modern features – including Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink for Android – but the removal of buttons isn’t necessarily a huge bonus. We found it a little tricky to navigate, and the menu button is a long way down at the bottom of the centre stack. There are also no steering wheel controls, nor any crossover into the driver display, so it feels as though you spend a little too much time jabbing away at the screen and looking into the centre of the car, rather than being able to keep your eyes on the road.

DS 3 first drive: Fun French fancy - photo 24DS 3 first drive: Fun French fancy - photo 25

There’s a lot of technology on offer with the base Chic level of trim giving you air conditioning, an integrated air freshener, that 7-inch touchscreen,Bluetooth, USB, DAB and mood lighting. Stepping up to Elegance brings LEDfog lights, sports pedals and plenty more, and finally the Prestige brings things like powered folding heated mirrors, LED Vision lights, satnav, and active city break to stop you driving into the car in front when you’re not concentrating in busy traffic.


But there are some elements of the DS 3 that are really good. The seats are really comfortable, especially with the leather finishes and the unique “watchstrap” design and there’s plenty of adjustment in the steering column to get a comfortable position. All trim levels get a leather steering wheel, although this increases in quality as you step up the trim, although as we mentioned, we miss any sort of steering wheel controls.

DS 3 first drive: Fun French fancy - photo 10

The DS 3 is naturally set for a fairly sporty ride. With wheels starting at 16-inch and increasing to 17-inch on the higher trims, you don’t lose that fun feeling when you’re on the road. The suspension is comfortable though, soaking away those broken road surfaces and easing out speed bumps, even if we found the road noise to be a little higher than we expected – a product of lower profile tyres and not too much body insulation we suspect.

DS 3 first drive: Fun French fancy - photo 27

There are a range of engine choices (we drove the 130 and 165 petrol engines, there are a range of diesels for those more interested in economy), and the exhaust note gives you a sporty feeling too, as does the detailing of the rear splitter, sitting alongside the chrome exhaust pipes. We found the PureTech 130 to give a surprisingly sporty soundtrack, but it’s still an economical option, with CO2 emissions rated at 105g/km.

There will also be a THP 210, for those looking for sportier performance. DS doesn’t pitch this as a hot hatch, more a gentleman’s GT, for those who want something with a bit of poke without turning into a boy racer. It take you from 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, so it’s no slouch.


On the road the DS 3 is a fun car to drive. The visibility is good, with large wing mirrors and the steering is weighty enough to feel purposeful. In the THP 165 mated with a 6-speed manual gearbox, there’s enough power to pull this compact car up the hills, and the acceleration to give you an exciting drive. It takes 7.5-seconds to hit 62mph, which in real terms, is racey enough to stay in contention with the rest of the traffic.

We found that it also returned over 40mpg in the mixed driving we’d been doing, some motorway, but much on twisty-turny A roads, with plenty of junctions. All in all, it’s a fun drive. It perhaps lacks the twitchy “go-kart” drive of the Mini Hatch, but it’s certainly not lacking in character.

First Impressions

We’ve always liked the DS 3. We liked this car when it was a fresh idea from Citroën and we like it now it’s leading the charge from DS Automobiles. It sits as the starting point in the DS family, better looking and fresher than the DS 4, and facing less-serious executive competition than the DS 5. To us, that makes it the star of the show and that’s a feeling that’s reflected in strong sales of the older model.

DS 3 first drive: Fun French fancy - photo 2

The DS 3 is fresh and funky. We like the drive and we like the looks. Yes, this isn’t a rethinking of this compact hatch and it’s very much the same character as the original, but if you’re looking to upgrade, there’s probably enough of a change to help you move from your 5-year-old car to the new DS 3.

DS 3 first drive: Fun French fancy - photo 31

The DS 3 starts from £13,995/$20,993 with PureTech 82 engine and manual gearbox with Chic trim, rising up to £22,495/$33,742 for the top spec THP 210 engine withPerformance Black trim. Somewhere in the middle is a sweet spot, giving your blend of unique styling, plenty of creature comforts and an exciting drive.


Panasonic Lumix TZ100 review: Imaging liberation meet lens limitation


Decent autofocus with more control than competition (pinpoint mode, for example), full feature set (touchscreen, viewfinder, lens ring, manual controls), 1-inch sensor means solid image quality to ISO 1600


Lens’ maximum aperture limitations force higher ISO selection (therefore diminished image quality), Auto ISO favours excessively slow shutter speeds, no tilt/vari-angle screen, image quality not always pristine

Panasonic Lumix TZ100 review: Imaging liberation meet lens limitation - photo 14

The Panasonic Lumix TZ100 (known as ZS100 in the US) joins an increasing raft of cameras built around a 1-inch sensor size, promising upgraded image quality over what you would normally expect from a standard compact.

Most prominent camera companies are playing the pocketable 1-inch sensor camera game right now: we’ve seen the likes of Sony with its RX100 series,Canonwith its PowerShot G5 X, and new to the stable is Nikon with its trio of DL models. But the TZ100 takes a different angle thanks to its 10x optical zoom lens – it’s more the casual consumer snapper; a TZ80 on sensor steroids, if you will.

Indeed, the TZ100 keeps very much within that “travel compact” camp in terms of physical size, avoiding enlarging both its scale and price by using a lens that, while fast at the wide-angle, doesn’t maintain that fast aperture throughout its extended zoom range. As such it should be seen as the evolution of technology trickling into more accessible products, not a ultra-high-end compact as per some of its peers.

We’ve been using the TZ100 for a week to see whether that lens decision compromises what is otherwise a quality premium travel compact. Is it the 1-inch wonder to pocket?

In its simple black finish the TZ100 doesn’t look particularly different or distinguished compared to many compact cameras. But we don’t have the simple black finish; nope, we have the gunmetal grey with flash red cut-out line surrounding the up-top on-body controls. It’s kind of kitsch, kind of cool, and certainly stand-out. Not that we suspect many will buy this flashier looking trim model.

L1010035 copy

Anyway, we digress. The point really being that Panasonic has maintained discretion: the TZ100 remains pocketable – it’s 44.3mm thick – despite its 10x optical zoom and large sensor size. That ensures it’s still very much a compact, not a chunkier wedge like, say, the Canon G5 X. However, the Panasonic is larger than any Sony RX100 model, thus sitting it somewhere in the middle of its main competition.

That’s an interesting position to be in as a new breed, but a slightly confusing one because most 1-inch sensor cameras pair the highest ability with the sensor. Although it’s got the “TZ” name, we feel as though the TZ100 ought to be the current TZ80 model in a sense, rather than its bigger-sensor brother. Without the lens ability to keep up with its near competitors, there’s an immediate lacking in this Panasonic’s ability, which is the same issue we found with the also slender but all-touchscreen Canon PowerShot G9 X.

The lens is a critical part of the TZ100’s make-up. With a 25-250mm f/2.8-5.9 (equivalent) on offer in this Lumix, the extended zoom isn’t particularly well designed for a number of scenarios. As the maximum available aperture dips as the zoom extends, so therefore does the ability to allow lots of light in, which has a knock-on effect to maximum shutter speed availability, ISO sensitivity required to expose and, therefore, overall image quality as a result.

Panasonic Lumix TZ100 review: Imaging liberation meet lens limitation - photo 2

If you’re interested in the maximum aperture at standard focal lengths then here’s what you’ll get: f/4.1 at 50mm; f/4.6 at 75mm; f/5.2 at 100mm; f/5.8 at 150mm; and f/5.9 at anything beyond 157mm.

Indeed we’ve found the camera will often plump for higher ISO settings than you might otherwise want to use. Even when shooting outside in daylight at the full 250mm (equivalent) extension auto-selecting ISO 640 isn’t unusual; indoors in daylight and ISO 1600 has frequently been the choice – which is the soft default ceiling to Auto ISO, and often not paired with a sufficient shutter speed to match. The ISO sensitivity can be pushed higher manually, but in ISOAuto the camera is fairly reluctant – a 1/4 second exposure considered ISO 1600 to be sufficient, for example, when that shutter speed is clearly too slow.

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On the upside this lens does incorporate optical image stabilisation to help keep things steady, which goes some way to negating that limited maximum aperture. When the camera thinks the shutter speed is a little too low you’ll be presented with a red “shaky camera” symbol in the display. It’s decent stabilisation that you’ll feel and see in action, given the way it smoothes out movements.

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So that’s the compromise with the TZ100: you’ll get more zoom than any other pocketable 1-inch model, but it’s not an especially proficient zoom. It feels akin to the first-generation Sony RX100 in a way, which over its successive releases has cut back on the zoom in favour of a wider aperture lens and pop-up electronic viewfinder – but that also escalated its cost (to over £800), which is one way the £529 TZ100 claws back some points.

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In use the TZ100 performs well, though, much like the TZ80 with some added in that respect. So while shooting in low-light conditions might prove tricky to get a steady hand-held shot – and the screen preview does stutter somewhat due to lower frame-rate on account of light limitations (it can’t always achieve its maximum 60fps) – it doesn’t cause major issues with the TZ100’s rather accomplished autofocus system. The camera seems adept at locking onto subjects and confirming focus in a variety of situations, as it’s functional to -4EV, which makes it particularly snappy at the widest-angle settings.

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We’ve stuck with the 1-area autofocus option for the majority of this test, as is typical of our Panasonic camera setup, with the ability to reposition it across the touchscreen via a quick tap is great. The top thumbwheel can be used to the resize this point through eight different sizes from small to large too.

ISO 640

Sample image at ISO 640 – 100 per cent crop

In the TZ100 there’s also the inclusion of Pinpoint autofocus, a setting that’s typically reserved for the interchangeable lens Lumix line-up. We’re especially fond of this AF option, which only Panasonic offers: it displays a cross-hairtarget, which then magnifies the in-focus area to 100 per cent scale in a small on-screen window to confirm precision focus. It’s not as immediate as the 1-point AF option, but it’s great for assuring, well, pinpoint accuracy – we see where the name came from.

There is also a 49-area auto mode, which is fine, but this decides the subject and area of interest for you – which you may or may not want as the focalpoint. Choose Custom Multi instead and a 13-point diamond arrangement can be positioned across the 49-point grid, which is a nice touch. Face detection and Tracking options are also fine enough, but the tracking mode isn’t especially speedy at keeping up with moving subjects (single/continuous autofocus is actually a separate option, but tracking will always work on a continuous principle).

Close-up focus needs to be manually engaged (when in a manual shooting mode) by hitting the left d-pad direction and toggling between standard AF and AF Macro, the latter allowing for 0.05cm close-up focus at the 25mm equivalent. That drops to 20cm at the 100mm equivalent, 50cm by the 150mm equivalent, at 70cm from 188mm and beyond. Still not bad, though, and we’ve been able to shoot some shallow depth of field “macro” shots with the zoom fully extended.

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In terms of features the TZ100 (ZS100) is typical of Panasonic’s current TZ line-up. That trim body incorporates a built-in electronic viewfinder, tucked to the top left corner. It’s a subtle incorporation, and while the panel isn’t super-high resolution – it’s the same 0.2-inch 1,166k-dot panel as found in the TZ80 – it’s a useful addition. Even if you don’t use it often, it’s tucked out of the way sufficiently and can even be deactivated using the Fn4/LVF button next to it if you want to prevent auto eye-level disruptions.

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The main LCD screen on the back of the camera is fixed to the body, rather than mounted on a vari-angle bracket, which is a feature we’ve got so used to in other cameras that we rather missed it in the TZ100. Its inclusion would bulk-out the camera, we suppose, so can see why it’s absent. But it’s still on our wish list.

Other features include a lens control ring to the front, which glides smoothly upon rotation – no click-stop motion available here (and such dual functionality would have been great, alas) – for quick adjustment of priority controls, such as aperture value. There’s a second rotational dial to the rear top that can also do the job.

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There are four function (Fn) buttons arranged across the rear of the TZ100, although they’re pre-defined for this camera: Fn4 looks after finder/LCD activation; Fn3 brings up the Quick Menu (which can be touch-controlled and even customised with available settings); while Fn 2 and Fn1 handle what’s known as Post Focus and 4K Photo.

Those last two are Panasonic’s attempt to further stand out from the crowd. The 4K Photo modes – available on a quick access function button – allow for a rapid burst of shots (extracted from a movie file, essentially), the best of which can be selected as an individual 8-megapixel frame after shooting. It’s even possible to shoot a single second’s worth of footage before even firing the shutter to help catch that perfect moment. It’s very clever, but we’re unconvinced by the 4K Photo namesake and whether people will immediately get this mode. One additional take-away, of course, is that the TZ100 can capture 4K video too.

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The newer mode of the two, Post Focus, does what it says on the tin: you can focus the shot after taking it. However, if you’re hoping to shoot hand-held like you would with a Lytro, then you’ll be disappointed; the Panasonic mode needs a tripod for steadying the frame while it grabs a movie file at multiple focal depths. It’s a nice idea though, even if it’s not immediately apparent how it functions after clicking the dedicated Fn2 button – it’s as though there needs to be more education there rather than just being thrown into the deep end and thinking “what does this do?”.

As with any camera worth its salt, a significant reason to buy a compact rather than just using a smartphone comes down to the resulting image quality. TheTZ100 certainly steps up beyond a standard compact camera in this department, but as we touched upon the ISO sensitivity is frequently pushed high as a result of that lens.

ISO 1600

Sample image at ISO 1600

However, even through to ISO 1600 that’s not a massive issue. A shot of a statue, painted in mid-grey, reveals only slight colour noise in the deeper areas, but the image processing otherwise smoothes everything out without entirely losing detail – sure, there could be some more precision in the eyelashes in this example, but they’ve not been entirely muted.

Given the sensor’s 1-inch scale, the 20-megapixels arranged over its surface are each roughly two and a half times larger than the TZ80 model. So even at this high resolution the light gathering properties are sufficient for a solid signal and decent results. The same ISO 1600 shot on the TZ80 would be nowhere nearly as clean, which is what you’re paying for in the TZ100.

And if there’s enough light to keep the sensitivity low then the results are decent. At ISO 125, shots of brightly coloured flowers taken in the Portuguese sun show crisp detail. However there is some “mottling” to larger areas, while edges could be more defined – something that even more apparent in, say, an ISO 640 shot of an olive hanging from a branch.

ISO 125 macro

Sample image at ISO 125

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Sample image at ISO 125 – 100 per cent crop

The other obvious benefit of a 1-inch sensor is the associated depth of field, meaning a more shallow, softly blurred background than a smaller sensor would be able to produce (at the same equivalent settings). Want that melty backdrop? The TZ100 should do a much better job than a smaller compact – and even f/5.9 at the full zoom extension gives a good lick of background softness. It’s a good look.

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Sample image at ISO 400

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Sample image at ISO 400 – 100 per cent crop

It’s hard not to come full circle to the comment about the lens though: with the maximum aperture dipping to just f/5.9 at the 250mm equivalent focal length there’s a lot less light available to use, which pushes the ISO sensitivity up. And while manual shots of a stuffed toy lion taken at ISO 6400 are fine, this sensitivity shows a lack of biting sharpness, while image noise is more apparent throughout. It’s not to the point of oblivion, though, again the sensor size showing its strengths.


In a sense the TZ100’s maximum aperture lens limitations are, in part, counteracted by its 1-inch sensor quality – finding a happy medium somewhere in the middle. And yet that leaves this camera feeling like a “TZ80 Plus” in a sense (minus the 30x zoom, of course), less the kind of high-end high-flier associated with most 1-inch sensor compact cameras.

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That’s the TZ100 in a nutshell really: it’s no Sony RX100 IV, but then it is more affordable than that and has a more significant maximum zoom to reflect its different market position; it’s a new breed with some commendable new ideas. We certainly can’t call it out on autofocus ability or overall feature set, but that lens is going to divide whether it’s the pocketable model for you or not.

Overall the Lumix TZ100 reflects where compact cameras are headed: it’s all about larger sensors and more touch-based controls, which will become the norm in the near future – we said the very same of the Canon G9 X (although the Panasonic would be our preference if faced with the choice of buying between those two models) – but, right now, the lens is as much a limitation as the sensor is a liberation.


Japanese Flip Hands-on Review : Smartphone Has 2 Screens, Physical Keypad

Freetel’s Musashi is a flip phone that’s unlike anything else in the world. The device runs Android 5.1 on not one, but two 4-inch screens.

Head-on, the Musashi looks pretty normal. There’s a screen facing outwards and three capacitive touch buttons along the bottom for navigation, although the 800 x 480 display is a little lacking in detail. But when you check the phone out from other angles, it becomes a whole ‘nother ball game. The double-thick stacked body looks a little bulky, but it’s not that uncomfortable in your pocket, unless you’re wearing painted-on skinny jeans.

When I first pried open the Musashi, suddenly a little voice burst out in my head singing “A Whole New World,” like when Aladdin took Jasmine on a magic-carpet ride. Suddenly there was another screen to replace the one that just got pushed away, along with a full physical feature-phone old-style keypad.

Using the Musashi is getting the best of both worlds: physical buttons for people who still use a smartphone to make phone calls, and a small, but snappy 4-inch screen above that, which is really the evolution of notifications screens from days gone past.

Did I mention that this two-headed beast is coming to the United States and will cost just $249? Freetel says it’s working on a deal with Amazon, so you should be able to buy the phone there, or directly from Freetel, sometime in the spring or early summer of 2016.

Inside, the Musashi’s specs aren’t super special. It features a quad-core 1-GHz Mediatek processor, 1GB of RAM and just 8GB of storage. It does have a microSD card slot for when you inevitably run out of space.

Just because there’s a big screen on the outside doesn’t mean Freetel had to sacrifice the selfie cam. In front, the phone features a 2-MP shooter, and there’s a higher-res 8-MP camera on the back.

There’s something about combining a feature-phone keypad with a touchscreen that just makes sense.  I would consider giving the Musashi to an older person who wants to browse Facebook, but also complains about smartphone dialers being too complicated or not being able to read the keys.

The other phone Freetel introduced today is the $249 Rei, which is much more straightfoward. The Rei features the latest version of Android (6.0 Marshmallow), a full-HD 5.2-inch screen, an octa-core CPU, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and 8- and 13-MP cameras on the front and back.

But for my $249, I’ll take the Musashi.


Chromecast vs Fire TV Stick vs Roku Stick: Face-Off

If you want to keep your entertainment center elegant and minimalist without sacrificing a huge selection of channels, consider a streaming stick. These small HDMI dongles may not look like much, but what they lack in size, they make up for in versatility. Smaller than a game console and more concealable than a set-top box, streaming media sticks tend to be less powerful than other players, but much simpler to set up.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

The Google Chromecast ($35), the Amazon Fire TV Stick ($40) and the Roku Stick ($50) are the three most popular models of streaming stick, and each one comes with its share of selling points and caveats. Depending on what you want to watch and how quickly you want to watch it, one of these sticks could be a fantastic investment. Based on our multiple-round evaluation, the Chromecast is the best value, but it might not be the ideal option for you.

Bear in mind, too, that each of the streaming sticks maxes out at 1080p resolution: perfect for full-HD TVs, but less-than-ideal for newer 4K models. For UHD resolution, you can either use your smart TV’s built-in apps, or invest in a Roku 4 ($130), Amazon Fire TV (2015) ($100) or Nvidia Shield TV ($200).

Design (10)

The term “streaming stick” is technically only accurate for the Fire TV Stick and the Roku Stick, since the Chromecast is a bit of a different beast. The former two are rectangular objects, with the Fire TV Stick in a sleek black and the Roku Stick in a garish purple.

The latter sports a much cooler design, going for a circular Chrome symbol in black, yellow or red. Furthermore, the Chromecast has a flexible HDMI cord and a magnet that keeps the device from dangling. It’s a subtle device, but an attractive one.

While both the Roku Stick and the Chromecast can draw power from your TV’s USB port (if it has one), the Fire TV Stick pitched a fit every time I tried, with half-a-dozen TVs from a variety of manufacturers. It wouldn’t work properly — and provided plenty of error messages to this effect — if I used anything aside from Amazon’s official adapter in a wall outlet. It’s not a design flaw, exactly, but it makes the system much, much uglier and more inconvenient than its two counterparts.

Winner: Chromecast. While the Roku Stick gets the job done, the Chromecast excels with a flexible, aesthetically pleasing design that can fit into almost any TV setup. The Fire TV Stick is too finicky about its power cable requirements.

Setup (10)

Although you only have to run a streaming stick’s setup once (in theory), it should still be a painless process that puts as few steps as possible between you and the content you want to watch. All three systems have fairly similar setup processes: Plug the device in, connect to Wi-Fi and follow a few simple instructions. You’ll also need an existing user account with either Google, Amazon or Roku, depending on your device.

Once again, the Chromecast provides the most straightforward setup, since all you have to do is visit a website on your phone, tablet or computer, download an app and select Set Up. Since you’re likely already signed into your Google account (not to mention your Netflix, Hulu, YouTube or other streaming accounts) on your device, you’re good to go as soon as the Chromecast connects to your Wi-Fi network.

The Roku Stick and Fire TV stick are a bit more traditional, in that you’ll have to sign into an account and wait for your information to sync with a server. The Roku Stick has a bit of an advantage, however, as you can sign in via phone, tablet or computer. The Fire TV Stick requires users to sign into the device itself, one painstaking remote-controlled letter at a time.

Winner: Chromecast. While it requires a phone, tablet or computer, the Chromecast gets up and running in the quickest, most foolproof manner. The Roku Stick is slightly easier to set up than its Amazon counterpart, though.

Interface (15)

Streaming sticks can display thousands of videos, none of which will do any good if you can’t find your way to them. While the Roku Stick and the Fire TV Stick provide somewhat different spins on the tried-and-true method of scrolling through menus, the Chromecast employs an unusual way of finding and watching videos. To use an app on the Chromecast, simply open it on your phone, tablet or computer, then press the Cast button. It will show up on your TV, and your device will act as the remote. While the Chromecast app can act as a hub, it’s not strictly necessary for anything except initial setup.

The Roku Stick and the Fire TV Stick use a much more familiar system of getting around. Each one lets users scroll through various menus, which let you search for content, download new apps or simply watch the channels you’ve already downloaded. I wasn’t thrilled with either stick’s performance in this regard.

Two years’ worth of software updates have rendered the Roku Stick sluggish.

The Roku has the better menu of the two, letting users customize the placement of apps on their home screen, putting favorite ones front and center, and deleting irrelevant ones. However, two years’ worth of software updates have rendered the Roku Stick sluggish and lifeless, making even routine tasks take a few more seconds than they should. The Fire TV Stick, on the other hand, has fairly snappy scrolling speeds, but puts such an overwhelming focus on Amazon content that just finding apps like Netflix and Hulu can be a pain.

Winner: Chromecast. While the Chromecast eschews traditional menus, it’s still the simplest and quickest way to get your content up on the big screen. The Roku Stick has an admirable menu system, but the hardware isn’t quite up to snuff, while the Fire TV Stick’s Amazon focus can feel relentless.

Content and Apps (25)

In the kingdom of streaming content, the product with the most apps is king. In the past, Roku won this category handily based on sheer numbers alone, but now each product has access to thousands of apps. Naturally, most of them are chaff, so it really comes down to which sticks supply the wheat. The Chromecast is out on this count, as it lacks Amazon Video, thanks to an ongoing dispute between Google and Amazon.

The Roku Stick and the Fire TV Stick, then, have extremely similar selling points. They both support all the big apps, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, YouTube, Pandora and Spotify (although Spotify requires a go-between mobile app on the Fire TV). In fact, the only major difference is that the Fire TV has a fairly big selection of games, whereas the Roku Stick has none.

Make no mistake: The Fire TV Stick’s game store has more than 700 titles, and they’re mostly casual knockoffs that might keep a very young child entertained for 30 seconds at a time. Still, there are a couple of standout gems, like the party game Fibbage, the classic platformer Sonic the Hedgehog, and the cyberpunk mystery Read Only Memories. Given the choice between thousands of apps and a few decent games, and thousands of apps and no games, the former wins every time.

Winer: Fire TV Stick. All three devices offer thousands of apps, but only the Fire TV Stick has Amazon Video and a handful of decent games. The Roku has the most video apps by sheer numbers, while the Chromecast is missing Amazon Video.

Search (20)

With thousands of apps offering thousands of programs, a good search feature is absolutely vital to find what you’re looking for on the cheapest possible service. While all three sticks offer a search that trawls multiple services, the Roku’s is simply head-and-shoulders above its competitors’. The Roku Stick searches more than 20 different services, and is the only one of the three that includes Netflix in its results.

The Fire TV Stick and the Chromecast both trawl about a dozen services apiece. The former has a slight edge, as it can search through both Amazon Video and Hulu, while the latter has Hulu, but favors Google Play, which is an a-la-carte-only service. Still, since Netflix is generally the most content-rich streaming service available now, neither one holds up to the Roku’s unified search function.

Roku’s search is simply head-and-shoulders above its competitors’.

All three devices feature both voice- and text-based searches, but keep in mind that you’ll need either a specialized remote control or a mobile app.

Winner: Roku Stick. The Roku Stick’s unified search covers the widest base of services, and is the only one that includes Netflix. The Fire TV Stick’s search is slightly more useful than the Chromecast, since it covers an unlimited streaming service (Amazon Video) rather than an a-la-carte one (Google Play).

Remote Control (10)

While your TV remote may have dozens of buttons, some that you’ve never even pressed, streaming sticks prefer to keep things simple. The Roku Stick and the Fire TV Stick remotes have just a few buttons, like play/pause, rewind, fast-forward, back and home to help you navigate.

Both devices are perfectly competent, but there’s no denying that the Fire TV Stick’s remote is the much more attractive of the two. Rather than a blocky D-pad, it features a slick circular pad with a confirm button in the middle. Additionally, if you’re willing to dish out a little extra money, you can get a remote with voice search functionality. The Roku Stick remote has a few extra buttons that take you directly to Netflix, M-Go and Amazon Video, but there’s also a rather useless one for the defunct Blockbuster app as well.

The Chromecast has no remote control, save for your phone, tablet or computer. This isn’t much of a detriment, since Chromecast users know what they’re getting into, but the other two sticks also have fully functional mobile apps in addition to their remotes.

Winner: Fire TV Stick. The Fire TV Stick has an attractive remote with no wasted buttons, while the Roku Stick’s feels a bit clunky, and the Chromecast doesn’t have one at all.

Value (10)

With the Chromecast at $35, the Fire TV Stick at $40 ($50 with a voice-search remote) and the Roku Stick at $50, there’s not a huge difference in price between the three gadgets. Value is also a tricky thing to gauge, as the perfect product for one viewer may be unenticing for another. Still, there are a few things that might make one stick more or less appealing in the long term than the others.

As stated above, the Roku Stick is probably nearing the end of its product cycle. It’s beginning to run slowly, and Roku seems to have shifted most of its attention to its 4K-capable Roku 4.  Of the three, it’s probably the weakest long-term investment.

The Chromecast, on the other hand, is not only inexpensive, but brand-new. Google will probably continue putting a lot of marketing and development resources into this product for the foreseeable future.

The Fire TV Stick is harder to gauge. It’s been out for more than a year, but Amazon recently refreshed it by including the voice-search remote. Amazon is clearly not done with its inventive little stick just yet.

Winner: Chromecast. Between the Chromecast and the Fire TV Stick, it’s tough to pick the better value, but the Chromecast is a little newer and a little cheaper, which helps its long-term prospects.

Bottom Line

While the competition between the three devices was heated and close, the Chromecast eked out a victory over its competitors (85 points out of a possible 100), with the Fire TV Stick second (81/100) and the Roku Stick last (80/100). The Chromecast simply excels when it comes to design, setup and usability, even though it’s not quite as robust as the other two sticks in terms of channel selection and search features.

The Chromecast is indeed an excellent little gadget, but the Fire TV Stick and Roku Stick are worth some praise in their own rights.

The Fire TV Stick is a snappy little device that puts the Amazon Prime experience front-and-center. Not only is the experience optimized for Prime subscribers, but it also has a fairly decent selection of games and a slick remote control.

On the other hand, the Roku Stick is a dependable workhorse, which boasts second-to-none search features and arguably the widest selection of video and music apps. The device is beginning to show its age, but for finding your favorite content, then organizing it in a way that suits you, the Roku Stick is hard to beat.

Now that 4K content is beginning to take center stage, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for streaming sticks, which are 1080p only. No matter what happens, they’re a good — and inexpensive — investment right now.


ViewSonic XG2401 Review – Super-Responsive Gaming

  • Super-fast response times
  • Fast 144Hz refresh rate at 1080p
  • AMD FreeSync support
  • Highly adjustable stand with headphone dock
  • A few extraneous features

The ViewSonic XG2401 gaming monitor offers crisp 1080p images, ridiculously fast response times and plenty of useful bells and whistles.

ViewSonic’s XG2401 monitor is one of the display maker’s first attempts at catering specifically to hardcore gamers. Fortunately, the folks at ViewSonic got it right early. This $279 24-inch display has everything you need to play competitively — ultrafast response times, genre-specific display modes — and is sprinkled with practical extras such as a headphone dock and a highly adjustable stand. Between its robust feature set and AMD FreeSync support for tear-free gaming, the XG2401 is an excellent value for those who want to play shooters, strategy games and more at their most optimal.


The ViewSonic XG2401’s black design is pretty plain, though the monitor’s stand and rectangular base sport just enough red stripes to remind you that this is a gaming peripheral.

What the display lacks in flashiness, however, it makes up for in practicality. A small hook near the top of the stand lets you dock your headphones, while a circular red ring below lets you coil together whatever multitude of wires you have connected to the monitor.

ViewSonic’s monitor is highly adjustable. You can tilt the display 5 degrees forward or 22 degrees back, as well as raise or lower it up to 4.7 inches. You can even swivel the monitor 90 degrees and use it in portrait mode — something useful for multi-monitor setups or for those who use a dedicated screen for reading Twitch chat. The XG2401 is also VESA-mountable, should you want to forgo the stand altogether and attach it right to your wall.

Ports and Interface

The XG2401 packs plenty of connections for your PC or console, with two HDMI inputs as well as a DisplayPort (the latter of which is required to use the monitor’s FreeSync mode). If you want to plug in peripherals and headphones, you’ve got two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 type B port and a 3.5mm audio jack at your disposal.

The XG2401’s interface is refreshingly simple and easy to navigate for a gaming monitor. There’s a dedicated button for switching video sources with a single click, as well as one for activating the monitor’s various genre-specific game modes. If you want to go more in-depth, a simple tap of the “1” button pulls up the XG 2401’s robust main menu, which lets you tweak audio and color, as well as activate advanced features such as FreeSync and Low Input Lag.

Gaming Performance

Offering a speedy 144Hz refresh rate, the XG2401 made the sensation of popping off terrorists and ducking into cover in Rainbow Six: Siege feel incredibly instant. The 1080p monitor’s two-shooter presets both served a unique purpose when playing Siege; FPS1 mode offers duller colors to prevent eyestrain, while the extra-high contrast of FPS2 made it especially easy to spot enemies.

The XG2401 did an excellent job highlighting the lush forests, flowing rivers and colorful fantasy characters of Dota 2, making it easy for me to keep up with the action. The monitor’s RTS and MOBA modes made the image almost excessively sharp — they didn’t look especially pretty, but these modes created thick outlines around every character that could potentially help pro players better spot allies and enemies.

Few genres are as dependent on low-input lag as fighting games are, and I’m happy to report that Street Fighter V played like a joy on the XG2401. I had no problem pulling off combos that required frame-perfect timing. It didn’t hurt that the lush purple clouds and detailed Japanese architecture in the game’s background were preserved in all their glory.

FreeSync Performance

The XG2401 supports AMD FreeSync, which minimizes screen-tearing on AMD-powered machines by syncing the display directly with your computer’s graphics card. While this is a handy feature for AMD users, I found it almost unnecessary due to the monitor’s already strong performance on standard mode.

When it comes to responsiveness, the XG2401 is the best in its class.

Although activating FreeSync did eliminate some minor jagginess in Rainbow Six: Siege, I generally had a consistently smooth experience across all of my games regardless of whether I had the feature on.

Brightness, Color and Latency

The XG2401 was as impressive in our lab tests as it was during day-to-day use. ViewSonic’s monitor registered an overall brightness of 355 nits, topping the $179 BenQ RL2455HM (270 nits) as well as our 238-nit gaming monitor average.

The XG2401 exhibited strong color accuracy, with a Delta E rating of 2.34 (closer to 0 is better). That beats the RL2455HM’s 3.75, as well as our 4.6 average. The ViewSonic monitor only fell short in color representation, producing 91 percent of the sRGB color gamut, compared with the BenQ’s 110 percent and our 104-percent average.

The XG2401 made the sensation of popping off terrorists and ducking into cover feel incredibly instant.

When it comes to responsiveness, however, the XG2401 is the best in its class. It’s the first monitor we’ve tested to register 0ms of latency on our lag tester, even without the display’s Low Input Lag mode activated. That tops the BenQ’s 9.8ms and our 14ms average, and explains why the monitor performed so fluidly during our game time.

Features and Audio

Aside from its game-specific presets for shooters and strategy games, the XG2401 offers three customizable “Gamer” profiles that you configure with whichever combination of brightness, color and special features you like.

The monitor’s SmartSync feature automatically selects the best refresh rate and response time for whatever you’re playing. While this sounds good on paper, I noticed that activating the mode simply darkened the screen and cranked up the sharpness in most games I used it on.

There’s also a black stabilization feature for highlighting dark in-game areas. Similar to BenQ’s Black Equalizer, this feature lets you pinpoint otherwise hard-to-see enemies and locations without blowing out the entire image. Like FreeSync, this mode served its purpose, but the already excellent brightness meant I didn’t have to depend on it much.

The XG2401’s built-in speakers are surprisingly loud — when cranked all the way, they filled our 15-by-15 foot testing lab with the sounds of Street Fighter V’s pulsing soundtrack and meaty punches and kicks.

Bottom Line

If low-latency gaming is your priority, the $279 ViewSonic XG2401 is one of the best in its class. This 24-inch monitor offers ridiculously fast response times, dedicated FPS, MOBA and RTS modes, and packs FreeSync to ensure extra smoothness for those gaming on AMD cards. Its highly flexible stand makes it ideal for multi-monitor setups, and handy extras such as a headphone stand and wire organizer make it easy to attach your peripherals without creating clutter.

If you want a similarly responsive experience and can live without FreeSync, BenQ’s $179 RL2455HM is an excellent (and significantly cheaper) alternative. However, the amount of bells and whistles found on ViewSonic’s XG2401 make it one of the most compelling packages in its price range.



2017 Hyundai Elantra Review: Best Connected Car for the Masses

  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support
  • Blue Link subscription offers remote start and other useful features
  • Premium Clari-Fi sound system
  • Active lane assist works well
  • Quieter ride than previous Elantras
  • Blind-spot warnings are a bit too subtle
  • Limited voice commands
  • Adaptive cruise control doesn’t work below 6 mph

The 2017 Hyundai Elantra combines CarPlay, Android Auto and a robust set of safety features in a sleeker and quieter ride.

It’s axiomatic that a technology is successful when it becomes commonplace. With its 2017 Elantra, Hyundai is hoping to prove this is the case by offering safety and driver assistance technologies usually reserved for the luxury class.

Photo: Hyundai

The Elantra has been redesigned for this model year, with a lengthy list of available technology options that includes not just connected smartphone support for Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto, but also automatic emergency braking, lane departure warnings and lane keeping assist, turning headlights, a rearview camera, and rear cross traffic alerts. It’s a list that contains many features that organizations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety believe can prevent accidents and save lives.

With such advanced safety technologies in a mainstream consumer sedan, the Elantra also makes for a more relaxing commuting vehicle. However, shoppers should note that the inclusion of all of the options (which I recommend) will significantly raise the price of the car. The base model 2017 Elantra starts at $17,150, but when you add all of the technology options — and a higher trim level — the price goes up to $26,750. (My test vehicle was $27,710.) Nevertheless, even with the options, overall, the Elantra stacks up well against competitors such as the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla in terms of ride and safety features.

2017 Hyundai Elantra: The Vitals

Price as Tested: $27,710 MSRP
Engine and Drive Train: 2.0-liter, 4-cyclinder engine with 6-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.
Fuel Rating: 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway; 32 mpg combined
Connected Car System: 8-inch LCD touch screen with Hyundai Blue Link and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Safety and Advanced Driver Assist Technologies: Auto braking, pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist and lane-departure warning, turning headlights, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, and rear view camera.

In-Car Tech

On the connectivity side, Hyundai has gone out of its way to support Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto. Both systems worked well, within the apps’ inherent limitations and the required connectivity. On my test drive into the hills far from San Diego, there were spots where there was no cell service, which concomitantly cut off CarPlay services (except for playing music already stored on the phone).

Pandora gets its own separate icon directly on the Hyundai screen, so if all you want to do is stream your favorite custom stations, you don’t have to bother with CarPlay or Android Auto. For further smartphone support, there are two USB ports for charging.

Photo: Hyundai

Fortunately, the Ultimate package on the Elantra includes its own built-in navigation system. (No, you cannot run both navs simultaneously.) I found its instructions clear and concise, including the on-screen prompts. Its directions were generally spot-on, save for a shortcut that spit us out onto a washed-out backcountry dirt road that probably shouldn’t even be a part of the system’s maps.

The nav system responded well to spoken commands but understood a very limited lexicon. Translation: You cannot use voice commands to change radio stations or set the heating or AC. Similarly, Android Auto and CarPlay don’t have access to these systems, so you can’t use Google Voice or Siri for those functions.

Photo: Hyundai

Hyundai offers its own Blue Link connected service free for the first year, and then starts at $99 annually for a basic subscription. Blue Link, which also works with Android and iOS devices, delivers a solid set of OnStar-like services, including remote start, geofencing, and remote speed and curfew alerts (something parents will appreciate). The Blue Link subscription is also required if you want to use these features on an Android Wear-compatible watch or Apple Watch.

One interesting addition is a premium sound system from Harman under the Infinity brand. It includes eight speakers and an active acoustic algorithm that tries to improve the quality of compressed sound. It’s called Clari-Fi and is primarily an attempt to put back dynamic range and frequencies stripped out of music in MP3 tracks and streaming services like Pandora. Digital tracks by Steely Dan definitely sounded less steely on the Infinity sound system, but my impression was that mainly, the midrange was boosted by Clari-Fi, making for what most listeners will find to be a more pleasing, rounded sound. However, you cannot shut off Clari-Fi if you don’t like it.

Safety Tech

With the Ultimate package for the Limited edition of the Elantra comes a welter of driving tech. Up front are what Hyundai calls bending lights, which means that the headlights turn on a mechanical mount as you turn the wheel so that you always see what’s directly ahead. It’s a feature that I have appreciated in other cars, especially on cloverleafs at night (although I was unable to test this feature on the Elantra).

A radar sensor in the grille and a camera in the windshield behind the mirror combine to support several safety features. There’s the pedestrian warning and collision avoidance system, for example. It’s strictly tuned to look for bipeds. It won’t jam on the brakes for Fido, and it did not alert me to the occasional cyclist in my path on narrow roads in the Southern California hills. On the other hand, the lane departure warning system would ping me every time I swerved around the cyclists without signaling.

Photo: Hyundai

Blind-spot warnings in the Elantra’s side mirrors were also helpful but perhaps too subtle at times. Larger lights in the sides would help (although some drivers might find that distracting).

Surprisingly, one of my favorite tech additions was the Elantra’s active lane assist feature. It can be set to act as a mere lane departure warning system, delivering an alert bell every time you hug the white line too closely. Or, it can be set to actively steer the car back into the center of the lane when you wander. I experimented with the different modes and actually like Hyundai’s implementation of the steering correction technology. In its most active mode, the wheel will pull you away from the double yellow line with a little tug of the wheel. It’s not subtle, but it’s also not too aggressive, nor does it produce irritating vibrations that some other systems rely on. One caveat: It’s not sufficient for hands-free driving. This is not a semi-autonomous system.

One of my favorite tech additions is the Elantra’s active lane assist feature, which can steer the car back into the center of the lane when you wander.

The 2017 Elantra also has smart cruise control as part of the Ultimate package. Like most adaptive cruise control systems, it will slow and accelerate to match the speed of a car ahead of you. However, it has one important weakness: It disengages at 6 mph or slower. In other words, it will not automatically stop and start in stop-and-go traffic. (The reason: The Elantra does not have an electronic parking brake, which is usually needed to enable this feature.)

The Drive

The new Elantra is more aerodynamic, and about 1 inch wider, than last year’s model. It’s also more attractive and less bug-eyed than earlier editions. More important, Hyundai has deployed a variety of technologies in an effort to reduce road noise, including using more adhesives (rather than spot welds), thicker door glass and a more rigid chassis. It seems to have worked, delivering a quieter, well-tempered ride.

The Elantra’s rear suspension has been revamped to give it more flexibility and prevent the kind of dead rear-end feel that many front-wheel designs suffer from. It never skipped around on me, although I didn’t push the car hard enough on, say, a washboard dirt road to seriously test it (although our one brief off-road excursion didn’t seem to unsettle the car).

Photo: Hyundai

The 2017 model also has three driving modes — another feature once available only in luxury cars. A push of a button cycles you through an Eco mode for treehuggers, a Normal mode for relaxed city driving, and a Sport mode.

Sport mode noticeably tightens up the steering response. It made easy work of quick switchbacks, and it never made me feel like I was out of control even when I pushed too hard into an unexpected corner on a twisty canyon road. Leave it in Sport mode for quotidian commutes, however, and you’ll find it takes extra effort to turn a corner at low speeds in traffic. Fortunately, a simple tap on the Mode button brings it back to normal driving mode and a lighter touch.

The Elantra was quick enough off the mark for an economy car, meaning it won’t scare you with balky performance when you try to merge onto a highway. On the other hand, it’s not exactly what I would call peppy. A forthcoming seven-speed turbo model may change that impression later this year.

Overall, the driving experience is comfortable and predictable. There were two features, however, that I was less than sanguine about. First, the Elantra is front-wheel-drive only; there is no all-wheel-drive option for those in snowy climates — although that’s also the case with comparably priced competitors. Second, as with so many models in this price range that try to save fuel, the Elantra does not have a full-size spare tire; there’s a compact temporary spare for emergencies.

Bottom Line

Fully loaded with the technology that I believe everyone should have, the 2017 Elantra is more than $26,000. Yet, that’s certainly competitive with anything Toyota or Honda offers in this class, and arguably better. All in, the fully tricked-out Elantra should sound a note of optimism that what I consider to be essential accident prevention features are finally going mainstream (not to mention, the connected smartphone support). The question is, will Hyundai be able to convince price-sensitive buyers to opt for the full technology package?



Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD vs Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G Comparison

Currently Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is the World’s first image-stabilised lens for full-frame DSLR cameras. Here is a quick comparison for the Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD vs Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G prime lenses.


Using LD (Low Dispersion) and XLD (Extra Low Dispersion) glass elements, the new SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD lens is constructed with Tamron’s new SP design, incorporating a new look and feel which includes larger and more tactile switches, together with Tamron’s Moisture-Resistant Construction.

Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD lens is slightly longer and more heavier than the Nikon’s AF-S 85mm f/1.8G model. Tamron’s 85mm has more optical elements and image stabilization too.

The price of the Tamron’s new prime lens is unknown at the moment. Avaiability is slated for 24 March 2016 and it will be more expensive than the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G model which is currently selling for $476.95 at Amazon | B&H | Adorama.

Specifications Comparison of Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD vs Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G Prime Lenses


Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD  Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G
Price not yet announced $476.95
Focal Length  85mm 85mm
Maximum Aperture f/1.8 f/1.8
Minimum Aperture f/16 f/16
Format FX/DX FX/DX
Maximum Angle of View (DX) 18°39′ 18°50′
Maximum Angle of View (FX)  28°33′ 28°30′
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 0.13x 0.12x
Lens Elements 13 9
Lens Groups  9 9
Image Stabilization  Yes (3.5 stops) No
Diaphragm Blades 9 7
Minimum Focus Distance 2.62′ (80 cm) 2.62′ (80 cm)
Filter Size 67mm 67mm
Dimensions (Diameter x Length) 3.34 x 3.50″ (84.8 x 88.8 mm) 3.1 x 2.9″ (78.7 x 73.7 mm)
Approx. Weight 23.0 oz (660 g) 12.35 oz (350 g)
Other Moisture resistant construction, Fluorine coating Super Integrated Coating


Cortana vs Google Now vs Siri : Which is best?


Digital assistants have been around for decades. Remember Clippy, the irritating Microsoft Word assistant, used as far back as 1997?

However, we are now starting to see them try to push their way into our day-to-day lives. The iPhone’s Siri, Android’s Google Now, and Windows 10’s Cortana are all highly advanced assistants, complete with artificial intelligence and remarkably accurate voice recognition. As long as you don’t have a thick accent, that is.

Now that Apple is set to introduce Siri to its Mac OS, we thought we might take a closer look at each of the digital assistants to find out which is the best of the lot.


Which phones use it? iPhones

How do you use it? You just press down on the main home button and wait for Siri to pop up. You can then talk to Siri, rather than typing into a box. She’s a good listener. You can choose her/his gender too.

It’s also possible to access some of Siri’s burgeoning pre-emptive suggestions by scrolling left from the main homescreen. This feature is nowhere near as advanced as Google Now as yet, but it’s there.


What can it do?

• Search the web

• Send SMS texts

• Make calls

• Open apps

• Make FaceTime Calls

• Sent tweets

• Update Facbook statuses

• Suggest apps and contacts

• Setup/alter calendar events

• Look up calendar details

• Set alarms

• Change some phone settings

• Look up movie details

• Look up directions in Apple Maps

• Ask for public transport directions

• Locate nearby attractions/restaurants and so on

• Play music

• Identify music

• Read out text messages

• Read out unread emails

• Show photos according to date and location

What can it not do?

• Send Facebook messages

• Interact with most third-party apps

• Pre-empt most of what you want

• Pull out info from your email


Is Siri any Good?

Siri is powered by some very interesting technology, which tries to understand not just your words but your sentences. Understanding meaning is a lot trickier than just identifying words.

It’s improved a lot with iOS 9, too. No longer is Siri a separate module within iOS, or one that exists merely because it’s cool. It’s now tightly integrated into Apple’s mobile OS, and has been rolled up with Spotlight Search into a dedicated screen to the left of the main home screen, Google Now-style.

This screen also shows off Siri’s newfound smarts, as it recommends contacts and apps, nearby services (through Apple Maps), and the latest news (via Apple News).

It’s still not as wide-ranging as Google Now, but Siri ties in better with the platform owner’s own apps.


Which phones use it? Android phones with version 4.1 or higher

How do you use it? It varies depending on the phone, but the consistent way to get Google Now up is to hold your finger down on the Home button until the Google button pops up. The Google Now Launcher, meanwhile, enables you to access it by dragging to the left of the main homescreen.

You don’t have to talk to Google Now – it’s not a primarily voice-driven assistant. Instead, it relays its information through info cards it gives you automatically. You don’t ask for these cards directly. Instead, Google Now pre-empts the sort of information you’ll need. Staples include the weather, the public transport route back home and new content on sites you’ve visited recently.

It’ll gather this information ‘organically’ as you use the phone, but you can tell Google Now about your preferences directly. You can let Now know about your favourite sports teams, the stocks you follow and where you work and live.

If you want to talk to Google Now, you can. Up at the top of the screen is a Google search bar, to the right of which is a little microphone to enable the voice feature. Some phones will listen out for an “OK Google” vocal prompt, too.

Google Now

What can it do?

• Tell you the weather

• Tell you how to get home by car

• Tell you how get home on foot

• How to get home by bus/train

• Remind you about calendar events

• Notify you of emailed item dispatch notices, flight times etc

• Give you updates on your sports team

• Give you stock updates

• Offer info based on your web searches

• Lets you search the web with your voice/typing

• Launch contextual assistance based on what’s on screen (Android 6.0)

• Identify music

• Play music

What can it not do?

• Let you search for anything within the Now interface

• Search for photos

Google NOw


Google Now seems to have been built with the knowledge that not a great amount of people are that keen on using a voice assistant. Google has its own voice recognition and voice synthesis software that could have easily been made the front end of Google Now, but instead the voice feature is relegated. You can use it (there’s a mic icon at the top of the New screen), but it’s not really what Google Now is about.

The way it works can initially seem underwhelming, and we imagine that many Android owners don’t use it at all – even if they are signed up to use it. However, its laid-back style is rather less irritating and gimmicky than a voice assistant.

Since Android 6.0 Marshmallow, Google has introduced Google Now On Tap. This drags the platform out of its isolated screen and weaves it throughout the Android OS. Google Now On Tap gives you contextual assistance based on what’s on the screen at any one time. It’s a great idea, but Google’s initial implementation is too hit and miss to be truly useful. Watch this space, though.

Google Now arguably found its natural home as part of Google’s smartwatch platform. The information card-based system is at the heart of Android Wear, and feels like it was designed at least partially with the watch format in mind.


Which phones use it? Windows 10 phones (Cortana is also available on the desktop version of Windows 10)

How do you use it? Cortana is taking over as the Search part of Windows 10. It’s not just a speech assistant, but rather both a Siri-like voice assistant and an intelligent text analyser – so you can type, not just talk, to Cortana. You long-press the search button to make Cortana start listening, or a quick tap to type.

There’s also a Live Tile dedicated to the personal assistant, and you can configure a ‘Hey Cortana’ vocal prompt.

Cortana feels a bit like an amalgamation of the ideas behind Siri and Google Now. For example, you can tool Cortana up with information about your interests and life – such as your interests, hours when you don’t want to be disturbed, and so on. It also learns more about you based on your Bing search history. Or you can talk to it – your choice.

For a detailed walk-through of Cortana on Windows 10, see our ‘How to use Cortana’ guide.


What can it do?

• Make calls

• Send text messages

• Search the web (using Bing)

• Show local events, restaurants, and the like

• Add/change calendar events

• Make notes

• Offer weather reports

• Tell you how long it’ll take to get to home/work

• Offer travel advice

• Identify music

• Check your flight status

• Set reminders when you next talk to a person



Cortana is arguably the most flexible personal assistant out there for the simple fact that it is built into the Windows 10 desktop OS as well as Windows 10 Mobile.

It mashes together some of the best bits of the other two, with the scheduling and email integration of Google Now and the personality of Siri.

However, Cortana is arguably the most hit and miss of the three in terms of results. When it works, it feels like it’s the best of the bunch – but it fails more frequently than Siri or Google Now.

It also has an over-reliance on simply offering up dumb web search results when Siri and Google Now (particularly the latter) will often try and contextualise or zoom in on a more precise answer.

Cortana feels like it’s in the earliest stage of development – because it is – so there’s plenty of scope for improvement here. It’s already handy in the way it tries to get to know your habits and interests, and being able to have it remind you of things the next time you talk to a specific contact is really cool. Right now however, it’s lacking a little polish and consistency.


Cortana and Google Now are more clever and dynamic in their approach than Siri, which feels more like the ‘movie version’ of a virtual assistant than one people are actually likely to use. That’s improved in iOS 9, where Siri has been better integrated, but it’s still the least pro-active of the three assistants.

Siri does have the most personality of all three systems, however, and is the most comfortable with natural language.

Both Siri and Google Now are more consistent and slick experiences than Cortana, which is clearly the youngest of the three. Along with Google Now, however, its pre-emptive approach is pleasingly progressive, and it has bags of potential as both a desktop and mobile assistant – particularly when it comes to organising your daily schedule.


All of which means that Google Now is our pick for the best personal assistant of the three overall. It may lack the personality of the other two, but its consistency and accuracy approaches that of Siri, while its smartness and pro-activeness is top of the pile.

Meanwhile, Google Now on Tap shows that the system is going to become increasingly integral to the Android experience.


Sony NW-ZX100HN review

  • This Sony Walkman’s design, performance and price hit the sweet spot – a very likeable hi-res player
  • Clear, crisp and detailed sound
  • Snappy and agile rhythm
  • Taut bass
  • Slim, comfortable and stylish build
  • Presentation is too polite
  • Could be more expressive and dynamic
  • Build quality could be more premium

The Sony NW-ZX100HN is the hidden gem of the Walkman range. At £500/$750, this high-resolution music player sits right in between the Sony NW-A25HN (an affordable music player at £250/$375) and the flagship NW-ZX2 (£900/$1,350).

It offers the best of both worlds: the excellent features of the flagship coupled with the slim design and simple interface of the budget version.

Sony has plenty of tricks up its sleeve with the NW-ZX100, from its new, slimmer body, to the extensive playback support (from MP3s to 24-bit/192kHz resolution and DSD files), and built-in noise-cancelling.


We start with She’s Not There by The Zombies in DSD64, and the bouncy bassline and lively, agile tune springs to life. Sony’s ability to deliver a tight, clean and snappy rhythm is admirable here, and you’ll be hooked from the moment you start playing (although we’d recommend at least a day’s running in before serious listening.)

The notes sound pristine, and sparkle without sounding harsh or bright at any point. Imogen Heap’s voice on Lifeline (in 24-bit/96kHz) comes through clear and centred. Detail is abundant. Harmonies are easy to pick out, and instruments are easy to place in a rather spacious soundfield.

Basslines are taut and nimble, but not as deep and rumbling as when played on the Award-winning Astell & Kern AK Jr. The £400/$600 music player is the NW-ZX100’s main rival, and it has a tad more subtlety, depth and punch compared with the Sony.

The Sony player isn’t quite as meaty, nor does it go as powerful and loud as the Astell. We’d like more dynamism to songs, too. But that lack of weight does mean songs like Public Service Broadcasting’s Gagarin are delivered in a pacy manner.

The NW-ZX100 is perhaps a touch too polite. You can hear every inflection, every plosive, every intake of breath when Adele’s Hello is playing on the Astell & Kern.

The Sony holds back a bit, not revealing every last detail or letting songs soar and dip with utter conviction. It may not be as gripping and expressive as the AK Jr, but it is an enjoyable listen overall.

As with most Walkmans, the player is equipped with Sony’s DSEE HX sound processing. This tries to make up for the inherent shortcomings of such recordings by giving them a bit more openness and punch, although we’d steer clear of the ClearAudio+ setting, as it doesn’t do voices any favours and adds a steely edge to the proceedings.

The NW-ZX100 comes with a pair of in-ear headphones, which work nicely with the player’s built-in noise-cancelling. There are different noise-cancelling settings for the environment you’re in (office, airplane, public transport, auto), all of which deliver a very subtle – almost too subtle – effect.

The headphones themselves offer an element of noise-isolation, and have a rounded, clean delivery. We’d update to a pair of AKG Y50s or Sennhieser Momentum In-ears if you want a more revealing and crisp sound, though.


The NW-ZX100’s design is clearly influenced by the flagship NW-ZX2, but with lots of little amendments to make it easier to use. That bulge which accommodates the headphone jack? Instead of jutting out oddly, it now sits flush with the back of the device.

The bottom end of the ZX100 remains rather chunky, but it’s a much more compact and lightweight device than the ZX2. The ZX100’s slimmer width and curved design means it fits snugly in the palm of your hand, and the textured rubber on the back panel helps keep a firm grip.

Unlike the plain black of the ZX2, the ZX100 comes in a textured silver finish that sets it apart from the rest of the Walkman family. It’s quite eye-catching.

One glaring difference is that the ZX100 doesn’t have a touchscreen display. It doesn’t even have an Android interface – which may be a godsend to some, or a bit of a letdown for others.

If you’re used to a smartphone, the lack of touchscreen might throw you at first. We kept swiping and prodding at the 3in TFT screen until we realised that this Walkman uses good old-fashioned buttons.

Playback controls, option and back buttons are all closely placed together, making them fairly easy to reach with your thumb. It’s comfortable to use with just one hand, too.

The buttons become second nature after a while, but our main complaint is that they lack the quality feel a £500/$750 player should have. In fact, they feel pretty much exactly the same as the ones on the more affordable Walkman NW-A25HN.

We’d be much happier if they were built like the ZX100’s volume buttons: round, solid, sturdy and satisfying to press. They’re joined on the side by a hold button (that locks the screen and controls), and a microSD card slot for expanding the internal 32GB storage.


Since it’s not run on an Android operating system, the ZX100 uses a stock version of Sony Walkman’s software – it’s a simple, logical layout of subfolders. The one downside of this is that you can’t download streaming services such as Tidal, Spotify or Deezer via the Google Play Store, nor will you be able to access hi-res download stores.

Still, it keeps it neat as a standalone music player without the distractions of an Android interface. The screen may be small, but it has a good contrast with legible writing, and can pack in a lot of information without looking too cluttered.

There’s even room for album art, which adds more dynamism and colour to a long list of songs and album names.

The player doesn’t display sampling rate, bit depth or file size at a glance on such a small screen. You’ll have to delve into the options menu to get more detailed information on each track.

The Sony ZX100 also features aptX Bluetooth streaming and one-tap NFC. Being Sony, it uses its own LDAC codec for streaming higher quality songs wirelessly to compatible Sony speakers, but Bluetooth applies if you’re pairing with speakers from other brands. Our sample connected without a hitch to a pair of Ruark MR1 speakers, and the stream was steady and uninterrupted.

The Sony’s battery lasts for a commendable 45 hours if you’re playing hi-res FLAC files continuously (or 70 hours if you’re playing MP3s). We played a mixture of song files and only had to charge it up once when testing over a full week – you don’t get that with fancy smartphones.


It may not be a perfect player, but this hi-res Walkman joins our Award-winning Astell & Kern AK Jr and the Pioneer XDP-100R in a fast-growing category of portables that deliver great-sounding hi-res music.

The Sony NW-ZX100 is a competent and enjoyable player. We like the slim design and its ease of use. And at £500/$750, it hits the sweet spot at being an affordable player that offers a touch of premium quality.


Dell Inspiron 13 7000 (2016) Review


    Stylish design; Solid overall performance; Strong audio


    Unreliable battery life; Slow SSD; Can run hot


    The Dell Inspiron 13 7000 is an elegant convertible with good sound and a sharp display, but its SSD is on the slow side.

If you’re looking for a stylish and portable notebook that doubles as a tablet, Dell’s latest, the Inspiron 13 7000 ($749 as tested, starting at $499), will definitely catch your eye. This 13-inch convertible combines a 6th Generation Core i5 processor with strong sound, a sharp display and, on the Special Edition, a soft-touch finish and brushed-metal deck. However, a sluggish SSD and unpredictable battery life curb our enthusiasm.

Editor’s Note: The first Inspiron 13 7000 we tested turned in surprisingly short battery life, but a second unit lasted longer while providing a dimmer display and slower solid-state drive. We noted both sets of results in this review.


Our test unit of the Inspiron 13 7000 was the Special Edition model, which has a brushed-metal, aluminum keyboard deck and a soft-touch lid and underside. With these added touches of style, the Inspiron 13 feels and looks great, similar to a midrange sedan with upgraded interior leather. You’ll have to opt for the Special Edition to get this shell and deck, as they’re not available on the standard Silver, Gold or Red Inspiron 13 7000s.

Weighing 3.64 pounds, the Inspiron 13 is heavier than the 14-inch Lenovo Yoga 700 (3.5 pounds) and the 12-inch Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 (2.9 pounds), but lighter than the Acer Aspire R 14 (4 pounds).

The Inspiron 13 7000’s 360-degree hinge allows users to rotate the display from the traditional laptop angle to the tent, display and tablet positions. While it’s a fairly thin notebook, at 0.75 inches, it had no trouble staying put in the tent position during my tests.

Ports And Webcam

Dell’s placed a security lock slot, HDMI port, the notebook’s headphone jack and two USB 3.0 ports on the Inspiron 13 7000’s left side. Over on the right side, you’ll find a third USB 3.0 port, an SD media-card reader, and volume and power buttons.

The Inspiron 13 7000’s 0.9-megapixel webcam shot blue-tinted photos of me in our well-lit newsroom. You can see small details like errant strands of hair coming off my head, but the photos are very noisy.

Keyboard And Touchpad

The Dell’s keys have a shallow 1.2 millimeters of travel, but since they require 65 grams of force to actuate, the typing experience is acceptable. I clacked my way to a rate of 75 words per minute with 100 percent accuracy, a slight dip from my average of 80 wpm and 99 percent accuracy.

Dell’s given the Inspiron 13 7000 an accurate, 4.1 x 2.6-inch, buttonless touchpad that gives a good feel to each click. As I navigated through Web pages and the desktop, the pad tracked the motion of my fingers with accuracy and without stutter.


As I watched the 1080p trailer for Deadpool on the Inspiron’s 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080p display, I easily saw small details like the scratches on Colossus and the tiny glass shards from a broken window. While the screen produced properly saturated black tones for shadows, and nice, steely silvers for Deadpool’s blades, his red costume did not pop with the same tone I’ve on other displays, instead bearing a more maroon-hue. The display does provide fairly wide viewing angles, with color retaining at 70 degrees to the left or right.

On the first unit we tested, we found the Inspiron 13 7000’s display capable of emitting 228 nits of brightness, which is brighter than the Aspire R 14 (199 nits) and the Yoga 700 (197 nits). The average ultraportable notebook (309 nits) and the Satellite Radius 12 (369 nits) shine brighter. The second Inspiron 13 review unit we received maxed out at a dimmer 212 nits of brightness, but the two Inspirons’ displays had imperceptible differences in color quality. Dell could not immediately tell us whether it used different panels in the two units we tested, but it seems like a strong possibility.

While the screen produced properly saturated black tones for shadows, and nice, steely silvers for Deadpool’s blades, his red costume didn’t pop.

Tests with our colorimeter revealed that the Inspiron 13’s display can produce 62.5 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That beats the Aspire R 14 (59 percent), but is a bit less than the Yoga 700 (64 percent). The Dell also falls behind the Satellite Radius 12 (105 percent) and the average ultraportable notebook (82 percent).


As I listened to Hot Chip’s “Huarache Lights” on the Inspiron 13 7000, the track’s high-pitched synths sounded accurate, and its medley of midrange drums sounded clear and distinct, even under the thumping bass line. The audio quality stayed strong as I moved the convertible among the laptop, display, tent and tablet positions.

This hybrid reaps the benefits of Dell’s partnership with Waves, which put its MaxxAudio tuning software in the Dell Audio control panel. We suggest you keep the default preferences, which have Speaker Enhancement turned on and set to MaxxSense. When I turned off the Speaker Enhancement or changed its preset to Music or Movie, the speakers sounded fainter and further away.


Our Inspiron 13 7000 was armed with a 6th Generation Intel Core i5-6200U processor with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, which provided generally good performance. I encountered zero lag when I split my screen between a streaming 1080p video and a dozen Chrome tabs (including TweetDeck and a Google Doc) as Windows Defender ran a full-system scan in the background.

When we ran the GeekBench 3 benchmark test for overall performance on the Inspiron 13 7000, the hybrid earned a score of 5,775, which beats the average ultraportable notebook (4,796). The Core i5-6200U-powered Aspire R 14 (6,266) and Yoga 700 (5,855) both earned better scores, as did the Core i7-6500U-powered Satellite Radius 12 (6,258).

The reason laptops with the same CPU earned better scores may be their faster hard drives. The Inspiron 13 7000 performed poorly on the Laptop Mag File Transfer Test (which times how long it takes to duplicate 4.97GB of mixed media). The first unit’s 128GB SSD finished in 57 seconds, a rate of 89.3 MBps, and the second model we tested was even slower (58.46 MBps). That’s far worse than the 256GB SSD drives on the Aspire R 14 (164 MBps), Yoga 700 (145 MBps) and Satellite Radius 12 (203 MBps), as well as the average ultraportable notebook (162 MBps).

The Inspiron 13 7000 still performed well in the OpenOffice Macro test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in 4 minutes and 41 seconds. That’s faster than the Yoga 700 and the average ultraportable notebook but slower than the Satellite Radius 12 and the same as the Aspire R 14.

Battery Life

We tested two review units of the Inspiron 13 7000, and they got widely different results in our Laptop Mag Battery Test (constant Web browsing at 100 nits of brightness). The first system lasted for only 6 hours and 55 minutes, while the second unit lasted for 8 hours and 22 minutes. That large gap puts the Inspiron 13 either below or above the average ultraportable notebook (8:10), Yoga 700 (7:03), Satellite Radius 12 1080p (7:22) and Aspire R 14 (8:37).

We believe the difference in battery life between the two units we tested is due to the display panel, but Dell has yet to confirm whether the two units actually have different screen components. No matter what the cause, our tests suggest that prospective buyers may see anywhere from 6:55 to 8:22, depending on how their Inspirons were built.

We will update this review once we’ve done some further investigating.


Armed only with integrated Intel HD graphics, the Inspiron 13 7000 was unable to run our Rainbow Six gaming test, and it earned a paltry score of 572 in the 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark test. That’s below the Aspire R 14 (813), Yoga 700 (646), Satellite Radius 12 1080p (798) and ultraportable notebook average (601).


The Inspiron 13 can get warm to the touch, but you won’t realize it if you keep the notebook out of your lap. After we streamed 15 minutes of full-screen HD video on the laptop, its undercarriage (100 degrees Fahrenheit) and back edge (105 degrees) struck fevers well above our 95-degree comfort threshold, while its touchpad (80 degrees) and G and H keys (89 degrees) stayed cool.

Software And Warranty

Dell’s given the Inspiron 13 7000 a mostly pristine installation of Windows 10, adding only its own proprietary utility apps on top. Power Manager Lite gives users more battery-usage controls, while Customer Connect adds a direct line to tech support and SupportAssist packs system information necessary for customer support with a system-scan utility.

The notebook comes with Dell’s standard one-year limited hardware warranty, which includes mail-in service following remote diagnosis.


The Special Edition model we tested costs $750 and swaps out the entry-level model’s 5,400rpm hard drive for a 128GB SSD drive. The high-end Inspiron 13 7000 packs a Core i7-6500U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 250GB SSD and a 1920 x 1080 touch display for $950. Those specs are available at that price for the red, silver and gold standard editions as well as Special Edition black with brushed metal.

The entry-level Dell Inspiron 13 7000 costs $500, and it comes with a Pentium 3825U processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500MB 5,400rpm hard drive and a 1366 x 768 touch display. The entry-level Special Edition costs $700 and has a 6th Generation Core i5-6200U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400 hard drive and a 1920 x 1080 touch display.

Bottom Line

With its stylish design, solid audio and above-average performance, the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 is a solid 2-in-1 option. Unfortunately, it has a slow SSD hard drive, and you can’t count on getting strong battery life.

For $50 less, you can buy the Acer Aspire R 14, which has 8-plus hours of battery life and equivalent performance to the Inspiron, but a dimmer display. However, if you want an attractive, lightweight 2-in-1, the Inspiron 13 7000 is a good choice.


Xiaomi Mi 5 Pro Hands-on Review: Smartphone star causes a stir

If you’re into smartphones, then the name Xiaomi will be one you recognise. Enjoying huge successes in the China, Hugo Barra, VP of international at Xiaomi claimed that the company sat in the top spot for smartphone sales in China, and number 5 globally.

The launch of the Mi 5 was an occasion of importance for the company. Not only does the Xiaomi have a new flagship handset, but it was launched on an international stage, in front of an international audience, at an international trade show: a first for the company.

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Xiaomi has been enjoying successes with many of its products, sold directly through its own channels rather than via retailers, and it appears to have ambitions to push its Chinese smartphone success in front of a global audience.

With Hugo Barra on stage to introduce the new handset, the company has a strong spokesman. Barra, formerly of Google, so deeply ingrained in all things Android, introduced the new 5.5-inch handset, saying it was insanely fast.

We got our hands on the new Xiaomi Mi 5 Pro briefly following launch and we have to say we agree.


The Xiaomi Mi 5 offers a premium design, with the company pushing materials and quality in the same way as Samsung or HTC does. Mentioning Samsung, there’s more than just a passing resemblance to Samsung’s new flagship, the Galaxy S7.

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The Xiaomi Mi 5 has a metal core with a 3D glass or ceramic rear, resulting in a wonderfully slick finish. The small details like the chamfering on the edging and the curve of those back edges, results in a phone that looks good and feels great in the hand.

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Around the front there’s a physical home button flanked with capacitive controls, again very much in the style of Samsung. This home button also features a fingerprint scanner.

The phone will come in three colours – black, white and gold – and it measures 69.2 x 144.55 x 7.25mm and weighs in at 129g, which is impressively light, even with a glass back. The regular Mi 5 has that glass back, the Pro switches up to ceramic, which is what you’re looking at here.

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There are two different finishes to the Xiaomi Mi 5. The standard model uses a3D glass back cover, while the Mi 5 Pro seen here switches to ceramic. We’ve seen this material used before by OnePlus and the result is very much the same here: it loves fingerprints, so you’ll be wiping it clean frequently, but it’s designed to be resilient to scratches, something that will keep the Pro model looking sharp much longer than the standard edition.

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If we had to pull out one thing that we don’t really like, then we’re not completely sold on the sharpness of that leading edge. It meets the displayglass with a rather sharp finish and we can’t help feeling that it’s always going to be picking up lint in your pocket, and again, need wiping clean.


There’s a 5.15-inch display on the front of the Mi 5 offering a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution, 427ppi. Some might be perturbed by the lack of a higher Quad HDresolution. At this size it doesn’t make a huge difference, unless you plan to slip it into a VR headset, in which case the experience would be better with a higher resolution.

From our time with the Xiaomi Mi 5 Pro, which was a pre-production unit and not running final software, the display looked to be good quality with plenty of vibrancy and punch.

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But most of the interest in this phone – and a subject of much discussion at the launch – is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset that powers it. That’s the latest chipset that’s also appeared in the LG G5 and some versions of theSamsung Galaxy S7 at MWC. This hardware is backed by 4GB of RAM on this Pro version of the handset and 128GB of internal storage.

Regular models will get 32 or 64GB of storage with 3GB of RAM, and there’s nomicroSD card slot for expansion.

Everything is powered by a 3000mAh battery, which is pretty capacious for a device of this size. Thanks to the Snapdragon 820, it also benefits from Quick Charge 3.0, so you’ll be able to power it up in no time at all.


The camera on the rear of the handset sits flush to the back, for a great seamless finish. It’s rocking a 16-megapixel Sony sensor and is accompanied by a dual-tone flash. Xiaomi is making some great claims about the camera’s potency. It offers optical image stabilisation for starters, but also features phase detection autofocus. From what we saw, focusing is snappy and precise.

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Of course we weren’t able to test the quality of the results, but some of the samples shown off by Xiaomi have looked mighty impressive. It will alsocapture 4K video.

There’s a 4-megapixel camera on the front for all your selfies.


The Mi 5 Pro runs MIUI, the company’s own UI that’s built on Android 6.0 Marshmallow in this handset. Much in the same way as OnePlus, this is a UI that’s designed around giving you plenty of freedom to change things around.

We didn’t have the chance to fully explore what it has to offer, but from a basic standpoint, it’s easy enough to get around and find everything, as the general layout is the same as Android.

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It’s also a UI that’s designed to update regularly, with Hugo Barra referring to it as a living UI. We found things to be slick and fast to navigate, even though it wasn’t final software. This is a UI that’s about personalisation and performance.

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First Impressions

The Xiaomi Mi 5 Pro feels like a handset to match many of the other devices we’ve seen launch recently. With a release date planned for 1 March for the Chinese market, it will then be launching in India with more territories planned for the future. We’re yet to see exactly what that means, or exactly how much it might cost, but we’re looking at around £300/$450 for a flagship spec handset, half the price of mainstream rivals.

But perhaps more importantly, Xiaomi’s launch of this handset at Mobile World Congress feels like a statement of intent. It’s a handset and a company that’s calling for international attention in a way that it hasn’t really done before.

And the Xiaomi Mi 5 is a lovely handset. Like the devices we’ve seen from OnePlus, there’s the sense that this is going to be handset that gets plenty of fan attention and with a price that undercuts its established rivals by a considerable margin, we’re sure demand will be high.

This handset is firmly in the spotlight at Mobile World Congress 2016, when and if it will make an appearance in the UK, Europe or US, remains to be seen.


Ford Sync 3 preview: Apple CarPlay, Android Auto complete solution

Ford has announced that its latest in car infotainment system, Sync 3, will be coming to Europe this July.

Initially Sync 3 will appear in limited new cars like the new Kuga, S-Max andMondeo.

Sync 3 isn’t all about its own platform, it actually plays nice with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Plus it supports apps adapted for the car and lets you play anything from your phone over Bluetooth.

There are plenty of new extras in Sync 3, which has been redesigned on a new operating system. We went hands-on to find out what we can expect from new Ford cars in Europe this July.

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Ford Sync has been around for years but it isn’t until now that the platform has been truly free to grow. The previous build was based on Microsoft software which was rather limiting. Now Ford has rebuilt the system based on QNX, best known for its use in BlackBerry kit.

This new build should mean Ford is able to update, adapt and improve Sync 3at its fastest rate ever. In turn that’ll mean your new car is more future-proofed than any Ford before it.

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The Sync 3 system is the first line of controls in the car but if you prefer to run Android Auto or CarPlay, that’s an option too. You simply plug in your phone using a USB cable and while it’s charging the Google or Apple car OS is displayed full screen in the car.

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This means you can use Google mapping via your phone if you want, using Android Auto, ideal for quickly finding places you’ve already searched out on your smartphone.

For Apple CarPlay you have access to Siri, allowing you to control the car via your voice with the chatty simplicity that Sri is known for.

Both mobile operating systems offer apps, read out messages that you can reply to and of course allow you to make calls. But then so does Sync 3.

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The newly designed interface on Sync 3 is far more tablet like and touch friendly than ever before. Now you’re met with large icons and a responsive touch sensitive display ideal for driving. There are always section icons at the bottom and a home icon at the top so you can navigate to any area without worrying about getting lost in menus. Not that they are too complicated anyway.

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There are plenty of physical buttons below the display but in our experience navigation was simple through the touchscreen. Of course Ford has its voice control integration too. Tap the button on the wheel and speak freely, for example saying “I need coffee” is enough to bring up sat nav results for nearby options.

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Should you want to search in Sync 3, sat nav this is easier too. Rather than typing in post code and road name and the usual hassle, you can just search like you would using Google. It’ll even remember previous searches or journeys and autofill so you don’t have to type. Want a restaurant? Type the name and it’ll find it, you can even use your voice to either navigate to or call the place.

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At the moment Ford doesn’t have a huge amount of apps specifically for its Sync platform, topping out at around the 40 mark. But thanks to new partnerships, its hackathon events and ease of integration that should change.

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At the moment apps like Spotify are standard allowing you to play music via your phone. The native music player app is also enhanced to pull in album cover art and song information for anything stored locally on your device.

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It’s the new apps that excite us though. One app, called MyBoxMan, allows anyone to make money from delivering items. Open and search for nearby jobs then accept to go pick up an item, deliver it and mark as done and the money will be put in your account. Simple.

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This will grow in the future with options like the ability to find jobs on a route you’re already driving. This is very exciting indeed, imagine paying for fuel, and even making money, from a journey you were going to do anyway.

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First Impressions

At a time where car hardware is developing faster than ever, software updates need to happen quickly. The Ford Sync 3 platform is a clean, easy to use and smart system that is now based on software that can be freely evolved. That future-proofing is invaluable when buying a new car.

Working with the likes of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto means the regular updates on your phone will instantly take effect in the car too.

Ford’s active push in the app market should also mean not only apps that work with the car but ones developed specifically for it.

Ford is pushing innovation fast and Sync 3 is the embodiment of that progress. Here’s hoping it rolls out to plenty more Ford cars after its European launch in July.


Saygus V Squared Hands-on Review : Squaring up to the competition

Saygus first announced its entrance into the smartphone world in 2015 and it was greeted with huge amounts of praise.

This year sees the company make a couple of changes here and there, including the latest version of Android and some hardware advancements, all placed into the V Squared smartphone.

It’s cool, it’s quirky and it’s one to watch when it launches in a couple of months. Here are our first impressions of the Saygus V Squared.

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The Saygus V Squared doesn’t look like your average smartphone. It doesn’t have metal build, or glass rear and it isn’t just your standard rectangle with curved edges either. It is different.

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The V Squared is rectangular and its corners are rounded, but it angles downwards beneath the display and this small design detail makes the device catch your eye, helped by material that covers it.

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A white and grey squared pattern features on the front and the rear of the V Squared. It Is soft and smooth, with a lovely matte finish making the device a true delight to hold. At 141g, it is also very light, surprisingly so in fact.

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The removable rear of the device features a large camera lens at the top, while the Saygus logo sits subtly beneath it. The bottom of the back is where things really get interesting though. A black wiggly line marks out two smaller bumps and one larger bump. It looks a little like the way you might have drawn trees as a child.

The pattern isn’t just a random design Saygus decided to add to the V Squared though. It is called Fractural Antenna Technology and it is said to consolidate signals and concentrate them to provide you with better reception, such as when you are in a lift for example.

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The front of the V Squared has two speaker grilles, one at the top and the other at the bottom, the latter of which sits on the line where the smartphone angles downwards. The front camera sits to the right, while the V Squared logo sits subtly in the right-hand corner.

This smartphone isn’t the slimmest around, but it does pack a lot into its 137 x 67 x 9.7mm body including IPX7 waterproofing, which is a new feature for 2016, and a biometric fingerprint sensor that sits on the right-hand side of the device with the volume controls and dedicated camera launcher.

There is also USB Type-C on board, allowing for faster charging and data transfer. The design of the Saygus V Squared might not be to everyone’s tastes but we think different is cool and that the V Squared most definitely is.


The Saygus V Squared comes with a 5-inch display, which Saygus says is edge-to-edge and borderless, although that’s not quite the case. The Full HD displayis framed by the white and grey pattern so you don’t get the same edge-to-edge experience as you do with the likes of the new Sony Xperia XA for example.

The 1920 x 1080 resolution means the V Squared offers a pixel density of 445ppi, which is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 4. Saygus says the display is viewable even in bright conditions and it also features front and back light sensors for better lighting control.

The colours of the display were bright and punchy and viewing angles seemed good but we will wait until we have spent some more time with the V Squared before we pass a final judgement on the display.


It’s been all about the camera on the latest flagship smartphone launches with both LG and Samsung placing a big focus on how capable the new cameras are on the LG G5 and SGS7 are.

The V Squared doesn’t shy away though with a 21-megapixel rear snapper capable of 4K video recording, coupled with a 13-megaixel front camera. Both offer optical image stabilisation and auto focus, while the rear offers a dual LED flash too.

We couldn’t test the camera performance during our brief amount of time with the V Squared at the show, but we will be sure to put it through its paces when we get it in for review.


The Saygus V Squared comes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset, which may surprise a few given the rest of its specs. It’s a very established processor that is under the hood of many successful devices but it isn’t the new SD820 that everyone is now talking about.

It is perhaps a blessing that it isn’t the SD810 however as this chip has a couple of issues in some devices. Saygus said it opted for the SD801 for stability and the next device would sport the SD820.

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Supporting the chip is 3GB of RAM and 64GB of storage with not one but twomicroSD slots for storage expansion up to 400GB. This is another of the new features added for 2016, along with the inclusion of USB Type-C that we mentioned earlier. It is not clear whether the V Squared will support Marshmallow’s Flex storage but we have asked the question and we will update this hands on when we hear more.

A removable 3100mAh battery powers the V Squared, which in itself is a pretty big capacity in comparison to some other newly devices, including the LG G5 and the SGS7, both of which have slightly smaller capacities.

Wireless charging is built in and the V Squared also features a special power saving chip that does something to the pixels in the display in order to save up to 50 per cent battery life. We couldn’t test this in but it will be interesting to see how it works in the real world and whether it makes a difference.

In terms of audio, the V Squared has built-in stereo speakers and mics, powered by Harman Kardon. There is also something called 3D Audio for video and Noise Cancelling Cypher Sound technology on board too.

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The Saygus V Squared will launch globally on Android Marshmallow, which is the final change since 2015. The device we saw didn’t have the final software on board so details on what else it will offer are slim.

We were told it would be close to stock and there was an interesting launcher that appears in a circle. This is an option rather than customary though.

First Impressions

The Saygus V Squared adds some good features for 2016. Two microSD card slots, USB Type-C, waterproofing and Android Marshmallow are all additions many will appreciate.

Couple the four upgrades with the funky design and other decent specs including two decent camera resolutions and a big battery capacity and you have yourself a very interesting device.

The Saygus V Squared is cool but it also does well on the numbers and you can’t really argue with that.


Linksys WRT1900ACS review

  • Excellent AC1900 Wi-Fi performance
  • Robust and functional chassis design
  • Goog USB transfer performance
  • Powerful UI
  • OpenWRT support
  • Hefty, blue design may put off some users
  • Doesn’t support MU-MIMO
  • Pushes you towards Smart Wi-Fi login
  • No basic view for UI
  • AC1900 Wi-Fi
  • 4 x Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • 1 x USB 3.0 and 1 x eSATA/USB 2.0
  • OpenWRT support
  • Four external aerials
  • 1.6GHz dual-core processor
  • 512MB RAM, 128MB SSD storage
  • Manufacturer: Linksys

Linksys WRT1900ACS


The WRT1900ACS is the updated version of Linksys’ flagship router of 2015, the WRT1900AC. It packs in a faster processor and double the RAM of its predecessor, which should result in faster overall performance – particularly in more demanding multi-user scenarios.

Otherwise, it’s a similar beast to before, capable of up to 1900AC Wi-Fi speeds with its dual-band, four-aerial setup. It also has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, a USB 3.0 port and a combi eSATA/USB 2.0 port for sharing files or printers.

In addition, it continues to supports the open-source router firmware OpenWRT, making it potentially ideal for those users who want to fine-tune their network.


The WRT1900ACS uses an identical external design to its predecessor, with it sporting a practical chunky look whose only embellishment is the blue plastic of its front third. It’s a sizeable unit, measuring 295 x 205 x 123mm and weighing 886g, so combined with its striking livery it may not be to everyone’s taste.

Nonetheless, in contrast to the shiny, angular and upright ASRock G10, this router sits flat and firm on its four rubber-bottomed feet. It instantly gives the impression of kit that’s been designed to stand the test of time.

As well as sitting flat it can be wall-mounted: the four removable external aerials can be moved to best optimise positioning and signal strength.

Linksys WRT1900ACS

The unit can also be stacked, with a matching eight-port switch sporting the same design ready to sit beneath the WRT1900ACS.

Gone is the fan of the original, however. Some users welcomed the feature as a handy back-up if cooling became an issue; others saw it as just another point of potential failure though. It’s likely that the new chip used here brings with it some power saving features, so Linksys has felt it safe to remove the fan.

The power supply has changed, too, switching from an inline model to one integrated into the plug. I tend to prefer the latter just because it makes cable management easier, although I can see that some users will prefer the inline style since it doesn’t take up as much room at the socket.

All the connectivity is situated round the back of the device, where you have the four Gigabit Ethernet ports as well as a fifth for connecting up to your modem. These are joined by the USB 3.0 and eSATA/USB 2.0 ports, WPS button, power socket and switch and the Reset button.

That’s a decent selection, although whether a second USB 3.0 port would be more useful than the eSATA/USB 2.0 combo is up for debate.

Similarly, for some users a side- or front-mounted USB port would have been more convenient since it makes it easier to plug in and remove devices. Likewise, the WPS button – for adding new devices to your network with one touch – would be far better located on the front on the router.

Linksys WRT1900ACS

On the plus side, the display on the front of the WRT1900ACS is excellent, with each light accompanied by a symbol representing the feature it corresponds to – unlike the Netgear R7500. Also the lights line up with their corresponding connections and buttons round the rear of the device, so you know exactly where you need to plug something new in or hit that WPS button.

Internally, there’s a 1.6GHz dual-core ARM-based processor, which is a speed bump from the 1.2GHz chip in the 1900AC. You also get 512MB of DDR3 RAM and 128MB of flash memory.

The latter is important considering this router is for use with the popular open-source router network firmware OpenWRT, custom versions of which may be relatively large.

Linksys WRT1900ACS

On the Wi-Fi front, the router displays the same AC1900 capabilities as before. It’s possible to simultaneously achieve up to 600Mbps using the 2.4GHz band or up to 1,300Mbps over 5GHz. You do miss out on the latest must-have feature, though, which is Multi-user-Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO). This is a standard feature of the latest AC Wi-Fi standard, but it’s currently only implemented in a limited number of routers.

The chief benefit of MU-MIMO is that the router is even better able to cope with multiple devices connecting to it at the same time, although maximum throughput to any one device is no better.

For configuring the WRT1900ACS you can download Linksys’ Smart Wi-Fi app, which allows you to monitor network activity and speed, turn off/on Wi-Fi access, create a guest network and prioritise network traffic.

Using Linksys’ Smart Wi-Fi service you can even access your router from anywhere round the world, which is convenient if you’re sharing files using those USB ports.


Physical setup of this router is a joy, since it’s just so well built and is relatively compact – despite its four antennae. It also sits firm, not pushed around by the cables plugged into it.

However, I didn’t feel the same about the initial experience of the UI. Linksys pushes you towards creating a Smart Wi-Fi account to get access to the router, and while the service is useful, I’m never a fan of being forced to sign up to something when it isn’t required to access a basic level of functionality.

Linksys WRT1900ACS

The Smart Wi-Fi service itself is what it uses to link up to the mobile app and allow remote access. It turns out that you can actually access the router through a conventional login, but it isn’t clearly labelled.

Once logged in, which can take a surprisingly long time, the interface is okay if a little sluggish. There isn’t a more basic view, so you have to jump straight into the full-fat version. This largely makes sense given the target market, but even pros sometimes prefer a “quick settings” view.

Linksys WRT1900ACS

Otherwise, the layout is reasonably logical and there’s a comprehensive set of features on offer. It took a while to work out how to download the printer tool – as with the ASRock G10, you have to download the software via a link in the UI that here is rather hidden away – but otherwise it was a cinch to setup.


This router well and truly lives up to its billing as a high-end machine built for professionals and enthusiasts. It consistently provides excellent Wi-Fi performance at both 5GHz and 2.4GHz.

At 5GHz and 1m away, this router easily maxed out the Asus PCE-AC68 receiver on our test PC, hitting 70.7MB/sec. Then at 5m, with two brick walls in between, it managed 37.8MB/sec – beaten only by the 39MB/sec of the ASRock G10.

At 7m and down another floor, the WRT1900ACS pulled out into a comfortable lead, hitting 23.6MB/sec. Meanwhile the G10 could manage only 18.4MB/sec, which is a similar to much of the competition.

Linksys WRT1900ACS

At 2.4GHz, the WRT1900ACS continues to impress; it hit an excellent 19.2MB/sec in the close-range test, 11.4MB/sec at 5m and 6.3MB/sec at 7m. This compares to 17.1MB/sec, 10.4MB/sec and 7.1MB/sec for the TP-Link Archer C9 and 24.2MB/sec, 6.3MB/sec and 8.9MB/sec for the G10.

This high-performance trend continued when it came to USB transfer speeds too, with the WRT1900ACS coming out top of our recently tested routers for write speed and well up there for read speed. Its 32.3MB/sec write and 34.2MB/sec read compares to 23.5MB/sec and 13.3MB/sec for the Archer C9 and 53.3MB/sec and 28.6MB/sec for the G10.

The WRT1900ACS achieved all this while remaining absolutely rock-solid in terms of stability. Not once did it crash or even slow up a touch in the week I’ve been using it as my main router, which is more than can be said for some of its competitors.

Linksys WRT1900ACS


If you’re in the market for a high-performance router that can take some punishment then the Linksys WRT1900ACS is ideal. It’s right up there with the fastest routers you can buy, and it’s built like a tank. Add in support for OpenWRT and you’re presented with a device that’s sure to tempt those for whom reliability and robustness are key factors.

What’s more, all this performance comes at less of an eye-watering price than its predecessor, which cost £249.99/$375 when released. Available from Amazon right now for £180/$240, the WRT1900ACS is very much in line with other truly high-end routers.

Of course, that price reduction is largely to be expected since you’re essentially getting the same machine as a router that’s nearly two years old, and you’re missing out on the latest MU-MIMO tech.

As such, if you’re simply after AC1900 speeds at a sensible price then the TP-Link Archer C9 is still the clear choice, while the ASRock G10 offers MU-MIMO and a host of other extras for the same price as the WRT1900ACS.


The Linksys WRT1900ACS offers everything its predecessor did – a robust build, stonking performance and OpenWRT support – but for less money. However, it remains pricey for the features on offer so less demanding users may be better looking for a cheaper alternative.


Panasonic HC-VX980EB-K review

  • Great 4K image quality
  • Wi-Fi multi-camera shooting
  • Capable manual controls
  • Lens control ring hasn’t returned
  • Accessory shoe uses add-on bracket
  • Not a full camcorder/stills camera hybrid
  • 1/2.3-inch CMOS with 18.91 megapixels
  • MP4 recording at up to 4K at 72Mbits/sec
  • 20x optical zoom; 25x/40x iZoom (4K/HD)
  • External microphone jack and accessory shoe
  • Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Manufacturer: Panasonic

Panasonic HC-VX980EB-K


The HC-VX980EB-K is the next 4K camcorder down from Panasonic’s flagship HC-VXF990EB-K. It features the same core specification, but lacks a few important capabilities. It’s £150/$225 cheaper, however – although still far from a budget option. Nevertheless, it’s a tempting option if the top model is too costly, and a direct competitor on price to Sony’s FDR-AX53.


Inside the HC-VX980EB-K sits the same 1/2.3-inch CMOS with 18.91 megapixels as the HC-VXF990EB-K. Of this, 8.29 megapixels are used when shooting 4K footage, 6.1 megapixels for Full HD, and strangely only 8.29 megapixels when grabbing stills.

However, Panasonic throws in a sizeable dollop of interpolation to provide up to 25.9-megapixel stills (6,784 x 3,816), although this drops to 20.4 megapixels (6,016 x 3,384) when shooting 4K video at the same time.

The top video mode is Ultra HD, which is 3,840 x 2,160 at 24 or 25fps, with a 72Mbits/sec data rate, and using the MP4 format. Also included is the usual array of AVCHD 2.0 options, all the way up to 1080/50p at 28Mbits/sec. There’s the quarter-Full HD iFrame option too, recorded at 28Mbits/sec. The format options are somewhat bewildering, but you’ll probably be using 4K and one or two of the Full HD modes for much of the time.


The reduced range of advanced features is what differentiates the HC-VX980EB-K from its higher-end HC-VXF990EB-K sibling. The previous generation’s flagship features included items I wasn’t so convinced by, such as the secondary camera on the HC-WX970. However, the HC-VX980EB-K doesn’t have the more expensive model’s electronic viewfinder, fully integrated accessory shoe, or new shooting modes.

So the HC-VX980EB-K lacks the flagship’s cinema-like effects, including the Slow and Quick option, Dolly Zoom, and automated slow zoom. However, there remains one slow-motion option, where you can touch a button three times during a shot to record that section at an increased frame rate, which then plays back at normal speed for a smooth slow motion.

Enabling this feature switched the camera automatically to 28Mbits/sec MP4 mode in Full HD, and it can’t be used when shooting 4K.

Panasonic HC-VX980EB-K

The wireless multi-camera function has also been carried over to this model. This allows up to three smartphones running the Panasonic app to be configured as extra camera angles and you can then choose two of them to be superimposed inside the main image.

This could be great for shooting sports, a gig or other stage-based event, with the Panasonic camera locked off on a tripod and smartphone users doing close-ups.

The mini-jacks for an external microphone and headphones remain. An accessory shoe is available too, but this model reverts back to the slide-in bracket of the previous generation.

The bracket sticks out of the rear of the camcorder, and is more ungainly than the built-in option of the HC-VXF990EB-K. But at least it’s standard sized, rather than the proprietary models found with some manufacturers, such as Sony.


Despite the loss of these headline advanced features, the same set of manual features remain, as is the little wheel next to the lens that will make them easier to access. There’s no lens ring – that appears to have been banished from Panasonic’s consumer-grade camcorders forever. But it’s still better for controlling settings than the touchscreen or a joystick-operated menu system.

Panasonic has always been generous with its manual settings, and with the HC-VX980EB-K it’s no different. There are two Intelligent Auto modes, with the + option providing limited control over exposure bias and colour.

There’s an HDR mode, 11 scene modes including all the usual suspects, and a selection of creative effects. These include a faux tilt-shift Miniature Effect, 8mm Movie, Silent Movie, and Time Lapse with intervals from one second to two minutes. However, the HDR and creative effects can only be applied when shooting in AVCHD format, not when shooting 4K or MP4/iFrame.

Panasonic HC-VX980EB-K

Switching to full manual provides access to focus, white balance, shutter and iris. All of these can either be configured with the touchscreen, or (more conveniently) with the wheel next to the lens.

White balance offers the usual two indoor and two outdoor presets, plus auto and fully manual. The shutter can be set from 1/25th to 1/8,000th, and iris from f/16 to f/1.8, with up to 18dB of video gain available on top of a fully open iris – although this does introduce a noticeable level of grain. When at maximum optical zoom, a fully open iris drops to f/3.6, which is still decent.


One thing that hasn’t changed significantly with this generation of Panasonic camcorders is image quality. The sensor is the same, and as a result the picture performance is pretty much identical.

The camcorder copes well with mixed lighting conditions, and there is of course bags of detail when shooting in 4K. Until a consumer-grade camcorder comes along with a one-inch or larger sensor, this is about the best image quality you’re going to get.

Panasonic’s image stabilisation is still the best around, too, capable of smoothing out quite considerable vibrations whether zoomed in or out. This is one area where conventional camcorders can continue to beat still image cameras shooting video hands-down.

Handheld footage looks super-smooth, and it’s possible to shoot heavily zoomed footage without a tripod and not end up with an unusable, juddering image.


The HC-VX980EB-K is another capable 4K camcorder from Panasonic. Although the missing features from the flagship HC-VXF990EB-K are worth having – the EVF, for example – there’s still a huge amount here for the enthusiast and the point-and-shoot videographer. The keener price makes it a more tempting proposition, even if this still isn’t exactly a great-value option.

I regularly have debates with lovers of DSLR shooting about the current crop of camcorders. While digital stills cameras such as the Sony A7R II and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 can shoot great-looking 4K video, neither are as cheap as Panasonic’s 4K camcorders.

Panasonic’s 4K-shooting Lumix LX100 may be more keenly priced, but it has a much more limited zoom range and no microphone input. These cameras also have drawbacks such as 30-minute file limits, and require considerable expertise to operate correctly when shooting video.

With the Panasonic HC-VX980EB-K it’s possible to simply leave it in Intelligent Auto mode and yet still achieve very good 4K video. The image stabilisation in particular is in a different league to any digital stills camera I’ve seen.

But there are still plenty of manual settings available if you do want to be more creative. And that’s why this is a great camcorder, despite not being the large sensor camera-camcorder crossover we’re all still waiting for.


The Panasonic HC-VX980EB-K offers many of the important features that the flagship HC-VXF990EB-K boasts for £150/$225 less, making this a very tempting 4K video proposition.


2016 Mazda3 GT Review: The Enthusiasts’ Compact Hatchback

After noodling around for a week in Mazda’s subcompact CX-3 crossover, I was rewarded with an alternative option to the clever little all-wheel drive go-cart. Working with Mazda on a string of different vehicles has been an eye-opening experience, and as you’ll soon see, there’s a reason why Consumer Reports just ranked Mazda sixth out of 30 automakers for having the best cars of 2016.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Accolades aside, Mazda is still an underdog in the Asian battle for new car buyers. After spending some time with the 184 horsepower GT version of the Mazda3 five-door hatch, you too will see why it bested the likes of Mercedes Benz and Acura. Mazda is an automaker that offers surprisingly stylish interiors, long-term reliability, and sport buttons that actual offer notable results in both drivetrain performance and handling. It also has superb fuel economy ratings and solid manual gearbox options for those who want to row their own.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

But for as good as Mazda has become, it is just now starting to get its feet back under it after all the Ford funding dried up. So while the Mazda3 is absolutely spot-on in many ways, like many of its other offerings the brand feels incomplete without a turbocharged performance model. At least they have given us some solid options to tinker with in the meantime, and the GT version of the Mazda3 might just be one of the best.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet


The GT version of the Mazda3 is the swankiest 3 you can opt for, and I was thrilled to see that it looks just as good in person as it does online. This is by no means an extreme performance version, but a refined “Grand Touring” edition instead, and aesthetically the little hatch hits all the boxes in just the right order especially when the $1,750 “Appearance Package” gets tacked on.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior pros and cons

+ All that polished black lower trim work is quite upscale, especially since the Mazda3 doesn’t come with hideous unpainted plastic around the wheel wells like we found on the CX-3. This aero upgrade juts out just enough to be noticeable, has folds where it should, and the openly spaced rear lip really works nicely with the dual port exhaust.

+ The side profile is equally as sharp looking, thanks to its elongated hood, subtle line styling, tightly bowed spoiler, and sharply raked rear glass.

+ Those 18-inch alloy wheels look stellar when equipped with low profile tires, and we would love to see them in a gloss black to match the added ground effects.

– That license plate mounting bracket is a distraction on what is otherwise a gorgeous face. A removable, bracket-oriented design would be an easy fix.

– The sconces around the fog lights and on the doors are not the same polished piano black as the side mirrors or ground effects, which makes them stand out in a not so great way.

– Those polished exhaust tips looked damn good on the CX-3, but on the 3 they seem a bit small next to the GT version’s more aggressive rear lip.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet


Mazda has done quite well for itself over the years by re-tuning the SkyActiv engines so that they can offer an exceptional blend of naturally aspirated grunt and fuel efficiency. In the 3, this translates to 155 or 184 horsepower and 150 or 185 foot-pounds of torque (ours had the latter). That may not sound like much, but push the sport button and as the transmission gets re-geared for more high-end power, you’ll realize that in a car that weighs less than a ton and a half, the difference is pretty noticeable.


Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain pros and cons

+ Just like the CX-3, pushing the “SPORT” button in the 3 rewards you with some nice results. Gears are held longer for greater grunt, and in my opinion this is the only way to drive a Mazda.

+ Having equal amounts of torque and horsepower is a winning mixture. The 3 rewards drivers with a seamless transition, as low-end twist effortlessly gives way to top-end throttle response.

+ Sporting a 37 mile per gallon average on the highway and 27 around town, this hatch is an efficient little guy if you can hold back from hammering on the throttle.

– After speaking with a couple of Mazda engineers at the Chicago Auto Show this year, I came away knowing that mashing the Sport button merely changes the transmission’s shift points. It seems there is room to grow in this area since the engine itself remains unaffected.

– There isn’t an Eco Mode on the Mazda3, so regular or sport driving are your only two options here. It would be interesting to see what efficiency gains are hidden in this 2.5-liter motor.

– As of now there is no turbocharged option out there for the 3, and while it does offer a fun driving experience, the car feels stale when compared to similar turbocharged offerings from Kia, Hyundai, Ford, and Subaru.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet


As with the other top-tier Mazdas we’ve driven, the 3 had an interior that felt very well made. Supple, well appointed, and purposefully contrasting, the Mazda3 I received had these creamy, almond-colored door panels and seats that featured just the right amount of charcoal contrast. Comparing Mazda’s interiors to its competition really puts things in perspective; this car absolutely kills it in the cabin quality game.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior pros and cons

+ Knobs, buttons, switches, and door handles all clicked, flipped, and switched soundly in place, illustrating sound craftsmanship. Those variable heated sport seats up front are as comfortable as they are stylish.

+ The gauge cluster, dash, center stack, and center armrest all look sharp, and even though I personally prefer the round air vents of the CX-3, it was nice finding that the 3 doesn’t have the CUV’s annoying armrest versus cup holder design issue.

+ While its cargo space is not the most massive thing on the market, the addition of a cargo net, hidden storage pockets, and a 60/40 split seat improve the 3’s standings.

– The lumbar support is manual, as is the passenger seat having to be manually adjusted. Even in the top-end GT model, you still have to adjust your seats like the rest of the peasants.

– There are no ventilated front seats here like what we found on the more moderately priced Kia Forte5 SX, which also happens to have a heated bench seat in the back.

– There aren’t a lot of options for the backseat in regards to charging electronic devices, so don’t expect to find any plugs or USB ports in the back.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech and safety

The version of the 3 I received had a lot of the safety features you would expect in a GT trim, and from what I witnessed it all worked flawlessly. There are a few interesting add-ons that warrant a buyer upgrading to a GT version of a Mazda, with a flip-up head-up display being the primary contender.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech pros and cons

+ I really like the tech features encased within the gauge cluster of the 3. All of the digital read-outs, adjustable multi info display (MID) options, and red-lit illumination makes the driving experience much more rewarding.

+ Mash the push-button start in the GT version of the 3 and a transparent head-up display flips up to serve as a secondary MID, showcasing vehicle speeds, safety warnings, and more.

+ The nine speaker Bose audio system sounded pretty damn good, and the 3D mapping in the navi  is always a nice touch. Making the seven-inch infotainment display both touchscreen sensitive and manually usable via a control knob is also a great option that we wish more automakers would take advantage of.

– For as cool as that head-up display is, its light blue colors don’t really match the rest of the interior. Being a flip-up design it also could be a weak point down the line when things start malfunctioning.

– Tech touches like illuminated, proximity-based, power-folding mirrors are absent, and though it’s Mazda’s base model, stuff like that is becoming commonplace in the lowest ranks of compact cars.

– While it is extremely easy to use and navigate around, there aren’t a lot of standard apps on the 3, and while that rounded display is now a Mazda staple, it would be nice to be able to fold it flat when you just want to unplug and drive.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The drive

The Mazda3 GT drives with just enough aggression to keep it fun, while tapping into all of its mid-class refinement in order to make it anything but jarring. Suspension tuning is sure-footed but not intense, with some noted body roll and nose dive under braking. After an hour behind the wheel you too will realize how good those sport seats truly are. Driver fatigue isn’t much of an issue in something so balanced, and hitting the throttle in Sport mode offers enough get-up and go to pass semis without having to floor it. I also found the 3’s cabin to be fairly quiet, even if winter tires added some drone.

Speaking of tire options, the day after I conducted this shoot it snowed like hell and the combination of the Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires and those 18-inch alloy wheels made me forget that this was just a front-wheel drive hatchback. The drivetrain is exceedingly solid too, and while gear selection via paddle shifters is always nice to see, opting for Mazda’s bulletproof six-speed manual gearbox would be the way to go.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Wrap up and review

The GT version of the Mazda3 can be had in either a 155 horsepower version or the 184 horsepower model I received. While the 2.0-liter model offers noticeably greater fuel gains, the 2.5-liter version still offers solid efficiency numbers, and since it can still be had with a stick shift I would strongly encourage you to try one on for size.

Powertrains aside, the Mazda3 is a fantastic contender, with its award-winning interior, clever tech, and ideal proportions taking it to the basket. But there’s just one major issue with the $30,000 Mazda3 GT: For four grand less, you can get a loaded version of the Kia Forte5 SX which rocks things like a more potent turbo motor, a heated steering wheel, and a flotilla of safety and performance upgrades. Luckily, the Mazda still has charm and amazing looks on its side, but for some buyers these things may not matter, and that’s when the gap narrows between the two.