Monthly Archives: April 2016

2016 Corvette Z06 Review: High-Tech Supercar Is a Steal

THE GOOD
  • Supercar performance, excellent handling
  • Thrill-ride, whiplash acceleration
  • Leading tech features, including CarPlay support
  • Built-in GoPro-style camera
  • Loud, loud, loud
THE BAD
  • Loud, loud, loud
  • Lack of advanced driver assistance systems, such as lane keeping and emergency braking
VERDICT

A supercar version of the Corvette, the Z06 is still just a quarter of the price of comparable foreign exotics.

An American head turner that is thrilling to drive, the Z06 version of the 2016 Corvette delivers the performance of a supercar for the price of a luxury sedan. It also comes with plenty of high-tech features, ranging from excellent smartphone integration to an onboard video recorder.

A supercar version of the Corvette, the Z06 is still just a quarter of the price of comparable foreign exotics. Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

A supercar version of the Corvette, the Z06 is still just a quarter of the price of comparable foreign exotics.

Starting at around $80,000, the Z06 is a souped-up, 6.2-liter, supercharged V8 version of the two-seater, churning out 650 horsepower and enough raw power to make drivers giddy with delight. My test model included Chevy’s in-dash navigation and connected car system, which is compatible with Apple CarPlay. (Android Auto is reportedly coming.) The total price with options was still only $87,140. For comparison, a 2016 Porsche 911 Turbo S is over $200,000, a Ferrari 458 starts at around $250,000, and when Ford’s new GT supercar appears later this year, it will reportedly cost more than $400,000.

For some, the boisterous Z06, with its seven-speed manual gearbox and ridiculous amount of horsepower, will seem like overkill. Can you get squirrely in the Z06 and embarrass yourself? Absolutely. But treat it gently, and the rewards will be limitless.

Built-in GoPro-style camera

The technology the Corvette is best known for is its industry-first Performance Data and Video Recorder (PDR). Essentially, it’s a forward-facing GoPro-style 720p video camera that’s built into the windscreen above the rear-view mirror, but it can record a lot more than just a leisurely country drive.

The Corvette’s PDR has the added smarts to also record driver performance, and even track times. To store recordings, you put your own SD card into a slot in the glove compartment, and Chevy says the video is isolated there; no video is stored on the car’s black box or uploaded to the cloud. You can choose from three different recording themes — sport, track or performance timing — to record RPM, gear changes, speed and lateral G forces.

The ‘valet’ mode can capture any Ferris Bueller transgressions by parking lot attendants.

You can play back the video in the dash later, and if you think better of sharing any embarrassing or potential criminal moments, you can delete it right there. The system also includes a surveillance or “valet” mode. Punch in a code, and you lock out the infotainment/navigation system (so a valet person can’t steal your personal information, such as contacts and home address). Better yet, it can capture any Ferris Bueller transgressions by parking-lot attendants.

The valet mode also includes an option to have the Corvette secretly record video — but no audio — whenever the car is turned on. The video recording lacks audio because the previous version of the PDR elicited some legal questions about audio surveillance. Although the legal scholars I surveyed concluded that there was no real legal risk to GM, the company decided to take a cautious approach and prevent customers from possibly breaking eavesdropping laws in states that require two-party consent.

MyLink Meets Apple CarPlay

The Z06 I tested also comes with Chevy’s MyLink connected car infotainment system. The 8-inch MyLink touch screen is a little balky, but if it were too sensitive, you’d get a lot of misread finger touches. The interface offers handy swipe gestures to flip through screens, and it’s all laid out logically, with a physical menu dial, as well as hard Home, Radio and Back buttons. Also welcome is a volume control that’s well positioned to the left of the screen, making it within easy reach.

The GM sports car also has the requisite blue OnStar button to invoke the concierge service: “Hello? I’m driving too fast to bother with the navigation system. Could you tell me how to get to the nearest Starbucks?” OnStar also includes location tracking and emergency slowdown and stop in the event of a theft — features you can’t get simply by plugging a smartphone into the dash.

Also included is support for iPhone owners (iPhone 5 and later) via Apple’s CarPlay. It delivers the same experience and features as you’ll find in other vehicles. You can play Apple Music from a connected phone, make and receive calls, and even use your phone’s navigation software. The implementation is virtually identical to that of other automobile support systems. And that’s the point: to offer a consistent interface.

That means it also has some of the same weaknesses. In general, CarPlay is slower than comparable built-in features, such as the navigation system in the car. And although Siri can be used within CarPlay, Apple’s virtual assistant is a little tardy at times, and cannot be used to do anything else in the Corvette, such as turn on the radio or the heat. (The same limitations apply to all implementations of CarPlay.)

Although it has a much more limited vocabulary than Siri, the Corvette’s built-in voice recognition is quicker. I had no trouble using it to switch between radio stations or trigger the navigation system, and l appreciated that I didn’t have to go through separate entries (address, street, city, state) to enter a destination. Just spit the whole address out at once, and the system will understand where you want to go. On the other hand, you can’t use voice commands to adjust the AC as you can on other cars.

The Z06 also came with a premium Bose sound system. Its sonic character is not one of my favorites, but it presents a rounded sound that many listeners enjoy. The only problem is that, even in the Corvette’s relatively laid-back tour driving mode, the Z06 is loud, so you’ll have to crank up the stereo to make out talk radio stations over the engine din. A better compromise would be to offer a noise-cancellation option that could minimize engine noise during long road trips.

The Drive: Extraordinary Power

The Z06 is a loud and proud American that’s not ashamed to set off car alarms or guzzle gas like it was oxygen. It doesn’t have the manners of a Porsche 911, but it has more grip than a wide receiver covered in stickum. However, if you exceed its traction-control systems’ limits (and you can), you’ll suddenly find yourself going sideways through corners (not that anything like that happened to me).

Yes, this car will catapult you from 0 to 60 in supercar times of around 3 seconds. But to get there, it takes practice in the manual model. Lots of practice. There is a launch-control setting you get to by selecting Track mode and then selecting Performance Track Management on the traction/Stabilitrak dial. You put your foot down on the accelerator and then release the clutch gently. You have to be pointed in a straight line as well.

This particular driving mode is also intended to reduce any fishtailing when you’re coming out of a corner, by limiting engine power upon exiting a turn. Those who want to ride the ragged edge can turn off (almost) all of the traction controls and slide around to their heart’s content.

The Z06’s steering response is immediate and concise. It was a pleasure to drive on winding country roads, and while in Sport or Track modes, you’ll notice every bump in the pavement. Switching to the Corvette’s Tour mode saves your backside so that you can go for hours comfortably. The only discordant notes occurred on deeply rutted highway grooves, where the Z06 tended to follow the indentations; it’s a trade-off between steering sensitivity and stability.

The Z06 will catapult you from 0 to 60 in a supercar-like 3 seconds, but it takes practice. Lots of practice.

Many older-sports-car enthusiasts will love the seven-speed stick shift. I found shifting points to be smooth and natural. The car also includes cylinder deactivation, but don’t expect to get much out of it; you have to be in Eco driving mode and cruising down the highway for it to kick in. Most people will leave the Z06 in Sport mode.

Short shrift is given to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in the Corvette. It doesn’t have lane keeping assist, emergency braking or pedestrian warning systems, for example. Given the low, curb-vulnerable front end, I did appreciate the Z06’s forward bumper-level cameras, which eased my anxiety in street parking situations.

Bottom Line

In terms of price versus performance, the Corvette Z06 is an undeniable winner. There isn’t anything else that comes close to this level of driving ability at this price. And in terms of connected car features, the Corvette is no slouch. The MyLink services are well laid out, there’s crowd-pleasing Pandora support and Apple-device owners will be happy to find CarPlay in the dash.

Where the Vette isn’t up to speed is in the active driver assist programs. But then again, people who want this kind of power would probably find alerts like lane departure warnings to be a distraction.

2016 Corvette Z06: The Vitals

  • Price as Tested: $87,140 MSRP
  • Engine and Drive train: 6.2-liter, supercharged, eight-cyclinder engine with seven-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive
  • Fuel Rating: 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway; 18 mpg combined
  • Connected Car System: Chevrolet MyLink 8-inch touch screen
  • Safety Technologies: Active handling and stability control, run flat tires
  • Driver Assist Technologies: Rear view camera, front curb-view cameras
  • Installed Options: Head-up display (standard), Bose sound system, Performance Data and Video Recorder with Navigation

(tomsguide.com, http://goo.gl/3VpzAo)

 

LG G5 Friends review

Introduction

LG G5’s modularity is the highlight of the company’s G5 flagship but is actually more to it. The LG G5 has a few accessories, called LG Friends, which will make your experience complete. They were announced alongside the G5 in Barcelona and were meant to really complete the user experience.

LG Friends review

With mid-range smartphones offering more and more polished experience, many companies have turned to accessories to serve as a differentiator of their top dogs and LG hopes to deliver the most interesting lineup there. It offers an entire series of exclusive gadgets, dubbed Friends, which we’ve listed below.

LG G5 Friends:
  • LG Cam Plus – an official G5 module designed for better grip, and with additional camera controls. It also adds extra battery juice to increase the total to 4,000 mAh.
  • LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play – the second official G5 extension that adds a 32-bit Hi-Fi DAC and Amp. It could also work as a standalone DAC and Amp with other devices.
  • LG 360 Cam – a 360-degree portable camera with dual 13MP 200-degree sensors and 1280p video recording.
  • LG 360 VR – a VR headset with integrated display. It requires a compatible device for streaming content.
  • LG Rolling Bot – it’s a 20cm in diameter round robot, with a camera, speaker, mic, some LEDs that moves around your house.
  • LG Tone Platinum – next generation wireless headset with 24-bit Hi-Fi Sound

There are a few nice options that you may want to connect to the LG G5 right from the beginning, while third-party G5 modules should be coming later this year as well. That said the success of the whole thing largely depends on how successful LG is in committing 3rd party makers to the concept, which in turn will certainly depend on the initial market success of the G5.

LG Friends review

LG was kind enough to send us some of the Friends, while we saw others at the MWC expo so we have the full picture for you. We’ll strat dissecting the lineup with the modules on the next page.

LG Cam Plus module for LG G5

The first extension is the LG Cam Plus camera grip. It adds extra 1,200mAh of battery capacity, and hardware camera controls: shutter key, a camcorder button, camera on/off button and a zoom dial.

Snapping the the module is very easy, but you have to detach and reattach your original battery, which requires a restart of the phone. Luckily the G5 is one of the fastest booting phones around so at least it doesn’t take too much time.

LG Friends review

The module, being a replacement for the bottom of your phone, also houses a USB Type-C port, a microphone, a loudspeaker, and some antennas.

LG Friends review

It works as expected – the slider at the bottom fires up the camera, while the two-step camera shutter focuses and takes pictures. The small key next to the shutter starts up video recording immediately. The added grip at the back is great and helps you feel the LG G5 secure in hand when shooting.

LG Friends review

Using the zoom dial while in photo mode is quite a unique experience. Thanks to its dual camera setup the LG G5 offers a unique hybrid zoom – starting with digital zoom from the wide camera and switching to the normal one when you reach that point. After that you are again left with regular digital zoom, and you should better steer clear of that..

The zoom dial is quite loose, doesn’t provide any tactile feedback, which isn’t working in its favor. We’ve seen better and we hoped LG will fix this in the retail units, but unfortunately it didn’t.

LG Cam Plus - LG Friends review LG Cam Plus - LG Friends review

LG Cam Plus

While you are using the LG Cam Plus, the Quick Charge option is disabled as the charge goes through the module’s integrated battery. The charging is the opposite of quick – it can pass 5V/0.5A or 9V/0.5A current towards the G5’s own battery.

LG Friends review

The good news is the LG Cam Plus charges your battery for about 5 minutes upon clicking any of its button. It doesn’t act as a power bank; it just sends a small charge to your main battery in order to restore what was taken while you were shooting images/videos.

The bad news is – if you don’t have enough battery for shooting, the extra 1,200 mAh will barely help you keep the phone alive, let alone take more than few shots.

The LG Cam Plus wasn’t designed to stay long in your LG G5 and we recommend using it only when needed. It extends your power autonomy and boosts the grip, but compromises charging and the design.

The keen photographers will appreciate the extra grip and controls, but we have to disappoint those of you hoping to use it as a power bank – it doesn’t work that way and has a rather damaging effect on pocketability.

LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play for LG G5

The second module initially available for the LG G5 Magic Slot is the LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play. It’s a 32-bit Hi-Fi DAC and Amp designed to enhance your audio experience.

LG Friends review

The audio module has a Sabre ES9028C2M DAC and a Sabre 9602c amp – a combo quite similar to LG V10’s audio hardware. The software and the module’s design are B&O work, and you can notice the piece is slightly larger than the original G5 cap.

LG Friends review

Just like the LG Cam Plus, the Hi-Fi Plus needs your original battery in order to work with the LG G5 and it has an integrated mic, loudspeaker, and an embedded antenna. The Hi-Fi Plus module comes with its own 3.5mm audio Hi-Fi port, and an USB Type-C port to be used for charging the LG G5.

LG Friends review

The B&O module is universal for all LG G5 paintjobs – it’s made of matte black plastic, so it goes equally well with any G5 flavor (but doesn’t exactly match any of them). There is a small brushed B&O logo at the center.

The Hi-Fi Plus can work as a standalone DAC and AMP, too. Just place the cap on the top, and you have a complete external audio device with a secondary USB Type-C port used for connection to other devices such as phones, slates, and PCs. LG has bundled a proper USB Type-C to microUSB OTG cable, so you are ready to use it right out of the box.

Finally, there is a small black leather B&O pouch, so you can carry the gadget safely. It’s a nice touch and kudos to LG and B&O for walking the extra mile.

LG Friends review

So, what this thing can do? No matter if you use it on another device or inserted in the LG G5, the Hi-Fi Plus module does two things – plays your 24/32-bit Hi-Fi content via its dedicated 3.5mm audio port (over speakers or headphones), or it can upscale and upsample lower quality audio so it can play close to its originally intended sound. It’s a software enhancement though so don’t expect great results – your low-quality tracks will still sound pretty badly.

And if you do have high-quality audio you will need some proper speakers or headphones to enjoy the excellent sound.

We tried the Hi-Fi Plus on the Galaxy S7 edge and the Huawei P9 and it worked hassle-free. Connecting it to PC is a fairly simple affair too even if it requires some extra time – Windows will automatically install the driver, or you’ll have to get it manually from lg.com.

LG Friends review

As expected the LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play delivers top marks for audio clarity no matter if you are plugging an active external amp or a pair of headphones. The stereo crosstalk is kept low, while the loudness is above the average.

If we are to compare it with the LG G5 output – the extension delivers louder sound, with deeper bass levels, and quite expectedly – wider dynamic range. It isn’t the best DAC you can buy though, and considering the high price, you should opt for this only if you will be using it on the LG G5 and with a proper pair of headphones. For any other case, we suggest you shop around first.

By the way, using it on a PC requires for you to install a special driver (navigate to the fifth tab and scroll down). Then you will get a control panel for the upsampling options.

It does improve the quality over the LG G5 and most of the audiophiles will be able to tell it even with cheaper headphones, but we are not sure if its high price tag serves it right.

LG 360 CAM

Moving on to the actual Friends, the spherical LG 360 CAM is the easiest and cheapest way to produce your own VR content on the go. If you want to create and share YouTube 360 videos, that’s the thing you’ll need. It’s a tiny device with dual 13MP sensors, each behind a super-wide (200-degree) fisheye lens.

LG Friends review

The 360 CAM records 2560×1280 videos, and the content can be viewed on any Cardboard and YouTube 360 compatible device. It has a 1,200mAh battery for up to 70 minutes of video recording on a charge. It supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi pairing with the smartphone. Finally, this small cam weighs just 72 grams.

LG Friends review

The LG 360 camera can also capture and upload multimedia content to Google Street View.

The 360 CAM comes bundled with a USB Type-C cable and a protective cap. The latter also doubles as a camera holder, which is helpful if you don’t want your hand to take a quarter of the shot.

LG Friends review

The camera has a standard tripod mount at the bottom, right next to the cap protecting the USB port and the microSD slot.

LG 360 CAM - LG Friends review LG 360 CAM - LG Friends review LG 360 CAM - LG Friends review

LG 360 CAM

The LG 360 CAM has just two keys – an on/off switch on one of the sides and a shutter key below one of the camera sensors. A click on the shutter key captures a 180 or a 360-degree photo (there is a LED indication around the off switch to remind you what photos you are snapping), while a tap and hold kicks off the spherical video recording.

Connecting the LG 360 CAM to compatible smartphones (most recent Android devices and iPhones) is easy – you need to install the LG Friends Manger and from there download and install the LG 360 CAM app. The app is simple enough – it lets you configure the photo mode (360 or 180 degree) and choose the video quality.

The LG 360 CAM app for Android - LG Friends review The LG 360 CAM app for Android - LG Friends review

The LG 360 CAM app for Android

The app is also useful for its real-time viewfinder and remote control over the 360 CAM. It can also preview all photos inside the 360 CAM.

The app offers real-time viewfinder - LG Friends review The app offers real-time viewfinder - LG Friends review
The app offers real-time viewfinder - LG Friends review The app offers real-time viewfinder - LG Friends review

The app offers real-time viewfinder

The 360 CAM is probably the most compact 360 cameras on the market, especially compared to Samsung’s Gear 360. LG did a good job designing the thing – it’s lightweight and portable, and provides a secure grip. It could easily be attached to a selfie stick with, which many will appreciate.

LG Friends review

Snapping photos is a click away. Viewing them on and LG G5 or other Android smartphone is equally fast. The quality isn’t impressive, but given that the resolution is distributed over such a large viewing field and the reasonable asking price we didn’t expect miracles. And while the captured detail is a mixed bag, the stitching is very good, and so are the contrast and colors (even if they are a little too saturated).

Putting those 360-degree shots on a Photo Sphere player makes things better – the images look very pleasant when run through such a program and the preview on devices like the Samsung’s Gear VR that we had at hand is equally nice.

As you can see the 360 shots are quite interesting. You can view them through spherical viewers or VR players. They do the job to capture the entire place and its spirit into one very nice VR scene. While the quality could have been a bit better, we believe the 360 CAM is an excellent tool for capturing memories.

LG Friends review

The LG 360 CAM is capable of capturing 2560 x 1280 pixel spherical videos, 1280 x 1280 for each side. The video quality is worse than the still pictures, and the stitching isn’t nearly as good. Even though we aren’t impressed with the quality of the captured videos, we still like the results. They can be real valueable on specific occasions – beach sports, sea travels, helicopter rides, parades, or concerts. Especially with the option to record 5.1 sound.

So in conclusion the LG 360 CAM might not be the perfect VR camera, but it certainly has the potential to become the most popular one. LG got its size, affordable price and ease of use right, and that should be enough to the majority of the target audience.

LG 360 VR

The LG 360 VR headset is quite compact and very portable, and it doesn’t require you to attach your handset at its front to use its screen. You still need to plug your phone, mind you, so it powers the headset and stream the content but it can sit comfortably in the pocket of your jeans.

LG Friends review

The 360 VR has a setup of dual 1.88″ displays, each of 960 x 720 pixels. The 360 VR is compatible with Google’s Cardboard app and YouTube 360 multimedia content. Unfortunately, the image quality is far from what the competition has to offer – it’s much more pixelated and not as immersing as the Gear VR with a say a Galaxy S7. Then again it’s one of the cheapest standalone VR headsets around, so there is that.

LG 360 VR - LG Friends review LG 360 VR - LG Friends review LG 360 VR - LG Friends review LG 360 VR - LG Friends review

LG 360 VR

Indeed, the 360 VR is small and lightweight, but its metal bracket fitting the nose is uncomfortable and may render the headset unusable for some. After half an hour of use the metal nose pad left its mark on our noses, as did the temples around the ears.

LG 360 VR - LG Friends review LG 360 VR - LG Friends review LG 360 VR - LG Friends review LG 360 VR - LG Friends review

LG 360 VR

The LG 360 VR still does a very good job in displaying the content shot with the LG 360 CAM, or other 360-degree snappers, as well as playing online VR multimedia or games. Just don’t hold your breath over picture quality or comfort – both had to cut some corners in order to keep the targeted $200 price tag.

LG 360 VR - LG Friends review LG 360 VR - LG Friends review LG 360 VR - LG Friends review LG 360 VR - LG Friends review

LG 360 VR

The problem is that even so, the Samsung Gear VR costs half as much and offers better fit and more controls. Not to mention the partnership with Oculus, which greatly expands the available content, which is a pretty big deal at this early point. Then again, the Gear VR only works with a handful of Samsung flagship so it’s not an option to everyone.

LG Rolling Bot

We have to admit this little fella caught our attention at the MWC the most. Not because it’s a groundbreaking or market-shaping gadget, but simply because it’s impressively cool. The bot is 20cm in diameter, with an integrated 8MP camera (it can move up and down by up to 15-degrees), loudspeaker, a microphone, infra-red sensor, a couple of LEDs, and of course, the ability to move around your house all by itself.

LG Friends review

The Rolling Bot can fully monitor your house and live stream everything that’s happening real-time, with sound. There is a microSD card slot to record video and pictures, if you like.

LG Rolling Bot - LG Friends review LG Rolling Bot - LG Friends review LG Rolling Bot - LG Friends review LG Rolling Bot - LG Friends review

LG Rolling Bot

Then it can control all of your appliances – TVs, sound systems, air conditioners, the lot. If something can be controlled via an IR remote, then the LG Rolling Bot should be able to operate it whether you are home or not. You give a command, and the Bot relays it to the appliance of your choosing.

Finally, this Rolling Bot, thanks to its camera, speaker, and mic, can help you interact with your pets even when you are not home. We thought it would have been nice if the Bot also featured a hologram projector, but those are a few years away at this point so let’s not get greedy.

LG Rolling Bot - LG Friends review LG Rolling Bot - LG Friends review LG Rolling Bot - LG Friends review LG Rolling Bot - LG Friends review

LG Rolling Bot

Now that a few months have passed since the Rolling Bot was announced, there are quite a few similar gadgets on the way. The coolest of those is probably the Sphero BB-8, coming from the latest Star Wars movie. It does similar things, costs about €150 and is double the coolness, because Star Wars.

LG Tone Platinum

Finally, LG Tone Platinum are new wireless headphones LG is now selling. It is tuned by Harman Kardon to a “Platinum” sound grade and delivers 24-bit Hi-Fi audio through a Qualcomm aptX HD audio codec.

LG Friends review

There is a catch though – you can get this 24-bit Hi-Fi audio output only via the LG G5, but other devices with the same Qualcomm aptX HD audio codec might work as well. If such thing isn’t available on your device, then the quality will depend solely on its codec capabilities.

There is a dual setup of microphones for noise cancellation and voice commands.

LG Friends review

The Tone Platinum Headset is beautifully designed and is built with high quality materials, including metal. It offers dedicated call and volume controls, on/off switch, multimedia controls, and battery indicator.

We have a rather positive experience with the previous Tone wireless headphones, and we know the Tone Platinum will be worth the hefty price tag for those looking to play Hi-Fi sound though Bluetooth. And if you own the LG G5, you won’t be needing the B&O module with the Tone Platinum, as those work wirelessly.

LG Friends review

But if you aren’t after the Hi-Fi sound, some of the previous Tone models will do you just as good at a fraction of the price.

Final words

We certainly appreciate LG’s out-of-the-box thinking with the Friends series. A lineup of exclusive accessories is bound to add new dimensions to the LG G5 and boost its popularity. With actually useful new features on the software side increasing hard to come by, the move seems great.

And if you go by the LG 360 CAM things are looking even more optimistic – the simple too for snapping spherical photos and videos would serve great for sharing memories and connecting better with your loved ones from afar.

Unfortunately, it’s mostly downhill from here. The two modules work, but target niche user groups and just aren’t enough to really justify the whole “modular design” ad campaign. Even simple stuff such as the option to use the LG Cam Plus as a power bank was lost somewhere between the drawing board and the store shelves.

LG Friends review

Meanwhile the Hi-Fi Plus boosts the audio experience on the G5, but you can find phones that perform just as good without needing to replace parts.

The 360 VR is cheap headset with integrated screen, but the uncomfortable fit and the limited experience upgrade over a simple Google Cardboard mean it’s simply not worth the investment.

The Rolling Bot was the coolest of the Friends but it’s yet to come on the market. Meanwhile many other competitors are available for purchase, and even the Star Wars BB-8. Unless you explicitly need the Bot’s laser dot to fool with your cat, it might be coming to the party too late. We’ll also need a price to pass judgment on that one.

Finally, the LG Tone Platinum offers great audio experience once connected to the LG G5, but there’s no escaping the fact that it’s a very pricey headset, so having mass appeal is extremely unlikely.

So while the LG Friends idea was great, the execution is a hit and miss. We would have be more willing to forgive that if the lineup consisted of a dozen or more devices, but we are only talking two modules and three actual Friends here. Subtract the extremely niche ones and those that are yet to hit the shelves and you are left with a Cam grip and the 360 CAM – not exactly the huge expansion potential LG is trying to sell.

Here’s hoping LG outs more and better Friends in the upcoming months, so it gives a great idea the treatment it deserves. Meanwhile delivering a few firmware updates to some of the existing ones and polishing their experience could help buy some time.

(gsmarena.com, http://goo.gl/uPmVhZ)

Anthem MRX 1120 11.2 Channel AV Receiver Review

Pros
  • Great sounding receiver
  • 11 channels built in
  • Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support
  • ARC is very effective
  • HDMI inputs suitably future-proof
Cons
  • Problems connecting with certain routers
  • No remote app yet
  • Quite expensive

What is the Anthem MRX 1120?

The MRX 1120 is Anthem’s latest flagship AV receiver which not only adds Dolby Atmos and, thanks to a future firmware update, DTS:X but also, as the name suggests, includes 11 channels of built-in amplification. That means you can create a full 7.2.4-channel immersive audio configuration from a single box and although that isn’t unique, there are other examples of 11-channel receivers, they don’t also include Anthem’s excellent room correction software.

Anthem have never gone in for massive feature lists, preferring to concentrate on those that matter and once again the MRX 1120 includes features and functions aimed at performance rather than box ticking. So along with the built-in amplification, ARC, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, you also get two parallel sub out jacks, quad core digital signal processing, 32-bit/768kHz digital-to-analogue converters, four speaker profile memories, a wireless network connection and DTS Play-Fi.

Whilst the emphasis might be on the audio performance this is an AV receiver, so the video side of things are also well covered with eight HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs. The HDMI inputs include support for ARC – that’s the Audio Return Channel as opposed to Anthem Room Correction – and MHL. However more importantly they are HDMI 2.0a connections which means support for 4K 50/60, HDCP 2.2, High Dynamic Range (HDR), BT.2020 colour gamut and 4:4:4 subsampling at 4K60 (18.2 Gbps).

That’s certainly an impressive set of features that will ensure the MRX 1120 remains relevant for the foreseeable future at least but this third generation of Anthem receivers aren’t as well-priced as previous models. The MRX 1120 retails for £3,999/$5,998 as at the time of writing (April 2016), which puts it firmly at the higher end of the AV receiver price scale. So does the addition of new features likeDolby Atmos and 11 channels of amplification justify the higher price? Let’s find out.

Design, Connections & Control

Design wise the MRX 1120 looks identical to Anthem’s second generation of receivers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as we rather liked that design but of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there are plenty of other people who think they’re ugly or rather utilitarian. However we still think the black brushed aluminium facia is quite elegant and understated, even if the receiver clearly comes from the minimalist school of design.

On the right hand side there is a volume dial and beneath that there is a main power button and a power button for Zone 2. In the middle there is a large and easy to read display and beneath this there are a few simple selection buttons for setup, display brightness, mode, level, zone and input. On the left hand side there is a circular set of navigation buttons and beneath that there is a small drop-down flap, behind which you’ll find an extra HDMI input (MHL), a headphone jack and a USB port for firmware updates.

Anthem MRX 1120

The Anthem is reasonably well engineered but the build quality, whilst decent, isn’t as good as you would find on other flagship receivers such as the Yamaha RX-A3050. The navigation and selection buttons do all feel rather cheap and plastic and the drop-down flap is fairly flimsy. Still the overall construction feels solid enough and the volume dial has a degree of resistance as you turn it. The MRX 1120 measures 439 x 165 x 375mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 14.5kg.

The MRX1120 retains the previous generation’s design but despite the additional amplification, isn’t as heavy as you might expect.

Aside from the front connections that we’ve already mentioned, all the others are at the rear. Here you’ll find seven HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs. HDMI output 1 supports ARC (Audio Return Channel) and HDMI input 7 supports MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link). Crucially all the HDMI inputs and outputs are HDMI 2.0a which means support for 4K 50/60, HDCP 2.2, High Dynamic Range(HDR), BT.2020 colour gamut and 4:4:4 subsampling at 4K60 (18.2 Gbps). The MRX 1120 supports immersive audio and thus includes main pre-outs for 11 channels along with two subwoofers. However the receiver also has 11 channels of built-in amplification and so there are colour-code speakers terminals for each of these channels.

There are two coaxial and three optical digital inputs, along with an optical digital output. There are also five stereo analogue inputs and stereo analogue outputs for a line out and a second zone, all using RCA connectors. There’s a chassis ground screw, an IR input, a 12V trigger, an RS-232 connector for serial control and a second USB port that is also for firmware updates. There is an Ethernet port and, new for this generation, there are twin wireless antennas, which allow the receiver to connect wirelessly to a network. A network connection, either wired or wireless, is required for configuring Anthem Room Correction, using the Play-Fi app, or for IP control.

Unfortunately it turns out that the latest generation of Anthem receivers are currently incompatible with BT HomeHubs and Virgin routers, which are probably the two most common in the UK. We appreciate that Anthem is a Canadian company but if you plan on selling a product into the UK, it should be able to work properly in this country. We couldn’t create a wired or wireless connection with our BT HomeHub, so we were unable to fully test the Play-Fi capabilities of the MRX 1120. We also couldn’t connect the Anthem directly with our laptop because it didn’t have an Ethernet port, which made running ARC problematic but eventually we were able to use a second wireless router to connect the MRX 1120 to our laptop and run it.

As with the design, so it goes for the remote control, which it identical to the one provided with the previous generation. The remote is comfortable to hold and easy to use, thanks to a clear and intuitive design. The keys are sensibly laid out and kept to a minimum, thus ensuring you aren’t faced with dozens of little buttons. There’s a backlight, which makes the remote easier to use in a darkened home cinema and everything you need to effectively control the MRX 1120 is included.

Anthem MRX 1120

At the bottom of the remote there are even separate controls for the second zone.

Features & Specs

The third generation of Anthem’s AV receivers retains much that made their previous models so good but adds plenty of new features to ensure the latest range remains up-to-date. So what’s new? Well the MRX 1120 supports Dolby Atmos and, thanks to a future firmware update, it will also be able to support DTS:X. As a result the Anthem has 11.2-channel pre-outs but, slightly more unusually, it also has 11-channels of built-in amplification with Advanced Load Monitoring (ALM). This means that anyone wanting to run a full 7.2.4 immersive audio setup can do so from a single sensibly sized box. In terms of maximum continuous output, for channels 1 to 5 Anthem quote two driven into 8 Ohms at 140W and for the remaining channels they quote two driven into 8 Ohms at 60W. We have always found that Anthem’s quoted numbers actually represent a realistic appraisal of their receiver’s output, so whilst they may not seem as large as other manufacturers they are more representative.

The MRX 1120 includes plenty of new features that ensure it will remain up-to-date for the foreseeable future.

Anthem MRX 1120

The MRX 1120 also includes Anthem Room Correction (ARC) which has now been updated to account for the additional height speakers used with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. As always the receiver comes with its own calibrated USB microphone, a microphone clip, a telescopic stand with boom, a USB cable and a CAT5 cable. All of which is intended to ensure the best possible results when running ARC. There are also up to four speaker profile memories in case you need to create multiple speaker profiles. The MRX 1120 includes Anthem’s standard menu system that is fairly basic in terms of its layout but remains intuitive to understand and easy to navigate. As mentioned previously the HDMI inputs are all HDMI 2.0a which means support for 4K 50/60, HDCP 2.2, High Dynamic Range (HDR), BT.2020 colour gamut and 4:4:4 subsampling at 4K60 (18.2 Gbps).

Anthem MRX 1120

The MRX 1120 includes quad core Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and 32-bit/768kHz differential Digital-to-Analogue Converters (DACs). In terms of other features there is an FM tuner (the receiver comes with an FM antenna included), a low power consumption standby mode and support for both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as AnthemLogic for up to 11.2 channels and Dolby Surround for upmixing 5.1 and 7.1 content to 7.1.4. There is also CEC control and standby pass-through, whilst for the custom installers there is IR control, RS-232 control, a configurable IR input, a 12V trigger, control system drivers and a sidemount rack kit (sold separately).

As already mentioned there is now a wireless connection and support for DTS Play-Fi. This is a music source that allows you to stream music from local sources including your phone, popular services like Spotify and internet radio to your receiver. Play-Fi does not compress audio, so file formats up to 24-bit/192 kHz .wav and . ac are supported as long as the network and the mobile device support the data rates involved. If using network accessible storage (NAS), it must be NTFS or FAT32 formatted, and with DLNA enabled. Once installed and set up, you can select Play-Fi as you would any other input such as the FM tuner, and open the Play-Fi app on your mobile device or computer to select music, create zones, and control volume on all Play-Fi devices that are on your network.

Anthem Room Correction (ARC)

Anthem Room Correction (ARC) is an automated system designed to correct the effects of reflective surfaces and room boundaries on sound quality by measuring the response of each speaker relative to the listening area and equalising it accordingly. ARC equalises the response without stressing the amplifier or speakers and does not downsample the source material to process it. The filters used are neither graphic nor parametric, instead ARC flattens the response by using its ability to create practically any suitable function, inherently correcting phase effects created by the room. The default correction range is 5 kHz. Although it can be lowered if needed, it cannot be raised since the microphone becomes directional at upper frequencies, affecting measurement accuracy.

ARC also detects how much the room reinforces low frequencies due to its boundaries and pressurisation. This room gain shows as a bump in the target response. ARC does not remove it because if changed, bass sounds thin. Ideal anechoic speaker response, a straight line as measured in a special non-reverberant facility, is not the same as ideal in-room response which normally includes, to a varying degree, this room gain. ARC senses where each speaker’s low-frequency response declines and sets high-pass filters accordingly. Calibration is set so that the average level is the same when comparing EQ “On” compared to “Off”. To set the levels ARC uses a midrange band that’s wider than the standard home theatre setup noise and is centred at 1 kHz so there’s no chance they would be reduced by a crossover.

Anthem Room Correction remains a great tool and the fact you can EQ the height speakers is a nice touch.

Anthem MRX 1120

Of course room equalisation isn’t for everyone and if you know your room well, have it properly treated and position your subwoofer(s) optimally then you might not need to use ARC at all. However there seems little point buying the MRX 1120 if you aren’t going to use ARC and for most people equalisation is the easiest way to get a better response within their room. We have a particularly nasty null in our room that often sorts the men out from the boys when it comes to room equalisation and for the purposes of the review we tested the Anthem with and without ARC.

Using ARC is fairly straightforward, all you need to do is connect your laptop to the MRX 1120 (either directly or via your network) and then run the software. You’ll also need to connect the microphone to a USB port on your laptop and place it in the sweet spot using the provided tripod stand. ARC has both an automatic mode and a manual mode but for most people the automatic mode will be the best option. You just run the automatic version of ARC and follow the instructions. The software looks for the receiver on the network and checks the microphone and the support file match. This is because each microphone’s frequency response is measured precisely in the factory and then used to create the calibration file.

ARC will then take you through the entire calibration process, beginning with selecting the number of speakers and the configuration. Then you can select the number of measurement positions, the system defaults to five but you can go up to ten, and the software begins measuring at the first position before promoting you to move the microphone to the second position and measuring again. The software will do this for all the positions you have requested and once all the measurements have been taken, ARC processes the data, calculates the curve corrections and uploads it to the hard drive on your laptop.

Anthem MRX 1120

Anthem Room Correction will then upload the room correction parameters and speaker levels to the MRX 1120. Once this process is complete, you are given the option to preview the results and if you say yes, the software produces a full calibration report. This is a really nice touch and the detailed report shows all the before and after measurements for each speaker, along with speaker levels and crossover targets. The entire report can even be customised and printed out, which is great news for any professional installers out there.

ARC also includes a Quick Measure feature, which can be quite handy for checking the position of speakers, especially the subwoofer. To use Quick Measure, select Manual mode instead of Automatic when starting ARC. Click on the Quick Measure button and enable the sweep tone for the subwoofer that you are positioning. After a few sweeps the graph will show a live update of the uncorrected measurement. It will keep running until you turn it off. The idea is to leave the subwoofer where the graph is flattest in the bass region, then run ARC normally

So far this is identical to earlier versions of ARC but there are a couple of changes to the latest iteration. First of all the system now measures for 11 speakers plus the subwoofer rather than the previous 7.1-channel AV receivers that Anthem has released. As a result ARC measures the delays and levels for the front and rear height speakers as well as all the usual channels. The software also applies correction to the height channels, which is something that some other systems don’t do. Also new this year is the ability to create and save up to four speaker profiles. This probably won’t apply to most people but if you should need more than one profile, perhaps to allow for two completely different listening positions in the same room, then you can.

Testing

We tested the Anthem MRX 1120 using a full 7.2.4-channel immersive audio setup for Dolby Atmos and we also tested the receiver using 5.1- and 7.1-channel configurations, as well as using the Dolby Surround upmixer. In addition we tested music using a straight two-channel configuration and a 2.1-channel setup. We conducted all these tests with and without ARC room equalisation being applied. We used a combination of the Samsung UBD-K8500 and Panasonic DMP-UB900 Ultra HD Blu-ray players, along with the Oppo BDP-103EU Blu-ray player as sources and we connected the MRX 1120 to a JVC DLA-X5000B projector. We sent full 4K 50/60, HDCP 2.2, HDR, BT.2020 and 4:4:4 subsampling at 18.2 Gbps from our the Ultra HD Blu-ray players and via our Murideo Fresco Six-G pattern generator to ensure that the HDMI inputs and outputs could handle what Anthem claimed.

Anthem MRX 1120 Video Review

Sound Quality

Movie Soundtracks

We started off testing the MRX 1120 without using room correction, partly because we couldn’t run ARC without being able to connect our laptop to the receiver in some way. As a result we actually spent longer listening without any correction than we probably would have if given the choice. However the Anthem was easy to configure and once we’d set the delays and levels, we quickly had a great sounding system. The first thing we noticed was that despite the chassis not being particularly large or heavy, the amplification had plenty of grunt suggesting that Anthem have been fairly conservative in their power numbers, which makes a nice change. The system could go very loud without becoming brittle or harsh and we wondered how Anthem actually managed to cram eleven channels into the MRX 1120. However despite performing well without room correction, there’s no doubt that in our room at least, the addition of ARC took the performance of the MRX 1120 to a whole new level.

The soundstage opened up and the experience was wonderfully immersive, even when restricted to a 5.1 or 7.1 mix. We started with Interstellar, a 5.1 mix that we know well and the Anthem delivered the soundtrack with great skill. We watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the MRX 1120 proved very effective in replicating the artistic intentions of what is a very nuanced sound design. We particularly liked the way that, when Kylo Ren uses The Force to interrogate someone, the entire room became energised with bass using the lower frequencies in a controlled way to add greater impact to the scene. We then moved on to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the opening scene of which has become a testing favourite here at AVForums. It’s a complex and layered 7.1 mix that slowly builds and the MRX 1120 did a marvellous job of delivering the intended effect. From Caesar’s controlled breathing to the rain falling all around you, each subtle cue is rendered perfectly. As the choral arrangement on the score builds, the quiet of the forest is shattered by the apes hunting.

Although some people people might question the validity of using the Dolby Surround upmixing, the scene we’ve just described was a great example of how the processing can add value by using the overhead speakers to enhance certain effects. In this case the falling rain feels even more realistic. That is until we actually put on a Dolby Atmos disc and remembered what the format is capable of when used creatively with a full 7.2.4 mix. On the Dolby Atmos demo Blu-ray there is a test sequence that replicates being in a rainstorm and it is highly effective. The rain appears to fall down all around you whilst thunder rumbles overhead, it’s an incredibly realistic experience. Once we moved on to movies, the audio was just as effective with old favourites like Unbroken and John Wicksounding incredibly immersive. A rocket launch on the Ultra HD Blu-ray of Ender’s Game was spectacular as deep bass rumbled around the room and from inside the space ship the entire sound field rattled. Naturally the high octane thrills of Mad Max: Fury Road were delivered like a sonic assault but always with a real sense of cohesion.

There’s no doubt that whether you’re listening to a 5.1 or a 7.1 soundtrack or taking full advantage of all 11 channels with a 7.2.4 setup, the results will be hugely enjoyable. ARC does an excellent job of removing the negative effects of the room, leaving the soundtrack to deliver exactly what the designers and mixers intended. Is ARC better than Dirac Live? Well Anthem’s system is technically superior because it corrects the height channels as well but it’s debatable how much effect that actually has with real content. We did however find that overall Dirac was slightly better and more refined at correcting the 7.1 channels and getting the best out of your subwoofer. Dirac Live also addresses the impulse response of each speaker and since a super computer probably outperforms the processing in our laptop, it’s safe to assume the level of calculations conducted is far greater as well.

Ultimately Dirac did a slightly better job at addressing the limitations of our particular room but ARC is still a powerful tool and we really like the user-friendly workflow and graphical interface. The MRX 1120 also comes with everything you need to perform a full setup right there in the box. Whereas to get the most out of the Arcam receivers you will need to buy a calibrated microphone and four more channels of amplification. So in that sense the Anthem MRX 1120 really is single-box solution with everything you need to deliver a truly stunning immersive audio performance. 

Music

If there is one area where Anthem have surprised us in the past, it is the performance of their AV receivers when it comes to music. There is a school of thought that suggests if you want to listen to music you should have a separate amplifier because AV receivers aren’t very good when it comes to two-channel audio. That might well be the case with many AV receivers and there’s no denying the quality of a good two-channel system but in reality most people won’t be in a position to run two separate audio systems in their lounge. So ideally what you want is an AV receiver that performs well with both movies and music. The MRX 1120 is just such a receiver, delivering a barnstorming performance with movies but then producing a musical and rather subtle performance with music.

The sound retains a naturalness and warmth that most will find appealing and the Anthem manages to avoid being too clinical. The result is a receiver that can deliver just as great a performance when driving a pair of floor standing speakers as it does when immersing you in overhead action. Ben Watt’s new album Fever Dream has a serious bass line at the start of the first song that can cause lesser systems trouble. However it sounded wonderful with the MRX 1120 and the receiver handled the rest of the album just as well. It delivered the melancholy vocals with ease, whilst Bernard Butler’s inventive guitar work weaved its way through the mix and filled the room. AV receivers can’t handle music… don’t you believe it.

The MRX 1120 delivered a wonderfully immersive experience with film soundtracks but remained pleasingly musical with two-channel.

Conclusion

Should I buy one?

If you’re looking for an AV receiver than can deliver a full 7.1.4-channel immersive audio experience from a single box then your options are limited and aside from the Anthem MRX 1120 the only other example currently available is the Onkyo TX-NR3030 but that doesn’t have DTS:X or HDMI 2.0a. So if that’s your basic criteria the MRX 1120 is the receiver for you. If you don’t mind adding two or four channels of extra amplification then you have plenty of options but the Anthem remains an excellent choice even at a retail price of £3,999/$5,998.

The MRX 1120 might not be the prettiest or best made AV receiver on the market and it certainly doesn’t have the power or feature sets of some of the competition, but it does deliver in the areas that matter. In terms of features the emphasis is very much on audio and video quality and that is fine with us. So you get high quality DACs, powerful DSP and capable built-in amplification; along with Dolby Atmos and, in the near future, DTS:X. You also get ARC, which remains one of the best room correction systems available. You even get a calibrated microphone and a dedicated stand to ensure you get the best from your MRX 1120.

In terms of the video specifications Anthem have ensured the MRX 1120 should remain relevant for the foreseeable future and the HDMI 2.0a inputs and outputs support 4K 24/50/60, HDCP 2.2, HDR, BT.2020 and 4:4:4 subsampling at 18.2 Gbps. For this latest generation, Anthem have also added wireless capability and DTS Play-Fi, although they really need to sort out the receiver’s incompatibility with popular UK routers. The MRX 1120 also includes all the features found on previous generations of Anthem AV receivers, making it a great all-round package.

Of course features and specifications are all well and good but what really matters is the sound quality and in this regard the MRX 1120 didn’t disappoint. It delivered a wonderfully open and spacious surround sound experience, whether it was 5.1-, 7.1- or a full 7.1.4-channel soundtrack. The precision with which objects were steered around the room was remarkable but the receiver retained an impressive level of clarity and dialogue was always clear. The bass was also extremely well integrated within the rest of the sound field, retaining definition and impact where necessary.

The MRX 1120 is also a very musical AV receiver, making it one of those rare beasts that is able to deliver a barnstorming performance with films and an equally subtle and effective performance with music. Anthem may have more competition these days than in previous years and the company’s receivers are not quite the bargains they once were but there’s no denying they still deliver a lovely sound regardless of the characteristics of your room. If you’re looking for an AV receiver with the right combination of features and performance, then the Anthem MRX 1120 should definitely be on your short list. 

What are my alternatives?

At this price point any flagship AV receiver could be considered an alternative and the excellentYamaha RX-A3050 or the superb Denon AVR-X7200WA would both make ideal choices. Of course the fact that the MRX 1120 includes Anthem Room Correction means that the obvious alternative would be Arcam’s AVR850 which uses Dirac Live. The Arcam is slightly more expensive than the Anthem and it only has 7 channels built-in, but that amplification is Class G. However there is an even better alternative in the shape of Arcam’s AVR550 which doesn’t use Class G amplification but does include Dirac Live and only costs £2,399/$3,598. The AVR550 might only have 7 channels of amplification built-in but you can easily buy an extra four channels for less than the £1,600/$2,400 price differential.

In terms of build quality, design and features the two receivers are very similar and although the AVR550 doesn’t have wireless capability, what difference does that make if you can’t get the Anthem to connect to your home network? Ultimately what it comes down to is whether you prefer ARC or Dirac and after having tested both, we feel that Dirac has the edge in terms of overall performance. It’s true that ARC corrects the height speakers, which Dirac currently doesn’t, but it’s debatable how much impact that really has in terms of actual listening material. We found that Dirac’s addressing of impulse response to have more impact on the sound quality and overall we felt the bass was better integrated and slightly tighter with the Arcam.

(avforums.com, https://goo.gl/h4HtL0)

First Ride Review : 2017 Kawasaki Z125 Pro

Having a blast on the 2017 Kawasaki Z125 Pro

Thanks to the open-faced helmet, we can see how much fun Ari’s having on the new Z125 Pro.

The ability to attract new riders is one of the reasons I get really excited when I see a bike like Kawasaki’s new Z125 Pro. Another reason I get excited is because I know that riding small bikes is a blast, and brings you right back to being a kid when the simple joy of twisting the throttle was enough to put butterflies in your stomach. (See idiotic grin, above.)

The Z125 Pro delivers fun in spades. The bike is light and super easy to handle, sports sharp styling and awesome features, and has a high-revving single-cylinder engine that just begs to be flogged.

2017 Z125 Pro wheelies

This is what happens when you release journalists on Z125s for an hour of “free riding.” Three-wide stand-up wheelie with friends Bradley Adams from Cycle World and Rennie Scaysbrook from Cycle News. Yeah, we were having a blast!

After spending a day on the new Kawasaki Z125 Pro exploring San Francisco and then ripping around the urban playground that is Treasure Island, I’m here to tell you that The Z125 is not only an ideal beginner’s bike, but that it’s also got enough performance and capability to keep experienced riders thoroughly entertained. The day I just spent on the Z was one of the most fun days I’ve had in recent memory!

The heart of the bike is a 125cc four-speed engine with a redline right around 9,500 rpm. The motor is smooth and tractable, with linear power that picks up ever so slightly in the upper revs. How it compares to the Honda Grom’s engine (which has identical displacement but different bore and stroke) is hard to gauge given the overall modest performance, but a 30-second sprint at wide-open throttle put 61 mph on the dash, which is faster than I’ve ever gotten a Grom to go. And the Z is happy to cruise along at 45 or 50 mph, sipping gas at what Kawasaki says is around 100 miles per gallon.

2017 Z125 Pro engine

Nope, the Z’s engine isn’t a derivation of any of the KLX dirtbike engines. Kawi says it’s a new design, specifically built for the Z125 Pro and its duties as a streetbike. The Pro suffix comes from the presence of a clutch lever. In Asian markets the standard Z125 has a four-speed automatic transmission.

You’d expect a little budget bike like this to have components that show the cost-cutting efforts, but that’s not the case. The front brake lever is firm and there’s ample stopping power backed up by good grip from the IRC tires. And the suspension is surprisingly good. Even when provoked with potholes, aggressive cornering, and wheelies and jumps (what can I say, I’m hooligan), the little 30mm inverted fork and offset shock never allowed the Z to feel loose or bottom jarringly, which is more than I can say for the Grom’s suspenders. That composure means a comfortable ride on the crummiest of surfaces, as well as the ability to enjoy aggressive cornering and some more advanced maneuvers, if you’re so inclined.

After bopping around San Fran and cruising down the chicane that is Lombard Street’s summit, taking in the sites from Twin Peaks, and cruising by the Golden Gate Bridge in the Presidio, we loaded up and headed east to Treasure Island, the seemingly abandoned man-made island situated in the San Francisco Bay halfway between the peninsula and Oakland.

2017 Z125 Pro braking

Brake test! I have to admit, my first thoughts when I saw the Z’s meager front brake were not optimistic. But as it turns out that tiny caliper and 200mm disc work well together. Lever feel is firm and there’s plenty of stopping power and feel.

There, we had time to romp around and release our inner hooligans, which the Z125 seems designed to do. Kawasaki had a tight and fun “track” chalked out on a beat-up parking lot, and we got the chance to test the small Z’s sporting chops. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, it impressed! The Z’s ZX-6R-style knurled footpegs felt high when I first hopped on the bike in SF, but at the track that meant ample cornering clearance. And the suspension, brakes, and tires once again performed better than expected. This bike is ready to attack apexes at your local kart track, right out of the box.

2017 Z125 Pro cornering shot

Kawasaki let us go nuts on a super-tight closed course to test the Z125 Pro’s sporting prowess, and I was impressed. I mean, look at the focus on my face! This little bike is surprisingly sporty. Oh yeah: Closed course, professional rider!

Few people who buy a Z125 Pro are going to take it to a kart track (though honestly, they should) or stunt it like I did, but the fact that the bike is capable of spirited riding says a lot about the effort and thought that Kawasaki put into the small Z. From the fit and finish to the handling and brakes, this bike delivers tons of fun, style, and performance. And for just $2,999, it’s totally affordable. Honda’s $3,199 Grom now has some stiff competition in the “mini street” segment, and I for one think that’s a great thing. The more the merrier in this category.

2017 Z125 Pro dash and gauges

Check that out! I fell in love with the Z125’s dash, because it has my favorite combination of analog tachometer and digital readout. Every bike should have a gear-position indicator, and the Z does. It also has a gas gauge, trip meters, and other data points not often found on $3,000 bikes.

With the addition of the Z125 Pro to the motorcycling world, I have high hopes for the next generation of riders. The Z125 is an excellent way to get your feet wet in the world of motorcycling. One ride and you’ll be ready to dive right in.

2017 Z125 Pro beauty shot

Kawasaki sprinkled a fair amount of sugomi styling on the small Z, shaping it with the same sharp lines, pointed tail, and a sloping headlight as its bigger Z siblings. The under-engine exhaust and chin fairing keep the bottom of the bike looking clean. It’s a good-looking little ride, very clearly a member of the Z family and distinctly Kawasaki.

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION

An all-new bike, styled after the Z1000 and Z800 but sized for smaller riders.

RIVALS

Only one—the Honda Grom

TECH
PRICE $2,999
ENGINE 125cc, air-cooled single
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 4-speed/chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER NA
CLAIMED TORQUE NA
FRAME Tubular-steel backbone
FRONT SUSPENSION 30mm fork; 3.9-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Single shock adjustable for spring preload; 4.1-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Nissin one-piston caliper, 200mm disc
REAR BRAKE Nissin one-piston caliper, 184mm disc
RAKE/TRAIL 26.0°/2.7 in.
WHEELBASE 46.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 31.7 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 2.0 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 225 lb. wet
AVAILABLE Mid May
CONTACT kawasaki.com

VERDICT

Whether it’s your first bike or your 20th and you just want to feel like a kid again, the Z125 Pro is the way to go.

(motorcyclistonline.com, http://goo.gl/THa5GT)

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet Review

The Pros

Sharp, vivid display; Strong performance; Long battery life with extended battery; MIL-STD 810G tested; Keyboard (with TrackPoint) comes standard

The Cons

Mediocre endurance (without extended battery); Extra pieces to store when using modules

Verdict

The ThinkPad X1 Tablet is a lightweight laptop replacement with strong performance and a great display, but you’ll need to shell out extra for the external battery.

The ThinkPad X1 Tablet is the most versatile Windows 2-in-1 yet, thanks to a unique modular design that lets you attach not only the included keyboard but also projector and 3D camera modules. The 12-inch business-friendly slate also boasts a vivid 2160 x 1440 display, a durable chassis and comfortable active pen. The ThinkPad X1 Tablet ($1,029 to start, $1649 as tested) is a strong performer and extremely portable, but you’ll need to spring for the high-capacity battery if you want long endurance.

Design

Other than its modularity, the ThinkPad X1 tablet doesn’t do much to further detachable 2-in-1 designs. It’s a black rectangle with a fairly thick bezel surrounding a 12-inch screen. A single-touch fingerprint reader is located on the right side of the screen for extra security.

You’ll find a ThinkPad logo on the back top left corner, right next to the rear camera. A small switch releases a kickstand that you can pull out and adjust to your liking. The hinge feels secure but didn’t always stay flush with the back of the tablet. I found that if I gripped the tablet too hard, it started to bend a bit at the sides, but in using it as a laptop and holding the tablet in just one hand, the magnesium body felt solid.

The hinge folds out differently from other tablets: the Surface Pro 4’s stand, for example, pulls away from the bottom of the tablet, but the X1’s pulls away from the center and folds down towards your desk or lap, with a long piece jutting out behind it. This makes the X1’s stand very rigid, but also stable no matter where you use it.

The bottom of the X1 tablet features magnetic pins for accessories, such as the included ThinkPad Thin keyboard and a set of modular add-ons. The keyboard snaps on easily and folds up to cover the screen when you’re not using the computer, but does not fold around the back when you’re in tablet mode.

The 1.7-pound X1 tablet is 11.5 x 8.2 x 0.33 inches (with the keyboard on, it’s 2.3 pounds, and adding the Productivity Modules makes it 2.9 pounds), making it easy to fit in a bag or carry around. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 is a similar size at 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.43 inches and 2.4 pounds with keyboard. The XPS 12 is the heaviest of the bunch at 2.8 pounds and measures 11.5 x 7.8 x 0.63-0.99, while the HP Spectre X2 is the largest at 11.8 x 8.2 x 0.52 inches with its keyboard and 2.68 pounds (1.87 pounds without)..

Modules

Lenovo will be offering a series of modules that add functionality to the ThinkPad X1 tablet: the Productivity Module, a RealSense 3D Camera and a projector. The first two will cost $150, while the latter will sell for $280.

The Productivity Module brings an additional USB 3.0 port, HDMI output and OneLink+ for docking (the module also serves as an extended battery). The projector will allow X1 owners to make presentations or watch videos on walls or screens without a separate device, while the RealSense camera will allow artists and designers to scan real-life objects and people in full 3D.

Placing modules involves flipping a switch to remove the bottom casing from the tablet (which you set aside), aligning the new module with the bottom and fastening them with switches on the module itself. When I went to use the keyboard with the Productivity Module, I had to remove a protective strip from the front that protects the magnet. It was another piece I had to cast aside in what felt like an Erector set of extra parts.

Security and Durability

Lenovo claims that the X1 Tablet is MIL-STD 810G tested for humidity, extreme temperatures and vibrations.

Additionally, the slate boasts a handful of security features, including an intuitive touch-to-activate fingerprint reader (like those on the iPhone), vPro technology for multi-factor authentication and biometric data and TPM for data security.

Keyboard, Touchpad and TrackPoint

The ThinkPad Thin keyboard looks like Lenovo standard business keyboards, which are historically very good. The keys have the excellent ThinkPad layout and smile shaped curves, and they make a pleasant, audible click. However, with just 1.25 millimeters of travel, the keys felt a bit flat and hollow.

On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I managed to type 101 words per minute (the low end of my average range of 100 – 110 wpm), with a 3 percent error rate (just a slight bump from my usual 1 to 2 percent). I like the Surface Pro 4’s keyboard a lot better — it has deeper travel (1.4mm) and feels sturdier when you type on it.

The clickable, 3.5 x 2.0-inch touchpad provides plenty of room to navigate and perform gestures like pinch-to-zoom. Power users who never want to take their hands off the keyboard will be happy to find Lenovo’s TrackPoint nub between the G, H and B keys, along with separate click buttons, including one for scrolling.

Display

The 2160 x 1440, 12-inch display on the X1 Tablet is sharp, vivid and accurate. The only issue I have with the screen is that it is very glossy, which makes it reflective. I often saw my own reflection while I worked, especially if I was looking at a dark web page or video. But as I watched the latest trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse, the feathers in Angel’s wings and the scars on Nightcrawler’s face stood out. Cyclops’ bright-red optic blasts and Storm’s white-hot lightning really popped.

The X1 Tablet’s screen is plenty bright at 335 nits, outshining the HP Spectre X2 (322 nits) and ultraportable category average of 305 nits. However, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (382 nits) and Dell XPS 12 (413 nits) are brighter.

Both content watchers and creators will love this colorful display. It covers 104 percent of the sRGB gamut, which is fantastic. Only the Dell XPS 12 did better (114 percent), but the Surface Pro 4 came close (100 percent). HP’s Spectre X2 (72 percent) wasn’t even close. Viewing angles on the X1 Tablet are excellent and didn’t wash out until I was nearly 90 degrees to the side.

Not only is the screen colorful and vivid, but it’s also incredibly color accurate with a Delta-E error rating of 0.4 (the closer to zero, the better). That’s the same score as the Surface Pro 4, which has one of our favorite detachable 2-in-1 screens. The HP Spectre X2 registered a good score of 0.7, but the XPS 12 delivered a meh 4.4.

Stylus

The stylus on the X1 Tablet, which Lenovo calls the Active Pen, is more ergonomically friendly than the one on the ThinkPad X1 Yoga. In fact, it’s more of a full-sized pen than a stylus. It has two programmable buttons that you can customize using the Wacom Pen app to click or open programs like OneNote and features 2,048 levels of sensitivity.

Unlike Microsoft’s more innovative stylus for the Surface Pro 4, the Active Pen lacks an eraser. In fact, trying to use the end of this the X1 Tablet’s stylus continues to write on the screen.

The pen worked well with Lenovo’s WRITEit app, one of my favorite vendor additions to Windows 10. I loved having the ability to mark up articles and highlight them using the pen or jot down ideas in OneNote. I could also fill in text fields via the pen in both the operating system (like Cortana’s “Ask me anything” bar and various search boxes) and web browsers like Microsoft Edge. I could also write my searches in Google, though text recognition was only so-so, and I sometimes found myself pulling up the on-screen keyboard in lieu of writing.

Unlike the X1 Yoga’s stylus, which charges when plugged into the laptop, the Active Pen requires a AAAA battery and hangs from the notebook by a loop. You can check how much of a charge your stylus has with the aptly named ThinkPad Pen Low Battery Notifier app.

Ports

The X1 doesn’t have a ton of ports, but it offers the ones that matter most for getting work done. The left side features a Kensington lock slot, volume rocker and headphone jack.

The right is where you’ll find the USB Type-C port (which the device uses for charging), USB 3.0 port and Mini DisplayPort. A nano SIM slot and microSD card slot are located behind the kickstand.

Cameras

I snapped a few selfies with the 2-megapixel, 1080p  webcam on the front of the X1, which turned out sharp but dark. I could make out fine details, like my individual hairs (they often look like blobs on other webcams), but the lighting behind me was overexposed. My skin appeared slightly orange and the white wall behind me came out yellow, because it seems like the camera has a warm tint.

The 8-MP, 3200 x 1800 rear camera took photos without blur, but they still looked overly warm. I went to the roof of our office and took some pictures of the neighboring buildings and found I could make out individual bricks and architectural flourishes in them. Some colors were off, though; the gray building in front of us had a slight yellow tint to it, and a red building showed up lighter than it did to my eye.

Audio

Unlike the Microsoft Surface Pro 4’s front-facing speakers, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet’s are mounted along the sides. They don’t get incredibly loud, though; I could hear street noise over them when sitting in a conference room, but they produced clear highs and mids. I listened to Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” and was pleased with the clear vocals and instrumental backing, though the bass was pretty weak.

The Settings app has a spot to turn off the Dolby Audio and switch between Movie, Music, Gaming and Voice modes. In my experience, though, the default settings provided the best experience.

Performance

With its 1.2-GHz Intel Core m7-6Y7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD, the X1 can handle any of your work-related tasks, from researching on the web to writing reports or filling out spreadsheets. I opened 10 tabs in Google Chrome (one of which was streaming a 1080p episode of The Daily Show) while writing in OpenOffice Writer before I noticed a pause between tabs switching.

On Geekbench 3, which evaluates overall system performance, the ThinkPad X1 earned a very good score of 6,497. That soundly beats both the HP Spectre X2 with the same CPU and RAM (5,814) and the Core m5-powered  XPS 12 (4,875). However, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4’s sixth-generation Core i5 processor sent the competition packing, achieving 6,811.

The X1’s SSD is no slouch — it copied 4.97GB of mixed media files in 33 seconds, a rate of 152.37 MBps, faster than the category average of 147.21 MBps. That’s neck and neck with the HP Spectre x2 (148 MBps), but the Surface Pro 4 blew the field away at 318.1 MBps. The Dell XPS 12 faltered with a speed of 82.09 MBps,

On our OpenOffice spreadsheet macro test, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet paired 20,000 names and addresses in 4 minutes and 31 seconds. The Surface Pro 4 was a tad faster at 4:11, while the XPS 12 (5:14) and Spectre X2 (5:34) fell behind.

With Intel’s integrated 515 graphics on board, the X1 Tablet scored 61,799 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark. The Surface Pro 4 fell just shy at 60,424, while the Spectre X2 notched 52,450. The XPS 12 hit 46,364, just under the category average.

The X1 Tablet won’t handle any heavy gaming, but you should be able to play low-end games like World of Warcraft without a problem, as well as casual fare like Candy Crush.

Battery Life

If you want the ThinkPad X1 Tablet to last most of the day without charging, you should pick up the extended battery option. The standard battery lasted just 5 hours and 32 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness. When we added the $150 Productivity Module with the extended battery, we saw a much stronger time of  9:14.

With the extra battery, the X1 tablet outlasts all of its foes and surpasses the ultraportable category average of 8:13. Without the module in place, the HP Spectre X2 took the lead at 6:31 with the Surface Pro 4 close behind (6:04) and the Dell XPS 12 (5:17) bringing up the rear.

Heat

When we streamed 15 minutes of video from Hulu on  the X1 Tablet, it got a tad warm. The middle of the screen reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit, matching our comfort threshold. We never found it too hot to use, however even, after the middle of the back panel reached 98 degrees.

Software and Warranty

The build of Windows 10 on the X1 includes a variety of extra software that ranges from bloatware to helpful utilities.

Lenovo’s Settings tool mostly doubles up on Windows 10’s own settings, albeit in a more user-friendly manner, while Companion lets you check on the health of your device. Lenovo ID, makes you an account for Lenovo’s web site, forums and apps.

There’s only two pieces of bloatware pre-installed: Flipboard and the ever-present Candy Crush: Soda Saga.

Like other ThinkPads, the X1 Tablet comes standard with a one year limited “depot” warranty, where the company pays for return shipping on defective products. You also have the option to pay extra for an extended warranty or for accidental damage protection. See how Lenovo fared on our Tech Support Showdown and in our Best and Worst Brand ratings.

Configurations

Our $1,649 review unit of the ThinkPad X1 Tablet came stocked with an 1.2-GHz Intel Core M7-6Y75 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD.

There’s a $1,349 version with an Intel Core m5-6Y57 processor that is otherwise identical to the version I tested. The $1,029 base model has an Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD.

The Productivity Module  and the 3D Imaging Module will cost $149 each, while the Presenter Module with built-in projector will be pricier at $279.

Representatives for Lenovo noted that there is a possibility (though no guarantee) that the prices of these modules  could be lower through deals on their web site or through other retailers.

Bottom Line

Overall, the ThinkPad X1 is one of the best business 2-in-1s yet. Unlike the Surface Pro 4, the Lenovo comes with a keyboard. Plus, the Lenovo’s display is one of the best on the market and its performance (at least with Core m7) stacks up well against the competition.

The modules are a cool idea, and adding the $150 backup battery provides a huge advantage over the X1’s competitors. Swapping the modules is a bit of a pain, though — a tablet shouldn’t have this many removable parts.

The Surface Pro 4 is a slightly better deal and offers a better (optional) keyboard, but it doesn’t offer an extended battery. If you want a 2-in-1 with business level security, mil-spec durability and expandability, the ThinkPad X1 tablet is for you.

(laptopmag.com, http://goo.gl/oXvIvp)

Huawei Mate 9 to come with 20MP camera and Kirin 960 chip

After the duo flagship Huawei P9 and P9 Plus, it seems like the company is working on another beast called Huawei Mate 9 to release in the near future…

Huawei-kqBI-621x414@LiveMint-e1461917650746

Huawei Mate 9 to come with 20MP camera and Kirin 960 chip

Obviously, Huawei Mate 9 will be the direct successor to Huawei Mate 8 launched in November 2015. At the moment, there has been no word as well as leaks for Huawei Mate 9 design. However, we hope that the firm will be able to surprise us by making the Mate 9 even more premium and elegant than its predecessor, which is equipped with aluminum alloy for the back without any visible antenna gap, and brushed metal for the sides.

Spec-wise, according to the latest report, the handset will be powered by a new octa-core chip of Huawei called Kirin 960. In addition to Huawei Mate 9 specs, there will be LTE Cat.12 support and an up to 20MP dual rear camera. No doubt this is inspired by the Huawei P9, which introduced some days ago with a similar feature yet fewer megapixels.

huawei-mate-8-profile-all-e1461917672568

Unfortunately, apart from the above specifications, the rest of the Mate 9’s hardware is still unknown. Though, basing on what is happening in the mobile market now, we guess it is very possible that the Huawei Mate 9 will boast a 6-inch 2K screen, 6GB RAM, 128GB ROM, an 8MP selfie snapper, a 4,000mAh battery and Android Marshmallow or maybe N OS (depending on Huawei Mate 9 release date). Well, do you think they are enough to make the device a “superphone”?

Huawei Mate 9 price and release date

If the Mate 9 takes after the 8, we will see the phone in the Q4 of 2016. As for Huawei Mate 9 price, no information related to that has got revealed. We’d better wait a bit more for the manufacturer’s official announcements in the next weeks. But, how much do you want the phablet to cost? How about $650? Share with us your opinions!

(pricepony.com.ph, http://goo.gl/0f66Rq)

Nikon D3500 DSLR Camera Rumored to be Announced in 2016

Nikon is rumored to announce a successor to the entry-level D3300 camera which might be called D3500, instead of D3400.

The latest entry-level DX-format is the D3300 DSLR, which was unveiled in January 2014 currently selling for $449 and the camera is a long-time #1 Best Seller in digital SLR cameras at Amazon US.

According to trusted sources, Nikon D3300 replacement will be called D3500. It is expected to feature a new 24-megapixel APS-c sized image sensor, Bluetooth, and WiFi connectivity.

Nikon D3500 might be the D3300 successor instead of D3400

Nikon D3500 DSLR Camera Rumored to be Announced in 2016

SnapBridge allows for bluetooth supported connection between your camera and the compatible smart device, thus making automatic upload of your images possible. This will be a standard feature in almost every Nikon camera from 2016 onwards, beginning with the new D500.  The new D3500 will also be compatible with SnapBridge.

There is no detailed specifications or release date of the D3300 replacement camera at the moment. On the other hand we can say it will come packed with bluetooth and Wifi features as well as a 24.2-megapixel APS-C-sized CMOS image sensor.

The announcement date of the Nikon D3500 is unknown at the moment. Recent gossips reporting that the entry-level DSLR will definitely hit the market by the end of 2016.

The worlds biggest digital photo imaging event Photokina 2016 will open its doors in September this year. We can expect the announcement of the digital SLR camera at Photokina 2016 or before the event.

(dailycameranews.com, http://goo.gl/cfBtKh)

Roccat Ryos MK FX review

PROS
  • Huge amount of customisation
  • Sturdy
  • Loads of macro keys
  • RGB backlighting
CONS
  • Huge
  • No USB passthrough
  • No volume control
KEY FEATURES
  • Cherry MX mechanical keys
  • RGB backlighting
  • 2x 3.5mm audio jacks
  • 1.8m USB cable
  • 1000MHz polling rate
  • 8x macro keys
  • Manufacturer: Roccat

WHAT IS THE ROCCAT RYOS MK FX?

The Roccat Ryos MK FX one of the most robust, feature-complete gaming keyboards around – and isn’t excessively expensive. With RGB backlighting and a huge amount of macro customisation, it’s a serious gamer choice.

DESIGN

The design of the keyboard is the first thing that will draw the eye; this is a hefty piece of kit. The upside of that, coupled with the rubber feet underneath, means that this keyboard is going nowhere; not even the most animated of gamer’s rage is going to move this keyboard.

Roccat Ryos MK FX side view

Part of that weight comes from the enormous wrist rest, something that at first glance looks exceptionally uncomfortable. I’m pleased to report I was wrong: extended periods of typing and gaming are comfortable, especially given the mammoth size of my hands.

The RGB backlit keys can be programmed with various effects using Roccat’s Swarm software, so crazy flashing effects and calmer pulses in all the colours you can think of are available in just a few clicks.

Roccat Ryos MK FX (right) – Corsair’s K70 (left) 

It’s nothing much beyond the prospect of mood altering ambience, but in the low-light conditions of a late night gaming session the softer colours are much more forgiving on the eyes.

You’re afforded a 1.8m braided USB cable with attached 3.5mm audio cables, which hook up to the two 3.5mm jacks on the top-left corner of the keyboard. Sadly, there’s no USB passthrough, which is something of a standard feature on higher-end keyboards and is particularly handy for both wired and wireless mice.

The keyboard is available with a variety of Cherry MX keys; my sample came with Red keys. They’re fairly loud, and if you choose to fit dampers to the keyboard you’ll block the LEDs, which is one of this keyboard’s main selling points.

KEYS AND FEATURES

The macro keys along the left edge are nice in theory, but the shape of the keyboard (coupled with their placement) meant I found I was consistently hitting them instead of left shift or left control keys instead of the macro buttons. It’s easy enough to get used to, though, and the MK FX offers a lot of extra keys within easy reach of the standard WASD claw that many of us adopt to play games.

Roccat Ryos MK FX top view

Even better are the smaller buttons just under the space bar, which are just a thumb hop away. These would be great for media buttons or super quick profile switches.

The Easy-Shift feature that you’ll see across Roccat’s keyboards allows you to program two functions for every button, and switch between as you play. It’s overwhelming, certainly, and those people who have never used a mechanical keyboard and shudder at the thought of customising macros might find this keyboard is far too much for them.

But if you know exactly what you’re doing and demand options, options and more options, the Ryos MK FX delivers in spades.

The Swarm software is superb and makes programming a little easier for those new to the process. Again, there’s nothing standout about it, but the Ryos MK FX ticks all the right boxes you would expect from a gaming keyboard at the cost.

SHOULD I BUY THE ROCCAT RYOS MK FX?

The Ryos MK FX is chock full of features, with oodles of options and customisation available to even the pickiest gamer. The keys are spaced out enough that you won’t be smashing your Ultimate when you wanted to use your escape in DOTA 2, though the layout of the keyboard will take some getting to.

The cable is chunky and solid, as is the keyboard itself, and while it won’t win any prizes for its aesthetics outside of the colourful backlighting it does everything well.

If you’re after something more basic, the Corsair Vengeance K70 is a better bet: it still has excellent mechanical keys and great build but is much more simple in terms of layout, is £15 cheaper and comes with USB passthrough.

VERDICT

A multitude of options make the Ryos MK FX the perfect choice for the macro-obsessed gamer.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/oshTvI)

Android Wear watches are stylish and sporty now – will they sell?

Android Wear is just over two years old. It was announced in March 2014, with more details in June and smartwatch launches beginning that summer. Don’t pretend you don’t remember the hype over the original Moto 360, we were right there alongside you.

With this year’s Google I/O coming up on 18 May, now is as good a time as any to take a look at how Android Wear has changed, how sales are doing and what’s next in 2016 and beyond.

The tech in wearable tech

So here’s where we’re at. Google has been pushing out Wear updates for existing smartwatches, made by familiar tech names, at a decent rate over 2015 and early 2016. The latest, dubbed Marshmallow, brought new voice controls and gestures as well as the ability to make and take calls for specific smartwatches.

So the OS itself has transformed into a more intuitive and more useful wearable tech platform, with respectable if not spectacular third party apps, and Google has let manufacturers offer different features such as standalone 3G/4G and phone calls. Google has enlisted the help of Mobvoi to get Chinese apps and services onto Wear watches like the Moto 360 and Huawei Watch in China, a big potential market for wearable tech. So there’s still some ways to go but these are all good moves.

That first 2014/2015 wave of Android Wear launches came courtesy of LG, Samsung, Sony, Motorola, Asus and Huawei. But Google is managing to keep quality high by being very selective with its partnerships.

A good example of this is the Chinese company Bluboo which claimed that its too-good-to-be-true $99 Xwatch would launch running Android Wear in February. Fast forward to April and it still hasn’t turned up. Similarly, the Com1 smartwatch was pulled from Indiegogo in 2014 as it lacked an Android Wear license.

So how’s about those sales? Well, Android Wear has lagged behind Apple pretty much since the Watch launched last year and even prior to that, sales weren’t huge. By Strategy Analytics’ estimates published this week, 0.9 million smartwatches that weren’t made by Apple or Samsung were sold in Q1 of 2015. This rose to just 1.4 million in Q1 of 2016, having peaked at 1.7 million over the holiday period. Apple is selling more smartwatches than all the other manufacturers put together including Samsung and its latest smartwatch, the Gear S2, which runs Tizen.

In fact, the usual tech suspects have been quite quiet on the Android Wear front of late, since the Moto 360 2 and ZenWatch 2 in September 2015. Samsung’s switch back to Tizen could be seen as a sign that it was dissatisfied with slow sales and Sony hasn’t released a smartwatch since 2014’s SmartWatch 3 which you can now buy for less than $150. And where’s the HTC One Android Wear watch, anyway?

Motorola has focused on customisation and Huawei has released new, blingy models of its existing smartwatch. But Motorola and Huawei make great phones and increasingly, since the Tag Heuer Connected, Android Wear watches are being seen as just that – watches. So who makes watches?

Fashion! Luxury! Adventure!

Android Wear in 2016 looks very different to what we’ve seen before. Last year’s Tag Heuer Connected was an exception to the rule, a real swanky watch with its own real swanky event in New York. But suddenly we can’t keep up with the fashion releases.

Casio and Nixon both announced their first smartwatches, in the form of the adventurer inclined WSD F10 (which sadly isn’t getting a global release just yet) and The Mission, an intriguing, watersports-friendly GPS watch.

Nixon’s The Mission is notable as it’s really not just another pretty face for Android Wear – it has the elusive GPS tracking that so many sports smartwatches can’t manage to include, it is water resistant to 100m but it still has a microphone for Google voice controls, it’s military grade dust and shock resistant. There’s also a ton of sensors suitable for cyclists, surfers and skiiers.

Now more than ever, Android Wear offers a sense of individuality and compelling features that was missing in the tech focused launches of 2014 and 2015. Lifestyle companies know what they’re selling and how to work with the likes of Google, Intel and others to make it happen.

When it comes to pretty faces, the Fossil Group, which now owns Misfit, is seemingly Android Wearifying its bestselling watches and accessories across all its brands. For now, we have the Fossil Q Marshal and the Fossil Q Wander and the two mysterious Michael Kors Access smartwatches, all announced at Baselworld. None of these products move the technology on in any way (they even feature the dreaded flat tyre) but they do provide the style, fashion and brand power that could really sell.

By the end of 2016, we will get wearables from other Fossil brands including Diesel, Kate Spade, Emporio Armani, Misfit and Skagen. It’s not confirmed that all these brands will get Android Wear watches but we’re sure some will. Diesel is a pretty safe bet, for example.

All of these fashion Wear watches will benefit from the software updates as well as extras such as exclusive designer watch faces. So how will they sell? LVMH stepped up production of its first luxury Android Wear watch, the Tag Heuer Connected, from 1,200 to 2,000 units a week late last year as demand exceeded expectations. But this was a $1,500 Tag watch so those low numbers (for a tech product) aren’t a good indicator for Fossil, Casio and Nixon. No word yet onFossil Q Founder sales since December 2015 so that’s no help either.

As our Executive editor James Stables argued this week,smartwatch success should now be judged more as a fashion or watch product than a tech product. And it’s likely the individual brands will take this approach themselves, comparing smart Fossil watch sales to dumb Fossil watch sales, not Samsung smartphone sales. One interesting question is will Fossil, Tag, Casio, Nixon and a bunch of fashion designers be able to shift more smartwatches (in total) than Apple? If not, smartwatches could essentially be limited to tech nerds and Apple fans.

What to expect at Google I/O

If there are any more new Android Wear watches announced at Google I/O, which runs from 18 – 20 May, expect them to come from fashion or sports/adventure brands. Unless we get a surprise Sony SmartWatch 4, that is.

There’s also always the chance that the focus this year will be on Android N, virtual reality and AI instead, especially as there was so much Android Wear news out of this year’s Baselworld. Either way, we’ll be reporting live from I/O so stick with us if you’re invested in what Google – and everyone else – does next with Android Wear.

(wareable.com, http://goo.gl/QPCf0E)

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive review : Top down, revs up

Land Rover has taken the top off its Range Rover Evoque to make it convertible. Sounds simple, but this good-looking topless SUV is a feat of modern design, engineering and manufacturing.

This is the first convertible Range Rover, other than the Queen’s bespoke model of course – but who’d want to run down to the shops in that? Apart from the Jeep Wrangler, there aren’t many convertible SUV options out there.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 11

We’ve driven the hard top Evoque, so the question with the Convertible is whether it can offer the same premium experience and handling both on- and off-road, without compromise.

The Range Rover Evoque Convertible comes in 4WD 2.0-litre Ingenium automatic with 180bhp and 240bhp engine options, starting at £47,500/$71,250. We took it to the roads, complete with its striking tangerine coat of paint, to see what this convertible Range feels like.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 4

The Evoque Convertible is here to make a lasting impression. Coming from the attractively designed hardtop model it’s already off to a good start – it looks much the same, like it’s had its top simply cut off.

While that might seem simple at first glance it’s actually an impressive feat of engineering. Removing the roof not only means the car loses strength and torsional rigidity but also adds risk if it were to flip.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 23

To counter this there are a lot of changes under the outer shell to offer levels of support that allow that window frame enough strength to hold the car’s weight, should it invert. There’s even safety roll-over bars that fire out of the rear, like car airbags, to support the passengers in the event of a flip. Not that we flipped it, but it’s reassuring to know it should be safe.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 24Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 25

From safety to sassy: the Convertible looks sleek thanks to those familiar lines that the Evoque is famous for. Side-on it almost looks smaller than the hardtop, even with the soft-top up – possibly thanks to body coloured side skirts. But this is still and SUV with decent riding position and height. It also has high sides which make you feel enveloped and protected from the wind.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 5

The Convertible has a deeper front bumper than the original Evoque, which combines with the optional slim adaptive LED lights and larger air intakes to give it a more aggressive look. Wheels range from 17-inch to 20-inches, adding yet more beast points to the car.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 20

The roof, a central part of this car, is a light fabric soft-top which can fold up in 18-seconds or rise out in 21-seconds – both while moving at up to 30mph. Despite this you still get the Evoque’s 251-litre capacity boot storage, although don’t expect a great deal of height. The rear seats are also snug but offer enough room for a comfortable ride if you’ve got the front seats forward enough.

The Evoque isn’t made to blow your socks off and while the Evoque convertible can blow your hair back, it isn’t going to win many races. Both model options feature 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 16-valve engines with 9-speed automatic gearboxes.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 7

The top-spec model manages 240bhp, which equates to a 0-60mph time of 8.6-seconds, which isn’t too bad. The entry-level 180bhp model will do it in 10.3-seconds. So on paper they’re not mad fast, but in reality, with the top down, it feels super quick. There’s enough power to get you where you want and to overtake if you need – it does the job. There is lag when you put your foot down but then a steady progression of acceleration from there.

Bear in mind that the 180bhp model will offer a combine 46mpg while the 240bhp version tops out at 32mpg, according to Land Rover.

Handling and comfort

This car is an SUV, albeit a compact one, meaning it’s not built to cling to corners like a race car. That said, for something that’s also heavy, it handles well enough both on- and off-road.

The high ride position gives good visibility, but you’re still low enough to feel the corners when going at speed – although there’s a little waft at times, not that it’s quite like driving an orange bouncy castle. The Torque Vectoring by Braking does a lot of needed correction work for you here.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 21

What the Evoque Convertible is built for is comfort when on the go. The Electric Power Assisted Steering adapts well automatically to offer lighter steering at lower speeds, like when parking, and becomes tighter when moving at pace. The result is a decent level of responsiveness on roads and easy handling around town. The turning circle is also impressive, making short work of any tight turn-arounds.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 13

The InControl Touch Pro infotainment system comes with the Evoque Convertible as standard, including a 10.2-inch screen, which already outdoes the standard Evoque’s 8-inch display.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 16

This system is an exciting offering as Land Rover is working hard with app developers to create a setup that will enhance its cars with software updates for years to come. The touchscreen system offers pinch-to-zoom and general interactivity that feels more like using a tablet than a car system. Although, and as we said of the Jaguar XE, using touchscreen while on-the-go doesn’t always feel like the most logical option, in terms of safety.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 15

All this and the Convertible is 3G connected for in-car internetting too. How, without that rear twin fin antennae on the roof, you ask? There are two antennae mounted in the bumper and rear seats to ensure connectivity is possible.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 17

The system also offers plenty of audio power with a 10-speaker, 380W, dual-channel subwoofer surround-sound Meridian Audio setup as standard. It sounds really, really good, even at high volumes while driving with the top down. So if you want to blast out some classical Bach as you saunter round your local rowing club car park, you’re all set. Or maybe you’re more a 50 Cent kind of person.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible first drive: Top down, revs up - photo 18

As standard you get lane assist, parking sensors and cruise control, but you’ll need to shell out around £3,000/$4,500 more for the upgraded LUX model extras. That includes automatic parking, 360-degree cameras, blindspot monitoring, keyless entry, traffic sign recognition a wind deflector, auto headlamps with High Beam Assist and more.

First Impressions

The Range Rover Evoque hardtop starts at £30,600/$45,900 for a manual 2.0 litre diesel. So if you want the new Convertible you’re going to need to find an extra £17,000/$25,500 at least. Our test model, at around £50,000/$75,000, is dangerously close to Porsche levels of pricing.

But what sells the Evoque Convertible is that there’s more-or-less nothing else like it on the market. It comes from a strong stock too: this topless Evoque feels spacious in the front, offers enough power to make you feel in control both on- and off-road, and has the stunning InControl Touch Pro system as standard.

It’s stunning to look at too. So if you want a soft-top and an SUV, while making a statement at the same time, nothing will do better than the Range RoverEvoque Convertible. It’ll set the trend for convertible SUVs, much like theEvoque led the way for stylish, compact SUVs.

(pocket-lint.com, http://goo.gl/IZWekM)

MacBook-Thin Chromebook 13 Targets Pros for $499

Chromebooks aren’t just for school kids anymore. With its sleek aluminum design and available 6th-generation Core m processor, the HP Chromebook 13 is MacBook thin and powerful enough to run dual external high-def displays. Starting at $499, this system is on the expensive side for a Chrome OS laptop, but it’s much cheaper than Windows ultraportables while offering business-friendly features.

The Chromebook 13 should turn heads and stand up to abuse with its brushed anodized aluminum design, which measures just 0.5 inches thin and weighs 2.86 pounds. The all-metal chassis also packs a sharp and glossy quad HD display (3200 x 1800 pixels) and premium B&O Play audio, which should come in handy for conference calls. (HP will also offer a 1080p matte screen option.)

The port selection includes two USB-C, a full-size USB, headphone jack and microSD Card slot. Based on my first impressions, the keyboard felt fairly comfortable and the touchpad offered smooth navigation, though it’s a bit shorter than I’d like.

What makes this Chromebook worthy of your work desk is its USB-C Docking Station, which will allow you to connect two external monitors a full-size keyboard, mouse and Ethernet jack for wired Internet. HP says the Chromebook 13 can power a single 4K display or two 2K monitors. During my brief hands-on time, moving a PowerPoint window around the desktop (in a Citrix virtualized environment) was a little jerky but certainly workable.

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The starting configuration will have a Pentium M processor, 4GB or RAM and 32GB of flash storage, but you can step up to Core m3, Core m5 or Core m7 and as much as 16GB of RAM for serious multitasking.

When you’re running from meeting to meeting, the Chromebook 13 promises up to 11.5 hours of battery life, which should give you plenty of endurance. (We’ll have to see how the laptop holds up in our test.) USB-C fast charging should top you off in a hurry when you start to run low.

hp chromebook 13 usb c docking
So why would business users pick this machine over a Windows notebook? Select models will offer a Lucid Sleep feature for keeping documents, emails and notifications up to date in the background while the Chromebook 13 is in sleep mode. Other perks include multi-layered security (automatic updates, sandboxing, verified boot and data encryption and recovery), enterprise fleet management and HP Print for Chrome support.

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HP isn’t the only laptop maker targeting businesses. The Acer Chromebook 14 for Work sports a solid and sexy Gorilla Glass body that’s built to survive drops and spills, and it will offer a Core i processor and up to 12 hours of battery life when it goes on sale in May for $349. However, the cheaper Acer has a lower-resolution screen and is heavier and thicker.

It’s hard to beat the versatility of Windows 10, but if you do the vast majority of your job in the cloud, the HP Chromebook 14 could be an attractive option. And if the rumors prove true — and your IT department allows it — you might be able to run over a million Android apps on Chrome OS through the Google Play store as soon as this summer.

(laptopmag.com, http://goo.gl/Hazbhm)

Leica Announces M-D (Typ 262) digital rangefinder with no LCD Display

Leica has officially announced the M-D (Typ 262) digital rangefinder camera which is the first model in the digital M family without an LCD screen.

The Leica M-D (Typ 262) is exactly the same as the existing M (Typ 262) but without a rear screen. The standard location of the screen on the back of the camera is taken by the ISO sensitivity setting dial.

The rangefinder camera features a 24-megapixel CMOS full-frame sensor. Exposures are captured exclusively as raw data in DNG format, enabling photographers to apply the required adjustments in post-processing.

The viewfinder has a magnification of 0.68x and offers bright-frame markings for 35/135mm, 28/90mm and 50/75mm lenses.

Leica Announces M-D (Typ 262) digital rangefinder with no LCD Display

Leica M-D (Typ 262) digital rangefinder becomes official

The body has no traditional red dot as Leica says it wants the camera to be discrete, and the single frame mode uses a particularly quiet shutter cocking system. The new M-D model without LCD display will be available in a black paint finish, and includes a real leather carrying strap in full-grain cowhide.
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Watch the Leica M-D in action

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The Leica M-D (Typ 262) will start shipping from May with a price of $5995. To learn more about this camera, head over to Leica’s website by clicking here : goo.gl/thXTRZ

(dailycameranews.com, http://goo.gl/7NU2Ro)

ONEPLUS 2 Long Term Review

PROS
  • Amazing value
  • Classy screen tone
  • Reliable fingerprint scanner
  • Good camera image quality
CONS
  • HDR and camera speed performance just OK
  • Hard to get hold of… again
KEY FEATURES
  • 5.5-inch 1080p screen
  • Snapdragon 810 processor with 3/4GB RAM
  • 16 or 64GB storage
  • Dual SIM
  • 13-megapixel rear camera
  • 5-megapixel front camera
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • 3,300mAh battery
  • Manufacturer: OnePlus

When my colleague Andrew Williams first reviewed the OnePlus 2 last year, he was enamoured with it – and rightly so. OnePlus was selling a smartphone with specs that could rival the flagships of 2015 and, better still, for a lowly price of £239/$358. Purchase was by invitation only, but if you could get your hands on one, the OnePlus 2 was a steal.

A lot has changed since then. You don’t need an invite to buy the OnePlus 2 anymore. And a brief check on the OnePlus UK store tells me that the 16GB £239/$358 version is no longer available. Instead, OnePlus is now selling just the 64GB OnePlus 2, albeit at a discounted £249/$373 (down from the £289/$433 launch price).

I used the OnePlus 2 for about nine months, and only recently traded it out for a Samsung Galaxy S7. This phone was my daily driver and was, for the most part, great. The camera took nice pictures, battery life and storage were never an issue, and the griptape back offered welcome friction to my buttery fingers.

But the halcyon days of 2015 are over, and I now have some serious complaints about the OnePlus 2.

The first issue is charging, and the sheer slowness of it. The OnePlus 2 might use a USB-C connection, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get fast charging. In fact, the OnePlus 2 generally took just north of two hours to charge from empty to full. Charging the Galaxy S7, by comparison, is…well, there’s no comparison. Fast-charging devices are the future, leaving the OnePlus 2 feeling like a bit of a relic.

The second issue is performance, and this is the big one. We’ve received plenty of complaints about the OnePlus 2 from readers, all of which claim that the phone has slowed down significantly since purchase. I can vouch for this. The OnePlus 2 often slowed to a crawl for no apparent reason. Near the end, I was having to reboot the phone at least three or four times a week.

OnePlus 2

But here at TrustedReviews, we’re all about the actual numbers.

In our original review, the Geekbench 3 score for the OnePlus 2 was 4,460. I recently ran 10 tests on the phone, giving me a new average score of 3,654 – with a low of 2,121. That’s not great, but it’s not a huge drop either. In any case, this probably isn’t the real root of OnePlus 2 performance problems.

That’s because once an app is running on the OnePlus 2, it tends to work just fine. But switching between apps, loading apps, and other multi-tasking functions often – and inexplicably – make the device unusable.

What’s telling in this regard is how much the RAM write speed has dropped since our original review. Back in 2015, tests showed that the OnePlus 2 managed an 8,000MB/s write speed. But now the average (over 10 tests) has dropped to 4,494MB/s – that’s with a high of 5,061MB/s, and a low of 1,223MB/s.

The storage read and write speeds are similarly concerning. The original storage write speed for the OnePlus 2 was 125MB/s. It’s not 98MB/s. The original storage read speed for the OnePlus 2 was 234MB/s. It’s now 184MB/s. Yuck.

To make matters worse, the OnePlus 2 was marketed as the ‘2016 flagship killer’. But as is evident by the performance drop, that’s simply not true. The last 12 months have brought us a smorgasbord of powerhouse flagships – like the Nexus 6P, the Samsung Galaxy S7, and the HTC 10 – all of which run rings around the ailing OnePlus 2.

To be fair, OnePlus tells us that it is trying to address these issues with software updates, but a quick search online shows that customers are still experiencing issues, and have been for a while.

ONEPLUS 2 – LONG-TERM VERDICT

The OnePlus 2 is a phone that looks like good value for money on paper, but it’s not the 2016 flagship killer it was marketed as. If you need a cheap phone, the OnePlus 2 isn’t a bad choice. But if you have the extra money to spare, I’d recommend grabbing an actual 2016 flagship instead. Hopefully the company’s rumoured OnePlus 3 will fare better when/if it arrives later this year.

WHAT IS THE ONEPLUS 2?

Just like the OnePlus One, the OnePlus Two hits the bullseye. It offers a slick build and a spec-list that matches most of the far pricier high-end devices, like the Samsung Galaxy S6. Oh, and it only costs £239/$358.

Yet, it’s not perfect. You still have to battle with the annoying invite system and even though the phone has been out a few months you can’t just go onto the website and buy one. It lacks NFC too, which isn’t ideal if you want to take advantage of Android Pay.

If you’re happy to spend £400-500/$600-750 and money is not a major concern, phones like the Nexus 6P and iPhone 6S still top the OnePlus 2. But for the money it’s hard to argue against.

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DESIGN

At first glance, the OnePlus 2 doesn’t appear anything special. Coming from a manufacturer no-one has heard of you might expect it to bear some obvious USP that’ll scream at you from the shelf.

But that’s not the point. The OnePlus 2 isn’t meant to be sold on shelves, ever. Aside from the odd importer, you can only buy the phone from OnePlus direct. You need an invite to even be able to order the thing and, at the time of writing, they aren’t too easy to get hold of.

The cynics among you may think: what better way to breed hype and anticipation than by limiting stock? Such thoughts aren’t groundless, but if there was a middle-man retailer or network in-between, you can bet the OnePlus 2 would not cost £239/$358. There’s a lot of new-model marketing behind the phone, but that the thing is hard to get hold of isn’t just something made up by the OnePlus marketing department.

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In person it certainly doesn’t seem like the hype machine that is OnePlus’s online presence has overshadowed the OnePlus 2’s design. It’s a phone that feels great, and is at home when sat next to more expensive mobiles like the HTC One M9 and LG G4.

Unlike the mostly-plastic OnePlus One, the OnePlus 2 has sides made of magnesium alloy. This feels a lot like aluminium. A little less cool to the touch perhaps, but we bet more than 50% of OnePlus 2 owners who haven’t pored over the spec sheet would assume it’s aluminium, as used in the iPhone 6 and HTC One M9.

OnePlus 2 21

One of the benefits of magnesium alloy is that it’s a bit lighter than aluminium. However, the OnePlus 2 is not a particularly light phone at 175g. It’s 20g heavier than the LG G4, which is no small amount in the phone world.

On first getting our hands on the OnePlus 2, this extra weight was quite obvious. But the sum total of our reaction was to silently think “cor, this one has some meat on it”, before promptly forgetting its size and weight more-or-less completely.

It’s a non-issue for those with moderate-to-large hands. And if you have smaller mitts, the OnePlus 2 lets you switch between hardware soft keys and software ones, and you can flip the ‘back’ and lesser-used ‘recent apps’ soft keys around. With or without a tweak, the soft keys are fairly easy to reach.

Still, if having a super-slim phone is top of your wishlist, the OnePlus 2 doesn’t really fit the bill at 9.9mm thick.

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COVERS AND CONNECTIONS

As well as having that nice band of magnesium alloy to tart up its design, the OnePlus 2’s back feels quite unusual. Sharing the same back texture as the OnePlus One, the rear feels a little rough and fuzzy, almost closer to a sort of fabric than anything else.

It’s a high-friction, tactile surface that we’re honestly surprised not to have been adopted by anyone else (to our knowledge) since we saw it in the OnePlus One. However, there are mixed reviews on it from the Trusted team, and if the thought of your phone feeling like a shaved hamster doesn’t appeal, there are other covers on offer.

These come with a £20/$30 price bump, but feature ‘real’ materials, including kevlar and various kinds of wood. Kevlar and the standard grey-black rear are the best picks if you want a low-key phone.

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The rear can be prised off with a finger easily enough, and while it doesn’t give you access to the battery, it does mean the OnePlus 2 can avoid using one of those SIM slots that needs a pin/tool to unlock. There are two SIM slots, both nano-size, and both fit into a single piece of plastic that slots into the body.

There’s no waterproofing here, and no microSD card either, so be sure to choose carefully between the £239/$358 16GB and £289/$433 64GB versions. We’re using the 64GB edition. It’s the best choice if you want to store a lot of music on your phone.

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Both versions come with a few neat little hardware extras you don’t see on most other phones. First, there’s a little 3-way switch on the left side of the OnePlus 2 that turns all notifications off, only allows priority notifications and lets the lot through.

It’s a neat way to silence your phone quickly, although you do need to remember not to check you’ve not accidentally set the thing to silent if you’re expecting a phone call.

Then there’s the socket. Most phones have a microUSB 2.0 slot. Some phones even have a a microUSB 3.0 slot, like the Samsung Galaxy S5. However, the OnePlus 2 has a USB-C socket. This is likely to be the successor to microUSB, and the main benefit is that it’s reversible. It’s way more convenient. In one sense at least.

The downside is that you can’t use any cables you’ve accrued over the years to charge the phone. And if you lose the cable, replacing it could be a pain. It’s only really the socket that has changed too. You don’t get USB 3.0 speed. We like USB-C, but at this point using it is a mixed blessing.

OnePlus C

FINGERPRINT SCANNER

The most important extra hardware feature, though, is the fingerprint scanner. Taking inspiration from the iPhone Touch ID sensor and, more recently, the Samsung Galaxy S6 scanner, it sits under the Home soft key on the front of the phone.

Crucially, you don’t need to swipe your finger over it, just hold it there. We’ve found this is a vital part of making a phone finger scanner quick and easy to use.

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Sure enough, the OnePlus 2 scanner is another winner. While it’s a bit slower than the iPhone 6 scanner, it’s about as reliable and still quicker than using a pattern or pin for security. You can teach the phone up to five fingerprints, and 99% of the time we ended up using a thumb. Two down, three to donate if you like.

The OnePlus 2 scanner does not sit on a physical button like the iPhone 6’s, though. The sensor pad is static, its indent there to give you a physical guide as to where your finger needs to be.

Like the other two soft keys, which are lit-up with simple blue dashes, it’s a touch-sensitive pad rather than a clicky button. Just fitting in features like a fingerprint scanner, let alone a good one, at £239/$358 is impressive. However, there are a few omissions to balance this out. There’s no NFC, for example. And no IR transmitter. Oh, and no FM radio.

SCREEN

The OnePlus 2 is a phone with a large screen, measuring 5.5-inches across. That’s larger than the Samsung Galaxy S6, the HTC One M9 and, of course, the iPhone 6.

Quality matters, but having a larger screen is generally always a benefit when matching video or playing games. Display quality is good too.

The OnePlus 2 has an LCD, IPS, LTPS screen, a great trio for any phone. To unpack these terms a bit, LCD means that you shouldn’t expect quite the black level and contrast you get from an OLED Samsung Galaxy S6 or similar. The phone still has a standard backlight, so contrast can only reach so high.

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Of course, this only really becomes evident in a darkened room. In normal conditions you’ll not notice any diminished blacks. They’re strong for an LCD display.

IPS gets you great viewing angles, with fairly little loss of brightness off-axis and no contrast shift from any angle. Colours are very pleasant too.

This year we’ve seen a few phones try that bit too hard to bring the super-deep colours that very obviously telegraph to your eyeballs quite how much of the sRGB palette a phone can render. They often end up looking oversaturated, but the OnePlus 2 takes a far more relaxed approach. There’s no toxicity to the reds, and no other shades look as though they’re ready to leap our of the screen and stab you.

The OnePlus 2 is quite iPhone 6-like in this respect. It’s a very pleasant screen.

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The final bit of tech jargon we mentioned earlier is LTPS, another screen architecture tech. This one helps cut down on the power the display uses. Of course, none of these screen techs are remarkable. They’re all very common.

Aside from that the OnePlus 2 has a very pleasant screen tone, one that offers punchy colour while appearing totally natural, the other bit worth paying attention to is the resolution. It has a 1080p panel, matching the iPhone 6 Plus pixel-for-pixel with 401ppi density.

We can’t go without mentioning the higher-resolution options out there. The LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6 provide radically higher pixel density, simply because they use QHD screens.

OnePlus

Up-close there is a difference between a QHD screen and a Full HD one, especially at this size. But it’s a minor and we’re a way off any phone launching at a sub-£300/$450 price with one of those. Resolution-obsessed bargain hunters out there should also consider the LG G3, now available SIM-free for as little as £229/$243. It has a QHD screen and is still immensely capable, although feels a little cheaper than the OnePlus 2.

With a Gorilla Glass 4-topped display and good top brightness, the OnePlus 2 is not too susceptible to fingerprint smudges, offers good scratch-resistance and fares pretty well outdoors on bright days. The one complaint we began to notice after using the phone for a week is that the auto brightness setting could be improved.

It works, but tends to make the screen too bright indoors, and doesn’t react nearly enough to where you set the brightness slider. This is one of those auto backlight modes that operates relative to a slider, giving you a but of control.

Other than the brightness issue, the display is a winner. And OnePlus could easily improve things with a software update.

ANDROID AND OXYGEN SOFTWARE

The OnePlus 2 runs Android 5.1.1, with OnePlus’s Oxygen UI on top. This is a custom interface, but one with quite different aims to HTC’s Sense or Samsung’s TouchWiz.

It keeps the look and feel of standard Android, but adds loads of features under the surface, ones designed to appeal to power users. Just the the kind of gadget fans likely to go out of their way to find out more about a ‘mystery’ phone like the OnePlus 2, then.

OnePlus 2 19

When you first turn on the OnePlus 2, you could almost mistake it for a Nexus-style device, though. Its extra features are more covert than overt. There’s one extra bit that sits front and centre, but OnePlus is so dedicated to the standard Android feel that it even asks if you want to disable it on first boot-up.

It’s called Shelf, and is an extra homescreen that holds your favourite app shortcuts, your favourite contacts, and any widgets you might use but don’t want to keep on a homescreen. This feels like something OnePlus may develop more over the coming 12 months, because at the moment it feels a very much non-essential part of the experience.

OnePlus 2

We’ve used it for the purposes of checking every nook and cranny of the OnePlus 2 out. But we can’t imagine using it much day-to-day.

This doesn’t matter, though, because we have found ourselves using the bits that Oxygen is really about, those little tweaks and customisations. We’ve looked at these in more detail in our OnePlus 2 tips and tricks article, but they effectively let you make the phone your own, without the brash, system-wide themes that some other manufacturers are adopting (like it’s 1999).

You can do things like switch the menu system from a white colour scheme to black, choose between using software/hardware soft keys and alter the icon set used for installed apps. Ultra accessibility isn’t the key here, as these little customisations are kept in different areas of the OnePlus 2’s menu system. However, the phone remains easy to use for non-geeks because the phone is just as good if you ignore al the extra bits.

OnePlus 2 17

At this point Samsung’s custom UI is good enough not to make us wish everyone would take this approach. But Oxygen does a great job of keeping things familiar on the surface, while hiding a load of geeky gems under the surface for those who’ll appreciate them.

PERFORMANCE

The OnePlus 2’s performance is generally excellent too. Android Lollipop has a more languorous style than the Android 4.4 KitKat software of the last generation, but the phone doesn’t compound this with any further lag. It’s smooth.

Anything less would a disappointment given the level of hardware in the OnePlus 2, though. It has a Snapdragon 810 SoC, the current top mobile chipset in Qualcomm’s line-up. This is the same grade of processor used in the HTC One M9 and Sony Xperia Z3+.

OnePlus 2 11

It comprises an octa-core CPU, with four 1.8GHz Cortex-A57 ‘power’ cores and four lesser Cortex-A53 cores, and an Adreno 430 GPU. Power is no issue: no current Android games are really a match for this spec. After all, it’d be a little silly for devs to release a game that doesn’t work well on top-end hardware.

The Snapdragon 810 is a somewhat-contentious chipset, though, which has led to some complaining that OnePlus should have used a Helio X10 chipset instead, from generally less-well-regarded MediaTek. The issue is heat.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 causes serious overheating problems in the Sony Xperia Z3+, and less serious ones in the HTC One M9. Sure enough, the OnePlus 2 tends to get quite warm without all that much provocation. Browse the web using mobile internet for 10 minutes or so and the top half of the phone will get quite warm.

However, OnePlus seems to have put some work into ensuring it never gets flat-out hot, even when tackling demanding 3D games.

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The iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 generally stay cooler, though. Samsung’s S6 is the most apt comparison here, its Exynos 7420 being flat-out better in some respects. The most important is that it is made using a 14nm process, a generation ahead of the 20nm Snapdragon 810. It’s also more powerful, at least in benchmarks (the OnePlus 2 scores up to 4460 in Geekbench 3, the S6 can score upwards of 5000 points).

Still, while the Snapdragon 810 is not Qualcomm’s finest hour, it remains a good processor when sufficiently tamed and its inclusion in a £240/$360 phone it’s amazing. The RAM used is great too. The £289/$433 version we’re reviewing has 4GB of DDR4. Only a few phones to date have begun to use this faster kind of RAM, including the Galaxy S6 and LG G Flex 2. The rest use DDR3.

Benchmarking the phone, it’s able to juggle RAM data at around 8000MB/s, pretty much the same as the S6, while it’ll write to its internal memory at 125MB/s (234MB/s read). It has fast memory, radically outstripping the slightly cheaper 2GB RAM Moto G’s 11MB/s (write) storage.

The only area where performance needs a tune-up is the camera app. We’ll cover most areas of camera performance in the next section of this review, but it’s the one part of the OnePlus 2 that feels a little under-optimised and buggy. For example, you can’t properly zoom into shots you’ve taken, and just flicking through them often causes the app to freeze.

That we’ve made this a little addendum tells you how much importance to lay on it, though. This feels like a launch bug that should be squashed before too long.

CAMERA

The OnePlus 2 has a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front one. That sounds like an on-the-money spec for a £239/$358 phone, especially now that really very cheap phones have started to use 13-megapixel sensors.

However, not all 13-megapixel sensors are made equal. Where once a sensor’s megapixel count could be used as a rough indication of its quality, Sony now makes some slightly ropey 8-megapixel and 13-megapixel units that are worth avoiding. More so than ever: don’t trust the numbers.

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Like the Moto G, though, the OnePlus 2 has an excellent 13-megapixel sensor. And one not made by Sony, which makes the majority of camera sensors in the phones we review.

This one is made by Omnivision instead. It’s a much smaller name, of course, but has proved its worth in numerous China-made phones. Most notably, Oppo often uses its camera sensors.

The OnePlus 2’s sensor measures 1/2.6-inch, meaning its light-sensitive pixels are significantly larger than those of the competition. It has 1.3-micron sensor pixels, where the top-end standard is 1.1 microns. Without wanting to descend too much into the tech behind the tech, larger sensor pixels generally result in better dynamic range, a crucial part of image quality.

The OnePlus 2’s rear camera is also aided by a bunch of periphery camera features that make it just as well-equipped as all the £500/$750-plus phones out there. It has laser-assisted focusing, a dual LED flash and optical image stabilisation.

The hardware has bags of promise. Ultimately, it doesn’t quite reach the performance of the Samsung Galaxy S6 or LG G4, but it is capable of some excellent moves for a sub-£300/$450 phone.

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We’ll start with the bad, though.

It’s not quite as fast as the quickest out there. OnePlus has put some serious work into getting rid of the shutter lag that afflicted the phone at launch, but when taking HDR shots the OnePlus 2 still takes about three seconds to process a shot.

Thankfully, normal shooting feels pretty nippy at this stage.

The next iffy bit is its high dynamic range (HDR) subtlety. Most savvy phone-makers have now switched to thinking of HDR as a tool to be used in general photography, not as an ‘effect’. An awful lot of phones these days have an ‘Auto’ HDR mode that uses dynamic range enhancement when the scene demands it, letting you forget about it. It’s very useful.

In the OnePlus 2, though, it’s very much a separate mode, and its effects are nowhere near subtle enough to use 24/7, as you can do with the very best HDR modes. It has a tendency to significantly oversaturate colours, making photos lose all connection with reality. It’s similar to the ham-fisted HDR style we saw in the OnePlus One. And it’s not really good enough in 2015.

Here are a couple of HDR samples:

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The camera app is that great, either. It’s roughly based on the standard Android one, but when shooting in landscape the gesture that brings up the mode selection menu can also fire-up the notification drop-down if you’re not careful: not smart UI design.

One recent addition to it is the manual mode. This gives you quick control over parameters like focus and shutter speed. It’s probably the best part of the app, using a responsive control wheel for each parameter.

You can only alter one at a time, though, so it’s perhaps not the quickest kind of manual mode I’ve ever seen.

OnePlus 2

It does, however, open up loads of creative potential, especially if you have a phone tripod to hand. This will let you create awesome low-light images by keeping the shutter open for ages, letting the OnePlus 2 use a very low ISO sensitivity.

The shutter can open for as long as 30 seconds, letting you shoot in more-or-less pitch black conditions. Very sensibly the OnePlus 2 also offers a timed shot, which get rid of any slight hand shake caused by pressing the shutter button.

OnePlus 2

However, standard image quality is generally very good, with excellent detail, and a lens/sensor combo that can deal with tricky lighting conditions without major optical distortions of any kind. To explain: give a lower-end 13-megapixel phone camera a scene where a very strong light source is in the shot and it’ll generally suffer from masses of flare-like distortion and have purple fringing around any high-contrast objects. To name just a couple of potential issues.

There’s a tiny bit of purple fringing here, but it’s impressive stuff. Here are some daylight samples:

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Loads of detail, nice colour and even exposure

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Here’s a look at how the phone’s camera processing handles fine detail at pixel level

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This tells you why you don’t really need to worry about missing out on an extra three megapixels

OnePlus 2 49

Sun behind cloud or not, the OnePlus has handled this shot extremely well, showing off the dynamic range capabilities of the sensor

OnePlus 2 53

Lesser phone cameras often end up underexposing the foreground in this shot

OnePlus 2 51

The colours could be a tiny bit punchier, but they are at least realistic

The OnePlus 2 does tend to meter quite conservatively at times, though. Metering is where the camera works out its exposure, how bright the scene needs to be. Unless you manually pick a point of focus, you seem to get a highlight-preserving exposure here.

When we’re dealing with a DSLR camera, that can be great, as we’ll expect from post-shoot fiddling. But shooting side-by-side with the Samsung Galaxy S6, we prefer the Samsung’s slightly less conservative approach. It generally gets you slightly brighter-looking photos, generally with at most a tiny bit of overexposure.

Like the recently-reviewed Moto G, the OnePlus 2 does actually let you control the exposure level as you shoot. There’s a dial that sits around the shutter you can swizzle around to tweak exposure. However, unlike Motorola’s version this one doesn’t feel quite intuitive enough. It’s as simple as the control not being placed at quite the right angle, but meant we ended up ignoring it a lot of the time.

OnePlus 2 7

The OnePlus 2 software doesn’t quite make full use of the great hardware here. However, it’s far from bad. You can get some excellent shots without any effort, and aside from slightly dodgy HDR there are none of the image-destroying idiosyncrasies of the HTC One M9/One M8S.

Probably the most impressive part of the OnePlus 2’s camera is its low-light shooting ability, especially considering the price. You absolutely see the effects of the optical image stabilisation packed into the sensor module. While we’ve been comparing the OnePlus 2 to the real top-end Androids for the most part in this review, the most important comparison here is with the Moto G (at £209/$313 for the 16GB version, it’s not far off money-wise).

Where the Moto G has an excellent camera that tends to capture limited detail at night, the OnePlus 2’s detail capture stays strong when the lights go down. In low-light conditions the phone will drop its shutter speed down to 1/10 sec. Without OIS it’s hard to get sharp images with an exposure time this long, but it’s pretty easy with the OnePlus 2.

OnePlus 2 43

 

OnePlus 2

Plenty of detail, lively colour and loads of contrast

The phone also goes easy on noise reduction during night time, allowing a fine grain that’s not ugly and ensuring fine-ish detail isn’t totally smeared away. Performance is similar to the Samsung Galaxy S6 at night, which is impressive.

OnePlus 2 5

Other features offered by the OnePlus 2 are sensible and useful. We don’t like the app’s execution much, but its style is perfectly good. You get panorama, time lapse, slow motion video and standard-speed video up to 4K resolution. The front camera uses a 5-megapixel sensor and offers reasonably good image quality, generally rendering more detail in dodgy light than most 5-megapixel selfie cameras.

There’s also a Clear Image mode, which turbo-charges image sharpening so that fine details are emphasised to make it seem like there’s more of the stuff there without zooming in to see it. We prefer the standard mode, though.

BATTERY LIFE

One of the areas we’ve been looking forward to testing the most is the OnePlus 2’s battery life. After the HTC One M9 and LG G4 offered pretty disappointing stamina, we had high hopes for the phone’s large 3300mAh unit.

The results are fairly good, although anyone hoping for two-three days from a charge needs to re-think their expectations. It lasts for 11.5 hours of 720p video playback, and with moderate-intensive use it’ll last for a full day.

With light use you’ll get a day and a half between charges. We found it to be somewhat-similar to the Samsung Galaxy S6 with general use. The Galaxy S6 appears to be better at holding charge when the phone is used intermittently, though. Monitoring the battery level closely, the draining-down doesn’t plateau quickly as it does with the more efficient Galaxy S6. Of course, that observation relies on the idea that the OnePlus 2’s reporting of its battery level is somewhat-accurate.

OnePlus 2 15

That the phone gets warm quite a lot and the auto brightness setting tends to raise screen brightness a little higher than is necessary a lot of the time won’t be helping here. However, we did find stamina to be significantly better than the LG G4.

There are no explicit battery-saving modes beyond Android Lollipop’s inbuilt Battery Saver. This uses a number of measures to improve battery life, but as it also makes the top and bottom of the screen go orange, it’s clearly only really meant for emergencies.

However, you can also restrict background data separately, which should dramatically improve stamina if you’re on-the-go a lot. Doing things like restricting maximum screen brightness is often a bad idea anyway, with a tendency to make phone displays all-but-invisible outdoors.

Like most premium phones these days, the OnePus 2 doesn’t give you any access to the battery. It’s locked in. Of course, with ultra-high-capacity external battery packs (and not dodgy knock-off ones) available for under £20/$30 these days, it’s not an issue unless you’re worried about charge capacity diminishing 18 months down the road.

Then it’ll be time for a… OnePlus 4 anyway, right?

CALL AND SOUND QUALITY

OnePlus has clearly put a lot of effort into getting many elements of the OnePlus 2 right. However, there are predictably a few elements that are just decent, not exceptional.

Call quality and speaker quality are such areas. The OnePlus 2’s call speaker is clear, and there’s a secondary microphone up on the top edge to provide active noise cancellation in calls. However, it doesn’t quite have the beefy sound or top volume level of the clearest mobile phones.

OnePlus 2 25

The OnePlus 2 also has a single speaker that sits on the bottom of the phone, not stereo or front-facing speakers, which are generally the preferred kinds these days. Its design is deceptive too. There are grilles on either side of the USB-C port on the bottom, but the sound only actually comes out of one of them.

It’s fairly easy to block. But top volume is respectable. It’ll cope with the noise of the kitchen or shower if you like to listen to music/podcasts while cooking or having a wash, but you don’t get the mid-range beefiness we’re starting to hear more often in phone speakers. The HTC One M9/One M8S speakers are better, as is the similarly-designed Samsung Galaxy S6 speaker.

OnePlus 2 33

SHOULD I BUY THE ONEPLUS 2?

The OnePlus 2 is a remarkable phone. At either £239/$358 or £289/$433, the prices of the two different versions, it’s terrific value. It comes across a sensible alternative to phones in the £400-600/$600-900 price range, without any particularly obvious compromises involved.

Its camera needs a bit of work on the software side and you need to think carefully about which model you’re going to buy given there’s no microSD slot. But the only serious obstacle is quite how tricky the OnePlus 2 can be to get hold of.

You can’t walk down the high street and buy one, and, as of August 2015, if you’ve not registered for an invite you may have a bit of a wait on your hands until you can actually buy one of these phones. However, if you have the patience, the sheer value the OnePlus 2 represents makes the effort worthwhile.

VERDICT

A true phone bargain, and sure to be remembered as one of our favourites of 2015

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/yE6nmT)

Best Intel processor : Core i3, i5 and i7 explained

We bust Intel’s jargon and explain what you should expect from Intel Core i processors.

Around 80% of new PCs, and over 90% of laptops, have Intel processors. This means that if you’re in the market for a new computer, you’ll most likely be considering an Intel-powered model.

Finding the right Intel chip for you is not a straightforward process. You don’t want to spend a fortune on a more powerful model than you need, nor do you want to end up with an underpowered chip that doesn’t do everything you need it to.

Intel’s branding doesn’t make it particularly easy for you to choose, though; it’s not at all obvious what the difference between a Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7 processor is, apart from an ever-increasing amount of cash removed from your wallet.

DESKTOP INTEL CORE PROCESSORS

Intel’s current Core-branded processors, which are found in the majority of desktops and laptops, are split into three ranges, with several models in each range. These ranges are called Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7, but the differences between the ranges aren’t the same on laptop chips as on desktop. We’ll explain the difference between laptop chips at the bottom of this article.

The desktop chips follow a more logical pattern, so we’ll cover them first. Many of the concepts and technologies we discuss, such as number of cores, cache, Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading, are common across both desktop and laptop. For this reason, even if you’re only considering buying a laptop, you should still read the desktop section before moving onto the laptop part of the article.

In many ways, the desktop processors in the Core i3, i5 and i7 ranges are very similar to each other. All are based on the same key processor architecture (codenamed Skylake for the latest generation), have the same instruction sets (the code that actually tells the processor what to do), fit in the same socket and have broadly similar graphics chipsets.

Despite their underlying similarities, there are some key differences that can drastically affect each model’s performance. First, have a look at the table below to see how the ranges compare. We’ll explain what the terms mean later in the article.

DESKTOP

Core i3

Core i5

Core i7

No. of cores

2

4

4

Frequency range

3.2-3.9GHz

2.2-3.5GHz

2.8-4GHz

Turbo Boost

No

Yes

Yes

Hyper-Threading

Yes

No

Yes

Cache

3-4MB

6MB

8MB

NUMBER OF CORES

The first thing you’ll notice from the table is that Core i5 and i7 processors have four cores, while Core i3 models only have two. Out of all the differences between the Intel processor ranges, this is the one that will affect performance the most.

Each core is effectively its own processor – your PC would still work (slowly) with just one core enabled. Having multiple cores means that the computer can work on more than one task at a time more efficiently, which will help keep your system running snappily even if you have tasks, such as an antivirus scan, running in the background.

Having several cores can also drastically increase the speed at which certain programs run. This doesn’t apply to all applications, as creating software that takes advantage of multiple cores is difficult. While two cores are now the accepted minimum in a processor, if you generally only tend to have a handful of tabs open in a web browser and your most demanding application is a word processor, you won’t see a huge benefit from a quad-core chip. However, modern games benefit from quad-core chips as does video encoding.

As an example, in the Geekbench benchmark, which runs several tests optimised for single-core and for multi-core processing, the quad-core Intel Core i7-3770K machine being used to write this article scored 3,422 in the single-core benchmark and 13,401 in multi-core. With two cores disabled, the score was almost identical in single-core, but dropped to 7,541 in the multi-core test. The maths adds up, halve the cores, (nearly) halve the multi-core performance.

Intel Skylake

WHAT IS TURBO BOOST?

The next item that may catch your eye is that the slowest Core i3 chips run at a faster speed than the base Core i5 and Core i7 models. This illustrates the perils of making a buying decision based purely on clock speed. Enter Turbo Boost.

Primer: what is clock speed? The GHz figure you’ll see represents the number of clock cycles (calculations) a processor can manage in a second. Put very simply, a bigger number means a faster processor. For example, 3.6GHz means 3,600,000,000 clock cycles. This figure should never be used to compare processors from different families, generations or manufacturers, however. Bigger is not better when comparing AMD and Intel, or 2nd-gen to 6th-gen Intel processors: different processor families have different levels of efficiency, so how much they get done with each clock cycle is more important than the GHz number itself.

Turbo Boost dynamically increases the clock speed of Core i5 and i7 processors when more power is required. This means that the chip can draw less power, produce less heat (most of the time) and only boost when it needs to. Turbo Boost means that the clock frequency figures in the table above are misleading. For example, although a top-end Core i3-6300 runs at 3.8GHz compared to 3.3GHz for the high-end Core i5-6600K, the i5 chip can boost up to 3.9GHz when required, so will end up being quicker.

Intel Skylake

The more a processor boosts its clock speed, the more heat it will produce, so the processors can only Turbo Boost for a limited time while they remain within a certain temperature range. During long periods of heavy processor activity using all a processor’s cores, such as video encoding, a chip may not Turbo Boost much at all as it might be too hot to do so safely. Turbo Boost is a significant part of the reason Core i5 and Core i7 processors outperform Core i3 models in single-core-optimised tasks, even though they have lower base clock speeds.

DO I NEED HYPER-THREADING?

Next up is possibly the most confusing part of the spec sheet: Hyper-Threading. Confusing to explain as a concept, but also confusing as it’s available on the top-end Core i7 and low-end Core i3 chips, but not the mid-range Core i5. Normally you’d expect to see more features added as you go up the processor range, but not here.

Hyper-Threading essentially tricks Windows into thinking that each physical processor core is in fact two virtual (logical) cores. The operating system can then share processing tasks between these virtual cores in order to help certain applications run more quickly, and to maintain system performance when more than one application is running at once. A two-core Core i3 processor will appear as four virtual cores in Windows’ Task Manager, and a four-core i7 chip will appear as eight cores. On both our quad-core and a dual-core test system, Hyper-Threading increased the GeekBench 3 multi-core test score by 17%. Not double the speed, but a useful boost nonetheless.

It’s odd that the Core i5 chip misses out on this useful speed-boosting technology, especially as it’s present on the cheaper Core i3 models, so wouldn’t appear to add anything to the cost of manufacturing a processor. It’s possible Hyper-Threading is simply disabled on these models in order to give you a reason to buy a chip from the more expensive Core i7 range.

PROCESSOR CACHE

Finally, we come to processor cache. This is a small section of memory built into the processor that stores copies of data present in the main system RAM. It takes much less time for a processor to grab data from this cache, so the time it takes to process that data is reduced. A larger cache means the chip will need to grab data from the PC’s slower RAM less frequently, leading to faster performance.

Intel Skylake

The slowest Core i3 chips have 3MB, faster i3 models have 4MB, while all Core i5 processors have 6MB and Core i7s get 8MB. As the Core i7 chips also have Hyper-Threading, it’s hard to test how much of their extra performance over i5 models is down to the extra cache. Cache shouldn’t be as much of a factor in your buying decision as the other aspects we have discussed, but be assured that even the lowest Core i3 models have the same amount of cache per core as the Core i5s, so none of the processor ranges are crippled in this regard.

LETTERS AND SUFFIXES

Some Intel desktop chips have suffixes, such as K, T or P. These special models have different characteristics than the stock versions. K denotes an unlocked clock multiplier, so if you have a compatible motherboard you can easily overclock the chip, raising its clock speed significantly for a serious speed increase. Overclocking can cause system instability and even damage your components, so should be approached with caution. An overclocked processor will generate an awful lot of heat, so you’ll also need a decent third-party processor cooler to see any kind of decent stable overclock.

T-suffix processors have lower clock speeds but also lower power requirements, and so are better for the planet and easier to keep cool. An example is the Core i3-6300T, which is clocked 500MHz slower than the i3-6300 but has a 35W rather than 51W power draw. You’ll typically find these inside smaller form-factor PCs such as all-in-ones.

Finally, there are a couple of chips with a P suffix. These have lower-specification integrated graphics than other Skylake chips, with Intel HD Graphics 510 rather than HD Graphics 530 chipsets. The 510 chipsets have half the ‘Execution Units’ of the 530, leading to far slower performance. If you’re going to buy or build a system with a dedicated AMD or Nvidia graphics card anyway, the lower-spec graphics won’t make any difference to how well games run.

CHOOSING A PROCESSOR FOR GAMING

If you’re going to play games at any kind of decent detail level, you should certainly buy a dedicated graphics card, but the choice of processor will also make a difference. You don’t want your enthusiast GPU to be hobbled by a slow CPU, after all. You don’t need to go overboard, though.

For example, you usually won’t gain much by choosing a Core i7 chip over a Core i5, as Hyper-Threading makes little difference in most games. Even complicated titles such as Battlefield 4 only really take advantage of four cores, so the extra four virtual cores Hyper-Threading provides won’t be much use. There are exceptions, though. The latest Total War games appear to benefit from a Core i7’s power due to the sheer number of units interacting with each other on the battlefield.

If you’re buying a desktop processor to play games, and aren’t into hugely epic strategy titles, we say get a quad-core Core i5, and preferably the top-spec Core i5-6600K. If you ever find this processor is holding you back, you can always overclock it to 4GHz and beyond.

WHICH PROCESSOR SHOULD YOU CHOOSE?

You should now be armed with enough information to make a proper choice about what sort of processor you need. Below are the three latest-generation Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors we’ve reviewed.

Intel Core i3-6100

Coming in at under £100, the i3-6100 is a great chip for low-end desktop builds that will mainly be used for word processing and web browsing work. It’s capable of some decent single-core performances, too.

Intel Core i5-6600K

Rather more expensive at around £200, the i5-6600K is a great all-arounder that’s ripe for overclocking, which makes it an excellent choice for gamers building a custom rig. It doesn’t ship with a cooler, though, and if you’re going to be overclocking you’ll want to buy a fairly serious piece of kit to keep temperatures low. If you’re not looking to overclock and want something a bit cheaper, the i5-6400 is a great alternative and comes with a cooler.

Intel Core i7-6700K

The big daddy of Intel’s Skylake line, the i7-6700K is a great processor for those who have high-end multimedia workloads (such as game streaming and video editing), or who just want to show off. It has overclocking ability, and you’ll need to buy a separate cooler for it. As discussed above, if you’re going to just be gaming, a Core i5 is a much better value bet.

LAPTOPS

Surface Book processor

Things get a little more complicated in the world of Intel’s laptop chips. For example, gone is the neat distinction between two-core i3s and four-core i5s, with a smattering of twin-core chips across Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 ranges. Here’s a breakdown:

The advantages of multiple cores, Turbo Boost, Hyper-Threading and a larger cache are the same for laptop as for desktop processors, so for details see the Desktop Processors page of this article.

INTEL LAPTOP PROCESSOR BASICS

Let’s start with the easy stuff. All Core i3 chips have two cores, and none have Turbo Boost to increase their clock speed dynamically. All laptop Core i3 chips also have Hyper-Threading, so your operating system will see two physical and two virtual processor cores for a performance boost in certain situations. Meanwhile, all Core i5 and Core i7 chips have Turbo Boost.

It then starts to get confusing. Some Core i5 and some Core i7 processors have two rather than four cores. Hyper-threading is present on all Core i7 chips but only on twin-core i5 models. Finally, all Core i3 chips have 3MB cache, some twin-core i5 chips have 3MB and some have 4MB, while i7s have either 6MB or 8MB.

Frankly, it’s a mess, and that’s before we get into graphics chipsets (below). To make a buying decision, you’re first going to have to go through a process of elimination. First, decide if a Core i3 processor will be powerful enough for you. You get twin cores and Hyper-Threading, so web browsing, office work and some light multitasking will be possible, but having only two physical cores and no Turbo Boost means you can forget about doing anything massively intensive, like rendering video.

LAPTOP

Core i3

Core i5

Core i7

No. of cores

2

2-4

2-4

Frequency range

2.3-2.7GHz

1.8-3.1GHz

2.2-3.3GHz

Turbo Boost

No

Yes

Yes

Hyper-Threading

Yes

Two-core chips only

Yes

Cache

3MB

3-6MB

4-8MB

DUAL-CORE INTEL LAPTOP CHIPS

This leaves a slew of twin- and quad-core Core i5 and Core i7 chips to worry about. Fortunately, there’s a way to clear up some of the confusion at a stroke: look for the U suffix (i5-6300U, i7-6500U, for example). This denotes a low-voltage chip, and all such processors have two cores. They also draw far less power than laptop processors without a U suffix, so are often found in ultra-portable laptops where battery life is paramount. If having a long-lasting battery matters more to you than outright power, a U chip could be right for you.

This raises another question: should you get a Core i5-U chip or a Core i7-U model? Both types have two cores, Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading. The key difference is that low-voltage Core i7 chips can generally Turbo Boost to higher frequencies than Core i5 models, so are faster overall. Also, all Core i7-U chips have 4MB cache, while the lower-end Core i5-6200U and i5-6300U have only 3MB, which will have a performance impact.

QUAD-CORE INTEL LAPTOP CHIPS

If you need a powerful, quad-core processor, there are quad-core chips with the ‘HQ’ suffix. The Core i5-6300HQ, i5-6350HQ and i5-6440HQ all have four cores, 6MB cache and Turbo Boost. The i5-6440HQ has the fastest clock speed, at 2.6GHz stock and 3.5GHz Boost, while the 6300HQ and 6350HQ have identical clock speeds but the 6350 has fancier ‘Iris’ graphics – more on that below.

Dell XPS 15 5

The Dell XPS 15 comes with Intel Core HQ-suffixed i5 and i7 processors

Even better, if you need the most powerful laptop possible, you need one of the quad-core Core i7-HQ models, as four physical cores, plus another four virtual cores thanks to Hyper-Threading, and Turbo Boost will give you some seriously impressive performance. You could also go wild and pick up a laptop with an i7-6820HK processor, which has an unlocked multiplier and will allow you to overclock the chip in your laptop’s BIOS.

MSI Dragon

The MSI Dragon’s processor can be overclocked

INTEL HD AND IRIS GRAPHICS

If you’re planning on playing games on your new laptop, you should buy one with a dedicated graphics card. If you don’t want to do that, and still want to have some fun with less-demanding titles, you’ll need to think about the graphics chipset your laptop processor provides. The most powerful Intel graphics chipset goes by the name of Iris, so if you want to play at decent detail levels you should look for a processor with Intel Iris 540, 550 or 580 graphics. You’ll also find some processors with Intel HD Graphics 520 and 530 chipsets, which aren’t as powerful as Iris. We’ve summarised the various chipsets in the table below.

GRAPHICS

HD 520

HD 530

Iris 540

Iris 550

Iris Pro 580

Execution Units

24

24

48

48

72

Core speed

300MHz

350MHz

300MHz

300MHz

350MHz

Boost speed

1-1.05GHz

900-1.05GHz

950-1.05GHz

1-1.1GHz

900-1.05GHz

As you can see, base clock speeds vary between chipsets, and Boost speeds vary between individual processors. However, the clock speeds are nowhere near as important to 3D performance as the number of Execution Units. For example, depending on the game, the Iris 540’s 48 Execution Units can provide around 35% more performance than the HD 520 chipset’s 24.

IN SUMMARY

Intel’s processor line-up is far from simple. Desktop chips are perhaps more logical than laptop processors, but for both you should look beyond the Core i branding and check number of cores, clock speed and Hyper-Threading to truly understand what sort of power you should be expecting.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/J4Ryhs)

D-Link AC1900 Wi-Fi USB Adapter (DWA-192) review

PROS
  • Portable, high-speed AC1900 Wi-Fi adapter
  • Easy USB-based connection
  • Good overall Wi-Fi speeds
  • Decent range
CONS
  • Fairly bulky adapter
  • Can’t match PC card for Wi-Fi speed
  • Requires cable
KEY FEATURES
  • USB 3.0 interface
  • Up to AC1900 speeds
  • triple internal antennae
  • LED On/Off button
  • WPS button
  • Dimensions: 80 x 80 76mm
  • Manufacturer: D-Link

WHAT IS THE D-LINK AC1900 WI-FI USB ADAPTER?

Wi-Fi has been transformed in the past couple of years by the arrival of the AC standard and its fastest iteration, AC1900. But despite AC1900 routers having been around for a while, the number of devices that can connect to the standard at full speed is still very low.

Few devices – phones and laptops, for example – come with it built in, while the number of separate AC1900 receivers has been minimal. For the longest time, the Asus PCE-AC68 was the only AC1900 receiver available; it’s a PC expansion card, however, so is useless for laptop users.

Enter the D-Link AC1900 Wi-Fi USB adapter (DWA-192). This is an AC1900 Wi-Fi receiver that uses a far more portable and convenient USB 3.0 connection to pass on its super-fast Wi-Fi abilities.

DESIGN AND FEATURES

Since AC1900 wireless requires three antennae, there’s a limit to how compact a receiver can actually be. Sure enough, the DWA-192 is fairly substantial compared to typical USB Wi-Fi receivers, which are the size of a USB memory stick.

Spherical in form, it has a diameter of 80mm. This means it’s neither pocketable, nor the most convenient shape to throw in a bag. Plus there’s the metre-long USB 3.0 cable to consider too. So while this D-Link adapter is certainly more convenient than a PC expansion card, it isn’t the sort of thing you’re likely to want to carry around, or accompany your slim and light laptop.

D-Link AC1900 WiFi USB Adapter (DWA-192)

Despite its shape, it isn’t easily rolled over – whether via the cable or from being knocked – thanks to a flattened bottom and small ring of grippy rubber.

It’s a sturdy little thing. Spheres are inherently robust anyway, but since the D-Link is made of fairly thick plastic, there’s no give in the panels or hint of weakness in general. Likewise, the cable is nice and thick, so should withstand a bit of punishment.

Features-wise, there’s little to the DWA-192. Alongside the USB 3.0 socket for the cable (you can of course substitute your own cable), there’s a WPS button for quickly and easily connecting the adapter to WPS-compatible routers. On the other side is a button for turning off the illuminated strip that bisects the sphere, which indicates the status of the receiver and its connection.

In terms of Wi-Fi features, it’s a dual-band setup that gets you up to AC1900 speeds. This means you can simultaneously get up to 1,300Mbps using the 5GHz band and up to 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band.

As per AC Wi-Fi specs, it’s also able to perform beamforming, which improves range by having the receiver combine its three antennae to direct its signal to the router – and vice versa.

If you’re connecting to an older network, the receiver is also fully backwards compatible with all previous Wi-Fi standards – although, obviously, maximum throughput will be reduced.

As well as providing the speed boost of AC1900, the DWA-192 may also improve Wi-Fi range for some devices. This is thanks to a more powerful antennae array. Again, this applies even if the network to which it’s connecting is of an older standard.

D-Link AC1900 WiFi USB Adapter (DWA-192)

SETUP AND INSTALLATION

The DWA-192 is a doddle to install, although, as with many USB devices, you’ll have to install the driver before plugging in the device to ensure it works properly. A mini-CD with the driver on it is provided, but if it’s an option then you’re better off downloading the latest version from the D-Link website – assuming you have another means of connecting to the internet.

Once installed, the adapter is simply plug-and-play, so you’ll be up and running in a few seconds. Note that if using the DWA-192 on a machine that already has a Wi-Fi adapter, you’ll have to double-check which adapter you’re connecting with, or else turn off the other one.

PERFORMANCE

Given the lack of alternative AC1900 adapters on the market, the natural comparison for the DWA-192 is the Asus PCE-AC68. I pitted the two against each other using the same test scenarios that I use for testing routers.

The test PC is connected to the router only 1m away with direct line of sight; then 5m away with two, single-thickness brick walls in between; and, finally, to around 7m away with the PC now upstairs and a further wall away.

The DWA-192 put in a good performance, certainly showing the potential of AC1900 – but it couldn’t match the Asus PCE-AC68. Starting off with the 5GHz band, the Asus PCE-AC68 could hit 80.6MB/sec, while the D-Link DWA-192 managed 63.4MB/sec. Both are very fast, but there’s a clear difference between the two.

At 5m, the proportional difference remained about the same, with the Asus PCE-AC68 hitting 43.1MB/sec and the D-Link DWA-192 topping out at 33.2MB/sec. Finally, at the furthest test the two managed 31.4MB/sec and 24.3MB/sec respectively.

All told, it isn’t surprising that the Asus outdid the D-Link, given it’s a much larger unit with three, 16cm-long aerials. And besides, the latter actually delivered impressive numbers overall, easily proving the worth of investing in an AC1900 Wi-Fi adapter.

D-Link AC1900 WiFi USB Adapter (DWA-192)

This is highlighted when we switch to the 2.4GHz band, where the numbers drop massively. Both the D-Link DWA-192 and Asus PCE-AC68 max out at below 20MB/sec in the 1m test, while this steadily drops off to around 10MB/sec in the furthest test.

However, it’s worth noting that I experienced some serious inconsistencies during the 2.4GHz tests.

In the past, I had found that in use the Asus PCE-AC68 would sometimes take a long time to initialise a file transfer – but here, the problem was extreme. It would take tens of seconds to start even on the closest-range test; moving the equipment further away increased this time to minutes.

Meanwhile, the D-Link DWA-192 was absolutely rock-solid in the close-range test, but then I couldn’t even see the 2.4GHz SSID for the longer-range tests with this adapter.

As such, I’ve not included full test data for my 2.4GHz bands in this review, although I’ll continue testing until I’ve nailed down the cause and achieved some consistent results. Suffice to say, mileage will vary and I certainly don’t expect this to be representative of the experience most users will have. I’ll update this review once a solution has been found.

D-Link AC1900 WiFi USB Adapter (DWA-192)

SHOULD I BUY THE D-LINK AC1900 WI-FI USB ADAPTER?

If you’re stuck relying on your PC’s Wi-Fi connection, or you simply must have the latest and fastest Wi-Fi for your laptop, then the D-Link AC1900 Wi-Fi USB Adapter is a great option. It’s nearly as fast as a dedicated PC expansion card adapter, yet it’s far more portable and versatile.

However, it’s quite a large unit and requires a cable, so doesn’t offer the most practical solution for those who regularly move around while connected to their Wi-Fi.

Not everyone will truly need the sort of speed on offer here – most modern, built-in Wi-Fi adapters are plenty fast enough for streaming HD video and the like. But if you’re regularly moving around large files, or you’re in a location that’s straining the range of your built-in adapter, then the D-Link DWA-192 is a reasonably priced upgrade.

VERDICT

Not everyone truly needs the lightning-fast speeds of AC1900 Wi-Fi, but if you do then the D-Link AC1900 Wi-Fi USB Adapter is one of the more convenient and sensibly priced ways to get it.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/OEPC47)

Yamaha SRT-700 review

PROS
  • Clutter-free design
  • Weighty, well-controlled bass
  • Clear dialogue reproduction
CONS
  • No MusicCast or HDMI inputs
  • Sound lacks refinement
KEY FEATURES
  • Two 4 x 10cm full-range drivers and dual 3-inch subwoofers
  • 120W power output
  • Bluetooth
  • Air Surround Xtreme, Bass Extension and Clear Voice
  • Home Theater Controller app
  • Manufacturer: Yamaha UK

WHAT IS THE YAMAHA SRT-700?

The SRT-700 is Yamaha’s smallest and most affordable soundbase. It’s designed to support TVs up to 42-inches. Positioned below the larger SRT-1500 (£479/$718), the SRT-700 is an ideal way to upgrade the sound quality of your TV while keeping clutter to a minimum.

DESIGN AND CONNECTIONS

The rule of thumb for a soundbase is that it should be heard but not seen, and the SRT-700 does a decent job of blending in. It comes in black or silver, allowing you to match it to your TV, while the clean, minimal front panel sports only a few buttons and lights.

Yamaha SRT-700

Most of the front-end is taken up by the speaker mesh; the rest is fashioned from snazzy silver plastic. The main body boasts a hairline finish that looks nice but can be scratched if you drag your TV around on it. It’s well made but lacks the luxurious air of a Canton or Sony soundbase.

Yamaha SRT-700

There’s no display panel on the front – instead, a row of lights keeps you informed of the SRT-700’s status. They light up in different combinations when you select a sound mode, and illuminate from left to right to indicate the volume level. It’s fine in principle, but from the sofa it’s difficult to see what the lights refer to. Buttons include volume, mute, standby and input selection.

The SRT-700 supports TVs up to 30kg in weight. Its top surface measures 546mm wide by 300mm deep, which isn’t huge, so you definitely won’t get away with anything bigger than 42-inches. Awkwardly shaped stands with overhanging edges are also a no-no.

Yamaha SRT-700

Rear socketry has a distinctly budget flavour. You’ll find optical, coaxial and 3.5mm analogue inputs, but that’s your lot. There are no HDMI inputs or RCA sockets, and no USB port either.

But there’s a pleasing simplicity about that – just connect your TV’s optical output and let the SRT-700 play whatever you watch. The inclusion of a coaxial input lets you hook up a Blu-ray deck separately if you wish, and built-in Bluetooth makes it easy to stream music from a smartphone – although it isn’t apt-X compatible.

FEATURES

Yamaha normally crams its systems with every feature under the sun, but the affordable SRT-700 is more modestly specced. The lack of Wi-Fi means no MusicCast support, which might deter buyers who want to link it with other Yamaha multiroom speakers.

There are several sound modes to play with, including Air Surround Xtreme, which applies a surround effect to two-channel material. Meanwhile, Bass Extension improves low frequencies and Clear Voice makes dialogue easier to hear by boosting the mid-range. These can be turned on and off using dedicated buttons on the remote.

Yamaha SRT-700

The two-way SRT-700 is equipped with two, 4 x 10cm full-range driver cones on the front, and dual 3-inch subwoofers on the bottom, channelling air through rear bass reflex ports. On-board power is quoted as 120W – that’s 30W to both drivers and 60W to the subs.

SETUP & OPERATION

The single-cable installation is a piece of cake and the compact remote is a pleasure to use. Its rubber keys are responsive and well labelled, and I like how each input and sound mode has its own button – you don’t have to toggle through them all to find the one you want.

Yamaha SRT-700

The movie’s relentless action is a great showcase for bass performance, and the SRT-700 is more than up to the task. Explosions and blaster shots are underpinned by rich, low frequencies, while star destroyers sound huge as they rumble overhead. But what’s most impressive is how tightly the Yamaha controls its bass output, keeping a lid on booming during even the most frantic scenes – provided you don’t push the sub volume too high.

Elsewhere, the SRT-700’s sonic voice is lively and attacking, lending an instant sense of excitement. It flirts with brightness at times, particularly with the volume up high, but shows admirable poise in the mid-range and treble for a budget soundbase. As a result, the crackle of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber and roaring tie fighters sound terrific.

Yamaha SRT-700

The Yamaha glosses over the finest details and a little more refinement wouldn’t go amiss, but casual listeners will be happy with the Yamaha’s crisp, airy presentation. Switch from Stereo to Surround and you can feel the soundstage widen slightly, although it isn’t the 7.1 effect described in the manual.

Perhaps the SRT-700’s greatest strength is dialogue reproduction. Snoke’s voice is weighty and focused, but with a lovely husky growl. And unlike some soundbases, it stays audible at lower volumes, particularly with Clear Voice activated. This is an excellent mode if you do a lot of late-night TV viewing. In fact, the SRT-700 is a brilliant TV performer full-stop, using its bass depth and mid-range clarity to make BBC’s Undercover even more dramatic.

The SRT-700 makes a decent music player, too, ideal for day-to-day background listening. MP3s streamed from a smartphone over Bluetooth sound well balanced and full-bodied, with plenty of energy and attack. The subs don’t lose their grip on busy drums and basslines, while the clear treble adds openness.

Yamaha SRT-700

SHOULD I BUY THE YAMAHA SRT-700?

It’s not the most sophisticated or feature-packed soundbase around, but the SRT-700 is still worth checking out if you want a simple speaker upgrade for your 42-inch TV.

Despite its smaller size, the Yamaha delivers a surprisingly big, bass-heavy sound with plenty of detail and outstanding speech reproduction. It lacks refinement, but that’s hardly surprising for an affordable soundbase such as this. On the whole it does a great job with movies, TV and music, making them sound ten times as good as any TV – and that’s the bottom line for most buyers.

Even better news is that some online retailers are now selling it for as little as £149/$223 – half the £300/$450 RRP – which is an absolute steal for such an impressive performer. Snap one up today.

VERDICT

Features and sockets may be limited, but the SRT-700’s impressive performance makes it worth investigating – particularly if you take advantage of some big online discounts.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/i6f0pe)

2016 Ford Focus RS vs. 2015 Subaru WRX STI, 2016 Volkswagen Golf R – Comparison Tests

Europe gave us the hot hatchback and so we wanted to return the favor, choosing the Continent for our first comparison of the eagerly awaited Ford Focus RS. We took a car from the media launch in Valencia, Spain, and headed over the border to France, enabling us to use both Michelin’s test track at Salon-de-Provence and some of the region’s more spectacular mountain roads. This is where we find out if this four-wheel-drive superhero can possibly live up to the hype that’s been heaped on its bulging shoulders.

This is also a welcome chance to confirm many of the stereotypes we hold so dear about France and the French, none of which is truer than the national characteristic for double standards. This is the European country that whines loudest about American cultural imperialism, yet every McDonald’s franchise here is packed six deep. And during our visit, it was reported that the former French ­government minister responsible for fighting tax evasion had just gone on trial for tax evasion. Yet perhaps the greatest proof of Gallic hypocrisy came in the warmth of the ­welcome we received and the polite interest that the natives, most of whom drive underpowered diesels, expressed in our relatively exotic trio. What has happened to France’s fabled snobbishness?

On paper, the RS arrives with a clear advantage. Its 2.3-liter engine, based on the one in the Mustang EcoBoost, is tuned to deliver 350 horsepower. It sends this effort roadward through a transmission system smart enough to have earned its own doctorate, with separate electronically controlled clutches distributing torque to each rear wheel. At $36,605 before options, it’s more than twice the price of a basic Focus S sedan. And although standard equipment includes a touchscreen interface, Recaro sport seats, and keyless entry, there’s still plenty of potential to add to that. Our car emerged from the calculator at $40,085 as tested.

Ridiculous, maybe, but that’s what you have to spend in this segment. The Volkswagen Golf R costs an almost identical $36,470 in base four-door manual form, and $40,010 with options. With a 292-hp version of Volkswagen’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four, it’s down on power compared with the RS and has a less advanced Haldex four-wheel-drive system that can’t match the Ford’s clever torque biasing. The R is the only car here available with an automatic option—Volkswagen’s familiar six-speed dual-clutch DSG—but resisting it, as we would urge you to, saves $1100 and 80 pounds.

Finally, an outlier: the Subaru WRX STI, distinguished from the others by the fact that it’s a sedan rather than a hatchback, and because Subaru has somehow managed to supply us with a U.S.-spec car on Illinois dealer tags. With no front license plate of any kind, it should make any encounter with les gendarmes interesting. The WRX shares the same mechanical ­layout that Subaru has championed for decades, as if it were presented to them by the Almighty on carved tablets. A turbocharged flat-four supplies power to all ­corners through a center differential with front-to-rear adjustable torque bias on the STI, and with limited-slip diffs at each end. For $35,490 to start, it’s slightly cheaper than the others, but a comprehensive options workout makes it the priciest car here when ­sampled, as they say in France, a la carte.

The Haute and the Hatch

France is the home of gastronomy, so while in Provence we sampled some of the local cuisine:

• McDonald’s, Salon-de-Provence

McDonald’s corporate standards trump nationalistic fashion sense. Both the sommelier/cashier and the bustling maitre d’ wear the team uniform: garish top, black pants a few inches too short, black shoes, white socks. The sommelier recommends the Coke Light, vintage unknown. Fondue and mushrooms on the “American Winter” menu suggest a limited understanding of U.S. dining customs.

• Presto Pizza, Salon-de-Provence

Recommended to us by the fact that it is open late. The proprietor resembles Tony Danza and has sired at least 50 percent of his staff. Language difficulties mean we aren’t entirely sure what we order—cheval and langue de boeufsounded particularly delicious.

• Boulangerie, Patisserie Banette Mazan, Mazan

France’s restaurants are all fermé for Sunday lunch. The entire remaining stock of this small bakery consists of a single sausage roll served au froid avec hauteur.

• McDonald’s, Salon-de-Provence (again)

Our fare the first time was suspiciously edible, so we returned unannounced. We try the burger fromage pané et fondant and the McWrap fromage pané. The former is a fried cheese log on a bun; the latter is a cheese log in a wrap. Not even French McDonald’s does cheese logs to equal our gold standard, Sysco. Attempts to order a Royale with Cheese are met with blank stares, as is our inquiry, “English, motherfker! Do you speak it?!”

2015 Subaru WRX STI

THIRD PLACE: FRENCH BULLDOGS.

2016 Ford Focus RS vs. 2015 Subaru WRX STI, 2016 Volkswagen Golf R

You’re more likely to meet a French vegetarian than a European Subaru. Last year, the brand sold just 41,000 cars across the entire continent, fewer than it moves in a typical month on the American side of the Atlantic. Strange, then, that the STI seemed to be recognized pretty much everywhere we took it. One middle-aged lady working in a gas station successfully identified it after hearing no more than its flat-four burble: “C’est un Subaru?” A function, we presume, of conducting this test in what is very much rally country, with one of our chosen roads, the spectacularroute des gorges de la Nesque and its vertiginous drops, frequently serving as a special stage.

Yet the Subaru proved to have no advantage on what should be its favored terrain, feeling very much like the odd one out in this company, and not just because of its three-box design. To be ­honest, it felt outmatched by these polished hatches. It’s a point brutally made by poor road surfaces. Following the STI in the Golf R produced the odd sensation of experiencing the Subaru’s crashy ride by proxy, wincing in sympathy as it rode over crested surfaces with all the composure of a French military retreat. The Golf would read that same road as smooth just a couple of seconds later.

It’s loud and rough and generally uncouth, but the STI is basically just as quick as the more powerful Ford Focus RS.

Subaru has stuck to a formula that has served it well; if you’ve driven one of the company’s turbocharged products in the last 20 years, the STI feels instantly familiar. Worked hard, it is impressively quick, the 4.7-second zero-to-60-mph time just a tenth of a second behind the Focus RS. And the Subaru is faster to 100 mph and ties the Ford’s 13.4-second quarter-mile time. But you have to dig for those numbers. At low revs, the engine is lethargic and there’s a noticeable pause as boost builds—a lack of flexibility evinced by the difference between its zero-to-60-mph and 5-to-60-mph jaunts, which is double the differences of its rivals.

The rest of the driving experience is complementary, meaning somehow harder than it should be. Besides the punishing ride, there’s also the handling. We’ve never noticed the STI understeering before, but against the Velcro Focus and the agile Golf, it felt distinctly front-end loose with no sense of power-on adjustability, even with the center differential instructed to send the majority of torque rearward. At the limit, the STI seemed to give up early, running surprisingly wide at lower speeds. You can travel quickly in the Subaru, but it’s never a relaxing journey.

And just look at the thing. Subaru is long overdue for a handsome car, and the STI is not it. The body’s lines and creases seem to have been added almost at random, as if styling were coordinated via conference call on a bad line on a Friday before a holiday. The interior feels low-rent in this company, especially against the Golf, with cheap-feeling materials and mismatched fonts and varying brightness levels in the different display screens. Were it substantially cheaper than its rivals, we could forgive many of its foibles, but its optioned price is the highest here. Time has moved on; the STI has not.

2016 Volkswagen Golf R

SECOND PLACE: FRENCH BULLDOGS.

2016 Ford Focus RS vs. 2015 Subaru WRX STI, 2016 Volkswagen Golf R

Believe the hype, and the Focus RS—hallowed be its name—should have destroyed the Golf R the way a flamethrower destroys a snowball. But it didn’t. Despite lacking 58 horsepower and a clever torque-splitting rear axle, the Volkswagen managed to run the Ford to a remarkably close finish on both the track and the road.

Acceleration numbers make the R the slowest car in this test, just above five seconds for the zero-to-60 sprint. But savings made on the other side of its power-to-weight atio mean the difference feels less than the raw numbers suggest. At 3292 pounds, the Volks­wagen is the lightest car here by 154 pounds; that difference is evident in the way the R stops, goes, and turns. It’s also worth noting that in a previous test, the dual-clutch version was actually quicker than the numbers we just recorded for the STI and Focus.

In terms of outright grip, the R’s peak 0.95 g was short of the Focus RS’s, but the two cars produce nearly identical speeds in the slalom, a measure of both the R’s agility and the confidence it instills in its driver. And on-road, the R delivers effortless pace. The engine responds with a ­linearity that puts a carpenter’s ruler to shame, pulling strongly from where the Subaru is still gasping in a boostless hinterland and carrying on all the way to the fuel cutoff. The 2.0’s flexibility means it feels at least as fast as the Focus at a real-world pace, heaving hard and not always needing a downshift to zing it into life. It doesn’t sound as good as the others, despite a bass-heavy soundtrack in the cabin that is partially delivered by one of those cheating electronic sound devices.

Though its measured grip levels aren’t as high as the RS’s, they’re still possibly too high. There’s little sense of being able to influence the R’s cornering attitude with the throttle pedal beyond reining it in when the front starts to run wide. It took the arrival of the sort of rain depicted in one of the gloomier Biblical passages to see the stability-control light illuminated.

The R is quick and nimble, with the adaptive chassis system on our test car delivering impressive compliance over broken surfaces in comfort mode and firming up noticeably in race mode. The control weights are less good, with the electrically assisted steering lacking resistance and the pedal and gearshift feeling too light in this company. Overall, this is an effortlessly cool high achiever, the sort that delivers without breaking a sweat. It’s Jason Statham as a hatchback.

Sorry, fans of 1990s’ car colors, the green paint seen here is not available on U.S.-market Golf Rs. Neither is the fabric upholstery.

The Golf also scores highly on the want-it scale. It looks less aggressive than the RS, but its sculpted flanks and crisp lines ­gratify like good architecture. Inside, you’ll find the best-looking and nicest-feeling cabin materials. Wolfsburg supplied this press demonstrator fully optioned, including various bits of carbon trim and a shade of paint that—in light of Dieselgate—we dubbed We’re Trying Really Hard To Be Green. Despite near price parity with the STI and RS, both unadorned and as tested, the R feels like the classiest car here by a comfortable margin. For many, that will be the deciding factor.

2016 Ford Focus RS

FIRST PLACE: FRENCH BULLDOGS.

2016 Ford Focus RS vs. 2015 Subaru WRX STI, 2016 Volkswagen Golf R

But not for us. Let’s start with the criticism, which won’t detain us for long. Until you start to drive the Focus RS hard, it doesn’t feel much different from the far-cheaper ST. Yes, its body kit is slightly chunkier, its air intakes are larger, and the rear wing is wingier. But apart from some blue-tinted instruments and overly affectionate sport seats, the cabin feels identical to that of its cut-price sister. And, indeed, identical to the $18,000 base model, with grainy plastics and a dashboard layout that seems designed around a requirement to maximize button density per square inch.

Okay, that’s it for the gripes. Start to drive the RS and complaints diminish to the scale of French deodorant sales. No, the engine isn’t as linear as the Golf’s (although top-gear acceleration times are very similar), but the Ford feels brawnier and more exciting, sounding nicer and delivering a fusillade of exhaust pops and bangs on the overrun. While the Focus didn’t boast the test-track advantage its power output suggests it should have—we suspect the Subaru’s rated horses are very muscular ones—it did record the fastest zero-to-60 time here, albeit by just a tenth of a second. And it remains hard to criticize a hatchback that can turn in a 13.4-second quarter-mile.

Dynamically, the RS is in a different league than the others, maybe even playing a different sport. It’s far more exciting than the staid Golf and much more polished than the brutish STI. And this isn’t just because of that trick rear axle; it’s evident in practically every detail, from the crisp communication of the steering to the predictable weight of the gearshift to the resistance of the brake pedal.

The torque-shuffling back end builds on this. As we’ve said before, Drift Mode—the setting you select to make you Ken Block—remains little more than an amusing gimmick; it took us less than five minutes of on-track hooning to overheat a tire to disintegration, and, as an indication of where the powertrain sends most of its torque, it was the outside front that melted. (It took a guy six hours to reach us with a replacement tire; sorry, Ford.)

The clutched rear axle is effectively a supplemental driving aid, one that works extremely well at eliminating understeer in real-world driving. Power into a turn and, as the front starts to run out of grip, torque heads to the outside-rear wheel to coax the RS back onto its intended line.

The result isn’t smoking oversteer; rather, the sensation is of the RS being keener to turn as the power­train works to maximize both grip and control but without permitting a serious slide. Proof of how good the system is comes from how little you notice its intervention beyond reduced steering effort on a twisty road, your right foot taking instinctive control of much of the directional input.

The Focus RS’s interior is no great shakes, and Drift Mode is a silly gimmick. But the RS is every bit as exhilarating to drive as we hoped it would be.

The Ford can be civilized, too, far more so than its wayward RS predecessors. It cruises quietly and comfortably, gets decent fuel economy, and is every bit as easy to operate as its more basic sisters. The firmer mode of the switchable dampers is too harsh for street use, but the standard setting has more than enough bandwidth to deal with anything short of track abuse. It’s genuinely hard to find anything to dislike. No question, this has become the performance hatchback to beat.

Final Scoring, Performance Data, and Complete Specs

THE FOCUS RS MEETS ITS RIVALS FOR A BACK-ROAD RENDEZVOUS IN PROVENCE.

VEHICLE
2016 Ford Focus RS
2015 Subaru WRX STI
2016 Volkswagen Golf R
BASE PRICE $36,605 $35,490 $36,470
PRICE AS TESTED $40,085 $40,790 $40,010
DIMENSIONS
LENGTH 172.8 inches 180.9 inches 168.4 inches
WIDTH 71.8 inches 70.7 inches 70.8 inches
HEIGHT 58.0 inches 58.1 inches 56.5 inches
WHEELBASE 104.2 inches 104.3 inches 103.5 inches
FRONT TRACK 61.6 inches 60.2 inches 60.7 inches
REAR TRACK 60.6 inches 60.6 inches 59.7 inches
INTERIOR VOLUME F: 53 cubic feet
R: 38 cubic feet
F: 52 cubic feet
R: 41 cubic feet
F: 51 cubic feet
R: 42 cubic feet
CARGO 20 cubic feet 12 cubic feet 23 cubic feet

POWERTRAIN
ENGINE turbocharged DOHC 16-valve inline-4
138 cu in (2261 cc)
turbocharged DOHC 16-valve flat-4
150 cu in (2457 cc)
turbocharged DOHC 16-valve inline-4
121 cu in (1984 cc)
POWER HP @ RPM 350 @ 6000 305 @ 6000 292 @ 5400
TORQUE LB-FT @ RPM 350 @ 3200 290 @ 4000 280 @ 1800
REDLINE / FUEL CUTOFF 6500 / 6600 rpm 6700 / 6700 rpm 6500 / 6800 rpm
LB PER HP 9.9 11.3 11.3
DRIVELINE
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual 6-speed manual 6-speed manual
DRIVEN WHEELS all all all
GEAR RATIO:1/
MPH PER 1000 RPM/
MAX MPH
1 3.23/5.9/39
2 1.95/9.6/64
3 1.32/14.0/93
4 1.03/17.8/118
5 1.13/23.0/152
6 0.94/27.2/165
1 3.64/5.3/35
2 2.24/8.5/57
3 1.52/12.5/84
4 1.14/16.5/111
5 0.97/19.5/129
6 0.76/25.6/159
1 3.36/5.2/36
2 2.09/8.5/58
3 1.48/11.9/81
4 1.09/16.3/111
5 1.10/20.7/137
6 0.91/24.9/153
AXLE RATIO:1 4.06, 2.96* 3.90 4.24, 3.27*

CHASSIS
SUSPENSION F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
BRAKES F: 13.8-inch vented disc
R: 11.9-inch disc
F: 12.8-inch vented disc
R: 12.4-inch vented disc
F: 13.4-inch vented disc
R: 12.2-inch vented disc
STABILITY CONTROL fully defeatable, competition mode, launch control fully defeatable, competition mode fully defeatable, competition mode
TIRES Michelin Pilot Super Sport
235/35ZR-19 (91Y)
Dunlop Sport Maxx RT
245/40R-18 97W
Bridgestone Potenza RE050A
235/35R-19 91Y

C/D TEST RESULTS
ACCELERATION
0–30 MPH 1.5 sec 1.4 sec 1.5 sec
0–60 MPH 4.6 sec 4.7 sec 5.1 sec
0–100 MPH 12.2 sec 12.0 sec 11.8 sec
0–110 MPH 14.4 sec 16.0 sec 15.3 sec
¼-MILE @ MPH 13.4 sec @ 105 13.4 sec @ 104 13.6 sec @ 105
ROLLING START, 5–60 MPH 5.7 sec 6.7 sec 6.1 sec
TOP GEAR, 30–50 MPH 7.6 sec 10.8 sec 7.3 sec
TOP GEAR, 50–70 MPH 6.0 sec 7.8 sec 5.9 sec
TOP SPEED 165 mph (gov ltd, mfr’s est) 159 mph (drag ltd) 153 mph (gov ltd)
CHASSIS
BRAKING 70–0 MPH 158 feet 159 feet 156 feet
ROADHOLDING,
200-FT-DIA SKIDPAD
0.98 g 0.90 g 0.95 g
610-FT SLALOM 43.6 mph 42.4 mph 43.5 mph
WEIGHT
CURB 3459 pounds 3456 pounds 3292 pounds
%FRONT/%REAR 59.4/40.6 58.4/41.6 58.8/41.2
FUEL
TANK 13.9 gallons 15.9 gallons 14.5 gallons
RATING 93 octane 91 octane 91 octane
EPA CITY/HWY 20/29 mpg† 17/23 mpg 22/31 mpg
C/D 200-MILE TRIP 18 mpg 16 mpg 19 mpg
SOUND LEVEL
IDLE 50 dBA 55 dBA 42 dBA
FULL THROTTLE 84 dBA 78 dBA 79 dBA
70-MPH CRUISE 72 dBA 73 dBA 71 dBA

*The first ratio for gears 1-4, the second ratio is for 5 and 6. †C/D est.

Final Results

VEHICLE
RANK
Max Pts. Available
1
2016 Ford Focus RS
2
2016 Volkswagen Golf R
3
2015 Subaru WRX STI
DRIVER COMFORT 10 8 9 6
ERGONOMICS 10 8 9 7
REAR-SEAT COMFORT 5 2 3 3
REAR-SEAT SPACE* 5 4 5 5
CARGO SPACE* 5 4 5 2
FEATURES/AMENITIES* 10 7 10 5
FIT AND FINISH 10 8 9 6
INTERIOR STYLING 10 8 8 6
EXTERIOR STYLING 10 9 8 7
REBATES/EXTRAS* 5 0 0 0
AS-TESTED PRICE* 20 20 20 20
SUBTOTAL 100 78 86 67

POWERTRAIN
1/4-MILE ACCELERATION* 20 20 19 20
FLEXIBILITY* 5 5 5 3
FUEL ECONOMY* 10 9 10 7
ENGINE NVH 10 9 7 7
TRANSMISSION 10 10 9 6
SUBTOTAL 55 53 50 43

CHASSIS
PERFORMANCE* 20 20 19 17
STEERING FEEL 10 9 7 8
BRAKE FEEL 10 8 7 8
HANDLING 10 10 8 7
RIDE 10 8 9 6
SUBTOTAL 60 55 50 46

EXPERIENCE
FUN TO DRIVE 25 25 21 20

GRAND TOTAL
240
211
207
176
 

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

(caranddriver.com)

Acer Chromebook 14 Hands-on Review

KEY FEATURES
  • 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3060
  • 2 or 4GB of RAM
  • Weight: 1.55kg
  • 13in 1,920 x 1,080 IPS or 1,366 x 768 TFT non-touch screen
  • 16 or 32GB Storage
  • Chrome OS
  • Manufacturer: Acer

Acer Chromebook 14 3

We go hands-on with Acer’s latest Chrombook

Acer is the world’s most popular manufacturer of Chromebooks. Last week, at its annual New York Next@Acer launch event, the company introduced several more devices to its lineup. The one device I was hoping to catch a glimpse of was the all-metal Chromebook 14; Acer delivered, and I’m pleased to say that I’m impressed.

The all-metal chassis has the feel of a MacBook Air, and although the majority of the components certainly aren’t at the grade of Apple’s super-thin laptop, the Acer Chromebook 14 feels sturdy nonetheless.

It weighs 1.55kg, which is definitely on the lighter side for a 14-inch device; it’s certainly slender enough to be slung into a bag and carried around all day.

The Acer’s keyboard is made from fairly cheap-feeling plastic, which doesn’t offer a huge amount of grip. The keys don’t have much travel, either, but their responsiveness and feel is decent. Overall, I found the typing experience to be more than acceptable.

Acer Chromebook 14 2

The touchpad, too, was excellent for a Chromebook. Gestures were deftly recognised, with two-fingered scrolling and pinch-to-zoom actions performed without delay. This can be a struggle on some cheap Chromebooks, but Acer appears to have nailed the budget touchpad with the Chromebook 14.

The Chromebook 14 will be available in two variations when it launches: one with a Full HD screen and another with a 1,366 x 768 panel. The Full HD display on the unit I tested looked extremely bright, with clear and well-formed whites and reasonable colour coverage. It isn’t a top-end screen by any stretch, but for a budget Chromebook I was impressed.

It should come as no surprise that this budget Chromebook is supplied with a low-power, dual-core Intel Celeron N3060 processor, with a base clock speed of 1.6GHz and a maximum burst speed of 2.48GHz. Celerons are steadily getting better, and I was satisfied with its handling of image- and ad-heavy web pages. Pages loaded quickly and were scrollable in only a couple of seconds.

Acer Chromebook 14

Quite how this setup will handle multiple tabs and web apps, however, is questionable; you’ll need to temper your expectations when working on the Chromebook 14. It will come with 4GB of RAM, while either 16GB or 32GB of eMMC storage will also be included.

Of course, the Chromebook 14 will run Chrome OS, which is an entirely different beast to Windows. If you’re not already familiar with using web-based applications, a Chromebook is a big leap to take.

Connectivity is in the form of two USB 3.0 ports on the left of the device, along with a full-sized HDMI port for connecting to an external monitor or TV.

Acer claims battery life will be 14 hours. Although I doubt that many users will achieve this figure with moderate use, I’m optimistic that the size of the chassis – more room for batteries – and the low-power processor will lead to an extremely frugal laptop that you can use all day.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Availability in the UK hasn’t yet been announced, but based on the US price of $249, the Chromebook 14 will cost somewhere in the region of £220/$330 in the UK for the base, non-Full-HD model.

Acer Chromebook 14 1

Its chances? Pretty good, I’d say. Build quality is solid and if the Full HD screen makes it to the UK, the Chromebook 14 will be one of the best budget Chromebooks out there.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/XRWhf4)

12 Amazon Kindle tips, tricks, and secret features

With the Kindle, Amazon has changed how we all read, and the new Amazon Kindle Oasis is mixing things up again. Gone are the days of lugging voluminous text books to lecture halls and a second suitcase of novels on that two week holiday you’ve so been looking forward to. It’s a whole library in your backpack or handbag and one that only needs charging every month or so.

It’s far more than just an e-ink display wrapped in a bit of plastic, though. As well as simply replacing your traditional, printed books, the Kindle hosts a number of additional features you might not have been aware of.

These features will sort you out with free books, let you borrow off your mates, and generally have a better all-round reading experience.

1. DOWNLOAD BOOKS FOR FREE

You know how you’ve always planned to read the classics but just never found the time? Well now there’s really no excuse to continue dodging Dickins or sidestepping Mark Twain, you can download them all without sending your bank balance back to Victorian times as Amazon’s giving them away for free.

tips 11

Searching these out on an individual basis can be a pretty laborious, and often hit-and-miss affair, so why not save yourself a bit of time by checking out the full collection of free Kindle books here. It’s not just the classics that won’t cost you either. With more than 8,000 free books on offer, Amazon is giving out reads to suit all tastes. And Amazon isn’t the only one. The Open Library lets you download and borrow millions of books without charge.

2. TAKE A SCREENGRAB

It’s not just your smartphone and laptop that let you take the hassle out of actually having to remember things – your Kindle’s in on the brain-saving game too, with the ability to let you take screen grabs. A handy addition for textbook revisers and cookbook inspirers, all Paperwhite, Voyage, and Oasis Kindles boast this feature, and it’s a lot easier than your PC’s Ctrl + Alt + PrtSc efforts.

Instead of a finding a button for every finger, just try pressing and holding on opposing corners of the screen simultaneously (such as top right and bottom left). Do it right and you should see the screen flash – like it’s changing pages. All your screengrabs are stored as .png files, and can be transferred by connecting your Kindle to a computer via micro USB.

3. HIGHLIGHT TEXT FOR EASIER REVISION

Sometimes a screengrab is overkill, and it’s just a snippet of a page you need to keep a record of. That’s where Highlights come in. The digital version of those fluorescent yellow pens we all used at school, these highlights make finding desired quotes and standout comments a doddle.

tips 15

Press and hold on the word where you want to start the highlight and then drag your finger, without removing it from the screen, to your desired end point. You’ll be presented with a range of options, including the ability to make notes or share your selection. Clicking ‘Highlight’ though will do just that, with all your highlights later available as individual bookmarks within a title.

4. GET COPIES OF YOUR PHYSICAL BOOKS WITH MATCHBOOK

New to the Kindle fold? Regretting splashing so much cash on physical books that you now want in digital form? Don’t worry about it, Amazon’s got your back with Matchbook, a service that lets you double up on your past physical purchases with cut price, and even free, price tags – assuming your device is registered in the US that is.

Matchbook looks at what physical books you’ve bought through Amazon in the past and – in some but not all cases – will then offer you a significant discount on snapping up a digital copy of the same title. If you’ve got to pay twice for the same book, at least you a get it a little cheaper.

5. SEND ONLINE ARTICLES FOR OFFLINE READING

There’s loads of ways to read online articles on your Kindle – heck there’s even an in-built browser – but one of the easiest, and probably our favourite, is Instapaper. A bookmarking service that runs across all of your devices, from iOS and Android to Mac and PC, Instapaper lets you set up your Kindle as a recipient device for all those online articles

Once you’ve chosen your Kindle as your desired go-to location for offline viewing (you can do this in the Instapaper settings on your phone), every time you bookmark an article it will be automatically pushed to your Kindle account – and any connected devices you have.

tips 17

6. MAKE YOUR KINDLE’S BATTERY LAST EVEN LONGER

It’s a simple and pretty obvious tip, sure, but it’s still worth repeating. If you’re not accessing the Kindle Store or trying to research a particularly complicated word, make sure your Kindle’s on Airplane Mode.

Yes your Kindle’s battery life already makes your smartphone and tablet look like ravenous power junkies, but why wouldn’t you want to add a couple of extra weeks between charges? That’s what reading on Airplane Mode will give you, and all without killing any of the essential reading ability. To enable, simply click the ‘Settings’ wheel and click the slider across to on.

tips 7

7. GET A CLEAN PAGE WITH EVERY TURN

E-ink displays like those found on your Kindle are great for displaying simple text and graphics without needing much in the way of power. As much as they’ve developed during the past 10 years of Kindle devices, however, they’re not the cleanest, with ghosted text often remaining as a faint imprint on the background of the screen, even after a page turn.

It doesn’t need to be that way though. Amazon offers a ‘Page Refresh’ option that completely wipes the screen each and every time you turn a page, as opposed to the standard six turns. You can enable it in Settings > Reading Options > Page Refresh, and while this might offer a cleaner, crisper reader experience, you can expect it to give your battery life a bit of a hit too.

tips 5

8. SHARE ALL YOUR BOOKS

Reading can be a pleasingly solitary experience. Sometimes a book’s just too good to keep to yourself though, and you want to share it with your friends and family so you can all revel in it. That’s where the Kindle Family Library comes into play.

To set up the Kindle Family Library, you’re going to want to go to ‘Manage Your Content and Devices’ on Amazon.com and sign in with your account. Here, from the ‘Settings’ tab, select ‘Invite Adult’ under the ‘Households and Family Library’ and get your desired chum or loved one to sign in with their account. That’s it, you’re now synced and can share your content as freely as you like.

With two adults and up to four kids able to sync their content simultaneously, the Kindle Family Library is great for group reads – it’s the modern day book club.

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9. SEND DOCUMENTS FROM YOUR DESKTOP

It’s not just online reads you can send to your Kindle, your pocket-friendly book replacement can also play nice with all manner of computer files, meaning you can use it to check and transport important documents. To do this, you’ll need to download Amazon’s ‘Send to Kindle’ software for either PC or Mac.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/sendtokindle/pc/ref=stk_mac_pc

Once this is installed on your computer and synced with your personal Kindle, you can transfer your desired files with ease. On the file you wish to transfer, under printing options, click ‘Send to Kindle’. With 10 different file types supported, including PDFs, Word docs, JPEGs, and even GIFs, transferred files will appear in your reading library for easy, anytime access.

10. USE YOUR KINDLE AS AN IPOD REPLACEMENT

Yet to update to the latest Kindle creations? Good, that means you’ve got a couple of hidden features that your more up-to-date contemporaries are missing, namely the ability to listen to audiobooks or use your eReader as an iPod replacement. Sorry Oasis owners, this one’s not for you.

You’ll need a pre-Paperwhite Kindle here, with earlier models featuring an inbuilt headphone jack or speaker. Once you’ve downloaded an audiobook or transferred some tracks by connecting to your PC, you’ll be able to select your audio content from your library and find a way to relax in the bath while giving your eyes a rest.

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11. PLAY MINESWEEPER

It’s time to kick it old school, and not just because everyone’s Windows 98 favourite is back and as addictive as ever. Again you’re going to want an older Kindle to access this hidden game – an early-generation model with a physical keyboard. When on the homescreen, pressing ALT+Shift+M simultaneously will launch the beloved bomb disposal game.

Now you can use the five-way controller to move your way around the e-ink grid, clicking to select which square to remove, hopefully in explosion-free fashion. Simple, yes, but it’s the perfect game for when you need a break from War and Peace but your smartphone’s battery has died just in time for your evening commute.

12. BOOST OR CUT BRIGHTNESS IN QUICK TIME

Whether you’re looking to boost or cut your Kindle’s brightness (Paperwhite, Voyage and Oasis only), tapping along those 24 levels of light power can be a bit tiresome. You don’t need to though, you can minimise the screen presses with a single, long press on the big and little suns.

Holding either the brighter or dimmer suns for a half second or so sees your backlight jump to full, or bottom brightness respectively – ideal for when you’re trying to fit in a few sneaky chapters in bed and you open your Kindle in full brightness, much to the irritation of your snoozing beau.

Which is your favourite Kindle? (%)
  • Amazon Kindle (2007) : 3
  • Kindle 3 (2010) : 17
  • Kindle Touch (2011) : 
  • Kindle Paperwhite (2012) : 15
  • Kindle Voyage (2014) : 25
  • Kindle Paperwhite 3 (2015) : 18
  • Kindle Oasis(2016) : 12
  • Other – Let us know in the comments : 6

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/SVKlon)

Sony KD-75XD9405 review

Verdict
  • Going all-out with compatibility and picture performance, Sony’s flagship is the one to beat
For
  • Generous smart offering
  • HDR compatibility
  • Sharp and stable 4K picture
  • Capable upscaler
  • Smooth motion handling
  • Nice design
Against
  • Nothing we can think of

Let’s cut to the chase: the daddy of Sony’s 2016 TV line-up is a movie lover’s dream come true.

The flagship KD-75XD9405 is a lounge-dominating 75in flat, LED back-lit TV that supports Ultra HD and HDR through streaming and physical formats, as well as active 3D. If that isn’t enough to lose you in AV-centric reverie, perhaps the fact that it looks stunning will be.

Sony has opted out of the UHD Alliance’s UHD Premium certification scheme announced earlier this year, instead running with its own 4K HDR logo.

But the company claims the KD-75XD9405 still meets the organisation’s stringent specifications, which focus on the colour depth, brightness range and black level required to display HDR content to its full potential.

Build

The company also claims that with the help of X-tended Dynamic Range PRO – processing that guides light towards specific areas of the screen – the KD-74XD9405 achieves three times the brightness gamut of a conventional LED-backlit set.

While Sony’s XD93 range exclusively features Slim Backlight Drive – its attempt to deliver the desirable contrast of full-array local dimming in a slimmer design – the flagship goes all-out with full and even LED backlighting in a deeper TV design.

But that doesn’t mean it’s piled on the pounds – far from it. The top is only the width of three or four beer mats and the bottom, where all the brainpower is crammed, only sticks out a few extra centimetres.

The streamlined aesthetic features across Sony’s entire line-up, a move away from the flanked speakers and wedge design of some 2015 models (the KD-75X9405C, for one).

It can be wall-mounted, if you feel your plasterwork will hold the telly’s 39kg weight, but plonk it on a tabletop and it won’t go anywhere thanks to a sturdy base plate stand, which is slightly raised and has a removable back cover so cables can feed discreetly underneath it and be hidden from sight.

Features

That’s handy if you plan to trail wires between the TV and your games console, Sky box, disc player and soundbar, which is possible through a HDMI connection as the telly has four inputs.

It’s win-win for those already investing in an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, as all four are 4K-ready with 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 certification.

The KD-75XD9405 has three USB inputs, but now there’s much more streaming 4K content available, we make more use of its LAN socket – a more stable way of getting online than using wi-fi.

We’re pleased Android’s smart platform returns to Sony TVs in much the same form for a second year running – even if it doesn’t quite have the simplistic charm of rival systems such as Panasonic’s Mozilla Firefox OS and LG’s WebOS.

Menus are generally comprehensive and easy to follow, with the home page comprising a neat list of sections, headed by recommended content and followed by apps, inputs, games and settings.

Like all of Sony’s 2016 Android-powered TVs, the KD-75XD9405 features YouView, which, like Freeview Play, is an all-inclusive platform that amalgamates all of the UK’s catch-up TV services (BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4 and Demand 5) with a seven-day rollback EPG.

It’s not compulsory as there’s also a Freeview HD tuner and separate catch-up apps on the home page, but we like the idea of having it all under one umbrella.

Of course, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video – both now with 4K and HDR content in their catalogue – are present, along with lesser-known services such as wuaki.tv and MUBI.

Because it’s Sony, there’s also the PlayStation Video store for buying and renting movies and TV shows, and PlayStation Now for disc-free game playing. And because it’s Android, there’s Google Cast and Google Play at your service too.

A shortcut for the latter has appeared on the remote, joining the existing Netflix one, but while the layout is familiar, we aren’t big fans of the soft edgeless buttons.

Picture

We’re pleased to see it operates the Panasonic DMP-UB900 Ultra HD Blu-ray player, though, and this is very much where our journey into picture performance begins.

After completing a full THX Optimization test, we watch the tray close on San Andreas, and even by the menu title we know that the Sony has some magic to work. There’s as much sense-shattering devastation as you expect from a Dwayne Johnson-starring blockbuster, and the Sony is a magnifying glass into each still and panorama that depicts San Francisco’s remains.

Crumbling buildings bask in texture, and household furniture floating down the river in the background can be made out as clearly as if you were looking at it in an IKEA catalogue.

The Sony’s colour pallet is on the rich, enthusiastic side of neutral, with the benefits of HDR flagged by the variants of shading in explosions and building fires, and how intensely car lights punch through the dark underground garage.

HDR may not hit you in the face as immediately as 4K does, but you hardly have to pore over the picture to see that faces, trees and pavements are filled with subtler, more nuanced colour gradations.

A fiddle with contrast and black level soon gets the Sony’s black depth to a standard an OLED – famous for its light-off blacks – wouldn’t sniff at.

The stability of the picture is pleasantly surprising as the speedboat tears through the water and the tsunami crashes over the city, especially when motion smoothness and clarity is bumped up a tad in the picture settings. It’s just the telly you need to witness a cargo ship crushing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Crispness and stability is brought down a notch as we head over to a 4K, HDR stream of Marco Polo on Netflix, but that’s down to the intrinsically inferior nature of streaming. It’s still a picture a newcomer would raise an eyebrow to; the empresses’ metallic clothes and the gold armoury shine brightly, while the yellow leaves and red temples pop eagerly through the pixels.

The Sony’s stark clarity and dark detail means you don’t miss so much as a corner of a frame in candle-lit scenes, too.

Native material is undisputedly the KD-75X9405’s speciality, but it fancies itself a savvy upscaler too, as keen to sharply etch the uniforms in a Blu-ray of X-Men: The Last Stand as it is the players’ sharp attire in a high-definition broadcast of the World Championship Snooker.

The contrast of the green table and red floor is punchy and solid. As we switch over to standard-def BBC Two, snooker balls are, as expected, a little softer, losing their crisp outline and shine. But it’s acceptable enough to keep watching.

Even a dated DVD copy of Dirty Harry holds up pretty well; colours and contrast don’t lose their spark, and you aren’t forced to look away as Eastwood pans his surroundings through binoculars. Visible picture noise is the biggest giveaway, but it’s not too damning.

Sound

It would be home cinema sacrilege to spend this much on a TV without having a good sound system to go with it, so if there’s pennies left in the pot we’d plump for a decent surround package.

If you’re wondering, however, whether it sounds good enough to tide you over until you can afford one, then the answer is yes.

There’s detail, clarity, and most importantly balance, with enough weight and body behind the presentation for casual viewing.

Verdict

So with the lower-ranging KD-55XD9305 also bagging five stars, it’s two out of two for Sony. After a mediocre run with TVs last year, the company appears to have raised its game for 2016.

The KD-75XD9405 isn’t cheap (albeit cheaper than its £6,000/$9,000 predecessor), but it embraces the industry’s cutting-edge technologies and shows how valuable they are. If not for the fact that 3D glasses aren’t included, we’d be more than ready to ask ‘what more could you want?’

We’ll have to sit tight to see what Samsung, Panasonic and LG bring to the table, but for now the Sony KD-75X9405 is the big-screen flagship to beat.

(whathifi.com, http://goo.gl/QUBEO7)

2016 Range Rover Td6 Review : Land Rover’s Daily Driver Goes Diesel

Last December, we took the turbo diesel Range Rover Td6 off-road in the wastelands outside Sedona, Arizona. It was a nerve-wracking, exciting experience, as we crawled across desert terrain in low gear, ascended rocky outcroppings, and played with every crawl control and hill descent setting available. But that was the extreme side of Land Rover, the rugged, roguish side that few buyers actually use as they go about their daily lives, with a Starbucks cup in hand and one eye on the kids in the back seat.

2016 TRange Rover HSE Td6

For as sharp as these machines are, it pains me every time I see one parked outside of Nordstrom with not a scratch or spec of dust to be seen. The exploratory British bruiser has been domesticated to the point where the majority spend their lives taking kids to the pool or fighting other SUVs for parking spots in the Whole Foods parking lot. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it’s like carving your steak with a $100,000 Hattori Hanzō samurai sword: equal parts overkill and squandering all at once.

Range Rover's LED lights

Range Rover’s LED lights 

But sometimes a bit of overkill is in the cards, and since I had already put the diesel-powered Range Rover through its paces off-road, it was time for a “daily commuter challenge.” And after a week of running errands, taking the kid to daycare, and hoofing it to birthday parties and picnics on the weekend, I walked away from the Td6 equal parts enlightened and perplexed.

2016 Land Rover Range Rover Td6

Exterior

You have to give it to Land Rover; after all these years, it’s remained current aesthetically while still hearkening back to its roots. LED lights may have replaced incandescents, the body and chassis have become lighter and stronger, and useful tools like keyless entry and power-folding mirrors are now commonplace, but there’s no mistaking it for anything else. Range Rovers have always been distinctive, and the HSE continues to stand as a touchstone for simplistic and practical styling.

LED daytime running lights (DRL)

LED daytime running lights (DRL) 

Exterior pros and cons

+ New ovular daytime running lights (DRLs) and tubed rear brake lamps are classy, contemporary, and very effective.

+ Power-folding, proximity-based mirrors with puddle lights, a heated windshield, and an automatic folding split tailgate are extremely useful.

+ Small stuff like branded headlight sconces, metallic trim pieces, vehicle plaques in between door jams, and a hidden wiper beneath the rear spoiler are all tasteful.

– Power-folding mirrors won’t fold completely flush and the sunroof’s pop-out windscreen is pretty flimsy.

– Even with the suspension in its lowest setting, it’s difficult to get a child in and out of a car seat if you’re slight in stature.

– Small fog lights look disproportional, the shark fin antenna is kind of bulky, and the wheels are a bit bland.

Range Rover turbo diesel Td6 engine

Range Rover turbo diesel Td6 engine 

Powertrain

The turbo-diesel Td6 V6 is a real treat, and while the supercharged gas version features way more horsepower, the torque generated is more than enough to get this SUV up to speed. This is a great powerplant, and with a slew of traction modes, a smooth-shifting German gearbox, and virtually zero turbo lag, there’s not much to dislike. You also can’t argue with the fuel gains, especially since this thing weighs almost 2.5 tons and has the aerodynamic drag coefficient of a fishing barge.

Drive modes

Drive modes

Powertrain pros and cons

+ 443 foot-pounds of torque and 254 turbocharged horses give you a 22/29 mile per gallon estimate, which is commendable for a vehicle of this size.

+ Most drivers will never use any of them, but this thing has tons of drivetrain traction settings, all of which are German engineered and easy to use.

+ Sport mode bumps the powerband and adjusts the eight-speed auto’s shift points; paddle shifting delivers even more control when a manual override is needed.

– Solid torque numbers don’t always equate to speed in something this heavy.

– Since fuel prices are low right now, the demand for diesel is poor as most Americans continue to prefer gasoline-powered automobiles.

– Start/stop function is annoying since diesel startups can be a bit rough.

Roomy Land Rover Td6 cabin

Land Rover Td6 cabin 

Interior

This is the real reason why the Range Rover name has become synonymous with shopping trips, soccer practice, and executive chauffeur sessions: Land Rover’s current interiors are so outstanding that the mere thought of getting mud inside the cabin is cringeworthy. This is one snazzy way to get around, and everything from the control knobs to the leather-bound steering wheel, customizable LED ambient lighting, and panoramic canvas sunshade feel upscale.

Back seat

Back seat 

Interior pros and cons

+ Oxford leather, multiple LED mood lighting options, a large array of rear controls, digital gauges, contrasting piano black overhead controls, hidden hinged door pockets, and adjustable wrap-around headrests are all winning touches.

+ Practical considerations include a full-size spare on a matching rim, sizable stacked gloveboxes, rugged silicone and metal floormats, and a cargo cover that is exceptionally sturdy.

+ Upgrades like dual rear seat entertainment, a heated wood steering wheel, and a 825-watt Meridian audio system are all fantastic.

– There’s no way to manually lock the doors from the inside, so if your key fob dies, you’re left vulnerable.

– Polished surfaces collect dust and fingerprints at an alarming rate; avoid the ivory interior option if you have kids.

– Removable cup holder inserts that stick to your water bottle and a lack of rear window shades are small but annoying oversights.

Digital gauges

Digital gauges 

Tech and safety

Another reason why the Range Rover line has become so domesticated is because it’s a tech-filled wonderland, and an incredibly safe one at that. JLR’s newfound love affair with aluminum has helped make its vehicles safer than ever before thanks to a bevy of preventative safety tech features on board. Oh, and did I mention its tons of infotainment goodies can be temperamental and tedious to use? It has those in abundance, too.

Ventilated and heated seats

Ventilated and heated seats 

Tech pros and cons

+ Wheel geometry tracking screens, surround cameras, fully customizable interfaces, electronic e-brakes, ride height adjustability, a head-up display (HUD), and so much more are all standard.

+ Heated and vented seats, available Wi-Fi, a power adjusting steering wheel, tri-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, and LED lighting add a lot of value, comfort, and convenience.

+ From emergency braking assistance and blind spot monitoring to accident mitigation warnings and reverse traffic detection, the safety side of the tech game is strong.

– Getting a movie to play in the rear via DVD proved troublesome, and since the front video screen automatically turns off when the car is moving for “safety purposes,” skipping scenes and selecting from the title menu is completely hopeless for parents.

– The nav has overly basic 3D graphics when compared to what automakers like Mazda are using. It isn’t very intuitive and can become convoluted with touchscreen buttons and pop-ups.

– Nav prompts within the MID featured dated graphics, and for as advanced as this SUV is, there isn’t an option for wireless charging.

Driver's seat

Driver’s seat 

The drive

Bounding around town in a Td6 is quite the contrast to what I experienced in the gorges outside Sedona last December, but in certain ways it’s just as challenging. I appreciate how all-encompassing this vehicle is, both in its powertrain and amenity departments, but isn’t exactly an easy vehicle to pilot in an urban environment.

This is a large SUV, and even though it’s responsive under throttle, to steer, and technologically clever, it’s still a lumbering beast. When it’s not wandering in and out of lanes due to its soft suspension and lofty ride height, it dives under heavy braking, and makes squeezing into parking spots an adventure.

Even though there’s a lofty, serene feeling to the drive, it gets somewhat negated by a few key shortcomings; key offenders included the brakes, which felt under-sized for the chassis and were squealed after just 5,000 miles, and the ride height adjustment setting that refuses to let you lower the vehicle to access height at higher speeds. As smooth as it is, with its quiet cabin, capable diesel engine, and exceptional driver amenities, the body roll, brakes, and large proportions tend to make it somewhat unwieldy, even if it is easy to drive.

Range Rover styling

Wrap up and review

The Td6 is magnificent, and offers one of the poshest cabins imaginable outside of the gorgeous Autobiography edition. But it isn’t a very good daily driver, despite its respectable fuel gains and comfortable ride.

As refined as it may be, I stand behind my statement that it belongs in the wild, not the concrete jungle. There’s just too much off-road potential here to deny the Td6 its birthright, for it has both the bloodline and physique to conquer any area of the world it so chooses.

Don’t condemn the HSE to a fate of suburban life, with over-sized aftermarket wheels and trips to the golf course on weekends. Let the people who don’t mind spending $106,000 for a loaded diesel adventure SUV have it, and opt for something like the tarmac-oriented Range Rover Sport SVR instead. You’ll get a smaller, more nimble SUV with big Brembo brakes, tons of awesome interior goodies, and a supercharged V8 that generates 550 horsepower. But if you really enjoy off-road adventures, get the Td6 because it’s going to get you there and home again with plenty of torque, superb fuel economy, and one hell of a sweet cabin.

(cheatsheet.com, http://goo.gl/gBKPTP)

Smartisan T2 Review : an Android/iPhone cross-breed

The smartphone you see here is neither an iPhone nor a Google Certified Android device. It’s somewhere in the middle and a bit off to one side. What we’ve got here is the Smartisan T2, a device that looks like an iPhone, runs a bit like an Android, and costs about what you’d pay for a high-end device that’s a couple of years old. But this Smartisan T2 is brand new. What we have here is a unique proposition – a daring release in a market that relies so heavily on iOS and Android that we were shocked to find it in production.

In an age in which most major smartphone hardware looks similar if not outright nearly-identical, Smartisan isn’t really attempting to do anything mind-blowing. Certainly they are pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable as a set of home buttons with three customizable physical buttons near the bottom of the front of the device, but the overall bulk of the phone looks like either an iPhone 5C or any number of HTC Desire devices.

20160407_200542

They’ve done right by those designers.

They’ve created a device that feels like a fine work of craftsmanship, to be sure.

The single-piece metal frame makes the Smartisan T2 feel premium.

The front and back are Gorilla Glass. They’re both cool to the touch if you’ve been out in the cold, and both are extremely smooth – save the hammer logo at the back, which is etched in fine detail into the center of the back panel.

This Smartisan logo, the hammer, is easily one of the most distinctive features of the phone. You’ll feel like you’ve got a device that’s part of some sort of secret society – it’s very dark and mysterious. And unique.

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Around the sides you’ll find what appear at first two be two volume rocker buttons.

If you thought the front-facing buttons looked and/or felt unique, you’ll find the rocker buttons on BOTH sides of the device to be especially strange. Without modifying any controls, the rocker button on one side controls volume, while the rocker on the opposite side controls the brightness of the phone’s display.

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These keys are as customizable as the front home keys – and they lend themselves to the device’s smart setup which allows you to favor controls for a left- or right-handed user.

• Operating System: Smartisan OS, based on Android 5.1.1
• Dimensions: 144.55 mm x 70.84 mm x 7.53 mm
• Weight: 146 g
• Display: 4.95-inch JDI “Pixel Eyes” 1920 x 1080, Corning Gorilla Glass 3
• Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 808, Adreno 418 GPU
• RAM: 3 GB
• Camera: 13-megapixel back-facing, LED flash. 5-megapixel front-facing.
• Storage: 16 / 32 GB
• Battery: 2670 mAh

In more ways than one, this smartphone exemplifies the current trends in smartphone manufacturing – largely derivative, yet improving on the designs it’s fairly closely related to.

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This device – and its company – are not just related aesthetically to phones you may have seen in the past. They’re also literally taken from one of the most famous brands: Motorola. According to a Smartisan spokesperson, “Some of the executives at Smartisan came from [Motorola] and a measurable portion of the hardware is Motorola technology.”

It’s clear that the people who’ve worked on this device – be they former Motorola creatives or otherwise – took the time to pay attention to the tiniest of details.

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The USB cable, for example, has a concave/convex set of bubbles on its micro-USB end to give you a tactile understanding of which way will be facing up. Meanwhile the phone’s micro-USB port, oddly enough, has a rectangular shape – you’ll do a double-take if you’re used to standard ports which have a fatter bit and a thinner bit for the style of the micro-USB 2.0 shape.

Smartisan T2 Review : an Android/iPhone cross-breed

Below you’ll find a number of photos captured with this device’s back-facing camera. The software for this camera features a number of oddities we’d love to see come to Google’s own standard camera, like Orientation Lock. How simple. How helpful.

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Smartisan OS – the software based on Android inside this device – should be commended for its efforts to be unique. Not just for uniqueness’ sake, but to make the entire smartphone experience far more simplified than if you were using a standard Android phone.

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In their efforts to update this second version of Smartisan OS, the Smartisan software team have made an operating system that feels like a cross-breed between Android and iOS.

More Android than iPhone, to be sure, but here again we’re made to feel like Smartisan is on the pathway to the smartphone singularity we’re seeing the industry headed towards.

Along the way towards the ideal smartphone software strategy, Smartisan has picked up some of the smartest cues from Google’s current app situation. They’ve put several of their apps on Google Play for easier updates when necessary. Have a peek at Smartisan on Google Play to see.

Now if only they’d release a launcher there, too.

Also, Smartisan, congratulations on making the cutest icon for email in the history of icons on any platform.

email

Look at that little cutie!

Wrap-up

This device will cost you right around $450 and it’ll be released in the United States at some point in the future. At this point the company is “looking to enter the U.S. market after a successful launch in China late last year.” That’s as much as we know so far.

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I’ll be able to recommend this device one way or the other – to get with it or not to get with it – once launch plans are closer to being solidly in place. We’ll see you then!

(slashgear.com, http://goo.gl/SjS1tk)

Dell D3100 Docking Station Review

The Pros

Subtle design; Variety of Ports; Supports 4K and two FHD displays

The Cons

No USB Type-C support; Some performance hiccups when using three displays

Verdict

The Dell D3100 Docking Station is an affordable dock that supports three displays (one at 4K resolution) and has lots of port options.

If you have a 4K monitor and want to use additional FHD displays alongside it, the Dell D3100 provides an affordable way to connect those two or three monitors to your laptop. The $109 dock also includes five different USB ports for attaching peripherals, along with an Ethernet connector and audio jack. Users who want to connect over USB Type-C will need to buy a dongle, but otherwise, the D3100 is an inexpensive and compelling option that will work with most of today’s computers.

Design

The D3100 Docking Station is a matte-black plastic box that sits horizontally on your desk and looks just like other Dell docks, including the WD15. This one is particularly small, at 6.5 x 2.98 x 1.1 inches (the WD15 was deeper, at 6.1 x 4.3 x 0.83). The Plugable UD-3900 has a tiny base but stands 7.5 inches tall.

Dell D3100 Docking Station Front

Dell’s logo adorns the top of the dock in reflective black plastic, and the DisplayLink logo can be found on the front next to some USB ports. The bottom is covered with some nonslip rubber that will keep it in place under your monitor or behind your laptop. Unlike the WD15, the D3100’s power adapter is small — similar to what comes with your laptop — and easy to put out of the way.

Ports

The D3100 makes great use of space and is filled to the brim with ports. The front of the dock boasts three USB 3.0 inputs — one more than both the WD15 and UD-3900 — and a headphone and mic combo jack. The back is where you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, the input for the power adapter, two HDMI ports and a DisplayPort for external displays, an Ethernet jack, a USB-B port for the cable that connects to laptops, and a jack for audio out.

Dell D3100 Docking Station Back Ports

If your monitor doesn’t support HDMI, the D3100 comes with one HDMI-to-DVI adapter so you can connect that way. The dock doesn’t support USB Type-C officially, but I managed to get it to work with the 2016 12-inch MacBook by adding a USB-A-to-USB-C adapter (sold separately).  

Performance

The Dell D3100 was easy to set up and worked consistently. After I installed DisplayLink drivers, it simply worked. It’s a nice departure from the WD15, which ditched DisplayLink in favor of USB Type-C’s alternate mode. I connected a $499 Dell Inspiron 17 5000 (Core i3-5010U processor, 4GB of RAM and 500GB HDD) to the dock for testing. It isn’t a powerhouse, but the average consumer may purchase it, especially at that bargain price.

The first test involved hooking up one monitor to the dock over DisplayPort, which output in beautiful, detailed 4K. Sample video featuring scenes of nature, a speeding car and trains moving in slow motion was clear and didn’t stutter at all, and there was barely a dent in CPU usage.

Dell D3100 Docking Station Performance

Next, I hooked up a second 4K display over HDMI — that one maxed out at 2560 x 1440, while the DisplayLink-connected monitor still output at 4K. (Only the DisplayLink port will drive monitors at 4K. HDMI will not.) The sample video continued to play smoothly while I used the second monitor to browse the web and typed in OpenOffice Writer on the laptop’s display. The task manager suggested that using two monitors took up 3 to 4 percent of CPU resources.

With three monitors plugged in, the HDMI-connected screens dropped to 2048 x 1152 with the DisplayPort monitor running at full 4K (all in addition to the screen built into the Inspiron). It was an insane setup, and I put it all to use, running the sample video on the 4K display, using TweetDeck on another, browsing the web on the third and using OpenOffice on the actual laptop. While the video played without any issues, I noticed some intermittent performance hiccups in Google Chrome and OpenOffice when typing and scrolling. With all three displays connected, the dock consumed 2 to 7 percent of CPU resources.

The D3100 docking station doesn’t support USB Type-C, but I used a USB-A to USB Type-C adapter to get it to work with the latest 12-inch MacBook, which powered all three displays with the dock. It overpowered the CPU, though, and a mix of 4K video and web browsing slowed down some animations at the operating system level, like opening and minimizing apps from the dock. If you use a USB Type-C adapter, it won’t charge the laptop, so be sure to keep your power brick at the ready.

Bottom Line

The Dell D3100 Docking Station is an affordable option that supports a 4K display as well as two other monitors to go along with it. The design is unobtrusive, and the extra USB 3.0 port is a plus. It doesn’t support USB Type-C, though, so you’ll need to go elsewhere (like Plugable’s upcoming USB-C Triple Display Dock) for full future-proofing.

A price of $109 is a great deal for three displays, though lower-end laptops may see a few hiccups here and there. If you don’t need 4K at all or just want to spend a little bit less money, you should check out Plugable’s UD-3900 for $95, but that only supports two screens. Power users will want to check out the D3100 and its triple-monitor support.

(laptopmag.com, http://goo.gl/UfwjVR)

Cobra CDR 855 BT review

PROS
  • 8GB memory card included
  • Decent low light performance
  • Bluetooth for GPS connection
CONS
  • Extra iRadar features require subscription, and failed to work during testing
  • Mounting suction cup too small for secure fitting
  • No built-in GPS
KEY FEATURES
  • 2Mpixel sensor
  • Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 maximum resolution
  • 2-inch LCD display
  • GPS via Bluetooth smartphone connection
  • G sensor
  • Manufacturer: Cobra

Cobra CDR 855 BT

WHAT IS THE COBRA CDR 855 BT?

The CDR 855 BT is a tiny dashboard camera from Cobra. It only offers Full HD video resolution, not the Super HD that is increasingly common. But it has a few other tricks potentially up its sleeve, and can double as an action camera. With the increasingly crowded dashboard camera market, does Cobra have enough to stand out from the crowd? Sadly, it turns out not, as most of the promised extra features failed to work during my tests.

WINDSCREEN MOUNTING

The bundled windscreen mount is pretty standard, and as usual is designed to dangle the dashcam down from the top of your windscreen. A spacer screws into the mount, and the CDR 855 BT then slides onto this firmly. It’s not quite a quick release, but it isn’t too painful to get in and out if you want to take the camera away from the car when unattended.

I had a few issues getting the Cobra CDR 855 BT to stay attached to the windscreen on one of my test vehicles, however. After about the fourth attempt it seemed secure, but the suction cup is quite small and I’ve had similar issues with the Xiaomi Yi Car WiFi DVR, which also has a small cup. A more effective suction mount would have been an improvement for both these products.

Cobra CDR 855 BT

You don’t get a power adapter that will allow you to plug in your sat-nav as well, but at least the cable and plug are separate, with a standard USB connection between the two. There are two USB cables in the box – a long one for your car, and a shorter one for when you want to hook the device up to your computer to download footage. The long one only supplies power, and won’t work for data.

RECORDING FORMATS AND MANUAL SETTINGS

Cobra specifies the CDR 855 BT’s sensor at 2-megapixels, although it doesn’t state the size. This is just enough pixels for the Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution that is the maximum shooting frame size, but you can also choose 720p at 30 or 60 frames per second. As stated at the beginning of this review, though, there’s no Super HD option.

Video is recorded at about 11Mbits/sec in Full HD, so 8GB of Flash memory will be enough for around 100 minutes of footage. Cobra actually throws an 8GB MicroSD card in with the bundle, and since loop recording is available, this may be all you need. Video files are recorded in a standard MOV format. You can also use the CDR 855 BT to take snapshots, using one of the four buttons on the rear.

Cobra CDR 855 BT

Although Cobra touts the CDR 855 BT as an action camera stand-in, thanks to the 30-minute battery life, there are no enthusiast settings such as control over white balance or exposure. In fact, other than the resolution options, there’s nothing else you can do to alter the way footage is recorded. The mount uses a standard screw fitting, so you could use a tripod or other attachment method. But the location of the mount on the top of the device will probably mean shooting footage upside down, and there’s no menu option to flip the image.

SAFETY FEATURES

To aid the CDR 855 BT’s utility as an evidence-producing device, it is possible to capture your location alongside the video. However, this doesn’t use a built-in GPS. Instead, it’s necessary to download the Cobra iRadar application for your smartphone and connect the CDR 855 BT via Bluetooth. The dashcam will then obtain its location from your smartphone’s GPS. The iRadar app is available for iOS and Android, so if you’re a Windows Phone user you’re out of luck. iRadar can also connect to a radar detection device.

Although the lack of a built-in GPS is a drawback compared to lots of dashcams, the iRadar smartphone app potentially brings with it some additional benefits. Via iRadar, the CDR 855 BT is intended to provide alerts for when you’re approaching traffic lights, speed cameras, and areas of risk. This requires a subscription. There’s a 30-day trial available to try things out, after which a year costs £22.99/$34.

Unfortunately, I found the locations provided by my iPhone 6 Plus weren’t attached accurately to the video files, so they were shown in the wrong place on the map. I also didn’t see the warnings that were popping up on the smartphone screen from iRadar appearing on the CDR 855 BT. It’s possible that you’re meant to have your phone on a stand, powered up, mounted on your windscreen. But the CDR 855 BT manual doesn’t mention anything about this.

The CDR 855 BT is also another dashcam that can save you money on your car insurance. A partnership with Adrian Flux potentially offers up to 15% off new insurance premiums, with proof or purchase.

IMAGE QUALITY AND DESKTOP SOFTWARE

The lack of Super HD means the CDR 855 BT doesn’t quite have the detail of some current dashcams. But performance is still decent, with the ability to pick out road signs and number plates possible. Footage does have signs of compression artefacts, and colours aren’t perfect either, although this isn’t so important for a dashcam anyway.

A sample of the video shot during day time can be found here : goo.gl/ibskAZ

A sample of the video shot during evening can be found here : goo.gl/cUYCA8

Cobra makes some bold statements about how well the CDR 855 BT does outside daylight hours, claiming “great performance from dusk till dawn”. I included some evening journeys in my testing, and whilst I wasn’t blown away by the results, it was better than a lot of dashcams I’ve tested. There was noticeable grain, but this didn’t render number plates of nearby cars illegible.

Cobra CDR 855 BT

There’s no desktop software included in the CDR 855 BT’s box. Instead, you have to take a trip to the Cobra website to download this. The software has the usual facilities to play video files with the G-sensor and GPS information, with the latter only available if you have set up the iRadar smartphone app as described above. There are a few extras, though, such as the ability to export the route taken as a KML file.

SHOULD I BUY THE COBRA CDR 855 BT?

The Cobra CDR 855 BT is a decent dashboard camera in terms of image quality, despite the lack of Super HD resolution. However, the windscreen suction mount could do with improving, and the lack of a built-in GPS makes location recording a bit fiddly. This is particularly compounded by the fact that the Bluetooth-connected iRadar smartphone app doesn’t provide accurate location data, or the promised alerts. Overall, without the iRadar functionality operating as advertised, this is a fairly standard dashcam.

VERDICT

The Cobra CDR 855 BT lacks Super HD resolution, and unfortunately the extra features promised from a Bluetooth-connected smartphone don’t perform as advertised.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/Q1KK0f)

28 Tips to Get the Most out of iOS 9

We’re already looking forward to learning about the new iOS 10 features and apps that Apple will introduce in the fall. But if you’re looking to get the most out of the software currently on your iPhone or iPad, you don’t have to wait until the fall. there are plenty of great features and hidden tricks in iOS 9, and particularly in iOS 9.3, the latest version of the operating system. Apple has revealed a few tips and tricks on its support website, but there are plenty of others that you’ll want to learn to get the most out of iOS 9.

1. Get some help from Siri

Asking Siri a question in iOS 9

There are plenty of fun questions to ask Siri, but Apple’s virtual assistant also has your back when it comes to tasks that you’d otherwise have to open an app to complete. For instance, Siri can complete basic calculations for you; just ask her to find a percentage, or do some addition, subtraction, or division. Or, you can ask Siri to send someone a message, even hands-free if you have “Hey Siri” enabled, or ask Siri to remind you about a task later in Mail, Notes, Maps, or Messages. You can always correct Siri’s pronunciation by telling her, “That’s not how you say. . .” and then giving her the correct pronunciation.

2. Take advantage of the Search screen’s knowledge of your habits

Take advantage of iOS 9’s ability to learn your routine. If you call your mom at the same time each week, go for the same playlist when you arrive at the gym each morning, or open the same app each evening when you arrive home from work, then your iPhone will take notice and start placing the appropriate icons on the search screen at the appropriate time of day. The icons will put your usual task within easy reach and make them easy to accomplish with a single swipe. Browse the search screen to take advantage of iOS 9’s ability to learn from your habits.

3. Save your eyesight (and your sleep schedule) with Night Shift

One of the best features of iOS 9.3 is Night Shift, which uses the clock and location of your iPhone or iPad to determine when the sun sets in your location, and then automatically shifts the color of the light emitted by the display to reduce your exposure to blue light, which has been shown to interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. By opening the Settings app and tapping Display & Brightness, you can either automate a schedule for Night Shift or manually turn it on for the night. If you want the feature to activate automatically each evening, you can either set a schedule for it or just have the operating system turn it on at sunset and deactivate it at sunrise.

4. Learn all the hidden features in Messages

There are plenty of hidden tricks and shortcuts in Messages. If you want to see when a message was sent, for instance, you can drag the message bubble to the left. If someone sends you a message that you’d like to forward to another contact, press the message bubble, then tap “More” in the resulting menu. Select the bubbles of the messages you’d like to forward, and then tap the arrow to send them to another contact. Or, to listen to an audio message privately, raise your iPhone to your ear. Lower and raise it again to record a reply.

5. Use 3D Touch’s Quick Actions

iPhone

On 3D Touch-enabled devices, there are plenty of shortcuts you can take throughout the operating system. To see some of those shortcuts in Calendar, press an event to preview it and then swipe up to see some shortcuts. Or, when you’re in Maps, press a landmark, business, or point of interest to share its location, get directions to it, or take advantage of other helpful Quick Actions. Another great time-saver enabled by 3D Touch faster text editing. To use it, press deeply anywhere on the keyboard, and then slide your finger to select where you want to edit existing text or type more.

Additionally, many 3D Touch-enabled apps have Quick Actions you can access from the home screen; just press the app icon to see your choices. You can even press the icon of the Settings app to get quick access to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Battery settings.

6. Learn when and where to Peek and Pop with 3D Touch

3D Touch also adds support for two new gestures called Peek and Pop. In Mail, for instance, you can press a message to preview it, and press a little deeper to pop it open. You can use Peek and Pop not just in Mail, but also in Safari, Photos, Maps, and even third-party apps that support 3D Touch. And in any app that you’re using, you can use Peek and Pop to look at a link without leaving the app you’re in.

7. Use all the new features in Notes

You can now add drawings and sketches to notes thanks to 3D Touch. By tapping the icon with a scribbled line, you can use a variety of pressure-sensitive drawing tools, or touch and hold the erase to start over. You can add to-do lists to your notes, or you can start a note from many apps, including Safari and Maps, by tapping the share button and selecting Notes. You’ll be able to save what you’re looking at without even leaving the app. Another useful feature is the ability to password-protect your notes. Just tap the share icon within the note that you want to protect, tap “Lock Note,” and add your desired password. Any other notes that you lock will use the same password, and you’ll just need to tap the lock icon to add protection.

8. Learn all of Apple Music’s shortcuts

Apple Music is a new app, so you may still be getting used to the app, or trying to decide whether you should use it or another streaming service. To share an Apple Music playlist, tap the three-dot icon, then tap the share icon, and choose a sharing option. To see what music you have saved offline, tap My Music, then tap the sort menu, which offers an option to display the music that’s available locally. Or, on the app’s For You tab, tap and hold a playlist to bring up a plethora of options, including one to tell the app that you don’t like the recommendation.

9. Learn Camera tricks to make photos quicker to take and preview

iPhone

There are plenty of hidden tricks inside Camera, an app that many iPhone owners use on a daily basis. For instance, you can adjust the Camera’s exposure by tapping where you want to set the automatic exposure and focus, then sliding your finger up or down to adjust the exposure. Or, in one of the most useful implementations of 3D Touch, you can peek at the photo you just took by pressing the thumbnail to see if you like it, and either swiping to see another shot or pressing a little deeper to pop it open.

10. Do more with your pictures in Photos

Thanks to iOS 9, you can now add filters to your snapshots right from the Photos app. To try it out, tap Edit, then tap the Filter icon (which looks like three overlapping circles). When you add a filter you like, tap Done. Or, if you want to remove the filter, just tap None. Also in Photos, you can set a favorite image as your wallpaper by tapping the share icon, then selecting “Use as Wallpaper.” You can even set a Live Photo as your wallpaper, and press the screen to see the photo come to life. Or, you can ask Siri to find photos from a recent vacation, for instance, by asking for images from a certain time or place.

11. Use the best new features in Videos

iOS 9 makes it easier not only to browse your photos, but also to look through the videos that you’ve captured. When you’re browsing your videos, you can find your favorite part by dragging the video playhead left or right. But for finer control, you can move your finger toward the bottom of the screen as you drag. And when you’re recording a video, you can toggle the flash light on or off to ensure that you have the perfect lighting for the scene or action you’re recording.

12. Know how to turn on Private Browsing

To turn off search and browsing history, prevent AutoFill, and block cookies, you can turn on Safari’s Private Browsing mode. To do so, tap the Pages button, then tap Private. Tabs that you open while Private Browsing is turned on will close when you turn it off. However, you should bear in mind that, counter to popular assumptions, a private browsing mode won’t keep you totally anonymous, and your activity will still be trackable by your ISP, the sites you visit, any law enforcement agencies that are watching your activity, or even ad networks that track your movement.

13. Unlock your device with a longer passcode

iPhone and iPad

Another great feature for privacy-minded iPhone owners is the ability to set a 6-digit passcode to unlock your device. Instead of the 4-digit passcode that past versions of iOS asked for, iOS 9 will ask you to set a 6-digit passcode. While it might take you a few minutes to think of a new 6-digit passcode, it’s absolutely worth adding the extra digits.

14. Set up the iCloud Drive app

In past versions of iOS, iCloud Drive has receded to the background, as the invisible feature that kept your files synced among devices. But with iOS 9, you can use the iCloud Drive app to browse all of your files, and open them in any compatible app. To have your iPhone display the app on your home screen, open the Settings app, tap iCloud, then iCloud Drive, and tap “Show on Home Screen.”

15. Have your iPhone read to you

Your iPhone can speak selected text or the entire screen. To look at the options available to you, open the Settings app, navigate to General, then tap Accessibility. From there, you can select Speech and have a Speak button appear when you select text, add a shortcut to hear the content of the entire screen, or have your iPhone speak auto-text, like auto-corrections and auto-capitalizations.

16. Get where you’re going with new features in Maps

One of the best features of iOS 9 is the addition of public transit directions in Apple Maps, but it may not be immediately obvious where you get those directions, particularly if you’ve been using another navigation app to find your way around using public transportation. Tap the “i” icon, then tap Transit, and enter your destination for step-by-step directions. Also in Maps, you can see what’s nearby — whether you’re looking for food, drinks, shopping, fun, health facilities, or any other category of business or place — just by tapping the search box.

17. Take important precautions with Health

iOS 9.3 adds a number of improvements for iPhones and iPads, including new capabilities for the Health app

The Health app is capable of aggregating all of the data you collect on your fitness, activity, and nutrition. But a feature that few people take advantage of is the option to use Health as a way to keep basic information about yourself, which may prove useful in the case of an emergency. If you want to make such information about yourself available on your iPhone, tap Medical ID to fill in your details. To view, just tap Emergency on the lock screen.

18. Catch up on what’s going on with News

Apple’s new News app offers an easy way to stay up-to-date on news stories from around the world. When you first launch News, you can choose your favorite news outlets and topics. But even if you’ve  alreadyconfigured the app, you may not know just how easy it is to go from story to story each time you check in to read the news. When you’re reading a story in Apple News, you can swipe left to view the next one, or return to the list of stories by swiping from the left edge.

19. Use Apple Pay for in-store or in-app purchases

You probably already know that you can use Apple Pay at the grocery store, the drugstore, and lots of other businesses. But you can also use Apple Pay to complete purchases within the apps on your iPhone. Open the Settings app, navigate to Wallet & Apple Pay, then enter the shipping and contact information that you want to use when you shop from your iPhone.

20. Save webpages with iBooks

iBooks is a great place to read ebooks and other documents on your iPhone or iPad. But you can also use iBooks to keep track of long-form articles or other web content that you want to return to at a later date. In Safari, tap the share button, then tap iBooks to convert the current page to a PDF and add it to your bookshelf.

21. Learn iOS 9’s new multitasking features

iOS 9.3 adds a number of improvements for iPhones and iPads, including the new Night Shift feature

If you have an iPad, you can take advantage of iOS 9’s multitasking features. On any iPad that can run iOS 9, you can open an app and then swipe inward from the right side of the screen; then, you’ll see a sidebar where you can choose another app to open in that part of the screen, while the other app is displayed on the rest of the screen. On select newer iPads, you can run two apps side-by-side and interact with them both at the same time thanks to a feature called Split View. You’ll also be able to change the screen space used by each app. Or, use a feature called Picture in Picture to watch a video clip or conduct a FaceTime call while you’re using another app.

22. Screenshot something funny or useful to save it for later

If you’ve ever found yourself wanting to a take a screenshot, but at a loss for how to do so, you should be happy to learn that it’s actually pretty easy. Just press the Home and Sleep/Wake buttons simultaneously. The resulting screenshot will be saved to a dedicated Screenshots album in Photos.

23. Easily invite or address multiple contacts in Mail or Calendar

If you always invite the same people to recurring meetings, or address your emails to the same group of friends, iOS will learn about your habits, and use that knowledge to make inviting event attendees or addressing emails even easier. You’ll just need to enter a name or two, and iOS will suggest the rest.

24. Add more attachments in Mail

While it may not be obvious from Mail’s simple interface, the app lets you do a lot of the same things you can do when you check your email on your computer. For instance, when you’re sending an email message, you can attach more than just photos. Double-tap the screen while you’re composing a message, and then tap Add Attachment.

25. Take advantage of Wi-Fi calling

iPhone

Wi-Fi calling can be a great way to make and receive calls in areas where your cell reception is spotty, but you have access to a Wi-Fi network. If your carrier supports the feature, you can now make calls over Wi-Fi using your iPhone. Simply open the Settings app, tap Phone, and turn on Wi-Fi calling to take advantage of the functionality on a compatible mobile network.

26. Save your iPhone’s battery life

Another great feature that was recently added to iOS is the Low Power Mode, which helps you get a little more battery life out of your iPhone on a long day away from home. To find and turn on Low Power Mode, open the Settings app and tap Battery. When you turn on Low Power Mode, your iPhone will reduce its power consumption by turning off mail fetch, Hey Siri, background app refresh, automatic downloads, and even some visual effects that you’d otherwise see throughout the operating system.

27. Find a misplaced iPhone

Most iPhone users have already figured out how to use the Find My iPhone app, or how to turn off the Find My iPhone feature on their iPhones or Macs. But did you know that you can use the app to make your iPhone play a sound, even if it’s set to silent, which makes it a lot easier to locate a device that’s slipped between the couch cushions or is hidden under a pile of notes and books. Just open the Find My iPhone app on another device, tap the missing iPhone, tap Actions, then tap Play Sound.

28. Find exactly what you’re looking for in Settings

There are tons of useful things packed into the Settings app, but with all of the options and submenus to scroll through, it can be difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for. In those cases, you can open the Settings app and use the Search Settings box to find the functionality you need. As noted in the Quick Actions section, you can also press the icon of the Settings app to get quick access to settings for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and the battery.

(cheatsheet.com, http://goo.gl/EL6qqT)

Mini Clubman vs. BMW 328i Sports Wagon : Buy This, Not That

For last week’s inaugural “Buy This, Not That” column, we took a look at the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ, two nearly identical sports cars save for some minor styling and interior details. In the end, it was so close that we went with the Subaru based on, um, color. This week’s column won’t be as much of a toss-up. In fact, it might even raise a few eyebrows.

BMW

Like the FR-S and BRZ, the BMW 328 Sport Wagon and Mini Clubman S are related, but on the surface these two couldn’t be farther apart. The Bimmer is part of the 3 Series family, the gold standard by which all other premium sport sedans are judged, and it’s about as German as a Kraftwerk concert on Unity Day in Berlin. In contrast, the Clubman looks like it should come with a bust of Winston Churchill as a hood ornament — a modern ambassador for Alex Issigonis’s iconic space-saving design that gives car buyers plenty of style and substance while representing Old Blighty proudly.

BMW

But underneath the Mini’s made-in-Oxford exterior lies engineering perfected by parent company BMW in Bavaria. And by perfected, we mean the current model (introduced in 2015) has come dangerously close to offerings by the mother company.

Tale of the tape

The 328 Sport Wagon is one of the last compact longroofs available in the U.S., and as such, BMW has made it into something special. Available in two variants, the 328i and diesel-powered 328d, the former has a 2.0-liter inline-four good for 240 horses, and 280 pound-feet of torque, while the latter has a 180-horsepower mill. Zero to 60 comes in 6.0 and 7.6 seconds, respectively. And while both cars come standard with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system, neither are exactly cheap, with the 328i starting at $42,650 and the 328d at $44,150, and that’s just the beginning.

BMW

BMW has always been fond of á la carte-style options, and these wagons are no exception. Goodies like aero kits, M-Sport rims and steering wheels, leather and wood trims, and revised suspension packages are available, which can bring the cars dangerously close to the $60K mark. For that kind of coin, you could buy the all-new BMW M2 or, if you’re still looking for a luxury hauler, the larger, more powerful Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon. And in what may be a deal-breaker for performance-focused buyers, the Sports Wagon is only available with an eight-speed automatic transmission — no manual option is offered.

Because at the end of the day, there isn’t much reason to take any 3 Series north of $50K unless it’s an M3. Lucky for us, BMW offers an alternative to the 3 Series wagon, albeit in a Saville Row suit.

Mini

If the 328i is a Middleweight champion, then its challenger, the Mini Clubman S All4, is a promising Welterweight. Right off the bat, there are a few things that jump right out: The Mini also has a BMW-designed 2.0-liter turbo four, but this one only makes 189 horsepower and 207 pound-feet, making it considerably down on power. At 3,445 pounds with the standard six-speed manual transmission (the same eight-speed automatic found in the BMW is also available), it’s lighter than the 3,800 pound Bimmer, and its 6.6 second zero to 60 time splits the difference between the gas and diesel-powered BMWs nicely.

Surprisingly, the Mini would win in a war of attrition. With a top end of 140 miles per hour, it easily tops the BMW’s 130 mile per hour ceiling. And with its engaging sport mode, manual transmission, famous go-kart handling, and power going to all four wheels, the Clubman S All4 is likely to deliver as many driving thrills as its Bavarian cousin, if not more.

Mini

Then there’s the question of interiors. For decades, BMW cabins were unparalleled in their perfect blend of luxury and sportiness, but with the latest 3 Series, it seems to have lost the plot a bit. In fact, despite the comparatively bargain-basement buy-in ($29,450 before destination), the Mini can easily be made to feel as nice as its Bavarian cousin. The brand has done a fantastic job shedding its too-cute-by-half interiors with this latest generation, and while its hallmarks remain (large center-mounted information display, toggle switches, body-colored accents), the Clubman S’s interior is one of the best in the business, period. Its rich, quilted leather seats with contrasting accents are comfortable, well-bolstered, and wouldn’t look out of place on a Bentley Continental GT. You’d be hard pressed to find a nicer cabin for the price. Oh, and speaking of cabins, the Mini’s can hold more too, with 17.5 cubic feet out back with the rear seats up, compared to the BMW’s 17.3.

The verdict

Mini

The 328 Sport Wagon is first and foremost a BMW, so you know what you’re going to get: an engaging driving experience, well-earned luxury credentials, and high resale value. But there’s a dichotomy to the BMW brand that it’s begun to exploit over the past two decades or so, and it’s this: Most people don’t want the Ultimate Driving Machine; they want the badge. The 328i Sport Wagon is a plenty capable hauler that more than lives up to its name, but unless you need to have a wagon with the blue and white roundel on the nose, you’d be a fool to buy one of these in top spec.

As a result, this week’s head-to-head is like Rocky beating Creed in the rematch, Dempsey defeating Tunney, or Wepner knocking down Ali: We’ve got to give it to the Clubman S All4. For the price of an entry-level 328, a top-spec Clubman offers nearly as much performance, a manual transmission, a little more room inside, and manages to stand out from the growing flock of kidney-grilled cars that populate well-to-do suburbs across the country. If you’re looking for a luxury compact wagon (and really, we hope you are), it’s hard to do better than the Mini Clubman S All4.

(cheatsheet.com, http://goo.gl/4WZl3c)

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Review

The Pros

All-time great keyboard; Long battery life; USB Type-C port; Durable chassis; Great value

The Cons

Jumpy touchpad; Sluggish SSD; Keyboard not backlit

Verdict

With long battery life, a sharp screen and an awesome keyboard, the ThinkPad 13 is a productivity powerhouse with an affordable price.

A near-perfect choice for small businesses, students or anyone who needs to be productive without breaking the bank, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 offers high-end features and long endurance for a budget price. For a starting price of $611 ($641 as tested), the lightweight laptop comes with a full-HD screen, a solid-state drive, a durable MIL-SPEC-tested chassis and one of the best keyboards we’ve ever tested. Add in a USB Type-C port — the first on a ThinkPad laptop — and a pair of color options, and you have a laptop that’s among our favorites.

Design

The ThinkPad 13 is one of the only ThinkPads ever to come in a choice of colors: traditional black (like all ThinkPads) or silver. We reviewed a model with the matte-silver finish, which looks professional and attractive but not particularly snazzy. The silver lid has real aluminum on it, but the rest of the body is made from ABS plastic, which doesn’t pop out but feels quite sturdy. The color scheme carries over to the base, side deck and touchpad, but the bezel and keys are black.

At 12.68 x 8.78 x 0.78 inches and 3.14 pounds, the ThinkPad 13 is extremely light and easy to carry; I didn’t even feel it in my backpack. In comparison, the 12.5-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X260 has a similar weight and thickness (3.18 pounds, 0.8 inches thick), while both the Asus ZenBook UX305 (2.6 pounds, 0.5 inches) and the Dell XPS 13 (2.6 pounds, 0.66 inches) are a bit svelter.

The black version of the ThinkPad 13 is made entirely from polycarbonate and ABS plastic, with no premium metals. Its dimensions and weight also differ from those of the silver version by a few hundredths of an inch and a few hundredths of a pound (12.69 x 8.77 x 0.78 inches, 3.17 pounds).

Durability

Though it starts at just $611, the ThinkPad 13 provides the same kind of durability you’ll find in its more expensive siblings. The hinges, which bend back 180 degrees, feel extremely sturdy and tight. When I held the laptop by one corner and shook it with its lid open, the screen didn’t shimmy at all.

The laptop has passed MIL-SPEC 810G durability tests for extreme temperatures, altitudes, vibrations and humidity. Like other ThinkPads, it has also passed an eight-corner drop test and aggressive bump tests. The keyboard can also resist spills.

Security

Depending on how you configure it, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 has the key features that enterprise IT departments require. The laptop comes standard with TPM encryption, and if you buy it with a Core i5-6300U CPU, it also has Intel vPro remote management capability. The black model is available with a fingerprint reader for an extra $10, but you can’t get it on the silver unit.

Display

The ThinkPad 13’s full-HD display offers sharp images, solid viewing angles and colors that are mostly accurate, though not particularly rich. When I watched a 1080p trailer for Captain America: Civil War on the 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 display, fine details, such as the wrinkles in Steve Rogers’ forehead and the battle damage on Iron Man’s helmet, stood out. The dark blue in Captain America’s mask and the red in Iron Man’s armor seemed a little dark and dull, but not too far removed from reality.

According to our colorimeter, the ThinkPad 13’s screen can reproduce a modest 64 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is quite a bit less than the ultraportable-laptop category average (86 percent) and the color range on the Asus ZenBook UX305CA (105 percent) but about on a par with the ThinkPad X260 with its base screen (67 percent) and the Toshiba Tecra C40 (68 percent).

Typing on the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 made me feel like Billy Joel tickling the ivories on a grand piano.

The display achieved a strong Delta-E color accuracy score of 0.7 (0 is perfect), which is much better than the category average (3.7), the ThinkPad X260 (3.8) and the Tecra C40 (5.1). The ZenBook UX305C (0.9) had a nearly identical score. Colors stayed true as I moved up to 45 degrees to the left and right, but washed out slightly at wider viewing angles.

The ThinkPad 13’s display reached a solid 241 nits on our light meter. That’s quite a bit brighter than the ThinkPad X260 (184) and the Tecra C40 (205) but dimmer than both the ZenBook UX305C (319) and the category average (305).

Audio

The bottom-mounted speakers output very loud sound that’s good enough for listening to music and viewing videos, but a bit tinny. When I played DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean,” I noticed a clear separation of sound, with vocal and synths coming from the right and some of the slightly distorted percussion coming from the left.

At maximum volume, AC/DC’s “Back in Black” filled the entire first floor of my house, but the guitar and drums were a little harsh. The preloaded Dolby Audio software allowed me to choose from Music, Movies, Voice or Game sound profiles. I found that the Dynamic mode, which automatically adjusts audio levels based on content, worked best.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Typing on the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 made me feel like Billy Joel tickling the ivories on a grand piano. Lenovo’s laptop has one of the five best keyboards I’ve ever tested on a laptop, with strong feedback, a deep 1.94 millimeters of travel (1.5 to 2 mm is typical) and large, well-spaced keys. When I fired up the 10fastfingers typing test, I reached 107 words per minute with only two errors, which is a new high score for me. (My typical scores are 95 wpm and a 2 to 3 percent error rate.)

The ThinkPad 13’s spill-resistant keyboard even stands out among those on other ThinkPads, providing noticeably deeper travel than the keys on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (1.8 mm) and the ThinkPad X260 (1.6 mm), and snappier feedback than the ThinkPad T460 and the T460s. Unfortunately for hunt-and-peck typists who have trouble finding letters in the dark, the keyboard doesn’t have a backlight.

Like most other Lenovo business notebooks, the ThinkPad 13 has a TrackPoint pointing stick between its G and H keys. This little red nub provides extremely accurate navigation around the desktop and makes it easy to target smaller icons, highlight text or crop images. I particularly appreciated being able to move the pointer without lifting my hands off of the home row.

Users who don’t like pointing sticks will find the 3.5 x 2.1-inch touchpad usable but not great. In our tests, it performed a variety of multitouch gestures flawlessly, including pinch to zoom, two-finger scroll, three-finger swipe (for switching between apps and minimizing) and four-finger tap (for bringing up the Action Center). However, the Elan-branded, buttonless pad was sometimes a little jumpy, moving the pointer when I tried to double-click icons on the desktop or close a window. In addition, the process of highlighting text on a web page wasn’t as smooth as I would have liked.

Ports and Webcam

The ThinkPad 13 packs in plenty of full-size ports, including a USB Type-C connector that you can use for data, video output or charging. Though the laptop comes with a proprietary Lenovo power brick and connector, we successfully used it with an Innergie PowerGear USB-C charger. So, if you own another USB Type-C-powered device — such as a 12-inch MacBook, Dell XPS 13 or Google Pixel C tablet — you could share a charger with the ThinkPad. The ThinkPad 13 will also work with an upcoming generation of USB Type-C universal docks, including the Plugable USB-C Triple Display Dock, which charges your laptop and outputs to three screens over a single wire.

In addition to the Type-C port, the right side of the ThinkPad 13 houses an SD card slot, an audio jack, a full-size HDMI connector, a lock slot and two USB 3.0 ports.

The left side contains the proprietary power connector, another USB 3.0 port and a port for Lenovo’s Onelink+ docking station ($179), which outputs at 4K or with up to three displays and charges your laptop at the same time.

The 720p webcam captured adequate images about on a par with those from other business laptops. When I shot a picture of my face under our office’s fluorescent lighting, colors such as the navy blue in my shirt and glasses were a bit dark, and the image was a bit grainy.

Performance

Our base-level review configuration of the ThinkPad 13 was more than powerful enough to handle serious multitasking, despite rather pedestrian components, such as a 2.3-GHz Core i3-6100U CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. Even when I had over a dozen Chrome tabs open and a 1080p video playing, I didn’t notice a hint of lag. However, users who want to perform more demanding tasks should consider configuring the laptop with a Core i5-6200U or i5-6300U CPU, which cost $70 and $150 more, respectively.

Lenovo’s 13-inch laptop scored a solid 5,230 on Geekbench 3, a synthetic benchmark that measures processing power. The Core i5-6300U-powered Lenovo ThinkPad X260 (6,424) and the Core i5-6200U-powered Tecra C40-C1430 (5,783) did better, while the Core m3-enabled Asus ZenBook UX305C (4,810) performed slightly worse.

The ThinkPad 13 took a reasonable 5 minutes and 33 seconds to complete the Spreadsheet Macro Test, which matches 20,000 names with their addresses in OpenOffice Calc. That’s faster than the ultraportable category average (7:12) and the ZenBook UX305C (6:01) but a bit behind the X260 (4:12) and the Tecra C40 (4:29).

The 128GB, Samsung M.2 SATA SSD was slower than a typical solid state drive, taking a full 55 seconds to copy 4.97GB of mixed media files, for a rate of 91.4 MBps. That puts it well behind the category average (147 MBps), the ThinkPad X260 (157.1 MBps) and the ZenBook UX305 (193.4 MBps). However, it’s still more than three times faster than the 7,200-rpm hard drive in the Tecra C40 (26.8 MBps).

The ThinkPad 13’s integrated Intel HD 520 graphics processor is powerful enough for playing videos and light photo or video editing, but forget about playing games or doing serious design work. The laptop scored a solid 54,098 on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall graphics prowess. That’s comfortably more than the category average (46,498), the Tecra C40 (52,972) and the ZenBook UX305 (53,088), but a bit behind the ThinkPad X260 (59,489).

Heat

The ThinkPad 13 stayed relatively cool throughout our tests. After we streamed a video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured a cool 82.5 degrees Fahrenheit, and the keyboard was a decent 92.5 degrees. Both are below our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, the bottom surface, which gets a bit warm on most laptops, hit 100 degrees.

Battery Life

The ThinkPad 13 has enough endurance to get you through a standard workday and then some. The laptop lasted a full 9 hours and 13 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. That’s an hour longer than the category average (8:13) and much longer than the Tecra C40 (6:49), but about a half-hour less than the ZenBook UX305 (9:48).

Shoppers looking for a Lenovo laptop in the 12- to 14-inch size range may be surprised to learn that the ThinkPad 13 gets longer battery life than all of its siblings, at least with their standard batteries. On our test, the ThinkPad X260 lasted 8:16 with its three-cell battery but jumped up to 17:14 with its 0.4-pound-heavier extended battery. The T460s (with a nontouch display) managed just 8:15, while the T460 (non-S) endured for just 6:40 with its three-cell battery (13:12 with the six-cell battery). The ThinkPad X1 Carbon with a 1080p screen came within spitting distance of the ThinkPad 13, lasting 9 hours and 6 minutes.

Configuration Options

The ThinkPad 13 starts at $611, and comes in either black or silver. For that price, you get a Core i3-6100U CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. However, for unknown reasons, the 1920 x 1080 display comes standard on the silver model, but that model costs $55 more than the black unit, which comes standard with a 1366 x 768 screen. Our review configuration was the base silver model, but with Windows 10 Pro (a $30 upgrade) instead of the default Windows 10 Home.

If you purchase the ThinkPad 13 from Lenovo.com, you can choose between a Core i3 and a couple of Core i5 CPUs, get an SSD up to 512GB and up to 16GB of RAM. If you can afford it, we recommend upgrading to the Core i5-6200U CPU for $70 or the i5-6300U for $150 if you need vPro. According to Lenovo’s instruction manual, both the RAM and the M.2 SSD are removable, so if you’re comfortable opening up your computer, you can upgrade your memory or storage on your own.

Software and Warranty

Lenovo puts a couple of useful utilities on the ThinkPad 13. Lenovo Settings gives you fine control over the power, touchpad, screen, Wi-Fi and other features. Lenovo Companion performs hardware scans, and downloads driver and software updates. The Start menu also has tiles for a few pieces of bloatware, including Flipboard, Candy Crush Soda Saga and Photoshop Express.

Lenovo backs the ThinkPad 13 with a standard one-year “depot” limited warranty, in which the company pays for return shipping if you need to send your laptop in for service. You can pay between $39 and $579 to upgrade the warranty with accidental damage protection and on-site service or extend the term up to five years. See how Lenovo fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brand reports.

Bottom Line

The ThinkPad 13 has several key advantages that, taken by themselves, would make it an extremely compelling choice. Some would buy the laptop because it has a full-HD screen, an SSD and solid performance, all for just over $600 — a bargain even when compared to consumer-market laptops. For others, the laptop’s light weight and long battery life would be enough to put it over the top. Hard-core touch typists might want it just for the awesome, best-ever keyboard, and corporate departments would get it for its durable chassis and security features.

No matter what your reason, it’s hard to argue against buying the ThinkPad 13. If you can afford to spend a few hundred dollars more and want nearly double the endurance, the ThinkPad X260 with an extended battery is a good choice. Starting at $799, Dell’s XPS 13 provides longer battery life, lighter weight and a more colorful screen, but it’s made for consumers and doesn’t have the durability features or great keyboard this Lenovo does. If you want a top-notch productivity experience at an affordable price, the ThinkPad 13 is your best choice

(laptopmag.com, http://goo.gl/mmBtNB)

Epson PowerLite 955WH Projector Review

The Epson PowerLite 955WH is a higher-end model in Epson’s Powerlite 9xx series of classroom projectors.  While Epson markets the PowerLite 955WH as a classroom projector, but it would also be suitable for use in many business/conference room applications.

This model has a native 1280 x 800 (WXGA) resolution with a 16 x 10 aspect ratio.  With a list price of $899, and with discounts available for education institutions,  the PowerLite 955WH is a cost effective solution for schools, or businesses, needing a bright projector with good color accuracy.

The PowerLite 955WH projects a sharp image that is bright, while providing good colors and offering a lot of performance for the money.

Epson offers other models in the Powerlite series that feature similar WXGA resolution as well as models with lower XGA resolution. We previously reviewed the entry-level XGA resolution PowerLite 97H as well as a previous generation WXGA resolution model Powerlite 99W .  Both of these projectors received out Hot Product award so it not too surprising that the PowerLite 955WH also proved to be an very good performer and also earned a Hot Product award.

Epson PowerLite 955WH Specs
Projector Model PowerLite 955WH
Technology 3LCD
Price 899
Brightness (Manufacturer Claim) 3200
Contrast Ratio 10000:1
Native Resolution 1280×800
Max Resolution 1280 x 800 (native)
3D No
Native Aspect Ratio 16:10
Video Compatibility NTSC, PAL, SECAM
HDTV 1080p, 1080i, 720p
Lamp Life 5000 hours
Noise Level (-db) 37 dB in high lamp
Audio 16 watt mono speaker
DVI or HDMI Yes
Power Zoom/Focus No
Lens Shift No
Zoom Lens Ratio 1.60:1
Optional Lens No
Classroom Yes
Wireless Networking No
Dimensions 11.6″H x 10.6″W x 3.5″D
Weight 6.4
Warranty 2 years on projector, 90 days on lamp

Overview

Epson-955WH-Bond-1
Epson-955WH-Color-Wheet-Theater
Epson-955WH-Lucy-5
Epson-955WH-Text-1

The Epson PowerLite 955WH is a compact classroom projector offering a very bright image and features well suited to the typical classroom environment.  It projects a very sharp image, with its native 1280 x 800 resolution, and offers picture modes providing good color accuracy.   While the PowerLite 955WH is not a pico or pocket class of projector, it is a compact unit making it easy to move between classrooms (or conference rooms), when it has not been permanently mounted.  With a retail price of $899 and a relatively long 5,000 lamp life (in normal mode and up to 10,000 hours in Eco mode), it provides an economical solution for the education market.   The PowerLite 955WH is one of the higher-end models within Epson’s PowerLite 9xx line of classroom projectors that starts with the entry-level model PowerLite 97H, with XGA resolution and a rated 2700 lumens of brightness, which sells for $350 less than the PowerLite 955WH reviewed here.

Highlights
  • Offers a bright image with 3200 rated lumens, in brightest mode
  • Very sharp image provides excellent text readability for business/classroom presentations
  • Excellent video scaling performance
  • Picture Modes offered with good color accuracy suitable for displaying video and photos
  • Moderator function supports split-screen display with content from up to 4 networked video sources
  • Wired networking built-in and optional wireless networking
  • Can be controlled and managed from networked PC using supplied software
  • 1.6x zoom lens along with keystone correction provides very good mounting flexibility

Special Features

Network Based Functions, Moderator Function, PC-Free Slide Shows, Support for Mobile Devices, MHL Support, Instant On and Direct Power Off

Network Based Functions

The Powerlite 955WH comes with an optical disc that contains network related software plus additional software is available from Epson’s web site for several network enabled functions including:

  • EasyMP Network Projection software sets up your computer for network projection
  • EasyMP Monitor software (Windows only) lets you monitor and control your projector through the network
  • EasyMP Multi PC Projection software allows you to hold interactive meetings by projecting the computer screens of users over a network
  • EasyMP Network Updater software (Windows only) allows you to update firmware for a projector over a wired LAN.

The Powerlite 955WH is also compatible with Crestron RoomView(TM) network monitoring and control systems.

Moderator Functions

The PowerLite 955WH supports a “Moderator Function” that Epson describes as:

“Multi-PC projection and Moderator function allows up to 50 devices to connect over a network and then select up to 4 to project simultaneously.”

As illustrated below, this allows the teacher/moderator to select the content to be displayed from up to 4 devices (i.e., PCs, MACs or mobile devices), from a maximum of 50 connected devices.   The network connect can be either wired or wireless, with the optional wireless adapter.

Epson 955WH-Moderation Function

PC-Free Slide Shows

A flash drive can be plugged into the projector’s USB connector to display photos, slideshows and videos without having an attached computer.  The projector’s remote includes the buttons needed to navigate through the photo slide show or video.  This can be useful when the projector is being used as a portable unit for doing a quick setup for hassle-free presentations.  The PowerLite 955WH supports the basic types of photo files (i.e., jpg, bmp, gif, and png) as well as avi video files.  While some other business or education projectors may support more file types for PC-free presentations, such support for Microsoft Word/Excel/Powerpoint files, this projector’s more limited file support should be adequate for most education or business applications.

Support for Mobile Devices

Projection of content from iOS or Android devices is supported when the the optional wireless network module, $99 accessory, is installed on the projector and when the mobile device has installed the free Epson iProjection app.

MHL Support

MHL is essentially mobile HDMI.  The Powerlite 955WH supports MHL devices on its HDMI #2 port.   MHL is relatively recent, so it may see a lot more capabilities down the road.  To be effective, since MHL supports video, audio, and command and control, a projector really should have its own sound system, which the 955WH does (with a mono speaker).

Some phones and tablets, as well as all kinds of other smart devices are being designed with MHL.

Instant On and Direct Power Off

This is an not a common feature for a lamp-based projector.  While Epson refers to “instant on” it is really more of a quick turn on.  Also the projector turns off the cooling fan very soon after powering off the projector.  This feature allows the projector to be connected to a electrical circuit that can be switched to turn the projector on or off.

Hardware Tour

Appearance
Epson-955WH-Front
Epson-955WH-Left
Epson-955WH-Rear
Epson-955WH-Right

The Epson PowerLite 955WH, while larger than pico and pocket projectors, is still a compact model that could easily be moved between classrooms.  It is a well built classroom class projector packaged in an attractive white colored case.   As shown in the 1st photo above, its lens is positioned toward the right side of the projector’s front panel and with a ventilation grill on the left side of the front panel (when the projector is placed on a table and viewed from the front).

The projector’s air filter is accessed from the right side of the projector, as seen in the 2nd photo above, where a ventilation cover snaps off so that the air filter can be removed for periodic cleaning.

When placed level on a table-top the image is projected upward at angle, such that the bottom of the projected image is nearly level with the projector’s position.   There are adjustable feet for setting up the projector on a table.  For a permanent installation the projector can be mounted in the inverted position using a ceiling mount (extra cost optional accessory).

The projector’s control pad and lens zoom and focus are on the top panel as seen in the 3rd photo above.  The connector panel and the projector’s single speaker are located on the rear panel, as also seen in the 3rd photo above.

Connector Panel

The connector panel is shown in the photo below.

Epson 955WH-Connector Panel

The connector panel includes, from left to right across the top:

  • USB-A and USB-B connectors
  • RJ-45 wired network connector
  • HDMI 1 and HDMI 2 inputs
  • Analog computer #1/Component Video (15-pin VGA style) input connector

The middle row of connectors includes:

  • Power cord connector
  • S-video connector
  • Composite video connector
  • Left and Right Analog audio connectors
  • Computer #1 Analog audio (mini-phone jack) input
  • Analog computer #2/Component Video (15-pin VGA style) input connector

The bottom row of connectors includes:

  • RS-232c serial connector
  • Stereo Microphone input (mini-phone jack)
  • Analog Monitor Video Output (15-pin VGA style) connector
  • Analog audio output for use with monitor (mini-phone jack)
  • Computer #2 Analog Audio (mini-phone jack) input

The projector has IR receivers, for the remote control signal, on both the front and rear panels.  The small round window for the rear IR receiver is located just to the right of the lower group of input connectors.

The projector’s single speaker (not shown in the above photo) is located to the right of the connector panel at the rear of the projector.

Lens Adjustments

Epson 955WH-Lens controls

Toward the front of the projector’s top panel are the controls (see photo below) for the lens focus and zoom (mechanical controls), a slider control of the horizontal keystone adjustment and a mechanical tab used to slide the lens over open or closed.  When the lens cover is closed the projector goes into A/V Mute mode, if the projector is still tuned on.

Control Pad

Epson 955WH-Control Pad

The buttons for the basic projector controls, see photo above, are located to the rear of the top panel.  Included are the buttons for powering the projector on/off plus buttons for menu, electronic vertical keystone adjustment, input source selection and audio volume.  The keystone and volume buttons, along with the “enter” button also serve as the 4-way menu navigation buttons.  There are also status lights for the lamp and an over temperature warning.

Remote Conrol

The PowerLite 955WH is supplied with a fairly compact remote control measuring approximately 5.6 x 1.8 x 1.0 inches.  The remote is neither backlighted nor glow-in-the-dark, making it somewhat difficult to operate in a darken room.

The group of buttons toward the top of the remote include the power on/off button and buttons for input source selection.

Below that is a numeric keypad with three of those buttons doing double duty for “MHL” (for when connected to a MHL enabled source device),  “Auto” (automatically adjusts position, tracking a sync settings for analog signals), “Aspect” ratio, and “Color Mode”.

Below the numeric keypad are the buttons to display and navigate the projector’s menus.  Also there is a “Pointer” button which displays an on-screen pointer that can be moved using the navigation buttons.

Below the navigation buttons are pairs of keys to (1) “Page” thru presentation slides, (2) electronic “Zoom” (i.e., to enlarge a portion of the image), and (3) a “Volume” control.

Finally at the bottom of the remote there are three buttons for  (1) “A/V Mute” which turns off the picture and sound and places the projector in a lower power mode, (2) “Freeze” which freezes the current image being displayed, and (3) “Help” which displays help information for the projector.

Hardware Tour 2 :  Menus

The PowerLite 955WH has a well organized menu structure with good on-screen graphics.  The menus are very similar to those found on other Epson business and education projectors.

Image Menu

When the menu button is pressed, the top level “Image” menu is displayed, as shown in the 1st gallery photo above.  This menu has the usual adjustments for the “color mode” along with the image settings for that mode.  The 2nd photo above shows the sub-menu for the available color modes.

A color temperature adjustment, as shown is the 3rd photo above, is available is certain color modes and can be used to raise or lower the default color temperature for the selected color mode.

A “color adjustment” menu (as shown in the 4th photo above) can be accessed via the “image” menu that allows the user to adjust the red, blue and green color gains.  That allows for creating a custom color temperature or fine tuning the preset color temperatures.  Unlike the color temperature/grey scale adjustments found on some other projectors, the is no RGB bias controls for separately adjusting the levels for just the darker shades.

I noted that the auto iris feature is only available in certain color modes  (e.g., Theater).

Signal Menu

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The “Signal” menu is shown in the photo above.  This menu allows the user to adjust the processing to be used for the input signal.

Setttings and Extended Settings Menus

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The “Settings” menu is shown in the photo above.  This menu includes options for configuring the projector for the specific application/environment.

The “Extended” [settings] menu is shown in the photo below.  This is an essential menu for the initial setup of the projector.  The “extended” menu includes the essential settings for configuring the projector for the specific installation.  This includes such items as the section of the menu language and projector mounting configuration (table top vs. ceiling mounted and front vs. rear projection).  By default the configuration is table top and front projection.  This menu may be needed during initial projector setup.

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Network Menu

The top-level Network menu is shown in the 1st photo above and one of the sub-menu for wired network/LAN settings is shown in the 2nd photo.  When the optional Epson wireless adapter has been installed, the projector can be setup to operate on the Wi-Fi network using the available wireless network sub-menus.

Eco Menu

Epson 955WH-Menu-Eco

The Eco menu is shown in the above photo.  Eco mode lowers the lamp output (i.e., reduced image brightness) which results in reduced power consumption and extended the lamp life.  Other energy saving options are offered via this menu.

Info and Reset Menus

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The top-level Info menu is shown above.  From this menu the user can learn information about the projector (e.g., serial number or hours of use on the lamp) or the version number for the installed firmware.

The reset menu (not shown) can be used to reset the projector to the factory default settings.

Picture and Sound Qualtiy

Color and Picture Quality
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For my evaluation of the PowerLite 955WH, I used the factory default settings for each picture mode  As a general observation, applicable to all picture modes, this projector only offers a relatively low contrast ratio and fairly high black levels in the projected image.  Blacks appear only as a moderately dark grey.  This is typical for this class of 3LCD classroom projectors, in terms of contrast ratio and black level performance.

In the brightest mode (called “Dynamic”) the whites had an overall green tint while the mid-to-darker greys had a more cyan tint.  The greens also were shifted a little toward yellow while the yellows were shifted a little toward green resulting in mid-level greens and yellows appearing too close to being the same color.  In this mode the reds and blues were a little too dark as compared to the greens, which is, in part, the result of the Dynamic mode having an average color temperature of near 7500K.  Frequently, the brightest mode on a projector has such poor quality that it’s of little value except in the rare cases where every last bit of light output is needed to overcome room lighting.  In the case of the PowerLite 955WH, its brightest mode could prove useful for classroom presentations where room lighting cannot be easily controlled.

The PowerLite 955WH offers a “Presentation” picture mode that is approximately 3/4 as bright as the “Dynamic” mode and offers more accurate colors. As was the case in “Dynamic” mode, the image in “Presentation” mode still has an overall  tint but in this case is a blue/cyan.   The reds are a little darker than the  greens and blues, which is in part the result of the Presentation mode also having a color temperature of a little over 7500K.   Overall, the presentation color mode produces a more pleasing image than does dynamic mode.

The “Theater” mode provides overall good color with the out-of-the-box settings.  Overall the colors appeared reasonably accurate.   The default color temperature setting for the Theater mode is 6500K and for the brighter picture elements the color temperature was indeed close to 6500K.  However, there is some color shift for the darker picture elements (darker shades of grey) when a blue tint is visible indicated an increased color temperature.  When viewing video in “Theater” mode the projected image appeared good with accurate colors, especially in the brighter picture elements.

The “sRGB” mode is intended for use with a computer as the input signal source.  I found this color mode to produce an image very similar to theater color mode.  Overall color accuracy good.

“Blackboard” mode has rather poor colors when viewed on a white screen, but that is not the intended projection surface for this color mode.   When viewed on a white surface the image has a magenta tone indicating a low green output as compared to red and blue.   Since I did not have the intended surface to project the image onto, I could not properly evaluate how the colors would appear for the intended application of this mode.

Text Readability

The PowerLite 955WH image resolution and text clarity is very good for a projector with a native 1280 x 800 resolution.  Even 8-point text was very easy to read in both black text on a white background and with white text on a black background.   When my attached laptop PC was set to the projector’s native 1280 x 800 resolution (as shown in the photos above) the text readability was very good.  There was no noticeable color fringing on the text from a normal viewing distance and very little color fringing even when viewed up close.  This is very good performance for a LCD projector and even better than some of the DLP projectors that I have reviewed that exhibited a significant chromatic aberration.  I was able to get sharp focus over the entire image.

After evaluating the readability of text with an input signal at the projector’s native 1280 x 800 resolution, I increased the input resolution to 1920 x 1200, the maximum supported input resolution.  I found the scaling performance of the PowerLite 955WH to be excellent, as can be seen in the photo below.  The text remained very readable when being scaled down to the projector’s lower native resolution.

Epson 955WH-Text-4 Scaled 1920x1200

Video Performance
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The projector was operated in the Theater color mode and with the out-of-the-box factory settings.  Even though the out-of-the-box color performance in Theater mode was good, this projector does offer additional user picture settings that could be used to further improve the color accuracy of the projected image.  More specifically there is a color temperature setting and gain controls for each red, blue and green.  However, this projector does not offer RGB bias adjustments, meaning there is no means available to correct the grey scale tracking error toward the black end of the grey scale and the consequence was ideal grey scale track was not possible with the reviewed unit.  However, I consider this only a minor issue/limitation for a classroom class of projector.

I watched portions of three movies and found that overall the image was good to very good (for this class of projector) in terms of color accuracy.  The skin tones appeared natural and bright colors were well saturated.  As noted above, the contrast ratio and black levels were typical of this class of 3LCD classroom or business projector.  This is to say the projector had moderately dark greys instead of deep blacks.  The PowerLite 955WH offers a dynamic iris, but I found its action too slow, even when set to fast mode, to be effective when viewing video.  When the video would have a quick fade to black the projector’s dynamic iris would take up to perhaps a second to fully stop down and lower the black level.

Sound Quality

The PowerLite 955WH has a single 16 watt built-in speaker that produces adequate volume to not only overcome the projector’s fan noise but also is sufficiently loud enough to provide the audio in a classroom or moderately large size conference room.  It will product sound levels higher than typical for this class of projector.  However, as is expected from such a modest size built-in speaker, there is no real bass.  It certainly will work well for voice narrations and background music.  If higher quality audio is needed, then a powered external speaker system could be used by connecting to the projector’s audio output connector.

Performance

Brightness
Color Mode Lumens* Average Color Temperature
Dynamic 2981** 7415K
Presentation 2270 7821K
Theater 1950 6863K
sRGB 1934 6885K
Blackboard 1447 8140K

* Lumens values in the table are with the projector’s zoom lens set at its mid-point.  The listed lumens apply to both white brightness and color brightness.

** The PowerLite 955WH is a bright projector.  It has rated light output of 3200 lumens and my measurements show that with its factory default settings the peak light output (measured at the center of the projected image) came very close to the Epson specification when the zoom was set to its maximum position (for shortest throw) where the measure lumens increased to 3176 in Dynamic color mode.

The above lumens values were measured with the projector operating in normal lamp mode.  Changing the projector  to “Eco” mode reduced the light output by approximately 34%.

The brightness levels in the table above are with the projector’s zoom lens at its mid-position.  When set to maximum zoom (for shortest throw) the brightness increased by approx. 6.6% and when set to minimum zoom (for longest throw) the brightness decreased by approx. 9.8%.

I measured the brightness uniformity with the projector sitting on a table and projecting a 54 inch wide image with the zoom lens at its maximum setting.  The vertical and horizontal keystone adjustments were set to zero, meaning no electronic keystone correction was being used.  The brightest point was near the center of the image and the brightness remained within about 20% of that value at the least bright corners (i.e., top corners in this case) of the image.

The PowerLite 955WH that I received for review had a small, but at times visible, color uniformity issue that was most obvious when projecting a full white image.  I had not observed any similar color uniformity issues with other PowerLite projectors of the 9xx series that I had previously reviewed.  After being informed of the issue with the review sample, Epson provided a replacement projector and that second sample had good color uniformity.   Note that all screen shots in this review were from the first sample, but the color uniformity issue was generally not very visible with normal program material.

Noise

The Epson PowerLite 955WH is specified to produce a noise level of 37 dB in normal lamp mode and 29 dB in Eco mode.  These values, especially in normal operating mode, are toward the upper end of what is typical for this class of projector.  While the noise level, especially with the lamp operating in normal mode, is certainly audible, it should not be distracting when this projector is being used in a classroom environment.  Changing to the “Eco” mode resulted in a noticeable decrease in noise level and to a level similar to that from a typical home theater projector when such a projector is operating inits normal mode.

Networking

The PowerLite 955WH has a RJ-45 network port on its rear panel for connection to a wired local area network and Epson also offers an optional wireless adapter (not provided with the unit used for this review).  Epson provides both PC and Mac networked projector management software with the projector.  This software provides the tools to manage one or multiple Epson projectors  from a single PC/Mac location.  The administrator can both monitor the status of each Epson projector and also control the power and certain settings for each of these networked projectors.  See the Section 2 of this review for more information.

Epson also offers a free iProjection App for iOS or Android mobile devices that enables content from the mobile device to be displayed by the PowerLite 955WH, if the projector has been equipped with the optional wireless network adapter.

As discussed in section 2 of this review, Epson also provides “Moderator” software that enables content from up to four devices (mobile, PCs or Macs) to displayed by the PowerLite 955WH in a split-screen mode.

The networking capabilities nor the Moderator software were tested for this review.

Warranty

The Epson PowerLite 955WH has a 2 year parts and labor warranty for the projector itself while the lamp carries a 90 day warranty.

Replacement programs associated with warranties are the fastest and usually the easiest and way to get back up and running if a projector has a issue while still under warranty.  The Epson Road Service replacement program ships out a replacement projector the next business day, if you don’t call in too late in the afternoon.  That’s fast!  Epson pays the shipping fees for your replacement and to return your original projector with the issue. Bottom Line on this Epson projector’s warranty:  Overall, the warranty and support program has to be considered well above average.

Summary

The Epson PowerLite 955WH provides a bright, sharp image with good color accuracy (in some of the available color modes).  It is easy to set up with its 1.6:1 zoom lens plus vertical and horizontal keystone correction adjustments.  It offers some very bright modes that will allow it to used in a classroom with moderately bright lighting.   The projector can be either table mounted or ceiling mounted and is small enough to be considered a portable projector that could easily be moved between classrooms or conference rooms.

This is a WXGA resolution (1280 x 800) projector with a 16 x 10 aspect ratio, which is becoming the de facto standard for modern business and classroom projectors.

While the $899 list price for the PowerLite 955WH and $79 for replacement lamps are competitive for this type of projector, Epson offers very aggressive education discounts for their projectors and lamps being purchased by schools, making the cost to replace an old or broken projector with a Powerlite 955WH very attractive.

Pros
  • very sharp display with good focus over the entire image
  • very little color fringing visible on displayed text, even when viewed up very close and none visible for normal viewing distance, indicating  good alignment of LCD panels and also good optics with a low level of  chromatic aberration
  • excellent readability of text and presentation graphics
  • excellent scaling from higher resolution inputs down to the native display resolution
  • can display photos, videos, or slide shows directly from a USB flash drive
  • high light output (~2000 lumens) possible even in modes with good color accuracy and even brighter modes available
  • multiple Epson projectors can be controlled and managed from a central computer using the supplied software
  • moderator software allows classroom collaboration with the display of the content from up to 4 devices (e.g., laptops or mobile devices) using a split screen display  (requires optional wireless network adapter to enable use with of mobile devices)
  • presentations can be controlled via a mobile Android or iOS device (requires optional wireless network adapter)
  • content from mobile devices can be directly displayed by the PowerLite 955WH (requires optional wireless network adapter)
  • very good reception coverage of the IR signals from the supplied remote control enabled by the projector having IR receivers on both the front and rear panels
  • built-in 16 watt speaker, with higher than average volume levels possible, and a microphone input provide good audio capabilities for use in a moderate size class room or conference room
  • has both vertical and manual horizontal keystone correction adjustments for when the projector cannot be positioned at the ideal location relative to the screen.
  • long lamp life with up to 5,000 hours in normal mode and 10,000 hours in eco mode
  • competitive pricing, especially with Epson’s discount available to schools
Cons
  • remote can be difficult to operate in a dark room, since it has no backlight
  • dust filter that must be maintained
  • a relatively high black level and a modest contrast ratio means this projector is not the ideal choice for critical video viewing (such as might be desired for a film arts class) in a darkened room with good light control.
  • moderately high fan noise level when operated in normal mode

(projectorreviews.com, http://goo.gl/Kz6Z4g)

2016 Audi A3 2.0 TFSI quattro Review

Judge a luxury car company not by its flagship but by its compromises: namely, the sacrifices it makes to put its badge – in this case the four Audi rings – on the nose of its smaller, cheaper models. The 2016 Audi A3 2.0T quattro is a case in point, the most affordable way to get the coveted badge on your driveway, but losing some of the bells and whistles along the way. Question is, do those sacrifices outweigh the benefits?

2016 Audi A3 2.0 TFSI quattro Review

Style-wise, you’d be forgiven for blaming perspective and mistaking the A3 for a distant A4. When it comes to design language, Audi is clearly of the “don’t change a good thing” school, since you hear the corporate tongue loud and clear.

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So, at the front you have a big trapezoidal grille and strikingly angular lights – in this case xenons with LED running lights – while the sides get sharp crease-lines and a relatively high waist. At the rear, the short overhangs work in the A3’s favor, pushing the body’s weight visually forward and leaving it looking more urgent and keen.

The $2,700 Premium Plus package throws in 18-inch allows instead of the 17-inch standard wheels, heated power front seats, keyless start, and an auto-dimming mirror.

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It’s handsome, in a sober way, with minimal applications of shiny chrome and bold lines that I dare say will prove more timeless than the ostentatious flourishes of some of its segment rivals. It also very obviously apes its bigger siblings which I suspect helps it appeal to those who’d love the keys to an A4 or A6, but can’t stomach the monthly lease payments.

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Audi’s dashboard design has always tended toward the minimalistic, but the A3 is positively spartan. Sadly you don’t get the vast LCD binnacle that Audi has dubbed its Virtual Cockpit, making do with relatively mundane analog dials and a smaller status panel instead, but there’s a second display that pops out of the top of the center console for media, navigation, and adjusting settings if you opt for the $2,700 Technology Package.

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That also gets you WiFi hotspot support for the baked-in LTE modem, Audi side-assist for safer lane-changing, and navigation.

It’s controlled via Audi’s circular knob, flanked with a set of mode-sensitive keys along with shortcuts to navigation, media, and such. Audi has pared some of these buttons back in the name of simplicity in other cars, but it only takes a couple of days before muscle memory kicks in, and usefully you can replicate just about everything using the shortcut buttons and dials on the steering wheel.

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Beyond that, the dashboard is a simple thing: a long horizontal swathe of black, soft-touch rubber studded with circular vents, together with a row of dedicated HVAC controls. It’d border on the oppressive if it wasn’t for higher overall quality and materials than the average compact sedan, though there can still be some unidentified squeaks from rubbing trim: this isn’t an A8, or even an A4.

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You don’t get the space of those cars, either. Up front that’s fine, with plenty of head and leg room, but the rear bench is conspicuously short on legroom. The A3’s trunk, too, is on the compact side – 12.3 cubic feet – leaving me longing for the hatchback body more common for European versions of the car.

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Under the hood is a familiar engine, not to mention a good one. Audi’s 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbo is good here for 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque – not the highest it’s been tuned, but certainly enough to give the A3 some real perkiness. The turbo spools up rapidly, enough for a surprising surge away from the lights, and overtaking at highway speeds isn’t a problem.

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It’s also frugal, too: Audi quotes 24 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, for 27 mpg combined; in my mixed driving, I clocked in at 27.3 mpg.

While it might share an engine with the TT, unfortunately it doesn’t get the full benefit of switchable drive modes of the sports car. Audi’s Drive Select system is an $800 add-on – not present on my review car – that offers Dynamic, Comfort, Auto, and Individual settings: in Dynamic, the car in theory gets more eager, while in Comfort it’s more of a cruise. Without it, though you can flick the excellent six-speed S-tronic gearbox between regular “drive” and “sport” modes – the latter holding lower gears for longer, being more eager to downshift, and giving a crunchy little blip when that happens – you can’t adjust the other dynamics.

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Even if you cough up the $800, mind, you don’t get the full TT experience. The sports car has adaptive suspension which the A3 lacks (it’s an option on Audi’s S3), and in my experience that’s the biggest difference that Drive Select’s modes make.

It’s something you miss when the roads get twisty. The A3 holds the road well, courtesy of Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive, but there’s more wallow as the tuned-for-comfort suspension tries to keep up with aggressive cornering. It’s good, but if you really want four doors, performance, the Audi rings, and a “3” on the trunk lid you should go for the S3.

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That’s involves a step up to a $42,500 car, mind, though does get you 292 HP and 280 lb-ft. of torque. In comparison, this spec’d-out A3 starts to look more than a little expensive at $41,100 as-tested: after all, you’re getting into A4 territory at that point, with the larger car starting at $37,500.

My inclination would be to stick as close as possible to the $34,200 entry-level A3 2.0 TFSI – which still gets you leather, a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, heated leather wheel, parking system with a rearview camera, Bluetooth and SiriusXM, and rain-sensitive wipers – and try to resist the urge to splash out on Audi’s options list.

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That way, you’re getting a mini-A4 and an entertaining drive for a solid price. The 2016 A3 2.0 TFSI may not turn heads in the parking lot, but its eager engine should keep a smile on your face if you simply must have that four-ring cachet.

(slashgear.com, http://goo.gl/I1tzfS)

Amazon Kindle Oasis review : First class reader, first class price

For

Light weight design, fast page turns, great battery cover, lovely even lighting, premium feel

Against

Price, no adaptive front light

The Amazon Kindle has been fairly predictable over the past few years, walking a path from button-laden ebook reader at its 2007 launch, all the way through to the ultra-refined and ultra-simple Paperwhite and Voyage generation.

The Kindle exists for one reason and that’s to read books. In a world of jacks of all trades, it’s about the only master of one. Ok, perhaps two if you cynically say that it’s there to sell you books from Amazon. But as Kindle owner and user, reading books and having access to more books is the reason you love the Amazon Kindle.

The new Oasis shakes the Kindle status quo, radically rethinking the first position of incremental device updates, but reasserting and reinforcing the second position. For everything that the Kindle Oasis is, the central aim is to continue to deliver the best reading experience there is.

But even before you pick the Kindle Oasis up, there’s something that will divide opinion and that’s the price. At £269.99/$405 for the Wi-Fi version, and £329.99/$495 for the Wi-Fi and 3G version (that we review here), this is way more expensive than the rest of the Kindle line-up.

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With the aim of creating the best reading device ever, Amazon stripped theKindle down to its component pieces and built it back up again, taking the chance to remove as many annoyances or distractions as possible along the way. The result is a completely new form factor. It escapes the predictable tablet-like slab, offering a funky, but seriously considered, design.

At first glance, you might think it’s just a silly reshaping, but there’s something about this new design that really works. It’s as light as it can be and that’s essential for those who read a lot. Leaving the battery cover to one side, the naked Kindle Oasis feels incredibly light in the hand, making it really nice to hold, even for long periods of time.

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The new Kindle weighs 131g without the cover (Wi-Fi version) and 238g with the battery cover. If you opt for the version with 3G, it’s 2g heavier. Compare it to the Paperwhite which is 205g (Wi-Fi, 217g 3G) and that’s a fairly hefty difference, especially when you add the 150g (approx) for the official KindlePaperwhite cover into the mix.

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Rather than presenting a uniform thickness across the device, there’s a bump running down one side. That contains everything, the battery, the brains, all the hardware apart from the E Ink display itself. It even contains the display controller and LEDs.

That bump not only contains the hardware, but provides a natural grip for the Oasis. The bump is large enough for you to softly grip with your fingers. It’s also rubber surfaced, so it feels secure. The 6-inch display then extends away from this section, only 3.4mm thick through most of its body.

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The display surface is flat on the Oasis as it is on the Voyage, but rather than offering haptic pressure buttons in the bezels, the Oasis has two physical buttons for page turns. When gripping the Oasis, it’s really easy to turn pages with the slightest movement of the thumb. It’s natural, it’s easy and it works in either the left or right hand thanks to the accelerometer onboard.

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To understand how the Kindle Oasis ended up in this position, it’s worth taking a look at the parts that make it up. There’s surprisingly little to it, but in previous editions – such as the best selling Paperwhite – Amazon wasn’t able to optimise the hardware so well. Through advancements in technology, components have become miniaturised so you’re only really left with a few pieces.

There’s the main board that has all the brains on it – including theaccelerometer – the battery and the display. Then you have the display itself. As this is a Kindle, it’s an E Ink display, retaining excellent power efficiency and daylight readability. It’s an E Ink Carta 1.2 panel, but uses a new backplate that’s as thin as kitchen foil. It offers 300ppi across the 6-inch display, the same as the Kindle Voyage.

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The front of that display has chemically hardened glass for protection, but it retains some flex to help protection against damage. As we mentioned, the LEDs have moved to the edge, and the front illumination system is now much more efficient as the light only has to spread across two-thirds of the distance it did in the past, so it’s much more even.

So let’s bring it on down to the actual frame of the Oasis. It’s polycarbonate (plastic) but then undergoes structural electroplating for strength. This is painted and the other components fit into it and that’s about it. It leaves you with a Kindle that has a cool metal feel through much of the body, but with that rubber section for grip. It’s simple, it’s novel, but it’s still very much aKindle.

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The Kindle Oasis software is the same as the recently-updated software on existing devices, with a refreshed home screen and top navigation banner offering better controls over things like the illumination brightness. Seamless integration with the Kindle store, compatibility with a wide range of formats and seamless integration with the Kindle Store and Whispersync services is a given, along with support for Goodreads.

The Kindle Oasis boosts the number of LEDs, increasing the number by about 60 per cent compared to other illuminated Kindles, but it doesn’t offer the adaptive front-lighting of the Kindle Voyage. That means you’ll have to adjust it manually.

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That’s not such a hardship, but we’re surprised that Amazon couldn’t find a way to incorporate a sensor on this, its premium device, to do that for you. In fact it’s a silly omission, because the Oasis onboard battery only lasts 2 weeks, and in daylight you can have the illumination on and you’d never know – it’s just eating battery for no reason at all.

The illumination does spread nice and evenly across the front of the KindleOasis and we’re happy to say that we think it’s the best looking display we’ve seen so far. The Voyage is close, but the removal of the bezels compared to the Paperwhite makes quite the difference, as there’s one less thing in your way.

The buttons are new and they’re fast to turn pages. There’s the option to have a complete refresh on each page turn, but this makes things slower, so it’s not really worth turning it on, because the fast page turns are one of the great things about the Oasis. The buttons have a distinct action to them, it’s light, but there’s a positive click so you know what you’re doing. This makes things a little more definite than other touchscreen Kindles.

You still have the full range of touch actions too, so a swipe or the tap on the display can also move you through the pages – whichever you prefer, or whatever’s convenient at the time.

The result is that the Kindle Oasis does exactly what it sets out to do. It offers a premium reading experience and stepping back to older versions once you’ve used the Oasis feels like an awkward regression. You might sniff at the odd design, but you won’t once you’ve relaxed with your favourite thriller, just you and the words and little by the way of distraction.

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The battery cover comes in the box, as a sweetener perhaps, to offset the hefty price you’re being asked to pay for the Oasis. But at the same time, the battery cover is an integral part of the experience. As we just mentioned, the KindleOasis onboard battery lasts about 2 weeks. That’s the result of Amazon’s redesign and there’s an argument that says that perhaps the Oasis should have been a more regular size and packing a big battery instead.

The battery cover, therefore, brings the expansion to 8 weeks of use (all the figures are dependent on how much light you use, how many page turns you make and your wireless network usage). The cover actually works by slowly charging the Oasis internal battery up again, so in theory, if you detach the two parts – perhaps because you want the lightest option to slip into your jacket pocket on a long day trip – then you’re walking out with a full battery.

The battery cover magnetically attaches to the Oasis and there’s a nice precise action to it. The cover then neatly flaps over, again held in place with magnets. There’s a high quality finish to everything, and a seamless precision, although it’s currently only available in leather, with a choice of three colours.

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To charge the battery cover it needs to be connected to the Oasis and the charge is then passed through one device to the other. There’s a battery display accessed via the top navigation bar, where you can see the relative percentages of both batteries.

We like the arrangement. Yes, it’s a quirk offering a separate battery cover when you could have just offered a larger internal battery, but there’s some flexibility in that arrangement.

However, we’ve used our Kindle Paperwhite in the official leather case in all conditions. It’s a really solid cover, encasing the whole device, meaning we’ve been less concerned about taking it to the beach or throwing it in a bag, because it’s protected on all sides. As nice as the Oasis battery cover is, it doesn’t have that same level of ruggedness. The sides remain exposed, so this is perhaps a Kindle that will need a little more kindness than the encased Paperwhite.

Normally we wouldn’t tackle this sort of question in a review, but it’s been asked so many times, it seems appropriate. Many have suggested that getting a tablet is a better option than an ebook reader, because it does so much more. The defence in the most part has been that Kindles are cheaper. Starting at £59/$88, the entry-level Kindle is exceptionally good value for money.

But throw a £300/$450 Kindle in the mix and you’re looking at iPad mini prices. The iPad mini 2 is only £219/$328, the mini 4 is £319/$$478. So when we first started talking about the Kindle Oasis, many people said you’d just get an iPad instead. As logical as that argument seems based on cash alone, the same logic would dictate that you buy a Ford Fiesta rather than a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Yes, both are vehicles, both even have wheels, but they’re entirely different things.

Amazon Kindle Oasis review: First class reader, first class price - photo 21

When people ask this question, it only says one thing: they don’t read books. Sure, they might read the odd novel, but there is no interchange between atablet and a Kindle. You might be able to emergency read through the Kindleapp, but that’s not the Kindle experience. The Kindle experience is losing yourself for hours lying on the beach, it’s escaping into your own world on a packed commuter train, it’s that profound joy of reading late into the night in the soft glow of that front-lit display, just to finish that book. And then buying the next to guiltily keep going.

If you don’t understand that, if you don’t feel that thrill, then you’ll never really understand the Kindle, and you’ll certainly never understand the Oasis.

Verdict

The Kindle Oasis is easily the best Kindle, offering an experience that outshines its Kindle family. If it wasn’t for the omission of an adaptive front light, we’d be able to say it’s the most technically accomplished Kindle too. The design is strange, perhaps, and there’s an argument that says this should be one piece, not a 2-week device that is dependent on its external battery to be competitive with its cheaper siblings.

At the same time we love the flexibility and hefting a cased Paperwhite to read now feels like holding a brick. The existing Kindles feel dated as a result of the Oasis and that’s exciting. It’s exciting that something so simple can reinvent itself without really doing anything different.

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And therein lies the biggest problem with the Kindle Oasis: it doesn’t do anything different. The Paperwhite is £109.99/$165, a full £160/$240 cheaper than the Oasis. Sure, the lighting isn’t quite as even, and it’s bulkier and heavier, but the feature set is the same. If you asked us which Kindle to buy, we’d point to the Paperwhite and tell you that that’s the hero, because the Kindle Paperwhite is just too damn good to ignore.

But cost is relative and if we didn’t have expensive things that did the same thing as cheaper things, there would be no Rolls-Royce, no Omega, no Gieves & Hawkes, there would be no Premier Cru and none of that ridiculously moreish vintage Cheddar.

The world would be a boring place without these excesses and in our minds, that’s enough to justify the Kindle Oasis.

(pocket-lint.com, http://goo.gl/L28x8T)