Monthly Archives: May 2016

Teclast X10 Plus Tablet Review – It’s Your Choice

When we talk about technology, there is a fine line between what we want and what we get, considering the innovations on the market. Today, everything is about progress, development, and happiness. The tech industry is growing each day, and we are witnessing more opportunities and higher hopes. You want to choose; you lust for better control over your obligations, and leisure as well. With almost 1 billion users worldwide, tablets sound like a right decision. The tablet market is overcrowded, but we are always here to pick the best products for you. Today, we are reviewing an affordable and sophisticated device, Teclast X10 Plus tablet. It may get close to your needs, but to avoid jumping to any conclusions, let’s take a look at general specs.

Teclac X10 Plus Tablet on the white backgroundDisclaimer – We’re temporarily unable to deliver images of the device (replaced by the pictures from the company’s official site), but only the camera samples. This will be fixed soon. 

Specifications

Brand Teclast
Model X10 Plus
Available colors Silver
Screen size 10.1 inches
Display resolution 1280×800
OS Android Lollipop and Windows 10
Chipset Intel Cherry Trail Z8300
CPU Quad Core 1.44GHz, Up to 1.84GHz
RAM 2GB RAM
GPU Intel HD Graphics Gen 8
Internal memory 32GB, SD card up to 128GB
Bluetooth Yes, v4.0
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, HDMI
Battery Li-Ion, built-in battery
Battery size 7200 mAh
Front camera 2 MP
Back camera 2 MP

Packaging

Teclast X10 Plus package comes in a standard white cardboard box with company’s logo, bar and QR codes on it. It includes the tablet, USB cable, charger and two user manuals written in English and Chinese language. It is quite similar to other packages on the market nowadays. It weighs 1.100 g, and the tablet is separated from the other parts. The packaging is very well assembled indeed. No headphones arrive in the packaging, but that’s easy problem to solve – just check out the link below:

http://goo.gl/Dr6ugB

Here are the contents of the packaging:

Teclast X10 Plus x1
USB cable x1
Charger x1
User manuals written in English and Chinese x2

Design and Build Quality

The device has an exceptional and fashionable look. White and gray metallic color are combined with sophistication in mind. X10 Plus is made of polycarbonate, making it easy for cleaning and maintenance. It feels natural and light under your hands with its 0.580kg. If you are fond of the simple and powerful look, you will enjoy it for sure. On the front side, there is a primary camera and a wide display. There are no capacitive buttons, so you use the tablet touching the screen directly – the standard Android buttons fade and reappear after a slight touch. The white frame has broad bezels, to provide the comfortable usage. It does feel like a comfortable and functional when holding in hand.20160525112921_72830

The beautiful silver back side comes with a camera on the upper left side and a brand’s logo at the top midsection. Also, there is an Intel’s logo with the model’s name right below it. We can see a very well embedded speaker on the right side with high sound quality. The smooth material enables you one hand operation, and it won’t slip from your hands. Quite practical and safe, don’t you think?Teclast X10 Plus Tablet Backside on the white background

The sides of the device exude with the modern and minimalistic look, and all ports are located there. At the top (depending on how you hold the device), there are a power button and microSD card slot, enabling you to extend your tablet’s memory. On the right side, there are a lock and volume control buttons so you can adjust your speakers. On the left side, there are USB 2.0, 3.5mm audio jack, and HDMI ports. Teclast X10 Plus Tablet on the white background

At the bottom, there is a magnetic docking for easy keyboard input which will serve you just fine when you need some typing done.
Teclast X10 Plus Tablet with black keyboard applied

Display

The brand-new Teclast X10 Plus has a 10.1-inches capacitive display boasting a 1280×800 resolution. The poor pixel density(149 ppi) can hinder the user’s experience. We are very disappointed because the manufacturers haven’t improved the model with full HD. However, IPS technology enables nice video quality, sharp colors, and wide viewing angles. There is no screen protection so we advise you to use one.Teclast X10 Plus Tablet display on the white background

Performance and Storage

Teclast X10 Plus runs on 64-bit Quad-core Intel Cherry Trail Z8300 series processor, set at 1.44GHz, with an option to stir it up to 1.84GHz. Intel HD Graphic Gen8 processor is in charge of graphic and multimedia performance. If you enjoy video games, you will have a satisfying experience with this one. Teclast X10 Plus Tablet Performance

2 GB of RAM gives decent multitasking, but we have to point out there are going to be some lags if you overcrowd your system with larger apps. The internal storage is 32GB, but you can expand it with SD card up to 128GB. Of course, we got some affordable deals for you on the link below:

http://goo.gl/r1Lx7B

Battery

X10 Plus tablet is powered by the 7200mAh battery, which can last about 7 hours fully charged, but you shouldn’t be surprised if it takes a long time to recharge. It makes your tablet a bit weighty, but on the other hand, you won’t have a battery anxiety when you play games, go on a trip or watch movies. The battery is also perfect for heavy tablet users who rely on this device for work.

Teclast X10 Plus Operating System (OS)

Finally, we come to the most exciting part of this tablet. Whether your preferable operating system is Windows 10 or Android 5.1 Lollipop, X10 Plus is equipped with both of them. Your tablet, your choice. Windows 10 uses the great Start menu from Windows 10 and introduces new features such as Edge web browser that lets you mark up the pages on the screen. Also, you can listen to music via Groove music application. This feature is a big plus, and your task is just to take advantage of both systems.

Camera

Both front and back camera have 2-Megapixel sensors – there is nothing to brag about. If you prefer high-quality photos, this is not the tablet for you. Features like digital zoom, Scene Mode, and self-timer are deffinitely helpful, but nothing exceptional. The front-facing camera is good for Skype video calls and occasional photo on a daylight.

Here are some X10 Plus camera samples:

Connectivity

Here comes another highlight of X10 Plus. We all adore watching movies on the big screen, and HDMI HD output feature is here to bring you that joy. Just connect HDMI cable to your TV and get ready for your cinema experience. When it comes to Wireless connection, Bluetooth v4.0 is on board, enabling you to connect easily with other devices and transfer your photos, videos or other media. Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n protocols are supported, and signal reception is splendid. You can surf the Internet as much as you want anytime, anywhere.

Pros and Cons

Purchasing the device is all about choices, so we come to the part where we list the good and the bad sides of the product to make the shopping easier for you. Here are some pros and cons of Teclast X10 Plus:

Pros:
  • Affordable Price
  • Stylish Design
  • Two Operating Systems
  • Long Battery Life
Cons:
  • Keyboard unavailable
  • No SIM card slot
  • Small camera resolution

Opinion

Great design, excellent battery life, two operating systems. No doubt Teclast X10 Plus leaves a good impression, but on the other hand, there are a low-quality camera and a lack of SIM card slot. If you don’t need stellar photos and dial connection, this might be the tablet for you. Teclast X10 Plus is a highly functional device for an average user, and we highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys movies and games.

( xiaomitoday.com, http://goo.gl/6E4VbA)

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 review

PROS
  • Excellent 1440p gaming performance
  • Fantastically overclockable
  • Very power efficient
  • Super quiet while running
CONS
  • Limited SLI capabilities
KEY FEATURES
  • 1920 CUDA cores
  • Base clock speed: 1506MHz
  • Boost clock speed: 1683MHz
  • 8GB GDDR5 memory
  • Manufacturer: Nvidia

WHAT IS THE NVIDIA GEFORCE GTX 1070?

2016 has been a great year for PC gamers. We’ve seen the arrival of top-notch virtual-reality headsets, such as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, plus super-powered VR-focused graphics cards to back them up, such as the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080.

With all the hype and optimism flooding the PC gaming market, you could be forgiven for overlooking the GTX 1080’s less powerful sibling that’s on test here. After all, if you’re going to upgrade your rig then the best option is the flagship, right?

But those who dismiss the 1070 will be making a serious mistake. Sharing a common “Pascal” DNA with the 1080, the 1070 is one of the best value-for-money offerings available and should be the first on the list for any PC owner looking to enjoy judder-free 1440p gaming.

Update: Since my original review of the GTX 1070, Nvidia has fleshed out its range of Pascal graphics cards, adding the new, VR-ready GTX 1060 to its roster. Not only is the GTX 1060 ready for whatever your Oculus Rift or HTC Vive throws at it, it also offers a much cheaper route into 1440p gaming. If you’re prepared to make some sacrifices in areas such as anti-aliasing and other fancy effects, it’ll reward you handsomely.

Take a look at our benchmark results on the second page of this review for more information on the differences between the two cards.

Nvidia GTX 1070 (Flat Box)

SPECS AND TECHNOLOGY EXPLAINED

Nvidia didn’t shy away from making big claims about the 1080’s performance when it unveiled the card earlier this year. The company went so far as to claim it would outperform the £1,000/$1,500-plus Titan X at certain tasks. Unsurprisingly, the 1070 took a back seat as Nvidia went all-out on 1080 marketing, but many onlookers expected the former to be Nvidia’s dark horse this year.

The 1070 has a lot to live up to; its predecessor, the 970 is running on one in 20 gaming PCs according to statistics from Valve’s Steam gaming service.

On paper, the card isn’t just a huge improvement on the 970, it can also hold its own against Nvidia’s £550/$825 GTX 980 Ti.

The 1070’s use of Nvidia’s Pascal architecture plays a big part here. Pascal is the successor to Nvidia’s previous Maxwell GPU architecture. It improves on Maxwell using a smaller manufacturing process, which reduces the chip’s fabrication nodes from 28 nanometres to 16nm.

The Pascal architecture enables Nvidia to fit more transistors onto a smaller piece of silicon, thus increasing performance while reducing power consumption to a modest 150W.

Thanks to Pascal, Nvidia has been able to cram 1,920 CUDA cores onto the 1070 – the foot soldiers of a GPU that do the majority of the computational-heavy lifting. This is a marked improvement over Nvidia’s GTX 970 card, which houses 1,664 CUDA cores, but still firmly behind the 1080’s 2,560.

GTX 1070

Pascal also brings to the mix Nvidia’s answer to asynchronous computing. Async compute technology, used by AMD, enables a GPU to work on graphics and computing tasks simultaneously, therefore allowing a card to complete jobs faster. Nvidia’s version of the tech is called “pre-emption”, and works slightly differently: it allows the GPU to more intelligently choose which processes to prioritise.

The technology isn’t a big deal right now, since most games still use APIs that don’t support async computing or pre-emption. But with both Vulkan and DirectX 12 growing in use, it will become important in the very near future.

Nvidia’s boosted the 1070’s speed to 1,506MHz, which again is a significant improvement on the 970’s 1,050MHz core clock speed; the 1080 clocks in at a slightly higher 1,607MHz.

 Nvidia GTX 1070 (In Box)

The only possible quibbles you could have with the 1070’s core specs is that it doesn’t feature the GDDR5X memory seen on the GTX 1080 and is limited to a two-card SLI configuration.

GDDR5X memory is a new generation of RAM that’s much faster, but it’s also more expensive than GDDR5. The tech means the 1080’s 8GB of GDDR5X memory had a clock speed of 10,000MHz.

To me the lack of GDDR5X memory shouldn’t be an issue, and when you consider the 1070’s competitive £399/$598 price, you can’t be too disappointed. The card’s 8GB of GDDR5 memory, which features a 256-bit bus for 256GB/sec of memory bandwidth, will meet most regular gamers’ needs.

It’s also a marked improvement on the 970, whose lack of memory proved a constant problem. The 970 features a more modest 4GB of GDDR5 memory, only 3.5GB of which was generally usable for the majority of the time. This made 4K gaming on it a pipe dream and 1440p a serious push.

Nvidia is only officially supporting two-way SLI with the GTX 1070. You can get an unlock code to add more cards, but if you do, the three-to-four SLI setup will only work on selected benchmarking applications, such as 3DMark.

GTX 1070

Hardcore spec-heads have been up in arms about this, but I believe the complaint is unwarranted. Back in the day, there may have been a reason to connect multiple GPUs, but these days there’s little need for home users. The GTX 1070 and 1080 are both powerhouses, and the fact remains that running multiple GPUs comes with all manner of complications – chief of which is the fact that VR headsets and some game engines don’t like it.

In my mind, it’s the VR part of the argument that allows me to forgive the lack of SLI options. This is especially true when you account for the amount of work Nvidia has done with regards to optimising the 1070 for VR. The 1070 has the same Lens Matched Shading, Simultaneous Multi-Projection tech as the 1080.

Nvidia GTX 1070 (Profile)

PERFORMANCE AND BENCHMARK RESULTS

Testing methodology

I benchmarked the GTX 1070 on TrustedReviews’ test rig, which has been designed to match the specifications of a standard enthusiast gaming PC. It features the following components.

  • Motherboard: Asus Z170-Deluxe
  • Processor: Intel Core i5-6600K (not overclocked)
  • RAM: Corsair Vengeance 2,666MHz, 16GB DDR4
  • Cooler: Corsair H60 liquid cooler
  • PSU: Corsair CX750M
  • SSD: Samsung 850 EVO
  • OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit

GRAPHICS CARDS FOR COMPARISON

I ran the GTX 1070 head-to-head with a Founders Edition GTX 1080, 6GB EVGA GeForce GTX 980Ti and 4GB EVGA GeForce 970. The latest drivers for each card at the time of writing were installed. On each benchmark, I tested how the cards performed running at HD, QHD and UHD resolutions.

Dirt Rally

Dirt Rally’s built-in benchmark is the easiest test I threw at the 1070. It tasks the card with rendering and running a scripted scene designed to represent real gameplay conditions. The graphics were maxed out to Dirt Rally’s Ultra settings in every benchmark.

In FHD, the 1070 managed to match the performance of the 980Ti and ran at a silky-smooth 134fps, which puts it a mere 20fps behind the 1080. Performance remained the same at 1440p, where the 1070 was less than a frame behind the 980ti and ran at 97.4fps.

The figures mark a staggering 38.4% performance improvement over the GTX 970 in FHD and an even more impressive 49.8% boost at 1440p.

It was a similar story in 4K, with the 1070 managing to play the benchmark at 52.5fps. The score is a minor 4.2% decrease on the 980ti and 16.9% drop in performance compared to the 1080.

GTX 1070

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor’s built-in benchmark is short, but it tasks the GPU with some challenging effects, including weather, fire and explosions. I ran the game at its maximum graphical settings.

Here, the 1070 began to flex its muscles and managed to outperform the 980Ti. The 1070 ran the benchmark at 131.3fps at FHD and 89.8fps at 1440p. The figures mark a 3.4% improvement on the 980ti’s performance in 1440p and staggering 60.7% improvement on the 970.

In 4K, the 1070 dropped below 50fps and ran the benchmark at a still playable 46.7fps. The figure marks a 1.7% performance improvement on the 980Ti and a 14.9% drop on the 1080. The score is a 52.3% performance improvement on the 970.

GTX 1070

GTA V

GTA V may be older than most of the games we use to benchmark GPUs, but it remains one of the most challenging. It displays a huge number of effects and objects to render at any one time.

The built-in benchmark tests the game in various ways, but I paid attention to the flying and driving portions, which are by far the most difficult. In this benchmark, we didn’t crank the game up to its maximum settings but had many of the settings on High and Very High to give each card a proper challenge.

At FHD, the 1070 stretched its lead of the 980Ti and ran the benchmark at 104.2fps – a 28.2% improvement on the 980Ti and a modest 8.1% drop on the 1080’s performance. At 1440p, the 1070 maintained its lead on the 980Ti and 970 and ran the benchmark at 74.9fps. The score is a 26.5% improvement on the 980ti and 52.2% increase on the 970. The score put the 1070 just 9fps behind the 1080.

The 1070’s lead on the 980ti grew in UHD, where it ran the benchmark at 39.3fps. The figure is a 44.5% improvement on the 980Ti. The 1080 offered only a 16.1% improvement in performance. The 970 isn’t powerful enough to run the test.

GTX 1070

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider’s built-in benchmark tasks your GPU with some demanding lighting and weather effects across a variety of environments. I ran the benchmark with the game’s graphics maxed out to their highest settings in its DirectX 11 mode.

The game provided the biggest challenge for the 1070 and saw it drop behind the 980Ti. The 1070 ran Tomb Raider at 97.9fps in FHD, 65.6fps at 1440p and 34fps in UHD. That equates to a performance drop of 9.5% FHD, 13.1% 1440p and 17.7% UHD compared to the 980Ti.

The 1070 remained a serious step above the 970, despite its relative performance drop over the 980Ti. The card was 18.8% faster in FHD, 34.8% faster at 1440p and 71.2% faster at UHD.

GTX 1070

Hitman

Hitman’s built-in benchmark forces the GPU and CPU to deal with numerous objects, NPCs and lighting effects. Of all the tests results, these were the oddest. I ran the benchmark with the game’s graphical settings maxed out in the DirectX 11 mode.

In FHD, I ran into a bottleneck that meant every card other than the 980 maxed at 81fps. At 1440p, the 1070’s 69.8fps score put it a narrow 4.3% above the 980Ti, a robust 63.7% ahead of the 970 and 16.9% behind the 1080. But at UHD the 1070 all but fell apart and ran the benchmark at a disappointing 29.9fps. The score put the 1070 23% behind the 980ti and 37.5% slower than the 1080.

GTX 1070

3DMark

3DMark’s Fire Strike Ultra benchmark completed my series of tests. The benchmark doesn’t reflect the demands of any specific game, but it offers a good indication of a GPU’s overall performance, due to its widespread use and robust score library.

The GTX 1070’s 3,953 score puts it behind the 980Ti and 1080, which scored 4,211 and 4,884 respectively. The score is still well ahead of the GTX 970’s, however.

GTX 1070

Virtual Reality

I haven’t had an opportunity to test the 1070 with the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, so can’t sensibly comment on its VR performance. I’ll be sure to do so the moment one of the office headsets becomes available.

GTX 1070 versus 1060 and RX 480

The GTX 1060 is another card worth considering if you have a 1440p monitor but perhaps don’t want to spend £400/$600 on a graphics card. At the time of writing, you can pick up a GTX 1060 for around £250/$375, and as supply picks up prices should start coming down, although that could be a long way off.

What you get with the GTX 1060 is a capable card that’s both ready for VR and capable of playing games at 1440p, albeit with around 25% lower frame rates than the GTX 1070. That still equates to very playable frame rates of between 45 and 60fps, which can easily be raised if you start tweaking settings such as anti-aliasing.

Another card that’s come along since the launch of the GTX 1070 is the AMD Radeon RX 480. It’s a very capable performer and is slightly cheaper than the GTX 1060, and you’ll still get some great 1440p performances out of it.

The GTX 1060 and RX 480 are just other considerations. If your budget will stretch to the £400/$600 or more required for a GTX 1070, it’s a great choice.

Nvidia GTX 1070 (Horizontal Full)

PERFORMANCE CONCLUSIONS

You can’t fault the GTX 1070’s graphical grunt. The card regularly obliterates its predecessor, the GTX 970, and matches, if not betters the performance offered by Nvidia’s previous generation GTX 980Ti flagship – a card that cost over £100/$150 more when it first launched.

The 1070 doesn’t hit the hallowed 60fps average for 4K gaming, which isn’t surprising considering its price, but it easily beats it at 1440p and below – which are the resolutions most gamers currently play at.

I couldn’t get accurate results for DirectX 12-compatible games, since currently there’s next to no performance data. I’ll update the review with the data when DirectX 12 becomes more widely supported.

Nvidia GTX 1070 (Ports)

OVERCLOCKING AND SLI

Performance junkies will always want to get the most from their rig and will no doubt want to dabble in some overclocking.

Nvidia has worked hard to support the practice on its new line of cards, loading them with GPU Boost 3.0 technology to provide gamers with more granular control over the frequencies and voltages they use. This in turn improves system stability following an overclock.

The tech works a treat, and over an hour and half’s session I managed to achieve an impressive 220MHz GPU and 260MHz memory overclock. This resulted in an average 6fps improvement in the games benchmarks running in 1440p.

The GPU overclock was the limit of what I could achieve. Some people have reported achieving a 240MHz overclock, but in my tests I constantly experienced lockups in games once I broke the 220MHz threshold. I could have pushed the memory overclock further, but had to stop due to time constraints.

I had only one Founders Edition GTX 1070, so I didn’t get a chance to check out how it performs in SLI.

SHOULD I BUY THE NVIDIA GTX 1070?

If you’re a PC gamer stuck on a GTX 970 or below, and are looking for a decent upgrade, the GTX 1070 is the best-value choice The card is the best value-for-money GPU available at the moment and blitzes through 1440p resolution gaming and below.

Although it doesn’t match the performance of the GTX 1080 in 4K, and likely won’t be as good at VR, you won’t find a better card for £400/$600.

My only advice would be to wait for one of the third-party overclocked versions from the likes of Asus, MSI, EVGA or Gigabyte, which will inevitably appear in the very near future and offer marginally better out-of-the-box performance.

If you’re currently on a 980Ti or equivalent, I’d recommend holding off a little longer. The 1070 is a great card, but it isn’t a significant an upgrade on the 980Ti when it comes to regular gaming performance – although it’s significantly more power-efficient.

People on a 980Ti would do better to shell out for the full-fat GTX 1080, or hold off and see what AMD brings to the party later this year.

Nvidia GTX 1070 (Flat Angle)

VERDICT

Want judder-free 1440p gaming? Then you should buy the Nvidia GTX 1070.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/FHEv5j)

Oukitel C3 Review – The Mythbuster

Who said that budget phones have to be ugly? Unfortunately, many people still believe this myth. For other individuals who believe that anything is possible, a small Chinese tech company created a unique phone. Meet the Oukitel C3; a phone with the most attractive design since glory days when Nokia still reigned supreme. Mix the excellent design, solid specifications and affordable price and you’ll get a “killer” product for the masses. Let’s see is Oukitel C3 such a good performer, and an absolute no-brainer when it comes to value.

Oukitel C3; five phones with different colors on a white background; Android mascot and a few diamond below.

Disclaimer – We’re temporarily unable to deliver images of the device (replaced by the pictures from the company’s official site), but only the camera samples. This will be fixed soon.

Specifications

Brand Oukitel
Model C3
Screen size 5.0 Inches
Display resolution 1280×720
OS Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Chipset MediaTek MT6580A
CPU 1.3GHz Quad-Core
RAM 1GB
GPU Mali T-720
ROM 8GB (TF card up to 32GB)
Bluetooth Yes V4.0
Network type WCDMA+GSM
Connectivity 2G, 3G, GSM, WiFi, GPS
Battery Lithium-ion Polymer Battery
Battery size 2000mAh
Front camera 0.3 MP (interpolated to 1.3MP)
Back camera 5.0 MP (interpolated to 8MP)

Packaging

Right from the start, while we unboxed the device, we noticed that this is not a random low-end phone. Oukitel C3 exudes with premium packaging, garnished with neatly folded equipment inside. Speaking of equipment, there are several items included in the box: power adapter, battery, micro USB cable, and the user manual written in English. Nothing out of the ordinary but arranged very well and exceptionally packed.

1X Oukitel C3 smartphone
1X Micro USB cable
1X Charger
1X User manual
1X Battery

No headphones, like expected, but that isn’t a problem: http://goo.gl/QyKNqY

Design and Build quality

Diamond is one of the toughest and most beautiful materials in the world. Every diamond is unique, and you can almost say that it is perfect. When creating Oukitel C3 the company based the design of its back plate on the diamond. It features many different shaped triangles which are mathematically arranged. The back is made out of polycarbonate; it is removable, textured and incredibly grippy so you don’t need to fear that it will slip from your hands.

Oukitel C3 deep blue version of the phone, showing its textured back, camera and LED flash while it's lying on a wooden table.

The primary camera with LED flash and triangle shaped speaker grill are also located on the back. Not only that back are removable, but they also come in several beautiful colors: black, white, champagne gold, light and deep blue.

Oukitel C3; deep blue version shown from the back while lying on a wooden table.

Underneath the back cover, there is a removable battery and SIM and micro SD card ports. On the front side of the device, there is a 5-Inch HD display with the front camera, earpiece and several sensor above it. Below the screen, there are capacitive Android navigation buttons. On the top of the device, there are a 3.5mm headphone jack and 2.0 micro USB port. Bottom of the device features an additional microphone for noise canceling. Power and volume keys are located on the right side of the device. The keys (and a whole inner frame of the phone) are made out of zinc metal alloy.

Oukitel C3 promotional picture showing the levels from which the device is made; white background.

The buttons are quite clicky and offer a great tactile feedback. Oukitel C3 is very sturdy, and it doesn’t feel like it would easily shatter. We have to admit that Oukitel struck gold with this model.

Display

Oukitel C3 is equipped with a 5-Inch IPS display with the resolution of 1280×720. As with the other IPS screens, viewing angles and color reproduction are great. Many people would agree that 5-Inches is a perfect size for a smartphone display, and we are certainly some of those people. The size is right for browsing as well as multimedia and games. Given that this is a highly affordable device, HD resolution of the display is more than welcomed. Unfortunately, some sacrifices had to be made, and there is no protective glass over the display. Applying a protective screen cover of some sort would be sagacious.

Oukitel C3 showing some planet on the display of the phone while it's lying on a wooden table.

Processor and RAM

Oukitel C3 features a MediaTek’s 64-bit Quad-Core CPU clocked at 1.3GHz. Mali T-720 GPU is in charge for games and multimedia performance, and 1GB of RAM is in charge of multitasking performance. When we speak of performance, we usually think on a day to day usage and don’t rely on proprietary benchmarks. You know, a little bit of browsing and streaming videos, some gaming involved, some social apps and that sort of things. In these conditions, the device behaved well with a few dropped frames in some high-demanding 3D games and a few hiccups when a lot of apps are opened. Keep in mind that this is a low-end device, and it is not recommended for serious gaming or heavy multitasking. Clear the recently opened app list from time to time and it should work fairly well.

Oukitel C3 promotional picture showing a car game that is being played on the device; white background.

Camera

Oukitel C3 sports two cameras, secondary on the front and primary on the back. The main camera has a 5-Megapixel sensor (interpolated via software stitching to 8-MP) and, sadly, it is nothing to be proud of. It lacks the fine detail, and it can be pretty grainy in low light scenarios. Colors are punchy, contrast is solid, but the white balance is usually off, and it needs to be adjusted manually. There are several shooting modes like HDR, panorama, beautify, but the thing that caught our attention the most is “V” gesture capture. Every time you show the “V” (peace or a victory) sign with your fingers, the camera will automatically capture the photo. It works really well, and it can come in handy when taking selfies with the main camera. Check out the samples:

The front camera is in charge of self-portraits (or selfies) and video calls. It features a 0.3-Megapixel sensor (interpolated to 1.3MP), and we have to say that quality is lacking. It can be used for an occasional photo session, but we recommend you to use a back camera instead. Highest quality videos on this device are shot with 1080p @ 30fps, and they offer the similar quality as with the still images. Camera performance is nothing spectacular but, in the end, it all comes down to the photographer (a time and a place) to make the photos unique.

Storage Capacity

The device comes with 8GB of internal storage which is not the best out there. Even some of the affordable phones offer 16GB of storage in 2016. Have no fear, because the storage space can be expanded via micro SD card with additional 32GB and that is plenty of space for most users.

Operating System (OS)

Oukitel C3 runs on an Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box, and that is its biggest advantage over the competition. The latest version of Android offers several advantages over the previous versions of the OS. Things like Doze mode, Google now on tap and App Standby feature are more than welcomed. Doze Mode and App Standby feature greatly enhance the battery standby time by limiting the CPU performance as well as putting the apps to sleep.

Oukitel C3; Android mascot pictured while piling the marshmallows on a pile; light blue background.

Google Now on tap extends the usability of the Google search function, and it is a neat feature as well. You can download a plethora of latest apps and games from the Google Play store or any other Android app store. Latest Android OS worked as advertised on our unit without any major hiccups or lags.

Connectivity

From the connectivity side, Oukitel C3 is well covered. It offers a dual SIM, dual standby cards with up to 3G network coverage. Signal reception is above average, and we didn’t have any issues or dropped calls. If you don’t have an unlimited data plan or, you just want to save your battery you can browse the web by connecting to Wi-Fi. 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi protocols are supported, and we haven’t encountered any issues here either. There is a Bluetooth version 4.0 on board, and it offers faster transfer speeds while still being gentle on the battery life. GPS and A-GPS are on board as well, and we used it a lot during our hiking sessions trough the woods.

Network type: GSM+WCDMA
2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz
3G: WCDMA 900/1900/2100MHz

Oukitel C3 Battery life

The device is equipped with a removable 2000mAh lithium-ion battery. With the help of Google’s latest battery saving algorithms and an efficient processor this device performs great on standby test, scoring high above average. When using the device for browsing and multimedia continuously, battery drains quickly because HD screen is a lot to power with such mediocre capacity battery. Still, even the power users will not have a problem of getting trough the busy working days with a lot of e-mails on sync, received calls, SMS and so on.

Additional Features

Oukitel C3 have an awesome set of additional features. Things like FM radio, for listening to your favorite stations on the go. Rich audio and video codec support out of the box. Gravity and proximity sensors for richer user experience. Double tap on the display to unlock the device can be a very handy feature. Floating gesture for using your device without touching it by simply waving in front of the proximity sensor. You can switch between images in the gallery and do all sorts of things with this fantastic feature.

Pros and Cons

This is the section of our article where we list all the advantages and disadvantages of reviewed device for your viewing pleasure.

Pros
  • Great HD display
  • Exceptional build quality and design language
  • Ability to use dual SIM cards
  • Pretty powerful chipset for a low-end device
  • Latest Android version on board
Cons
  • No 4G LTE
  • Only 1GB of RAM

Opinion

This device is aimed mainly at a younger crowd. It is interestingly looking, features several attractive color options, and it is highly affordable. We used it as a daily driver for several days and never felt the need to switch to another, more powerful device. Oukitel C3 is not without is flaws, but we believe that its virtues are much greater and that it offers a lot of cool stuff for a reasonable price.

(xiaomitoday.com, http://goo.gl/BJiOQP)

 

Lenovo YOGA 900S Review — redefining what ‘luxury laptop’ means

Lenovo’s YOGA products come in a variety of flavors, and few are as complex and appreciable as the YOGA 900S. This convertible system features Lenovo’s beautiful watchband hinge coupled with an especially thin body and more than 10 hours of battery life. There’s a lot to like about the 900S, and that’s understating things. What do we love most about the newest YOGA? Read our review to find out!

Lenovo YOGA 900S Review — redefining what ‘luxury laptop’ means

Hardware

The first thing you notice when taking the YOGA 900S out of its box is how incredibly, almost impossibly light and sturdy it is. The laptop is no thicker than my ink pen when closed, and slims down to about a pencil’s diameter when the lid is open.

The exterior is smooth, unassuming, and elegant; the interior is unabashedly luxurious. Nothing drives the point home quite like the watchband hinge, though, equal parts exceptionally stable and refined and unlike any other laptop hinges out there.

To state it simply, the Lenovo YOGA 900S is gorgeous.

12

The 900S is half an inch thick and it weighs 999 grams, which is a bit over two pounds. The laptop is made from carbon fiber, as well, for durability. The hinge enables full display movement freedom, as we’d expect with a YOGA laptop; you can arrange it in regular laptop mode, stand, tent, and tablet modes.

The interior surface around the keyboard is nicely textured with a distinct grain, giving it something akin to a leather texture (though it isn’t leather). The outer edges are black and smooth, while the lid and bottom panel are smooth and, in our case, gold-colored.

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The display is beautiful in its own right, bringing a QHD resolution on an IPS panel. The screen’s high quality goes well with the Lenovo Active Pen (not included with the laptop), which offers 2,048 levels of pressure for hand writing and sketching. The screen is very responsive to touch and writing; if you’re looking for a convertible lapto that can be used as a drawing slate or for taking notes, the 900S will serve you well.

TECH SPECS

  • Processor: Up to 6th Generation Intel® Core™ m7 Processor
  • Operating System: Windows 10 Home
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel® HD Graphics
  • Memory: Up to 8 GB LPDDR3
  • Webcam: 720p
  • Storage: Up to 256 GB PCIe SSD
  • Audio: Stereo Speakers with Dolby® Audio Premium
  • Battery:
    FHD: Up to 12 Hours Local Video Playback
    QHD: Up to 10.5 Hours Local Video Playback
  • Display: Up to 12.5″ QHD (2560 x 1440) IPS, Touch Display
  • Dimensions (W x D x H):
      (inches) : 12.01″ x 8.19″ x 0.5″
      (mm) : 305 x 208 x 12.8
  • Weight: Starting at 2.2 lbs (999g)
  • WiFi: 2 x 2 802.11 a/c, Bluetooth® 4.0
  • Connectors:
    1 x USB 3.0 (Type A)
    1 x USB 3.0 with Video-out (Type C)
    1 x DC-in with USB 2.0 Function
    Audio Combo Jack

Software & Performance

Lenovo includes half a dozen of its own applications on the 900S: OneKey Recovery, Companion 3.0, Photo Master, SHAREit, REACHit, and WRITEit. As well, the laptop includes a 30-day trial of McAfee LiveSafe.

Performance was excellent, but will of course vary depending on your hardware configuration. Lenovo has two varieties up on its website, one with a 6th-gen Intel Core m5-6Y54 1.10GHz processor, and another with the 1.20GHz m7-6Y75 processor. They have the same Intel HD Graphics 515, but the most expensive model has 8GB of RAM instead of 4GB, and a 256GB SSD instead of 128GB.

Battery life is highlighted as one of the YOGA 900S’ most notable features, with Lenovo saying you can get up to 10.5 hours of battery life. You’ll see that number dwindle if you’re maxing out the screen brightness while playing videos and such, but it is mostly accurate in best-case-scenario usage. The battery life is surprising given how thin and light the laptop is; it’ll get the average user through a work or school day without having to stop and recharge, a necessity for many on-the-go users.

Conclusion

Lenovo has a lot of bland laptops (and many stylish ones, too), but that’s not because it isn’t capable of more. If you need a no-frills all-black design, they have you covered. If that’s not your thing, though, if you want a laptop that stands out from the crowd and makes itself known with no shortage of elegant beauty, the Lenovo YOGA 900S is the laptop you’ve been waiting for. It’s not a powerhouse, of course. It doesn’t try to be. For most people, it’s exactly what they need in wrapped up in a package miles above what they wanted.

The Lenovo YOGA 900S is available from Lenovo’s website starting at $1,099.99 USD.

(slashgear.com, http://goo.gl/LMvGi7)

 

Best smartwatch 2016 : Apple, Pebble, Samsung, Sony, Tag and more

Choosing the best smartwatch right now is a tough task given the sheer number now on sale from Apple, Pebble, LG, Motorola, Tag Heuer, Fossil, Samsung and Sony.

If you’re interested in a wrist companion, you need to choose between the Android Wear army, the latest Pebble watches, and the Apple Watch.

And there’s plenty in the pipeline too. The Apple Watch 2 will land sometime in 2016 and the likes of Nixon’s The Missionand Michael Kors Access are on their way too.

We’ve completely overhauled our best smartwatch guide to try and help those looking to make the right decision. Whether you’re after a functional, sporty or something downright stylish, read on for our choice of the top tech timepieces to own right now.

The best smartwatches in the world

Stop press!

Before you make your decision, bear in mind that two new Pebbles have just landed on Kickstarter. Read our Pebble Time 2 and Pebble 2 guides before you buy and look out for hands ons within the next few weeks. We won’t be reviewing these smartwatches for a few months yet.

Best smartwatch – Samsung Gear S2

best smartwatch 2016

As easy to live with as a Pebble, as slick as an Apple Watch and with a tactile, rotating bezel as its secret weapon, the S2 is the kind of smartwatch you’d kick yourself for leaving at home. You’ll have to pay extra for the cellular version to make the most of the GPS features but even the standard version feels like a leap forward.

The battery life is better than most rivals; we’ve used Android Wear watches day to day, and Samsung’s smartwatch beats these hands down. Only the lack of apps is a niggle but we don’t think it impacts the overall experience enough to recommend rivals over this device.

From $299.99, samsung.com | Amazon

Best for iOS – Apple Watch

Best smartwatch

Whether you find the Apple Watch the leading example of fashion blended with tech or a boxy abomination is really down to personal taste. But for our money, it’s one of the best looking smartwatches made to date (especially when paired with a quality Apple Watch strap) and, coming in two sizes, is one of the most unisex as well.

The build quality is superb, and the footprint of both the 38mm and 42mm watch is much smaller than you’d expect. Despite its flaws (poor sports features and the lack of GPS), the Apple Watch was one of the first wearables that was actually a pleasure to wear. The Apple Watch 2 is set to arrive soon though…

From $349, apple.com | Amazon

Best for outdoors – Casio Smart Outdoor WSD-F10

Until Nixon’s The Mission comes along this autumn, Casio should be your first pick if you want an outdoorsy smartwatch. OK it doesn’t have GPS and that’s a problem but it (somewhat) makes up for it with lots and lots of sensors, modes for hiking, biking and fishing, two displays and it’s dustproof and waterproof to 50m.

Just be warned, this is a bit of a beast on slender wrists, though it does only weigh 92g with the bulky rubber strap.

Read our full Casio Smart Outdoor review to see how we got on with it.

$500, shopcasio.com

Best money no object – Tag Heuer Connected

best smartwatch

It doesn’t take long before you realise this Intel powered Tag smartwatch is the best built, and highest quality, Android Wear device to date. From afar it genuinely looks like a regular Tag Heuer watch – it’s only when you get up close that you notice it’s quite a bulky beast. Now available in rose gold, its watch faces are another delightful addition and after two years, you can trade it in for a mechanical Tag watch.

$1,500, tagheuerconnected.com

Best Android Wear option – Sony SmartWatch 3

best smartwatch

An old choice but a good choice, the Sony SmartWatch 3 has built-in GPS connectivity, which means you can leave your smartphone at home when you go for a run. (The Moto 360 Sport has matched it on that front now).

The sports styling make it perfect for a weekend jog, and while the screen is a little dull compared to some of its rivals, the latest Android Wear update means it can pair with wireless headphones for beats on the go. The Steel edition adds a touch of class to the smartwatch that we at Wareable (well, almost all of us) agree offers the most bang for your smartwatch buck.

From $249, sony.com | Amazon

Best for budget – Asus ZenWatch 2

The focus of the ZenWatch 2 is choice, and Asus is approaching the evolving smartwatch market in a mature way. The all-new ZenWatch comes in two sizes – essentially, male and female models. There are also a wealth of strap options including rubber, steel, leather and even a Swarovski covered one. This makes it a nice first step for potential Android Wear buyers.

While little has changed on the ZenWatch 2 on the hardware front, the Taiwanese company has installed a Wi-Fi chip to make use of the new features in Android Wear, and fast charging tech means you can juice up 50% of the battery in around 30 minutes.

From $149.99, asus.com | Amazon

Best for techies  – Pebble Time

what is the best smartwatch

Everything that made the original brilliant is still on board: that affordable price, an impressive seven-day battery life and both iPhone and Android compatibility. There are also some serious upgrades to both the software and hardware, the most notable of which are the new colour e-paper screen and the revamped Timeline OS. Plus with the Pebble Time 2 on its way, this watch has dropped in price.

$149.99, pebble.com | Amazon

Best for battery life – Pebble Time Steel

Best smartwatch 2015

The world had only just caught its breath from the record-breaking Pebble Time launch when the Steel version was announced and now we have a Time 2 (with a heart rate monitor) to consider. The Pebble Time Steel is thicker than its plastic brethren, making it feel much more regular watch than geek accessory.

That extra 1mm isn’t a bad thing though – it means room for a larger battery, which should keep the Steel going for 10 days.

$249.99, pebble.com | Amazon

Most customisable – Moto 360 2

The Moto 360 2 comes in two sizes – 42mm and 46mm (two different sized displays: 1.37 or 1.56-inch) – in fact, it’s three sizes if you count the different band sizes on offer. Using Moto Maker, you can choose between hundreds of different combinations of straps, bezels, finishes and colours.

Put the new Moto 360 next to the first-gen Motorola watch and you can see the subtle differences that really turn this design into a watch rather than last year’s circle on a strap.

From $299.99, motorola.com | Amazon

Best for sports – Garmin Vivoactive HR

This second gen Garmin smartwatch has the same 24/7 activity tracking and support for smartphone alerts as its predecessor, the Vivoactive. What it adds is Garmin’s own Elevate heart rate tracking technology which monitors your HR continuously and gives accurate indications of calorie burn through the day and night. And it’s better looking.

There’s GPS and dedicated apps for cycling, swimming, running and golf plus support for skiiing and paddle boarding too. Connect IQ adds apps and battery life is eight days, 13 hours with GPS. Look out for our full, in-depth review coming soon and check out our Garmin Vivoactive review for the last gen model.

$249.99, buy.garmin.com | Amazon

Best for running – Moto 360 Sport

what is the best smartwatch on sale?

At last, an Android Wear device to match the Sony SmartWatch 3’s GPS skills – the Moto 360 Sport is actually a better running aid thanks to the Moto Body app already built in.

The Moto 360 Sport boasts an AnyLight LCD display that is naturally adaptable, meaning it should be nicely backlit in dim lighting situations but be easily readable when out running in sunnier conditions.

$299, motorola.com | Amazon

Best for affordable style – LG Watch Urbane

the best smartwatch

There’s no missing the Urbane, whether it’s the silver or gold model you’re sporting; that fully round bezel is seriously eye- and light-catching. It’s a smartwatch that looks like a traditional timepiece, and unlike the more premium-lookingUrbane LTE, with its classic watch shape and extra physical buttons, the regular Urbane looks much more fashionable and feminine.

It’s pretty pricey though. If you really want to go all out, the LG Watch Urbane Luxe features a 23-karat gold watchcase and handcrafted alligator leather strap. It’s $1,200 mind.

$349, lg.com | Amazon

Best for display – Huawei Watch

top smartwatch best smartwatches

The stunning AMOLED display on Huawei’s Android Wear debutant is a 1.4-inch, 400 x 400, one with a 286ppi count – the highest density on an Android Wear smartwatch so far.

The screen is made all the more impressive thanks to a 10,000:1 contrast ratio. Side by side with the smaller Moto 360 2 – its closest rival in terms of aesthetics – it’s clearly a much clearer display. Not just because it offers genuine 360-degree visuals, but because everything just looks sharper.

From $349, consumer.huawei.com | Amazon

(wareable.com, http://goo.gl/7U8jzS)

Arcam SR250 review

Verdict
  • The SR250 is a bit of an oddball, but for some people, its interesting feature set could be compelling
For
  • Muscular yet refined presentation
  • Good level of detail
  • Dirac EQ system
  • Video switching
Against
  • Lacks a little sonic finesse by premium stereo standards
  • App is iOS only

If you like kit to fit into neat product categories, Arcam’s new SR250 is likely to cause upset. It’s either a stereo amplifier with video switching capabilities or an AV amp that’s running several channels short.

Features

In terms of features the SR250 has everything you would expect from an upmarket AV product (bar the number of power amp channels, of course). There are no less than seven HDMI inputs, all fully capable of handling 4K, HDR signals.

These are ably backed-up with a decent array of digital and line-level analogue inputs.

It would be nice to have a Type B USB to make a digital connection to a computer easier, but beyond that, we doubt there’s a stereo set-up where this Arcam will be found wanting.

Initial set-up is the same as for any AV amp, though Arcam is particularly proud of the Dirac room equalisation system built into the product. This not only aims to minimise any room issues, but also optimises the phase performance of your speakers. Their tonal balance can be tuned to taste, too.

While the SR250 comes with a suitable microphone you’ll still need to use a computer to do the processing. The relevant software (Mac and PC) can be downloaded from Arcam’s website. It’s not a difficult process, but we would still recommend getting the supplying dealer to perform the set-up.

It might cost you a bit extra on top of the hefty price, but it’s well worth going to the effort, because the Dirac system is one of the more convincing we’ve come across.

Comparing the sound of the SR250 with and without Dirac is interesting, and easily done with just a press of a button on the remote. There’s no doubt that the EQ makes our reference system sound more tonally even and notably better in terms of precision and focus. Detail levels are improved too, with low level instrumental strands becoming easier to follow.

It’s not totally positive news though. Dirac neutered dynamic expression a touch, making the music a little less exciting and less fluid. That said, our test room is a relatively balanced proposition, so makes less of the advantages of the EQ system than others.

If your listening space has some sonic issues we think Dirac would help, though we would stop just short of calling it essential.

Build

The SR250 is a hefty unit. Weighing in at a chunky 15kg, the casework mirrors that of Arcam’s current integrated multichannel amplifiers. It’s a well-built case too, feeling rigid and nicely finished.

By AV standards, the front panel is a model of simplicity, and it’s easy to operate thanks to the well laid out control buttons and clear display.

This is a pricey amplifier and feels like it. If you don’t want to use the standard remote, Arcam also has a dedicated iOS app that covers the full range of the amp’s functionality. Once loaded the app is simple and easy to use.

Inside, you’ll find Arcam’s Class G power amplification, a complex circuit configuration that aims to deliver high-quality sound with low power consumption – pretty much the holy grail of amplifier design.

The complexity comes from the use of multiple power supplies that are switched into use depending on the demands of the signal and output requirements.

The SR250 is claimed to deliver 90W per channel, with just over 20W of that in Class A. By the standards of premium stereo amplifiers, 90W isn’t particularly striking, but listen to this amplifier in full flow and there’s no denying its muscularity.

This amp doesn’t run particularly hot either. That’s not a big surprise considering the use of Class G technology and the fact that the SR250’s casework has so obviously been designed with the cooling requirements of the company’s top-end multi-channel amplifiers in mind.

Sound

At first we weren’t sure how to approach this product. Music or movies? Arcam sees this product as a music device first and foremost, with the surround sound decoding and video switching capabilities additional and quite significant bonuses.

We like the SR250 once it’s up and running. We start by using the analogue outputs from our resident Naim NDS/555PS streamer.

The SR250’s sound through the line stages is good, nicely detailed with plenty in the way of body and punch. Prince’s 1999 comes through with a pleasing amount of insight and plenty of energy.

It’s an articulate presentation with a good degree of clarity and precision. We would like a bit more in the way of rhythmic skill and greater emphasis put on low-level dynamic shifts, such as those that convey emotions in a voice, but even so we enjoy what we hear.

We notice clear evidence of Arcam’s Class G family sound here – the presentation is big, bold and powerful, but mixed with plenty in the way of refinement. You could listen to this amplifier for hours on end without issue.

That’s a good thing with recordings that are as thin and edgy as this Prince track.

The digital inputs turn out to be similarly capable. The on-board digital-to-analogue circuit is talented, with the SR250 turning out a stirring rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Marché Slave Op.31.

There’s plenty of scale here, and we have no reason to question the Arcam’s authority or its ability to deliver wide-ranging dynamic swings. Crescendos hit with venom, yet at any half reasonable volume the amplifier stays composed.

Stereo imaging is crisp and layered with care, particularly when the Dirac EQ is switched in.

Changing to movie soundtracks – old favourites such as Star Trek and Michael Jackson’s This Is It get an outing – shows off the SR250’s considerable talent. There’s plenty to appeal here from the amplifier’s punch and authority to the pleasing insight it provides.

Action scenes from Star Trek brim with energy while there’s enough muscle to satisfy. Similarly, concert scenes from MJ are delivered with plenty of atmosphere and cohesion that few multichannel amplifiers ­– outside of some very high-end processor /power amp combinations that is – can match.

The SR250 even has subwoofer outputs if you want to add extra low-end heft to the sound of your stereo speakers. Just to be clear, there are, of course, no surround channels and no preamp outputs that allow the connection of a separate power amplifier to allow them to be separated.

This is very much a stereo-only unit, despite the home cinema processing at its disposal.

Verdict

This is a hard product to sum-up. The SR250 could be all the amplifier you ever need. If you’ve got a stereo set-up for your TV then it’s a neat way to get the features you need in one, convenient box.

By stereo standards it’s a good sounding product rather than a great one, but if you need video switching then there’s little out there that will do the job better.

(whathifi.com, http://goo.gl/JUr3Uo)

TOP 5 – THE BEST BEZEL-LESS PHONES OF 2016

We’ve all looked on in awe at Samsung’s almost bezel-less Galaxy series, wishing for a more affordable option. Well, you’re in luck as this year we are seeing an influx of budget-orientated manufacturers step-up and produce their own bezel-less phone options.

In this roundup, we’ll take a look at some of the top bezel-less phones of 2016 that are either available now, set to be released soon or are still hot on the rumour mill. If you’ve heard of a great bezel-less phone that I’ve missed and that’s set for release this year, let me know in the comments below and I’ll update this article.

Let’s get to it. Here’s the 2016 Top 5 Bezel-less phones.

Ulefone Future smartphone

Ulefone Future

No one can deny that the Ulefone Future has borrowed it looks from the all mighty iPhone but it’s taken a step further by offering us a bezel-less screen which makes this phone look nothing short of cutting edge-less. Add to this, some impressive hardware specifications and a side-placed fingerprint reader and you’re definitely going to get a unique futuristicexperience with the Ulefone Future.

View our first impressions of the Ulefone Future.

Tech Specs: 5.5″ 1920×1080, Gorilla Glass 3, Helio P10 CPU, 4GB RAM, 32GB Storage, Quick-charge 3000mAh, USB Type-C, 185 grams, Android 6 with Full UK network support.

P9000 Edge Bezel-less phone

Elephone P9000 Edge (Bezel-less)

Not to be confused with the P9000 or P9000 lite which are both available with narrow bezels, the P9000 edge uses curved glass and displays no visible borders when viewed face on. Elephone have been keeping details of the P9000 Edge under wraps so far with only a few pictures and videos leaked of the device.

I have a hunch that Elephone are either; capitalising on sales of the P9000, with its thin bezels, before releasing the bezel-less ‘edge’ version or that their development team still have software issues to overcome before being able to release the P9000 Edge.

A third option that we have to consider is that the P9000 edge is just a marketing ploy by Elephone to increase brand awareness although a sources say that the completely bezel-less P900 does exist.

It’s likely to have similar hardware to the P9000, so I’ve listed the current specifications below although these may change before launch.

P9000 Tech Specs: 5.5″ 1920×1080, MediaTek Helio P10 CPU, 4GB RAM, 32GB Storage, Quick-charging & wireless charging 3000mAh battery, Sony IMX258 21MP + 8MP selfie, USB-Type C, Side placed fingerprint reader, 145 grams, Android 6 with full UK network support.

ZTE Nubia Z9 Bezel-less Phone

ZTE Nubia Z9

The Nubia Z9’s curved glass edges and almost borderless display combine to make one sexy looking smartphone. The beautifully vivid IPS display and glass sandwich design gives the Z9 a premium look and feels suited to a flagship smartphone.

Add to this some impressive photography capabilities and that glowing halo home button and the Nubia Z9 becomes even more impressive.

Although the Z9 was released in 2015, it’s still a great bezel-less option for 2016 if you can manage to get your hands on one. I’ve not had much luck finding online retailers that still have stock available. Currently, Nubia are focussing more on the Z9 Max 5.5″ version and the Z9 mini, but neither have the finesse or bezel-less edges of their older trend-setting brother the Nubia Z9.

Hopefully, Nubia will make a return to the bezel-less arena soon with another flagship model.

Tech Specs: 5.2″ 1920×1080, Snapdragon 810 CPU, 3/4GB RAM, 32/64GB Storage, 2900mAh, Sony IMX234, 4K video, 192 grams, Android 5 with partial UK 4G network support (full 3G support).

Oppo Bezel-less phone

Oppo Bezel-free phone

A while back now, there was a video leaked of a new Oppo smartphone that appears to have a bezel-less design. The phone in question uses a wrap around front glass effect so we can’t be entirely certain whether this is a trick of the eye. You can see the Oppo Bezel-less video here. We haven’t had confirmation from Oppo whether they will release any phones with this technology this year but with the competition hotting up I think it’s likely we will towards the end of the year.

We haven’t had confirmation from Oppo whether they are going to release any bezel-less phones this year but with the competition hotting up I think it’s we will see the mysterious Oppo phone resurface towards the end of the year.

The Oppo Find 7 Plus at first glance gives the illusion of an entirely bezel-less phone but this illusion ends as soon as the screen is active where you can clearly see black borders.

I’ll update this with more information when we find out more on whether Oppo plans to release a genuinely bezel-less smartphone.

Mobile Bezel-less screen technology

The technology behind Bezel-free phones

You might be wondering why it’s taken manufacturers so long to catch up with Samsung and produce budget variants of the bezel-less screen? Let’s break it down into two reasons.

Reason number 1 is the cost & research needed to produce bezel-less technology.

A company such as Samsung has the money, resources & research to be able to create new types of technology such as an entirely border-less wrap-around screen. Smaller mobile manufacturers tend to outsource their parts which means they have to wait for 3rd party suppliers to innovate before catching up with the market leaders.

Reason number 2 is that manufacturers have had to create their own bezel-less software.

If you remove a smartphone screen bezel entirely, you then create another set of problems to overcome. When holding a phone, your hands will be gripping the edges of the screen slightly. On a phone with bezels, this is not a problem as you have an area on no-touch at the sides of the mobile screen. On a bezel-less phone, the screen will be registering these extra touches. To combat this, mobile manufacturers need to develop software that will recognise the difference between your hand gripping the phone and your hand trying to use the phone.

(review-hub.co.uk, http://goo.gl/Lq4uOd)

Sony RX100 V Coming With Hybrid AF Sensor

Sony is rumored to launch its next premium digital compact camera later this year and it is expected to be called Sony Rx100 V.

We are receiving several reports that the company is actively working on a Nikon DL 24-85 competitor. The camera on the horizon could be the fifth in the Sony RX100-series model which provides approximately the same focal range.

Sony RX100 Mark IV is a small traditional lightweight digital compact camera with 4K video recording capabilities. Sources are claiming that the upcoming Sony RX100 V camera will have a new sensor with Hybrid Phase AF points that supports very fast AF speed.

Sony RX100 V Coming Soon?

Sony has introduced the latest RX100 series camera back in June, 2015. So a replacement to the Mark IV makes sense according to the company’s announcement schedule.

Sony RX100 V Coming With Hybrid AF Sensor

Nikon’s newly announced DL 24-85 model features 20.8-megapixels 1″-type BSI CMOS sensor powered by EXPEED 6A image processor. The sensor provides a top ISO of 12800 and 4K/UHD video recording at 30p.

The Sony RX100 IV features a 20.1-megapixels 1″-type Exmor RS CMOS sensor, coupled with an attached DRAM memory chip for speedy processing. The camera offers high resolution 4K movie recording with direct pixel readout and no pixel binning.

You can read the Nikon DL 24-85mm f/1.8-2.8 vs Sony RX100 IV comparison, the two new enthusiast compacts with 20-megapixel 1″-type CMOS sensors.

As final words, recent gossips says that a new Sony RX100 V coming with a new hybrid AF sensor. Stay tuned with us for more information.

(dailycameranews.com, http://goo.gl/I7w2Dl)

Asus ZenBook 3 Packs Core i7 CPU in MacBook-Size Body

Ultrathin laptops with a handful of USB Type-C ports are all the rage in 2016. Earlier this spring, Apple refreshed its MacBook 12-inch while HP rolled out its even-thinner EliteBook Folio G1 and announced the slimmer-still Spectre. Now, Asus is getting into the game with the ZenBook 3, a 0.47-inch thick, 2-pound laptop that promises to overpower its competitors with an optional Core i7 CPU and speedy PCIe x4 SSD. Starting at $999, for a Core i5 model and scaling up to a $1,999 config with a 1TB PCIe SSD, the snazzy new Asus system could be the “most prestigious laptop ever.”

I had a chance to spend a few moments with the ZenBook 3 at Asus’s Computex 2016 press conference and came away impressed with its snappy keyboard, colorful chassis options and vibrant display. It almost goes without saying that Asus’s laptop feels light in the hand. At 2.01 pounds, it’s noticeably svelter than both the 2.14-pound EliteBook Folio G1 and about on a par with the 2.03-pound MacBook. The 0.47-inch thin chassis is a bit slimmer than the MacBook’s 0.52-inch thickest point, though Apple’s laptop tapers down to 0.14 inches. The EliteBook Folio G1 is the same 0.47 inches thick.

zenbook 3 lead

The ZenBook 3 is available in three different colors: Royal Blue, Rose Gold and Quartz Gray. I was particularly impressed with the Royal Blue model, because it looks so different than HP and Apple’s offerings, in a good way. Asus says that the laptop is made from “aerospace-grade aluminum alloy,” which it claims is 50-percent stronger than standard aluminum alloy.

Unlike the EliteBook Folio and MacBook, which sport low-power Core M CPUs, the ZenBook uses a full-fledged Core i7 or Core i5 processor. To accommodate the faster, hotter-running chip, Asus packs in a super-slim fan. The upcoming HP Spectre also offers a Core i5 or i7 processor in its 0.4-inch thick, body.

Asus claims that, despite its small size and relatively power-hungry CPU, the ZenBook 3 will last up to 9 hours on a charge. We’ll have to see how it fares on the Laptop Mag Battery test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. On our benchmark, a Core m7-powered EliteBook Folio managed just 7 hours and 2 minutes while a Core m5-enabled MacBook endured for 9 hours and 38 minutes.

Unfortunately, just like the MacBook, Asus’s laptop has only one USB Type-C port for both charging and data, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack. HP one-ups both Asus and Apple by offering two USB Type-C ports on the EliteBook Folio and three on the Spectre.

zenbook 3 right side

Asus boasts that its keyboard has 0.8mm of travel, which is more than the MacBook’s measly 0.5mm. While I didn’t have a ruler to measure its depth, the keyboard definitely felt much deeper and snappier than Apple’s. However, the EliteBook Folio G1’s keys have an even-deeper 1.05mm of travel and offer even better tactile feedback.

zenbook 3 left side

The ZenBook 3’s 12.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 glossy display really popped on the display models I saw. A desktop wallpaper picture of the sun settingon some rocks looked particularly rich and vibrant. Asus claims that the display can cover 72 percent fo the NTSC color gamut, which is pretty good. In our lab, we measure laptop screens against the less-demanding sRGB gamut so we look forward to seeing how the Zenbook 3 fares when we’re able to test it with our colorimeter. The screen bezel is really thin, but doesn’t quite match up to the nearly bezel-free Infinity Display on the Dell XPS 13.

zenbook 3 navy blue

Asus will sell the ZenBook 3 in three configurations. The $999 base model will have a Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. A $1,499 model will include a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. The high-end, $1,999 model doubles the storage to 1TB. Asus has not announced a U.S. shipping date, but whenever it arrives, we look forward to putting the ZenBook 3 through its paces.

(laptopmag.com, http://goo.gl/vKvcXq)

 

Asus Transformer 3 Pro

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SUMMARY

I’ve never seen a Surface Pro competitor look quite so similar to Microsoft’s finest. The Asus Transformer 3 Pro has so many Surface Pro 4 design cues, I’d put money on the majority of people mistaking it as coming straight outta Redmond.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that, but is the Transformer 3 Pro actually a worthy competitor? First impressions say ‘probably’.

The two are nearly identical when it comes to technical specifications. First up, the screen. Asus has fitted a 2,860×1,920 pixel display to the Transformer 3 Pro, narrowly pipping the 2,736×1,824 pixels on the Surface Pro 4. It may not be obvious, but the Asus machine is actually 0.4-inches larger than the Surface Pro 4, at 12.6in diagonal.

Asus Transformer 3 Pro 3

It looks fantastic, not least because of Asus’ quoted 121% sRGB colour gamut volume. The tablet will get an optional Asus Pen stylus, too, which has 1024 points of pressure sensitivity, which could make it a boon for designers. There wasn’t one on display at the Asus booth, and judging from the pictures of the device the pen doesn’t appear to have the same magnetic attachment as on the Surface Pro 4.

The Transformer 3 Pro is 8.35mm thick without its keyboard dock and weighs 795g, putting it on par with Microsoft’s tablet. The Transformer 3 Pro will ship with a keyboard dock as standard, however, giving it a one-up on Microsoft. The whole assembly feels very solid; Asus hasn’t cut costs in the build quality department.

The keyboard cover, for me, is the strongest part of the product: it has loads of travel, a chunky feel and the touchpad is smooth and sensitive. More like this, please.

The tablet portion has a kickstand that can tilt the tablet to a near-horizontal position, making it ideal for lap-based working. I didn’t get a chance to sit down with it on my lap, though, so it’ll be interesting to see how stable it is in the real world.

Asus Transformer 3 Pro 1

Performance will come from a dual-core Intel Core i5-6200U or i7-6500U processor, depending on specification. Performance was smooth and responsive during my hands-on time, and given the track record of these processors, I’ve no reason to think that will differ on the final product. There’ll be up to 16GB of RAM and there’ll also be PCI-E-based SSDs with capacities of up to 1TB.

There’s a full set of ports here, too. There’s full-size USB 3.0, a USB 3.1-C/Thunderbolt 3.0 combination port, a MicroSD card reader and a full-size HDMI port, too. The Thunderbolt port can be used to connect to the external Asus XG Station 2 graphics dock, which lets you hook up to a full-sized desktop graphics card for PC gaming on your tiny tablet. When demonstrated, it looked fairly flaky and buggy, but I’ll put this down to pre-production niggles.

Asus ROG XG Station 2

Battery life could be one point of contention: on the device I tried, 56% battery remained with an estimated rundown time of 2 hours and 5 minutes. It’s not a hugely fair figure considering the device was running at maximum brightness, but you’ll have to do some serious conservation to make it through a day’s work if this figure is accurate.

ASUS TRANSFORMER 3 PRO PRICE AND RELEASE DATE

The Transformer 3 Pro will undercut the Surface Pro 4 in terms of pricing, starting at £900 for an i5 model with 4GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, up to £1,400 for an i7 with 8GB of RAM and 512GB storage. This undercuts the Surface Pro 4 by around £70 for a bottom-spec model.

It’ll be available in the UK in August, and I’m looking forward to pitting it head-to-head with the Surface Pro 4.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/YZTGS6)

 

3 Tesla Model X Problems That Keep Popping Up

Changing the game is not easy. We’ve seen the old-school automakers show up with knives in hand wheneverTesla has seemed vulnerable in aspects of its operation, be it production volume, delivery dates, or design flaws. The one thing Tesla has always had on its side is the customer: No matter how many blips the early adopters encountered, they usually said they’d live with them and noted they’d do it all again if given the chance. But Tesla Model X problems are becoming worrisome.

If you need a sign of how bad the situation is, we present the case of the Model X owner suing for a refund of his $161,970 under California’s “Lemon Law.” Lemons should not cost the price of a home in most zip codes, even if they are among the first batch coming from the factory. Worst of all, the man said he wants his money back because Tesla has been unable to fix things like front doors slamming with minds of their own. That’s scary, dangerous stuff.

These problems are not part of an isolated incident or the result of a single disgruntled customer. There are many stories dealing with issues found in the pricey, all-electric SUV and a safety recall to boot. Here are the three problems that have recurred since the Model X debut.

Tesla Model X problems like the falcon-wing doors

The Model X’s falcon-wing doors have been a recurring problem for the electric SUV. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

1. The falcon-wing doors

In terms of razzle-dazzle, Tesla delivered more than its share when it promised falcon-wing doors offering access to the second and third rows of seating. However, this aspect of the vehicle was one of the things reportedly behind the Model X’s delayed arrival, and customers have repeatedly expressed frustration over their functionality.

A Consumer Reports blog on one Model X buyer’s problems told the story of the rear doors being unable to sense an overhang before banging into it. While you do have to expect issues arising in an all-new car with so many features, the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the automaker’s officials, some of whom departed from Tesla in early May.

A Tesla Model X is displayed during the Geneva Motor Show 2016 on March 1, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland. The 86th International auto show will run from March 3 to March 16.

A Tesla Model X is displayed during the Geneva Motor Show 2016. | Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

2. Rear seating

Tesla Model X problems with the rear seats were widespread enough to prompt a voluntary recall of 2,700 models by the automaker in April. According to the automaker, the third row of seats could fail in a crash, which prompted Tesla to call back every SUV made before March 26. Supplier Futuris was responsible for the problem that caused the recall.

Another issue with the rear seats popped up during a test drive by a Fortune reviewer. While the report on Model X was largely positive, a major problem came up when a baby seat was placed between the driver’s seat and the second row of seating. As seen in the video from the review, the system automatically moved the baby seat into the back of the driver’s seat, actually squeezing it and tipping it upward.

Tesla Model X launch

Tesla Model X at the launch event. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

3. Fit and finish

While issues with falcon-wing doors and Autopilot systems seem to be matters of design hubris, the fit and finish complaints are standard in brand new vehicles. The Fortune review noted weatherstripping that peeled off the back doors and torn carpeting in the trunk. Consumer Reports relayed a problem its test-case owner had with chrome details on the windows.

Then there are the myriad complaints posted on the Tesla Motors Club forum. One member posted a list of issues he had with the car’s finish along with high-res closeup photos (PDF). You can see problems with the alignment in multiple areas of the vehicle, including gaps in windows and wheels. You’ll also see discolorations inside and outside the Model X.

Are these issues enough to give pause to Model 3 reservation holders? It’s impossible to know whether Tesla will learn lessons from this experience, but the simpler design of the company’s first mainstream car should help. We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, whatever few customers Tesla has lost, we’re sure they’ve gained many more for life since the release of Model X.

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

2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD-Pro Review: The FJ40 of the 21st Century

In the pantheon of legendary off-roaders, the Toyota Land Cruiser is held in high esteem as a gold standard of ability when the asphalt ends. They’re in service around the world as U.N. peace-keeping vehicles, rides of choice for rangers in the Australian Outback, and regular daily drivers for wealthy Saudis who, on weekends, hit the desert dunes before hosing them off and coming back to work on Monday, chrome trim flaring in the sun. Oh, and you’ll find them pulling school duty throughout well-heeled suburbs in America.

But the barrier to entry for a Land Cruiser is high; though it comes loaded with virtually every bell and whistle in Toyota’s arsenal, you’ll be plunking down $83,825 down at signing, and that’s before delivery and taxes. If you don’t have that kind of dough, don’t need such a large vehicle, don’t need that many features, need better fuel economy, or just don’t like how it looks, Toyota has a very capable runner-up in the 4Runner.

2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD-Pro

Like the Land Cruiser, you can get a 4Runner in Saville Row-guise in the Limited trim. But unlike the Landy, the 4Runner comes in a variety of other flavors, from the near-bare bones SR5 to the off-road-oriented TRD-Pro. I had the latter for a week to see what it could do.

Fortunately for Toyota, the 4Runner already offers a really solid foundation for creating a purpose-built off-road vehicle. Add a 1.5-inch lift, a beefy skidplate, TRD-tuned suspension, and some rugged Nitto Grappler tires (or don’t, since Toyota has already done all this at the factory), and the 4Runner transforms from domesticated dirty-road junkie into a genuinely rugged weekend warrior.

Exterior

2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD-Pro 3

For years — decades, even — the 4Runner was quietly understated, an enormously capable SUV in a quiet, dignified package. Sometime around 2012, Toyota essentially said “fuck it” and put on the brashest, most aggressive face not just in 4Runner’s history, but arguably of all mass-market off-roading vehicles being produced today.

Shooting for polarizing versus safe doesn’t seem to have lost Toyota any sales, as the 4Runner is still immensely popular. The TRD-Pro doesn’t do anything to temper down the wild aesthetics, and arguably emphasizes them with the “TOYOTA” stamped bar across the front grille. I  admittedly wasn’t wild about its appearance at first (I’m a big fan of the ’96-’02 myself), but it did begin to grow on me as the week went on.

2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD-Pro 5

Exterior pros and cons

+ Bold, aggressive, and mean-looking — it’s one Toyota that you can’t accuse of being boring.

+ The cement-color paint hides mud splatter really, really, well.

+ Contrasting black TRD rims are as great-looking as they are functional.

— The Quicksand paintjob isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth noting that it’s a color from Toyota’s heritage when itbuilt the classic FJ40s in the ’70s.

— It’s not the prettiest car out there.

— Light body sculpting leads to monolithic slabs of cement-colored sheetmetal.

Powertrain

Toyota 4Runner gear lever

Toyota maintains its reputation for reliability by keeping its vehicles — mainly its powertrains — for as long as possible before either consumers stop buying them or the government forces them to change. The benefits of this strategy are apparent: Toyotas, especially their SUVs and trucks, last forever. Top Gear famously tried to kill an old Hilux — and couldn’t.

Our tester uses the 4.0-liter V6 that’s immediately familiar to Toyota off-road enthusiasts. It produces 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, but being built on older architecture, don’t expect Prius-like fuel economy. Over seven days in varied terrain, we averaged about 18 miles per gallon.

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Powertrain pros and cons

+ The V6 is smooth, and the transmission gets it done.

+ The TRD-Pro takes to rough terrain like a pig in mud. Piloting it up steep grassy inclines and down steep sandy inclines was effortless.

+ There’s a setting for just about any type of adverse terrain you can imagine.

— It can feel like the engine’s doing a lot of work without a whole lot to show for it; acceleration is not a strong suit.

— The five-speed transmission could certainly benefit from an extra gear — at least.

— You’ll get pretty friendly with your local gas station attendant.

Interior

Toyota 4Runner interior

Aside from some TRD-Pro badging here and there, you’d have little indication that you were sitting in a special 4Runner. That being said, it’s not a bad thing; the cabin is largely intuitive, spacious, and comfortable. Everything is well-assembled and despite its truck-based pretensions, I don’t think there was a single squeak or rattle from the cabin the entire week.

The chunky steering wheel feels good and solid on one’s hands, and each dial and switch has heft and purpose behind it. There’s a lot of plastic, yes, but it makes the interior easy to wipe down. My biggest complaint about the interior is the amount of black and dark tones, which in low-light makes for a very dark cabin. This is helped by the white headliner of my tester, but like the Highlander Hybrid we’ve reviewed in the past, there’s a lot of black.

2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD-Pro 1

Interior pros and cons

+ More than adequate room for some kids, some pets, and some miscellaneous adventure gear.

+ Quiet, comfy, and all-around well-built.

+ Seats are large and comfy, with adjustable lumbar support.

— The glossy black plastic in the dash has a glittery finish, which kind of makes it look permanently dusty.

— There’s no sunroof option to illuminate what’s a very black-happy cabin.

— If you’re going to be using the TRD-Pro as it was intended, it’s worth investing in some heavy-duty rubber all-weather mats.

Tech and safety

Toyota 4Runner cabin

You don’t expect a mud-going version of the Mercedes S-Class in a 4Runner, so don’t be surprised when you don’t get one. By modern standards, the 4Runner is old-school — no lane departure assist, blind spot monitoring, forward collision avoidance, or 360-degree cameras. You do get a backup camera (which worked really well), and it comes with Toyota’s Entune app setup in the center stack, but outside of those things, the 4Runner TRD-Pro is delightfully analog.

Tech and safety pros and cons

+ The backup camera is crisp, clear, and works flawlessly.

+ Toyota’s Entune features a nice blend of touchscreen requirements and actual, physical buttons.

+ Toyota left the 4Runner largely devoid of gimmicky tech that does little but add complexity and headaches.

— Toyota hasn’t moved the wireless device charging found in other models to the 4Runner yet.

— The TRD-Pro is high enough that pedestrian detection and blind-spot monitoring might be useful.

The drive

2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD-Pro 19

When running mundane errands, you have to remind yourself that the TRD-Pro was not designed with asphalt in mind. Like the old FJs, the 4Runner feels its best in a sheep pasture as opposed to the highway. It pitches, rolls, and, due to its weight and girth, doesn’t brake as suddenly as the pressure you’re exerting would suggest. But the ride is comfortable around town, and it swallows small bumps and dips with ease — the same can’t be said for its domestic rival, the Jeep Wrangler, and its two solid axles.

It feels, honestly, like driving a classic car: There’s no effort on the 4Runner’s part to coddle its driver and hide what it was built to be. This becomes increasingly apparent off-road, where the TRD-Pro is in its element; it takes to the dirt and the muck naturally, and makes the driver feel special about what it can do. It doesn’t handle pavement well, but it handles everything else beautifully. And it gives you tons of settings to do it with.

2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD-Pro 13

Wrap up and review

There’s a drawback to being so prepared to leave the road all the time: You still have to drive on the road the majority of the time. The soft off-road suspension, large tires, and high ride height that are so great when the asphalt ends do the 4Runner TRD-Pro no favors when on the tarmac. In the turns, the 4Runner leans and sways, there’s ample nose-dive under braking, and although the turning radius is good, the 4Runner will still feel cumbersome in parking lots and tight-knit traffic.

But I’d forgive all of that.

Because when driving the 4Runner TRD-Pro, there’s something inside you that inexplicably wants to mount every small mound of road salt, drive through someone’s lawn just to traverse their drainage ditch, use the rough dirt shoulder instead of the safe, sensible highway just because you know you can. The TRD-Pro was built for rough terrain, and not driving on it just feels wrong.

Other, more civilized 4Runner models are a better fit for 99% of prospective buyers, but you won’t want them. The TRD-Pro spoils you with the sense that every trip could be an adventure, but it comes at a cost: Loaded up, my tester ran $42,450 from the factory, $11,000 more than a base-spec 4Runner. That’s a lot of extra coin for features that many won’t take advantage of regularly.

If you’re in the market for a 4Runner, buy the TRD-Pro if you know you’ll use it for its intended purpose. If you like it for the “TOYOTA” badge and the high ride height, but it’ll spend most of its life in mall parking lots, don’t bother. But don’t test drive the TRD-Pro first — it’ll make your decision that much harder.

(cheatsheet.com, http://goo.gl/2c3r09)

Buy This, Not That: Honda Accord Touring vs. Acura TLX

For a long time, if you wanted a premium performance car from Japan, you went with an Acura. From the legendary original NSX to the full-size Legend and boy racer favorite Integra, the marque offered enough performance and luxury to leave virtually every other competitor in the dust. But in recent years, Acura has seemed to have drifted from its performance car roots. Parent company Honda has shifted its top-shelf brand’s focus to comfortable, tech-focused luxury, and while it’s found sales success with the formula (over 177,000 vehicles sold in 2015), it’s left something to be desired for brand purists — aside from the new NSX, that is.

But Acura seems to be refocusing across its lineup. It’s begun to phase out the polarizing “beak” grille, and in 2014, It discontinued the big TL and the compact TSX, streamlining its sedan lineup and introducing the TLX, an all-new midsize sedan to take on the likes of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class and based on the Honda Accord. Parent company Honda’s venerable Accord is now well into its ninth generation, and has benefited from a number of improvements over its lifespan. As a result, it’s one of the best midsize sedans on the market.

2015 Acura TLX exterior

2015 Acura TLX exterior | Source: Acura

As with many cars we’ve covered in Buy This, Not That, there’s some daylight between Accord and TLX pricing, with the Honda starting at $22,205 and the Acura from $31,695. But there’s also a lot of overlap at the Accord’s top end, where it combines power, luxury, and style better than virtually any other competitor.

2016 Honda Accord Touring

Tale of the tape

The Accord’s 2016 refresh has trimmed the fat on an already lean car. It’s benefited from styling updates inside and out, all but erasing the fussiness of early ninth-generation cars. In top-spec Touring trim, the Accord benefits from Honda’s 278-horsepower, 3.5-liter VTEC V6 (a gem of an engine if there ever was one), though the 2.4-liter four offered on lesser models is one of the best four-bangers out there too. Either way, the Accord is one of the best performers of the midsize sedan segment, with a six-speed CVT, and for the purists, an optional six-speed manual. In Sport and Touring trims, zero to 60 can be reached in under six seconds, and the bigger-for-2016 brakes and revised suspension make the car that much more engaging to drive.

Inside, the Touring model could easily be mistaken for an Acura if the steering hub were covered up. Soft touch surfaces abound, and optional heated and cooled leather seats are enough to keep anybody happy. Honda’s Display Audio infotainment system is easy to use and accessed by the large touchscreen on the dash, and is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. And at the end of the day, you’d have trouble optioning a Touring model above that $40K mark. It may be expensive for an Accord, but when the car can compete with models in — and above — its segment, it begins to feel like a bargain.

2016 Acura TLX

Over at Honda’s premium brand, the TLX has almost everything we like about the Accord, and then some. For Acura, that 3.5-liter six has been massaged to put out 290 horsepower, though the 2.4-liter four is the only engine available until you opt for the mid-range P-AWS (Precision All-Wheel Steer) model. The top-trim SH-AWD (the fantastically named “Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) model delivers power to all four wheels (something the Accord doesn’t offer), and four-wheel steering, a feature long associated with Honda thanks to the third-generation Prelude.

But advanced suspension aside, the TLX has more drawbacks compared to its simpler relative. The top-spec Accord may be pricey, but it’s also an underdog punching above its weight. And speaking of pounds, the Acura weighs in at 3,763 of them, putting it at a 150-pound disadvantage against the heaviest Accords (four-cylinder models can weigh as much as 500 pounds less than the Acura). As a result, the TLX doesn’t end up feeling as responsive or sporty as the Accord, and in a segment with BMW, Audi, Cadillac, Mercedes, and Jaguar at the top of their game, that stands out.

Acura interior

The Acura’s interior looks nicer than the Accord’s, but fit and finish is pretty close, if not on par. Trimmed in leather, wood, and aluminum, the cabin is a nice place to spend some time, but the lack of bolstering in the seats, and the slow to respond nine-speed transmission (the only one offered in the car) seem to reinforce the idea that the car wasn’t designed to be driven in anger for long. Topping out in the mid $40K range, the TLX is a fine luxury car, but compared to other cars in its segment, it starts to feel like something of a tough sell.

The verdict

In the tradition of the best Accords of the past, the current model really stands out, even against its more upscale cousin. The TLX is a fine contemporary luxury sedan; it’s comfortable, it’s heavy on tech, and it looks imposing. But Acura still feels like it’s lacking a connection to the brand’s sporting heritage, a problem the Honda doesn’t have. An Accord may not have the same cache at the country club or at the law office, but it upholds that perfect Honda balance between comfort, value, and performance.

We’ve always had a soft spot for sleeper cars, and to us, the Accord Touring is one of the best on the market. It may not get a second look in a parking lot, but that’s fine with us; we’ll take a luxurious cabin, excellent handling, and a powerful, responsive engine over a little flash any day.

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

First Drive: Piloting GMC’s Lighter, Smaller 2017 Acadia

For years, General Motors has tried out a three-pronged approach to woo America’s ubiquitous SUV owner. Chevrolet, the most affordable, offers the Traverse; Buick will happily sell you an Enclave if your country club refuses to valet your Chevy, but perhaps the longest and sharpest prong is the GMC Acadia. The three are all fundamentally similar, and the General has found great success with its approach. But cars age (as they do), and for 2017, the sharpest tool in the shed is getting a complete makeover.

If the GMC Acadia looks smaller to you, it’s because it is. After years of “bigger is most definitely better,” it seems consumers have finally come around to realize that it isn’t. The new Acadia sheds 740 pounds versus the current generation, a sizable piece of that coming from its new length — 7.2 inches shorter than the 2016. Lighter gauge sheetmetal, different sound-deadening, and strategic deletions of unneeded material help get the Acadia the rest of the way.

GMC Acadia Denali and GMC Acadia SLT

At the dealership, you’ll be able to buy the Acadia with GM’s sharp 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, and if you’re towing, this is the option to have — it’s good for a 4,000-pound payload behind the car. Cylinder deactivation lets you net mileage in the mid-20s; we observed about 22 miles per gallon after an hour and a half of driving in varied conditions.

But if cost and fuel economy are primary concerns, GMC will — for the first time — offer the Acadia with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that puts out 194 horsepower. It’s rated to tow only 1,500 pounds, but it can bring Acadia’s fuel economy ratings up to 26 on the highway. In mixed driving, we saw the four-cylinder manage about 24 with ease.

2017 GMC Acadia Denali

The Acadia will be available in five-, six-, or seven-person configurations thanks to the optional third row (which is deleted for the All Terrain trim, in favor of more trunk and cargo rails). While the middle row is comfy, roomy, and with the captain’s chairs equipped, a lot like the front, the third row should really be reserved for small children or smaller adults.

2017 GMC Acadia Denali interior

We were offered three trims of Acadia — SLT, All Terrain, and Denali — and afforded the opportunity to stretch their legs through the winding backroads in the bucolic landscape of Virginia, between Washington D.C. and Shenandoah National Park. After clearing some light D.C. traffic (no, really, it was actually pretty light), we made our way past historical battlefields, colonial-era villages and pasture on a road that could have been purpose-built for Porsche, Lotus, or Alfa Romeo 4C owners. And the Acadia, after a redesign to its chassis and a diet regimen, took to it like a fish in water.

Though there was body roll through the twisties, it was largely mitigated, and the Acadia — despite its SUV pretensions — remained planted and in control. Various settings (including Sport) will have a material impact on how the Acadia handles, too; new electronic steering replaces the dated hydraulic system and offers a weighty, even-handed response. Suspension will firm or relax based on the selected driving mode, and a sort of pseudo-torque vectoring system (with what GM calls an Active Twin Clutch) has the ability to channel power to the rear as needed. In all, it feels less like a Yukon and more like the Terrain.

GMC Acadia Denali 3.6-liter V6

GMC will be offering the Acadia with the drivers’ choice of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and is offering a proprietary app store for the Acadia’s infotainment system that will allow owners to download, use, or delete apps at will, similar to a smartphone or tablet. A highlighted example was Glympse, an app that allows the driver to convey the car’s location to a smartphone — handy, GMC said, if you were picking up someone at an airport.

GMC Acadia SLT

The Acadias that GMC had ready for the posse of auto journalists started off with the SLT seen here. It was the closest trim to an entry-level SLE available; the materials were nice but not fancy, the chrome present but not abundant, and inside, you had mostly everything you’d need in a modern car, but there was a noticeable lack of driving modes and a few empty buttons. The SLT — which starts at a shade over $29K before destination — is the model you get if you like the styling, or really want the four-cylinder.

If you’re after more capability than you can get out of a current-gen Enclave or Traverse, the All Terrain is the model to be looking into. GMC toned the chrome down, added driving modes (the All Terrain is specifically tuned for use on surfaces that are not asphalt), and gave the All Terrain a sleek, stealthy look with added plastic body cladding for those with more active lifestyles. As mentioned prior, the third row was deleted for better cargo capacity. Our tester was black, and featured some gorgeous two-tone caramel and black leather inside.

GMC Acadia Denali and SLT

At the top of the range is, true to GMC fashion, the Denali. Loaded with all the bells and whistles (full suite of safety tech, real wood, metal, and leather accents, etc.), the Denali is comfortable and civilized. Its driving manners weren’t all that different from the other trims, but prices can climb close to $50,000 when optioned appropriately and it’s been chromed up the wazoo to reflect that.

Were it my money, I’d be putting it on the All Terrain. A happy medium between the SLT and Denali, the tasteful smoky chrome accents, dark wheels, better off-road capability and protections, and fully-functional trunk are a better fit for my millenial needs. The tan leather is Denali-spec quality, the V6 has strong low-end pull, and personally, I think the All Terrain’s toned-down exterior is perfectly understated. But regardless of what trim you choose, you can count on the new Acadia to be better behaved, more fuel efficient, offer better driving dynamics, and be easier to live with.

(cheatsheet.com,http://goo.gl/JNW7qQ)

Quick Drive: Accidentally ‘Stealing’ a 2017 Mazda Miata

Bear Mountain may only be about 40 miles north of New York City, but it feels like a world away. I was there on a beautiful spring day for a press drive, and weather dictated my first order of business: Drive the new Mazda Miata. It was 68 degrees without a cloud in the sky, and I had miles of twisty, unbroken state park roads at my disposal, alternately lined with lakes, breathtaking vistas, and lush forests. There were 70 cars at the International Motor Press Association event, but on a day like this, it felt like the Mazda was the only car built for the occasion.

At Autos Cheat Sheet, we’ve been huge fans of the fourth-generation roadster since Mazda pulled the covers off its clean sheet design in late 2014. Our Collin Woodard fell in love with it on a quick drive last summer, and editor Justin Lloyd-Miller and I stared goggle-eyed at the upcoming RF hardtop for so long at its unveiling that several people from Mazda checked on us to make sure we hadn’t gone catatonic. But I still hadn’t driven one myself, so I made a bee-line for the car as soon as I could, eager to spend a few minutes behind the wheel going up and down the mountain.

Mazda Miata

“Everybody says the reviews don’t do it any justice,” the tech told me as she opened the door for me.”But it’s World Car of the Year,” I said, “people love it!” As I settled into the driver’s seat, she shut the door, smiled, and said, “Yeah. But it’s even better.”

She wasn’t wrong. It was so good I almost didn’t come back.

Mazda Miata

The Miata has a grace that virtually every other car on the market lacks. It may start at under $25K, but it doesn’t leave you wanting for anything; it has everything you need, and nothing you don’t. The interior is sparse yet purposeful, with everything well within reach of the driver. Seats are plenty supportive, and the leather feels nicer than cars that sell for $15K more. The instrument cluster is refreshingly analog, with the digital temperature and gas gauges doing a good job blending in with its mechanical counterparts. A big tachometer sits front-and-center, just like it should on any great driver’s car, and the body color door caps are a great retro touch that add a pop of color in the black cabin without feeling too contrived.

It’s a small car; smaller than the outgoing third-generation model, and about 148 pounds lighter, too. Unlike most modern convertibles, you aren’t left sitting well below the door either; in fact, I had to check to make sure my 6-foot-2 frame wasn’t sticking out above the windshield and headrest — I wasn’t, but I didn’t miss by much either. All the better to stick your arm out the window on the highway and let the wind tussle your hair.

Mazda

The Miata has near-50/50 weight distribution, but that factors in the weight of the driver, making you truly feel like you’re an essential component in the car. You’d think most sporty cars would make you feel that way, but sadly, many of them don’t. The engine barks to life with a press of the starter button, and it sounds better than you’d expect a 2.0-liter four-cylinder to. The clutch isn’t heavy enough to tire you out, and the six-speed manual gearbox is an absolute gem; crisp and purposeful with short throws, it’s everything you’d want this side of a vintage Ferrari gated shifter.

And while we’re comparing the little Miata to the greats, I need to mention that view out the windshield. Honestly, it could make gridlock look good. Framed by those Soul Red pontoon fenders, that long, low hood goes longer than you’d think it could, giving you the best forward view this side of a Chevy Corvette or Jaguar F-Type. This is what I saw as I climbed Bear Mountain, running through the gears, and getting as much as I could out of the car’s 155 horses and 148 pound-feet of torque. I could’ve grabbed seat time in those brutes instead, but they would’ve been out of their element — they’re just too powerful for this kind of drive. The Miata was built for this, and I was getting the full experience.

Mazda Miata

Going back down, I was able to toss the Miata through the twisties, and was thrilled by its go-kart handling, and grippy, responsive brakes. I may not have been going terribly fast, but it sure felt good. Coming to a fork in the road, I could’ve broken right to hit the parkway, gone left onto another pass, or stayed straight on the state route I was already on. I went straight, banking right onto a narrow road with concrete barriers on either site, downshifting to hear the four-banger’s confident little bark echo off the surfaces. Then, suddenly, I was on the highway with the next exit 14 miles away. Whoops.

Mazda Miata

Time seems to slow down when you’re late for something and lost in a car that isn’t yours. My heart sank with each passing sign for Poughkeepsie, Albany, and Montreal. I reached my exit, and went left looking for the onramp to take me back south. No such luck. You’re not really supposed to have a car out more than 20 minutes or so at an event like this, and I’d been gone for about 40. By now, I had worst case scenario thoughts in my head. Was there a search party? Were the cops called? Would my IMPA membership be revoked? Heavy thoughts for a Miata driver on a day like this.

I pulled off onto a gravel road, and opened the Nav system, and found my only two gripes with the car: The 7-inch infotainment screen is nearly impossible to read in the sun, and the lack of knobs for the system (it’s controlled by buttons on the steering wheel) take a second to get used to. I entered the address of the event, and the first route it came up with was a winding 31-mile route through farmlands — perfect. I turned the car around and headed back, ready to apologize profusely, and hoping I hadn’t ruffled too many feathers.

Mazda Miata

With the end in sight, I began to relax. I knew where I was going, the car was in one piece, and I was bombing through rolling farm country in one of the best driver’s cars in the world. If you’re going to get lost in any car, it might as well be a Miata, and if you’re going to be lost anywhere, why not in the Hudson Valley? In just over an hour with the car, it already felt intuitive. Every shift, every corner, every motion felt directly connected. It was an easy car to fall for, and it wouldn’t be an easy car to give up.

When I finally pulled up at the event, I was greeted with a smile from the tech. “So, you liked it, huh?” Everything was fine. No search party, no cops, and I was still in good standing with IMPA. “Yeah,” I said as I sheepishly handed over the keys. “You were right, it’s way better than everybody says.”

So I have to concur with our official earlier assessment: The Miata does live up to the hype. It does and then some. And while I tried to give it a fair shake, I’m just not a good enough writer to do that view down the long hood, or cornering through a mountain pass, or the “snick-snick” sound of the short-throw shifter any more justice than the auto scribes that drove the car before me. The Miata is a car to be driven, to be experienced by everybody. That’s the long and short of it.

(cheatsheet.com,http://goo.gl/TWi4fs)

8 Cars We Were Promised but Never Got

In the auto industry, nothing is certain about a car until it begins rolling off the assembly line. Take Tesla’s upcoming Model 3 for example: Company founder Elon Musk said late last year that we wouldn’t see the full car at its unveiling in March. Then, company reps told the assembled press that the cars on display were near production-ready prototypes. Since then, we’ve learned that everything from the rear trunk opening to the interior design is likely to change before it arrives late next year.

And that’s a mild example. There are dozens of cars throughout history that were supposed to do everything from revolutionize the way we drive to add depth to a brand that were well on their way — until they weren’t.

While this list could go on forever, here are eight of our favorite “what-ifs” that disappeared somewhere between concept and production, and were never heard from again.

1. Tucker 48

Tucker 48

Source: Patrick Ernzen/RM Sotheby’s

If Preston Tucker had his way, the Tucker 48 would’ve had crumple zones, a safety cage, padded dashboard, full-independent suspension, disc brakes, and fuel injection standard on a car in 1948. Things didn’t turn out quite that way, but then, things didn’t exactly turn out for Tucker at all. The 48 was unveiled to great fanfare in the years following World War II, and promised to revolutionize the auto industry, but cash flow problems doomed the company almost from the beginning. By 1950, the company was long gone, and with just 51 cars built, it remains one of the greatest automotive what-ifs in history.

2. Chevrolet AeroVette

Chevrolet

Source: Chevrolet

If you ever wondered where the decades-long mid-engined Corvette rumor got its start, look no further than the AeroVette. While the project started in the late ’60s, by 1970, the radical mid-engined layout was taking the budding supercar world by storm, and once Ford announced that it would sell the DeTomaso Pantera in the U.S., then-Chevrolet chief John DeLorean thought GM needed to strike back quick. As a concept, the AeroVette went through several iterations: aluminum-bodied show car, rotary-powered experiment, and finally big-block powered bruiser. It was approved for production in 1976, but by 1980, long-time supporters Bill Mitchell, Ed Cole, and Zora Arkus-Duntov had all retired, and their replacements unceremoniously killed the car before it ever saw the light of day.

3. Nissan R390

Nissan R390

Source: Nissan

In the mid-’90s, the McLaren F1 ruled the supercar roost as both the world’s fastest production car, and 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans winner. Nissan was eager to enter the supercar world, and partnered with the British Tom Walkinshaw Racing (the company behind the Jaguar XJ220 and Aston Martin DB7) to develop its own McLaren fighter. The R390 was ready by 1997, and like its rival, would be offered as a 200-plus mile per hour road car with a $1 million price tag. But in 1998, the FIA changed GT class rules, and Nissan scrapped its supercar project after just five (four racing and one road) cars were built.

4. 2004 Chrysler ME 4-12

Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles

Source: Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles

In 2004, Chrysler debuted the ME 4-12 supercar at the Detroit Auto Show. The running concept was powered by a mid-engined, quad-turbocharged, 850-horsepower V12, and had a rumored top speed of nearly 250 miles per hour. A Motor Trend feature on the car made it seem like production was just around the corner, but alas, it wasn’t to be. It eventually came out that the brass at Daimler (this was during the Chrysler and Mercedes “Merger of Equals” era) wouldn’t pull the trigger on such an expensive project, and America’s Ferrari Enzo-fighter never made it to center stage.

5. Porsche 718

Porsche 718

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

For 2016, Porsche introduced a face-lifted Cayman and Boxster under the name 718. But just a few years ago, the 718 was supposed to be an entirely different car, slotting well below Porsche’s current entry points. Based on Volkswagen’s 2009 BlueSport roadster concept (pictured above), the baby Porsche would’ve likely had a 210-horsepower four mounted amidships, started at around $40K, and arrived by 2016. Unfortunately, the companyscuttled the project in late 2014, declaring “our entry model is our pre-owned program.” Thanks, Porsche.

6. Bugatti 16C Galiber

Bugatti

Source: Bugatti

Bugatti was riding high in September 2009 when the company invited a select group of journalists to Molsheim, France for the unveiling of its second model. Instead of another hypercar, they saw the 16C Galiber, an ultra-exclusive four-door that would take on the likes of the Rolls-Royce Phantom and Bentley Mulsanne. Unlike the competition, however, the Galiber had a twin-turbo W16 engine that could crank out an estimated 1,000 horsepower and take the car well beyond the 200 mile per hour mark. Better yet, Bugatti brass announced that the car would be on sale by 2015. Unfortunately, the global recession hit, and the company opted to focus onthe Chiron project, officially cancelling the Galiber in September 2013.

7. Jaguar C-X75

Jaguar

Source: Jaguar

In 2010, Jaguar stunned the automotive world with its C-X75 concept. Even better, in May 2011, it announced that the car was entering production, with 250 units available between 2013 and 2015 for $1.15 million apiece. Like the Porsche 918 Spyder, La Ferrari, and McLaren P1, the C-X75 would be a hybrid, have around 800 horsepower on tap, and easily top the 200 mile per hour mark. But a shaky global economy and production delays doomed the Jag, and in December 2012, the company officially announced that the C-X75 was dead. The closest most of us will ever get to the car is watching its memorable turn in the James Bond film Spectre.

8. Cadillac CT8

Cadillac Elmiraj concept

Cadillac Elmiraj concept | Source: Cadillac

Unlike some of the dream machines on this list, the CT8 made a lot of sense. Cadillac’s new CT6 fills an important niche in the luxury market, falling somewhere in between the midsize 5 Series/E-Class/A6 and the bigger 7 Series/S-Class/A8 contingencies, offering more than the former for less than the latter. But the CT8 would slot in above it, taking on the big executive models and hopefully re-establishing Cadillac as one of the world’s premier luxury brands. It would be big (as big as a Mercedes S-Class), rear-wheel drive, V8-powered, borrow heavily from the gorgeous Ciel and Elmiraj (above) concepts, and be here by 2020. Unfortunately, Cadillac decided that it should focus on building a more competitive (and lucrative) crossover and SUV lineup, and has cancelled its flagship program.

(cheatsheet.com,http://goo.gl/WzZhP8)

8 Best Summer Cars You Can Buy at Every Price Range

There were a lot of reasons why the late ’70s was a dark time for cars, but among the biggest reasons was the near death of the convertible. It’s true; in 1976, the only American-built ragtop was the Cadillac Eldorado, and GM had the gall to even market it as its last convertible ever.

Now 40 years later, the open-top market is pretty strong, and this year, we’re seeing a number of new models to make it that much more so. From affordable roadsters to ultra-luxury barges, there seems to be something for everyone at every price.

So from the beautifully attainable to the exclusive and gorgeous (with a little “what were they thinking?” thrown in for good measure), here are our eight picks for the best summer cars.

1. Mini John Cooper Works Convertible

Mini

Source: Mini

With a supercharged BMW-designed 228-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four, the Mini John Cooper Works is a hot hatch that can run with the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen Golf GTI. But now Mini has an edge on its competitors because you can buy an open-topped version of its hottest hatch. With race-ready power and handling, and an interior that punches well above its weight, the JCW ragtop is one of the most exciting convertibles for under $40,000, period.

2. Mercedes-AMG S65 Convertible

Mercedes-Benz

Source: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes may be working to widen its base with models like the CLA sedan and GLA crossover, but it still knows how to pull out all the stops better than almost anyone else in the industry; case in point is the new S-Class cabriolet. Sharing its beautiful lines with the S-Class coupe more than the formal S-Class sedan, Mercedes has taken its newest ragtop and left it with the mad scientists at AMG to transform it into a snarling luxobarge that could roast most sports cars on the road. Armed with a twin-turbo V12, the S65 will go from a standstill to 60 in four seconds flat, and top out at an electronically limited 155 miles per hour. With an expected base price in the low-to-mid $200K range, this one’s more of a summer dream than a reality for most of us.

3. Mercedes-AMG C63 Convertible

Mercedes-Benz

Source: Mercedes-Benz

Like the S65, the C63 is new for 2017, and is the result of in-house tuner AMG turning Merc’s entry-level compact ragtop into a (relatively) low-key luxury rocket. The twin-turbo V8 “base model” C63 will make 469 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. Upgrading to the C63 S will net you an additional 34 horsepower and 37 pound-feet. Zero to 60 comes in 4.1 and 4.0 seconds, respectively.

4. Mazda Miata

2016 MX-5 Mazda Miata

Source: Mazda

Thanks to its affordability, fun factor, and handling that can make any driver feel like a hero, the Miata makes a pretty strong case as the most important sports car of the last 25 years. 2016 marks the first full year the fourth-generation car is on sale, and the reigning World Car of the Year is arguably the best it’s ever been. And with a starting price at just under $25K, it’s about as expensive as a Nissan Altima. Keep that in mind next time you put in for a new company car. It couldn’t hurt to ask…

5. Fiat 124

2017 Fiat 124 Spider

Source: Fiat

If the Miata is a little too… common for you, give the all-new Fiat 124 a look. Underneath the sexy Italian body (which evokes the classic 1966-’85 124 Sport Spider) lies rock-solid Miata underpinnings. But instead of the 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated Mazda four, the new Fiat comes with a turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir four, which is good for 160 horsepower — five more than the Miata. And if that isn’t enough, the 170-horsepower Abarth version will arrive later in the year.

6. Jeep Wrangler

Jeep Wrangler

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

When it comes to summer cars, the Wrangler is a no-brainer. Its roof and doors come off, its quick enough to be lively, and if you really pushed it at the beach, the carpets come out and you can hose down the interior. We recently drove one in New York City, and it even managed to make gridlock traffic fun. Our only reservation? Its creeping price tag — a base Wrangler starts at $24K but can easily creep up into the low-$40K range fast.

7. Range Rover Evoque Convertible

Range Rover Evoque Convertible

Source: Land Rover

Up to this point, if you wanted a convertible SUV that was a little more plush than the Wrangler, you went for the Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet, and then hoped no one you knew saw you in it. While Nissan axed that model for 2015 amid claims that it was one of the biggest automotive misfires of the decade, Land Rover has picked up the torch for some reason and has chopped the top off its pretty Range Rover Evoque. The company claims the ragtop is just as durable as the hardtop, though we doubt either will see much time off-road. We’re sure the Evoque ragtop will be a fun and luxurious ride, though we’re not sure we’d want to be driving it with the top down.

8. Porsche 911 Targa 4

Porsche

Source: Porsche

In 2014, Porsche went back to its roots and brought the classic stainless steel rollbar back to the 911 Targa, and in our opinion it’s one of the best-looking models in the 911 lineup. Unlike the other models on the list, this one isn’t a full convertible; its roof automatically lifts up and folds beneath the Porsche’s expansive greenhouse. Sure Porsche has a full ragtop 911, but it doesn’t come close to the retro charm and mechanical cool of the Targa.

(cheatsheet.com,http://goo.gl/aP9n5R)

The 7 Least Loved Cars in Consumer Reports’ Rankings

Every year, Consumer Reports conducts an owner satisfaction survey to see what its readers think of the vehicle they recently purchased. The survey covers vehicles between one and three years old, and takes into account everything from fuel economy to curb appeal and cargo space. At the end, consumers weigh in on whether they would buy the car again if given a second chance.

It turns out the average vehicle has about 70% of Consumer Reports subscribers saying they would buy it again. On the other end of the spectrum were the cars that fewer than 50% of owners would buy again. Consumer Reports calls them the least satisfying automobiles on the U.S. market. Considering 350,000 vehicles went under the microscope for the survey, our guess is there’s something to a horrible score for cars even over $20K. Here are the seven 2015 models with the lowest level of satisfaction in the Consumer Reports survey, ranked from the least offensive to the most offensive impressions left on their owners.

7. Nissan Frontier

Nissan Frontier

Source: Nissan

Along with Toyota, Nissan kept the midsize truck segment alive after GM, Ford, and Ram abandoned it. And while Toyota’s Tacoma has become a cult favorite, the Frontier hasn’t done much to raise a pulse. The most common complaints Consumer Reports heard were about its poor fuel economy, and wide turning radius. Still, 60% of Frontier owners would buy another one.

6. Nissan Altima

2015 Nissan Altima

Source: Nissan

In a competitive midsize segment with options like the Mazda6, Honda Accord, and Ford Fusion, the outgoing Nissan Altima felt woefully behind the times, even if it was the brand’s best-selling model. Surveyed customers simply called the car’s handling “horrible,” and like the Quest, complained of the “irritating” continuously-variable transmission (a common complaint about the current Nissan lineup). Hopefully Nissan was listening before it released the new-for-2016 model, though 58% of owners would’ve bought another of the outgoing cars.

5. Mercedes-Benz CLA

Mercedes CLA

Source: Mercedes-Benz

Introduced for 2014, the CLA was supposed to be the attractive, affordable entrance point for Mercedes in America. Starting at around $30K, it was designed to hook younger buyers and prime them for a lifetime of trade up to more expensive models they get older and more affluent. But the CLA has become a tough sell for the brand, and customers complained to Consumer Reports of a rough ride, premature tire wear, and a decidedly un-Mercedes-like cheap feeling overall. That said, 55% of buyers would buy another one in the future.

4. Nissan Quest

2015 Nissan Quest

Source: Nissan

The minivan seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance lately, and left out in the lurch is the aging, angular Nissan Quest. Customers complained to Consumer Reports of poor visibility, and like the Altima, the annoying CVT, and bad service at Nissan dealerships. Just 54% of owners would buy another one.

3. Hyundai Veloster

Hyundai Veloster

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

With its third door, rally-fighter stance, and odd-ball styling, the Veloster is one of the most peculiar cars on the market, and with with its available 201 horsepower 2.0 liter turbo and optional six-speed manual transmission, is pretty lively for under $25K. But the base model comes with an anemic 132 horsepower mill, and customers took issue with its cheap interior feel, lack of power, and disappointing ride. Just 50% of buyers would do it all over again.

2. Jeep Compass

Jeep Compass

Source: Jeep

Despite respectable sales (nearly 67,000 sold in 2015), the Compass sticks out like a reminder of Jeep’s bad old days at a time when the brand’s lineup is becoming more competitive than ever. Some new owners tend to agree, telling Consumer Reports they were unimpressed with fuel economy and felt it was under-equipped for the price.  Only 46% of them said they would buy one again.

1. Kia Rio

Kia Rio, least-loved car by Consumer Reports

Source: Kia

Like the Jeep Compass, the subcompact Rio feels like a reminder of Kia’s bad old days at a time when it’s otherwise flying high. The Rio has the unfortunate title Consumer Reports’ most-complained-about car, with customers bemoaning the car’s poor ride, and claim that Kia overstated the car’s fuel economy — and that’s no small charge to make nowadays. Only 40% of owners said they would buy one again.

(cheatsheet.com,http://goo.gl/8qwDVc)

 

Caution! 5 New Cars You Should Not Buy in 2017

Forget the idea that the car is on the way out, because in virtually every category, we’re living in the golden age of the automobile. Today’s new cars are safer, faster, more powerful, more reliable, and more comfortable than ever before, and they’re getting better by the year. The worst cars on the market today can blow the doors off the worst ones from 20 years ago in almost every conceivable way. We don’t need to worry about things like rust, dangerous build quality, or woeful crash protection on new cars anymore. We can climb into the most basic car and comfortably cross the country in it, maintaining highway speeds, and brake in a safe distance should the need arise.

But what happens when the march of progress starts? Modern or not, there are still bad new cars out there; they’re just measured differently than they used to be. Some models are left to wither on the vine once a company decides to phase them out, and with technology advancing so quickly, they tend to age quick. On the flip side, early production models are always the most problematic as manufacturers work out the kinks, so if you have your heart set on the first car off the line, you should probably be ready to make a few trips to the dealer in that first year.

With a number of new cars slated for a refresh or launch in 2018, and nearly as many preparing to shuffle off this mortal coil by then, we found five that you might want to skip over if you’re planning on doing some car shopping in 2017. Whether they’re young and immature or at the end of their life-cycle, here are five models to avoid next year.

1. Chrysler 200

Chrysler 200, worst new cars for 2017

Source: Chrysler

Chrysler had incredibly high hopes for its handsome but bland 200 when it debuted in 2015. But the sedan hasn’t been able to keep up with rivals like the Mazda6, Ford Fusion, or Honda Accord in terms of performance or appeal, and it quickly fell to the back of the pack. Rather than attempt a rescue, FCA decided to cut its losses and declare the 200 (and platform-mate Dodge Dart) dead after 2018. You may be able to get one for cheap (production has stopped as dealer lots have been glutted with them in the wake of the announcement), but with a number of its midsize rivals getting a refresh in ’17 and ’18, the Chrysler will only become a harder sell.

2. Mitsubishi Lancer

Mitsubishi Lancer

Source: Mitsubishi

The Lancer was a great sporty compact sedan when it debuted back in 2008. Today, it’s ancient, and between its dated styling (even with the recent facelift) and a cabin that’s well below 2016 standards in both quality and comfort, it’s one of the harder sells on the market today. On a positive note, this car will be fondly remembered as the basis for the mighty Evo X, one of the best performance cars of the past 10 years. But on the other hand, Mitsubishi has announced that there won’t be a next-generation Lancer, so things probably aren’t going to get any better for it before Mitsu finally pulls the plug.

3. Alfa Romeo Giulia

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Source: Alfa Romeo

We hate to include it on the list because it looks great and performs like a true BMW M5-fighter on paper. But pre-production examples of Alfa Romeo’s great return to the American market have been lambasted by the automotive press for quality control issues, resulting in a PR disaster for parent company FCA. We’re still holding out hope that Alfa can work out the kinks before then, but you might want to wait a year or two before you pick one up.

4. Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3

Source: Tesla

The Model 3 is another one of the new cars we hate to put here, but hear us out: Tesla needs to ramp up production at least five-fold by 2018 to meet its target production numbers, which means it needs to scale up every aspect of its operation in the next 20 or so months, and that won’t happen without its share of growing pains. There are 373,000 people hankering for the $35K EV, and if the messy rollout of the Model X is any indicator, there could be some serious teething problems for Tesla’s mass-market savior. If you want a Model 3 and aren’t already on the waiting list, it’s probably better if you give it a couple years to mature.

5. Lincoln Navigator

The Lincoln Navigator has been named one of The Car Book’s 2015 Best Bets – the only large premium utility to achieve this honor.

Source: Lincoln

The Lincoln Navigator was America’s first full-size luxury SUV, and for years it battled with the Cadillac Escalade for dominance in its segment. Today, the Caddy outsells the Lincoln by nearly two-to-one, and despite a facelift, the Navigator just isn’t different enough from the Ford Expedition (yes, Ford still builds those) to win over many buyers. An all-new Navi is coming for 2018 however, and if the Navigator Concept seen at this year’s New York Auto Show is any indication, it could steal some sales back from its arch rival. That means the only good thing about buying a ’17 model will probably be the massive rebate Lincoln offers once the ’18s hit the lots.

(cheatsheet.com,http://goo.gl/z2NOv3)

Why the Mercedes-Benz 600 is the Ultimate Luxury Car

Mercedes-Benz 600

Source: Mercedes-Benz

Today, Mercedes-Benz isn’t quite as far up in the ultra-luxury stratosphere it used to be. A well-optioned S-Class runs well into the six-figure range, and the company’s Maybach-badged S600 is one of the finest cars money can buy, but it just doesn’t have that rarefied cachet that it once did. Try as it might — and again, it is an astonishing car — the $190,000-plus range-topper came out with three strikes against it. The first is the Rolls-Royce Ghost Series II. The second is the Bentley Flying Spur. The final is the car’s namesake, an automotive masterpiece that was unlike anything the world has ever seen before, and is unlikely to ever see again.

Grand. Not “Executive,” not “Long Wheel Base,” or “Platinum,” or “Black Series” any other empty-sounding modern platitude tacked onto the decklid of a modern luxury car. The car was simply grand. It was the Grosser in Mercedes-Benz 600 Grosser, a stand-alone model that was perfectly summed up by that elegant, old-fashioned word; one that can convey everything from a centuries-old estate to a multi-million dollar yacht in the Mediterranean with just the right amount of hyperbole and understatement. And the 600 was of that world, more so than any other car built after World War II. It was an understated, upright car that looked both timeless and modern, and defined wealth and power in the final decades of the 20th century.

Mercedes-Benz

Source: Mercedes-Benz

Like Mercedes itself, the 600 has a complicated history. It was the first car to earn the Grosser title since the 1930-’43 770 Grosser, the car infamously favored by Adolf Hitler. And like its predecessor, the 600 attracted the attention of some of the most brutal tyrants the world has ever known. Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, the Shah of Iran, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Ferdinand Marcos, Leonid Brezhnev, and Kim Il-sung all loved their Grossers. But it wasn’t all autocrats and dictators — John Lennon, George Harrison, Pope Paul VI, Queen Elizabeth II, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, Aristotle Onassis, Jack Nicholson, and Coco Chanel favored them too. Its level of exclusivity proved intoxicating to hero and villain alike, and as a result, the car reigned supreme (and relatively unchanged) for an astonishing 17 years.

Mercedes-Benz

Source: Mercedes-Benz

But the Grosser was no hollow status symbol — in fact, it was nothing short of an engineering marvel. It was developed without any consideration to cost, and as a result, it was the most expensive car of its day. Starting at $20,000 in 1965 (or roughly $152,000 today), each car was built to the customer’s exact specifications, and as a result, few, if any are exactly alike. To put the car perspective, a contemporary Road and Track review said:

If, instead of buying a Mercedes 600, you invested the same amount of money in other cars you could get a Lincoln Continental, a Buick Riviera, two Pontiac GTOs and still have enough change left over for two and a half or three Volkswagens. The Mercedes 600 is not an ordinary car.

And that’s putting it mildly. Introduced in 1963 as a ’64 model, the 600 rode on its own platform, the W100. Available in a driver-oriented 126-inch wheelbase model and a 153.5 inch limousine model, the Grosser stood apart from the already fading Cadillac Fleetwood 75 and the baroque Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud with its gorgeous Bruno Sacco-Paul Bracq penned design looked throughly modern at a time when America was still getting over tailfins.

Mercedes-Benz

Source: Mercedes-Benz

While rival Rolls-Royce withheld technical figures while assuring customers that performance was “more than adequate,” Mercedes designed the Grosser to be an adept autobahn cruiser. Equipped with a fuel-injected, 250 horsepower 6.3 liter V8, the nearly three-ton car was engineered to cruise all day at 100 miles per hour, and reach a top speed of over 130. This kind of power resulted in some of the greatest acts of automotive hooliganism in history. In 1965 for example, Sterling Moss nearly broke the Saloon Class record at England’s Brands Hatch racetrack — with six people on board.  Raising the stakes even higher, actor William Holden, ofSunset Boulevard and Network fame, rallied his.

Mercedes-Benz

Source: Mercedes-Benz

But aside from Grosser’s luxury and speed was its piece de resistance: its hydraulic suspension system. While cars from Citröen to Rolls-Royce used a hydro-pneumatic system to keep the ride comfortable on any terrain, the Grosser used hydraulics for everything. On top of the suspension, the seats, sunroof, windows, trunk, air vents, were all connected by hundreds of feet of hydraulic tubing, allowing highly-pressurized mineral oil to operate it all without a sound. After all, Mercedes thought, why inconvenience important clients with the uncivilized sound of an electric motor? The result is almost otherworldly; it’s one of the most complex cars ever built, but its features move with a speed and precision that even today’s luxury cars can’t reproduce.

Grosser production came to an end in 1981, after 2,677 cars had been built. Of those, just 59 were the famous Laundolet limousine convertible models, have become so valuable that a non-running basket case sold at auction last year for nearly $600,000. And basket case Grossers aren’t something to be taken lightly; it’s estimated that a rough and running 600 could take $50,000 worth of work to get sorted, completely neglected models could easily cost another six figures to get back up on the road. But it’s worth it — as famous current owners like Jay Leno and Jeremy Clarkson are quick to point out, the 600 isn’t just the best luxury car of its era, it could be the greatest luxury car of all-time.

(cheatsheet.com,http://goo.gl/FS3TiQ)

Up close with the ASUS ZenFone 3 series

These are the company’s best-looking smartphones yet.

Like it does every year at Computex, ASUS announced a bunch of new smartphones that won’t break the bank. Only this time, the best-looking device turned out to be the base model: the ZenFone 3. I managed to get some hands-on time with this $249 device and to my surprise, it looks just as good in real life thanks to the spun-metal finish on the back. It also has a more premium feel than its predecessor due to the switch from a plastic body to a combination of metallic frame and 2.5D glass panels. At this price point (with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage), there’s little to complain about, but it’ll take some real-life usage to see if the mid-range Snapdragon 625 will suit your needs.

Gallery: ASUS ZenFone 3 series hands-on

The high-end ZenFone 3 Deluxe isn’t far off either. It has a metal unibody case that’s subtly curved on the back for better ergonomics, and unlike most competing metallic phones, the Deluxe manages to cover up most of its antenna bands — the remaining bits are just on the body’s chamfer. Still, I wouldn’t mind having the ZenFone 3’s body for the Deluxe as I’m more mesmerized by its concentric circles on the back, which is more effective than the same effect applied to the Deluxe’s chin and ear pillow on the front side. On a more positive note, the Deluxe’s Super AMOLED screen is visibly more vibrant, though we’ve yet to find out how well it performs under daylight. As for performance, we’re confident that the 6GB of RAM (at $499, with 32GB of storage) plus the Snapdragon 820 will keep things running smoothly, assuming the final software build won’t have any major bugs.

This leaves us with the 6.8-inch ZenFone 3 Ultra. Compared to its two smaller siblings, the Ultra has a less exciting design, featuring a flat metal unibody simply decorated with a chamfer, but at least it feels solid like the other two. As with the ZenFone 2, the Ultra’s volume keys are also placed on the back, which is a bit odd given that the other two ZenFone 3 models have them on the side. On a similar note, the Ultra’s fingerprint reader is located on the front side instead of the back like on its siblings, which perhaps makes more sense given that you’re less likely to be holding up the phablet as often; it is notably heavier, after all (233g instead of the Deluxe’s 170g), mainly because of the generous 4,600mAh battery.

One thing I must praise is that those dual speakers at the bottom are super loud, which says a lot because even the single speaker on the lesser ZenFone 3 models is already pretty powerful. I just wish they were facing the front. $479 for this model gets you 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage, so even though it’s running on a Snapdragon 652 (which should be more than plenty for everyday use), it probably wouldn’t take much to convince those who are addicted to watching videos on the road. As to how big that market is, only time will tell.

Based on my early hands-on time, it’s safe to say that ASUS is generally headed in the right direction with its latest smartphones, but there are still questions remaining: Are the cameras as good as they claim to be? And how stable is the latest ZenUI? We’ll need to spend some more time with these devices — and fully put them through their paces — to know for sure.

(engadget.com,http://goo.gl/Y7oVRe)

GRAHAM AUDIO LS3/5 STANDMOUNT LOUDSPEAKER

Graham Audio LS3/5 standmount loudspeaker

Once upon a time, the BBC conducted a study aimed at predicting the acoustic properties of studios, and to help with this it constructed an 1/8 scale model of its large Maida Vale studio. A shortage of 1/8 scale musicians to fill this model necessitated a loudspeaker be used to simulate the appropriately-scaled acoustic output. Existing studio monitor designs were too big, so a miniature design using a 110mm bextrene-coned main driver in a five-litre cabinet was developed. The end result was the LS3/5, a design expected to have useful output from around 400Hz upwards; in the event, output extended from around 100Hz, and the design was quickly also pressed into service as a speech-monitoring loudspeaker for use in confined spaces, typically the control rooms in outside broadcast vans. Around 20 pairs were built before the driver manufacturer, KEF, changed the specification of the 110mm unit, necessitating a redesign of the LS3/5, dubbed the LS3/5a. The LS3/5a was also taken up by the audio community, largely due to its notable lack of coloration in the crucial midrange, something many other contemporary designs couldn’t live up to.

We need speak no more of this later design; pretty much all that needs saying, and plenty that doesn’t, has already been said.

The LS3/5 is therefore something of a rarity, an ur-LS3/5a known only to a few, until now. Graham Audio however, has recreated the LS3/5, sourcing a new, 110mm bextrene-coned, main driver made by Volt to Graham’s specification and designed to be as close as possible to the original spec of the initial KEF driver. Modern production methods have meant that this driver is far more consistent from sample to sample than the originals, which had a high reject rate at the time. A new tweeter was also sourced, and the crossover tweaked to recreate the LS3/5’s frequency response (which was somewhat flatter than the LS3/5a) as closely as possible. The BBC design principle of using a thin-walled, plywood cabinet, damped to control resonances, has also been carefully followed and the review samples are impeccably finished in a light cherry veneer.

The context above is important, because I don’t think I can review this loudspeaker as an audio product as it’s also so much an historical artefact. This is, at least in part, because Graham Audio’s designer, Derek Hughes (son of Spencer, who participated in the BBC study, and the design of the original) confirmed that they saw little point in joining the ranks of those producing LS3/5a clones, and instead have sought out the particular niche which the LS3/5 will doubtless carve out for itself. Almost as if to emphasise this, Graham Audio recently purchased the long-lost Chartwell brand name. Chartwell was an early manufacturer of BBC designs and its loudspeakers are highly sought after by collectors. Graham Audio plans to use the Chartwell name on LS3/5 designs, to further cement that link with the BBC’s past.

All of which makes it hard to assess the performance of the LS3/5 in context, because there is at once no context and too much context to deal with. Practically no-one has logged time with the LS3/5, so there’s the academic interest of comparing it with the LS3/5a that replaced it. And then there’s cross-referencing it with a surviving LS3/5, a task that is all but impossible. There’s even setting it in among modern designs. As a result, the LS3/5 invites more questions as you investigate it. Is it simply a museum piece? Is it a collector’s item? The more you think about the loudspeaker, the more your head spins about its provenance. In a way, the closest analogy to the LS3/5 is the recreation of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine in London’s Science Museum. Babbage drew plans to build his mechanical computer in mid 19th Century, but it remained as just plans until 1991. Is this the real thing?

Ultimately though, what does the LS3/5 sound like? The LS3/5 shares many of the great points of the loudspeaker that replaced it, and it also shares many of that loudspeaker’s limitations. The LS3/5 has the trademark midrange beauty and lack of coloration of the later LS3/5a, and, it also has the lack of deep bass and the modest output levels borne of a low-efficiency design with modest power-handling capacity. It’s more a loudspeaker of exceptional vocal clarity and accuracy than dynamic expressiveness and portrayal of changes in energy levels in music.

Voices are, it must be said, beautifully rendered by this design, and I’ve ploughed through my recordings of The Sixteen, The King’s Singers, The Rodolphus Choir, and others, with considerable pleasure. If this is your musical diet, play on. The lack of coloration, the accurate rendition of tonal colour does, there should be little doubt, set something of a benchmark and once you’ve heard how the LS3/5s portray tone, it does show up where otherwise fine loudspeakers fall short of the ideal.

Richard Burton’s narration on The War of the Worlds [Columbia] is entirely natural and correctly-proportioned. This is the voice of a man in the room, no chestiness or over-emphasised upper bass, no larger-than-life presentation, it is easy to see why the BBC prized the speakers that followed for voice monitoring. This also highlights the principle reported difference between the LS3/5 and the LS3/5a – the flatness of the frequency response means you don’t occasionally feel the need to listen to voices like Burton’s off axis!

Moving to orchestral, the waltz from Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite number 2 [HMV classics] was presented as if heard from the back of the hall, but the orchestral colours drawn by Shostakovich were captured very well, as was the contribution of the various parts to the whole. Fauré’s ‘Agnus Dei’ from the Requiem [EMI] was lush, lavish, and luxuriant in the richness of its orchestral and vocal palette, but with this came a loss of subtle dynamic expression, especially at high volumes where the piece sounds overwrought.

Switching now to jazz, it was easy to appreciate Andy Sheppard’s exquisite saxophone tone on ‘Peshwari’ from Learning to Wave [Provocateur Records], which was nicely offset by the rhythm guitar and tabla. However, the impression of interplay between the musicians was less prominent than usual. Perhaps the best expression of the LS3/5 performance comes with the Balanescu Quartet playing Kraftwerk’s ‘Robot’ from Possessed [Mute]. This had a wonderfully rich, woody, string tones and textures, but seemed to lack a sense of communication between the players.

This is to be expected, and shows the LS3/5 is very likely an accurate rendition of perhaps the most influential loudspeaker that almost no-one has ever heard. The LS3/5 comes from a time when a good loudspeaker was all about tonal accuracy and beauty, and dynamic freedom was distinctly out of favour. This was the era of the original Quad Electrostatic and the KEF Celeste. The headline was a flat frequency response, and all else was secondary. The LS3/5 – born out of a miniature loudspeaker put to use in a Liliputian test studio – became a short-lived but pivotal vocal loudspeaker for Outside Broadcast use, and what followed became a legend in audio circles. This is the LS3/5’s context: the link between the evergreen LS3/5a and its drawing board. It’s a recreation of a historic moment in British loudspeaker design.

As a consequence, the LS3/5 is almost beyond criticism, because I think those who use it will never separate it from its ‘recreation of a historic artefact’ context. So, criticising the LS3/5 for not dealing well with a complex, rhythmic and dynamic music signal is a bit like having a dog which can bark the Finnish national anthem, but criticising its diction and intonation. But more than that, it’s like attacking 1970 for being 46 years ago!

I can’t say with any authority how close the LS3/5 reproductions are to the BBC originals, other than to say that Graham Audio is content, and it is clear that considerable trouble has been taken to recreate the design. The inherently flatter frequency response might imply that, had things been different at the time, the BBC would have continued to use LS3/5s and the LS3/5a might not have happened at all. I think the collectors would have still been very happy, and they will lap this up!

(hifiplus.com,http://goo.gl/e6irWo)

2016 Mini Clubman Review: The Fun-to-Drive Family Hauler

2016 Mini Clubman

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

A few weeks ago in our segment “Buy This, Not That,” we pitted a Mini Cooper Clubman against the venerable BMW 328 i Sports Wagon. The Mini came out on top, as we declared:

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.

Of course, that was before we spent a week with a Clubman, putting it through the rigors of New York City traffic, logging hours of highway travel, and running it through some of the best driver’s roads in the Northeast.

In our comparo, we looked at the range-topping Cooper S All4 Clubman, with all-wheel drive, the bigger 189-horsepower motor, and luscious Chesterfield Leather diamond-stitched interior. But our test car was much more humble; a front-wheel drive Cooper model that was well-optioned and rang in at a reasonable $32,750. It was the type of Clubman you’re more likely to see in your neighborhood, not a show pony crammed to the gills with options. Conventional wisdom would have you believe that this lower trim would help expose the car’s flaws, maybe even change our minds about picking the Brit over the legendary German.

But you know what? We’d still probably take one over the Bimmer.

Exterior

2016 Mini Clubman

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

Much ado has been made over the Mini lineup’s expanding size. Yes, it’s massive compared to Alec Issigonis’s 1959 Mini, but on roads choked with tall crossovers, big sedans, and in Manhattan, a sea of taxi-spec Escalades and Suburbans, the Clubman is about as compact as you’re going to find in a wagon. It’s 14 feett long, and just 4.7 feet tall, making it about as long as a Volkswagen Beetle, and 2 inches taller than a Ford Mustang. Minis may be getting bigger, but honestly, its “big wagon” is still pretty small by 2016 standards.

And the Clubman wears the Mini design language well. Redesigned for 2015, it gained two full-size rear doors (losing the smaller rear-hinged “Clubdoors”), making rear seat access easier, and thankfully kept the distinct rear barn doors, which we’ve always loved. Its clean lines and slab-sides recall the classic ‘60s-era Mini Traveller while still looking sporty and contemporary, keeping in line with the rest of the brand’s current lineup. Our test car’s “Melting Silver Metallic” with contrasting black roof and accents added a healthy sporting and playful look, almost advertising that it’s fun to drive.

Exterior pros and cons

2016 Mini Clubman

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

+ Has all the classic Mini styling cues while still looking contemporary.

+ Even in non “S” spec, still seems to scream “I’m fun to drive!”

+ It isn’t exactly flashy, but try to lose one in a parking lot. We’d bet you can’t.

– We love the rear barn doors, but they do hinder rear visibility.

– All that black trim gets mighty dirty during pollen season…

– If sporty isn’t your thing, you might want to look elsewhere.

Powertrain

2016 Mini Clubman

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

Our test car had the base 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-three under the hood (a one-piece clam shell number, which we love) that pumps out 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. While it’s a big step down on power from the aforementioned 2.0-liter turbo four, it still feels plenty lively in everyday driving, and never feels overworked in the 3,160-pound car.

But pep and slightly better gas mileage aside (25/34 in the 1.5, compared to 22/32 in the 2.0), there are some drawbacks to the smaller mill. It’s significantly buzzier than the bigger four, and a little louder at idle too. And the power divide between Clubman models is hard to ignore. With the 55 horsepower and 73 pound-foot handicap from losing a cylinder, there’s also a full two second penalty in zero to 60 times (8.9 versus 6.9 seconds), which makes a big difference in on-ramp acceleration. It’s probably plenty for most Clubman buyers, but it was hard for us knowing that all that extra power was out there.

Engine gripes notwithstanding, our Clubman was a prime example of a slow car that loved to be driven fast. The six-speed automatic thankfully wasn’t afraid to let the engine rev under hard acceleration, and Mini’s famous handling kept the car hunkered down and level in tight corners. Sport mode became our friend too, firming up the steering and adjusting the throttle. It kicks in immediately, and kept things plenty lively, especially on back roads.

Powertrain pros and cons

2016 Mini Clubman

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

+ An automatic transmission that actually likes to rev, fantastic handling, and heavy, communicative steering more than make up for being down on power.

+ We loved taking it through the corners fast, and it seemed to too. We’re not sure if back seat passengers would as much…

+ Sport mode really changes the driving dynamics. We’ll never get sick of a car that announces “Let’s Motor Hard!” every time we want to go fast.

– The power difference between the three and four is hard to ignore.

– Inline threes are infamous for having more NVH than four-bangers. Mini’s 1.5-liter mill is certainly refined, but it can’t completely erase all the three’s bad habits.

– The 1.5 is likely plenty for most Clubman owners, but for us, it would be hard to live with knowing we could have had a lot more power for a few thousand more.

Interior

2016 Mini Clubman

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

The Clubman has the modern Mini retro-futuristic layout, with emphasis on the center infotainment system (a nod to the center-mounted speedometer on the original cars), but inside is where traces of the brand’s BMW ownership start to show through. The clean, simple typeface on the switchgear is the same (if not incredibly similar) as the one found on current BMWs, and the red lighting on black gauges will always remind us of Bavaria before Oxford. Fit and finish is superb, and for a $32K car, it feels decidedly upscale.

But German DNA aside, the Clubman is deceptively large inside (in classic Mini tradition), and still very British. Inside the door bins, arm rests, and on the center console, there’s a subtle rubber embossed in a monochrome tartan plaid, a stylish little reminder that this car came from Old Blighty. Overall, this generation has done an admirable job of toning down the polarizing “cuteness” of earlier modern Minis, but there are a number of purely stylistic touches that we really grew to like. The big, round center screen is ringed by a light strip that changes color depending on drive mode and stereo settings. It’s a flourish that could come off as cheap or gimmicky, but the Clubman’s fit and finish works in its favor, and it’s executed in a way that’s both handsome and exciting.

There’s an interesting blend of materials and textures in the Clubman, but they all work together well. The black leather in our car was paired with chrome, body-colored inserts, and an interesting herringbone panel that spanned the dash. The seats are well-bolstered, supportive, and comfortable on long trips, and feel equal parts luxurious and sporty. It’s an interior that we really enjoyed our time in, though we found the rear seats a little cramped for anyone over six feet tall.

Interior pros and cons

2016 Mini Clubman

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

+ Very British, but with a strong BMW influence.

+ Fit and finish is superb, with fantastic attention to detail.

+ 18 cubic feet in the trunk becomes 48 cubic feet with the rear seats down, giving you plenty of space for hauling.

– Stepping down into the low interior helps make it feel sporty for some (including us), but for some buyers, it may be too low.

– Rear seats are cramped for taller adults.

– We loved the customizable lighting and ring around the center console, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Tech and safety

2016 Mini Clubman

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

With the Technology Package and Wired Package, our Mini’s suite of safety features was top notch. The big infotainment screen displayed a diagram of the car with distance of any objects updated in real time, with their shape showing up on screen. This was great for parallel parking, or for alerting you that someone’s walking their dog as you’re crawling through city traffic. The car’s warning chimes are a refreshing break from the ear-splitting beeps that most safety systems have. And the backup camera stays on for a few seconds too, which was a clever aid for pulling out of a parking spot on a city street.

The Clubman’s Mini Connected infotainment system was the weakest link, however. Controlled by a BMW-esque tracking wheel on the center console with a keypad in front of it, it could be a distraction in traffic, and took a day or so to get used to. Scrolling through individual letters and numbers every time we need to enter an address into the navigation system got tiresome quickly.

Tech and safety pros and cons

2016 Mini Clubman

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

+ Big, clear infotainment screen was easy to read, and navigation system was great.

+ Suite of electronic safety features gives you a 360-degree status on the car at all times.

+ Navigation system was great, and it even factored in real-time traffic conditions.

– The Mini Connected control wheel took some getting used to, and got frustrating quickly.

– Cumbersome controls made witching between the navigation and changing radio channels difficult in traffic.

– The infotainment system was strong, but it was difficult to fully explore it with such frustrating controls.

The drive

2016 Mini Clubman

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

From inner-city gridlock to wide open highways or twisty back roads, the Clubman is a fun and engaging driving partner. Put it in sport mode (which became a must for us), and the “Let’s Motor Hard!” sounded like the right suggestion no matter where we were going. The interior is comfortable and spacious, and it’s difficult to get tired in, even if you’ve been on the highway all day, or stuck in traffic. Mini has given its wagon the energy of a puppy, but the refinement to never tire you out. It may be a family car, but the Clubman offers serious fun day after day.

Wrap up and review

2016 Mini Clubman

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

So we may not have loved the infotainment controls, and we missed that 189-horsepower four, but it was hard not to feel a little sad the day we had to turn our Clubman in. Mini has always offered a blend of style, performance, and luxury in a package that’s wholly unique in the auto world, and in the current Clubman, it’s matured into one of the most attractive compact family cars on the market today at any price. We loved our mid-level car, but if you want to pay a bit more for the loaded Cooper S, you’ll have a BMW-beating level of luxury for a bargain price that made us first fall in love with the car. For the price range, versatility, performance, and utility, the Clubman is a great for people with a growing family or people who want fun-to-drive hauler for errands. It’s a car that you’ll be glad to own, and that’s a feeling that will last for years.

(cheatsheet.com,http://goo.gl/DU3Gyy)

Quick Drive: 2016 Ford Focus ST: The Sensible Sports Car

2016 Ford Focus ST

So you’ve reached a point in life when you need a “sensible car.” You’re newly married, there’s a baby on the way, and the Mustang/Camaro/BRZ/Miata in the driveway just isn’t going to cut it anymore — welcome to adulthood! But wait; you don’t have to follow the herd and run to buy the latest nondescript crossover, or go in the complete opposite direction and buy an eight-seat minivan. Thankfully there are a number of fun to drive cars out there that also pass as sensible that will keep you and your spouse happy, while still giving the outward appearance of being a respectable grown-up.

Or maybe that isn’t the case at all. Maybe you just want a Ford Focus ST because it’s one of the best driver’s cars in the world.

Of course, it does help that it’s practical, and it won’t break the bank either. But don’t let its $25K base price fool you, or think it’s diminished somehow now that the first of the big dog Focus RSs are arriving at dealerships now. The ST is one of the greats out there; it’s a world-class performance car for the masses — a true race on Sunday, commute on Monday car with room for the kids and enough space to make a Home Depot run on the way home from work. It isn’t often that you can have everything, but with the ST, it feels about as close as you’re going to get with a car.

Ford

But the ST wouldn’t be as great if the base Focus wasn’t such a solid starting point. Designed by Ford in Europe, the five-seater is surprisingly lithe, with a firm suspension, minimal body roll, and surprisingly direct steering. But if there’s one weak point, it’s power, something the ST does a tremendous job sorting.

The 2.0-liter EcoBoost four in the ST makes 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, sending all of it through the front wheels. It’s a big jump from the 160 horsepower naturally-aspirated four in the standard Focus, and a quantum leap from the available 123-horsepower 1.0-liter three cylinder. Torque steer may be a bitch, but a revised suspension, bigger brakes, and a revised aero kit all work to make that small potatoes compared to the thrill you get behind the wheel.

2015 Ford Focus ST with Mountune kit

You don’t exactly slide into the optional leather Recaro seats in the ST so much as you climb into them. They’re firm and aggressively bolstered, and don’t feel that different from the ones in the Shelby GT350 Mustang — in short, they’re perfect. Other than the carbon fiber accent package (a pricey but worthwhile option), and trio of gauges on top of the dash (turbo boost, oil temp, and oil pressure), there isn’t much to distinguish it from any other stylish, tech-focused Focus interior, something that may come in handy when you’re trying to sell your better half on the car.

There’s something groan-worthy about most street cars with racing stripes, but the black stripes on our Tangerine Scream ST suited it to a tee. Press the start button, and the engine barks to life with a rasp that wouldn’t be out of place on the WRC rally circuit. The aero kit is subtle but helps give the car its angry and purposeful look, plus it looks like it actually does keep the car planted to the road at speed, and that big blackout grille with the red ST badge is the stuff attainable performance car dreams are made of.

Ford

The six-speed manual is a gem, and paired with that torquey EcoBoost, it isn’t hard to have a serious Walter Mitty moment and imagine that you’re passing for the lead at the Rallye Monte Carlo — even if you’re just angling around a parked work truck on a sleepy country road. The aforementioned carbon fiber accents (including cue ball-style shifter) and sweeping boost gauge only add to the fantasy. Zero to 60 comes in a respectable 6.3 seconds, but the ST really shines in the corners. Like its bigger Ford Performance stablemates, the Focus hunkers down in the bends, sticking to the road, and giving you near-total confidence in the car. It’s easy to get used to, and once you get used to it, it isn’t long before you fall head-over-heels for it.

We only had about 40 minutes with the ST, but it was enough to make a big impression on us. Maybe its the millennial in us talking, but it delivers a rare driving experience you want to share with people. “Have you driven one yet?!” we ask our friends, half aware that we’re paraphrasing the old Ford tag line from when we were kids. “You need to. Seriously it’s great.” And it is.

Ford consolidated its global performance programs into the Ford Performance division in 2014, and since then, the company’s developed arguably the best lineup of sports cars in the world. From the entry-level Fiesta ST hatch to the GT endurance racer, the Blue Oval has taken the best aspects from its models across the globe and brought them under one umbrella. And as consumers, we get to benefit from the embarrassment of riches. The Focus ST is the rare performance car that’s as exciting as it is practical. It can transform mundane daily driving duties into an event, and that’s something that most automakers would kill to be able to do. If you’re in the market for a sensible five-door hatch, take an ST for a spin and try not to fall in love. If you don’t, you might need to check your pulse.

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

Top 10 Features Of The 2017 Suzuki SV650

Why do I like the SV650 so much? Let me count the ways…

In case you haven’t read my First Ride Review of the 2017 Suzuki SV650, let me sum it up for you: It’s an awesome motorcycle. Of course, if you’ve been reading MO for any length of time you’ll likely know I’m a big fan of the SV, having previously owned and raced one myself. With that, you can likely conclude that I’ve thrown journalistic objectivity out the window when it comes to the new SV. However, if Suzuki had missed the mark, I’d be sure to criticize instead of praise.

My fellow MO cohorts are probably tired of me talking about the SV, but too bad. We’ve all got our favorite bikes here: Evans adores his 13 year-old R6, Duke his classic Ducati 900SS, Tom’s a Ural guy, and ‘ol Burns won’t shut up about the NC700X and the Harley Street 750. So now it’s my turn to wax poetic about the new SV650. Still with me? Here we go.

10. The Sound!

It’s difficult to convey the pleasing notes a motorcycle makes through words, but if you’ve heard a V-Twin sportbike with a nice pipe on it you’ll understand. Stock, the SV’s exhaust note is pleasing, if not a tad muffled. Fortunately, Suzuki had on hand an SV with a Yoshimura exhaust fitted. When allowed to roar, the little 645cc twin sounds downright mean. As an added bonus, the intake noise as the outside air gets shoved through the Suzuki’s redesigned airbox is an unexpected yet very welcome surprise. Deep, throaty, and raw.

9. RPM Assist

I didn’t truly appreciate this feature until I loaded the SV onto my truck along with another bike to take to the dyno. This particular time, having the revs rise slightly once the clutch is engaged was the difference between me stalling the bike halfway up my ramp and successfully loading it. It’s a sad truth that more and more youngsters are growing up in a world where manual transmissions in cars are nearly non-existent, so whatever the motorcycling community can do to make the learning process of using a clutch and shifting gears easier is a plus in my book.

8. Torque

Horsepower may win you bragging rights when you’re bench racing, but torque is the one that elicits giddy emotions in the real world. V-Twins are known for torque, and the punchy 645cc one the SV carries is no exception. Our SV test bike put down 46 lb-ft to the wheel, easily enough to loft the front wheel in the air in first gear if you’re the heavy-handed type. In the canyons, it’s enough to blast the SV from one corner to the next at a rapid pace, and on the freeway it’s enough to simply cruise in sixth gear and know there’s power available when you need it. Yeah, torque rules.

7. Gear-Position Indicator

While I personally prefer analog tachometers, I will admit the new digital dash display on the 2017 SVs is pretty snazzy. My favorite part of the new gauge cluster, however, is the GPI. No, it’s not a necessary item to have on a motorcycle, but it’s such a helpful tool when riding, especially for new riders. Racers will appreciate the addition too, because let’s face it, many SV owners will be taking their bike to the track, and being in the wrong gear can kill your lap time.

6. Low Seat Height

Officially, Suzuki says the seat height is 30.9 inches and the leading edge of the seat is 30mm narrower than the Gladius. This narrow junction between the seat and tank can almost fool someone to thinking the seat is even lower. At 5-foot, 8-inches, my 30-inch inseam is easily able to plant both feet firmly on the ground. Newer and/or shorter riders will especially appreciate the ease with which feet touch the floor, too. First-gen SV owners used to shave the seat foam or use lowering links to help paws reach the ground. That’s not necessary anymore.

5. Slim proportions

Not that the Gladius/SFV were wide motorcycles, but the fuel tank on the new SV is 65mm narrower than the SFV. That’s a difference you can visually distinguish when looking at the two. For me anyway, this creates a more pleasing machine from an aesthetics point of view. From a practical standpoint, slim motorbikes are always a plus when splitting lanes, too. Now to contradict everything I just said, I wouldn’t mind if the SV’s bars were a little wider, but a swap to an aftermarket bar is easy and fairly cheap.

4. Aftermarket Support

If past SVs are any indicator, the new one is going to blow up in the aftermarket. Yoshimura has already developed an exhaust system for it, and it’s only a matter of time before suspension and brake upgrades are made available. Considering how versatile the SV is, I’m sure we’ll soon see touring accessories, too.

Hmm. Are you reading this, Suzuki? I smell a project bike in the making…

3. One Press Starter

We’re nitpicking here, but having to be in neutral and pull in the clutch to start a Suzuki motorcycle was getting rather annoying. Shouldn’t one or the other be enough? All the other OEMs seem to think so. In fact, I ground the neutral switch on my 2002 SV just so simply pulling the clutch lever was enough to start the bike, whether I was actually in gear or not. When Suzuki tacked on a one-press starter, first seen on the GSX-S1000, to the SV I celebrated a little victory. Yeah just tapping the starter button once is cool, but I’m glad Suzuki finally has enough faith in its customers to start the bike without a redundant safety system in place.

2. Price

As much as I like the new SV650, if it carried a price tag significantly above $7k, like the $8,149 Gladius did in 2014, I would have been the first to tell Suzuki that it made a mistake. Instead, at $6,999, it’s seriously impressive that such a fun motorcycle can be so affordable. I said similar things about the Yamaha FZ-07, which is only $9 cheaper than the Suzuki, and it seems both companies have found a good recipe to follow, focusing resources on a fun engine while wrapping it in a chassis the aftermarket can customize and perfect later.

1. Engine

Did I mention I really like the new SV650? Because I really like the new SV650. Why do I like it? The answer is right there in the picture above. That engine really is magical, just as it has been since 1999 when the SV was first introduced. Loads of power, delivered smoothly, whenever you ask for it. It’ll pleasantly, but firmly snap your head back above 5000 rpm, and Suzuki even says it’ll return 61 mpg. Assuming you’re not a ham-fisted MOron, of course. On paper, the SV has never been much of a spec-sheet standout, but its cult following proves that the specs don’t really matter. Character is not something you can quantify on a spec sheet.

Bonus Feature!

It’s Not A Gladius

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‘Nuf said.

(motorcycle.com, http://goo.gl/ZT7NEc)

And finally : Xbox VR coming in 2017

Boy, it’s been a busy week in the world of wearable tech. We kicked things off with Fitbit’s heart rate data accuracy coming under scrutiny once again. Then more images of the Samsung Gear Fit2 surfaced and then there was Pebble with not one, butthree new wearables. Oh, and Jawbone might be killing its UP tracker as well.

And finally: Xbox VR coming in 2017

While those stories were the ones to grab the headlines, we’ve picked out the other wearable news blips and murmurs of the past seven days that you might have missed.

Xbox VR coming in 2017

This could be our most concrete evidence yet of Microsoft’s virtual reality ambitions. A developer has confirmed to Arstechnica that it is working on a VR title that’ll launch in 2017.

The Xbox VR game is set to be shown off at this year’s E3 gaming expo, which is only a couple of weeks away and adds to the speculation that Microsoft is working on a new console that’s set to be more VR friendly.

Sony’s PlayStation VR headset is launching later this year in October, so it looks like an Xbox rival could be joining the party in the not too distant future.

Samsung Android Wear dream is not over

Don’t give up on another Samsung Android Wear watch just yet. The Korean company responded to a report this week that unnamed Samsung executives revealed there were no Android Wear watches in the works and no plans to develop new ones either.

Samsung was quick to respond saying, “Samsung has not made any announcement concerning Android Wear and we have not changed our commitment to any of our platforms.”

We haven’t seen an Android Wear smartwatch from Samsung since the Gear Live. Since then it’s focused on its own Tizen OS, most recently with the Gear S2. With all of the big changes happening with Android Wear, it’s good to hear Samsung might not be giving up on it entirely.

Jawbone’s clinical grade wearable

If the rumours are true, Jawbone is going to end production of its UP fitness trackers. According to the Verge and its sources, the company will instead focus on building a clinical grade wearable with heart rate monitoring said to be the key feature. It’s not clear whether it will carry the same UP branding but it sounds like it could launch this summer.

Jawbone has previously spoken about the idea of working on clinical grade wearables, so it looks like its software may live on inside another body.

Samsung S Health gets social

After Microsoft upped it social and hiking game with the Band 2, Samsung has decided to spruce up its own S Health appbringing some handy new features to make it work even closer with your wearable tech.

It’s going to improve step count accuracy by combining the step counts from any wearable device with the step count from your smartphone’s accelerometer. On the social front, there’s now new leaderboards and the ability to compare step count to people in the same age bracket as yourself.

Diabetics can now export data to other software to be reviewed by by healthcare professionals while a new Quick Measure feature now speeds up taking heart rate readings from the built-in sensor integrated into Samsung’s newest smartphones.

(wareable.com, http://goo.gl/cgyktC)

Hands-On with the Erato Apollo 7 wireless earbuds

There are wireless headphones and then there are truly wireless headphones. The Erato Apollo 7’s fall into the latter category. While not the first completely wireless earbuds—the Bragi Dash and others paved the way—these certainly feel like a big step in the right direction.

Erato took the Kickstarter path, and their pitch appears to be capturing the attention of backers. As of this writing, the company has garnered nearly twice its goal of $88,888.

Unlike most of the backers, I was fortunate enough to actually use these headphones on the CES Asia show floor. Fear not, backers: they’re beautiful, they really work, and they sound pretty good (which is more than we were able to say about the Bragi Dash).

The Apollo 7’s are expected to ship in June 2016 for $299, but if you back the project now, you can get them at the reduced price of $249.

Design

The Apollo 7’s are beautiful. They’re tiny and delicate, and for some reason I just wanted to pop them in my mouth and swallow them. Don’t ask me to explain why.

With no wires to provide a home for controls, functionality is a bit limited. Each earbud has just one tiny button on it. Tap once to play/pause, double-tap the right earbud to raise volume, and double-tap the left button to lower volume. According to company reps, there are a few more Konami code–esque button combos that provide additional functionality, but the basics were the extent of what I was able to experience on the show floor.

Erato Apollo 7 wireless headphones charging case

The carrying case is also a portable power bank.

The carrying case is about half the size of a pack of cigarettes and doubles as a portable charging station for the buds. The case’s color matches the earbuds, and in the Apollo 7’s case, that little touch of design prowess matters. Let’s face it: You’re going to get stopped for questions all the time when you wear these, so you may as well look fashionable.

Special Features

The Apollo 7’s have a built-in microphone, so Siri and Google Now are fully supported. Unfortunately, we couldn’t test this feature on the show floor.

The headphones are also waterproof. There are no specs provided to back up that claim, but the company’s website states they should work even after being submerged. At the very least, you should feel confident they’ll hold up after a sweaty workout or a run in the rain.

Sound Quality & Fit

Considering how ridiculously small the Apollo 7’s are, it’s kind of a miracle that they sound even halfway decent. But that’s exactly as good as they sound: halfway decent.

Granted, a crowded trade show floor is no place for critical performance testing. But even here, I could tell that the single microdriver was not able to produce much bass. The mid-tones were clear, but thin. Erato is working on a three-microdriver model for its next iteration, so it’s likely this was just the best price-to-performance ratio the company could achieve its first time out. We look forward to getting them in the lab for more thorough testing.

Erato Apollo 7 wireless headphones in ear

The Apollo 7 headphones fit well, though it seems inevitable that you’ll constantly worry about them falling out.

High-end audio performance is a bit beyond the point, however. The Apollo 7’s are part of a whole new category of personal audio, a sort of super-personal audio, like the device Joaquin Phoenix wears inHer, but minus the Scarlett Johansson part. Truly wireless earbuds offer an unparalleled match of discretion and convenience. Granted, you’re also a lot more likely to lose them, which is why Erato will be selling single-earbud replacements (price TBD). (Maybe that’s just a clever new business plan?)

Whatever the shortcomings of the sound quality, the isolation is fantastic. I was sitting less than 30 feet from a live drummer and had no problem jamming out to the Coltrane streaming from my iPhone. Erato includes three sets of silicone tips and three sets of Comply foam tips that should fit most ear sizes.

Erato Apollo 7 wireless headphones with stabilizers

Silicon stabilizers are included to lock the earbuds into your ear.

If you’re concerned that the tiny buds might jiggle out—an entirely valid concern—the company also includes three sets of wing-shaped stabilizers that lock the buds more securely into the folds of your ear. They also allow Erato to market the Apollo 7’s to the fitness crowd.

Battery Life

Erato says the earbuds are good for three hours of music playback or four hours of phone conversation, and you can extend that range with the supremely pocketable case, which doubles as a portable recharging station. When you place the buds in their slots, a little light will indicate that charging has started. A full charge of the case’s power bank is enough to recharge the smaller batteries in the earbuds two times.

Let’s break down the math: That means that as long as you carry the case, you can be away from an outlet for about nine hours of music listening per day, with a few recharging breaks in between.

Specs

The Erato Apollo 7 headphones offer Bluetooth 4.1 with A2DP 1.2, AVRCP 1.4, HFP 1.6, and HSP 1.2 support. Audio codec support includes aptX, AAC, and SBC.

(reviewed.com, http://goo.gl/1mzvUb)

 

ASUS’ ZenBook 3 is thinner, lighter and faster than the MacBook

How much more can ASUS shave off of the ZenBook, its flagship ultraportable? Apparently, quite a bit. The company’s new ZenBook 3, announced today at Computex, clocks in at just 2 pounds and 11.9mm (0.46-inches) thick. In comparison, the previous ZenBook UX305 weighed 2.64 pounds and was 12.9mm thick (0.51-inches). Sure, those might just seem like incremental improvements, but they’re remarkable when you consider just how insanely thin and light the previous model was. Most impressively? The ZenBook 3 just barely edges out Apple’s svelte MacBook, which weighs 2.03lbs and is 13.2mm (0.52-inches) thick, all the while packing in a larger 12.5-inch display.

Gallery: ASUS ZenBook 3 hands-on

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ASUS attributes the ZenBook 3’s weight loss to a new “aerospace-grade aluminum alloy,” which it says is 40 percent stronger than what’s typically used in laptops. Honestly, that just sounds like marketing fluff, but there must be something special about the laptop’s new material to lose 0.6 pounds from the last gen. ASUS is still sticking with its “spun metal” style, so hopefully you’re a fan of the concentric metallic rings on its cases. It’ll be available in “Quartz Grey,” “Royal Blue,” and the seemingly ubiquitous “Rose Gold.”

Unlike the MacBook, the ZenBook 3 won’t be under-powered. At the top end, you’ll be able to configure it with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB PCIe SSD (which should be faster than a typical SATA drive). The display is covered in Gorilla Glass 4, and it looks like Asus was also able to slim down the bezel (now it covers 82 percent of the laptop’s front). The ZenBook 3 packs in a Thunderbolt 3/USB-C port for charging (which it says can juice the laptop’s battery up to 60 percent in 49 minutes), and it should last around 9 hours of typical battery life. As for cooling, Asus says it’s developed the “world’s thinnest” fan at just 3mm. There’s also a built-in fingerprint sensor with Windows Hello support.

Gallery: ASUS ZenBook 3 launch event | 15 Photos

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In my brief hands-on time with the ZenBook 3, after wrestling through the crowds at Computex, I can confirm that it’s seriously thin and light. ASUS’ numbers don’t lie — it definitely feels on-par with Apple’s MacBook. I didn’t feel much of a difference with the new metal case, compared to older ZenBooks, but it still felt sturdy, with little flex when I tried to bend the laptop. After handling it, I’m even more impressed that ASUS managed to cram a Core i7 processor into such a thin case.

Unfortunately, the ZenBook 3’s keyboard feels incredibly shallow, to the point where I couldn’t imagine using it to type much. That’s particularly strange, since ASUS made a big deal about having even more key travel space than the MacBook. From what I can remember, though, the MacBook’s keyboard simply felt better.

The ZenBook 3 will start at $999 with a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 256GB SSD. Stepping up, you can get it with a 512GB SSD for $1,499, and you can add a Core i7 processor, 1TB SSD and 16GB of RAM for $1,999. ASUS isn’t talking about availability details yet. We’ll definitely be paying attention to this ultraportable.

Gallery: ASUS ZenBook 3 | 5 Photos

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(engadget.com,http://goo.gl/nLR9Ce)

ASUS’ latest Transformers take heavy cues from Microsoft’s Surface

ASUS has just unveiled a line of new Transformer 2-in-1 PCs that look suspiciously like a certain product from Microsoft. With their touchscreens, kickstands and portable keyboards, they do remind us a lot of, you guessed it, the Surface. And, of course, they all run Windows 10, which makes the Surface connection even more undeniable. Of the new announcements, the Transformer 3 Pro is the most advanced of the lot, the Transformer 3 sits somewhere in the middle, while the Mini is the lightest.

Gallery: ASUS Transformer 3 Pro hands-on | 6 Photos

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Both the Transformer 3 Pro and the Transformer 3 have a 12.6-inch display with a 2880 x 1920 resolution and 275 ppi pixel density. There are other similarities as well: Both feature USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 connections, Harmon Kardon speakers, and USB 3.0 and HDMI ports. They both also have built-in fingerprint readers. As you might expect, both 2-in-1s are also compatible with ASUS accessories such as the Pen, a Universal Dock, an AudioPod (a quad speaker with surround sound) and the ROG XG Station 2, a graphics dock that gives the humble tablet PC the power of a desktop computer (and it’s VR-ready to boot!). Both tablets are available in Icicle Gold as well as Glacier Gray.

Of the two, the Transformer 3 Pro is the heftier one at 8.35mm thick. Its kickstand has a “stepless hinge” that lets you set the device at any viewing angle up to 170 degrees. The 3 Pro also comes with a Cover Keyboard that’s backlit and offers “laptop-grade 1.4mm key travel,” which ASUS says will provide a typing experience similar to that of a normal-sized notebook. Under the hood, it boasts an Intel Core i7 processor and up to a 1TB PCIe SSD and 16GB of 2133MHz RAM. Rounding out the list, it also has a 13-megapixel rear camera plus a front-facing one as well. The Transformer 3 Pro uses its camera for facial recognition thanks to Windows Hello.

After a brief hands-on time with the 3 Pro, I can see why this is being billed as the more “professional” of ASUS’ new 2-in-1 PCs. It has a really sharp design and its all-metal chassis gives it a polished look. The keyboard snaps on magnetically and its chiclet keys felt pretty good when touch-typing at my usual rapid clip. I’m also a big fan of that “stepless” Smart Hinge, which felt sturdy at almost every angle I could tried it in.

While the Transformer 3 has the same display size as the Transformer 3 Pro, the 3 is thinner and lighter with a thickness and weight of 6.9mm and 695 grams respectively. The Transformer 3 features a seventh-generation Intel Core processor plus up to 512GB SSD and up to 8GB of RAM. Unlike the Transformer 3 Pro, the Transformer 3 has a built-in fingerprint reader on the side. It ships with a Transformer Sleeve Keyboard, also with 1.4mm of key travel and is available in the same four colors as the Cover Keyboard (Stone, Charcoal, Taupe and Amber).

Gallery: ASUS Transformer 3 hands-on | 7 Photos

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The 3 doesn’t have a kickstand on its own — in fact, it looks like a regular ol’ tablet without the keyboard. If the Transformer 3 Pro is a Surface clone, the 3 is more of an iPad. That aforementioned Sleeve Keyboard essentially acts as the Transformer 3’s display stand.

It works much the same way as the Smart Covers for the iPad, in that it only has two positions; there’s no stepless Smart Hinge here. Still, aside from that, its keys have the same clicky feel as the Pro 3’s Cover Keyboard. I was pleasantly surprised by this, as I was expecting it to have squishy keys like the Surface’s Touch Cover.

If you think both of these tablets are just too big for your tastes, ASUS also offers the Transformer Mini. It has a 10.1-inch display, is 8.2mm thin and weighs 790 grams with the keyboard attached and 530 grams without. Like the Transformer Pro 3, it also has an integrated kickstand with that stepless smart hinge design that lets you view it at any angle you like. It too has a built-in fingerprint reader, though it’s located on the rear instead of the side.

Gallery: ASUS Transformer Mini hands-on | 8 Photos

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The keyboard is a little smaller with 1.5mm key travel but it does have an integrated palm rest like the others. I found it a little less intuitive to type using the smaller keyboard, with my fingers landing on the wrong key every so often. My guess is that I would probably figure it out over time, but I’ll have to try it for a few days to see. The upside is that there’s a keyboard option for the Mini that has a little loop for the aforementioned Pen, so if you tire of typing, you’ll have easy reach for that instead.

Other features include a ZenSync smartphone integration that lets you sync up your text messages much in the same way you can with iOS and OS X El Capitan. The Transformer Mini is powered by a quad-core Intel Atom X5 processor and promises up to 11 hours of battery life. The Transformer Mini and keyboard will ship in a variety of different colors such as Quartz Gray, Pearl White, Amber, Mint Green and Icicle Gold.

Gallery: ASUS Transformer series press shots | 11 Photos

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Pricing for the ASUS Transformer 3 Pro starts at $999 while the Transformer 3 will start at $799. The Transformer Mini will start at around $349. No word on availability just yet, but we’ll update you when we know.

(engadget.com,http://goo.gl/6nShLn)

ASUS ZenFone 3 looks and feels twice its price

There’s also the top-spec ZenFone 3 Deluxe and the massive ZenFone 3 Ultra.

Intel may have already quit the smartphone market, but its buddy ASUS continues to fight the good fight with a slightly different approach this year. At Computex, the Taiwanese giant announced not just one, but three new Android M smartphones: ZenFone 3, ZenFone 3 Deluxe and ZenFone 3 Ultra. These share a common design language, though in our opinion, it’s the $249 base model that has the best appearance thanks to the 2.5D Gorilla Glass on both sides, as well as the spun-metal finish on the back (underneath the glass). Together, these work well with any of the four color options: “Shimmer Gold,” “Aqua Blue,” “Sapphire Black” and “Moonlight White.” The sandblasted metallic frame around it adds a nice touch, too.

Gallery: ASUS ZenFone 3, ZenFone 3 Deluxe and ZenFone 3 Ultra launch event

While the ZenFone 3 doesn’t feature Qualcomm’s top chipset, it’s the first phone to officially pack the mid-range Snapdragon 625 which is based on a 14nm process and has eight Cortex-A53 cores capped at 2 GHz, so its 3,000 mAh battery should last quite some time. You also get Cat 6 LTE (300 Mbps downlink, 50 Mbps uplink), dual-SIM support (one Micro SIM and one Nano SIM), 802.11ac MU-MIMO WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2 and a mid-range Adreno 506 GPU as part of the package. The aforementioned $249 price point offers 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, and you can add more storage with a microSD card via the second SIM slot.

Like its plastic predecessor, this model features a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS screen, though its speaker at the bottom has been upgraded with a loud “5-magnet” driver powered by an NXP smart amp, and it’s Hi-Res Audio-certified for headphone output. Next to the speaker you’ll find a USB Type-C port — a first for ASUS phones — with USB 2.0 connectivity. Another addition is the new fingerprint sensor on the back, where it doubles as the center of the spun-metal finish.

The cameras play a big part on the ZenFone 3. The main one is now powered by Sony’s 16-megapixel IMX298 sensor (as featured on the XiaomiMi 5, Huawei Mate 8, Vivo Xplay5 and Oppo R9 Plus) with f/2.0 aperture, second-gen laser autofocus, phase detection autofocus, color-correction RGB sensor, dual-tone LED flash, 4-axis optical stabilization for stills and 3-axis electronic stabilization for video. Alas, the trade-off here is that you’ll have to make-do with the camera bump.

The same old low light mode (combines four pixels into one to boost sensitivity) and super resolution mode (produces 64-megapixel shots) are here to stay, and you can do long exposure of up to 32 seconds or even play with the full manual mode. As for the front imager, it’s now an 8-megapixel camera with an 85-degree wide view, and the usual beautification features are there for you selfie addicts.

The fancier ZenFone 3 Deluxe looks similar to the base model, except it uses a subtly curved metal unibody instead of a glass back, and ASUS is somewhat proud of the fact that it’s managed to hide most of the plastic antenna bands, leaving just a bit on the chamfer. For the sake of consistency, the spun-metal look is applied to the ear pillow and the chin instead of the back. It also uses a 5.7-inch 1080p Super AMOLED display instead, thus offering 100-percent NTSC color space, as well as enabling an always-on screen feature for some handy information.

As you’ve probably guessed, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is powered by a Snapdragon 820 so it also does Cat 13 LTE with tri-band carrier aggregation (150 Mbps uplink), USB 3.0 connectivity and Quick Charge 3.0. It also has a sharper camera; in fact, it’s the first smartphone to use Sony’s 23-megapixel IMX318 sensor, and apart from the added 4K video recording support plus the fact that the super resolution mode has been bumped up to 92 megapixels, the feature set is otherwise identical to that on the ZenFone 3. Starting at $499, you get 6GB of RAM plus 64GB of UFS 2.0 internal storage, and there’ll be a 256GB variant arriving later.

Last but not least, the big daddy that is the ZenFone 3 Ultra is a 6.8-inch phablet with a 1080p LCD (95-percent NTSC gamut), a PixelWorks iris2+ TV grade processor (for optimized 4K playback), two speakers at the bottom and DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound (a world-first, apparently), so it’s clearly made with multimedia entertainment in mind. As a bonus, there’s a larger 4,600 mAh battery that can act reverse charge other devices over a 1.5A current.

To keep it relatively affordable ($479 with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage), though, the ZenFone 3 Ultra uses just an octa-core Snapdragon 652 (which is slightly more powerful than the ZenFone 3’s chipset) so there’s no USB 3.0 here, but you still get Cat 6 LTE, 802.11ac WiFi and Quick Charge 3.0. The cameras are also identical to those on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, and the fingerprint reader is here to stay, though it’s been moved from the back to below the screen. Not bad at all for this price point, so it’s just a matter of whether you are fine with carrying such a beastly phone.

We’ll be keeping an eye out for release dates for all three models. Until then, stay tuned for our hands-on

(engadget.com, http://goo.gl/t4NlU3)