Developed by Lomography, and backed by a Kickstarter campaign, Lomo says that the Automat is the “most advanced automatic instant film camera on the market”.
It uses the Instax format of film, which is readily available. You can buy the camera on its own, or with a bunch of converter lenses for extra functionality. The standard lens supplied offers an equivalent focal length of 35mm.
This is a fully automated instant camera, giving you only a little control, which will bother some people and satisfy others completely.
LOMO’INSTANT AUTOMAT – DESIGN AND HANDLING
The Lomo camera isn’t for the shy and retiring. Although there are stranger instant cameras on the market, looks-wise, this will draw plenty of attention when you’re taking snaps in the park.
Since the camera is automated, it’s easy to get to grips with, even if you’ve never had the pleasure of using an instant camera before. It accepts 2 x CR2 batteries, which might be difficult to find outside of an electronics shop or a well-stocked newsagent; but not impossible. On the plus side, battery life is extremely lengthy – because there’s no screen or EVF to power up, presumably.
On the front of the camera you’ll find the lens, which also acts as the on switch. Twist it to turn on the camera and place the lens into one of its three focusing positions – this is all manual focus; no autofocus wizardry here. You can either set the focus to close (portrait), mid-range (group shot), or infinity (landscapes). To switch off the camera, twist the lens back into its housing.
Of course, to take some shots, you’ll have needed to insert some Instax film. Instax film is some of the easiest analogue film to use: simply open the film door, open the Instax packet and line up the yellow lines on the film slot and the film packet. Close the door and you’re ready to shoot. A set of LED lights can be found on the side of the camera that indicate how many shots you have left. Each pack contains only 10 shots, so be sparing with what you shoot.
There’s a tiny viewfinder in the top-left corner of the rear of the screen; it’s basically just a hole in the camera to look through. Don’t expect exact accuracy when it comes to framing your images, but it helps a little. Note, no matter which lens adapter you use, the view through the viewfinder remains the same – use it to roughly approximate what you’re shooting, but certainly don’t rely on it.
The shutter release doubles as a selfie mirror, since it’s reflective, and on the front of the camera. Again, this provides only a rough approximation of what will appear in your shot. Nevertheless, it’s handy to know you’re not miles off. When you want to take a picture, press the shutter release button and your image will pop out of the side of the camera. It takes a little while for your image to develop, so be patient.
A row of buttons on the rear provides a degree of control over settings. You can switch the flash on and off, you can take multiple exposures, you can add or remove exposure compensation, and you can switch from automatic shutter speed to Bulb mode. If you switch on the Bulb mode, the shutter will stay open for as long as you hold down the shutter release button, which means you can do some cool long exposure work.
LOMO’INSTANT AUTOMAT – IMAGE QUALITY
As with any camera of this style, results will be mixed – certainly while you get used to its shooting quirks. Part of the charm of such cameras is that you never quite know what you’re going to end up with.
Images that are taken in good light, and in bright and vibrant conditions, have a nice look about them. Colours are reasonably vivid. Expect to see the odd light leak or lens flare popping up – but again, it all adds to the retro and vintage style of this type of photography.
In darker conditions, switch on the flash – it gives surprisingly good results and looks quite natural.
Check out some sample shots below:
For the most part, exposures are well balanced, but you may find the odd situation arises that requires you to dial in a little exposure compensation. The problem is, it isn’t always obvious when that should be, so you might end up sacrificing a shot or two figuring it out.
SHOULD I BUY THE LOMO’INSTANT AUTOMAT?
Cameras such as the Lomo’Instant Automate offer an easy route into analogue photography. They’re fun to use, but take some getting used to. If you have the patience, or are simply a fan of analogue photography, then this camera might be for you.
Bear in mind, however, that you’ll constantly be shelling out for film if you like it, so it doesn’t rate highly in terms of value for money.
The Lomo’Instant Automat is a fun purchase that has some of the best characteristics of Lomo photography, and looks quite cute too.
THE GOOD:Apple’s new iPad delivers faster performance and a brighter screen than the model it replaces, at a price that’s about half as much as the iPad Pro. Tight integration between the hardware, software and app store makes it easy to use.
THE BAD: It’s a bit thicker and heavier than the now defunct iPad Air 2. It lacks the stylus support, better speakers and better screen of the iPad Pro.
THE BOTTOM LINE:Pro and Air 2 owners can skip this one, but for nearly everyone else, the updated iPad is an ideal all-around tablet at a fantastic price.
Remember the iPad? In the afterglow of its splashy 2010 debut, Apple’s tablet became the post-smartphone “it” gadget of the decade. In recent years, however, sales have dipped — both for iPads and tablets in general. But not for lack of trying: Near-annual improvements have pushed the iPad family forward, with higher-resolution Retina screens, ever thinner bodies, and — with the more expensive iPad Pro — towards productivity and creativity features such as stylus support and a high-end keyboard.
Ironically, the iPad line’s biggest problem was that the older models were so good that there wasn’t a huge incentive to replace them. And it didn’t help that phone screens have gotten ever larger in the past few years, too: Why lug out a tablet, even a slim one like an iPad, when a 5.5-inch phone offers a reasonably close experience? Those newer iPad Pro models, meanwhile, were perfectly lustworthy, but priced at laptop pricing tiers of $600 and up. For watching videos, reading the web and playing Super Mario Run, older iPads — or those big-screen phones — remained good enough for a lot of users.
That’s why I’m surprised that I’m as excited as I am about this new 2017 model, a 9.7-inch tablet simply called iPad. Like the super-thin 12-inch MacBook, it drops all the honorifics — no Air, Pro or Mini here — and instead positions itself as the most purely distilled example of the concept. Not the bells-and-whistles flagship, but the one that delivers the iPad basics at a very competitive cost.
The price, in fact, is the most exciting thing about this otherwise very familiar iPad. It starts at $329 (£339 or AU$469) for the 32GB Wi-Fi only model and $459 (£469 or AU$669) for the 32GB Wi-Fi/LTE version,. It also comes in a 128GB version starting at $429 (£429 or AU$599) with Wi-Fi and $559 (£559 or AU$799) with Wi-Fi/LTE, which is the model tested here; there is no 64GB option. That starting price of $329 is $70 less than the $399 starting price of the iPad Air 2 it replaces. That’s $60 more than the previous budget champ, the smaller iPad Mini 2 (now discontinued), but it still makes this new model the most affordable full-size iPad ever.
Thanks to its lower starting price, this is a great first iPad for someone new to the brand, or an opportunity to update from an older model that doesn’t support iOS 10, such as the third-gen Retina iPad or the original iPad Mini. It’s close enough to impulse buy territory for a lot of people, and it’s also a near-perfect gift for anyone.
APPLE IPAD (9.7-INCH, 2017)
Price as reviewed
9.7-inch 2,048×1,536 touchscreen
802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.2, LTE
Let’s call it the iPad SE
So how did Apple cut the price on a full-size iPad without cutting into their legendary profit margins? Well, let’s just say that this new iPad may not actually be as new as it seems. It follows the half-step-forward, half-step-back model used in the Apple Watch Series 1 and the iPhone SE, essentially putting updated components in a bit of a throwback physical package, while keeping more expensive, more feature-filled models on sale right next to it.
This new iPad replaces the iPad Air 2 in Apple’s tablet lineup, but it’s actually closer to the original iPad Air in some ways. In fact, it has the exact same 7.5mm thickness and 469 gram weight as the 2013 iPad Air 1. By comparison, the Wi-Fi version of the iPad Air 2 is 6.1mm thick and weighs 437 grams (as does the 9.7-inch iPad Pro). Note that the LTE versions of these tablets weigh 7 to 9 grams more.
Even though this new model is slightly thicker and heavier, you’d probably have to put them side by side to notice. It’s minor, but in person, there’s a definite difference. It’s a small step backwards in design, and it’s probably also at least one reason this new tablet reverts back to the classic iPad name rather than the iPad Air.
Apple says new smart covers and related accessories for the iPad are backwards compatible with the original iPad Air line, but the reverse may not be true because of some shifting in where the magnets that control the sleep/wake feature are located.
A shinier screen
While the new iPad, the 9.7-inch Pro and the late iPad Air 2 all have the same 2,048×1,536 resolution, the screen is still where you’re apt to notice the biggest differences between them.
The iPad Air 2 has an antireflective coating that’s missing here, while the new iPad screen is 25-percent (according to Apple) brighter. The result is an image that looks brighter and bolder, but also has stronger on-screen reflections (frankly, the anti-reflective coating on the Air 2 was still pretty reflective, and not as good for off-axis viewing). The 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which costs nearly twice as much, has the same screen resolution, but adds a wide-color display which supports the P3 color gamut, and is especially of interest to professional visual artists, video editors and other creative types. The iPad Pro screen looks awesome, and viewed side by side with his model, you can really tell the difference. But, that’s a $600 and up iPad, while this one starts at just $329. For that price, it’s a great display.
And that’s what I find myself spending most of my iPad time doing, using the big, bright display for video viewing through Netflix, YouTube and other iOS apps. That’s been a huge strength of the iPad since the very beginning, and it remains one of the best personal portable media players of all time. But, higher resolution aside, it’s also an experience that hasn’t changed radically over the years. For historical context, here’s a demo of Netflix on the original iPad from way back in 2010.
Note, however, that competitors are catching up, and the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 tablet offers an AMOLED display that’s arguably even better for movie viewing, especially once it gets access to promised HDR (high dynamic range) video content. But that Tab S3 starts at $599 in the US, the same as the iPad Pro, so it’s playing in a different ballpark than this iPad.
Upgraded under the hood
Inside, there’s an upgraded processor, going from the A8X chip to the newer A9 (the same chip that’s in the iPhone SE and the 2015-era iPhone 6S). There’s an even faster A9X in the iPad Pro, and there’s no telling what we’ll see in future iOS devices later this year (like the 10th anniversary iPhone).
Performance in our benchmark tests told exactly the story we expected. The new iPad and its A9 chip was a bit faster than the iPad Air 2 and a bit slower than the iPad Pro. The iPad remains a great mobile gaming machine, as long as the games you want to play are available as iOS apps. Throwing a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet into the mix, with an Intel Core i5 CPU, gave us the best results, but that’s a much more expensive product.
Battery life matched Apple’s 12-hour claims when we tested it running streaming video. The Air and Pro models we tested did not run as long, but note that both of those test systems were about a year old, so the batteries had a lot of wear on them when we ran this newer test.
A great tablet, but don’t expect the Pro features
Apple’s new iPad feels like a cheaper, but more advanced, take on the previous models (remember, the original iPad launched at $500 in 2010). That’s great for a lot of tablet tasks, but the category has shown some real evolution over the past few years. Comparing models, it’s tempting to upsell yourself into an iPad Pro or other high-end tablet, which would include features such as stylus support, an ultra-premium display and quad speakers.
There’s a minimum $270 “Pro” tax to get those features in the iPad Pro, plus $99 for the Pencil stylus and $149 for the iPad Pro clip-on keyboard. In our previous hands-on tests, the Pencil is amazing, as good or better than the stylus included with the Microsoft Surface Pro, and the iOS apps specifically upgraded for the iPad Pro (such as Adobe’s photo editing and illustration tools) are fantastic.
That’s some of what you miss out on by opting for the iPad versus the iPad Pro. If your tablet purchase is meant to be an all-day, every day computing and communications device, then by all means strongly consider dropping a more laptop-like chunk of cash on an iPad Pro and its accessories. (Just be advised the Pro models are past their first birthday, and replacements could be on deck soon). But, if you’re looking for an iPad that excels at traditional iPad-like things, such as video streaming, games, web surfing and ebooks, this is a fantastic value and should be the default first iPad you consider.
There’s one caveat to my advice. The still-excellent iPad Air 2 is, for now at least, still relatively easy to find. The closest base model, with 32GB of storage and a Wi-Fi-only connection, is selling at some big retailers for $299, less even than this new budget-minded iPad. If you don’t mind slightly slower performance, and want the thinner and lighter body of the late, great Air 2, a deal like that is a steal if you can find it. (Just make sure it’s the 32GB model, and not the older 16GB one.)
Apple iPad (2017)
Apple iOS 10.3; 1.85GHz Apple A9; 2GB RAM; Wi-Fi/LTE; 128GB Storage
Apple iPad Pro
Apple iOS 10.2.3; 2.26GHz Apple A9X; 2GB RAM; Wi-Fi; 128GB Storage
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iOS 10.2.1; 1.5GHz Apple A8X; 2GB RAM; Wi-Fi; 64GB Storage
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit) 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM; Wi-Fi; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD
Toyota Australia is commemorating its corporation’s 80th anniversary, along with the 70th anniversary of the famed toy truck builder, Tonka, with this one-off conceptHiLux pickup styled with outlandish bodywork and ton of off-roading equipment. Fittingly called the HiLux Tonka Concept, this truck is designed as the grown-up version of a kid’s favorite toy truck. And it should have no trouble traversing an adult-sized sandbox.
The HiLux Tonka features a six-inch lift thanks to a taller suspension and portal hubs. Toyo Open Country MT tires sized at 35 inches give it all the traction it needs, while custom bumpers add protection and the ability for self-recovery. Hidden behind the front bumper is an electric winch, which frame-mounted tow hooks on each side.
Of course, what’s a Tonka truck without some awesome black graphics atop a yellow base coat of paint? Toyota didn’t leave Tonka fans wanting in that department. And besides the bumpers, the hood and tailgate are also unique, adding to the appeal.
Sadly, neither Toyota nor Tonka have any plans to sell copies of this truck. Rather, it will make its rounds at auto shows, expos, and demonstrations around Australia in the coming months.
It’s quite easy to see this HiLux has very little untouched real estate on its exterior. Nearly every body panel has been massaged for a bolder, more engaging design. Up front, the bumper is a large steel unit, built to protect the truck against off-road obstacles. Tow hooks, a winch, and LED lights give it more utility. The bumper is also shaped to improve the truck’s approach angle, giving its front tires maximum access for climbing. Thick underbody skid plates protect the engine oil pan and other vital parts.
Nearly every body panel has been massaged for a bolder, more engaging design. Up front, the bumper is a large steel unit, built to protect the truck against off-road obstacles.
The grille is also unique, getting two nostril-like shapes near the headlights. These shapes are mirrored in the tailgate, as well. The hood features a large scoop and is formed from carbon fiber. Wide fender flairs keep rocks and mud from hitting the paint, while massive, 35-inch Toyo tires with custom Tonka graphics (just like the toys) churn up the terrain. The tires are wrapping 17-inch Method wheels.
Out back, the tailgate has been modified with those nostril-like vents, which Toyota says is for airflow. The tailgate is also made from carbon fiber for decreased weight. More tow hooks and a two-inch receiver hitch reside under the rear bumper for added utility.
Speaking of utility, this HiLux is loaded with it. The bed has a custom tube-frame structure that acts as a roll bar, along with a support for the full-size spare. Integrated Jerry cans hold extra diesel, along with space for tools and a fire extinguisher. The engine is fed through a high-mounted snorkel, keeping the intake free from water. The hood is vented for better ventilation of head. The roof features a LED light bar surrounded in a custom enclosure. Last but not least, steel rock sliders that double as cab steps protect the rocker panels from off-road dangers.
Note: Standard Toyota Hilux interior pictured here.
Toyota didn’t mention any improvements or changes to the cabin, so we’re left with what’s likely a stock interior. The truck is based on the range-topping Double Cab SR5 trim level, meaning it comes with either leather-accented cloth seats or full leather seats. Toyota Entune touchscreen infotainment system is also standard at this level, as is the TFT display in the driver’s gauge cluster. Under-seat storage is found under the upward-folding rear bench, while eight grab handles make getting in and out a bit easier.
Under the hood lies Toyota’s 2.8-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel. The engine generates 174 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. The longitudinally mounted engine mates to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. A two-speed, part-time transfer case sends power to the front wheels when necessary, and is operated by the driver.
Under the hood lies Toyota’s 2.8-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel. The engine generates 174 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque.
The truck uses special hubs called Portal hubs to increase the ground clearance. They move the center of the wheels below the centerline of the axle, giving more clearance between the lower control arm and the ground. Performance brakes bring the truck to a stop. The suspension has been upgraded with beefier shock absorbers to handle off-road pounding. The HiLux’s basic suspension design remains unchanged, however. With an independent from suspension with MacPherson struts. A solid axle supports the rear, held in place with leaf springs and opposing-mounted shocks.
Though this truck won’t hit showrooms, it does show how far HiLux owners can take their truck wit a little (or rather a lot) of money. The outlandish design is typical for Tonka toys and looks surprisingly good on this mid-size pickup truck. The concept does a bang-up job of celebrating the anniversaries of both Toyota and Tonka while attracting attention. It’s also noteworthy that the HiLux was the best-selling vehicle in Australia for 2016, surpassing sedans and SUVs along the way. There’s not doubt the folks down under love their trucks as much as Americans do, if not a bit more.
Awesome design upgrades
Portal hubs & suspension lift add six inches of ground clearance
Custom bumpers and spare tire carrier
Only a concept
Stock diesel powertrain might be underpowered
Would be expensive to replicate
Toyota is rekindling childhood memories with the reveal of a stunning concept vehicle that brings together the iconic Tonka and “unbreakable” HiLux brands.
A full-size dream toy for adults, the HiLux Tonka Concept is an impressive rock-crawling truck that combines the enviable reputations for toughness and durability that dominate the Toyota and Tonka DNAs.
The high-riding off-roader celebrates HiLux’s breakthrough in becoming Australia’s best-selling vehicle last year, alongside significant global anniversaries for both Toyota and Tonka.
It was conceived, designed, assembled and tested by designers and engineers from Toyota Australia’s 150-strong product planning and development division.
Product design chief Nicolas Hogios said the extreme style and capability of the HiLux Tonka Concept would capture the imagination of kids and adults alike.
“We have taken Tonka out of the sand pit and reinvented HiLux from top to bottom and from nose to tail,” Mr Hogios said.
“Inspired by the Tonka trucks that kids play with in their backyards, the HiLux Tonka Concept goes way beyond the already hugely capable abilities of HiLux to traverse rocks and other rugged terrain,” he said.
“The HiLux Tonka Concept is dramatic evidence that our local team loves to have fun, we’re keen to explore new ideas and we’re always looking to push the boundaries of what’s possible,” he said.
Underneath the dramatic black-and-yellow livery of the HiLux Tonka Concept is the top-of-the-range production HiLux – the SR5 double cab with a powerful 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine.
An extensive makeover starts with substantially extra ground clearance – an increase in ride height of 150mm (6 inches). Combined with a high-riding axle, heavy-duty suspension and 35-inch diameter tyres, the HiLux Tonka Concept is equipped to power over rugged terrain that would be off-limits to other off-roaders.
A new front bar is compatible with the vehicle’s safety systems while the bonnet has a carbon-fibre skin and features an aggressive “power bulge” and air scoops.
High-performance off-road LED lighting in the bar and roof pod combine to provide excellent night vision for off-road trails.
A rugged bash plate made from 6mm-thick alloy is designed to protect the sump and other vital components. Tubular side rails protect the body and chassis.
Behind the cabin, almost everything has been changed. The transformation includes a new tailgate, also wrapped in carbon fibre, that incorporates an integrated spoiler and two air vents for optimal airflow. A durable, lightweight strap rather than a handle releases the tailgate.
Inside the tub, a removeable tubular frame keeps all the gear in place, including diesel fuel cans, while storage boxes house the recovery gear needed for extreme off-road driving. A fire extinguisher, axe, shovel and high-lift jack are also fitted.
Tonka is a household name, celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Equally renowned, Toyota is in its 80th year of incorporation.
Since HiLux was first launched in 1968 it has earned and reinforced its reputation for being “unbreakable” – and for being popular.
To the end of February this year, Australians have bought more than 920,000 examples including 530,000 4x4s and 390,000 4x2s. Globally, HiLux sales have topped 16 million.
Last year, HiLux became the first vehicle other than a passenger car to be the best-selling vehicle in the country.
Toyota Australia’s product design and engineering capabilities have global reach, supporting the development of vehicles manufactured for Australia, the Asia-Pacific region and other markets.
While the HiLux Tonka Concept is not destined for dealer showrooms, adults and kids alike will have the opportunity to share the dream as it tours 4WD shows, field days and expos around the country.
With what seems like a zillion portable Bluetooth speakers available, it can be tricky to decide which one to buy. Creative might not be the most obvious name that springs to mind, but its Roar series has been a strong contender in the space for years – and we loved the 2014 original model and 2015 follow-up sequel.
A few years on and the company has tweaked its formula to deliver the iRoar Go – a portable, water-resistant Bluetooth speaker with heaps of volume in a functional rather than fashionistic design.
Does it keep the standards as high this time around to standout in among an increasingly busy space? We’ve been using one for a couple of months to find out.
Creative iRoar Go review: Design
54 x 192 x 97mm; 810g
Inputs: 3.5mm, Micro-USB, microSD, Bluetooth 4.2 (NFC)
12-hour battery life, 15V mains charger
Bluetooth speaker design has been evolving over time, with various striking looking portable models available from the likes of Ultimate Ears and B&O BeoPlay, to name just a couple of prominent makers. Taken in comparison to those the Creative iRoar Go is a more functional rather than fashionable design. It’s inoffensive, but could look a little neater in places.
Take, for example, the flaps covering the various inputs atop the device, or the huge array of volume/track skip buttons. They’re necessary as microSD card input is possible to play music remotely, but we’d rather just control things via our phone or laptop and keep the design neater overall.
What the iRoar Go does have in its favour is that it’s smaller than previous Roar models by quite some margin. It’s not tiny to the point that it’ll sound thin, though, while remaining portable enough to carry around for those outdoor picnics, BBQ parties and so forth.
Available in black only, the iRoar Go has two silver edges to make its design standout, which surround the two passive radiators to either end. It can be stood upright or laid flat, depending on your preference, but won’t project sound out in a full 360-degree arc like some competitors.
Creative iRoar Go review: Sound quality
5-driver output; two passive radiators
Bi-amplified: one amp for stereo, one for woofer
SuperWide audio for wide soundscape
Roar pre-set equaliser mode
Those passive radiators are great for emitting bass, too, which the iRoar Go can handle very well indeed. It can’t hit the frequency lows of the smaller, better-looking B&O BeoPlay A1, but it still sounds good. Crank it up and you’ll watch the Creative speaker’s radiators warbling from the low-end output.
The bass is handled by a separate amplifier from the other drivers, in order to keep it clean and central. The midrange and high-end are handled separately, which can affect how balanced they sound depending on what you’re listening to.
Sometimes the iRoar Go sounds as though there’s some more oomph trapped within. Which can be released: there’s a “Roar” equaliser pre-set button atop the product which, once pressed and illuminated, will crank things up a notch. It’ll make the bass heavier and make everything sound almost as though it’s being pushed through a compressor. It can work really well for some dance music tracks, but as it’s either on/off (or in the slightly less bass Equaliser mode) it lacks the fuller range of customisation that we’d like.
Then there’s the SuperWide technology, which Creative says gives a wide soundscape. It certainly does: but sometimes it’s too wide and you’ll catch hi-hats flailing off in one perceptible dimension, or those build-up swells so common in tracks to dance about unnecessarily from side to side. Ultimately it can be distracting from the overall listen, we feel, which marks the iRoar Go down a peg in terms of its output.
When it comes to volume, however, there’s no qualms about just how loud the iRoar Go can, er, go. It’s super loud, but crank that volume too high and the balance between bass, mid and high feels slightly amiss, like the speaker is trying to do a little too much.
Overall the Creative iRoar Go is a compact, loud and decent sounding portable Bluetooth speaker. There’s plenty of connectivity and a strong signal for the Bluetooth connection, but the functional design fails to grab attention like some of its competitors.
Sound-wise the SuperWide technology can make the soundscape confused and the frequency balance isn’t always perfect whichever Roar/Equaliser mode is selected. It sure is loud and there’s ample bass, however, so it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
The alternatives to consider…
B&O BeoPlay A1
Don’t let its small size fool you: this is one bass heavy, beautiful sounding portable speaker. It’s a bit expensive, but if you’ve got the cash then it’s just about as good as things get at this size.
UE Boom 2
The funky design, the 360-degree sound and waterbottle-style portability are all huge positives for one of the most effective Bluetooth portable speakers available today.
Renault has been pretty successful lately, with 2016 marking the debut of the fourth-generation Megane, which can now be had as a five-door hatchback, four-door sedan, and as an estate. Things are about to get a little juicier in the Megane stable, however, as we’ve just received some pictures of what we believe to be the Megane R.S. prototype putting in some work on public roads. Right now, the car is wearing all the gear of the Megane GT, but there are a couple of clues that give this model away as a prototype – like those center-mounted exhaust outlets poking out of the rear bumper, for instance.
The exhaust outlets aren’t all we have to go by, but we’ll get more into that later. For now, we have some very interesting possibilities to consider. First, let’s start off by saying that the Megane R.S. will only be available as a five-door hatchback since Renault has no plans for a coupe variant of the Megane, so there’s that. Secondly, we think Renault might have the Focus RS in its sights, and if so, the Megane R.S. will likely inherit an all-wheel-drive system to make it a true competitor. Furthermore, Renault also has a unique opportunity to put the Focus RS in its place if it can manage to muster up more than 300 horsepower.
Of course, the model you see in the pictures here is just a prototype that was cobbled together out of a Megane GT, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. For now, let’s take a look at these new pictures, talk a little about what we’ll see in the future, and make some predictions based on what we see and already know. Join me, just a little farther down the page.
These are the first images of the fourth-gen Megane R.S. that we’ve seen and, to be quite honest, there isn’t a lot to be excited about yet. This prototype is in the early stages of testing, or what I like to call, the Drivetrain phase. The prototype seen here is nothing more than a modified Megane GT, but we know it’s sporting some important changes under the skin, thanks to a few little details. For starters, there hood pins, which tells me there’s something different lurking beneath. Furthermore, the wheel arches have been hacked away to make room for the larger wheels. In the rear, you’ll also notice that there are center-mounted dual exhaust outlets. These, of course, sit between the capped-off holes in the rear fascia that accommodate the exhaust outlets on the GT. You can also spot big Brembo brake calipers hiding behind the larger wheels on this prototype – a hint that there is prototype is more powerful that the current model.
Expect to see the larger wheels and Brembo brake system to stick around, and something tells me the center exhaust layout is here to stay.
So what does all of this mean? Well, it’s enough to confirm that Renault is working on a range-topping version of the Mega ne hatchback. Outside of that, it doesn’t give us a whole lot to go on as far as what the end product will look like. Expect to see the larger wheels and Brembo brake system to stick around, and something tells me the center exhaust layout is here to stay. Up front, expect to see the grille and air dam morph a little to enhance airflow through the engine compartment and radiator core. The front fascia will also support much larger air intakes in the corners to further increase airflow.
The side profile of the car will likely remain the same, but expect to see sportier side skirts, privacy glass, and maybe even chrome trim around the windows on the door. It should also be noted that the RS variant will probably sit about a half inch lower to the ground for better aerodynamics, maneuverability, and a better stance. It will also sport fender flares to compensate for the wider wheels.
Around back, Renault will likely leave the rear fascia the way it is on this prototype, but that insert in the center will be replaced by a diffuser-looking element that supports the center exhaust layout. As such, the capped off hole on each side probably won’t exist on the production version. Outside of all this, there is the potential for a few exterior colors that are unique to the Megane R.S., and the wheel design will likely be changed up before we see an “official” version of the hatch.
We can’t make out anything of the interior from the shots we have now, but there shouldn’t be too much change to the inside anyway. The interior will likely mimic that of the Megane GT. The seats will probably be real racing seats, but outside of that, there shouldn’t be much of a difference. I predict that we may see a flat-bottom steering wheel and some more intricate materials inside – like leather seating, for instance. But, the main layout of the car will remain. It will get the same tablet-looking infotainment system that dominates the center stake, and the digital instrument cluster that gives the Megane a more expensive feel. There will also be an “R.S.” badge wedged into that center spoke on the steering wheel. I expect to see some extra speakers or at least a better quality sound system.
At this time, the drivetrain department remains shielded by a cloud of mystery. We suspect that the next-gen Megan R.S. has the Focus RS in its sights, so 300 horsepower is the minimum we expect to see from this high-strung Megan. Whether or not the Megane R.S. will have all-wheel-drive remains to be seen, but if Renault really wants to take on Ford and its RS, then it will need all four wheels spinning to do it. At this point, I’ll refrain from discussing potential engine size, but expect to see the option of a six-speed manual for those who like to row their own gears and a dual-clutch automatic for those who like to hit the gas and go. I also expect to see an updated suspension and chassis system, but that’s just speculation. Surely, we’ll learn more about this before Renault officially pulls the sheet of the new R.S., so stay tuned for updates.
At this time, it’s rather hard to talk about pricing, but I can speculate a little. We know that the range-topping Megane – the GT Nav trim level – starts out at £25,500 or about $33,866 at current currency exchange rates. With that said, the Focus RS – which we believe to be the target of the new Megane R.S. – starts out at £31,000 or about $41,171. Renault is a smart brand these days, so expect it to undershoot the competition and price the Megane R.S. out at £30,000 or about $39,843.
FORD FOCUS RS
With the Focus RS likely in Renault’s crosshairs, I couldn’t go without listing it as an official competitor. The car is technically still in its third generation, which started back in 2010, but it went through an extensive update for the 2016 model year. With that update came a redesigned front end, new exterior light units, and an overall sportier appearance inside and out. The biggest highlight, however, was the upgraded 2.3-liter EcoBoost that delivers an astonishing 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. It’s enough to get the RS up to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds on the way to a top speed of 165 mph. In the U.S., the Focus RS is priced from $35,900 and in the U.K. it is priced from £31,000.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R
To make this a fair fight, I’m also going to throw some German competition into the mix. And, what better model to take on the Megane R.S. than the Volkswagen Golf R. It seems to take a couple of years for the Golf to make it to U.S. Shores, so while the seventh-gen Golf hit Euro dealers in 2013, we didn’t see it here in the U.S. until 2015. The current Golf R is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder than delivers 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. It can hit 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and has a top speed that is limited to 155 mph. The engine is backed by a six-speed manual transmission, and the update suspension system allows the Golf R to dominate in the corners and maneuverability department. At the time of this writing, the Golf R starts out at £31,685 (about $42,080) in the U.K. and more like $35,650 here in the U.S.
It comes as no real surprise that I’m looking at these spy shots. Renault has been busy expanding its lineup, and now that we’ve seen the Megane Estate, Megane GT, and Mega ne Sedan, it’s only right that the brand brings a high-performance variant to the masses. I hope to see it debut with closer to 350 horsepower so it can rightfully take on the Focus RS, but even 325 horsepower would be enough if Renault plays its cards right. Furthermore, all-wheel drive would certainly make the R.S. worthy of praise and consideration by anyone looking to step into the hot hatch market. Renault knows the Hatchback market is full of tough competition, and it shouldn’t have an issue coming correct and providing a worthy competitor. With that said, take a look at the photos we have now, and stay tuned for future updates!
Making a Blu-ray player for under £100/$150 is no easy feat. Making a good Blu-ray player for under £100 is more difficult, and a great one harder still.
But Panasonic’s DMP-BDT180EB player has taken on the challenge, and achieved it – offering an impressive performance for those on a budget.
For a start, this Panasonic is sharp. Watching Riverdale on Netflix, when Cheryl Blossom is found soaking wet by the edge of the river, you can distinctly see the water droplets in her hair and the threads of her drenched dress – even on a mid-length shot.
But it’s when the camera moves in close that you really get to appreciate the insight the BDT180EB provides. There’s great detail in Archie Andrew’s hair, and the player even captures the boyish glint in his eye.
While Riverdale has an intrinsically punchy colour palette, the BDT180EB handles it well – providing enough pop to both the neon signs on the local diner and more subtle effects like the shine of the light on chains in Marco Polo: One Thousand Eyes.
And when those chains fly into action during the fight scenes, the BDT180EB tracks the motions easily. This player hits the sweet spot where the movements are natural, neither coming across too jerky or too processed.
Not everyone has a collection of Blu-ray discs, so a good player should cater for those that still have their favourite films on DVD. The Panasonic manages this well too. Its upscaler is competent enough to convey detail and depth with lower quality sources.
There is a little bit of expected picture noise, and during dimly lit films like Alien the dark details slightly suffer, but it’s an entirely watchable picture that should keep you happy.
And while Panasonic also says that the BDT180EB is capable of satisfyingly upscaling to 4K too (it doesn’t play 4K Blu-ray discs), it’s worth comparing between your television’s own upscaler and that of the Blu-ray player before deciding which one to use.
It doesn’t hold back when it comes to audio quality either; the dynamism that comes across in its picture is matched by its sound.
During the battle scenes of Avengers: Age of Ultron, each earthy punch or blast of brass from trumpets is driven home, while during the party – where the Avengers celebrate the defeat of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker – the music playing in the background is kept lively and fun.
The BDT180EB also provides enough space for the sound to stretch out into our medium-sized testing room.
When Ultron flies above the rising Sokovia, his monologue is rich and full-bodied, standing out against the smaller sounds of rubble crumbling and rockets flaring.
Voices are kept clear too, with a pretty balanced sound – so while you probably won’t use this as your go-to music player, you can always sling a CD into it with confidence.
The BDT180EB comes with a smart menu, with the staple video streaming services of Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video and BBC iPlayer built-in.
However, it does lack wi-fi connectivity, so your only option is to plug in an ethernet cable. There’s also the option to stream audio wirelessly to other speakers through its DLNA multi-room support, which is a nice touch.
If we have one criticism of this player, it’s with the remote. It’s rather small, with tiny buttons that are easily pressed by mistake. The navigational keys are too low down the remote, rather than sitting in the middle for quick access.
But that aside, the BDT180EB is a very competitive product, offering a quality picture at a low price point that will be at home on both HD and 4K screens.
Whether it’s DVD, Blu-ray or video streaming, this player can handle them all.
VR became one of the main trends last year. Special exhibitions were held, developers created content for different platforms, new gadgets were released from famous manufacturers. But even so, many users perceive VR as something special, from a series of fiction.
Nowadays absolutely every person can afford gadget to try virtual reality. You can choose an inexpensive device for a couple of dollars and immerse yourself in a virtual reality world. And is good to be prepared for the future because soon you’ll be able to watch movies like in a movie theater or 360-degree videos on YouTube and play all your favorite online games such as online blackjack or whatever is your prefernce.
PNY The DiscoVRy Headset is one of the latest interesting VR gadget that offers many functions, while it costs quite cheaply. The main feature of this device is smartphone mounting. So, today we have a detailed review PNY The DiscoVRy Headset.
Lens diameter: 34mm
Visual angle: Up to 130°
Pupil distance: 55-65mm
Compatibility: iOS & Android
Phone screen size & resolution: 4″ to 6″ (1080p minimum for an optimum experience)
By tradition, we begin with the packaging. The box has amazing design with description of features, requirements for smartphone, support for operating systems. Also you mention a note about the code for content from FIBRUM.
Inside the box is PNY The DiscoVRy Headset on a transparent substrate, protecting from damage during transportation. The complete packaging includes User manual, a rag for wiping lenses, a card with a key for activation premium account FIBRUM.
Let’s start with the key features of PNY The DiscoVRy Headset, which distinguish it from competitors’ models. The main one is installation method. Instead of a hinged lid with clamps, which in case of smartphones with a diagonal of 5.5 and 6 inches are not very convenient, here is a simple cutout with a presser foot.
Installation of the smartphone takes place by easy retraction of the foot and its subsequent installation without any difficulties. In order not to scratch the display and the body, the seat has a soft lining.
After mounting, the phone does not move, locking securely in selected position.
The reset parts of design PNY The DiscoVRy Headset is close to unspoken standards. The headset is light and well balanced.
It is put on by means of two pairs of tension straps, connected to each other on the occipital part. The length can be adjusted. Suitable for different head circumference.
A pair of aspherical lenses is installed. You can adjust the distance between them, choosing the optimal position under the user eyes. The regulators are located on the lower edge.
PNY The DiscoVRy Headset supports the smartphones from 4 to 6 inches.
Universal solution (for modern smartphones from 4” to 6”)
Easy to use, protects the smartphone
Comfortable with two adjustments and two foam headbands
Includes a 14 days access to Fibrum’s apps
Additional foam headband and cleaning cloth included
There is no additional electronics in PNY The DiscoVRy Headset. All control is carried out from the smartphone. As a convenient accessory, we can recommend you a gamepad. PNY company doesn’t have any special software or shell. Instead, you can use full access to Fibrum library. Also, Google Play offers many third-party apps to watch videos, games, and other content. The field for studying and experimenting with content is wide.
PNY The DiscoVRy Headset is comfortable to watch movies in both normal format and in 360-degrees. There are special applications for using Youtube content. There is a 3D effect and a location in a large cinema. One of the advantages is the ability to view while not interfering with others and not be distracted by what is happening around. By the way, wireless headphones are another recommended accessory.
Also we should not that Full HD is minimal screen resolution for using PNY The DiscoVRy Headset. Of course, you can use mobile device with lower resolution, but then the picture will be grainy. Ideally it should be from 2K and higher.
Google Street View is another interesting app for VR gadgets. It allows to explore cities and streets. Also you can broadcast games from your computer (you need an NVIDIA graphics card) on your smartphone screen.
PNY The DiscoVRy Headset is a good universal device for VR-content. Its advantages are unique mechanism of smartphone mounting, nice design, adjustment possibilities, replaceable soft pads and bonus code Fibrum. And you know what? PNY The DiscoVRy Headset price is about $20! It is much cheaper than Google Daidream View, while its functions are almost the same.
The Hasselblad X1D-50c is a compact system camera with a 50 megapixel 43.8 x 32.9mm medium-format CMOS sensor that is smaller than most full-frame 35mm cameras. The X1D-50c also features Raw images with 16-bit color depth and 14 stops of dynamic range, ISO range of 100-25600, 1080p video with a frame rate of 30fps, 2.3fps continuous shooting, shutter speeds from 60 minutes to 1/2000th sec. with full flash synchronisation throughout the range, a 2.36MP XGA electronic viewfinder, a 3.0” 920k-dot touchscreen LCD, dual SD card slots, built-in Wi-Fi for remote connection and file transfer and an external GPS unit that slots into the flash hotshoe, and a new line of XCD lenses with an integral central shutter. The recommended retail price of the Hasselblad X1D-50c is £7788 / $8995 body only.
Ease of Use
Handmade in Sweden, the Hasselblad X1D-50c is an incredibly well-built camera that is constructed from four pieces of solid aluminium, with no flex at all in any area of the body. It instantly reminded us of the Leica SL, which we also praised very highly for its build quality, but unlike the SL, it’s relatively small and light, measuring 150 x 98 x 71 mm and weighing 725g with the battery fitted. The X1D-50c is both dust and weather -proof, making this a medium format camera that can venture outside the studio. The Hasselblad X1D-50c sports a very stylish, expensive looking silver black colour-way, complete with orange shutter button, with the substantial handgrip and the rear of the camera featuring a “sticky” rubber coating to aid your hold on the camera.
We tested the X1D-50c with the new XCD 45mm f/3.5 and XCD 90mm f/3.2 lenses (separate reviews to follow), which feature an integral central shutter and are made by a Japanese company called Nittoh. The former feels well-balanced on the X1D, while the latter makes it a bit more front-heavy and conspicuous. Adding both lenses to your X1D kit costs around $5000 / £5000. Hasselblad are also due to release a 120mm macro lens later this year. The X1D is also compatible with all 12 lenses and accessories from the H system via the optional X-H adapter. The central shutter mechanism enables flash sync at all shutter speeds up to 1/2000 second and shutter speeds as long as 60 minutes, with virtually no vibration at longer exposures. Incredibly, it’s also officially rated to more than 1,000,000 exposures! Note that there’s no in-body or lens-based image stabilisation system.
As this is a Hasselblad camera, obviously manual focus is provided, and very good it is too. As you’d expect, the manual focus rings on both the lenses have a lovely feel, and two different focusing aids are provided – auto magnification and focus peaking. In conjunction with the high-resolution electronic viewfinder, we found it very easy to accurately determine critical sharpness.
Front of the Hasselblad X1D-50c
Auto-focus is a rather more hit and miss affair. The X1D uses a contrast-based AF system, which depending on the lighting conditions is both a little on the slow side to auto-focus, taking about 1-2 seconds to lock on to the subject, and prone to hunting in more dim environments. It’s also quite noisy, emitting an audible mechanical “whirr” as the camera locks onto your subject. Holding down the AF/MF button and using the front/rear control dials allows you to move the AF point to one of 35 different points that cover approx 80% of the frame, a big improvement on the single, central AF point that the X1D first shipped with, although it’s disappointing that you can’t simply tap on the screen to set the AF point.
Rather than a traditional optical viewfinder, the X1D employs an integrated electronic viewfinder from Epson, which has 2.36million dots. This isn’t the best EVF that Epson produce, paling in direct comparison with the Leica SL’s incredible 4.4million dot EVF. The same key shooting information that’s shown on the rear LCD is unobtrusively displayed above and below the frame, and there’s built-in dioptre control for glasses-wearers.
The Hasselblad X1D-50c has a 50-megapixel medium-format CMOS sensor with no optical low pass filter that delivers 8272 x 6200 pixel still images. The Hasselblad X1D-50c offers a very basic video mode that supports either Full HD (1920×1080 pixels) or 720p recording at 25fps in the H.264 compressed MP4 format. There’s actually just one video menu option – Quality – which allows you to choose between 1080 and 720 – and the camera can’t auto-focus during recording. On the plus side, it does have Mini HDMI, 3.5mm microphone in and 3.5mm headphone out ports.
The size of the back plate LCD is 3-inches and the resolution is 920k pixels. The Hasselblad X1D-50c has an intuitive touchscreen interface, which is just as well because the camera has very few physical controls. You can change the camera’s key settings by swiping down in Live View to reveal a control panel, then tapping to dive down into each option. You can even set the aperture and shutter speed by on-screen vertical scales, although I much preferred using the camera’s traditional front and rear control dials. Annoyingly, the camera automatically exits Live View after 15 seconds, requiring a half-press of the shutter button to turn it back on again.
Rear of the Hasselblad X1D-50c
In image playback, you can simply drag left and right to go through the sequence of images and pinch/double-tap to zoom in and out, and you can use the main menu system via the touchscreen. Sadly, you can’t yet focus on your subject by simply tapping on the LCD screen, something that we hope to see added in a future firmware update.
The Hasselblad X1D-50c features built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for wirelessly connecting to other devices such as a smartphone, tablet or computer. You can preview the shot and control the camera remotely via the free Phocus Mobile app (iOS only), but you can’t transfer your images to another device via wi-fi, which maybe because of the massive file sizes.
The front of the Hasselblad X1D-50c is adorned with the instantly recognisable Hasselblad logo positioned above of the lens. Top-left, if viewing the camera front-on, is a traditional AF assist/self timer lamp, and underneath that is a tiny black button for using the depth of field preview function. On the bottom-right of the lens is a silver circular button for releasing the lens, something that we found quite difficult due to the incredibly tight fit between both XCD lenses and the lens mount.
Top of the Hasselblad X1D-50c
There is a vacant hotshoe for an accessory flash on top of the camera offering full compatibility with certain Nikon flash units, but there’s no built-in pop-up flash. To the right are two small buttons marked AF/MF and ISO/WB, the tactile orange shutter release button, the front control dial, a recessed On/Off button, and a handy shooting mode dial, which can be pushed down to lock it into place and prevent the mode from being accidentally changed, although the dial is a little too short in height, making it slightly awkward to actually turn.
The Hasselblad X1D-50c takes forever to get going, readying itself for action in about 10 seconds, which caused us to miss more than a few shooting opportunities. Squeeze the shutter release button in single shot mode to take a maximum resolution image and the screen almost instantly displays the resultant image. Curiously the X1D-50c only records quarter-size JPGs – only the Raw files are recorded at the full 8272 x 6200 pixels – which may or may not suit your particular workflow. On the upside, the 108Mb raw images have an impressive 16-bit color depth and 14 stops of dynamic range, and they can currently be edited in Hasselblad Phocus or Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom.
The X1D-50c has dual SD card slots which support the UHS-I format. Images can either be saved to both cards simultaneously, to the second card when the first is full, or RAW images can be saved on one card and JPGs on the other. The X1D offers single shot and continuous shooting options, with the 2.3fps continuous shooting rate for RAW+JPG being pretty good for a medium format camera.
The Hasselblad X1D-50c In-hand
The rear of the Hasselblad X1D-50c features the prominent electronic viewfinder complete with eye sensor for automatically switching between the EVF and LCD screen. To the right of this are the AE-L and AF-D buttons, the latter allowing for traditional back button focusing. The thumb-operated command dial over at the top right sets the aperture. Alongside the right-hand side of the LCD screen is a column of 5 buttons – Playback, Display, Rate, Delete and the Menu button. The latter accesses a largely icon-based menu system that despite being touch sensitive proved to be slower to use than a more traditional menu.
The right hand flank of the X1D features a small lug for attaching a strap, with a matching one on the left, underneath which are the dual memory card slots housed inside a weather-proof compartment and a second compartment with four ports – the USB 3.0 socket, HDMI output, headphone port and microphone port. Sadly there’s no X-sync socket on the X1D, though, so you’ll probably need to to use a third-party wireless solution to control your studio lights.
The base of the Hasselblad X1D-50c features a screw tripod thread that’s inline with the centre of the lens mount and a very clever battery compartment. Simply use the small recessed lever to release the battery, then push it back in slightly to allow it to fall out of the camera. Charging the battery is also different to the using the usual external charger, in that you actually plug the supplied AC adapter straight into the battery unit itself via a small port on the bottom – very neat. Battery life isn’t very good, though, at less than 200 shots and a few short video clips (Hasselblad don’t quote the usual CIPA rating).
All of the sample images in this review were taken using the 50 megapixel Raw setting, which gives an average image size of around 108Mb.
The Hasselblad X1D-50c produced images of outstanding quality during the review period. This camera produces noise-free images at ISO 100 up to ISO 1600, with some noise appearing at ISO 3200. The faster settings of ISO 6400 and 12,800 are still usable, although we’d suggest avoiding ISO 25,600 if possible. The night photograph was very good, with the maximum shutter speed of 68 minutes allowing you to capture enough light in almost all situations.
There are 9 ISO settings available on the Hasselblad X1D-50c. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting:
ISO 100 (100% Crop)
ISO 100 (100% Crop)
ISO 200 (100% Crop)
ISO 200 (100% Crop)
ISO 400 (100% Crop)
ISO 400 (100% Crop)
ISO 800 (100% Crop)
ISO 800 (100% Crop)
ISO 1600 (100% Crop)
ISO 1600 (100% Crop)
ISO 3200 (100% Crop)
ISO 3200 (100% Crop)
ISO 6400 (100% Crop)
ISO 6400 (100% Crop)
ISO 12800 (100% Crop)
ISO 12800 (100% Crop)
ISO 25600 (100% Crop)
ISO 25600 (100% Crop)
The Hasselblad X1D-50c has 2 different JPEG file quality settings available, with High being the highest quality option, and it also supports Raw. Here are some 100% crops which show the quality of the various options, with the file size shown in brackets.
High (4.3Mb) (100% Crop)
Normal (1.8Mb) (100% Crop)
Raw (108Mb) (100% Crop)
The Hasselblad X1D-50c’s maximum shutter speed is 68 minutes in the Manual mode, which is great news if you’re seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 32 seconds at ISO 100.
This is a selection of sample images from the Hasselblad X1D-50c camera, which were all taken using the High JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.
Automatic TTL centre weighted system. Nikon™ compatible hotshoe
Output can be adjusted from -3.0 to +3.0 EV
Exposure metering : Spot, Centre Weighted and CentreSpot
Power supply : Rechargeable Li-ion battery (7.2 VDC/3200 mAh)
The Hasselblad X1D-50c is a beautifullly designed, impeccably built camera that offers medium-format image quality in a body that’s comparable in size to a DSLR. Frustratingly, though, it’s also quite a quirky product that feels rather unfinished in terms of its features and operating speed, despite being available to buy since the end of 2016.
Still image quality is outstanding, with bags of detail thanks to that 50 megapixel sensor, huge depth of field that makes it easy to isolate your subject, and good noise performance from ISO 100-3200. The two new XCD lenses that we tested the X1D with are both excellent, if unsurprisingly pricey. Serious videographers should clearly look elsewhere, though.
The X1D-50c doesn’t impress so much when it comes to speed. It seemingly takes forever to start-up, and when it does, the auto-focus system is too slow to keep up with moving subjects, which makes the X1D better suited to a slower, more deliberate way of working. The electronic viewfinder is a little behind the times in terms of its specification, the touchscreen interface again feels unfinished, there are some glaring omissions from the feature-set, and the battery life leaves a lot to be desired.
As the first compact system camera to use a medium-format sensor, the Hasselblad X1D-50c is a very promising first-generation production, majoring in image and build quality, but lacking in speed and a general sense of being “finished”. Viewed in isolation, it’s well worth considering if the idea of having that distinct medium-format “look” in such a compact camera appeals to you. Unfortunately the second compact system camera with a medium-format sensor, the Fujifilm GFX, has followed hot on the heels of Hasselblad’s trail-blazer, which after a short initial test feels better-realised and more feature-rich than the X1D, although not as compact or well built. Watch out for our Fujifilm GFX review soon…
Launched in 2015, the 991-generation GT3 RS was a significant update over the GT3 and a big departure from the previous car design-wise, having borrowed base bodywork from the Turbo model. On the other hand, the 4.0-liter inline-six was pretty much identical to the 997-generation GT3 RS 4.0 model, as was the 500-horsepower output, a bit of letdown for those expecting a more powerful car. This minor inconvenience will be fixed with the upgraded GT3 RS, which should gain a more potent engine now that the standard GT3 has been updated to the same 4.0-liter engine.
Unleashed on public roads in early 2017, the upcoming 911 GT3 RS looks ready to hit dealerships by the end of the year. Although the rear section is still based on the pre-facelift 911, the front fascia has already been updated to the fresh design and Porsche is probably already testing the new underpinnings. Notable changes should include revised aerodynamics, new tech inside the cabin, and a more powerful flat-six unit. However, while the GT3 RS has been the most powerful iteration of the 991-generation 911 and will continue to sit at the top of the range with the revised engine, it will no longer be the most potent model at the end of the 911’s current life cycle. New spy shots confirmed that Porsche is launching a GT2 RS, which will have a significantly more powerful turbocharged engine.
Nonetheless, the GT3 RS will remain the ultimate naturally aspirated track-toy with a Porsche badge at least until the next-generation model arrives in a few years. Expect the revised 911 GT3 RS to debut in September 2017 at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
If you’re looking for something that sets the RS apart, check out the camouflaged vents on each side of the trunk lid.
The first thing that catches the eye in these spy shots is the front bumper taken off the recently unveiled 911 GT3. The new element sports improvement aero bits, larger intakes, and additional winglets toward the corners. The nose and headlamps are identical to the previous RS, but this is no surprise, as the new GT3 has similar features. If you’re looking for something that sets the RS apart, check out the camouflaged vents on each side of the trunk lid.
Moving onto the sides, the GT3 RS appears to be identical to the previous model. The side skirts and wheels are likely to receive modifications until the production model is ready, but everything else should remain unchanged, including the big intake in the rear fenders.
Around back, the GT3 RS’s rear end will be pretty much a GT3 with a bigger wing.
Around back, the prototype is pretty much identical to the previous RS, so we need to wait a while longer to see the changes. However, I have a hunch that we’ll see the same modifications as on the 911 GT3, so look for revised taillights with a more angular design, an optimized diffuser, larger side air vents, and a mildly altered wing. All told, the GT3 RS’s rear end will be pretty much a GT3 with a bigger wing.
Also look for the GT3 RS to gain all the new exterior colors offered with the GT3 and maybe a couple of exclusive finishes.
Note: current 911 GT3 RS interior pictured here.
The interior of the new GT3 RS should carry over unchanged for the most part. But since it will be based on the GT3, it will get a few updates on top of the familiar Alcantara upholstery, “RS” badges, 918 Spyder steering wheel, and other race-inspired goodies. The carbon bucket seats that are optional on the GT3 should be standard on the RS, while the door panels should have lightweight handles.
The interior will get a few updates on top of the familiar Alcantara upholstery, “RS” badges, 918 Spyder steering wheel, and other race-inspired goodies.
Also expect to find more carbon-fiber inserts inside the cabin, as well as a yellow 12-o’clock stripe on the steering wheel. The Club Sport Package will also come standard and add a bolted-on roll cage behind the front seats, preparation for a battery master switch, a six-point safety harness for the driver, and a fire extinguisher with mounting bracket.
Tech-wise, the GT3 RS will get the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system, the Connect Plus module, and the Track Precision app. The latter enables 911 GT3 drivers to display, record and analyse detailed driving data on their smartphones. It also enables owners to share and compare their performance with other 911 GT3 RS drivers.
Porsche should inject more power into the 4.0-liter flat-six in order to make the GT3 RS more potent than the standard GT3.
As some of you may remember, the previous GT3 RS received a 4.0-liter flat-six instead of the more traditional 3.8-liter unit. The then-new engine had 500 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque and made the RS 25 horses more powerful than the GT3. Now that the facelifted GT3 received the same powerplant with the same output rating, the RS needs a bit more oomph in order to make a difference.
Although there’s no word as to what engine the upcoming RS will use, it’s safe to assume that Porsche will inject more power into the 4.0-liter flat-six. Adding more horsepower to this unit is definitely doable, but don’t expect a massive increase. Most likely the RS will get a 20- to 30-horsepower bumper, while torque will remain unchanged. The added oomph won’t do much to make the RS quicker, but the revised setting and the better aerodynamics will probably shave a tenth-second of the GT3’s 0-to-60 mph benchmark. That said, the dual-clutch PDK transmission should send the RS flying from 0 to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds, to go with a top speed of 197 mph.
A manual gearbox is now available on the latest GT3 and it makes a lot of sense for Porsche to offer it on the RS too.
The big mystery here, however, is whether Porsche will give the RS an optional six-speed manual. The three-pedal gearbox is now available on the latest GT3 and it makes a lot of sense for Porsche to offer it on the RS too. If this happens, expect the manual GT3 RS to hit 60 mph in around 3.7 seconds and top out at 198 mph. The manual version will also be some 37 pounds lighter than the automatic.
Other upgrades should include a redesigned chassis, rear-axle steering, dynamic engine mounts, and a retuned suspension system.
Pricing for the GT3 RS is obviously not available at this point, but given that the previous model was some $45,000 more expensive than the GT3, it’s not difficult to make an accurate estimate. We already know that the new GT3 is priced from $143,600, so its safe to assume that the upcoming GT3 RS will fetch anywhere between $180,000 and $190,000.
LAMBORGHINI HURACAN PERFORMANTE
Finding a proper competitor for the 911 GT3 RS is next to impossible given that there aren’t any other rear-engine performance cars out there, but there’s at least one mid-engined track beast that will give this Porsche a run for its money. It’s called the Lamborghini Huracan Performante and it’s the most menacing road-legal Lambo built to date. And don’t let the road-legal description fool you, the Performante is actually a race car in disguise. Based on the already popular Huracan, the Performante gained a comprehensive aerodynamic package and a revised chassis for enhanced performance, while a retuned 5.2-liter V-10 engine sends 631 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels. As you might have already guessed, the extra oomph and the AWD system makes the Performante significantly quicker, needing onlyh 2.8 seconds to hit 60 mph from a standing start. The Lambo is fast on race tracks too, having set a new Nurburgring record for production cars at 6:52.01 minutes. This benchmark makes it five seconds quicker than the Porsche 918 Spyder, so it’s safe to assume it would be quicker than the upcoming GT3 RS around the “Green Hell” too. On the flipside, pricing for the Performante starts from $274,390, at least $70,000 more than the German sports car.
MERCEDES-AMG GT R
The AMG GT R may not be as extreme as the GT2 RS and it’s a different kind of animal due to its front-engined configuration, but it’s also turbocharged and quite fun to drive at the track. Developed around the milder GT, the GT R features a more aggressive design and advanced aerodynamics for increased performance. The German coupe is packed with all the goodies you’d expect from a track-prepped car, including larger intakes, wider fenders, and a massive diffuser around back. Inside, the GT R has sport bucket seats in leather and microfiber, optional carbon-fiber trim, and a performance-oriented instrument cluster. Motivation comes form the same twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V-8 as found in the standard model, but massaged to deliver 577 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. Hitting 60 mph from a standing start in this Merc takes 3.5 seconds, while top speed is rated at 198 mph. Granted, the GT R is significantly slower than the competition, but pricing is expected to start from around $160,000, which makes it more than $100K more affordable.
With the facelifted GT3 already launched, it’s only a matter of time before the RS hits the streets. The 991-generation 911 has been one of the most popular in the model’s history and its performance is arguably the best, and the new GT3 RS will only come to confirm the tremendous effort Porsche has put into the nameplate in recent years. Of course, with a GT2 RS model already tested on public roads, the GT3 RS won’t be the most extreme version of the current generation, but it’s a tremendous alternative for die-hard enthusiasts who still love naturally aspirated engines. It’s also safe to assume that the highly limited production run will turn the updated GT3 RS in a highly prized collectible in no time. It’s the kind of vehicle that will be sold out the second day it goes on sale.
Unique aero features and interior
The most powerful all-motor 911 ever
Could regain the Nurburgring record for Porsche
Tough competition from the Huracan Performante
The AMG GT R is a significantly more affordable proposition
Galaxy S8 vs Galaxy S6: What’s changed in the two years since the Galaxy S6 arrived? We take a look at how the newly launched Galaxy S8 compares to the Galaxy S6.
Samsung has finally gifted the masses with a new flagship smartphone in the form of the Galaxy S8, and it’s looking like this could be the phone of the year – unless Apple manages to top it with the iPhone 8.
And it’s not the first time Samsung has managed to impress with its Galaxy S series, introducing the best smartphone of 2016 with the Galaxy S7.
But before that, even, the South Korean firm launched the Galaxy S6. Times have changed since then, of course, but by just how much? Allow us to explain.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8 VS GALAXY S6 DESIGN – WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Although there’s only one phone between the S6 and the S8, the two handsets look very different. Samsung has redesigned the Galaxy S this year, getting rid of the home button, reducing the bezels, and adding what it calls an ‘Infinity Display’. That basically means the screen’s a bit bigger.
Of course, removing the home button means the fingerprint sensor has been relocated to the back of the phone, which may or may not be an issue. We’re sure you’ll get used to it eventually, though.
The body is slightly larger than the Galaxy S6, which measures 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8mm, with a 5.1-inch screen. The Galaxy S8, on the other hand, comes in at 148.9 x 68.1 x 8.0mm, with a whopping 5.8-inch display. The S6 has your standard bezels and home button, so the screen was always going to be smaller. But it’s also a slimmer design, so if you like your phones easy to hold, the older handset has an edge here.
Samsung Galaxy S8
And whereas the S6 arrived alongside a more curvy Galaxy S6 Edge model, both the Galaxy S8 and S8+ feature Samsung’s curved ‘Edge’-style display – hence the ‘+’ branding on the larger model this year. Unfortunately, the newer phones also weigh more than their predecessors. The Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ weigh 155g and 175g respectively, while the S6 and S6 Edge weigh 138g and 132g respectively. Yes, the standard model weighs more than the Edge version – Sammy wasn’t in the habit of enlarging the extra model at that point.
In terms of colour, the Samsung Galaxy S8 is available in the UK in black, blue, and silver, while the S6 comes in White, Black, Gold, or Green.
There’s no question the newer phones look a lot better than the S6 and S6 Edge. While the latter are by no means ugly, Samsung’s latest design is undeniably eye-catching, and a represents a nice dose of innovation for the smartphone market, just when it needed it most.
The S6 Edge
Here’s our Mobile Editor Max Parker’s take on the new design:
“While the backs are similar, it’s all-change around the front for the S8 – and boy is this a gorgeous phone. The sloping sides, a screen that stretches almost to each corner of the phone, plus subtle colour choices combine to make this the best-looking phone I’ve seen. The S7 was simple, but the S8 takes it to a whole different level”
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8 VS GALAXY S6 SPECS – HOW MUCH MORE POWERFUL IS THE GALAXY S8?
As mentioned, the S8 comes with a much larger display. You’ll find a 5.8-inch Super AMOLED panel on the Galaxy S8, while the Galaxy S8+ comes with a bigger 6.2-inch screen. That’s a significant increase over the 5.1-inch display on the S6 and S6 Edge.
It also means you get a slightly weird and wider 18.5:9 aspect ratio, on the new phones, with a QHD+ screen resolution of 2960 x 1440 pixels. The older S6 and S6 Edge came with an almost as impressive 2560 x 1440 resolution, which is even more impressive considering the phone is two years old. It’s not quite up to S8, standards, though, but it is a Super AMOLED panel, so blacks will be deep, and colours vibrant.
The Galaxy S6
Things are a little more uneven on the processor side of things. The Galaxy S8 and S8+’s processors are built on a much more efficient 10nm process, whereas the older S6 and S6 Edge use chips built on the 14nm process. That means the new phone is 10% faster than the Galaxy S7, and considerably faster than the S6 – though you’re not going to notice a massive difference in day-to-day use.
Specifically the S8 uses either a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 or Exynos 8995 chip with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The S6, on the other hand, comes with Samsung’s older Exynos 7420 with 3GB of RAM and either 32,64, or 128GB internal storage. One thing the S8’s got going for it here is the addition of a Micro SD card slot for expanding the memory – a feature Samsung removed from the Galaxy S6.
Samsung Galaxy S8
Camera-wise, the S8 packs a 12-megapixel DualPixel shooter on its back, with a wide f/1.7 aperture and optical image stabilisation (OIS). The front camera offers 8 megapixels, a f/1.7 aperture, and autofocus. That’s a significantly better offering than what you get on the S6 (16-megapixel, f/1.9 aperture, OIS on the back, 5-megapixel, f/1.9 on the front) even if not much has changed from the Galaxy S7.
It may seem like the megapixel count clinches it for the S6, and it’s certainly a decent camera, but the dual pixels and wider aperture on the S8 make for much better low light performance, while a new multi-frame image processing feature means the S8 takes three shots when you hit the shutter, combining them to reduce blur in your photos.
Other features on the S8 include an IP68-rated waterproof body, which means you can submerge the phone in up to 10 metres of water for 30 minutes, and wireless charging. The micro-USB on the S6 has been switched out for the more versatile USB Type-C port, and there’s an iris scanner on the front of the S8. No such luck with the S6.
When it comes to batteries, the Galaxy S8 uses a 3,000mAh cell, that should provide enough power to keep the phone going all day. We’re yet to the S8 out in full, though, so we’ll have to reserve judgement at this point. The 2550mAh battery in the S6 only offered so-so battery life, however.
And finally, Android 7.0 Nougat is the operating system of choice for the Galaxy S8, which will soon be available on the S6 and S6 Edge. However, the S8 will have a bunch of new features such as Samsung’s custom Bixby digital assistant – a rival to Siri and Google Assistant that offers some impressive-sounding features. We’re yet to test it out, however, so stay tuned for more.
For a full spec comparison, check out the table below:
Samsung Galaxy S8
Samsung Galaxy S6
5.8 inches (Super AMOLED)
5.1 inches (Super AMOLED)
2960 x 1440 (567ppi)
2560 x 1440 (577ppi)
12 megapixels | f/1.7 | OIS
16 megapixels | f/1.9 | OIS
8 megapixels | f/1.7 | AF
5 megapixels | f/1.9
Snapdragon 835 (10nm) or Exynos 8995 (10nm)
Exynos 7420 (14nm)
Yes (IP68 certified)
USB Type C
Yes (in some markets)
Micro SD Slot?
148.9 x 68.1 x 8.0mm
143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8mm
Android 7.0 Nougat
Upgradeable to Android 7.0 Nougat
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8 VS GALAXY S6 PRICE – WHICH PHONE IS BETTER VALUE FOR MONEY?
The Samsung Galaxy S6 has been around for a while, so naturally it’s going to be a lot cheaper than the newly launched S8 and S8+. Right now you can pick up the S6 for around £430/$645 SIM-free and the S6 Edge for about £530/$795.
Samsung has confirmed that the Galaxy S8 will start from £689/$1033.5, while the Galaxy S8+ will cost an even loftier £779/$1168.5 when they both launch on April 28 in the UK (April 21 in the US). That’s a lot to pay for a smartphone, but there’s no doubt you’re getting your money’s worth. This is likely to be the best phone available at this stage of 2017.
Samsung Galaxy S8
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8 VS GALAXY S6 SUMMARY – WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Here’s what you need to know about the Samsung Galaxy S8, and how it’s different from the Galaxy S7.
Design: The all-screen front, glass design, and overall sleekness of the S8 makes the S6 look like a relic. There’s no doubt the S6 is a decent-looking phone, but it doesn’t come close to the newer model.
Specs: With an ‘Edge’-style QHD+ screen, a speedy 10nm processor, and loads of extra features, such as an iris scanner, USB Type-C and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, the S8 takes this one easily.
Price: The Samsung Galaxy S8 will cost £689/$1033.5 and the S8+ £779/$1168.5, while the S6 can be picked up for around £430/$645 SIM-free and the S6 Edge for about £530/$795.
Value: If you want a decent Android phone for under £500/$750 the S6 is a solid handset, but you’d be better going with something like the OnePlus 3T, which has newer hardware and costs around £400/$600. The S8 is definitely expensive, but it’s clearly an outstanding phone.
This is a three way test of the Aedle ODS-1, Noble Trident and RHA CL1 Ceramic earphones. It is an unavoidable fact of our existence that many of us need to spend more time out commuting than we do enjoying our own home equipment. While it might seem strange to spend a significant sum of money on something as small as a pair of earphones, the truth of the matter is that you will spend more time listening to them than you will equipment you might have spent considerably more on.
There’s no shortage of choice either. Premium earphones used to be a fairly niche category but there are now dozens of models to choose from. Why have these three particular models been chosen? The first reason is that they all – at the time of writing at least – cost around £350/$525, making for a usefully level playing field. This is a price point where you should still be able to connect your earphones directly to a smartphone or tablet if you want to but still also be able to appreciate the benefit of an external DAC or dedicated audio player.
The second reason is that these models all employ a different driver arrangement to one another which should make for a more interesting comparison than would be the case if three identical designs were selected. As such we have hybrid dynamic and armature design versus triple armature versus dual dynamic. There are also key variations in materials used and design philosophies employed so this should make for an interesting comparison not just of three specific models but also some general design approaches.
The three earphones have been used with a few different sources, principally the Meridan Explorer 2, Chord Mojo (both connected to a Lenovo T560 ThinkPad), a Pioneer XDP-100R portable player and a Motorola G4 smartphone. Material used has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF, DSD, Spotify and Tidal including Tidal Masters via the Meridian.
By the time you are spending £350 on a pair of earphones, you should expect a few parts of their performance to be a given. They should be capable of achieving near total isolation from the outside world. The entire audible frequency range should be smooth and even and they should be able to generate a believable sense of soundstage. The good news is that all three pairs of earphones can do this – what is interesting is how differently they go about achieving such things. So let’s see what we’ve got.
All three models in the test comfortably meet the basic standards described in the methodology but there are some intriguing differences that need to be taken into account and that will shape your purchasing decisions. The fitment of remote and mic on the Aedle means that it is comfortably the easiest to live with real world and the mic works perfectly well for making and receiving calls. At the other end of the scale, the RHA’s insensitivity means that unless you have a very burly headphone amp to hand, the exceptional qualities that they possess are not going to make themselves felt. Additionally, their cable feels rather burly. The Noble sits somewhere between these two positions. It’s easier to drive and live with but it can’t take a call in the manner that the Aedle can and that woven cable is on a never-ending mission to tangle up.
There is also some variation to how these models handle quality extremes. Once again, the Aedle is the earphone that is happiest to forgive low bitrate material. That smooth and refined presentation holds up well as quality drops and they also work well if you need them to handle a little film and TV work. The downside to this big, friendly presentation is that the ODS-1 doesn’t respond to high quality material as positively as the other two designs here – it stays good but doesn’t always give you the full taste of what is there.
The RHA by contrast excels as the quality increases. High-res audio and carefully recorded material shines on the CL1 Ceramic in a way that has you hunting out the better corners of your music collection. The RHA remains composed with less high quality material but beyond a certain point – a point where the Aedle is still fairly happy – the RHA starts to get a little ruthless. This is partly affected by the need to use more powerful (and with it, usually revealing) equipment to drive them.
The Noble is closer to the RHA than the Aedle in terms of its handling of material. It excels with higher sample rates and sounds superb with high quality recordings. As quality drops it can sound a little thin and edgy though. Ultimately, all of these models sound fine with Spotify Premium or Apple Music for example but the RHA and Noble will thank you for going to Tidal or beyond.
Group Test Winner
Choosing between these three models is not easy because in part, I could live with any of them. Partnered with any degree of care and attention, the level of performance that they offer is exceptional. In many ways, the Aedle ODS-1 is the most accessible when it comes to getting the most from it. It is easy to drive, actually functions with smartphones rather than simply connects to them and as an object, they are exquisite. The RHA by contrast is demanding of partnering equipment and won’t flatter poor recordings but it has abilities that are exceptional judged at any price, not simply £350/$525.
This leaves the Noble as the balance between these two points. It sounds fabulous, can be driven effectively from a phone while still benefitting from more expensive equipment and it works happily at home and on the move. This might be Noble’s entry level but for most of us, it represents all the earphone we’ll ever need.
THE GOOD: The 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan’s turbocharged engine makes great torque and feels very responsive off-the-line and around town. The standard cabin technology suite boasts Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink connectivity.
THE BAD: Low fuel economy and a thirst for premium gasoline cut into the Tiguan’s value. No advanced driver aid or safety technologies beyond a standard rear camera are available.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan still makes a good first impression, but closer inspection reveals just how much this aging SUV lags behind the younger, more fully featured and fuel-efficient competition.
Recently, Volkswagen debuted a new, larger Tiguan for the American market. The long-wheelbase model will boast an improved interior design, better legroom on the second row and more cargo space. It’s a good looking ride and we’re all very excited for its arrival.
Now, the 2017 Tiguan S that arrived at Roadshow HQ this week is not that car. It turns out Volkswagen will continue to sell the older, smaller current Tiguan model alongside the new hotness because… well because reasons.
With that in mind, I hopped behind the wheel of the 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan S 2.0T to see how to old Tiggy holds up against its much younger competition.
Why are you still here?
It’s hard to believe that the Volkswagen Tiguan — still, technically, in its first generation — has persisted practically unchanged for nearly a decade, but that’s the reality.
Still, the old girl feels pretty spacious on the inside. Its 119.2 cubic feet of interior volume won’t win any capaciousness contests, but the Tiguan uses what space it has well. I had plenty of head and legroom when I tucked my 5-foot, 9-inch frame into the second row for bit and there’s a decent amount (23.8 cubic feet) of cargo room. Filling both rows with 6-foot-plus passengers could begin to present a legroom issue, a problem that the upcoming larger model may solve with its longer wheelbase.
The exterior got a refresh back in 2011 that has aged well, but this 2017 model’s interior is really starting to look dated, especially when compared what new model will be bringing to showrooms in a few months. Fortunately, VW’s understated design is what I like to call “timelessly boring” so it may never actually cross the threshold into full-on outdated without a side-by-side comparison to the new hotness. As it, it toes the line between understated and economy.
Most likely, the reason that VW is keeping the smaller Tiguan around is to serve as a lower cost option for those who can’t or won’t swallow what will undoubtedly be a higher entry point for the larger, more fully featured 2018 long-wheelbase model. Today, the 2017 Tiguan S 2.0T starts at $24,995 before a $860 destination charge nudged our as-tested price just over the $25k mark.
VW App-Connect tech
The Tiguan’s cabin is starting to show its age, but the tech in the dashboard still manages to feel update and push a lot of the right buttons.
Our base level, no options 2.0T S model rolled into our garage with a 6.3-inch color touch display in the dashboard. The display also features proximity tech that uses infrared sensors to detect when a hand is approaching the screen and enlarge the interface’s virtual buttons, making the on-screen shortcuts easier to hit. The 800×480 resolution isn’t bad for a screen of this size unless you’re using the standard rearview camera while reversing. Then, the video starts to look pretty bad.
Like the rest of the cabin, the tech resists obsolescence with standard Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink technologies. If you’ve got a reasonably modern smartphone — and I’d hazard that most of the Tiguan’s young prospective buyers do — then a simple USB cable can cover all of your navigation and digital media needs with Android and Apple’s software without having to spend an extra dime on options. That’s actually pretty neat.
Built-in, the standard receiver features USB connectivity for MP3 and iPod playback, Bluetooth for audio and hands-free calling, HD Radio, satellite radio and an SD card slot for the handful of you who carry your music around on a card.
One detail about this VW audio system that I like is that it pauses media playback when you lower the volume to zero. It’s a small touch that almost certainly goes unnoticed by most, but is great for not missing a moment of my favorite podcast when I needed to quickly dip the audio at, say, a drive-through or toll booth.
At higher trim levels, Volkswagen does offer a navigation option with onboard maps stored in a second SD card slot and optional upgrades to a premium Fender audio system, but these options don’t add a whole lot of functionality to the bottom line, especially for those who’d prefer to just use their phone.
Turbocharged performance with a catch
Under the hood, you’ll find a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 200-horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. That mill is mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission in either a front-wheel drive configuration or with the optional 4Motion all-wheel drive system.
This engine makes a hell of a first impression with great off-the-line torque and a meaty mid-range. The power is very usable around town and its gearbox seems well sorted; there’s a good deal of pep in the Tiguan’s step. I found its “Sport” shifting program to be not sporty enough for my needs when stretching the SUV’s legs on a country road and found the intake noise grating in the upper registers of the tachometer’s swing. However, this isn’t an enthusiasts car, so those aren’t necessarily dealbreakers. Plus, most of the fun with this engine happens in the midrange of the torque curve, where the noise is a bit more throaty.
However, this engine does have an Achilles’ heel. At an EPA estimated 22 mpg combined (20 mpg city and 24 mpg highway), the Tiguan trails its competition. The Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V, for example, tickle the 30 combined mpg mark. Plus, the Tiguan is probably the only ride in this size and price class that guzzles premium fuel. Together, these details sort of undermine its long-term value proposition.
Whatever performance goodwill the Tiguan earns with its torquey engine, it wastes it away with uninspired handling. The ride feels soft and vague when tossing the Tiguan back and forth on a back road and the steering is a bit numb. It’s comfortable enough and dynamic handling is probably so far down the priority list for the average Tiguan buyer that I don’t think these criticisms will matter much, but so soon after driving the new Mazda CX-5, the Tiguan just felt disappointing.
Part of the disappointment was weird ergonomics. The steering wheel tilts the rim away from the driver’s seat at an odd angle that made finding a good seating position difficult and always felt a bit awkward.
Pricing and competition
The 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0T S starts at $24,995 or $25,860 when the destination charge is included. Fully loaded, you could push the sticker price to above $37,000 for an SEL model with 4Motion, though the SUV struggles to offer much value beyond the lower end of the range.
The upper trim levels feature a few more creature comforts and options, including a panoramic moonroof, leather seats and better speakers. However, you won’t find any extra tech — no driver aid features such as adaptive cruise or lane keeping assist and no automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection or other safety features. At the upper trim levels, it becomes harder to stomach the Tiguan’s price tag compared to more fully featured, fun and fuel-efficient models from Honda, Ford and Mazda.
And then there’s the looming larger 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan that will steal the spotlight at dealerships later this year with more space, better tech and a new look, inside and out. Unless you can get a really good deal on a 2017 Tig, you should probably wait and see how the newer model stacks up.
4 Cylinder Engine, Turbocharged
Front Wheel Drive
6-Speed A/T, A/T, Transmission w/Dual Shift Mode
Dual Moonroof, Generic Sun/Moonroof, Sun/Moonroof
BRAKING & HANDLING
4-Wheel Disc Brakes, ABS
Tire Pressure Monitor
Aluminum Wheels, Wheel Locks
Auxiliary Audio Input, Premium Sound System, AM/FM Stereo, Satellite Radio, CD Player, HD Radio, Smart Device Integration, MP3 Player
The Blackview BV7000 Pro is a balanced product aimed at a wider audience beyond the traditional builders and ruggedised verticals.
Great value for money
Still no NFC or 802.11ac
Performance is worse than the BV6000
Over the past year, the number of rugged smartphones arriving from Chinese manufacturers has risen considerably with no less than 12 players (deep breath: Homtom, AGM, Nomu, Ulefone, Jesy, No.1, Zoji, Three Proofings, Ken Xin Da, Snopow, VChok and Blackview) currently fielding IP68-rated models.
We first came across Blackview last year when the company sent over the BV6000, a handset which sported a brash ‘look-at-me’ design with a bright yellow colour scheme. It was aimed primarily at the traditional builders’ market but impressed us with its great battery life and reasonable price.
The BV7000 Pro is the follow-up to this model, and we’ve been spending some time with it lately. It’s far more elegant than its predecessor with less in the way of aggressive lines and more curves. Gone are the conspicuous yellow plastic strips, replaced by champagne, silver white and grey accents.
At £163 ($200, AU$265) at the time of writing from Blackview’s official store on AliExpress, it is cheaper than the BV6000 at launch. And you do get a lot for your money. Note that these costs are exclusive of any taxes that may be levied by HMRC or the courier companies on behalf of the vendor. Want to buy tech from online Chinese retailers? Read this first.
The phone has the company’s branding on the front with three menu buttons below the display. The two longer sides of the device utilise a textured area for better grip, and play host to microSD/SIM slots, a volume rocker, a power button and a dedicated smart button.
The latter can be configured to perform a pre-programmed action (launch an app, take a screenshot, start an audio recording and so forth). Sadly it’s no replacement for the SOS button on the BV6000.
The back of the device has no fewer than 16 screws, a camera sensor, a fingerprint reader and an LED flash. The audio socket and a USB port are hidden behind rubber flaps on the top and bottom of the smartphone.
Both this handset and its predecessor have a CNC full metal frame, but while the bezel on the BV6000 was 6mm at its thinnest, the one on the BV7000 Pro is just 3mm.
It doesn’t have NFC, which is essential if you plan to use Android Pay, and you can’t insert two SIM cards and a microSD card at the same time. But given that the BV7000 Pro comes with 64GB on-board storage, that shouldn’t be an issue. Oh, and there’s an eight-core system-on-a-chip, the Mediatek MTK6750T, backed with 4GB of system memory.
The 6750T SoC is actually a pared down version of the chip on the BV6000, a decision likely to have been motivated by the need to keep the bill of materials within a certain budget.
That translates into worse performance levels, as the clock speed for the GPU (an ARM Mali T860MP2) and the CPU have been kept low – this shouldn’t be problematic, but don’t expect the BV7000 Pro to excel at hardcore mobile gaming.
The screen is a definite improvement, though: a 5-inch Full HD, glove-friendly IPS display with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 allows the size of the bezel on the BV7000 Pro to be significantly thinner than the BV6000, as previously mentioned.
While both devices have approximately the same footprint, the newer Blackview model is far slimmer overall at about 13mm. The knock-on effect is that there’s less space inside the phone which explains why the battery capacity went down from 4200mAh on the BV6000 to 3500mAh (note that you can also use the handset as an emergency battery charger).
The rest of the specification sheet sticks to what we’d expect from a mid-range model: fingerprint sensor, a rear 13-megapixel camera with an F/2.0 aperture, the ability to combine LTE and Wi-Fi to boost download speeds, a front-facing 8-megapixel camera, USB Type-C (finally!), a 5V2A (10W) fast charger, GPS and GLONASS, with the device running Android 6.0. Nougat – which is available for the BV6000 – has yet to be confirmed for the BV7000 Pro.
Obviously, the other big selling point of the BV7000 Pro is its IP68 rating, which means that it can be immersed in water without any risk at depths of more than 1m (although you need to make sure the ports are properly secured) with complete protection against dust.
Compare the two handsets, though, and it is clear that the BV6000 looks a tougher nut to crack. Note that the PTT (push to talk) and SOS buttons, staple features found in many traditional rugged smartphones, were removed from the BV7000 Pro, and the cards are (too) easily accessible.
In use, the phone proved to be a capable performer and didn’t stutter during our brief encounter. The screen is gorgeous – even in broad daylight – and little additions like ‘smart somatosensory’ (which uses hand-waving to trigger events), the customisable notification light, or Parallel Space, which allows for apps to be cloned and used by multiple users, are great differentiators.
The BV6000 still has its place in Blackview’s portfolio despite the arrival of the BV7000 Pro. A bigger battery combined with a sturdier look, and the two other useful features that disappeared from the new model that we mentioned, make the BV6000 a better choice for users of ruggedised devices.
So rather than a straight replacement, the BV7000 Pro appears to complement rather than supplant the BV6000. The real flagship model will come later this year – the BV8000 Pro is expected to sport the Helio P20 SoC, 6GB of RAM, Android 7.0 Nougat and a 16-megapixel rear camera. The big unknown is how much it will cost. A cheaper version of the BV7000 Pro, known as the BV7000, is also expected to be unveiled soon.
For now though, the BV7000 Pro provides an interesting compromise if you want a mid-range model that doesn’t give away your trade, can take a few pictures in torrential rain, and doesn’t break the bank.
Hyundai’s Ioniq initiative is more than just a green flare rising up from the sea of increasingly electrified automotive options. The decision to introduce a family of not one, not two, but a trio of new environmentally-friendly automobiles – the Ioniq Hybrid, the Ioniq Electric, and later this year, the Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid – is the second wind for Hyundai’s self-celebration as a major automotive player after last year’s launch of the Genesis luxury sub-brand. In many ways, this eco after-party is even more significant than the Genesis project, given that the premium market promises eventual profits. No one, it must be noted, makes anything resembling real money on hybrids and EVs, which means that Hyundai is building these cars in large part to demonstrate to the rest of the world that it can afford to do so – and do so comfortably.
Lest you think that’s a knock against either Hyundai’s intentions or final product, let me be clear: after having driven two-thirds of the Ioniq line-up I can confidently state that none of these cars are mere green-washed window-dressing. The automaker set itself the lofty goal of surpassing the Toyota Prius, (the lone, strange king of hybrid sales volume), in several important areas, and the resulting technological investment (12 years in the making) has borne impressive fruit. After all, if you’re going to aim for a target, aim high, because that way even if you miss the Prius you might still end up tagging a disgruntled Honda Insight owner.
Of the brood, the member most likely to succeed in finding an audience with paying customers is the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, in part due to it being the most conventional. It’s engineering ground that Hyundai has tread before – a small, four-cylinder gas engine linked to an electric motor integrated with the transmission’s output shaft – but never in so tight a package, and not using the unique bundle of components offered by the compact hatchback. The Ioniq Hybrid’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder gas motor is matched with a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox, and alongside its exceptional thermal efficiency it makes possible 139 combined horsepower and a respectable 195 total lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is listed at a Prius-tweaking 58-mpg combined when found in the lightweight Blue base trim, an achievable number that I might have gotten closer to in warmer weather.
For those who make their hybrid buying decisions based solely on efficiency, that’s probably enough to steer them into the Ioniq’s clutches. For the rest of us, Hyundai has made the smart decision to go exactly opposite of Toyota in terms of the hatchback’s styling and driver experience. The Ioniq looks very much like what one would expect from a small hatch, and its normcore sheet metal reflects the no-nonsense attitude associated with its ergonomics. There’s no vestigial shifter stalk or button play to be found here: if you’ve ridden inside any other Hyundai under $30,000, then you’ll be familiar with the car’s control set and cabin layout which are straightforward and perfectly acceptable. If you’re looking for your hybrid to make you feel special, or pat you on the back for your green buying decision, well, there are likely better options out there for you.
The Ioniq Hybrid does its best to leverage battery power in normal driving, with the electric motor whirring away under your right foot until you surpass city cruising speeds, upon which the gas engine smoothly kicks in its half of the bargain. Braking is regenerative, and represents more of a learning curve than the throttle, as it’s not always easy to know when to push past the kinetic converters and tap into the ‘we need to stop right now’ functionality found in non-hybrid cars. There’s a sport mode if you care more about harnessing the electric motor’s instant torque than saving fuel, and handling is perfectly in keeping with the modest expectations of the compact hatch segment.
Should you wish to avoid the taint of hydrocarbons completely, the Hyundai Ioniq Electric is you almost identically-styled alternative. Set apart from the Hybrid model by way of a badging and a few small tweaks (including LED lights up front, a black plastic grille cover, and its own unique tail lights), there’s little to suggest to the passing public that this Ioniq sips electrons rather than sweet crude, keeping it in sync with Hyundai’s understated, results-oriented approach to its electric car strategy. Once inside, you notice push button controls for the transmission in place of the standard gearshift, but the rest of the cabin – even though it’s replete with sustainable, organic, and perhaps even vegan materials – stops short of boasting about its eco-cred.
The Electrics’ drive feels no less than the equal of the Hybrid, thanks more to the 215 lb-ft of torque than the 118 horsepower generated by its electric motor. The car feels quick and competent around town, and even highway passing is silently effective. Hyundai has added an interesting wrinkle to the Ioniq Electric’s ability to recapture energy while braking in the form of a pair of paddles located behind the steering wheel. They offer full control to the driver over how aggressively the system intervenes when lifting off the accelerator, and the range taps easily from vise-like to Astroglide.
Unfortunately, the Hyundai Ioniq Electric hits the market at the same time as the Chevrolet Bolt, a similarly-sized EV that bests it not just in terms of power but also in advertised ranged. The Bolt’s 238 miles of cruising are so far ahead of the 124 miles that can be squeezed from the Hyundai’s 28-kWh battery pack that it shunts the latter into city car territory, where it joins every other EV not currently wearing a Tesla badge in terms of day-to-day practicality. Even with the admirable ability to stuff 80 percent of that range into its power pack after spending less than 30 minutes suckling from a 100-kW DC fast charger (and 4.5 hours to full on a 240-volt connection), there’s still no argument that can be made for choosing the Ioniq over the Bolt for anyone who wants to be able to leave a major metropolitan area on a regular basis.
Save for one, perhaps: price. Hyundai is keeping the Ioniq Electric’s MSRP at just above $30,000, and that’s before any state incentives aimed at electric vehicle buyers which could slice thousands off the sticker. This is cheaper than the Bolt, albeit for more modest functionality, and while it could entice more than a few bargain hunting pipeline-cutters it’s a safe bet that the much more useful Ioniq Hybrid – which starts at a much lower $23,000 ask – will be the volume seller of the two. That being said, with fuel prices still seemingly anchored to the floor, maybe it would be best to put the word ‘volume’ in air quotes, because as good as these two battery-motivated models are, hybrids and EVs seem destined to remain a niche until the next energy shock.
The Origin PC Genesis offers crazy-powerful specs in an eye-catching chassis, but at a cost-prohibitive price.
Man oh man, do I love an outlandish piece of tech. So when I first saw the Origin PC Genesis and its over-the-top painted chassis, I broke out in a silly grin. The patriotic paint job makes me want to stand up and salute. But it’s the great specs (overclocked Intel Extreme processor, dual Nvidia Titan X GPUs, 8TB of storage) that compel me to find some way to scrape up the $9,444 necessary for all that awesome.
Despite being loaded up with more power than any one desktop has any right to house, the Genesis has plenty of space for you to add even more, transforming what was already a beast of a machine into a near-unstoppable force. So if you have the space, budget and a bit of DIY gumption, the Origin Genesis is an excellent option.
Big, imposing and dressed in red, white and blue? Someone cue up the Team America theme song, because I’m calling this version of the Genesis the Iron Patriot. Hell, it has even got its own Arc Reactor, courtesy of the glowing-white Origin PC logo located on the front of the system. The company outfitted the Genesis in a torn-flag motif that I can’t help but salute every time I see it. These colors might rip, but they sure don’t run.
But if you would rather your system not be so patriotic, Origin offers custom paint jobs that vary in price, depending on what you get. You can also deck out the side panels with a funky theme, or hydro dip the whole chassis for $450. The company will also let you outfit the side panels in metallic finish for $250.
Once I got used to all the patriotic awesomeness in front of me, I was able to admire some of the finer details of the design, like how the system’s front panel swings open to reveal five hard-drive bays and a Blu-ray player. I’m also a fan of the clear, peekaboo glass panel on the right side of the desktop that lets me gaze lovingly at the powerful components nestled behind the company’s custom Cryogenic tubing.
The scene was further enhanced by the painted, bright-red interior. The sides, top and rear of the desktop are adorned with a black plastic honeycomb lattice. And since this desktop is all about over-the-top extravagance, you’ll find a row of blue lights nestled near the top of the system. Because, honestly, what’s an America-themed desktop without fireworks?
My one gripe with the design might be the top-mounted port placement. With every port, slot and button seated atop the system, it’s difficult to keep the subsequent wires where they should be — out of sight and out of mind.
The Genesis (25.2 x 25 8 x 9.8 inches) weighs 64 pounds, which is about what you’d expect from a full tower. It’s a bit heavier than the 60-pound Alienware Area-51 (21.4 x 24.8 x 10.7 inches) and much lighter than the 80-pound Maingear Rush SuperStock (24 x 21.5 x 8.6 inches).
Ports and Upgradability
Removing the top portion reveals a platoon of ports, including six USB 3.0 ports; two USB Type-C ports; a pair of USB 2.0 ports; a couple of Ethernet ports; an old-school PS/2 port for a mouse or keyboard; five audio ports; and an S/PDIF input. As far as the graphics cards go, each has a DVI port, HDMI and three DisplayPorts.
Gaming on the Genesis is a double-barreled dose of tech-induced euphoria, thanks to its pair of Nvidia Titan X GPUs.
And if that weren’t enough for you, there are four additional USB 3.0 ports toward the top lip of the desktop, with jacks for a headphone and microphone. There are also buttons for Rest, Fan/LED Mode, Fan Speed/LED Brightness and Power.
If you get a sudden hankering to put another GPU or hard drive in the Genesis, you’ll have to open up the system’s rear. Just have a Philips screwdriver handy beforehand.
Gaming on the Genesis is a double-barreled dose of tech-induced euphoria, thanks to its pair of Nvidia Titan X GPUs in SLI configuration, with 12GB of VRAM each.
The system maxed out the SteamVR Performance test with an 11. I donned our Oculus Rift and played through a few levels of Robo Recall. Despite teleporting like mad, slowing down time and blasting rogue robots with joyful abandon, I never noticed any stutter as I drove my automatonic foes before me.
The Genesis also did well on our more traditional games like Rise of the Tomb Raider, where I took a few moments at the top of a waterfall in a lush, green paradise and watched in a sun-dappled spot as the mist rose from the turbulent waters below. During the 4K benchmark, the Genesis obtained 48 frames per second on Very High, surpassing the 33-fps category average. The Maingear F131‘s dual AMD Radeon Pro Duo GPUs managed to hit a very inconsistent 60 fps.
During our Hitman test, the Genesis ran the benchmark at 37 fps at 4K and achieved 71 fps on the Grand Theft Auto V test. On Metro: Last Light, the Genesis notched 64 fps, topping the 55-fps average and the F131’s 26 fps.
On the 3D Mark Fire Strike Ultra test, the Genesis notched an excellent 13,750, which pulverized the 4,493 average as well as the Rush (4,923) and F131 (3,521).
There’s nothing like watching a few Twitch streams while running a full-system scan in Windows Defender with 45 open tabs in Google Chrome and playing a game of Candy Crush Soda Saga for good measure. I even raised the stakes and started running Witcher 3 in Window mode, and I still didn’t see any stutter.
All that smoothness is thanks to the system’s overclocked 3-GHz Intel Core-i7-6950X processor with 32GB of RAM. And if you wondering, the X absolutely stands for Extreme.
The system hit 32,035 on Geekbench 3 — a synthetic overall performance test — thoroughly trouncing the 16,329 desktop average. Powered by 4-GHz Intel i7-5960X processors, the Rush and F131 notched 34,234 and 34,262, respectively.
Even though the Genesis has 8TB of onboard storage, it’s the 512GB NVMe PCIe M.2 SSD that’s launching games with lightning speed. It duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 9 seconds during the File Transfer Test, which translates into a speed of 565.5 megabytes per second.
That was more than enough for it to cruise past the 295.5-MBps average. However, the F131 (512GB NVMe SSD) and Rush (256GB M.2 PCIe SSD) were much faster at 718.3 and 457.1 MBps, respectively.
The Genesis matched 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 1 second, beating the 3:23 average. However, the F131 and Rush were somewhat faster at 3:20 and 2:59, respectively.
I got to live out my rich PC-gamer fantasies with a $9,444 configuration of the Origin PC Genesis, which has an overclocked 3-GHz Intel Core-i7-6950X processor with 32GB of RAM, a 512GB NVMe PCIe M.2 SSD with an additional 8TB of storage and two Nvidia GeForce Titan X GPUs with 12GB of VRAM each in SLI configuration.
The base model of the Genesis starts at a more manageable $1,793 and includes a 4.2-GHz Intel Core i3-7350K CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 120GB SSD and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti. From there, you’re free to add whichever combination of high-end parts you like.
Priced at $9,444, the Origin PC Genesis is the culmination of all my fevered PC-gamer dreams. The full-sized tower houses some impressive specs, including an overclocked Intel Extreme processor, two Nvidia Titan X GPUs and a whopping 8TB of storage That means that the Genesis will deftly power its way through anything you throw at it. And that patriotic paint job is just pure magnificence.
But if you don’t want to pay quite as much, you can purchase the base model and build it up over time with your desired components. Or check out the Maingear Rush SuperStock ($1,799 starting, $7,972 as reviewed), which is a magnificent showpiece as well as a gaming beast. But if you’re looking for a PC that dominates in looks and features, there are few options as good as the Origin PC Genesis.
The Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45, like its predecessor, is another welcome addition to the Android Wear family. Yes it is very expensive and you can get a similar Wear experience for much less, but what you’re paying for is the luxury look, which is still hard to find on smartwatches. If you had the original and were wondering whether to upgrade, there’s plenty of reasons to do so. The modular design is a big plus and while it’s no match for a sports watch, the GPS and waterproofing definitely gives it something over the first Connected. There’s still room for improvement, but overall, Tag’s second attempt shows proves that this is one Swiss watchmaker that’s learning very quickly how to make a good smartwatch.
Stylish looks and comfortable to wear
Modular design brings customisation
Screen still not the best you can get
Battery performance with GPS
Still very expensive
The Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 is the Swiss watchmaker’s second Android Wear smartwatch after the Connected, which according to Tag’s CEO Jean-Claude Biver actually sold pretty well.
So it’s keeping the Wear love affair going this time introducing a new modular design that let’s you customise pretty much every element of the watch. It’s crammed with more features as well including GPS to track your outdoor workouts and NFC to make payments from the wrist.
The Intel-powered modular smartwatch is also part of a small group that’s already running on Android Wear 2.0, Google’s major smartwatch OS update.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the price. You buy a Tag watch, you expect to pay big for it. Prices start at $1,650 and can go all the way up to $17,000 if you really want to splash out.
We were big fans of the original, so does the second Tag smartwatch raise the bar for Android Wear? Here’s our comprehensive verdict on the Connected Modular 45.
Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45: Design and build
There’s no getting away from the fact the first Connected was a gorgeous looking smartwatch, something that at the time you couldn’t say about a lot of smartwatches, let alone Android Wear ones. Thankfully Tag delivers on this front once again.
There’s all the same luxury design hallmarks, from the logo emblazoned on the crown to the bold matte black ceramic bezel. It’s every bit a Tag watch and we’ve had more compliments and inquisitive glances at this smartwatch than any other we’ve strapped on recently. It really is a beauty and you’ll only know it’s a smartwatch when you get a little closer and spy the touchscreen display.
The 45mm body still makes it one of the biggest Wear watches around and at 13.75mm thick it’s still one of the chunkiest as well, no doubt to accommodate the extra sensors on board. But it carries that extra heft well. We tried out the titanium strap model and was surprised by just how light and comfortable a watch it is to wear during the day and in bed. It’s undeniably still a watch designed for men, but the good news is that a Tag Heuer Connected Modular for women smartwatch will be launched before the end of the year.
While the 2015 edition initially came in just a few looks before a rose gold model was introduced, things now get a lot more customisable. The new modular design approach is not just about swapping watch straps. You can pull out the lugs, the buckle and even swap the digital screen for an analogue one. (Which, yes, turns it into a wristwatch). There’s small buttons well concealed within the design that unlocks various parts and so it doesn’t break up the slick watch aesthetics.
Tag says there’s 56 different looks you can create leaving plenty of room for customisation. While changing lugs or buckles might sound quite cosmetic, the idea that you can swap digital screens for an analogue one is one way of solving that smartwatch battery conundrum that’s for sure.
The good news for swimmers is that the new Tag, unlike the original, is waterproof. You can take it for a dip in the water up to 50 metres and after a pool session and some shower time it survived to tell the time after without issue. Tag does offer a sporty black rubber strap option so you might want to opt for one of those rather than a calfskin or a titanium one if you’re planning to work out with it a lot.
Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45: Display
The screen on the first Tag smartwatch was by no means the best in the business and was one of the few areas we were critical of. Things have improved on the Modular on the display front. There’s now a 1.39-inch, 400 x 400 resolution AMOLED display wrapped in scratch-resistant sapphire cover glass.
If you’ve got the first watch then you’ll know that’s in fact a smaller display but the resolution has been bumped up, which does offer more vibrant, brighter surroundings. It’s still not the best you can get in smartwatch display terms, but it’s noticeable step up from the original. It’s not quite as impressive the LG Watch Sport’s 1.38-inch P-OLED display and 480 x 480 resolution, but we’re not expecting anyone to kick up a fuss here.
Screen visibility is still strong in bright sunlight and it’s certainly bright enough for nighttime viewing. As is standard with Wear watches, you can crank up the brightness from swiping down on the main screen if the default setting is not to your liking as well.
If we’re nitpicking and it’s our job to do so, there’s some screen warping around the edges of the screen where the display doesn’t entirely meet with the bezel. Most will probably not notice it, but if you’re obsessive about these kind of things it’s a minor gripe for an otherwise solid, all-round display.
Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45: Android Wear 2.0
Currently the Connected Modular 45, along with the LG Watch Sport and Style, are the only three Android Wear smartwatches rocking the new Wear 2.0 update out of the box.
That means once you’re all set up, you can reap the benefits of Google’s most important smartwatch OS update yet. It’s now better optimised for Android phones and iPhones for starters and that’s a big thing. We tried the Tag out with both platforms and have no issues to report.
All of the core Wear 2.0 features are there including the new Material design, access to Google Assistant thanks to a well concealed microphone, the ability to download apps from the Google Play Store directly from the watch, improved messaging skills and standalone apps. The onboard NFC means it works with Android Pay too.
There’s also a much bigger push on being able to customise watch faces, one of the few areas where hardware makers like Tag can make their presence felt on Google’s operating system. Browsing through watch faces works as it does on other Wear watches but Tag has also added in the Tag Heuer Studio. Here you can access exclusive watch faces, which you can customise. First you pick the watch face base and can then tinker with the dials and the overall look.
There’s small selection to choose from right now, but more will be added in the future. You can create some pretty slick faces if that’s your kind of thing but we’d say the default ones do a pretty good job of already of making this look and feel like a luxury smartwatch.
Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45: Hardware and GPS tracking
Tag has partnered up with Intel once again, packing in the chipset maker’s Atom processor Z34XX, which is a processor they actually use in smartphones. That’s backed up a pretty standard 512MB of RAM and there’s 4GB of storage on board as well. As a result the Wear OS runs pretty slick. Some loading can still feel a little sluggish, particularly when launching the Google Play store or games, but generally it’s a pretty zippy experience.
The headline hardware feature here though is the addition of built-in GPS. We’ve already seen it included on new Wear watches like the LG Watch Sport, the Huawei Watch 2 and will be included in Casio’s next gen outdoor smartwatch as well among others. That means you can track runs although Tag doesn’t include its own dedicated fitness application. You can make use of Google Fit or compatible third party apps like Runkeeper, which is not optimised for Android Wear 2.0.
Runkeeper Android Wear app (left and centre) and TomTom Spark 3 (right)
We put it to the running test using the standalone Runkeeper app against the TomTom Spark 3 GPS watch and generally results were pretty good. Although as the data above shows, the measurements can still be a little off.
We don’t think Tag really sees this as a fully fledged sports watch replacement, but more giving owners the option to track if they want to. It works well, the GPS pick up is quick and bar one run, data accuracy was strong too.
Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45: Battery life
Despite the addition of GPS and a more impressive display, Tag has stuck with the same 410mAh battery that should deliver all day battery life and that’s pretty much what we found using it. If you’re not using it intensively all day, then you could push to a day and a half making use of the battery saver mode. Most of the time it’s going to be a good for a day’s play.
When you factor in GPS, that battery however takes a major hit. After a 45 minute run in the morning, it was down to 45% just two hours later. To get it powered back up, there’s a nice charging disc that you can clip the watch onto and it’ll take a couple of hours getting from 0 – 100%.
It’s not often a reduction in engine displacement results in a superior motorcycle (bigger is better, right?), but that’s the case with KTM’s new 1090 Adventure R. Gone are the 1190 Adventure and Adventure R models and in their stead a new 1050cc R model that’s smaller in both bore and stroke (103mm/63mm vs. 105mm/69mm) equaling a 145cc reduction in displacement. Whatever the 1090 gives up in power production to the 1190 Adventure R it makes up for in lighter weight and better handling.
Using KTM’s claim that the 1090 is 22 pounds lighter than the 1190 (456 pounds dry vs. 478 pounds dry), and the company’s claimed peak power production for each model (125 hp for the 1090 vs. 150 hp for the 1190), simple math reveals the 1090 is moving more weight per horsepower (3.65 pounds/hp) than the 1190 (3.18 pounds/hp). But that’s peak power in Sport riding mode. In the more important Off-Road setting where both bikes are limited to 100 horsepower, the 1090 has an advantage of moving 4.56 pounds/hp, where the 1190 was pushing 4.78 pounds/hp. Torque is a slightly different story with the 1090 giving up 12 lb.-ft. to the 1190 – 80 lb.-ft. at 6500 rpm vs. 92 lb.-ft. at 8000 rpm.
The 1090’s weight advantage over the 1190 is largely found in the engine: shorter cylinders and connecting rods, smaller pistons, lighter counterbalancer, etc. The 1190’s centerstand and C-ABS were removed, which further reduced weight. The crashbars are stock items; the skidplate and rally footpegs are not.
How noticeable is it? On pavement, the 1090 R accelerates with enough gusto to keep your average sportbike guy happy, but it’s not the same missile the 1190 was. In the dirt, in Off-Road mode, the 1090 makes more power than can be used in most situations, and this is where the 22-pound diet becomes more important than power production.
Most of the lost weight is credited to the smaller-displacement engine – so not only is it less weight but also a reduced amount of reciprocating mass. Combined with the removal of the 1190’s centerstand, the weight was subtracted from low in the bike’s chassis, providing a more maneuverable motorcycle than 22 pounds indicates.
It ain’t an off-road party until someone gets muddy! Cornering ABS is gone but On- and Off-Road ABS, MTC, ride-by-wire throttle and the slipper clutch remain. There’s also a manually adjustable windscreenand brushguards that are part of the stock configuration.
Regardless of Riding Mode, power production is smooth and linear, and the fueling perfect. On the technical off-road sections we rode, the 75-degree LC8 V-Twin was happy to let the pistons spin down to damn-near stalling, then pick up revs without feathering the clutch. Kind of a Jeep of motorcycle engines except for its proclivity to accelerate quicker than any Jeep ever.
A lot of the Adventure R’s rideability comes from its excellent electronics package. Not only does the Off-Road setting reduce peak power, it also softens the way in which the power is delivered. Switching from Sport to Off-Road while in the dirt makes differences in power delivery between the riding modes readily apparent. Switching ride modes also alters traction control and ABS settings; Off-Road allowing for some rear-wheel spin before TC activates, and it also turns ABS off on the rear wheel, while a rider still enjoys the comfort of ABS on the front wheel. I’d like to think it was my skill that prevented a few front-end washouts, but I’m certain it was ABS that saved my bacon more than once when braking on a slippery downhill section of our ride.
The 1090 R’s instrument cluster is the same as the 1190’s. Nothing fancy like the new 1290 Super Adventure’s full-color clocks, but the analog tach is familiar while the digitals readouts are legible and easy to navigate.
Our test bikes were outfitted with the off-road dongle ($109), a plug-and-play electronic device that allows your settings to remain in place when keying off the ignition. Without it the ECU will default to its stock settings, meaning if you had TC and ABS switched off, they will be switched on the next time you start the bike. The dongle also overrides the ECU’s stock setting of shutting down the engine if bad gas is detected. For those who travel to truly exotic and remote locations, this could be a lifesaver.
The other upgrade of the 1090 over the 1190 is its suspension. The front is outfitted with a revised 48mm fully adjustable WP USD fork with separate compression and rebound functions, while the fully adjustable rear WP shock features a new Progressive Damping System. The 220mm of travel, front and rear, is the same as the 1190, but the revised settings keep the units riding higher in their respective strokes, making for a more compliant ride with less bottoming both off and on the road.
The new suspension settings help the Adventure R’s on-road handling as much as they do when off-road, with less front-end dive under hard braking. Continental TKC 80 tires provide good off-road grip while performing more than adequately at street speeds.
At 35 inches, the Adventure R’s seat height certainly isn’t short, but the seat-to-footpeg ratio started feeling a little tight after two days of riding, or maybe it’s just the aging of my joints. The footpegs do offer two-position adjustability, but I didn’t get a chance to sample difference this time around. Otherwise, the seating position is good for all-day riding, with taller riders maybe wanting to increase the height of the handlebar riser to help decrease the amount of lean the stock bars demand when standing.
From here the 1090 and 1190 are largely similar bikes, sharing most of the same components and figures on their respective spec sheets. Which makes it even more amazing how much more nimble the 1090 can feel over the 1190 with only weight, engine and suspension upgrades. The 1090 enjoys the advantages of a new front brake mastercylinder, but otherwise it’s same brakes as were on the 1190.
2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R
A lighter, better Adventure R
Tall riders might appreciate more legroom
More handlebar rise needed for taller folk
We feel compelled to complain about less power, even though it doesn’t adversely affect the bike
In last year’s 2016 Wire-Wheel Adventure Shootout, the Honda Africa Twin bested the 1190 Adventure R in objective scoring but was defeated by the KTM in subjective scoring. I think it’d be a very interesting shootout between the Africa Twin with DCT and the new KTM 1090 Adventure R. The two are close in price ($13,999 Honda vs $14,699 KTM), performance, and weight, but each with some advantage over the other.
If you’d like to see these two go head-to-head or have a suggestion for another or additional bike that should be included, let us know in the comments section below.
2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R Specifications
125 hp @ 8500 rpm (claimed)
80 lb.-ft. @ 6500 rpm (claimed)
2-cylinder, 4-stroke, V 75°
Bore x Stroke
Keihin EFI (throttle body 52mm)
PASC slipper clutch, hydraulically operated
Chromium-molybdenum trellis frame, powder coated
WP-USD 48mm, 220mm of travel
WP shock absorber, 220mm of travel
2 x Brembo 4-piston, radially mounted caliper, brake disc 320mm
The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 is a moderate wide-angle prime lens designed specifcally for Hasselblad X1D mirrorless cameras. It features an aperture range of f/3.5-f/32, 9 elements in 7 groups, a precision-engineered full-metal casing, and weighs in at 417 grams. The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 is also able to focus as close as 40cm and it takes 67mm filters. The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 retails for $2295 / £1900.
Ease of Use
With a maximum diameter of 75mm and a length of 77mm, the Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.54 is a moderate-wide-angle fixed focal length optic that’s well-suited to the X1D camera that we tested it with. Weighing in at 417g, it’s also not too heavy for what is a medium-format lens, proving to be very well-balanced on the equally new X1D.
The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens mounted on a Hasselblad X1D
The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens mounted on a Hasselblad X1D
The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens mounted on a Hasselblad X1D
TThe Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens alongside the Hasselblad X1D
The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 boasts superb build quality. The lens’ all-metal casing is dust and moisture resistant and it features a metal bayonet.
With no need for a zoom ring, the manual focussing ring spans a significant width of the lens barrel and is exceptionally smooth to operate.
Focusing is usefully internal and manual focusing is possible when set via the camera body. Full-time manual focus override is also available at any time simply by rotating the focus ring.
The side of the Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens
The front of the Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens
The rear of the Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens
The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens is comprised of 9 lens elements in 7 groups. It accepts 67mm filters via metal threads.
There’s no built-in optical image stabilisation in either this lens or the X1D camera body, but the Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5’s short focal length and fast maximum aperture mostly alleviate the need for it.
The side of the Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens
The side of the Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens
The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens in-hand
A soft cloth bag and a high-quality metal circular lens hood are supplied in the large box.
The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens with the supplied lens hood fitted
The 45mm focal length gives an angle of view of 63 degrees on a 35mm full frame sensor.
Field of view at 45mm
The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5’s manual focussing ring spans a significant width of the lens barrel and is exceptionally smooth to operate. It also has a large rotation angle which enables precise focusing and moves smoothly without any play. Two different focusing aids are provided – auto magnification and focus peaking. In conjunction with the X1D’s high-resolution electronic viewfinder, we found it very easy to accurately determine critical sharpness.
When it comes to auto-focusing, the Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 is a rather noisy and slow performer on the Hasselblad X1D that we tested it with, taking about 0.5 second to lock onto the subject in good light. We didn’t experience too much “hunting” with good lighting, with the lens accurately focusing almost all of the time, but it was prone to hunting in more dim environments.
Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is not really an issue with the Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5, only appearing in very high contrast situations.
Light Fall-off and Distortion
Light fall-off is noticeable wide open at f/3.5, though this is to be expected for such a fast lens and can easily be corrected in Photoshop. Stop down to f/5.6 and the vignetting is already less prominent, but it is still visible when shooting pale scenes that fill the frame.
A 40cm minimum focus distance makes the lens fairly useful for shooting close subjects, and maximum magnification ratio the 1:6.4. This image is uncropped and shows how close you can get to a Compact Flash card.
A major appeal of fast, wide-aperture prime lenses is their ability to produce an eye-catching separation between a sharp subject and a very soft out-of-focus background. The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 generates quite smooth out of focus areas. Bokeh is however a fairly subjective part of a lens’ image quality, so check out these 100% crops to see the Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5’s bokeh quality for yourself.
In order to show you how sharp this lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following page.
Sharpness at 45mm
Our sharpness tests were conducted using a 50-megapixel Hasselblad X1D body mounted on a tripod. The camera’s shutter release was also set on a timer-delay to avoid any possible camera shake. The test subject was shot using ambient lighting, hence some colour and contrast variation is to be expected between apertures.
The full frame at 45mm
Centre sharpness is impressively high throughout the entire aperture range, with peak performance between f/4-f/11. Corner sharpness is also excellent, again producing optimal sharpness at f/4-f/11.
The thumbnails below link to full-sized samples taken with the Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens mounted on a Hasselblad X1D camera.
1/60s · f/8 · ISO 100
1/90s · f/8 · ISO 200
1/50s · f/8 · ISO 400
1/50s · f/8 · ISO 6400
1/400s · f/8 · ISO 100
1/250s · f/3.5 · ISO 100
1/180s · f/11 · ISO 100
Focal length : 45mm
Equivalent Focal length : 35mm (comparing 33 x 44 with 24 x 36 diagonal)
Aperture range : ƒ/3,5 – ƒ/32
Angle of view diagonal/horizontal/vertical : 63°/52°/40°
Elements/Groups : 9/7
Focusing range : 40cm – Infinity
Filter thread : 67mm
Magnification at close range : 1:6.4
Coverage at close range : 28 x 21cm
Length : 75mm
Diameter : 77mm
Weight : 417g
Product no. : 3025045
Lens type : Leaf shutter lens
Shutter speed : 60 minutes to 1/2000 sec
Flash sync speed : Flash can be used at all shutter speeds
If the new Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens is anything to go by, Hasselblad X1D owners are going to be delighted by the XCD lens range. The Hasselblad XCD 45mm f/3.5 is a fairly fast and tack-sharp lens that exhibits low chromatic aberrations and very little barrel distortion. Vignetting at wide-open apertures is the only real optical issue of note – stopping down to f/8 solves the problem altogether.
Build quality is excellent, with the metal lens mount and sober all-black design adding to the high-quality feel, and Hasselblad have also included a very good metal lens hood and soft cloth bag. Manual focusing is a pleasure, with manual focus over-ride at any time a great feature, although auto-focusing on the X1D proved to be both slow and rather noisy.
As the lens that the majority of new X1D owners will purchase, Hasselblad had to ensure that the XCD 45mm f/3.5 was a high-quality optic, and they’ve certainly succeeded in that aim. It’s simply a must-have buy for early X1D adopters.
Audio Technica and Sony face off in this battle of affordable USB turntables
In 2017, the term ‘Vinyl revival’ seems almost archaic. But while it was written off by many as merely a fad – and if the past year has taught us anything, it’s the danger of complacency in the face of a popular uprising – we appear to be very much in the midst of the second coming of 33 1/3.
But the 12-inch wasn’t brought back from the dead for its convenience. An afternoon vinyl session still requires you to get up from your seat more often than in a game of musical chairs. And you have to be in the same room as your turntable to enjoy it. There’s no way round that – or is there? What if vinyl could be pocketable?
We aren’t talking about a portable turntable – even the burden of a personal CD player would be too much these days – but rather one that can rip your records to digital files so you can carry them around in your pocket on your smartphone or portable music player.
This is by no means a new phenomenon, but so plentiful and talented have USB turntables become they commanded their own category at the 2016 What Hi-Fi? Awards.
Victorious by a small margin back then was Audio Technica’s AT-LP5. However, Sony’s contender has since dropped a weight division by shedding £150/$225 from its price. It seems only fair to offer the PS-HX500 another spin in the ring.
Build and features
There’s an immediate difference between the two that becomes apparent when they’re unpacked Sony – the Hi-Res Audio logo on the front-facing edge of the Sony’s plinth.
The PS-HX500 can convert vinyl into DSD 5.6 files so, while that doesn’t necessarily mean ripped records will bear comparison with files downloaded in the same format, in theory you’ll hear a more faithful rendering of this turntable’s capability.
Other than its hi-res rosette and a speed-switching dial, the Sony’s plinth is largely undecorated. It hasn’t followed in the fashionable footsteps of the company’s colourful Walkmans, instead taking the minimalist approach of rival decks around this price. It’s an understated rectangle.
Sony is also proud of its one-piece tone-arm with integrated headshell, claiming that locating the stylus point in the centre of its axis and limiting rotational movement produces a more precise, stable trace.
Tactility has always been a highlight when dealing with Audio Technica products. It isn’t necessarily build quality we’ve praised, at least not in the sense of it being well-manufactured or especially robust.
It is about how the company’s products feel to use. Here it’s in the feel of the dial to switch between rotation speeds, the weight of the tone-arm and how it glides from its rest to vinyl.
Before laying that first record on its rubber compound-crowned die-cast aluminium platter, we are expectant. Not to be outdone by Sony’s own innovation in the field, the AT-LP5 sports a J-shaped tone-arm that harks back to those used by Audio Technica in the 1960s and 70s.
More than a retro design quirk, the company says it is engineered to minimise tracking error. It’s tipped with an exclusive AT95EX cartridge for claimed perfect balance.
Of course, there’s little advantage to ripping your vinyl, hi-res or otherwise, if sound quality is poor.
So we start with our current Award-winner, the AT-LP5. And we kick off by utilising its integrated phono stage.
We begin by taking Nils Frahm’s live album Spaces from its sleeve. The first track on this record is An Aborted Beginning but, just one-and-a-half minutes in, we know we aren’t going to be disappointed. There is a great sense of the setting of the recording, a combination of spacious soundstage and detail as the natural room reverb is exposed.
Further hints as to that amount of detail are present in the ringing synthesized notes and, though there are more rumbling lows than this turntable is able to produce, there is a really nicely poised, natural balance to the sound that doesn’t want for bass.
Says, the first proper track after the record’s false start, then demonstrates the AT-LP5’s fine understanding of rhythm.
Not only does that hypnotically bubbling synthesizer pattern time well, its rhythmic and dynamic emphasis allows the piece to grow rather than stagnate. It is an arrangement utterly dependent on anticipation of its climax, a task for which the Audio Technica here is more than ready.
A similar thing could also be said of the following track, Said and Done, for the opening minute of which Frahm plays triplets of the same piano key. The AT-LP5 is dynamically versatile enough to express the intensity of each note, allowing the simple patterns movement rather than mere relentlessness.
Switching to an external phono stage unarguably improves each aspect of the presentation, the sound opening up and allowing for even more detail to be extracted from those grooves.
Yet it is the AT-LP5’s overall character we enjoy so much, something that is unchanging whether using its built-in phono stage or running through a more expensive alternative. An phono stage upgrade brings improvements, but it is far from a necessity to enjoy such a talented player.
For the Sony’s riposte we place Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms on the platter, and there’s no mistaking this turntable’s own penchant for detail as the synthesized flute and African-influenced drums in Ride Across The River come through with clarity and texture.
The PS-HX500 is similarly articulate with the track’s offbeat rhythmic pattern, tying the multiple strands together for a coherent and layered delivery. It has the dynamic dexterity to bring even mild sonic shifts to our attention.
The sprightly Sony is quick out of the blocks, too, springing into action with the upbeat opening of One World. It thrusts the drumbeat forward and, with a real sense of gusto and agility, puts its foot through the melodic guitar riffs that cut through the track.
It’s with the more sanguine tunes that the PS-HX500’s slight tonal inclination towards the light side of neutral reveals itself, the presentation favouring a crisp consistency over the full-bodied solidity of the AT-LP5.
It isn’t something worrying enough to penalise the Sony for, but perhaps something to bear in mind when it comes to system-matching.
Elsewhere, the Sony’s big, open sound lends itself to the lamenting guitar lines and aching organ in the album’s eponymous finale, and there’s space and insight to keep a hand on both as each weaves around the other.
There’s a delicate naturalness to Knopfler’s pensive vocals as well, which are confidently presented in the soundstage and demonstrate pleasing midrange insight. We feel confident bestowing praise on the treble, too – it’s clear and subtle, admirably balancing detail with refinement.
Again, as expected, big gains in clarity and detail are made when we switch to our reference phono stage. Vocals are fleshed out and instruments are subtler and more sure-footed. Within its price-bracket, though, the Sony’s own preamp is very capable indeed.
Ten months ago, when you’d have to fork out over £100 extra to secure the Sony, we’d have opted for the Audio Technica for all-round value.
However, the two are now squabbling for supremacy in the same arena – there are now savings to be made on the PS-HX500.
Of course, there are those who will prefer the AT-LP5’s bolder soundstage, which is an important distinction in a multi-function product. It means there’s no need to be overly cautious when system-matching, and no automatic necessity to upgrade certain elements.
But for all-inclusive brilliance, even ignoring its superior recording capabilities, the Sony is simply a better-rounded, more versatile turntable.
These remain two comfortably five-star products, and we certainly wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either. But overall it’s the Sony PS-HX500 that just wins out.
£300/$450 – FIVE STARS
FOR: Lively, transparent sound; precise soundstage; rips to hi-res
AGAINST: Doesn’t look all that special
VERDICT: A significant price drop makes this Sony – which we have always loved – our new favourite USB turntable
The MasterKeys Pro M RGB is a new line of gaming keyboard from Cooler Master. Available in three sizes and two lighting configurations, the MasterKeys series features Cherry MX key switches under each key, with a choice of four switch types to choose from.
The keyboard is solidly built, performance is slick, and the RGB lighting looks fabulous – Cooler Master has done an excellent job of crafting a keyboard that gamers are sure to love. Only a few minor flaws hold back an otherwise exquisite mechanical keyboard.
COOLER MASTER MASTERKEYS PRO M RGB – DESIGN, BUILD AND FEATURES
The MasterKeys Pro is built to last. Although an exclusively plastic affair, it’s rock-solid, without any trace of flex. Its design is similar to previous Cooler Master keyboards, closely resembling the ‘Quickfire TK’ from several years ago.
My ‘M’ review unit takes on a hybrid TKL, or tenkeyless, design and comes with arrow keys integrated into the number pad. The size is ideal for gamers who are after a smaller footprint, but want to retain the number keys for infrequent use.
Those who frequently code or work with numbers should opt for the ‘L’ version, while those who want to maximise portability should pick up the ‘S’. The variety of options on offer is useful, although it should be noted that prices will vary by model. The medium-sized RGB keyboard retails for £119.99, which is in line with the competition but isn’t exactly the bargain of century. Those with tighter budgets could opt for a model with white-only LEDs.
Each size of keyboard comes with different key placements and functions, but all have the basics covered. On the ‘M’ variant you’ll find a bank of function keys on the top row that can be used to duplicate key presses, adjust the lighting and record macros. The number pad houses the media keys, although as is the case with all the functions, you’ll need to hold down the ‘FN’ key to operate them.
Lighting is handled by LEDs that sit beneath each key. My review unit features full RGB backlighting, which is bold, vivid and eye-catching. The lighting has been designed to reflect against the inside of the keyboard, which helps to mix the colours and reduce any traces of RGB separation.
Your desired lighting configuration can be achieved by using the function keys, with options to adjust each colour channel, cycle through effects, or turn it off completely. My personal favourite was to simply cycle through colours, but you can adjust each key individually if you so desire. Sadly, an option to adjust the overall brightness is absent from the keyboard.
Further configuration can be achieved via Cooler Master’s bespoke software, which is probably the weakest part of the overall package. Its newness is clear; while it offers plenty of customisability, implementation is clunky and it can be tricky to use. It also misses out on assigning custom functions to keys, such as opening the calculator or activating a mouse button.
It certainly isn’t bad, though, presenting plenty of lighting customisability options. In my opinion, it’s on par with Asus’ Armoury software, but behind Corsair and Logitech’s offerings.
COOLER MASTER MASTERKEYS PRO M RGB – PERFORMANCE
In terms of customisation, this isn’t the most impressive keyboard on the market, but Cooler Master has nailed performance. My review unit features brown switches, but there are three other Cherry switches to choose from – Blue, Red and Speed. As always, brown switches bridge the gap between the tactile and clicky blues, and the linear speeds and reds.
Typing on the MasterKeys has been great, with it offering a solid and responsive feeling to every key press. The size of the keyboard is great for those with smaller desks, with the added benefit of allowing your mouse to be closer to your left hand. Personally, I feel this is more natural and comfortable when working. In addition, the font size is relatively large and therefore easy to read.
One of my testing methods was to work on SQL code, and the smaller size of keyboard showed its weakness here; accessing the asterisk key on the number pad required two key presses rather than one. For those who regularly use a number pad, the larger variant of the keyboard would be a better option. Everyone else should be able to adjust easily.
For gaming, however, the more compact size is a benefit – that extra space can result in a more comfortable gaming session. My testing has seen me play around 10 hours of Mass Effect Andromeda, as well as endless games of Paragon.
In Andromeda, activating powers and abilities was snappy, and traversing through the expansive terrain was easier. Paragon is a fast-paced game that relies on reaction times, and having a mechanical keyboard really can help here. While it isn’t going to transform you into an eSports professional, once you’ve used a mechanical keyboard, it will be hard to go back.
SHOULD I BUY THE COOLER MASTER MASTERKEYS PRO M RGB?
The MasterKeys Pro looks great on paper, with an expansive spec sheet that has pretty much everything covered. However, it’s a shame that the software is in its infancy; it’s a key area, and one where Cooler Master’s rivals offer something superior.
At £120/$180 it’s a fairly priced RGB keyboard, undercutting the Corsair K65 Lux by £10/$15. Note, though, that the Corsair comes with a USB passthrough, a wrist-rest and an aluminium top piece – although it does lack the detachable USB cable found on the MasterKeys.
Overall, though, Cooler Master should be proud of what it has brought to the table. The MasterKeys range has all the basics covered, performs well in gaming and workplace scenarios, and offers a variety of sizes – with or without RGB lighting. If you’re after a new mechanical keyboard, the MasterKeys Pro is a great choice.
A solid all-rounder that looks great and performs exceptionally well.
Bluetooth 5 is finally here and Samsung is leading the way by baking it into the Galaxy S8 range. You probably have questions. Luckily, we have answers. Here’s all you need to know.
(Update: March 29 2017): The Samsung Galaxy S8 and its larger S8+ stablemate will be the first phones to hit the market with next-gen Bluetooth 5.0 wireless connectivity.
The new standard, released for use back in December, promises quadrupled range compared to Bluetooth 4.2. That means the Galaxy S8 can be up to 800 feet away from compatible headphones, speakers and fitness trackers while maintaining connectivity.
Bluetooth 5.0 also promises twice the data transfer speed of the previous version.
However, perhaps most excitingly, Bluetooth 5.0 has enough bandwidth to support two sets of wireless devices at the same time.
This could mean speakers in different rooms, or the ability to listen to support two sets of headphones without having to share a bud with your friend (as romantic as that is).
All of this, of course, is dependent on having compatible devices. Unfortunately that means going out and buying all of that tech alongside the S8, in order to reap the benefits. At least Samsung is getting the ball rolling.
The next Bluetooth Standard, Bluetooth 5, brings with it some serious upgrades including increased range, speed, and broadcast messaging capacity.
So what exactly is Bluetooth 5 and why does it matter? Let’s start with the basics.
What’s better about Bluetooth 5? It’s faster, has longer range, and can transfer more information.
Why does that matter? Aside from the obvious benefits, the new standard is going to help support the IoT.
When is it coming out? It’s already here!
WHAT IS BLUETOOTH?
Bluetooth is a wireless connection standard intended to connect disparate devices and transfer data over short distances. It is fittingly named after 10th-century king Harald Bluetooth, who united Denmark’s tribes into a single kingdom.
Bluetooth was invented by Ericsson in 1994, but it wasn’t until 1998 that the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (Bluetooth SIG) was established by Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Toshiba and Nokia, and 1999 when it was initially standardised.
The Bluetooth SIG, which has since grown to some 25,000 member companies, has overseen Bluetooth’s development ever since.
The last major version of the standard, Bluetooth 4.0, was officially rolled out in 2011, while the last iterative update was Bluetooth 4.2 on December 2, 2014. Now it’s time for Bluetooth 5 to enter the stage.
WHERE DID THE ‘V’ AND THE ‘.’ GO?
You’ve probably noticed that Bluetooth SIG has dropped the .0 from the version number for Bluetooth 5, as well as the ‘v’ (it’s technically Bluetooth v4.2, for example).
This is a pretty straight-forward marketing decision on Bluetooth SIG’s part, aimed at: “Simplifying our marketing, communicating user benefits more effectively and making it easier to signal significant technology updates to the market.”
So what does Bluetooth 5 have to offer? Here’s what we know so far.
BLUETOOTH 5 IS FASTER
Bluetooth 5 offers twice the the data transfer speed of the previous version, Bluetooth 4.2 while increasing the capacity of data broadcasts by 800%. With Bluetooth 5 you can send and receive much more data much more quickly.
BLUETOOTH 5 HAS LONGER RANGE
The new standard is effective over four times the range of Bluetooth 4.2, which will come in particularly useful for things like portable speakers. You’ll be able to wander further away with your phone without stopping the music, for example.
Mark Powell, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG explains: “Increasing operation range will enable connections to IoT devices that extend far beyond the walls of a typical home.”
BLUETOOTH 5 IS READY FOR THE IOT
Bluetooth 4.2 added some features to make it work better with the so-called Internet of Things, and Bluetooth 5 places such functionality front and centre. Of course, its extra range and capacity will help more smart household devices talk to each other, but the increase to broadcast capacity means the new standard will be able to communicate much more easily with IoT devices.
The Bluetooth SIG says the upgrades to range, speed, and capacity will “redefine the way Bluetooth devices transmit information, moving away from the app-paired-to-device model to a connectionless IoT where there is less need to download an app or connect the app to a device.”
Powell adds: “Bluetooth will be in more than one-third of all installed IoT devices by 2020. The drive and innovation of Bluetooth will ensure our technology continues to be the IoT solution of choice for all developers.”
BLUETOOTH 5 BOOSTS LOCATION SERVICES
Bluetooth 5 isn’t just about being faster and longer-range than before – it’ll also help facilitate additional location-based functionality. In particular, it should boost the uptake of Beacon technology, which will result in significantly improved indoors navigation in shopping centres and the like.
This will be possible because Bluetooth 5 will add “significantly more capacity to advertising transmission,” according to Bluetooth SIG. This means that it will be able to convey much more information to other compatible devices without forming an actual connection.
Previous Bluetooth standards already do this in order to notify you about the name and nature of other open Bluetooth networks, but it seems Bluetooth 5 will be able to do much more with it.
As the Bluetooth SIG puts it: “With the major boost in broadcast messaging capacity, the data being transferred will be richer, more intelligent.”
Bluetooth 5 will add location and navigation functionality, so that Beacons can transmit custom information without connection and application barriers.
In other words, you won’t need to install an app or go through connection set-ups in order to receive specific location-based information from Bluetooth Beacons.
YOUR OLD DEVICES PROBABLY WON’T BENEFIT
While your existing phones, speakers and equipment may work with Bluetooth 5 devices, they almost certainly won’t benefit from its extra capabilities. That means you’ll need to buy all-new Bluetooth 5-ready gear to take advantage of its entire expanded feature set.
BLUETOOTH 5 RELEASE DATE
Bluetooth 5 went live back in December 2016, and is now already available in devices. Probably the biggest Bluetooth 5 news recently is that the technology features in the Samsung Galaxy S8. Samsung’s new flagship is actually the first handset to scoop the Bluetooth 5 tech.
Samsung has just announced the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, it’s latest Android flagship handsets. The South Korean tech giant threw in a number of goodies to its new phones and here’s a run down its top features.
Like with the LG G6, Samsung goes all screen for its latest flagship. The Galaxy S8 has a greatly enlarged 5.8-inch Super AMOLED display, compared to the 5.1-inch display of Galaxy S7, while the Galaxy S8 Plus has a huge 6.2-inch display versus the 5.5-inch display of Galaxy S7 Edge.
Also, both phones have new ultra-wide 18.5:9 aspect ratios with 2960 x 1440 native resolutions or WQHD+. The curvature of Galaxy Note 7’s display is present on both devices thus making the two “edge” versions already.
Despite the increase in display size, the phone’s overall dimensions are about the same of its predecessors. Albeit that the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ are a bit taller due to the new aspect ratio.
Exynos 8895 / Snapdragon 835
Both the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ are powered by Samsung’s homebaked Exynos 8895 chipset globally with the exception of select markets like the US which will have Qualcomm’s most powerful chipset to date — Snapdragon 835.
Performance-wise, both chipsets perform well on benchmark tests and real life performance. Both are 10nm chips for high efficiency. Exynos 8895 even features Samsung’s first in-house Exynos M1 architecture.
Dual Pixel Camera
In terms of camera, not much has changed here. It still has the same rear sensor and lens from the Galaxy S7 which was then inherited by the Galaxy Note 7. It’s a 12-megapixel Dual Pixel focus camera with a f/1.7 aperture and optical image stabilization.
What’s upgraded is the selfie camera. It’s now bumped to 8-megapixel complete with f/1.7 aperture and even autofocus for sharper and bokehlicious selfies.
Fast Wireless Charging
Most modern phones feature fast charging through the USB port. The Galaxy S8, with its USB-C port, features adaptive fast charging but it’s also capable of fuelling up juice wirelessly.
With Samsung’s wireless charging dock, users can simply place the phone on it and let phone fill up power to last you a full day. Other wireless charging docks are also compatible but it might miss on the fast charging.
First seen on the Galaxy Note 7, the iris scanner makes a comeback with the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. We find the iris scanner to be a crucial feature for the S8 since the fingerprint scanner is now located on the rear which can be hard to reach at times due to its unusual rear position.
Users can set the iris scanner for the lock screen and other encrypted folders on the phone. Iris scanning is also more secure than fingerprints.
IP68 Water and Dust Resistance
When the Galaxy S7 was announced, it brags water and dust resistance with the added bulk unlike most rugged handsets in the market. Of course, Samsung continues to bring IP68 certification with the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+.
Like before, there are no unwanted flaps covering the ports making the phone the water and dust resistant while keeping a low profile.
Bixby Personal Assistant
While its name is rather hard to enunciate, Bixby looks promising. Samsung own virtual assistant is not just another Siri, Cortana, or Google Assistant that mainly functions for web search and some basic tasks. Samsung designed it to function on top of an application and can support what the application is capable of performing. For example, they demoed it to us acting on a command by the user to send an image to a contact within the gallery.
Bixby is built into the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. There’s even a Bixby button to call it out anytime you need it. Soon, it’ll also be found on other smart appliances by Samsung as part of the IoT future.
Familiar with Windows Continuum? The new Samsung flagship will also have something similar and it’s called Samsung Dex. This feature is not native on the phone as it requires a dedicated dock wherein the Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+ will sit. You then connect it to a monitor and peripherals like a keyboard and mouse to create a desktop environment.
Basically, it transforms the Samsung UI to a desktop-grade experience. All your apps and files will be available for access on the desktop interface.
Hey you! Yeah, you, the guy approaching 40! Remember the Mitsubishi Eclipse? Of course you do. Did you pick one of the sporty little coupes up at your local Mitsu dealership back in the ’90s? Or your Plymouth dealer? Or Chrysler? Or Eagle? Thanks to the healthy Mistu-Chrysler Diamond Star Motors partnership, there was a while where it seemed like you could pick one of those things up anywhere.
Or did you come of age in the early 2000s, the era of George W. Bush, MTV’s Spring Break, and The Fast and the Furious? It’s okay to admit it now if you spent your teens trying to replicate that awful green “DANGER TO MANIFOLD” car Paul Walker drove. The parachute pants and frosted tips though, those are still unforgivable.
2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross | Mitsubishi
Or was yours that wedge-shaped plastic coated version that followed, the one with the obnoxious commercialthat Dave Chappelle took the piss out of on the pilot episode of Chappelle’s Show? Sure, the Eclipse soldiered on another decade, but the less said about its sad final years, the better.
Nonetheless, for a good 15 years, the Eclipse had an otherworldly knack for evolving to stay the stuff of teenage dreams. And in its absence, we young-timers have started to look back on one of the first sporty cars we could ever hope to afford with fondness. So now that you — yes, you the guy approaching 40, are getting married and on the way to having 2.53 kids just like your parents, Mitsubishi has decided to launch an all-new Eclipse, just for you!
… as a crossover.
Yep. A crossover.
Looking to relive your glory days while your kids tell you to turn your lame music down from the back seat? Then read on for everything you need to know about the 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross. Your manifold will not be harmed.
1. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross | Mitsubishi
In 2016, one devious thing led to another and Mitsubishi ended up being bought by Nissan. And while that could’ve spelled trouble for the diamond brand, Nissan has committed to keeping it alive. The Eclipse Cross is the first all-new model to debut under Nissan ownership, though the bigger company had no part in its development. What does this all mean for the prospective buyer? Probably greater dealership distribution and better parts support, making the new crossover easier to buy, and easier to service.
2. An Outlander by any other name…
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SEL | Mitsubishi
Mitsubishi has been a small operation in the past few years, but it’s found success with its midsize Outlander and compact Outlander Sport. It should come as no surprise then, that the Eclipse Cross’ architecture is closely related to these two models. It will also share the same 105.1 inch wheelbase with both of them.
3. Shooting the gap
2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross | Mitsubishi
As the crossover market continues to expand, we’re seemingly treated to more segments and sub-segments with each passing year. Slotting in between the two Outlanders, the Eclipse Cross will do battle with the Jeep Compass, Mini Countryman (both all-new for 2018), and Subaru Crosstrek.
4. Neither fast nor furious
2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross | Mitsubishi
In the global marketplace, the Eclipse Cross will be offered with either a 1.5 liter inline four or a 2.2 liter turbodiesel four. And while the diesel is mated to an eight-speed automatic, the U.S.-spec versions will only be available with the 1.5 liter four mated to a CVT. No power numbers have been released yet, but this thing isn’t going to be particularly quick.
The Eclipse Cross will use Mitsubishi’s electronic four-wheel drive system to help the Eclipse transition from sporty nameplate to crossover. With a legendary reputation for four-wheel drive (RIP Evo, above), there’s at least a little of Mitsu’s performance DNA in this new model.
6. Based on a high concept concept
2015 Mitsubishi Concept XR-PHEV II | Mitsubishi
The Eclipse Cross is a fairly faithful production version of 2015’s XR-PHEV II concept, albeit without the hybrid powertrain. Mitsubishi says:
The “Dynamic and Characteristic” rear design is distinguished by the almost cubist styling created around the high-mounted, stretched rear lamps and by how it horizontally divides the forward-rake rear window into two.
It may not be a sports car anymore, but the Eclipse could be the first cubist car we’ve ever seen. What does it look like more to you, a Picasso, or a Georges Braque? Speaking of which…
7. It’s sportyish-ish
2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross | Mitsubishi
Thanks to its compact size, the Eclipse Cross will likely be marketed as Mitsubishi’s sporty offering, and the way its taillights arc across the rear deck recalls the spoilers offered on the old car. Unfortunately, that angled sheetmetal and busy rear are already drawing comparisons to the infamous Pontiac Aztek…
8. The face of Mitsubishi
2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross | Mitsubishi
Bold rear fascia and creased sheetmetal aside, the Eclipse Cross wears Mitsubishi’s latest front end styling, which it calls the “DYNAMIC SHIELD.” According to the company, this:
refers to the protective shield shape visually formed by the black central area represented by a black radiator grille that symbolizes the performance of the car. The black area is embraced from three directions – from the left, right, and bottom. DYNAMIC SHIELD emphasizes the front end’s functionalities aimed at protecting both people and the car itself.
It may be busy, but from here on out, this is what you’ll see whenever a new Mitsubishi comes towards you in traffic.
Editor’s Note: While Mitsubishi spells DYNAMIC SHIELD in all caps, the jury is still out on whether you need to shout it when saying it. We’ll update if we hear from Mitsubishi.
9. It has an interior!
2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross | Mitsubishi
Inside, the Eclipse Cross has a slightly more interesting looking dash design than either of the Outlanders, though the acres of black plastic and aluminum-look trim remain. The new crossover will be available with Smartphone Link Audio Display system, which supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The system is controlled by a Lexus-style touchpad controller in the center console. There’s also a Mazda-esque Head-up Display.
10. It won’t break the bank
2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross | Mitsubishi
Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but considering that the Outlander Sport starts around $20K, and the Outlander bows at around $24, we’d bet the farm that this in-betweener will start at around $22K.
Ultra Contrast, Ultra Colours, Ultra Smart and Ultra HD Premium
Hisense held their first ever European launch event in Barcelona this week and announced the latest models in their ULED range of 4K TVs.
ULED or Ultra LED is a branded range of LED LCD TVs that offer Ultra HD resolution, HDR support, wider colour gamuts and Hisense’s new Vidaa Smart TV platform. The new range will be headlined by the 75-inch H75NU9750 and the 70-inch H70NU9700. There will also be the 8700 range with two screen sizes, the 55-inch H55NU8700 and the 65-inch H65NU8700. Along with the new ULED TVs, Hisense will also have other ranges of TVs with 20 new models in total across 9 different screen sizes ranging from 40 to 75 inches. Apart from the NU9750, all of these models will be coming to the UK.
At the event Hisense were keen to stress that they are now the third largest TV brand in the world, a position that they have reinforced with some high profile sponsorship over the last two years including Red Bull Racing and Euro 2016. That sponsorship will continue with the company dropping some heavy hints that they will be sponsoring next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia as well as Euro 2020.
Although Hisense already has a dominant position in China, the world’s largest TV market, they also have strong confidence in the European TV market. The company has opened a research and development centre in Germany and has also increased their production capabilities with a new factory in Poland that can make 600,000 sets a year. Hisense believe that technological innovation will continue to drive TV sales in Europe and that the TV set itself remains a high value product from the perspective of consumers.
The company had some interesting statistics with regards to viewing habits, with the average person in the UK watching 216 minutes of broadcast TV a day. That increases to 248 minutes a day when other video services are included, which shows that TV remains a big part of peoples’ lives. Panel sizes are also on the increase with the average screen measuring over 50 inches in China, although it’s 42 inches in Europe. Despite the number of 4K TVs sold increasing substantially over the last few years, 32-inch Full HD TVs remain strong sellers as people buy them for other rooms in the house.
The Chinese market is not only driven by much larger screen sizes than Europe but is also growing faster than anywhere else. China makes up 17% of the world’s population and accounts for 21% of global TV sales. The Chinese market also accounts for 26% of screen sizes over 60 inches, 29% of Smart TV sales and 35% of all Ultra HD TVs sold. Conversely Europe is already saturated, due to a high penetration of 4K TV sales. The recent innovations in TV technology has helped to drive new sales and large sporting events can cause spikes in demand but it’s mainly Eastern Europe that is currently driving growth.
A particularly interesting series of slides showed how the TV market has changed since the 1970s because back then it was dominated by local brands that no longer even exist. In the 1980s the European brands like Grundig, Philips and Ferguson were dominant before being replaced by the Japanese brands in the 1990s. There was Sony, Panasonic, Hitachi, Toshiba, Sharp, Mitsubishi and NEC but now only the first two remain in any real sense. The 2000s saw the rise of the South Koreans with Samsung and LG dominating and TPVision from Taiwan and Vestel from Turkey joining the major players. These days the TV market is dominated by Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, TPVision, Vestel, TCL and Hisense.
Due to the sheer size of its domestic market, China has a competency in terms of TV production and the next decade is sure to see the rise of their TV manufacturers, just as the Koreans usurped the Japanese in the last decade. Hisense impressed thanks to some particularly strong models last year, with the M7000, M5500 and K5510 all winning badges. If the company can continue that positive development in terms of performance, build quality and competitive pricing, then there’s absolutely no reason why they can’t dominate the world TV market in the same way that they already do in China.
In terms of Hisense’s new range for 2017 the top two models are the NU9750 and the NU9700. The former TV uses a 75-inch screen and has a built in soundbar but otherwise it is identical to the 70-inch NU9700. Hisense won’t be releasing the NU9750 in the UK but the NU9700 is coming to our shores, with the promise of big screen entertainment at a competitive price.
The NU9700 should also deliver in terms of picture quality with Ultra HD Premium certification, a direct LED backlight and local dimming that uses 128 zones. The NU9700 supports High Dynamic Range, specifically HDR10 and can deliver 1,000nits of peak brightness, it also uses quantum dot to reproduce a wider colour gamut that Hisense claim can cover nearly 100% of DCI-P3. Although Hisense weren’t able to officially confirm Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) support for their new TVs at the event, a firmware update seems very likely. Hisense made no mention of Dolby Vision, so it doesn’t look as though they will be adding that format this year at least and, as with last year’s TVs, there’s no support for 3D.
In terms of other features the NU9700 includes Hisense’s new Vidaa smart TV platform with quad core processing and over 200 apps including video streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube (all with 4K HDR). There’s built-in WiFi, Freeview Play for catch-up, a web browser, USB recording, a media player, Dolby Digital support, HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0. The NU9700 has an attractive design that uses a 1cm wide dark grey brushed metal bezel with what looks to be a high level of build quality and matching feet. The H70NU9700 will be available in late May or early June and although Hisense couldn’t officially confirm pricing yet, you can expect it to be competitive.
The other model in Hisense’s ULED range is the NU8700 which will be available in the UK in 55- and 65-inch screen sizes. The NU8700 is also Ultra HD Premium certified but uses edge LED lighting and local dimming with 16 zones. The NU8700 also supports High Dynamic Range, specifically HDR10, it can also deliver 1,000nits of peak brightness and uses quantum dot to reproduce a wider colour gamut that’s nearly 100% of DCI-P3. It also includes Hisense’s Vidaa smart TV platform with quad core processing, over 200 apps including Netflix, Amazon and YouTube (all with 4K HDR). There’s built-in WiFi, Freeview Play, a web browser, USB recording, a media player, Dolby Digital support, HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0. The NU8700 has an ultra slim bezel-less design with a black border, a silver trim and a central chrome stand. The H65NU8700 and H55NU8700 will both be available in August, again there’s no official pricing yet but we’re sure it will please TV enthusiasts.
Next in Hisense’s new line-up for 2017 is the N6800 which represents their mid-range 4K Ultra HD TV and comes in 50-, 55-, 65 and 75-inch screen sizes. The N6800 uses edge LED lighting with local dimming – 16 zones on the 50- to 65-inch screen sizes and, interestingly, 192 zones on the 75-inch model. It also supports High Dynamic Range, again HDR10, and a wider colour gamut that is 85% of DCI-P3. There’s Hisense’s Vidaa smart TV platform with quad core processing and over 200 apps including Netflix, Amazon and YouTube (all with 4K HDR). There’s also built-in WiFi, Freeview Play, a web browser, USB recording, a media player, Dolby Digital support, HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0. The N6800 has an ultra slim design with a silver grey metal bezel and matching feet. The four screen sizes in the N6800 range will be available between May and July with pricing to be confirmed.
The entry level 4K HDR ranges in Hisense’s 2017 line-up are the N5700 and N5750 TVs. The N5700 comes in 43-, 49- and 55-inch screen sizes, whilst the N5750 comes in 45- and 65-inch screen sizes. Aside from that both ranges are identical with direct LED backlighting and High Dynamic Range via HDR10 support. They also include the Vidaa smart TV platform with quad core processing, as well as over 200 apps including Netflix, Amazon and YouTube (all with 4K HDR). There’s built-in WiFi, Freeview Play, a web browser, USB recording, a media player, Dolby Digital support, HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0. The two ranges use a similar metal bezel with a chamfered finish and matching feet and will be available in May to June with pricing also to be confirmed later.
We were impressed by Hisense’s TV range last year and if the specifications for the 2017 line-up are anything to go by, it looks as though they have no intention of resting on their laurels.
If you’re the proud owner of a new Android Wear watch, you may be wondering how to install apps. Well wonder no more, as we reveal everything you need to know.
When you unbox your shiny new device, connect it up to your Android phone, and – hey presto – all your smartphone apps are instantly Android Wear apps too. That is to say, notifications and alerts appear on your wrist automatically, with no extra configuration required.
As well as getting alerts straight away, thanks to Android Wear 2.0, you can install apps right on your smartwatch too for extra functions and features. This makes it much easier to get apps up and running and operate your watch without turning to your phone (and it means using Android Wear with an iPhone is more straightforward too).
We should also note that when you’re running Android Wear 2.0, apps that are installed on your phone won’t automatically install extensions on your watch – so if you want to use Google Maps on your wrist, for example, you need to install it on your smartwatch as well as your phone, which is a significant shift from Android Wear 1.x. If you’re still on older software, jump to the end of this article.
If you’re running Android Wear 2.0 then there are two ways to get hold of the apps you need: from the web or from your watch. Whichever you opt for, your smartwatch needs to be connected to Wi-Fi – if you haven’t already sorted this during setup, tap the power button then choose Settings, Connectivity and Wi-Fi to get your watch online.
2. Installing apps from the web
Browsing for apps is certainly easier on the web, and Google has put up a dedicated Android Wear section in the Google Play Store. Click through on any app, choose to install it, and you’ll notice your watch appears as a destination device, as long as the app has been updated for Android Wear 2.0 (if not, you’ll need to send it to your phone instead).
3. Installing apps from your watch
A more direct approach is to load up the Play Store on your Android Wear 2.0 smartwatch and browse for apps there, though it’s not quite as easy on a tiny screen. You can search for particular apps or browse through the categories or recommendations, and when you see something you like, you just need to select the app and then tap the Install button.
4. Finding apps on your watch
As we’ve said, in this brave new Android Wear 2.0 world, apps need to be installed separately on your watch – having them on your phone isn’t enough if you want to do more than see alerts. You can tap the power button once to see installed apps, and some watches let you launch apps with a customisable button or a watch face complication too.
5. Controlling app notifications
If you want to use an app that lives on your smartphone but has a few extraAndroid Wear tricks up its sleeve then simply launch or use it as normal. The Android Wear features will kick in as and when necessary rather than appearing in the Start menu we looked at a couple of steps ago.
For example, if you launch the Google Camera app on a connected phone then a remote control option will instantly appear on your Android Wear device.
6. Apps on Android Wear 1.x
If your watch isn’t yet running Android Wear 2.0, the old rules apply – apps must be installed on your phone first, and will then show up on your watch, as long as an Android Wear extension is included. Even apps specifically for Android Wear must be installed to your phone first, from Google Play on the web or on your mobile, and then synced.
* Beautiful design
* Gorgeous Infinity Display
* Impressive Performance
* Great camera
* Great battery life
* Large storage capacity
* Iris scanner
What we did not like:
* More expensive
Samsung literally went big this year with the Galaxy S8, sporting a 5.8-inch display and the Galaxy S8+ going as high as 6.2 inches. This is an unprecedented move and something that we have not seen before.
The Korean company certainly pushed the limits in display size without sacrificing the usual body size and form factor that we’ve gotten used to.
The S8 alone has surpassed all other contemporary flagship smartphones in terms of screen real estate, including its erstwhile cousin, the Galaxy Note7.
And, with the Galaxy S8+ having a much bigger 6.2-inch display, it begs the question — is there still room for the Note8? Or are we going to see a much bigger Note8 in the near future? Perhaps in the range of 6.5 to 6.7-inch range? But we digress.
Today, we’re giving you our full review of the Samsung Galaxy S8.
Design and Construction
This year, Samsung has decided to settle with a singular design for the Galaxy S series, with the Galaxy S8 and S8+ sharing the same design and only differing in screen size.
This time around, the S8 came with a large dual curved screen, a feature used to be exclusive to the Edge variant and the Note series.
In a way, the S8 looks a little similar to the S7 Edge although the body size is still smaller.
The physical home button has been completely removed in favor of on-screen capacitive keys.
The Samsung logo that used to be at the top corner has been removed as well to make more space for the display.
There’s literally nothing left at the front except for the camera and a few sensors.
This is not the first time we’ve seen this approach. Last year, Xiaomi released the Mi Mix — a rather extra large smartphone with 6.4-inches of pure display, leaving nothing up front but a camera and sensors. This could have been Samsung’s inspiration for the Infinity Display of the Galaxy S8.
The power button is on the right, volume controls on the left along with a new dedicated button for Bixby, the new Smart Assistant that evolved from S Voice.
The 3.5mm audio port and speaker grills at the bottom along with the USB Type-C port.
The SIM card slot is found on the top side with two SIM trays supporting nano-SIM cards. The second tray is a hybrid one and can also support a microSD card up to 256GB.
At the back is the single rear camera in the middle, flanked by the dual tone dual-LED flash on the left and the fingerprint scanner on the right.
This is the first time Samsung decided to put the fingerprint scanner at the back. It’s also rather small and the placement near the camera can be a bit awkward or confusing to figure out.
Samsung also retained the IP68 dust and water-resistance of up to 1.5 meters and 30 minutes.
Since this is a fairly significant design shift, there were a lot of conscious decisions and a few compromises done on the Galaxy S8. It still dons that familiar Samsung design that is beautifully executed to highlight the gorgeous curved display.
Samsung has placed literally moved everything else to the back when it pushed the screen size to the absolute maximum in the Galaxy S8.
With a screen size of 5.8 inches, the Galaxy S8 is the biggest flagship smartphone to date, leaving behind the usual 5.1-inch to 5.5-inch standards in this category. On that same note, it has even surpassed the normal screen size of phablets that used to be in the 5.5-inch to 5.7 inches.
This is a huge upgrade. From the measly 5.1-incher, the Galaxy S series got a major bump in display size.
Samsung managed to do this by putting everything else at the back. No more physical home button. No more space for the Samsung logo. They trimmed down the bezels on all sides, merely leaving space for the front camera, sensors and an Iris scanner.
The Galaxy S8 also got curved a display, a feature first introduced in the Galaxy Note Edge, then adapted by the Galaxy S6 Edge/Edge+, S7 Edge, and Note7. This signaled the sunsetting of the Edge variant in the S series with the bigger S8 merely being referred to as the S8+ (and not an S8 Edge using the old nomenclature).
The S8 features a large screen resolution of 2,960 x 1,440 pixels (WQHD+) giving it a pixel density of 568 ppi. The resolution can be natively adjusted, though, with options of full HD+ (2,220 x 1080 pixels) and HD+ (1,480 x 720 pixels), depending on user preference.
This also means the aspect ratio has been stretched to an odd 18.5:9. To address the potential issue that videos and games will leave a black margin on the sides, the device has the option to zoom and crop the content to perfectly fit into the screen.
Samsung employs the same Super AMOLED display so expect the same vibrant and rich colors, crisp details and high contrast. Outdoor visibility is pretty good as well. The Blue Light filter helps reduce eyestrain after prolonged use especially at night.
Samsung used to put a lot of effort on the camera of the Galaxy S series. It’s one of the reasons why they’ve been known to make the best smartphone camera in terms of performance and image quality.
This year, though, Samsung decided to just use the old sensor they got from the Galaxy S7 and put it on the Galaxy S8. Since it’s just the same hardware, don’t expect any significant difference here. Don’t get us wrong — it’s still a great all-around camera.
Video recording is up to 4K @ 30fps or 1080p @ 60fps. Slow motion video defaults at 720p @ 240fps.
The front camera, on the other hand, received an upgrade from 5MP to 8MP with a wide field of view and larger f1.7 aperture. So yes, your selfies will look better, especially on low-light.
There were improvements introduced in the native camera app (for the front camera). They’re mostly cute and playful features that target the Snapchat generation.
The Pro Mode gives you the ability to manually control the ISO (50-800), shutter speed (1/2400 to 10 sec), white balance and picture profile.
One of our favorite feature before was the double-tap on the home button to launch the camera from sleep. While the home button is no longer there, the feature has been retained and moved to the power button.
OS, App, UI
The Galaxy S8 runs Android 7.0 Nougat right out of the box and customized with a touch of TouchWiz UI. There are some native pre-installed apps like Samsung 321 (for the Philippines), Samsung Notes, Secure Folder with a few other Samsung ecosystem apps.
The on-screen menu (Recent Apps, Home, and Back) has been slightly redesigned and are always present and floating at the bottom of the screen. There’s no virtual key or menu for the app drawer but you can just launch it by swiping the home screen up or down.
Just like in the S7 Edge and the Note7, the Galaxy S8 features App Edge, People Edge, and Clipboard Edge as well as Smart Select. This can be accessed by swiping the curved part of the display.
For security purposes, Samsung has employed a suit of features. First is the standard fingerprint scanner. This has been moved from the physical home button up front to the back, just beside the camera. It’s smaller and less prominent but works just the same with a maximum of 4 unique prints. The new placement means it will only work best with your index finger and prefers right-handed users.
The second option is via the Iris scanner. We’ve seen it work flawlessly before in the Note7 and the same security feature is available on the Galaxy S8.
The 3rd security feature is facial Recognition. It’s the new one but it’s actually much faster to use than the Iris or fingerprint scanner although not as secure as the Iris.
Bixby, Samsung’s new virtual assistant, has replaced the old S Voice and Flipboard Briefing. It accepts voice commands and comes with a dedicated activation button on the left of the handset, just below the volume control.
We liked the new TouchWiz UI. It’s simpler, cleaner and more modern. If you don’t like the default theme, you can always download a new one from the Theme Store for free.
The unit’s 64GB of internal storage only has 53.98GB of usable space.
Performance and Benchmarks
Samsung’s Exynos chip has long been known to perform very well and remain power efficient so we expect no less from the new Exynos 8895 octa-core chip that is used on the Galaxy S8.
The Exynos 8895 is composed of a quad-core ARM Cortex A53 processors running at top speed of 1.7GHz paired with a custom-made, high-performance Exynos M1 quad-core processor running at a maximum clock speed of 2.3GHz. The difference between this and the Exynos 8890 is mainly on the GPU side. The 8895 uses the latest Mali G71MP20 while the 8890 uses a Mali T880MP12.
Samsung ditched the ARM Cortex A73 which is the latest high-performance architecture found in the Snapdragon 835 (used in the Sony Xperia XZ Premium) and the Kirin 960 (used in the Huawei Mate 9 and Huawei P10/P10 Plus).
Based on synthetic benchmarks, the Exynos M1 processor did not disappoint, scoring a high of 174k in our Antutu benchmark.
Samsung did not bother to increase the RAM on the Galaxy S8. They say it can manage to perform its best at 4GB although we’ve already seen a 6GB Galaxy C9 Pro from Samsung before.
Call Quality, Connectivity and Battery Life
The Galaxy S8 is complete will all the necessary connectivity options — from 4G/LTE, to fast dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth, and NFC. Call quality is excellent, audio is loud and clear and signal reception is pretty strong. The S8 is also the first phone to support Bluetooth 5.0, a feature that allows it to connect to multiple Bluetooth devices at the same time.
Samsung did not bother to increase the battery capacity of the Galaxy S8 and it stayed at 3,000mAh. Despite the larger display and higher pixel count, the company claims battery life should still be the same.
Using the PC Mark Battery Test, the Galaxy S8 got 8 hours and 27 minutes at 50% brightness, 0% volume and in airplane mode. This is still a good result but a little short of the 9 hours and 19 minutes that the Galaxy S7 had.
Based on our standard video loop test, the Galaxy S8 took about 10 hours and 45 minutes at 50% brightness and 0% volume in airplane mode. That’s also about an hour shorter compared to the Galaxy S7 on the same test. It’s a small discrepancy but something that can be definitely be attributed to the bigger screen.
Aside from fast wired charging via USB Type-C, Samsung also included fast wireless charging capabilities on the S8. Charging time is about 75 minutes from zero to fully charged.
Samsung is redefining the limitations of a smartphone and this is evident in the Galaxy S8. This year, the focus is on the big display and the large screen real-estate of the S8 will blow you away. Samsung is not the first one to take this path as Xiaomi has done so in the Mi Mix and LG with the G6 yet those curved display on the Galaxy S8 added to the almost bezel-less dimension.
With bigger screens on smaller handset form factor, Samsung might just convince you to forget about those bulky phablets.
Same impressive performance, bigger and better display, same great camera all packed in a solid build and beautiful design. Samsung never fails to impress.
Check out our video review below:
Samsung Galaxy S8 (SM-G950F) specs:
5.8-inch Super AMOLED Quad-HD+ Infinity display @ 2960×1440 pixels, 568ppi
Corning Gorilla Glass 5
Samsung Exynos 8895 64-bit 10nm octa-core CPU
4 x ARM Cortex A53 1.7GHz + 4 x Exynos M1 2.3GHz
Mali G71MP20 GPU
4GB LPDDR4 RAM
64GB internal storage
Expandable up to 256GB via microSD (uses SIM 2 slot)
12MP Dual Pixel rear camera dual-tone, dual-LED flash, f/1.7 aperture
8-megapixel front-facing auto-focus camera with f/1.7 aperture
While the classic buff books (Car and Driver, Road & Track, Automobile, etc.) are full of McLarens, Porsches, and Ferraris in any given issue, when many Americans research their next cars, they go to a source that’s been trusted for over 80 years: Consumer Reports. And while your average automotive outlet is talking about things like “passion” and “feel,” CR is interested in facts, everyday drivability, and that’s about it.
Which is why their word is held in such high esteem. They buy all their test vehicles, and they don’t accept anything from automakers — not even advertising in their magazine. They judge cars based on a strict rubric, and report accordingly. No error is overlooked, and there aren’t any bonus points awarded for things like design flourishes or engine notes. If you looked up “unvarnished” in the dictionary, there might be a photo of a CR issue next to it.
2017 Chevy Cruze Hatch | Chevrolet
That’s why their recommendations are such a big deal. And with the industry expanding after years of explosive growth, the market is clogged with all kinds of vehicles, and it may seem hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Until today, that is; because we’ve put CR’s highest-rated new models together in one place. If you’re in the market for anything from a hybrid to a sports car to a luxury SUV (or anything else in between), read on and see what models CR has deemed the cream of the crop. You may be surprised.
10. Toyota iA
2017 Toyota iA | Toyota
It’s a Mazda! It’s a Scion! It’s the Toyota iA! Hitting the market in late 2015, the iA is sold in the rest of the world as the Mazda 2, and for its first year stateside, it was badged as a Scion. But with the demise of that brand, the thrifty subcompact comes to the Toyota stable, where it’s garnered praise for offering some serious bang for your buck. Solid and well built, the iA offers standard emergency braking, an optional full infotainment system, and a peppy 1.5 liter inline four mated to either six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. Starting at under $16K, the iA is rare in that it’s a safe, reliable, fun-to-drive entry-level car. It’s also CR’s highest-rated subcompact.
9. Chevrolet Cruze
2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch | Chevrolet
The Cruze is the best-selling Chevy car in the world, and with good cause. An all-new Cruze bowed for 2016 in both sedan and hatchback trims, appealing to more buyers than ever before. CR’s reviewers praised the car for its good looks, quiet roomy interior, and fuel-efficient 1.4 liter turbocharged inline four. In fact, they were so impressed with this compact that they called it a viable alternative to some of the less inspiring midsize cars on the market.
8. Toyota Prius
2017 Toyota Prius | Toyota
Like the Cruze, the Prius was all-new for 2016, and for the first time in its 20 year history, Toyota went big and bold. Its combined 52 mile per gallon average makes it the most fuel-efficient non-plug in on the market, and a comfortable ride, quiet interior, and host of standard safety features only sweeten the deal.
7. Mazda MX-5 Miata
Mazda MX-5 Miata| Mazda
The Miata is a world-class sports car that’s affordable (under $30K), reliable, good-looking, and delivers way more fun than its price tag would suggest. If you want a perfectly balanced rear-wheel drive convertible that won’t break the bank, cost a fortune to insure, or rack up massive repair bills, the Miata is the way to go.
6. Kia Optima
2016 Optima SXL 2.0 turbo | Kia
The Optima is one of the most popular midsize sedans on the market, and with good cause. With its upscale look, comfortable interior, and standard features that would be pricy options on competitors, Kia’s mid-sizer offers serious value. Add to it a legitimate sporty feel, excellent fit-and-finish, and an iron-clad 10 year/100,000 mile warranty, and you’ve got one of the safest bets in the industry.
5. Chevrolet Impala
Chevrolet Impala LTZ | Chevrolet
The full-size sedan segment doesn’t get much attention nowadays, but the Chevy Impala continues to dominate in it. With ample room for five adults inside and all their stuff in the trunk, the Impala is the modern version of the classic highway cruiser. It offers a luxurious ride, good power and fuel economy, and arguably the cushiest interior in the Chevy lineup.
4. Subaru Forester
Subaru Forester | Subaru
For a small SUV, the Forester does just about everything right. Boxy and roomy inside, with standard all-wheel drive, this popular people mover has helped make Subaru one of the fastest-growing brands in the U.S. And thanks to the available fuel-efficient boxer engines and excellent safety marks, the Forester is a great car for a growing family.
3. Toyota Highlander
2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | Toyota
The Toyota Highlander got a comprehensive update for 2017 with more power, a new transmission, and more safety features. In other words, Toyota kept what worked, added a lot more to it, and ditched what didn’t. The midsize SUV segment is a crowded one, and the Highlander may not be the newest or sexiest model, but it does everything so well that it still trounces the competition.
2. Audi Q7
2017 Audi Q7 | Audi
While much ado was made about the Tesla Model S breaking CR’s review rubric, the Q7 came close too, scoring 96 out of 100 in a recent test. Clean and good-looking on the outside, and equal parts luxurious and tech-forward inside, there isn’t much full-size seven-seat SUV can’t do — and that includes delivering a sporty, engaging performance that’s an Audi hallmark.
1. Honda Ridgeline
2017 Honda Ridgeline | Honda
It may not be a Ford F-150, but then again, that’s the point. Honda’s pickup offers virtually everything you’d want in a pickup without any of the drawbacks. Inside, there’s room for 5 and plenty of storage space. Out back, there’s a deep storage locker under the bed, and a tailgate that drops down and swings out for extra versatility. It may not be a dedicated off-roader or heavy-duty hauler, but for almost everything else, the Ridgeline is just right.
If hi-res music players such as the Award-winning Astell & Kern AK70 or the Onkyo DX-P1 can be considered Jack-of-all-trades in the market – the former for its ability as a digital-to-analogue converter, the latter for its extensive smartphone-mirroring Android experience – you could perhaps call the Acoustic Research AR-M20 more a master of one.
As a straight-up, all-singing-no-dancing dedicated music player aimed at indomitable purists and anyone firmly rooted in ‘less is more’ minimalism, the M20 is focused fully on the task in hand.
Based on, and sitting under, the brand’s £900/$1350 M2 (which we labelled ‘the best-sounding portable music player we’ve heard’ back in 2015), the only zero the M20 adds is to its big brother’s model number. The M20 is priced to compete with more affordable competition from fellow music player purveyors Onkyo, Pioneer, Sony and Astell & Kern.
Essentially it aims to deliver the bulk of the M2’s talented, audio-focused design while shaving a useful chunk off the price – a sensible move when people are questioning the need for two devices in their pocket.
The M20’s 32-bit/384kHz Burr-Brown PCM5242 DAC replaces the ‘flagship class’ Burr-Brown PCM1794A found in the M2, although it too supports the same hi-res audio formats (including 24-bit/192kHz FLAC, ALAC and WAV files, and DSD128).
The built-in memory has been halved from 64GB to 32GB – a difference of around 640 (CD-quality WAV) tracks. That may seem a little meagre by today’s expectations, but it can be expanded by up as much as 200GB thanks to its micro SD card slot.
Despite the M20’s 3150mAh battery losing the numbers game to the M2’s 4200mAh version, Acoustic Research says this more affordable model actually delivers 16 hours of playback – almost twice as much as the M2’s quoted figure.
Volume levels help determine battery stamina, mind you, so when we play Jack White’s latest Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 album loud and on repeat, we clock around 12 hours from a single charge.
Clearly from the same gene pool as the M2, the M20 is an elegant, albeit ergonomically awkward, straight-edged slab of aluminium not dissimilar to Sony Xperia smartphones. This is a trimmer, more hand- and pocket-friendly version than its big brother, though, thanks to its slightly thinner, lighter proportions.
We didn’t feel the M2 was quite the finished article, what with its easily nudgeable volume wheel and lack of full Android experience. While the former issue has been resolved in the M20 – to keep costs down, standard volume buttons on the right-hand side-panel replace the potentiometer volume dial found on the M2 – we still find the M20 bare on the features front.
While Android-powered rivals like the Onkyo DP-X1 offer an all-embracing Android experience, the Acoustic Research’s interface, like the aforementioned A&K’s, is severely stripped back.
The operating system naturally includes Bluetooth for wireless playback through headphones and speakers, wi-fi for web-browsing via a pull-down tab, while the Spotify app looks exotic next to the more mundane clock, folder and settings utilities.
Bereft of the OS’s usual gateway to Google apps and access to Google’s Play Store, however, only a third of the menu interface and 5in screen is taken up.
Seemingly reluctant to keep your fingers busy and your attention elsewhere while you listen, the M20 will probably be the last device in your pocket to promote procrastination. The silver lining: you don’t have to sift through bloatware and you can focus on your music – which, by the way, you’ll find within the AR Music Player app.
While we appreciate Acoustic Research designing its own software ‘to achieve high-quality sound… far beyond the framework of the Android OS’, and consequently can accept its interface being more functional than flash, what proves off-putting is its tendency to crash now and again. Not ideal when you’re deep into library-browsing.
It’s a good job, then, the M20 commands your interest in other ways.
We blast our lugholes with Jack White’s acoustic rendition of his Blunderbuss album hit, Love Interruption (at both sensible and not-so-sensible volumes) and the weighty, solid and muscular sound we remember from the M2 returns to breathe a sense of ominous anticipation into the track’s opening sombre guitar plucks and suggestive electric keys.
The greater breathing-space its presentation has over the A&K AK70 is demonstrated between White’s and Ruby Amanfu’s vocals, as well as amid the acoustic strumming and bookending clarinet melody. It conjures a more palpable stereo image.
And having opened up the canvas between your ears, it finishes the job by filling each corner of it with fine and insightful detail, so you’re agreeably coerced into paying as much attention to the vocalists’ quirky delivery as to the plentiful instrumental textures surrounding them.
While the M20’s delivery draws you into a track more forcibly than the politer A&K, the rival does more to keep you there thanks to its greater, and as a result more involving, rhythmic, dynamic and timing know-how.
We play Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ This Year’s Girl and the syncopated drums sit more coherently together through the A&K, their dynamics more at liberty to vary.
Acoustic Research claims the M20 can deliver ‘10 to 20 times’ the power output of hi-res players from the likes of Astell & Kern and Sony, in an effort to deliver better compatibility and performance with high-end headphones.
Indeed, it proves comfortable driving a combination of cans from our cupboard, from the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0s (£270/$405) and Grado SR325es (£280/$420) to the B&W P9 Signatures (£700/$1050) – arguably the calibre of headphones most likely to bring the best from the M20.
Not everyone will see eye-to-eye with Acoustic Research’s utilitarian approach to features and user experience.
However, in a portable music player market struggling against the ubiquity of the smartphone, it’s hard not to get on board with its mission to prioritise sound.
With this in mind, the AR-M20 is no doubt a more sensible option than the M2, and succeeds in offering broadly similar performance from a similarly impressive-looking device at a lower cost. Even if we do find ourselves toe-tapping a little more fervently along to our Award-winner.
Long battery life, a good cost-to-power ratio, sleek looking design, high portability and the lack of bloatware makes the BlackBook Zero 14 an excellent choice of Ultrabook.
All-day battery life
Includes two chargers
Has minimum Photoshop specs
Doesn’t get too hot
Core M CPU only up for light multimedia work
Average media encoding speed
Slightly different keyboard layout
Some of the biggest breakthroughs in the ultraportable laptop category over the last year have taken the form of more compact cooling architecture – something that’s allowed full-spec Intel Core i5 and i7 laptop CPUs to squeeze into sub 1.5cm (⅝ inch) laptop chassis’. As a result, many of our recommended slim-and-light laptops often feature powerful components that professional customers won’t mind paying a premium for.
With Intel’s power-saving Core M CPU family now into it’s third generation, however, the chip giant has been making steady gains in overall performance when compared to the ‘real’ Core i5 and i7 mobile CPUs. In fact, it’s now at the point where the latest Kaby Lake Core M chips can meet the minimum specs for demanding applications like Photoshop, and for many professional users that’ll be all they really require. Intel’s so confident that it’s even rebranded Core M processors to use the same Core i3, i5 and i7 naming scheme – the giveaway is that the contain a Y in the model identifier number, such as Core i5-7Y75.
When you factor in that Core M also offers better power efficiency and removes the need for active fan-based cooling – and all the breakable and dust-gathering moving parts that come with it – then there’s arguably never been a better time to make an Ultrabook with a Core M processor. Venom’s new BlackBook Zero 14 is hoping to appeal to the creatives or professionals who’d prefer to spend a little less on a system but still get a system that has enough power to do everything they want.
Price and availability
The Venom BlackBook Zero 14 range is currently available through Venom’s online global store (or www.mln.com.au in Australia) with prices starting at $999 (£829.86 and AU$1,499) for the Intel Core i5, 128GB model. A unit with the same Core i5 processor and a larger 240GB SSD goes for $1,099 (£912.93 and AU$1,699), while the largest 500GB SSD variant comes in at $1,199 (£996 AU$1,899). The BlackBook Zero 14s with faster Intel Core i7 CPUs start with a 240GB SSD model for $1,249 (£1,037.54 and AU$1,949), with a larger capacity 500GB Core i7 model landing at $1,349 (£1,120.61 and AU$2,149) and the largest capacity 1TB SSD Core i7 model costing $1,549 (£1,286.75 and AU$2,549).
With a body honed from a black sandblasted metal alloy composite, this 1.4kg (3 pound) clamshell is around 15% heavier than the lighter 2-in-1s and Ultrabooks that you’d generally pit it against. It might seem counter-intuitive for an ultraportable unit to intentionally pack on the pounds, but when you consider that its extra weight is mostly due to the sturdy metal chassis and its fractionally bigger 14.1-inch screen, it’s a trade-off we think many people will be willing to take.
Balancing the two halves of this black metal laptop is a sturdy hinge that has a soft resistance, allowing the screen to be tilted without having to hold onto the base. We hope that the hinge, like the rest of the laptop, has been built for longevity, as the one on our test unit did sit on the looser end of the spectrum already.
At a total folded thickness of 14mm (0.55in), the BlackBook Zero 14 slips nicely into carry cases, briefcases and backpacks and the accompanying diminutive charger and cable makes it an exceptionally portable package on the whole.
Keyboard and trackpad
Continuing the matte-black theme is a black-coloured chiclet keyboard that has powdery soft-to-touch keys. The key travel distance feels generous for a device this thin and we were happy with the responsiveness and strong feedback for a membrane keyboard.
The only grievance we had was that the Home, ‘Page Up’, ‘Page Down’ and End keys sit at the far right edge of the unit, making the Backspace, Enter and Shift keys slightly out of a regular alignment. This has been done in a way that makes sense for any power users who are willing to tweak their keyboard techniques and use their pinky for fast scrolling, but it will likely create problems for new users. That’s mainly because the Home button sits just outside the Backspace key, so it was common for us to nudge it rather than delete a mistake, meaning the tail end of a sentence was regularly spliced into the beginning of a paragraph.
The trackpads on Windows PCs have, on the whole, gotten significantly better in the past few years, and though we have no complaints with the temperament and performance of the BlackBook Zero 14’s powdery-finished trackpad, it’s still a little shy of a MacBook or even ASUS ZenBook experience. That said, it’s notably better when it comes to responsiveness than many PC laptops and it was easy enough to become accustomed to in our testing.
Venom’s Managing Director and Chief Designer Jaan Turon said that the decision for an Intel Core M CPU in the BlackBook Zero 14 was driven by the long term thermal benefits and prolonged physical integrity of computers that don’t require fans. “We were getting a lot of feedback from customers saying that the heat of laptops on their laps was a big problem,” he told us, “and fans, when they are this small, have a tendency to make a lot of noise and collect dust over time, which will eventually cause issues in performance.
“Our engineers did a lot of work restructuring the internals of the BlackBook Zero 14 to accommodate a CPU that didn’t need fans, so we could pass on those longer term benefits to our customers.”
We haven’t had the BlackBook 14 for quite long enough to verify whether the unit is more robust than Ultrabooks requiring fans, but the internal thermals are quite moderate (considering the performance) and the chassis definitely has less intense hotspots than many thin-and-light laptops we’ve tested. This reduction in heat stems from the Intel Core i5-7Y75 CPU’s lower base operating frequency of 1.2GHz, which generally sits at around 80ºC (176ºF) in intensive work or home usage conditions in ambient temperatures of 20 to 25ºC (68-77ºF), although when pushed to the extreme it can reach up to 86ºC (186ºF) at times. Under a similar load, the SOC draws 14.66W which is about 17.5% less than a Skylake Core i5-6200U. When running PCMark 8’s general home usage and work benchmarks, the BlackBook Zero 14 hits 3,088 and 4,210 respectively — scores that are almost identical to the ASUS ZenBook Flip UX360UA’s more powerful Core i5-6200U chip. For an Ultrabook aimed at professionals, this is exactly the level of performance you generally want, and it’s encouraging that Venom’s managed to get this result using a more-efficient but less powerful chip.
The Core M chips don’t hold up so well in the multimedia-oriented tasks that are tested by Cinebench’s multi-threaded and single-core CPU rendering benchmarks, where the ASUS UX360UA’s older Core i5 came off better, with respective scores of 268 and and 112, against the BlackBook Zero 14’s scores of 174 in multi-threaded and 71 in single-core CPU. That’s a considerable difference and though this specific category of Ultrabook arguably isn’t aimed at users looking to do that kind of intense rendering work, this is likely to be the area where you will see the biggest difference in performance from Intel’s Core M chips. That said, in subjective testing we found that the BlackBook Zero 14 had more than enough grunt to complete the few simple image editing tasks we threw at it, without having to close web browsers or other background applications.
When it came to GPU heavy tasks, the ASUS ZenBook Flip UX360UA’s integrated GPU (an Intel HD Graphics 520) netted 38fps in Cinebench’s OpenGL graphics benchmark, notably more than the Zero 14’s Intel HD Graphics 615, which only managed 25fps. This result was further corroborated by 3DMark’s Cloud Gate benchmark, where the former managed a score of 4,690 while the Zero 14 only mustered 3,497. So, the BlackBook Zero 14 isn’t quite as well-rounded when it comes to performance, and you shouldn’t expect it to do wonders when it comes to gaming – this is for light and casual titles only – but then, at least manages to keep up in the most important work-related areas.
The Zero’s 14.1-inch 1080p IPS LCD display is one of its standout features. Now, 14.1-inches isn’t a particularly common screen size, which means it’s likely to be more expensive (from a manufacturing perspective) than the far more common 13.3-inch displays. Not only this but it is going to draw a bit more power than these smaller screens and increase the footprint of the laptop. It’s a bit of a wash then as to whether the 14.1-inch display is worth it; in exchange for a nice-looking but barely noticeable screen size boost, the BlackBook Zero has been put on the back foot in terms of being a little thicker and slightly heavier.
As with most IPS displays, this one features wide 178º viewing angles, and has a matte, non-glare screen finish. The Full HD resolution is a high enough at this display size for visuals to avoid any noticeable pixelation, but it’s worth pointing out that it isn’t a touchscreen – something that many similarly-specced units offer. There are also Ultrabook offerings out there with QHD (2560 x 1440) and even 4K screens, though you’ll generally pay a lot more for those higher resolutions, which are often a waste at this physical screen size.
Video and audio playback
Two speakers sit on the underside of the laptop’s front edge – one on the left and one on the right. As with any downward-firing laptop speaker design, the drivers can be obscured if the laptop is sitting on a soft surface, although on harder surfaces like desks and countertops the audio radiates well. The two drivers provide enough volume at a quality that is reasonable, although by no means an exemplar. In ideal tabletop conditions, the wide-format screen combines with the well-positioned stereo audio to give you a pleasant movie or TV-watching experience.
We’d expect Venom’s use of a more efficient chip to afford a generous follow-through in battery life, but it seems that extra inch or so in the BlackBook’s 14 display does cancel out some of the battery-boosting grace afforded by the lower-voltage CPU. In the demanding PCMark 8 Home (Accelerated) battery benchmark, the BlackBook Zero 14 stretched out to a decent 4 hours and 51 minutes – slightly less than the UX360UA’s 5 hours and 26 minutes, but a duration that should still translate around a full working day of moderate use.
The solid state
While you can get two CPU variations of the BlackBook Zero 14, there are also four sizes of SSD available: 128GB, 240GB, 500GB and 1TB. All of these various SSDs use the SATA 3 (6 gigabit per second) interface, rather than the significantly faster PCIe interface, so you won’t get the potential 1,500 to 2,500MB/s read speeds that you see on devices like the early 2017 here. The 240GB Western Digital SSD and Core i5 configuration clocked transfer speeds of 552.9MB/s for sequential reads and 513.4MB/s for sequential writes in the Crystal DiskMark Q32T1 storage speed benchmark. These read speeds are only fractionally better than what we were expecting, but the write speeds sit at the top end of what SATA 3 SSDs are capable of. Unfortunately, this performance dipped when it came to smaller files on the SSD-tailored multi-queue/single-thread benchmark (which uses tiny 4KB files), scoring only 100.4MB/s and 89.5MB/s in read and write tests respectively, scores that should ideally be around 50MB/s higher. Still, overall, we were happy with the speeds of the 240GB SSD in our test unit.
Ports and connections
The BlackBook Zero 14 has opted to avoid following the trend started by Apple — in other words, it hasn’t ditched everything but USB Type-C connections to save a few millimeters. With the earlier Core M Ultrabooks there was a valid line of argument that they weren’t really powerful enough to need the connectivity of display ports and SD card inputs, but as we said in this review earlier, the Kaby Lake Core M platform is powerful enough to make the most of as much connectivity as possible. Kicking that off here are two USB 2.0 Type-A sockets on the left edge that are useful for connecting mice, keyboards and devices just requiring USB power. On the right-hand side there is a power socket followed by the USB 3.1 Type-C connection, a USB 3.0 Type-A socket, a mini HDMI connection, 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card reader. All up then, there’s ample methods of connection and the hardware under the hood is powerful enough to make good use of them.
A little extra bite
Sometimes it’s the little things that count and Venom does a lot to differentiate itself from other big name laptop vendors. The most significant, from the software side of things, is that there’s no bloatware or annoying affiliated virus protection software preinstalled on the BlackBook Zero 14. So this laptop is one of the only PC Ultrabooks that won’t pester you to use unwanted software or have intrusive pop ups interfere with your workflow from the moment you first turn it on. You will, however, find a free 1-year subscription to Norton Internet Security included in the box – it’s entirely up to you whether you want to install it, though.
Another less immediately relevant (but arguably equally useful) tool is the accompanying USB recovery drive — it’s preconfigured to make it easy for you to clean-reinstall Windows if anything goes wrong or you just wish to factory reset the machine. Just plug it in, select to restore the system to factory settings and it’ll give you a completely clean system in under 15 minutes.
When comparing this unit against fuller-priced (and specced) competitors, the BlackBook Zero 14 does put up some compelling arguments for opting for a slightly less expensive Ultrabook – but, that said, if Venom had managed to include a ‘full’ Core i5 part in at this price this unit would likely have scored half a point higher. The problem for Venom is that Dell’s XPS 13 and ASUS’s ZenBook 3 have been out long enough to come down in price a little, which means you can get that full Core i5/i7 power for a similar price.
On the other hand, Venom’s said that with its passively-cooled design, it’s invested heavily in the long-term functionality of the BlackBook Zero 14 and if you only need to occasionally do multimedia work (like occasional photo editing), then the Core M chip could improve the unit’s overall longevity. Other than that, our only significant gripe is that the BlackBook Zero 14 could have done with a PCIe connected SSD, for the considerable increase in read speeds and general OS responsiveness – but really, there’s very little else to complain about. For anyone looking for an Ultraportable work computer, this is a really solid offering that should continue to perform well, long after the purchase date.
Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge were announced back in 2015, taking things to a whole new level for Samsung in terms of design, especially in the case of the edge model. They were the first to offer a more premium design with their glass and metal sandwich, taking a huge leap away from the plasticky devices that went before them.
Two years on and Samsung has done it again. Where the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge only offered minor changes to the S6 models, the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus put Samsung back in the spotlight, for all the right reasons.
Here is what has changed between 2015 and 2017 and how the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus compare to the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, for those of you considering upgrading.
Samsung Galaxy S8 vs S8+ vs S6 vs S6 edge: Design
S8 and S8+ have slimmer bezels, no home button and rear-mounted fingerprint sensor
S8 and S8+ have IP68 waterproofing
S6 and S6 edge are slimmer and smaller overall, but only just
The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus offer identical designs aside from physical size. They both feature a metal and glass body that redefines what we thought we wanted from a smartphone with an almost all-screen front and super slim bezels. The Galaxy S8 measures 148.9 x 68.1 x 8mm and weighs 155g, while the S8 Plus is a little larger at 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1mm with a weight of 173g.
There is no physical home button on the new devices, with built-in pressure sensitive controls placed into the lower section of the curved displays instead, while the fingerprint sensor has moved to the rear of the devices on the right of the camera lens. Both devices are IP68 waterproof and they both feature iris scanning capabilities.
The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge also feature an aluminium frame with glass for the front and back panels. They have a similar design but the Galaxy S6 edge has a dual-edge display, differentiating it from the standard flat model. Both have a physical home button on the front with a built-in fingerprint sensor.
The Galaxy S6 measures 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8mm, while the Galaxy S6 edge’s dimensions are 142.1 x 70.1 x 7mm, meaning they are both slimmer than the S8 and S8 Plus, though the S6 is wider and taller than the S8. In terms of weight, the Galaxy S6 weighs 138g, while the Galaxy S6 edge hits the scales at 6g less, meaning they are both lighter than the new models.
Samsung Galaxy S8 vs S8 Plus vs S6 vs S6 edge: Display
S8 and S8+ have much larger displays despite similar footprint to S6 devices
18.5:9 aspect ratio on S8 and S8+, as well as Mobile HDR Premium
S8 and S8+ have Quad HD+ displays, but S6 devices higher pixel densities
The Samsung Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch display, while the Galaxy S8 Plus has a 6.2-inch display. They have aspect ratios of 18.5:9 rather than the standard 16:9, which allows them to fit in a similar footprint to the S6 and S6 edge, despite offering significantly larger screens. The displays are taller but not wider, which means you’ll still be able to use both devices one-handed.
Both the S8 and S8 Plus have Quad HD+ resolutions, 2960 x 1440, which results in pixel densities of 570ppi and 529ppi, respectively. They also both offer AMOLED Infinity Displays, which translates to bright and punchy curved screens and they both have Mobile HDR Premium, certified by the Ultra HD Alliance. This means the two new devices will be compatible for watching HDR content from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Video.
The Galaxy S6 has a 5.1-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display 2560 x 1440 that features a pixel density of 577ppi, which is the same as the Galaxy S6 edge. The Galaxy S6 has a standard display, while the Galaxy S6 edge features a dual-edge design, as we mentioned.
Both the 2015 models have wider bezels than the new models and while their displays were excellent at their time of launch, they aren’t quite as special as the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. They do offer sharper screens on paper, but they miss out on Mobile HDR as well as the wider aspect ratio and lovely slim bezels.
Samsung Galaxy S8 vs S8+ vs S6 vs S6 edge: Camera
S8 and S8+ 12MP rear camera, 8MP front with autofocus
S8 and S8+ have Bixby Vision
Multi-frame processing on S8 and S8+, as well as wider aperture
The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus feature the same rear camera as the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, which is a 12-megapixel Duo Pixel snapper, sporting optical image stabilisation, phase detection autofocus and an aperture of f/1.7. Samsung introduced multi-frame image processing on the new models however, meaning the camera will snap three photos and combine the information to produce one final, more detailed image.
The company also added filters, augmented reality (like Snapchat) and stickers to the rear camera of the S8 and S8 Plus, while also offering a feature called Bixby Vision. This last feature allows you to scan various things in order to get information or shopping options. In terms of the front camera, the S8 and S8 Plus have an 8-megapixel front snapper with autofocus.
The Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge on the other hand feature 16-megapixel rear cameras, both have an aperture of f/1.9, as well as Auto HDR and OIS. The two devices also have a 5-megapixel front camera, which too features an aperture of f/1.9, which is a little narrower than the new devices and there is fixed focus instead of autofocus.
Samsung Galaxy S8 vs S8 Plus vs S6 vs S6 edge: Hardware and specs
S8 and S8+ have faster, more advanced processor and more RAM
S8 and S8+ have 64GB storage and microSD
Larger battery capacities and USB Type-C on S8 and S8+
The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus both come with either the Exynos 8895 chip, or the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip, depending on region. It has not yet been detailed which country will get what processor. All models will have 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and microSD support for further storage expansion.
There is a 3000mAh battery capacity under the hood of the Galaxy S8 and a 3500mAh capacity in the Galaxy S8 Plus, both of which are charged via USB Type-C and support both fast charging and wireless charging. A 3.5mm headphone jack is also on board and the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus come with AKG in-ear headphones in the box.
The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge both have the Exynos 7420 processor and 3GB of RAM. They were snappy and really fast at the time of launch, offering a great experience, but the S8 and S8 Plus will no doubt deliver a big and noticeable improvement in performance. When it comes to storage, the Galaxy S6 comes in 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB on-board storage variants, with no microSD card support. The S6 edge is available in 64GB with 128GB options, again with no microSD support.
In terms of battery capacity, the Galaxy S6 offers a 2550mAh battery while the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge has a very slightly bigger 2600mAh capacity, though both are smaller than the S8 and S8 Plus. The S6 devices are charged via Micro-USB, but they do have wireless charging. A 3.5mm headphone jack is also on board, though when the S6 models launched, whether the headphone jack would or wouldn’t have been present wouldn’t even have been called into question.
Samsung Galaxy S8 vs S8+ vs S6 vs S6 edge: Software
Android Nougat for S8 and S8 Plus with continuing updates
Bixby and Samsung DeX for S8 and S8+
S6 and S6 edge will miss out on some features
The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus launch on Android Nougat with the TouchWiz interface on top, offering a familiar but much more refined experience with several additional tweaks and features. Bixby is the biggest change in the new devices, a new AI system that is similar to Google Assistant but it wants to take things one step further. It can be launched via the new dedicated on the left of the devices.
The S8 and S8 Plus are also compatible with Samsung Connect Home, as well as Samsung DeX, the latter of which allows you to use a special dock to link your phone up to a monitor for a desktop view of Android. Once docked, you’ll be able to see notifications, take calls and view apps on a desktop computer.
The Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge launched on Android 5.0 Lollipop with what was a lighter version of the TouchWiz interface at the time. They are in line for Nougat update, but it isn’t known whether they will then receive the next Android update. The software experience will be similar across these four devices, but the S6 and S6 edge will miss out on several of the new features.
Samsung Galaxy S8 vs S8 Plus vs S6 vs S6 edge: Price
S8 and S8+ cost £689/$1033.5 and £779/$1168.5
S6 and S6 edge both now available for £375/$562.5
The Samsung Galaxy S8 will cost £689/$1033.5, while the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus will cost £779/$1168.5. Both are available to pre-order from 29 March and will go on general sale on 28 April.
The Galaxy S6 started at £599.99/$899.99 when it originally launched, though it is now available for around £375/$562.5. The Samsung Galaxy S6 edge started at £760/$1140 at the time of launch, but it can also now be bought for around £375/$562.5.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ offer a big change up in terms of design compared to the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, but don’t let that put you off. The two new devices are beautiful, while also offering improvements in every department.
They have larger and more advanced displays, camera enhancements, software improvements and faster, more powerful hardware.
The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge were both excellent devices when they first launched, but technology moves fast and the S8 and S8 Plus embrace many of the new trends, while the lovely 2015 devices are now lacking in some useful features. The S8 and S8+ are expensive however and if you aren’t sure about the big display or lack of physical home button, you could always consider the Galaxy S7 or S7 edge.