Monthly Archives: June 2017

Best Smart Speakers: Amazon Echo, Google Home and More

Put a Virtual Assistant in Your Home

There’s a good chance that your first smart home device will be a smart speaker. For one, it works just fine as a way to play music from your smartphone or the cloud. But if you start talking to it, the speaker will respond to your commands. It can do things like look up the weather and sports scores, turn on your coffee maker, read you a book or even change the channel on your TV.

Our favorite smart speaker is the Amazon Echo. It produces very good sound, and the Alexa voice assistant currently has the most robust set of features and abilities. Our budget pick is the Echo Dot, which costs just $50. Google Home is worth considering for its price and compatibility with Google’s services, but it doesn’t have as many skills as Amazon’s Alexa.

Editors’ Note: We are in the process of reviewing the Echo Show, the first Alexa speaker from Amazon with a built-in touch screen. Check out this review roundup to see what critics are saying so far. The Apple HomePod will be released this December, so stay tuned for a review.

What to look for

Before you purchase a smart speaker, decide how you plan to use it. If it’s going to be the only device in your living room that will play music, then you’ll want one that has good speakers.

But while audio quality is important, it shouldn’t necessarily be the deciding factor in which smart speaker you choose. For example, the Amazon Echo Dot has perhaps the worst-sounding speaker among those we’ve tested, but its small size and low price make it useful for people who already have a good speaker and merely want to add some smarts to it. The Dot is also a cheap way to spread a voice assistant throughout your house.

Credit: Amazon

Credit: Amazon

If you want a speaker that you can take outdoors, though, you’ll want to consider a portable option, such as the Amazon Tap (pictured above), or a third-party speaker, such as the Fabriq.

Our Favorite Smart Speakers

Credit: Tom's Guide

At just $50, the Echo Dot is the least expensive way to get Alexa into your home. The Dot has both Bluetooth and a 3.5mm jack, so you can connect it to a better-sounding speaker, which we recommend you do if you’re planning to use it to play music. The Dot is ideal for places where you want Alexa, such as a kitchen, but don’t want another large device cluttering the space.

Credit: Amazon

One problem with most smart speakers is that they need to be plugged in for them to work. The battery-powered Amazon Tap takes care of that limitation, and we found that it will last up to 9 hours on a charge. Its audio quality isn’t as good as that from the Echo or other Bluetooth speakers, but it’s useful if you want to extend Alexa’s reach to your backyard. However, it’s not waterproof, so take it inside if it starts raining.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Google’s entry into the smart-home category is a strong one. The Google Home speaker is more attractive, and sounds better than, the Echo. Take your pick from six colors and two finishes for the base (fabric or metal). At $129, it’s also cheaper than the Echo. Plus, you can use Google Home to control Chromecast-enabled devices, such as TVs. Alexa can’t do that. However, in a face-off between the two assistants, we found Amazon’s to be more well-rounded than Google’s.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Other Alexa Speakers

There are several third-party speakers with Alexa inside, but none are quite as good as the ones made by Amazon.

Fabriq

Credit: Fabriq

Fabriq’s speaker comes in a variety of colorful skins, and lasted about 5 hours on a charge. It also has pretty good bass for such a small speaker. However, you have to press a button on the speaker before you can use Alexa; its treble is thin; and it’s not waterproof.

Omaker Wow

Credit: Omaker

The Omaker Wow speaker lets you use Alexa without having to press a button first. It produces good bass and lasted nearly 9 hours in our tests. However, its controls weren’t as easy to use as we had hoped.

Vaux

Credit: Vaux

If you already own an Echo Dot, the Vaux could be for you. You slip the Dot into the Vaux to turn Amazon’s device into a better-sounding, portable speaker. That’s because the Vaux has a battery that will power the Dot for up to 6 hours, and the speakers are loud, with crisp treble.

Jam Voice
Credit: Jam Audio

This cheap speaker produced muddled audio, and barely lasted 4 hours on a charge. You also have to press a button to engage Alexa. 

Speakers Coming Soon

Apple HomePod
Credit: Apple

Apple’s smart speaker promises to be the best-sounding by far. Due out in December for a pricey $349, the HomePod will have seven tweeters and a subwoofer, which makes it more of a competitor with Sonos than with Amazon. While you’ll be able to use it with Siri, we have yet to see how Apple’s voice assistant will be integrated.

Microsoft Invoke

Credit: Harmon/Kardon

Powered by Harman/Kardon speakers, this Cortana-enabled speaker is expected to be released sometime this fall, though pricing has not yet been announced. Users will be able to make Skype calls through the Invoke, which has a tapered cylindrical design and a twistable knob at the top.

Lenovo Smart Assistant

Credit: Tom's Guide

Harman/Kardon is hedging its bets, as its technology will also power Lenovo’s Alexa-enabled speaker, due out later this year. The Lenovo Smart Assistant has a similar cylindrical design, but its lower half will be available in light gray, green, orange or matte black. The device has a single 5-watt tweeter and one 10-watt woofer, as well as eight microphones to pick up your voice from anywhere in the room.

(tomsguide.com, https://goo.gl/9eywhs)

iOS 11 Hands-on: Here’s How It Changes Your iPhone

iOS 11 on the iPad introduces a brave new world of improved multitasking, dragging-and-dropping, and launching apps from a familiar dock. Yes, Apple saved the most substantive changes for its tablets, so it’s tempting to overlook the enhancements on the iPhone side of things.

That would be selling the iOS 11 update short. While this initial beta iOS 11 feels more like a continuation of iOS 10 than an entirely new version, it does introduce some noteworthy changes that can expand what our phone can do. Some are available now, such as a customizable Control Center and Siri-powered translation tools, and others are on the horizon, like Apple Pay support for transferring money and augmented-reality-friendly apps. Here’s what we like — and what we don’t — so far.

A word about betas

Before we dive into iOS 11 and what it brings to your phone, let’s address the burning question that’s popped up ever since Apple started issuing public betas for its mobile OS: Should I install this thing on my iPhone?

The answer’s the same as before — install the iOS 11 beta only on a device you don’t depend on for your day-to-day use. As relatively stable as the iOS 11 public beta is, you’re still going to run into bugs and glitches that are common for software that’s not intended for prime time. (My iPhone SE has spontaneously restarted a couple of times since I installed the beta, for example.) Also, be prepared to see your battery draining at a faster-than-usual clip — an issue that Apple addresses in subsequent beta updates, if past patterns are any indication.

One other factor may dissuade you from trying out the beta at this point. iOS 11 works only with 64-bit devices (the iPhone 5s or later for phones, and on the tablet side, the iPad mini 2 or later, the fifth-generation iPad or any iPad Pro or iPad Air). Apps that are still 32-bit simply won’t run on your iOS 11-powered device, so if you depend on an app that hasn’t seen an update in quite a while, you may want to hold off on installing the beta until you can find a 64-bit-friendly replacement app. It’s easy enough to find out which apps won’t work on iOS 11 by opening Settings and going to General -> About -> Applications, where you’ll find a list of the apps marked for extinction.

What’s good about iOS 11

A smarter Siri: So what do iPhone users have to look forward to in this current iteration of iOS 11? Well, sticking with Siri, Apple’s personal assistant has learned some new languages, as it’s able to translate phrases into German, Spanish, Italian, French and Mandarin Chinese. (Just be sure to over-enunciate the word “Mandarin” when asking for a Chinese translation: Siri mishears my request as “Manderin,” and that gums up the works.)

Helpfully, Siri will not only speak the translated phrase but will display it on your iPhone’s screen; there’s  even a button you can tap to repeat the phrase. This will come in handy if you do a lot of traveling but don’t speak the language of the locals, as you can make Siri your interpreter.

Other promised Siri improvements don’t appear fully baked in this beta. Apple says that you’ll be able to ask Siri to “play something I like,” but when I tried that, the digital assistant just played a song at random from my library. Other queries like “Who is the lead singer?” as “Baba O’Riley” played just result in Siri repeating the name of the song. (This feature would presumably work better if I subscribed to Apple Music, but it still feels like Siri could be a little bit swifter on the uptake with some of these questions.) Overall, Siri remains a little too slow on the uptake at this point, especially in an era where the more clever Google Assistant now can live on the iPhone. At least Siri’s new voice in iOS 11 sounds a little more natural and less robotic.

Editing Live Photos: I confess that I’ve never taken to Live Photos, which add sound and motion to photos you shoot with any iPhone released since 2015. The ability to edit Live Photos, added in iOS 11, may change that.

You can insert effects like Bounce, which moves your image back and forth, or Loop, which turning the Live Photo into a GIF-like looping video. The best part of this addition is a preview window as you edit in Photos, so you can see if your creation is actually worth sharing, and make the necessary tweaks to sharpen the image.

Saving you storage space: Photo storage figures to be a little friendlier in iOS 11, at least if you’re using the latest iPhone or iPad. The iPhone 7 and iPad Pro support the HEIF and HEVC formats for photos and videos, respectively, which results in a 50 percent reduction in file size while maintaining the same image quality. (It’s the processing oomph on those more recent devices that keeps the image quality up; on other devices, such as my iPhone SE, the compressed images wouldn’t look as sharp, so that feature isn’t supported here.)

My colleague Mark Spoonauer shot a 50-second video on an iPhone 7 with HVEC turned on and off. The HVEC file was 160.2MB versus 289.4MB for the one shot in H.264. The HVEC file was a much faster transfer, too. iPhone 7 owners are really going to appreciate that space and speed.

App Store total makeover: The App Store is another part of my iPhone I’ve long ignored, launching that app only to search for something specific to download. iOS 11 introduces an App Store where you may want to spend some time browsing the virtual shelves. The store is laid out in a more manageable way, giving games their own section. A new Today tab highlights specific apps with extensive profiles. While this App Store redesign will specifically appeal to developers, giving them more ways to promote new software, it’s likely to encourage you to discover new apps in the process.

Messages made easier: Probably the biggest improvement introduced by iOS 10 was a reinvigorated Messages app. iOS 11’s changes are more modest, but certainly welcome. You’ve got a pair of new screen effects for text messages in Spotlight, which puts your text in a halo of light, and Echo, which causes the message to pop up all over the screen. Even better is the new app drawer — a strip of icons for all the apps that interact with Messages. Accessing those apps in iOS 10 involved a lot of taps and felt very cramped, especially on iPhones with smaller displays. In the iOS 11 version of Messages, accessing an app like Fandango to share movie times or Google Maps to text your location is a lot more convenient.

A better approach to screenshots: The most welcome enhancements in iOS 11 may be the slight changes that give you more control over what you can do with the operating system. I’m a big fan of the new way iOS 11 handles screenshots: For example, a thumbnail appears in the lower left corner of the screen after you take a screenshot, and you can tap that thumbnail to mark it up with text and drawings.

Similarly, iOS 11 expands share sheets to include new functionality like saving a web page in Safari as a PDF (which you can then mark up) or turning a photo into an Apple Watch face.

Respecting power users: There are plenty of power features to be found poking around iOS 11’s settings, too. The iPhone Storage section of General settings now lets you automatically offload unused apps when you’re low on capacity; documents and data are preserved. iOS 11 redesigns the Control Center into a single screen of more compact, tappable controls for things like your iPhone’s built-in flashlight and toggling Airplane Mode on and off. Even better, you can dig into Settings and add new controls, giving you easier access to things like turning on low-power mode, turning off notifications as you drive and launching a screen recording. (Those latter two controls are new additions to iOS, by the way.)

What’s not so hot

Notification confusion: iOS 11 brings notifications to the lock screen, and its intentions are honorable, even if the implementation is a bit of a dog’s breakfast. One of my complaints about previous notification iterations was that I would see them flash on my iPhone screen, just as I was unlocking my phone — only to have them disappear forever. That’s unlikely to happen in iOS 11, as all recent notifications will appear on your lock screen with an upward swipe. You can then tap an always visible X to dismiss them. (Or, if you have a 3D Touch-capable phone, a hard press clears all the notifications at once.)

The trouble is that Apple did away with other notification behaviors, like a leftward swipe to view or clear the notification. Instead, that swipe will launch the camera app. And if you’re like me, you’ll launch the camera app a lot after you install iOS 11. (Tap notifications from third-party apps doesn’t seem to do anything at this point, but I’m chalking that up to a beta quirk that’s likely to change in future updates.)

News and Music still meh: The News app, which I only ever seem to launch when it’s time to review Apple’s latest version of iOS, adds a new Spotlight tab featuring editor-selected content. That’s unlikely to make me pay any more attention to News than I have before. The same goes for the marquee addition to the Music app, where you can set up a profile on Apple Music to share playlists and highlight favorite albums and stations. Every few years, Apple seems to want to add a social element to its music offerings, and I guess this is the 2017 version of that yearning.

The iPad gets (most of) the love

At this point, the biggest iOS 11-triggered shift will be felt by users installing the beta on their iPads. Apple acknowledges as much on its iOS 11 preview page where the iOS update is called a “giant step for iPhone” and a “monumental leap for iPad.”

Quibbling over adjectives aside, Apple’s certainly correct that iOS 11 has a lot to offer iPad users. iOS 11 introduces drag-and-drop, a great productivity enhancement for Apple’s tablet that moves the iPad a step closer to being a credible laptop stand-in. New Work Spaces keeps apps grouped together, which really bolsters the iPad multitasking capabilities first introduced in iOS 9. iPad users now even have a macOS-esque Dock available from any screen, letting you switch between apps with ease.

It’s all part of Apple’s grand scheme to make the iPad more of a productivity tool that takes advantage of iOS’s touch-driven interface. It’s not quite the radical departure that came when iOS 9’s multitasking features turned your old iPad into a new device, but iOS 11’s new features still expand the iPad’s powers in quite a noteworthy way.

Some features still MIA

The trouble with evaluating iOS 11 at this beta stage is that many of the marquee features have yet to be activated. Were you looking forward to using Apple Pay to exchange money with your friends? That’s not a part of this beta. Files, a new app introduced by Apple for both the iPad and iPhone, promises to bring better file-searching and organizing capabilities to your mobile device. But Files lacks the promised tie-ins to third-party cloud-storage services like Box and Dropbox at this point, making it feel like a glorified interface for iCloud Drive.

One of the most exciting iOS 11 additions I saw at WWDC was ARKit, a developer tool that promises to help app makers add augmented-reality features to their offerings. Any iOS device with iOS 11 and an A9 processor will be able to run an ARKit-built app, sparing you from having to buy a fancy new phone to enjoy the benefits of mixed reality. But those apps aren’t likely to appear before the fall, as developers have  had access to ARKit for only a few weeks.

The biggest missing feature in the iOS 11 beta also won’t arrive until the fall, and even then, it will need more time to make its presence felt. Apple promises that the iOS 11 incarnation of Siri is going to get smarter the more you use it, and those smarts will show up in things like suggested News stories based on topics you’ve searched for or adding reservations to the Calendar app when you’ve confirmed them in Safari.

Siri has a pretty good track record in this regard, as I’ve found QuickType suggestions in iOS 10 have gotten more tailored to what I text and tweet about. (The names of assorted Oakland A’s players pop up a lot as a suggested word when I’m typing, for example.) So I’m interested to see how these expanded smarts will work in Siri; they’re just not there yet a few days into the public beta.

iOS 11 outlook

How you feel about the iOS 11 beta will likely depend on which device you use to test it. iPad owners will find this to be a significant upgrade, thanks to the improved multitasking. iPhone users like myself will consider iOS 11 to be a more modest advance over the current OS, with a lot of helpful features to be found if you’re willing to poke around in iOS 11’s settings.

The true measure of iOS 11 will arrive in the coming months, not just as Apple gets closer to releasing the shipping version, but beyond that. That’s when we’ll see just how app makers will take advantage of iOS 11’s new augmented-reality and file-organization tools and whether Siri delivers on the promised contextual learning.

(tomsguide.com, https://goo.gl/KaFzLC)

The same but different: Canon EOS 6D Mark II shooting experience

Spot the difference: on the outside, the Canon EOS 6D Mark II looks a lot like its predecessor, but it’s a considerably more powerful camera.

The Canon EOS 6D is something of an oddity in digital camera terms, having been in continuous production for almost five years. But finally, the time has come for an update to one of Canon’s most popular models, and it has arrived in the shape of the EOS 6D Mark II.

Unusually for a new Canon product, we had the chance earlier this month to use a late pre-production EOS 6D Mark II ahead of its official announcement. What follows is a first take on how the camera performs, based on a two-day shooting excursion, organized by Canon, to the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Detail is rendered well by the 6D Mark II’s new 26MP sensor, and Raw files sharpen up nicely.

EF 24-70mm F2.8 II | 1/400 sec | F8 | ISO 100

The first thing that struck me about the EOS 6D Mark II is how similar it feels to the original 6D. Ergonomically, Canon really hasn’t changed the basic recipe much. When the two cameras are compared side by side, it’s pretty hard to tell them apart from a moderate distance and even in use, there are more similarities between the models than there are differences.

Key specifications:

  • 26.2MP full-frame Dual Pixel CMOS sensor
  • 45-point PDAF autofocus system (all cross-type)
  • Dual Pixel live view / movie AF (80% coverage vertical / horizontal)
  • 7560-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor
  • ISO 100-40,000 (expandable between ISO 50-102,400)
  • 6.5fps continuous shooting
  • 1.04 million dot, 3″ fully-articulating touchscreen
  • 1080/60p video
  • Built in Wifi + NFC and GPS

The major operational difference is also the most obvious. The 6D Mark II’s rear LCD is fully articulating, and touch-sensitive, in line with recent Canon DSLRs like the EOS 80D. In fact, the 6D Mark II handles a lot like a slightly up-sized 80D in general. It also shares a lot of the same technology, in particular the same 45-point PDAF system and Dual Pixel autofocus in live view and movie modes.

The 6D Mark II handles a lot like a slightly up-sized EOS 80D

As such, for 80D users looking to make the jump into full-frame, the 6D Mark II would be a very sensible upgrade – aside from the lack of a built-in flash on the 6D, there’s virtually no learning curve.

From behind, you can see that the 6D Mark II offers almost exactly the same control layout as the original 6D. There’s no dedicated AF joystick, but the rear 8-way controller can be configured for direct control over AF point positioning via a custom function.

The 6D Mark II incorporates a latest-generation Digic 7 processor, which enables an impressively fast continuous shooting rate of 6.5 fps. I haven’t had a chance to shoot any action with the 6D II yet, but even during extended shooting of bracketed Raw images it didn’t keep me waiting. Canon claims a burst depth of 25 Raw + JPEG Fine shots at 6.5fps with a fast UHS-I card and this seems accurate, based on my experience.

The downside of adopting the 80D’s PDAF autofocus system is obvious when you put your eye to the viewfinder

The 6D Mark II’s viewfinder experience is pleasant, thanks to a magnification of 0.71x and 98% coverage vertically and laterally. Sub-100% viewfinder coverage is just one of several differentiators that Canon uses to distinguish its non-professional models (a single card slot being another) but the loss of that 2% is unlikely to cause any problems in normal photography.

Autofocus response in one-shot mode is fast and positive, but the downside of adopting the 80D’s PDAF autofocus system is obvious when you put your eye to the viewfinder. Because it is inherited from a cropped-sensor camera, the AF array occupies a comparatively small, central area of the 6D II’s frame. The relative lack of lateral AF coverage means that the 6D Mark II won’t be particularly versatile when it comes to off-center compositions or tracking, but to be quite honest, I suspect that most potential buyers won’t care.

If you really need super-accurate AF tracking from a Canon DSLR, you’ll need to save up for an EOS-1D X Mark II. But based on our experience of the closely-related 80D, the 6D II’s 45-point cross-type AF system, coupled with the 7560-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor is likely to be more than adequate for everyday shooting of mostly static subjects.

A handheld shot at the long end of Canon’s latest 100-400mm telezoom, straight out of the camera. At ISO 1250, some noise is visible, but it’s not problematic.

EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 II | 1/320 sec | F5.6 | ISO 1250

By contrast (no pun intended), autofocus in live view and movie modes is peerless, thanks to Canon’s Dual Pixel AF system. With 80% vertical and lateral coverage, and the option to set focus point by touch, the 6D II arguably offers better autofocus with the mirror locked up than it does in conventional viewfinder shooting mode.

Video: No 4K, and nothing flashy.

I didn’t shoot much video in Yellowstone (certainly nothing good enough to include in this article) but the 6D Mark II’s video mode is essentially the same as other recent non-professional Canon DSLRs. That means 1080/60p with a familiar, standard feature set. No 4K, and nothing flashy. Sorry, videographers – the 6D Mark II isn’t the low-cost 4K B-camera you might have been hoping for.

Some people will be largely ambivalent about this. After all, this isn’t 2009 anymore and following the arrival of Sony’s a7-series there are plenty of other options out there for enthusiast videographers that want to shoot 4K video with Canon EF lenses. It’s a shame though, because an affordable 4K-capable camera with Dual Pixel AF really would be a wonderful thing. Maybe one day…

At any rate, I have no doubt that several video-dedicated sites are typing furious blog posts about it even as we speak.

Despite the unexciting video specification, Dual Pixel AF does makes the 6D Mark II a very simple, relatively versatile movie-shooting camera, and certainly an enjoyable one, especially for casual hand-held shooting.

A big difference compared to the original 6D is the Mark II’s articulating screen. This is great for tripod-mounted shooting, and for grabbing low-angle stills. It’s useful in video mode, too, where setting focus by touch is especially handy. The 6D Mark II’s Dual Pixel AF system in live view and video is excellent.

Even for stills, the articulating touch-sensitive LCD is extremely handy. The majority of my dawn and dusk shooting in Yellowstone was conducted with the 6D Mark II on a tripod, in live view mode with exposure simulation turned on. Compared to a fixed screen, the 6D II’s articulating LCD is a lot more useful, as well as being a lot more comfortable to use from waist height. And while some people will always make the case for tilting, as opposed to side-articulating displays, I came to really appreciate the ability to pop the screen out for vertical compositions, too.

A tripod-mounted shot, taken at as long an exposure as I could manage without an ND filter. This image was composed vertically, in live view mode. Although the 6D Mark II doesn’t offer focus peaking, the magnification feature in live view mode provides a detailed enough on-screen image for accurate manual focus.

EF 24-70mm F2.8 II | 0.3 sec | F14 | ISO 100

Canon’s live view implementation is pretty mature at this point, and features like a real-time histogram, and powerful magnification for accurate manual focus are very useful. I wish the electronic horizon could be overlaid on the live view display, but it’s not hard to work around. I also wish the 6D Mark II offered focus peaking, but in practice the 10X magnified live view display offered enough contrast for accurate focus, even in pre-dawn light. And of course Dual Pixel AF is so good that there’s less need for manual focus anyway.

I don’t know what this insect is (perhaps a reader could tell me?)* but I think it enjoyed the 6D Mark II’s flip-out screen as much as I did.

The 1.04 million dot LCD features an anti-smudge coating, but not an anti-reflective coating. As such, dirt and fingerprints clean off the screen very easily, but I did find myself increasing screen brightness for live view work in bright conditions.

* UPDATE: A reader tells me that this is a Salmon Fly (Pteronarcys dorsata). That was quick!

Because of the current lack of 3rd-party Raw support (and to honor a request from Canon) my workflow up to now has been to perform a basic tonal conversion in Canon’s bundled DPP software, before outputting files as 16-bit TIFFs to Photoshop for sharpening. While I’d probably never find myself shooting in the ‘Landscape’ Picture Style except by accident, I did find that applying (and then modifying) this profile in DPP gave pleasantly bright, vibrant images of the Yellowstone springs.While I wasn’t able to perform any controlled testing, the 6D Mark II’s newly developed 26MP sensor appears to deliver excellent results across its native ISO sensitivity span. In good light, at low / medium ISO sensitivities, images look exactly as I’d expect from a modern Canon DSLR. I don’t really care for Canon’s default JPEG rendition, which tends towards rather mushy detail at a pixel level, but the colors are great and there’s a lot of detail in Raw files.

The 6D Mark II is dust and weather-sealed (but only with a lens attached). This view shows the remote control port, to the lower right of the lens mount, covered with a rubber cap.

You’ll find plenty of images in our samples gallery, but I’m reserving judgement on exactly how well the files from the 6D Mark II compare to competitive cameras until we’ve received robust ACR support. According to Canon representatives, the 6D Mark II should outperform the original 6D (which it very evidently does) but may not offer the same kind of dynamic range and absolute resolution of the EOS 5D Mark IV.

When shadow areas are lifted by a couple of stops, there’s no obvious banding, but noise becomes prominent

I had the opportunity to accidentally run a kind of halfway test on the 6D Mark II’s shadow dynamic range when shooting bracketed images of a dawn eruption from Old Faithful, heavily backlit by the rising sun. When shadow areas are lifted by a couple of stops, there’s no obvious banding, but noise becomes prominent, suggesting that the 6D Mark II’s sensor probably isn’t ISO-invariant. This isn’t a surprise, but watch this space for confirmation from our lab testing once we receive a shipping sample.

This shot was deliberately exposed for the highlighted vapor cloud of Old Faithful’s eruption, lit from behind by the rising sun. I adjusted the exposure in Canon’s DPP software to recover midtones and shadows.

EF 24-70mm F2.8 II | 1/400 sec | F11 | ISO 100

Something that prospective 6D upgraders should be aware of is that the increase in resolution from 20MP to 26MP will show up flaws in cheaper lenses. I was mostly shooting with Canon’s excellent 16-35mm F4L and 24-70mm F2.8L II on the trip, both of which deliver very good edge-to-edge sharpness, but images from the cheaper 24-105mm F4L II don’t look great towards the edges. That said, I am probably more inclined towards pixel-peeping than the average 6D II buyer will be (certainly more than they should be) and at normal viewing distances, even a stickler like me wouldn’t know the difference.

In summary

Every new generation of cameras brings performance improvements, and after almost five years, it’s no surprise that the 6D Mark II is a considerably more powerful camera than its predecessor. It’s fast, very responsive, impressively easy to use, and offers a good balance of user-friendly ergonomics and customization options (28 in all), which should appeal to its intended user base.

Another tripod-mounted shot, taken at sunset. Although I rarely shoot in anything other than default JPEG Picture Style, I found that applying the Landscape style to Raw files in DPP and then modifying the tones gave a good starting point for sunrise and sunset shots.

EF 16-35mm F4 | 1/5 sec | F16 | ISO 100

Like the original 6D, the 6D Mark II is a solid, predictable, easy to use camera that appears to be capable of excellent image quality. It’s pretty compact, but impressively well built, too, including some degree of weather-sealing. As usual, we don’t know exactly what that means, but I can tell you that during the Yellowstone trip, my 6D II shrugged off a fairly good soaking in an unexpected downpour without any ill-effects.

The 6D Mark II makes an excellent lower-cost alternative for someone considering an EOS 5D Mark IV

The 6D II is unlikely to to be able to rival competitors like the venerable Nikon D750 when it comes to autofocus performance and Raw dynamic range, and I wish there was a dedicated AF positioning joystick, but for a lot of photographers these will count as minor complaints.

On the face of it then, the 6D Mark II makes an excellent lower-cost alternative for someone considering an EOS 5D Mark IV, and a sensible upgrade for 80D users looking to move up to full-frame.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II Samples (pre-production)

Image converted from Raw via Canon DPP, exported as 16-bit TIFF to Photoshop for sharpening, and then exported as JPEG (quality level 11). Adjustments in DPP limited to brightness, Picture Style selection, moderate NR and lens corrections.

(dpreview.com, https://goo.gl/NUpu61)

Apple Pay v Samsung Pay v Android Pay: Smartwatch payments fight it out

How do the different services compare?

Mobile payments are no longer the future – they’re now – but the question, of course, is which is the best way to pay?

Battle of the wearable payments

Which service you use will depend on what smartwatch you’re rocking, which in turn will be partly influenced by your smartphone of choice. The good news is that there’s a bit more parity these days, but there are certainly some differences you should be aware of.

We’ve put the big three head to head. It’s Samsung Pay, Apple Pay and Android Pay in a big slinging match, but instead of fists being thrown it’s dollar bills. Who is the money master when it comes to wearable payments?

Compatibility with phones and banks

Apple Pay v Samsung Pay v Android Pay: Smartwatch payments fight it out

Let’s start with the basics: who supports what? Well, despite dropping at different periods throughout the UK and US, all three platforms are now available in both territories.

As for smartphone compatibility, Apple Pay will only work on the Apple Watch, which also only works with the iPhone (maybe it’s time that changed). Simple as that.

Android Pay has more scope, but right now it’s quite limited. For wearables, Android Pay is only supported by the small pool of Android Wear 2.0 devices. This is set to grow rapidly with the influx of Wear 2.0 watches coming this year, but the second magic ingredient is NFC, which not every smartwatch will include.

Kết quả hình ảnh cho Apple Pay v Samsung Pay v Android Pay smartwatch

Right now, the LG Watch Sport, Huawei Watch 2 and Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 tick both boxes, but that’s it (sorry, Watch Style fans). With the fresh software now also rolling out to the LG Watch Urbane LTE, too, this is an option to consider.

Believe it or not, Android Pay will also soon add support for iPhones. Wear 2.0 is more iOS-friendly as we’ve discovered, but support for Android Pay is a bit of a surprise – not that we’re complaining.

As for Samsung Pay, this works on the Gear S3 for users with a Samsung or Android phone, but not for iPhone folks. Back in December, Samsung tried to push a Samsung Pay Mini app to the App Store, potentially opening up compatibility for Samsung Pay with the iPhone, but Apple rejected it, and there’s no word on whether things may change in the future. Samsung Pay also works with the Gear S2, but it’s still only compatible with NFC, not magnetic strip transactions (MST) like the more recent model.

Speaking of banks, the good thing about comparing the services in 2017 is that the big three have had some time to rally support. There’s a slight bit of variation, but all three have a pretty robust lineup of banks.

You can see a full list of banks supporting Apple Pay in the US here and UK here. For Android Pay they can be found for the US here and for the UK here. For Samsung in the US, head here, and UK folks portal through here.

Should Android and Samsung Pay support come to iOS, they would both win in terms of compatibility. For now, it feels like Apple and Samsung are the two frontrunners.

Initial setup

Apple Pay v Samsung Pay v Android Pay: Smartwatch payments fight it out

In all three cases, you’ll have to verify your card with your bank before you can start spending. The process is a tiny bit different across the board, but none of them should take too long, and in all cases you’ll need to do the setup on your smartphone.

We have a full guide to setting up Android Pay on a smartwatch, so we won’t dive into it too much here, but setting up on Android Wear requires going through the standalone procedure on your phone, even if you already have a card on your account for use with your smartphone. You’ll also need to setup a lock screen, be it a pin number or swipe pattern, to use Android Pay. The good news is that, once unlocked, it will only lock again if you take the watch off.

Setting up Apple Pay on the Apple Watch isn’t very different. You’ll also need a passcode of some description, and it uses a similar security mechanism of re-locking Pay if it loses contact with your wrist.

As mentioned, Samsung Pay can also work with Android smartphones, and you pair the two in the Gear app. From there you’ll follow a similar process of entering and verifying your bank details. One niggle with Samsung – you can only use a pin number, no patterns, on the Gear S3, and that’s particularly fiddly on the small screen. It’s the same for the Apple Watch, but on the Gear S3 the buttons are smaller.

Putting them to use

Apple Pay v Samsung Pay v Android Pay: Smartwatch payments fight it out

For Android Pay, assuming you have the compatible watch, you can either assign a side button to Pay or you can launch it from a complication. When you tap it, it will bring up Pay, and if you have more than one card on your account you’ll need to select the one you want to use.

Otherwise, you just hold your wrist to the terminal, make sure the top edge of the watch is properly aligned with the NFC point, and wait for confirmation. It’s straightforward in theory, though sometimes aligning the two perfectly can be tricky in practice.

With Apple Pay, it’s a case of double tapping the side button and then holding the Watch up to the reader. Pretty similar. Interestingly for those in the UK, the Cupertino giant has also recently announced that over half of terminals will accept payments above £30/$38.

It’s here where Samsung Pay has an edge though, as it’s the only one of the three to support MST (magnetic strip transactions), as well as NFC. This means it will work at almost all terminals with a magnetic strip reader, although the process means tapping your watch against that bit of the terminal instead. This is also a tad fiddly, but worth it for the added support.

For us, Samsung wins the battle of usage on smartwatches purely down to having both NFC and MST support, while the other two only support NFC. The fact it also works with Android phones makes it even better, and iOS support would be even more fantastic.

Of course, there are plenty of other parts of the experience to think about beyond mobile payments, and using an Android Wear or Samsung Gear watch with iOS is going to compromise you in other places. Nobody wins the battle by a huge margin, but for our money, Samsung Pay is just ever-so-slightly in the lead right now.

(wareable.com, https://goo.gl/QcTXju)

Asus ROG Zephyrus Review

The Pros

Sexy, lightweight chassis; Innovative cooling system; Stunning Nvidia G-Sync display; Impressive gaming and overall performance; Runs cool when gaming;

The Cons

Subpar battery life; Weak audio;

Verdict

The Asus ROG Zephyrus squeezes a powerful Nvidia 1080 GPU into a thin-and-light chassis, giving you a 5-pound monster you can take anywhere.

Sailing in on the waves of change, the Asus ROG Zephyrus (starting at $2,299, $2,699 as tested) has arrived. As one of the first gaming laptops to use Nvidia’s new Max-Q design, the Zephyrus bridges the gap between power and portability by managing to fit an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU beneath its beguiling metallic frame. And if this laptop doesn’t captivate with its design, the lovely 1080p Nvidia G-Sync display and strong gaming performance will. Subpar battery life and audio output may give some pause, but the Zephyrus is truly a groundbreaking achievement.

Design: I Can’t Believe It’s an Asus

When I first saw the Zephyrus, I was awestruck by its complicated beauty. The lid is made of brushed aluminum with half of the striations flowing horizontally, with the rest going vertical. When light hits the lid, there’s a cool two-tone effect that makes you want to stare even longer. The silver chrome Republic of Gamers logo has been enlarged and placed on the left side of the lid, like a jaunty lapel pin on a fancy double-breasted suit.


When I was finally ready to open the lid, two things happened. The laptop’s undercarriage opened slightly at the rear to reveal a rear exhaust panel, and I gasped at the interior layout. Similar to what you’d find in tanks like the MSI Titan GT83VR SLI or the Acer Predator 21 X, the Zephyrus’ keyboard is pushed down toward the edge of the lip of the machine, essentially eliminating the palm rest. As a result, the touchpad has been moved to the far right of the lower deck.

“At 5 pounds and just 0.7 inches thick, the Zephyrus is Asus’ thinnest and lightest gaming laptop ever.”

The additional space at the top is where most of the high-end components live, including the processor, graphics card and solid-state drives. To help keep everything cool, the top portion of the interior deck is made from a perforated black aluminum panel that houses the redbacklit power button, several indicator status lights and a centrally mounted silver ROG insignia.

While the Zephyrus is stunning in the light, the system gets decidedly more badass in a darkened setting. Turning the lights off in my bedroom revealed that the ROG emblem on the lid and the rear space for the exhaust pipes glow a wicked red, matching the keyboard.

One thing’s for sure: Thin is definitely in at Asus. At 5 pounds and 14.9 x 10.3 x 0.7 inches, the Zephyrus is Asus’ thinnest gaming laptop ever. It’s also the slimmest gaming laptop to house an Nvidia GTX 1080 GPU (for now). It’s much smaller, lighter and thinner than the desktop replacements you’d usually find with a GTX 1080 GPU. The Razer Blade Pro, one of thinnest desktop replacements on the market, weighs 7.8 pounds and measures 16.7 x 11 x 0.9 inches. The Acer Predator 17X (16.7 x 12.7 x 1.8 inches) and the Alienware 17 (16.7 x 13.1 x 1.8 inches) tip the scale at 9.8 and 9.6 pounds, respectively.

Nvidia Max-Q: The Not-so Secret Ingredient

Asus squeezed such a powerful GPU into such a slim chassis by using Nvidia’s Max-Q design standard. A term borrowed from aerospace engineering, Max-Q refers to systems that are engineered for precise performance and power efficiency. By focusing on achieving maximum efficiency instead of performance, the laptop produces less heat, which allows for a smaller notebook frame and smaller, quieter fans.

Another added benefit of Nvidia Max-Q is its WhisperMode. The company claims the new feature will control a game’s frame rate with the goal of consuming an optimal amount of energy through a process called Intelligent Face Pacing (IFP). Using IFP, WhisperMode will have the ability to reduce the amount of noise the Zephyrus makes.

Display

When I watched the Black Panther trailer on the Zephyrus’ 1920 x 1080 display, details were so sharp I could see actor Chadwick Boseman’s curl pattern and the black tattoo etched on to actress Florence Kasumba’s scalp. And Lupita N’yongo’s mahogany skin seemed to glow against the backdrop of her fire-red-and-gold Dora Millaje outfit.

The captivating views continued once I booted up The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Deep in a mysterious wooded area, I battled a gnarled leshen. I threw a dimeritium bomb and watched as the beast was enveloped in an emerald-green mist. The weakened forest monster was no match for my silver sword, as I chopped into its brown bark-like skin, leaving a gaping wound.

With the Aura Core utility in the ROG Gaming Center, you can customize the keyboard’s backlighting using one of 16.8 million colors and three effects.

The Zephyrus’ vividness is due in large part to its ability to reproduce 114 percent of the sRGB gamut. That’s more than the 95-percent mainstream average as well as the Alienware 17. However, the Blade Pro and the Predator 17 X are far more colorful at 185 and 182 percent, respectively.

Measuring 0.2 on the Delta-E color accuracy test (0 is ideal), the Zephyrus offers true-to-life hues, especially when compared with the 2.7 average, the Blade Pro’s 2.3 and the Alienware 17’s 0.5. The Predator 17 was just a bit more accurate at 0.18.

Despite the vividness, the Zephyrus is a bit dim, as it panel averaged just 276 nits of brightness. The Alienware 17, the Predator 17 X and the Blade Pro were all above 300 nits.

G-Sync

The Zephyrus’ display is also outfitted with Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, with a 120-Hertz refresh rate. When enabled, the technology syncs up the laptop’s display rate with the graphics card. In other words, the system is placing a frame cap that matches the panel limit, which allows for instant rendering in both full-screen and windowed modes, thus eliminating any tears, and leaving smooth images and happy gamers.

Audio

Asus’ laptop has a pair of top-mounted speakers placed on either side of the keyboard. Unfortunately, as the name Zephyrus implies, they’re gentle as a spring breeze. Even at maximum volume, the laptop barely filled my smallish New York City bedroom with audio. When I started listening to Anita Baker’s “Body and Soul,” I was immediately thrown off at how brassy the piano sounded. The distortion diminished the soulful songstress’ vocals along with the percussion.

When I engaged a couple of bandits on the road in Witcher 3, I was disappointed that the normally raucous fight music was muted. The yelps punctuating the frenzied fiddle and tambourine sounded distant and the clanging of dueling swords sounded rather dull.

Asus didn’t preload any music-focused apps. However, it did add Sonic Radar II software, which lets you track incoming gunfire, explosions, footsteps and vehicle noise, which should be music to the ears of of FPS players.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Typing on the Zephryus takes some getting used to, because it lacks a palm rest. The Chiclet keys are a bit mushy because of the 1.3 millimeter key travel (between 1.5 and 2mm is optimal), but the 71 grams of actuation (60g is the minimum) made sure I didn’t bottom out as I matched my 65 word-per-minute average on the 10fastfingers typing test.

With the Aura Core utility in the ROG Gaming Center, you can customize the keyboard’s backlighting using one of 16.8 million colors and three effects. I was disappointed to learn that you can change the colors only on a set amount of zones. For instance, the WASD and QWER modes lets you set one color on those specific keys and another hue on the rest. The only way you can get a multicolor light show is in All Keyboard mode, where you have the option to cycle through colors. For the price, it would have been nice to have access to more zones, like on the Alienware 17, or the entire keyboard as on the Blade Pro. I’m also surprised that Asus didn’t add a way for gamers to record macros.

The 2.3 x 3-inch touchpad is positioned in the lower-right corner of the system and doubles as the number pad. You can switch between the two modes with a push of the button located above the device. In touchpad mode, multitouch gestures such as pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll and three-finger press are quick and accurate. The same goes for the numPad, which let me crank out numbers as fast as I could enter them. The pair of discrete mouse buttons below the touchpad are nice and springy.

Gaming, Graphics and VR

The biggest difference between a Max-Q GPU and a regular Nvidia Pascal chip is efficiency. Whereas regular 10-series GPUs like the GTX 1080 are focused on squeezing out every bit of performance, — heating issues be damned — Max-Q laptops lower the clock speed, decreasing the power the graphics card consumes and resulting in less heat. That’s how Nvidia and Asus managed to squeeze a GTX 1080 into a chassis that’s just 0.70-inches thick.

So how does Max-Q hold up against a regular Pascal? Pretty well, actually. I gallivanted through Witcher 3 at an average 63 frames per second on high settings with Nvidia Hairworks enabled. Geralt’s ashen-white tresses glistened in the moonlight as he went about the grisly work of dispatching a nest of ghouls.

“Asus’ ROG Zephyrus marks the beginning of a new era in gaming laptops, one where power isn’t sacrificed in the name of portability.”

When I ran the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmarks (1080p on Very High), the Zephyrus notched 58 fps, topping the 35 fps mainstream average and the 40 fps from the Alienware 17 (Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU). It wasn’t enough, however, to overtake the Blade Pro (65 fps) or the Predator 17 X (66 fps) and their GTX 1080 GPUs.

During the Hitman test, the Zephyrus hit 68 fps, which is well below the 55-fps category average, but better than the Predator 17 X’s 60 fps. The Blade Pro and the Alienware had significantly higher frame rates at 103 and 87 fps, respectively.

On the Grand Theft Auto V benchmark, the Zephyrus achieved 78 fps, blowing past the 48 fps average and the Blade Pro (65 fps). The Predator 17 X and the Alienware 17 were neck and neck at 83 and 82 fps.

The Zephyrus even kept pace during the Metro: Last Light test, scoring 74 fps, easily defeating the 46-fps average. The Alienware 17, the Predator 17 X and the Blade Pro produced 80, 79 and 75 fps, respectively.

Similar to most Nvidia Pascal graphics cards, Max-Q systems are VR-ready, so feel free to hook up your HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. When I ran the SteamVR performance test, the Zephyrus hit 10.7, which is well above the 5.9 category average and only slightly behind the Blade Pro, Alienware 17 and Predator 17 X — all of which got a score of 11.

Performance

Need to write a review in Google Docs while streaming Twitch, checking TweetDeck, doing research on a few vacation spots and running a full-system scan? The Zephyrus’ 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor with 24GB of RAM can definitely handle it. All in all, I had 20 open tabs in Google Chrome and never experienced any lag.

The laptop got strong scores on our benchmark tests. On Geekbench 4, the Zephyrus scored 13,391, beating the 10,707 mainstream average and the Blade Pro (Core i7-7700HQ), which hit 11,702. The Predator 17 X and the Alienware 17, both of which have overclockable 2.9-GHz Intel Core i7-7820HK CPUs, achieved 15,008 and 14,472.

During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Zephyrus took 3 minutes and 43 seconds to pair 20,000 names and addresses. That’s faster than the 3:59 category average and the 4:06 put up by the Blade Pro. The Predator 17 X was only slightly better at 3:41, but the Alienware 17 stormed ahead at 1:47.

When we ran the File Transfer test, the Zephyrus’ 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 10 seconds, for a crazy-fast transfer rate of 508.9 megabytes per second. It’s impressive, when you see that the Alienware 17 (512GB SSD, 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive) and Blade Pro (dual 256GB PCIe SSDs) managed only 282and 391.5MBps, respectively. However, none of them were a match for the Predator 17 X’s dual 256GB SSDs, which hit 1,272.3MBps.

Battery Life (Or Lack Thereof)

The good news? Asus and Nvidia managed to cram a GTX 1080 GPU into a wafer-thin gaming laptop. The bad news? The thin-and-light has the battery life of a laptop twice its size.

The Zephyrus lasted just 1 hour and 57 seconds on our battery test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. That’s way below the 6:47 mainstream average and on a par with the Predator 17 X’s time of 1:58. The Blade Pro (2:45) and the Alienware 17 (2:46) lasted longer, but not by much.

Software and Warranty

Asus has bundled the majority of its gaming utilities in the ROG Gaming Center. From here, you can keep track of and adjust such system diagnostics as clock and fan speed, storage and RAM space. Game Visual lets you toggle between presets that change the display’s color temperature for an optimal image, no matter what you’re watching. GameFirst IV allows you to prioritize network bandwidth.

Asus’ nongaming software includes the Installation Wizard, which lets you install a number of first-party apps. Live Update keeps your computer up-to-date with the latest drivers and app versions.

Third-party gaming apps include a lifetime subscription to Xsplit Gamecaster and Nvidia GeForce Experience, which offers a suite of gamer-centric software, including Game Optimization and Battery Boost. And like most Windows 10 laptops, the Zephyrus has several instances of bloatware, including Twitter, Netflix, Candy Crush Soda Saga and Drawboard PDF.

Heat: Just Venting

In order for its itty-bitty frame to support a GTX 1080 GPU without burning it and other components out, the Zephyrus needs a serious cooling system. So, Asus and Nvidia devised the Active Aerodynamics System (AAS), which is comprised of several pieces of hardware working in tandem. The most visible part of AAS is the 0.24-inch gap that appears when the lid is opened. The gap draws air into the system, which is then blown out of vents along the sides.

The notebook also features Asus’ revamped AeroAccelerator fans. The company claims the fan blades — crafted from a liquid-crystal polymer — are 33percent thinner than previous versions, which means the actual fan can fit up to 71 blades, which should help increase air intake.

I spent 15 minutes exploring a dank cave and fighting off humongous trolls in Witcher 3. After that, I measured some key points around the system and was pleasantly surprised with the results. The touchpad measured 88 degrees Fahrenheit, while the middle registered 92 degrees. The laptop’s undercarriage registered 97 degrees, which is slightly above our 95-degree comfort threshold.

When I was finished running around trying to eke out an existence in Witcher 3, I switched over to watching HD videos. After 15 minutes, the touchpad hit a cool 83 degrees Fahrenheit, which is on a par with the space between the G and H keys (84 degrees). The bottom of the system was only slightly warmer at 90 degrees.

Webcam

The integrated 720p webcam takes colorful, but blurry photos. The test shots I took with the camera accurately captured my blue wall, bright pink shirt and gold sheets. However, there wasn’t enough sharpness to make out any real fine details. For instance, my headboard’s unique wood grain looked like brown-and-tan blotches.

Configurations

I had a blast reviewing the $2,699 version of the Zephyrus. This configuration is loaded up with a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor with 24GB of RAM, a 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU (Max-Q) GPU with 8GB of VRAM. If you want to save a few hundred dollars, there’s the $2,299 model, which gets you half the storage (256GB) with a GTX 1070 GPU.

Bottom Line

Asus’ $2,699 ROG Zephyrus marks the beginning of a new era in gaming laptops, one where power isn’t sacrificed in the name of portability. Packed into the Zephyrus’ svelte frame is a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU, a once-impossible feat made reality, thanks to the company’s new Max-Q design.

By essentially clocking down one of its most powerful GPUs and focusing on efficiency, Nvidia can now turn relatively thin-and-light systems like the Zephyrus into certified gaming beasts. That’s not to say there aren’t any compromises. The laptop has less than 2 hours of battery life, which might put a kibosh on any long road trips.

If you don’t need something highly portable, I’d recommend the $2,888 Acer Predator 17X, which has a better display and battery life in addition to faster transfer speeds and more powerful performance. Overall, though, the Zephyrus offers unprecedented power for its size.

(laptopmag.com, https://goo.gl/ZKmT2J)

Cambridge CXA60 vs Rega Brio – which is better?

The stereo amplifier is the beating heart of any hi-fi system. It’s the link between your source and your speakers, driving your system to its fullest potential. Here, two of the very best amps on the market go head-to-head

When the Cambridge CXA60 emerged in 2015, it filled a gap in the market for a brilliant mid-priced stereo amplifier. This highly accomplished amp with many features went on to win a What Hi-Fi? Award two years in a row. In fact, it’s our reigning champion.

But that could all change thanks to the delicate, yet ferocious, Rega Brio – a mighty upgrade we’ve waited seven long years for. This sixth-generation Brio sounds terrific, and we’ve been itching to pit these two five-star stereo amps against each other.

We explore the highs and lows of the Cambridge CXA60 and the Rega Brio to guide you to your new favourite stereo amplifier…

Build

This is where your personal taste will kick in: these amps look wildly different, but they’re both undeniably smart, streamlined machines. Cambridge’s modern design looks more exciting, with plenty of buttons and dials. Rega’s more retro design is hard to argue with though, especially when it’s as discreet as this.

While Cambridge gives you the option of choosing a silver or black finish, the Brio comes in black only.

The CXA60 has a ‘floating chassis’ design, sturdy aluminium build, and clean fascia peppered by well-placed buttons. It’s clear Cambridge has given plenty of thought to every aspect of the design, and it feels and looks like a high quality product.

The air vent on top of the amplifier isn’t just for show, either. It helps cool the class A/B amplifier powering the CXA60’s 60W per channel. Peek inside and you can see the toroidal transformer sited right in the middle of the chassis.

Cambridge claims this position ensures less interference in the signal path. Other internal design updates include separate, symmetrical circuit paths, to minimise crosstalk issues between left and right channels and improve stereo imaging.

The Rega Brio has been revamped as well, from its updated circuit board layout to the swooped front panel design that’s reminiscent of early 90s Brios.

Every tweak to the circuits and power supply has been made to help isolation and keep the main signal path as direct as possible, in a drive for better overall sound quality.

There are now two separate power supplies in the Brio: the bigger one for the power amplifier section, the smaller for the input/phono stages and preamplifier.

The half-width design’s return is welcome – it looks smart and is ideal for those with limited space. But there’s more going on than simple cosmetics.

The chassis has been redesigned: it’s now made of a two-part fully aluminium case that helps its heat dissipation and reliability.

This 5kg amp is so reassuringly robust you almost get your money’s-worth in heft alone. The curved front and rearranged display are minimalist and elegant.

Only the volume dial (a hollowed-out metal ring that makes the amp look like a monocle-wearing dandy), a couple of buttons and red LEDs adorn the glossy front panel.

Both amplifiers are seamless in operation – we’d struggle to choose one over the other when it comes to daily use. The buttons respond instantly, with corresponding input names and LEDs lighting up when selected. We particularly like the smooth resistance of the gain controls, and how subtly they change the volume too.

The remote control with each amp varies in complexity – Cambridge’s has dozens of buttons, Rega’s is almost laughable in its simplicity – but they both become second nature to use after no time.

Features

The sources you have will be fundamental in choosing your amp, and it’s here a fork in the road appears.

Because while the Cambridge CXA60 comes with plenty of analogue and digital connections, a hi-res DAC and even the option of adding Bluetooth streaming, the Rega Brio remains staunchly analogue-only.

The Brio has four line-level inputs, a phono input, some outputs for recording and a single set of speaker terminals. That’s it.

The Brio’s purely analogue approach may be a problem for some – especially if you have a range of digital-only sources. But if your main source is a turntable (or as long as your streamer or CD player has analogue outputs), the Rega should be more than sufficient.

A moving-magnet phono stage is its secret weapon, designed to work in harmony with its own superb Planar turntables – but it’s fine with other turntables too.

The CXA60 also has four line-level inputs, but adds digital coaxial and a pair of optical inputs, a 3.5mm auxiliary input and two pairs of speaker terminals. That’s a great selection at this price (originally tested at £500, the CXA60 now costs more like £580 – much closer to the Brio’s £600 price tag).

It doesn’t have a built-in phono stage (one point for the Rega), but its internal DAC (which supports hi-res files up to 24-bit/192kHz) opens it up for use with a greater variety of sources and music file types.

You can plug your favourite pair of headphones into both amps. The CXA60 sports a 3.5mm jack, while the Brio has a 6.3.mm socket with its own dedicated circuit to ensure it doesn’t interfere with the main speaker signal.

Sound

If you’re still on the fence about which amplifier to spend your money on, performance will be the ultimate decider.

The Rega Brio is a terrifically musical amp. The Cambridge CXA60 is an enthusiastic crowd-pleaser. They’re both a delight to listen to, but the Rega has the edge here.

Everything we love about the former Award-winning Brio-R is here: its incredible sense of rhythm, its punchy dynamics, its sense of fun.

The new Rega Brio takes all of those qualities and hones them even further. The sound is clearer, more detailed and more muscular.

The Brio-R’s lean character is gone – the new Brio is a fuller, richer listen with gorgeous solidity running through every single note. The top end sparkles but there’s a sweetness to it, and basslines are delivered with depth and rumbling textures.

The Brio’s 50W per channel (into 8ohms) may not sound like much, but you only have to crank up A Perfect Circle’s Pet to feel the sheer force of wailing guitars and thunderous drums. It goes loud and it’s thrilling.

But the Rega hasn’t transformed into some overly muscular heavyweight. Its nimble footwork and rhythmic prowess is the true highlight, and it’s what makes us play song after song through this amp.

It ducks and weaves its way around tricky compositions, tying all musical strands together in an authoritative, skilful way without ever losing its sense of fun.

Voices are intimate and expressive. You can hear the restraint in Corey Taylor’s usually roaring vocals in From Can to Can’t, while Tom Waits’s gravelly tones are beautifully textured and full of rawness in Alice.

The sustained build up of tension in Arvo Pärt’s Fratres is a real test of the Rega’s talents: the strings are light but urgent, and you can hear the squeaky texture of the bow scraping across the strings.

The leading edges of notes are stunningly precise, and there’s an impressive depth to the quieter moments. Almost as impressive is the fact the amp doesn’t lose its footing when the song reaches its crescendo.

The Cambridge CXA60 offers a more open and larger-scale sound than the Brio – it’s an affable presentation that will appeal to many, even if it can’t quite reach the punchy, articulate heights of the Brio’s performance.

But the CXA60 is immediately likable. It’s fluid, snappy and packed with enthusiasm. This is an amplifier that puts musical enjoyment high on its list of priorities.

That doesn’t mean it leaves things like detail, dynamics or rhythmic precision trailing behind – the amplifier skilfully handles complex arrangements and is capable of delivering subtle, accurate detail.

Stream The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army and that iconic hook is bouncy, rumbly and has just the right amount of tautness to keep you riveted.

The CXA60’s presentation is slightly forward, but that’s not necessarily to the amp’s detriment.

The whine and crunch of the guitar riff sounds textured and has plenty of bite, while the strained, ragged nature of Jack White’s voice is deftly conveyed. It’s a gripping, entertaining listen.

Just make sure you don’t partner the amp with any bright-sounding speakers, as they could easily provoke that forward, excitable treble (a warning we don’t need to give with the Brio amp).

The energetic performance doesn’t cross the line into unruly, overzealous territory, though, the Cambridge exercising plenty of control over a song’s dynamics and rhythms. Hans Zimmer’s compositions for Inception are appropriately brooding, and the tension is maintained throughout.

The strings in Time rise in slow-building intensity, while the drums lend a good helping of sombre weight. The dying piano notes at the end of the track have plenty of space to breathe in the open soundstage, sounding poignant and arresting.

It’s a solid sound from the CXA60 – one that manages to be exciting and easy to listen to in equal measure.

But the Rega Brio manages to dig a bit deeper and reveal more nuance with every note. Dynamically, it’s more dramatic and articulate. The CXA60’s detail and edges sound a touch soft compared with the Brio’s insightful, gripping delivery.

Verdict

In pure performance terms, the Rega Brio is our preferred amplifier. The Cambridge CXA60 remains a hugely entertaining and capable listen, though – which is why both amplifiers keep their five star ratings.

The CXA60’s wide spread of connections and sleek design will appeal to many, its and big, enthusiastic delivery is a joy to listen to. We think you’ll love it.

The Rega, on the other hand, is something really quite special. It can hold its own against its bigger siblings – the £900/$1350 Elex-R and £1600/$2400 Elicit-R – thanks to a sparkling top end and a sense of fun that’s infectious. It’s an amp that can comfortably drive expensive speakers, too.

That’s quite an impressive feat for a £600/$900 amp. An incredibly talented amplifier in every way, the Rega Brio will win you over from the moment you first hear it. We’ll even make allowances for the lack of digital connectivity – it sounds that good.

It’s the kind of amplifier that we want to leave on and play our entire music collection through. Again and again. Isn’t that how all good hi-fi is meant to be?

(whathifi.com, https://goo.gl/pYZG84)

Original iPhone vs iPhone 7: What’s the difference 10 years on?

Today, 29 June 2017, is 10 years to the day since the original Apple iPhone hit store shelves in the US. It’s arguably the most significant mobile device ever launched, and no device before or since has had such a big impact on the market.

Simply put, smartphones are the way they are today because of the iPhone’s leap forward.

While few will argue against the original iPhone’s impact, many will happily complain at the lack of progress between each new version of the popular smartphone brand. Exactly what has changed since the first model?

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  • Plastic, metal and glass on the Apple iPhone
  • Slim, metal and glass iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 is water and dust resistant
  • Big 30-pin connector on original iPhone

The biggest difference between the current iPhone and the original iPhone is its size and shape. Apple’s first model features a metal case, with a large plastic portion at the bottom acting as a window for wireless chips. It measured 115 x 61 x 11.6 mm, weighed 135g and had a single, small camera in the top corner.

At the bottom edge, there was a large 30-pin connector with two sets of grills. One covering the microphone, the other letting sound out from the loudspeaker. It also had a round home button beneath the display with a rounded square icon printed on, and just an earpiece at the top. There was no front facing camera and no water and dust proofing of any kind. The 3.5mm jack sat quite heavily recessed in the top edge, making it hard to use third party earphones.

Fast forward ten years, and the iPhone 7 measures 138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm and weighs 138g. This makes it noticeably wider and taller than the original, but almost 40 per cent thinner. Apple replaced the 30-pin connector with the much smaller, reversible Lightning connector some time ago and that joins the speaker and microphone grilles on the bottom edge.

There’s no plastic anywhere on the latest model, with the back made entirely of metal, and the front covered in glass. There is still a round home button on the front, but the design has been altered to incorporate a fingerprint sensor. There’s no more rounded square icon, and it’s surrounded by a metal ring.

Up top there’s an earpiece and a front facing camera, while the back now features a protruding camera and dual-tone LED flash.

One of the other noticeable differences is the wide variety of colours. The current iPhone is available in Jet Black, matte black, silver, gold, rose gold and a special Product RED edition. Back in 2007, you had the standard black and silver combination, and nothing else.

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  • 3.5-inch screen with 3:2 ratio on original
  • iPhone 7 has 4.7-inch 16:9 display
  • 326ppi versus 165ppi

Smartphone displays have been growing in both size and pixel count ever since the first iPhone was released. Its 3.5-inch 480 x 320 LCD screen was both big and sharp when it came out in 2007. By today’s standards, that isn’t big or sharp at all. In fact, it’s not far off the resolution of some high-end smartwatches.

In 2007, the technology wasn’t widely available to laminate the glass surface to the display panel either, meaning there was a noticeable air gap between the glass on top, and the content underneath.

By contrast, the iPhone 7’s 4.7-inch screen boasts a 1334 x 750 resolution screen is much bigger and sharper, but even then isn’t among the biggest and sharpest available in today’s market. It is a 16:9 screen, meaning it’s longer than the original iPhone’s.

Another key difference is the technology used. The original iPhone had a TFT screen, while the latest uses LCD based IPS technology, which is brighter, more colourful and offers much wider viewing angles. It also now has a pressure-sensitive layer, so you can press harder for specific menus and functions.

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  • 2MP camera on original
  • 12MP camera on iPhone 7

As well as displays advancing over the years, cameras have come on leaps and bounds. So much so that smartphones are now worthy competitors to point-and-shoot compact cameras. Back in the original iPhone’s day, that definitely wasn’t the case, and the first Apple smartphone wasn’t even a competitor with the best phone cameras.

While other feature phones were starting to increase sensor size, pixel count and features, the original iPhone had a bog standard two-megapixel camera. It couldn’t record video and wasn’t equipped with a flash, or a decent autofocus. Perhaps worse, there was no way (except email) of sharing images with your friends. You couldn’t use Bluetooth or MMS for that purpose.

Now, in 2017, the iPhone’s regarded as having one of the best cameras available in a phone. It has a 12-megapixel sensor with f/1.8 aperture, phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilisation and 4K video recording. This is all paired with a dual-tone flash, and a 7-megapixel front camera. There are also numerous sharing options of course.

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  • Quad-core A10 Fusion chip in iPhone 7
  • 412MHz ARM chip in first model
  • 16GB storage maximum in original

Like its iPods, Apple brought non-expandable storage to its smartphones. That means, unlike so many other phones, you couldn’t stick a memory card in the iPhone and get more memory. You were limited to 4GB, 8GB or (eventually) 16GB in the first model.

It also had a 412MHz ARM processor, and we don’t know officially how much RAM it had, but we think it was around 128MB.

In 2017, Apple’s newest phones come with a generous amount of storage, bar the minimum entry model. You can now get 32GB, 128GB or 256GB of hoarding space in your phone, which is paired with 2GB RAM and a four-core A10 Fusion processor.

Even though battery life is fairly similar to the one-day achieved by the first iPhone, battery capacity has increased from around 1400mAh to 1960mAh.

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  • Original iPhone launched on iOS 1
  • iPhone 7 will have iOS 11 in a few months

Apple’s iPhone OS 1 (as it was known then) was a grid based software featuring app icons on a black wallpaper. There was no App Store for downloading third party software and no ability to change the background. You had a pre-selected array of 15 apps, all made by Apple.

With iOS 11 coming out soon, the grid of apps is familiar still, as is the Messages conversation appearance. Virtually everything else has changed though.

We have an App Store full of millions of apps, iMessage, FaceTime calling, app-switching multitasking, Control Centre, Notification Centre, Siri, and so much more than there was at the beginning. Of course, we now also have wallpapers, which feature a Parrallax effect to make the screen appear somewhat three-dimensional.

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Apple was bold with the first iPhone, demanding carriers sell it without subsidy. That meant you had to pony up $499 and still got signed into a two-year contract with AT&T in the US. In the UK, it cost £269 on contract with O2, which was still far more expensive than any other phone on contract.

Nowadays, the iPhone 7 starts at $649, but that’s the price to own the phone, unlocked and network free. In the UK, it’s £599, network unlocked and contract free.

(pocket-lint.com, https://goo.gl/xaac4c)

The SUVs Buyers Around the World Can’t Get Enough Of

All you need to do is look around any parking lot in America to see crossovers and SUVs are taking over the roads. Although this phenomenon was exclusive to the U.S. for decades, the rest of the world is catching up — with a vengeance. In 2016, people all around the world bought a record 27.1 million SUVs, according to Drive Spark. And despite a general cooling of the automotive market, it doesn’t look like the rise of these people-movers is going to slow down anytime soon.

A big part of this rising popularity is the evolution of crossover and SUV segments. No longer the big, thirsty, truck-based behemoths they used to be, the world’s most popular models are compact, versatile, and fuel efficient. As a result, buyers from Beijing to Baltimore to Bristol are trading in their cars for these rugged yet civilized rides.

So which models make up that 27.1 million? Quite a few. In today’s climate, even companies that had no interest in the segments are going all in to boost their sales. Bentley and Jaguar released their first SUVs in 2016. Both Lamborghini and Lotus are rumored to have crossovers in the works, too. Looking at Drive Spark’s 2016 sales numbers, here are the 10 crossovers and SUVs buyers around the world can’t get enough of.

10. Ford Escape

2017 Ford Escape Titanium

2017 Ford Escape Titanium | Ford

The familiar Escape isn’t just a common sight across the U.S. It’s also a global favorite. Sold as the Kuga in most markets, Ford’s compact crossover is also available across Europe and Asia. In 2016, buyers around the world took home 371,133 units of this popular family hauler, according to Drive Spark.

Next: This Japanese automaker has figured out how to corner most of the global market. 

9. Nissan Rogue

View of green 2017 Rogue driving on snow

2017 Nissan Rogue | Nissan

The Rogue’s recent explosion of popularity isn’t just limited to the American market. In 2016, Nissan’s compact crossover sold 373,436 units worldwide, good enough for the ninth spot on our list. Buyers love the Rogue’s comfortable ride, dependable powertrain (a hybrid version is available, too), and competitive pricing.

Next: This red-hot Nissan is a model we don’t get in the U.S. 

8. Nissan X-Trail

2017 Nissan X-Trail

2017 Nissan X-Trail | Nissan

Nissan has clearly figured out a winning formula with its crossover lineup, which continues with the midsize X-Trail. Slotting in between the Rogue and Pathfinder, the X-Trail is a sales boon for the brand in Asian and European markets. Despite not being offered in the U.S., buyers around the world snapped up 412,729 examples in 2016.

Next: This hard-to-pronounce model is sold in the U.S. under another name. 

7. Nissan Qashqai

2017 Nissan 2017 Nissan Qashqai

2017 Nissan 2017 Nissan Qashqai | Nissan

If you can’t pronounce the name Qashqai, that’s OK. Nissan doesn’t offer the nameplate here. But if it has a familiar face, it’s because we get it as the Rogue Sport. Slightly smaller than the regular Rogue, the Qashquai has been a popular model across Europe and Asia since 2006. In 2016, including U.S. sales, Nissan sold 449,520 units around the world.

Next: This strange-looking crossover has caught on in a big way. 

6. Kia Sportage

2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo

2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo | Kia

In the U.S., the Sportage is an up-and-coming contender in the compact crossover segment. But its standard features, high reliability marks, and superior fit-and-finish make it a favorite around the world. In 2016, its distinctive new design won over more buyers than ever before. The Korean brand sold 492,666 examples of its crossover.

Next: This flop in America is beloved almost everywhere else. 

5. Volkswagen Tiguan

2017 Volkswagen Tiguan

2017 Volkswagen Tiguan | Volkswagen

Due to its high price and aging architecture, the Tiguan never quite caught on with American buyers. In the rest of the world, however, it’s a different story. Thanks to both short- and long-wheelbase versions and a number of gas and diesel powertrains available in other markets, the Tiguan is incredibly popular in Europe and China. In 2016, Volkswagen sold an impressive 519,656 units.

Next: Despite being unknown in America, this Chinese SUV is a global powerhouse.  

4. Haval H6

2017 Haval H6 Sport

2017 Haval H6 Sport | Great Wall Motor Company Limited

The Haval H6 is virtually unknown in America, but in Europe and China it’s incredibly popular. Built by the Great Wall Motor Company Limited, the H6 is available in both Sport and Range Rover Evoque-esque Coupe trims. Starting at around $18,000, the H6 is a lot of truck for the money. The Chinese company sold 580,683 H6s in 2016.

Next: Despite not being known as a truck brand, this automaker is fast becoming SUV royalty. 

3. Hyundai Tucson

2017 Hyundai Tucson

2017 Hyundai Tucson | Hyundai

Hyundai has never been known as a truck or SUV brand, but that might change very soon. Thanks to good build quality, one of the most comprehensive warranties in the world, and an affordable price, the midsize Tucson is one of the most popular SUVs in the world. In 2016, Hyundai sold an impressive 639,053 Tucsons, more than doubling 2015’s sales numbers.

Next: No matter where you are in the world, you’re bound to see these everywhere. 

2. Toyota Rav4

White RAV4 followed by blue RAV4 hybrid

2017 Toyota RAV4 | Toyota

America’s sixth-best selling model overall is the takes the penultimate spot on this list. With a compact footprint, tons of interior room, and bulletproof reliability, the Toyota Rav4 is wildly popular around the world. In 2016, eager buyers put 662,046 new Rav4s on the road.

Next: Has Toyota’s arch rival figured out the winning formula for crossovers? 

1. Honda CR-V

View of 2017 Honda CR-V in burnt orange at sunset with ocean in background

2017 Honda CR-V | Honda

Like Hyundai, Honda isn’t exactly known for its trucks and SUVs. But when it comes to sales, it’s the SUV king. The compact CR-V has long been a strong seller around the world. But in recent years, it’s reached a whole new level of popularity. In 2016 alone, Honda sold a whopping 752,670 units, making it far and away the world’s preferred SUV.

(cheatsheet.com, https://goo.gl/QqbYR3)

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 vs Galaxy Note 7: What’s the rumoured difference?

Samsung is rumoured to be launching its much-anticipated Galaxy Note 8 at the end of August. The device will succeed the Note 7, which was a fantastic device until its battery issues destroyed its reputation and left it for dead.

Nothing official has been announced regarding the Note 8’s specs from Samsung itself but there have been plenty of rumours to help us see how it might compare to the Note 7. With that in mind, here are the two devices neck-in-neck, based on the speculation.

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  • Glass and metal design expected on both
  • Note 8 expected to reduce bezels around display
  • Both expected to be IP68 water and dust resistant

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was a beautiful device featuring a metal and glass sandwich design, a dual-edge display and a singular camera lens on the rear with the flash positioned alongside it on the right. As it was a Note device, it also featured the S-Pen stylus that had a slot built into the design.

A home button with a embedded fingerprint sensor was situated below the display on the front and it measured 153.5 x 73.9 x 7.9mm and hit the scales at 169g. Like the Galaxy S8 and S8+, the Note 7 was also IP68 water and dust resistant.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is rumoured to be taking some of its design cues from the Galaxy S8 and S8+, offering an almost all-screen front, a dual-edge display again and a metal and glass sandwich design with a built-in stylus. If this is the case, expect significantly reduced bezels compared to the Note 7.

Reports and renders suggest the new Note will be slightly thicker than the S8 and S8+, though exact measurements have yet to be leaked. Some reports did originally suggest the Note 8 would have a fingerprint sensor built into the display but it is now thought the sensor will be positioned on the rear next to a dual-camera setup. The Note 8 is also expected to be IP68 water and dust resistant like its predecessor.

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  • Note 8 display expected to be larger with 18.5:9 aspect ratio
  • Dual-edge AMOLED display with Mobile HDR expected for both
  • Note 8 reported to have higher resolution display

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 featured a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED dual-edge display, which is the same size as all the previous Note devices from the Note 3 onwards.

It had an aspect ratio of 16:9 and it offered a Quad HD resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 518ppi. The Note 7 was also the first to introduce HDR compliancy in a smartphone, making it compatible with HDR content on Netflix and Amazon Video, even if it was a feature a little before its time due to lack of content.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is reported to be increasing the display size to 6.3-inches, which would make it a little larger than the 6.2-inch Samsung Galaxy S8+, though we’re not expecting the footprint to change much as the aspect ratio is also reported to be the same as the S8+ at 18.5:9.

It is thought the new Note will also have the same Infinity Display as the S8 and S8+ models, meaning an AMOLED panel again with a dual-edge display, though the resolution is thought to be increasing to 4K. If this is the case, the Note 8 would offer a pixel density of 699ppi, which would put it in a good position for the new Gear VR. Expect Mobile HDR to be on board again too, this time with a little more purpose.

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  • Note 8 reported to be coming with dual rear camera
  • Note 8 expected to have improved front camera
  • S8 and S8+ camera tech may be seen on Note 8

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 had a 12-megapixel Duo Pixel rear camera with an f/1.7 aperture, phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilisation and an LED flash.

Its front camera featured a 5-megapixel sensor, also with an f/1.7 aperture and results from both cameras were excellent. The rear was capable of up to 4K video recording, while the front topped out at 1080p.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is reported to be coming with a dual-rear camera, as we mentioned previously, though there haven’t been any substantial leaks to suggest what resolutions we might see. One analyst claims the Note 8 will have a better rear snapper than the Apple iPhone 7 Plus with a 12-megapixel CIS support dual photodiode sensor, coupled with a 13-megapixel telephoto lens but that’s all we’ve heard for now.

We’d expect an improvement on the Note 7’s front facing camera resolution though and we’d also expect to see the same features, such as OIS, on board the new device. The S8 and S8+ have autofocus on their front camera, as well as multi-frame image processing on their rear camera so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see both technologies on the Note 8.

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  • Note 8 will have more advanced platform
  • USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack and iris scanning expected across both
  • Note 8 could have more RAM and storage, though both should have microSD

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 featured the Exynos 8890 chipset, coupled with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage and microSD support for further storage expansion up to 256GB.

It featured USB Type-C for charging the 3500mAh battery and it supported fast charging. There was also a 3.5mm headphone jack on board, support for 32-bit audio and it featured iris scanning capabilities.

There haven’t been many rumours surrounding the Samsung Galaxy Note 8’s hardware as yet, though we’d expect the latest platforms on board, whether this is the Exynos 8895 or the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. At least 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage are likely, though it wouldn’t be too shocking to see 6GB of RAM and 64GB storage. Either way microSD is probable.

Battery will be a big focus on the Note 8 and although no specific capacities have been detailed in the rumours so far, around 3500mAh like the S8+ would be our educated guess. USB Type-C for charging will no doubt on board again, along with fast charging support and we’re also expecting a 3.5mm headphone jack and iris scanning like the S8 and S8+.

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  • Note 8 should have Bixby voice assistant
  • Improved stylus features reported for the Note 8 over Note 7

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 launched on Android Marshmallow with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface over the top. It offered much the same experience to the S7 and S7 edge but with a few extra features that took advantage of the S Pen functionality.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 will likely launch on Android Nougat, again with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface over the top. It has been reported the new device will offer improved stylus features over the Note 7, along with Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant that launched on the S8 and S8+.

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  • Note 8 reported to be £170/$255 more expensive

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 went on sale around the £699/$1048.5 mark before it was discontinued.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 meanwhile is rumoured to be going on sale for €999 (£870/$1305) which if true, will not only make it significantly more expensive than last year’s Note 7 but it will also be the most expensive Samsung smartphone to date.

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Most succeeding smartphones make some big improvements over their predecessors, but not many have the challenge that lies ahead of the Note 8: rebuilding consumer confidence in an entire range that was, until last year, excellent.

Based on the rumours, the Note 8 will offer a more streamlined design like the S8 and S8+, along with a larger and potentially sharper screen, camera advancements and hardware improvements. There are also likely to be some software improvements too and no doubt a big focus on the battery.

For now, everything surrounding the Note 8 is speculation but we will update this feature as we see more leaks and of course as soon as the official details are revealed.

(pocket-lint.com, https://goo.gl/bU95fK)

Canon EOS 6D Mark II vs 5D Mark IV: What’s the difference and which should I buy?

When the Canon EOS 5D MkIV burst onto the pro camera scene in 2016, it hit so many tick boxes that, well, few other full-frame cameras seemed to be worth a look-in.

Until, that is, looking at the price. The 5D Mark IV is a rather pricey machine – it’s £3,349/$5,024 body-only at the time of writing – so, surely, there’s something more affordable out there that doesn’t compromise too much?

Well, the brand new EOS 6D Mark II could be the perfect solution, given its sub-£2K/$3,5K body only price. That £1,349/$2,024 saving could translate into a lens. But what pros and cons do these two full-frame DSLR cameras have against one another?

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  • Canon EOS 6D Mk2: 144.0 x 110.5 x 74.8mm; 765g
  • Canon EOS 5D Mk4: 150.7 x 116.4 x 75.9mm; 800g
  • Both: Full-frame sensor with EF/EF-S lens compatibility
  • Both: Water and dust resistant build

Objectively, the two cameras are fairly similar. Both are full-frame, both accept Canon’s EF lens range, both are water- and dust-resistant too. The 6D II is slightly smaller and lighter than the 5D IV, but not by a giant amount – plus you’ll barely notice one adding a lens.

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  • Canon EOS 6D Mk2: 3-inch, vari-angle touchscreen LCD (1,040k-dot)
  • Canon EOS 5D Mk4: 3.2-inch fixed non-touch LCD (1,620k-dot)

The first major difference is with the screen. The 5D IV has the larger and higher-resolution panel, but the 6D II is the first full-frame Canon DSLR to offer a vari-angle touchscreen. That means more complex screen positioning and even touch-basedc control when in Live View mode.

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  • Canon EOS 6D Mk2: Optical pentaprism, 100% field of view, 0.71x magnification
  • Canon EOS 5D Mk4: Optical pentaprism, 98% field of view, 0.71x magnification

If you’re non-plussed about a vari-angle screen because your eye will be almost permenantly fixed to the viewfinder then, well, the 5D IV is the better of the two. Although it offers the same magnification (and therefore physical size), the 5D IV delivers a what-you-see-is-what-you-get 100 per cent field of view – whereas the 6D II’s 98 per cent FoV means the outermost edge of the frame won’t be seen in preview, only in capture.

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  • Canon EOS 6D Mk2: 26.2-megapixel full-frame sensor, Digic 7 processor
  • Canon EOS 5D Mk4: 30-megapixel full-frame sensor, Digic 6 processor

Another point that sits the two cameras a fair degree apart is their capture resolution. The 5D IV upped the ante to 30MP, around four million pixels more than the 6D II’s brand new 26.2MP sensor.

An interesting 5D IV feature is called Dual Pixel Raw – which enables minute re-focus abilities in post, if required, and which the 6D II lacks. That’s one of those “pro versus enthusiast” points.

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  • Canon EOS 6D Mk2: 45 point AF system (all cross-type)
  • Canon EOS 5D Mk4: 61 point AF system (41 cross-type)
  • Both: Dual Pixel CMOS AF for fast Live View autofocus
  • Canon EOS 6D Mk2: 6.5fps burst mode (full resolution)
  • Canon EOS 5D Mk4: 7fps burst mode (full resolution)

Despite the 6D II equipping the latest Digic 7 processor, it’s not technically faster than the 5D IV. Its 6.5fps burst mode is pipped by the 5D IV’s 7fps burst mode – the latter being all the more impressive when considering the higher resolution proposition.

The focus systems are different too: the 61-point system of the 5D IV is considered as more pro than the 45-point system of the 6D II (despite the latter having more cross-type points overall). In the 5D you’ll find adjustable shooting cases for focus tracking, allowing for the tailoring of how the camera reacts depending on subject movement, direction, speed and so forth.

If you’re more interested in using a DSLR via its screen then, good news, Canon’s Dual Pixel AF system – which sees focus points on the imaging sensor itself – means on-screen focus that’s approaching as fast as that through the viewfinder. It’s not as adept when it comes to tracking subjects, but it’s still an adept system whichever camera you choose. There’s no touchscreen in the 5D IV, remember, that’s for the 6D II only.

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  • Canon EOS 6D Mk2: 1080p max, 3.5mm microphone jack
  • Canon EOS 5D Mk4: 4K max, 3.5mm microphone jack, 3.5mm headphones jack

If there’s one feature that Canon holds back on in the enthusiast range then it’s video: the 6D II can shoot 1080p Full HD video, but not push into the 4K Ultra-HD resolution of its 5D IV bigger brother.

The 5D IV is better setup with ports, too, with both headphones and microphone 3.5mm jacks. The 6D II only offers the microphone jack.

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Then, of course, there’s the price. The 5D IV is £3,349/$5,024 body-only, compared to the 6D II’s £2,000/$3,500 body-only. That might be the difference between buying a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, let’s say, so might be enough reason to make up your mind.

Why would you consider spending more cash on the 5D IV? Higher resolution, faster frame-rate, a more advanced autofocus system and setup, 100 per cent field-of-view finder, and 4K movie capture are the main points. It lacks that vari-angle touchscreen LCD, however, which is one of the 6D II’s best features.

Whether you choose to go “enthusiast” with the 6D II or “pro” with the 5D IV, one thing is clear: both these full-frame DSLR beasties are mighty impressive imaging machines.

(pocket-lint.com, https://goo.gl/FUtPW5)

iFi nano iOne review

What was it your mother taught you about dropping your ‘H’s? We ’adn’t ’eard of iFi before the iOne found its way onto our review schedule, but we’d be more than ’appy to ’ear more.

In its simplest terms, the iOne is a Bluetooth compatible DAC with inputs for USB and S/PDIF hardware. That means you can use it either as an upgrade to your existing digital source, or to add wireless capability to a system without a DAC.

Build

It isn’t much to look at – and we mean that in a literal sense. Measuring only 100mm by 64mm, and weighing just 122g, the iOne is truly befitting of its ‘nano’ tag. There’s no reorganisation necessary to fit it into the rest of your hi-fi system.

There’s little here to console those who’d prefer the more tactile heft of the Arcam irDAC-II, recently reduced by £200 and now this product’s main competitor in the market. However, there’s a clue on iFi’s website as to why the DAC is so lightweight and diminutive.

“How a product looks and performs matters, but so does its impact on the environment,” it says.

“That’s why nearly every iFi product and its packaging are made from highly recyclable materials, and why we refuse to use harmful toxins in our components.” You don’t get an extra star for environmental friendliness, but we have to admire the company’s approach.

The iOne has a small face, but its features are neatly organised. There is a button for Bluetooth pairing, a backlit iFi logo to signify the source being used, a switch to toggle between sources and another to decide between the digital filter with the best measurements or that with optimum sound.

To the rear you’ll find a space for USB, which can be used either for mains power or a source, S/PDIF input, and output for your stereo interconnects.

Our only quibble is the length of the cables iFi has provided. In all likelihood you’ll have your own interconnects to link it with your existing system, but if not you might need some – the included USB cable is peculiarly short.

Sound

In all honesty, we don’t really know what to expect when we plug the iOne in, so we’re more than happy with what we hear when it’s working with our reference Naim streamer and dealing with Radiohead’s Kid A.

The album’s opening track, Everything In Its Right Place, could almost serve as the iOne’s tagline. In no time we feel the song’s driving pulse, Thom Yorke’s fractured vocal (belying the name of the Kaoss Pad on which it is manipulated) and the amount of detail being dug out of the padded keys.

Within a couple of verses we’re enjoying to a cohesive, entertaining performance that has set the iOne firmly on the correct path.

Perhaps the best showcase of the iOne’s varied talents is near the middle of the album, where the drive and busy instrumentation of The National Anthem’s crescendo is juxtaposed against the gorgeously eerie solitude of How To Disappear Completely.

Here the iFi proves it knows how to excite. It knows how to tie everything together with its precise rhythmic understanding and hold it in front of your face so it’s impossible to ignore. Yet with its next breath it can draw right back, framing the vulnerability of an acoustic guitar just as adeptly.

Arcam’s irDAC-II is now available at £295, still almost an extra £100 on the cost of an iOne – but when you consider the former’s optical inputs and headphone output we’re looking at fairly well-matched competitors.

Play the same records through the irDAC-II, however, and it’s almost as if we’re hearing different mixes. Now the performance is more spacious, with greater dynamic range and warmth (especially in vocals), but without the iOne’s get-up-and-go.

That’s an the aspect of the Arcam’s performance we noted when we first tested it, so it’s no surprise it’s still the case. It provides quite a startling contrast in this context.

Verdict

It seems harsh, perhaps, to give neither iFi nor Arcam five stars when there’s nothing else we reckon is all that much better, with these features, at this price.

But switching from one to the other, we realise we miss the assets of the DAC we’ve just heard and vice versa.

If the iOne were to take on some of the subtlety of the irDAC-II, some of those nuances and warmth, it would truly be the one to beat.

For those valuing insight and subtlety, the Arcam is the way forward. But for an entertaining, musical performance that’s impossible to ignore, iFi is undoubtedly one of this month’s delights.

(whathifi.com, https://goo.gl/FhsHqf)

 

Cadillac Super Cruise First Drive: Trusting the machine

It was, conservatively, 90 seconds before I was satisfied Cadillac’s Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system wasn’t going to kill me. By that point, a combination of cameras, super-accurate maps, and a fancier-than-usual GPS system were keeping me dead-center at 65 mph on California’s 280, headed north toward San Francisco. As the CT6 eased its way around the corners, I spent a few moments considering that the car of the future apparently communicates not with the voice of Mr Feeny from Boy Meets World, but with a glowing green steering wheel instead.

At times, it seems like every car company – and every company tangentially related to the auto industry – is working on autonomous vehicles. If you’re an car manufacturer, and you haven’t set up a swish geek-lab in the Valley, you’re almost guaranteed to get laughed out of whatever auto show you dare show your face at next. Self-driving cars, so the story goes, are the Next Big Thing. Your kids may as well ditch Drivers’ Ed, since they won’t need a license.

Problem is, while there’s no shortage of hype around self-driving vehicles, there are plenty of people who aren’t convinced that they’re anywhere near reaching the market. The most ambitious estimates suggest some sort of retail availability by 2020 – there are plenty of naysayers about that, and other companies estimating 2025 or even later – and even then they’re expected to be low-volume and limited-deployment. The tech may be getting better, but the laws and infrastructure have to catch up too.

That leaves us with semi-autonomous systems, for the most part effectively adaptive cruise control paired with active lane-keeping. Initially the preserve of expensive luxury sedans, they’ve begun trickling down into more affordable price brackets. Some of them – and I’ve tried most – are pretty darn good. That is, until they’re not.

Lane-keeping that suddenly loses the lane. Radar-controlled cruise control that hee-haws and lurches as traffic moves around it. Sudden deactivations and disengagements. The momentarily bowel-loosening experience of the car deciding to give up on driving itself, and unexpected throwing the reins back to you.

I’m a geek, and a believer in the potential of autonomous driving, but I have limited patience – and trust – for most driver-assistance technology out there today. Even when they work consistently, I find it’s oddly more stressful for me – my foot poised over the brake; one hand hovering near the wheel – than just driving on my own. That’s why the speed at which Cadillac’s system convinced me proved such a surprise.

Super Cruise won’t be commercially available until later in the year, but the automaker invited me down to Palo Alto to try out a pre-production version on public highways. It’s been a major point of investment over the past few years for Cadillac, atop an aggressive product roadmap that, starting from the end of 2018, will see a new product launched every quarter until 2020. Once a byword for classic luxury, Cadillac’s goal is to reinvent itself as “a more contemporary, progressive interpretation of luxury,” Johan de Nysschen, president of the GM marque, explained.

Technology like Super Cruise “resuscitates our reputation, our heritage for innovation,” de Nysschen argues. “I think that it’s going to capture peoples’ imagination. I think for many people, for whom Cadillac isn’t at the center of their radar screen, I think it’s going to open their mind as to what this brand is capable of.”

So just what is Cadillac capable of? Super Cruise starts from the existing adaptive cruise control, true, but it upgrades it to the point that the automaker – and their lawyers – are willing to describe it as “the first hands-free” system. While the adaptive cruise keeps pace with traffic ahead, Super Cruise handles the car’s lateral movement within the lane.

They call it the “Blue Line” and it’s basically the semi-autonomous equivalent of the groove a slot-car runs down. On the one hand, there are forward-facing cameras in the CT6 which track where the left and right lane markings are, and figure out an estimate of the center line and the car’s current heading. On the other, there’s a supercharged GPS sensor, 4-8x more accurate than what’s typically fitted to a vehicle; that works hand-in-hand with a high-accuracy map which has details of road curvature, the number of lanes, where on- and off-ramps are, and any other pertinent information Cadillac has baked in.

Such a map didn’t exist, and so Cadillac had to create it. In fact, it’s had all the divided, limited-access highways with defined on- and off-ramps in the US and Canada scanned with LIDAR laser scanners, 160,000 miles down to a resolution of under 4-inches. The GPS checks the map while the cameras check the road, and if the two agree then the CT6 clings to the “Blue Line” like a train on rails.

There’s an extra part to Super Cruise, though, and that’s the attention tracking system. At some point, in every car with driver-assistance aids, the vehicle is going to want to check that the person behind the wheel is still paying attention. How they verify that, exactly, varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they usually demand the application of some sort of torque to the wheel, or contact with pressure or capacitive sensors embedded into it.

The result is an odd cycle of hover-tap-tug, as you periodically reassure the car that you are, indeed, awake and aware. In contrast, Cadillac’s approach is completely hands-off. An IR camera mounted on the steering column watches the driver’s face, tracking in which direction they’re looking. Should you not pay sufficient attention to the road ahead, a light embedded into the upper portion of the steering wheel starts flashing. To reset that alert, all you need do is look back at the road.

“You and Super Cruise are partners,” Barry Walkup, chief engineer on the project, explains, and the light bar is the system’s primary method of communication. When you activate Super Cruise, it turns solid green. If you don’t pay enough attention – a length of time which varies according to how fast you’re going, so you get longer in stop-start traffic but less when you’re cruising at speed – it flashes at you until you look. Continue to ignore the situation, and you get red flashing and a choice of seat vibration or warning chimes; eventually, Super Cruise disengages and the car coasts, albeit with the lane-keeping still active.

Finally – and Cadillac suggests this is most likely because of a medical or other issue which has incapacitated the driver – there’s a loud, spoken “Please take control” warning and the brakes are applied. If you still don’t react, the onboard OnStar connects an operator and can even provide the emergency services with the car’s exact location.

Out on the road, nosing the not-inconsiderable CT6 onto Highway 280, I watch for the grey steering wheel icon in the digital instrumentation that means Super Cruise is available. It appears just as I’m pulling out of the slow lane, and when I press the Super Cruise button on the wheel, after a few seconds the light bar glows green. That’s my cue to let go of the controls altogether.

As the first corner approaches, I brace myself for the usual ping-ponging between the lines that I’m familiar with from rival semi-autonomous systems. Instead, the Cadillac simply sweeps imperiously around, dead-center in the lane. I look across to where one of Cadillac’s engineers is sitting, watching my reaction, then catch the green blink of the light bar and immediately glance back at the road. My first instinct is to grab the wheel, or nudge it to prove my presence, but to Super Cruise my eyes are enough.

Less than a mile later, and I’m testing the attention-tracking system. Turns out, at 65 mph you can look away for about 5 seconds before the car demands your gaze. Later on, with the adaptive cruise set to 75 mph, I get about 4 seconds. Super Cruise will operate at speeds up to 85 mph, and in stop-go traffic at the other extreme.

However it also only works on certain roads: namely the divided, limited-access highways that Cadillac has had mapped. That’s mainly down to just how predictable such roads are. There’s no uncertainty around pedestrians or bicycles, and the system knows where vehicles will be entering and exiting.

It’s also, Walkup says, where drivers report the most potential value is to be had. “Most customer benefit was going to be on the interstate system, particularly during their commutes,” Cadillac’s consumer research found. “You get some time back during your commute, and that’s what people told us they want.”

I can buy that. After the initial “the car is driving itself!” surprise, you quickly get used to the sensation, even blasé about it. I felt confident with Super Cruise in a way that I haven’t with any other semi-autonomous system I’ve tried, and that comes down to how the car communicates its status with you, and how hands-off you can be.

The light bar – which also includes IR emitters, to light your face at night so that the attention camera can still see you – leaves you in no uncertainty as to what’s going on. It’s conspicuous enough that you’re not searching through the instrumentation to find an icon or graphic. When you want to overtake, for instance, you take the wheel and turn; there’s a little opposing torque, just to make clear you’re assuming control, and the light bar turns blue. When you’re safely into the right lane, after a moment’s reacclimatization the bar goes green again, and you’re free to let go.

“The system was designed to be hands-free, so there are mechanisms in place to make you feel comfortable letting go of the wheel,” is how Pam Fletcher, Executive Chief Engineer of GM’s Global Electric & Autonomous Vehicles, describes it to me. “All of these confidence factors that are in there: knowing you’re on a road; knowing that this great system is capable of smooth, precise operation; knowing that if you’re not checking in at a great enough frequency, it doesn’t leave you to figure out ‘is this working okay, am I checking in okay?’”

It’s surprisingly liberating. During my miles on the 280, I only have one unexpected deactivation to deal with. The light bar goes red, and a warning message appears in the display notifying me I should resume control. There’s an urgency to it, yes, but it’s on the right side of panic. The CT6 didn’t drift out of the lane, or suddenly slow. Hands back on the wheel, I wait a moment for the grey icon to reappear, then tap the Super Cruise button and the car takes over again.

If there’s a system Super Cruise is reminiscent of – and will inevitably be compared to – it’s Tesla’s Autopilot. The two aren’t exact equals: Autopilot will change lanes for you with the tap of a stalk, and can be activated outside of just highways. Cadillac, meanwhile, brings its LIDAR maps to the party, unlike Tesla which uses a combination of regular mapping and onboard sensors.

Cadillac prefers not to mention its rivals by name, but get the team talking about its relatively slow roll-out of Super Cruise and it’s not hard to read between the lines. “You cannot even contemplate a scenario where you let your customers do your beta testing for you,” de Nysschen says, when asked about expanding the system beyond highways. “Time will come when we’re able to broaden it, but we’ll decide when that time comes.”

“GM is a titan in our industry. We’re not a small player. And what GM does has a profound impact on changing the landscape,” the Cadillac president argues. “If you are capable of changing the landscape, it also means you need to act in a responsible way. We are taking a very systematic, conservative approach to this technology. Because it’s not only a matter of wanting to claim the marketing credits for innovation, but also transforming the landscape that lies ahead for full autonomy at some point in the future. Because it’s not just a technological transformation, but a regulatory transformation.”

Even so, Cadillac is counting on Super Cruise being a significant differentiator between it and other luxury automakers. Comprehensive dealer training is underway, making sure salespeople know just how to explain what’s a fairly complex system, and the general feeling within the company is that Super Cruise is as important to the brand as a new engine might be. Meanwhile, how the technologies that enable it might also benefit GM’s ongoing fully-autonomous projects is also under consideration.

“We look at this as very much a core technology, we developed this all in-house, ourselves, for our products,” Fletcher points out. “With that, we continue to do what we think are the best, most intuitive systems that we can grow over time. We have a lot of autonomous projects going on.”

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Right now, one of the biggest questions remaining is just how much Super Cruise will cost. That’s not been decided: it’s looking likely that it’ll be an option on the model year 2018 CT6, though for how much and whether it’s part of an existing package are up in the air. The suggestion is that it will be well under the $5,000 that Tesla charges for Enhanced Autopilot, though, and while the CT6 is a niche model – Cadillac sold 1k of them in May 2017 – it’s expected that Super Cruise will see a high take-rate among buyers.

Personally, were I in the market for a big, luxury sedan, and had a regular commute that saw me stuck on the highway for extended stretches, I suspect Super Cruise would be my pick of the driver-assistance systems. How much of a halo it’ll represent for the brand depends on how well Cadillac communicates its advantages – and how many test drivers it can get behind the wheel. That’ll kick off around October, when the first cars are expected to reach dealers.

(slashgear.com, https://goo.gl/N7zvgT)

 

Hands on: Honor Band 3 review

OUR EARLY VERDICT

Do you want a cheap fitness tracker that does the basics? This is a cheap fitness tracker that does the basics

FOR

  • Cheap
  • Lightweight

AGAINST

  • No GPS
  • Accelerometer seems underpowered

The Honor Band 3 is nothing to shout about. It’s functional and colorful and does the things we expect from a fitness tracker.

Well, perhaps it’s unfair to say nothing to shout about. The price is pretty good compared to the rest of the market, given what Honor has paced  into the band – essentially, it’s a Fitbit rival that doesn’t cost as much.

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Honor Band 3 price

If you’re looking to keep an eye on your steps, runs, swims and sleeps, then this band will only set you back £59.99, which equates to around $75 or AU$100.

It’s definitely deep into affordable territory for many, and given the abilities it packs, it’s not a bad price at all.

Design

If you’ve ever clapped eyes on a fitness tracker in the past, you’ll be in familiar territory here.

There’s a rubberised strap (that comes in orange, black or navy blue, depending on how regal you’re feeling when you decide to by this) that attaches with proprietary connectors to the main tracking unit.

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It’s thankfully soft rubber, sitting nice and snugly on the wrist, without any Microsoft Band-esque hard curves to worry about.

The unit itself holds a monochrome screen – it is OLED, but you’re not getting the beautiful displays we see on the Samsung Galaxy S8.

This is a black and white display designed to consumer very little power, and you can clearly see every individual pixel.

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That’s no bad thing – the display is clear and bright enough, and the whole unit only weighs 18 grams, so it would actually be fairly easy to forget you’re wearing it day to day.

Unless you have it in orange, and people stop you in the street for being so goddammn radical.

Sadly, we can’t tell you whether the display gives useful information, as the unit we tested was locked to Chinese with some weird Bluetooth icon flicking around.

However, tapping the button below the display instantly flicks it between the screens  – assuming they’re options to see how many steps you’ve taken each day or calories burned, the method of scrolling through the interface feels crisp and clean.

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In terms of what this can do, the Honor Band 3 can track your sleep, monitor a run or swim, work out your calorie burn,  have a look at how many steps you’re taking or register your heart rate.

On the latter one, Honor reckons that it’s as good as a chest strap in terms of accuracy for counting your heart beats every minute, although that’s only at rest – it’ll be interesting to see how that works out when you’re jogging along with this strapped to your wrist.

Sadly – although not really surprisingly for the price – the Honor Band 3 does not feature GPS inside, so any runs will be worked out using the three axis accelerometer, which is a bit low-spec for today’s motion-monitoring wearables.

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It’ll do the job, but we doubt that the Band 3 will be able to work out how far you’ve run or swum accurately – it’ll just be a vague metric that will help you as you graduate to a more dedicated fitness brand.

The same can be said about sleeping – sure, it can tell how well you’ve slept and there’s advice from Harvard Medical Center on how to sleep better.

However, that sounds like it’ll be things like ‘turn the lights off in your room at night’ rather than ‘we’ve noticed that you sleep worse when the temperature is about 15 degrees’.

Then again, it goes back to the price – are you really that bothered about how much it can do when it costs so little?

Early verdict

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The Honor Band 3 is a good activity tracker – nothing more, nothing less. If you want to see how far you’ve walked or get an idea of your daily fitness without having to spend a lot of money, you’ll enjoy this device.

The colors are interesting, the weight low and the cost is negligible in comparison to a lot of other devices out there which do the same thing (the Fitbit Charge 2, for instance) – so it just depends how widely the Honor Band 3 can be bought.

(techradar.com, https://goo.gl/TwEhG8)

Sony Bravia X9300E (KD-65X9300E) review

OUR VERDICT

With its exceptional 4K HDR X1 Extreme processor, the KD-65X9300E delivers fantastic HDR10 and Dolby Vision enhanced images, as well as superb object-based HDR remastering for all SDR content. It may not have the outstanding black levels of Sony’s A1 OLED, but it arguably provides brighter, more vivid pictures overall.

FOR

  • Gorgeous design
  • Boasts both HDR10 and Dolby Vision
  • Unmatched SDR quality
  • Compatible with Bluetooth headphones

AGAINST

  • Noticeable backlighting
  • Expensive for LED/LCD

Last year’s Sony Bravia X9300D impressed us greatly with its powerful X1 processor, superb colours and picture quality, ultra thin design and user-friendly Android TV operating system. Now, Sony is back with its latest flagship LED TV, the KD-65X9300E (also known as the KD-65XE9305 in the UK).

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A lot of talk has surrounded the release of Sony’s A1 OLED television (a set that’s out in the UK and US, but still awaiting release in Australia), but if you don’t care enough about self-lighting pixels to wait, its new X9300E 4K HDR TV is as good as it gets when it comes to LCD/LED display technology.

A next-gen processor is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the X9300E’s improvements over last year’s model, with areas such as backlighting, picture quality, design, compatibility, upscaling and user interactivity getting significant updates.

Our review covers the 65-inch model X9300E, which is available now for AU$5,299 (£3,199), though a 55-inch model KD-55X9300E (known as the KD-55XE9305 in the UK) is also available for AU$3,999 (£2,399). Both TVs are admittedly placed at the more expensive end of the LED TV pricing spectrum, though there’s no denying that the X9300E’s craftsmanship and technological smarts befit that of a high-end product.

Design

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With a brilliant design that aims for minimalistic elegance, the X9300E is engineered to compliment your living room, rather than detract from it. Its bezels are black and only a few millimetres wide, making them look almost non-existent when watching dark content, even from a moderate distance.

Its slim 39mm profile makes the X9300E ideal for mounting, which is extremely easy to do thanks to the equally-slim adjustable mounting bracket that’s included in the box. However, this TV looks just as gorgeous when placed on a table or cabinet thanks to its attractive, angular stand and wonderfully stylish textured back panel. With its leather-like texture and grid-and-crosses pattern, the X9300E wouldn’t look out of place in a Gucci commercial.

Normally, a stunning rear like this would be let down by the appearance of messy cables and numerous input ports. Thankfully, the same removable plastic panel that was included with Sony’s KDX9300D last year is back, allowing you to tuck all the cables away and keep everything neat.

And, because it’s so easy to keep all your cords hidden, it’s entirely possible to place the X9300E in the middle of a room without it looking like a hot mess.

Screen sizes available: 55-inch, 65-inch | Tuner: Freeview HD | 4K: Yes | HDR: Yes (HDR10, Dolby Vision) | Panel technology: Edge LED (Slim Backlight Drive+ with local dimming)| Smart TV: Yes, Android TV | Curved: No | Dimensions: 1451 x 838 x 39 (W x H x D) | 3D: No | Inputs: Four HDMI (HDCP 2.2), three USB, RF input, optical digital audio output, integrated Wi-Fi

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Smart TV (Android TV)

Android TV is somewhat divisive as a television OS, with some people finding it a little clunky and even sluggish. This hasn’t really been the case in this writer’s experience, though, with the user interface feeling like second nature thanks to the general familiarity of the Android platform.

At present, all of the major Australian streaming and catch-up services are available from the Android TV home menu. If 4K content is what you’re after, YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video offer growing libraries of 4K high-dynamic-range (HDR) movies and TV. Disappointingly, Stan’s 4K content is so far unavailable through the Android TV app, though you can still access it with a Chromecast Ultra or PS4 Pro. You can also rent 4K movies from Ultraflix, though these movies do not exhibit high-dynamic-range visuals.

The main interface has content recommendations listed at the top of the screen, usually filled with stuff that you can rent or purchase from the Google Play Store, along with recommended videos sourced from your YouTube account. Sections are arranged vertically, with content you can cycle through through horizontally. Below you’ll find sections for apps, games and general TV settings. It should all be fairly straightforward for those accustomed to Android smartphones.

HD/SDR Performance

We know that 4K and HDR prowess is the primary focus of the X9300E, but we’d also go as far as to call it one of the best TVs on the market when it comes to upscaling HD and standard-dynamic-range (SDR) content.

This is due in large part to Sony’s X-Reality Pro HD-to-4K upscaling system, as well as the 4K HDR Processor X1 Extreme’s object-based HDR remaster functionality, which has the ability to upscale any content to near HDR quality. It does this by introducing HDR’s wider colour palette to SDR video, smartly applying more colour definition and vibrance to any non-native HDR content.

We tested this with a number of 1080p TV shows on Netflix, including Riverdale and Skin Wars, and found the visuals to be noticeably improved in each instance. Colours were richer, shading was more detailed, and contrast also received a boost.

The results are quite impressive, and they definitely make movies and TV look better in every circumstance, minimising radial banding in the TV’s corners quite dramatically. You might still find instances of pronounced blooming around light sources, but it’s the next best thing after proper HDR.

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4K/HDR Performance

When it comes to 4K HDR video, the X9300E is capable of producing some utterly incredible images with commendable, if not class-leading, black levels. Of course, an LED panel is always going to play second fiddle to a proper OLED display, but the new Slim Backlight Drive+ comes pretty darn close thanks to the inclusion of local dimming technology.

Two layers of light guide plates used in conjunction with a quad-edge LED structure means that the X9300E is able to provide significant punch to its bright areas and fairly deep blacks as a contrast. While Sony hasn’t divulged the number of peak brightness nits the X9300E is capable of, in our testing it certainly looked appreciably brighter than last year’s model.

Colour management, as is always the case with Sony TVs, is exceptional. This is thanks to the company’s celebrated Triluminos engine, which never fails to produce excellent light control and terrific motion processing.

On top of its HDR10 capabilities, the X9300E also boasts full Dolby Vision support, which until now was only offered on selected LG 4K TVs. We tested this by viewing Marco Polo on Netflix and were suitably wowed by the results. While it’s hard for us to gauge how the 12-bit Dolby Vision content looked compared to regular 10-bit HDR, it was nevertheless quite vivid, with terrific contrast that allowed us to peer into dark areas and pick out a number of fine details that would otherwise have been lost. Skin tones looked appropriately lifelike and the colours found in many of the sets and costumes popped with an incredible amount of vibrance.

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Along with this 4K streaming content, we tested a number of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray movies using Sony’s UBP-X800 UHD player. We kicked things off with a viewing of Planet Earth II, which exhibited incredible detail and terrific HDR10-enhanced colours. Fine textures, like the fur on a snow leopard, looked appropriately realistic, allowing us to spot (leopard pun) individual hairs and whiskers with ease. Colours also took centre stage during a pink flamingo migration sequence, in which the blushing hues of the majestic animal’s feathers appeared extra vibrant against the wintery landscapes surrounding them.

Next, we watched the Scarlett Johansson action-flick Lucy and were astonished by the level of detail before our very eyes. Clarity was off the charts here, with close-ups in particular revealing pores and imperfections that gave the film a more realistic feel overall. The TV also provided Lucy with some truly-dynamic colour reproduction, especially during special-effects-driven scenes.

A screening of Fast & Furious 6 on Ultra HD Blu-ray also impressed, particularly during the film’s London-set night chase, in which the TV’s HDR capability allowed us to see details deep within the darkness. Flesh tones also appeared lifelike and stable throughout, with skin textures looking almost real enough to touch.

For gaming, the TV also performed incredibly. We tested WipEout Omega Collection on a PS4 Pro running the game in 4K HDR. For the sake of clarity, we went into the game’s settings and switched off the motion blur option, giving the game an even more stable 4K resolution. What we saw, quite frankly, blew us away.

Having played the game at home on a Sony 4K HDR X8500 Series TV, the difference between old and new was immediately noticeable. The X9300E’s colours exhibited exceptional brightness, and there were absolutely no jaggies to be found in the game’s futuristic tracks and ships. In fact, the clarity gave the game an almost three dimensional appearance, especially while winding around at full throttle.

An early looking at the upcoming game Gran Turismo Sport achieved similar results, with a crisp, clean visual style that was greatly enhanced by HDR. Cars and locations have always looked realistic in the Gran Turismo series, but here, improved contrast and specular lighting made the game look much better and more faithful to the real thing than ever before. We were told that this particular game is the first ever to realistically reproduce ‘rosso corsa’ (Italian racing red), thanks entirely to high-dynamic-range tinkering.

Sound

You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but the X9300E also has a set of front facing three-way speakers that are terrifically hidden at the bottom of the set. While they obviously can’t compete with a standalone soundbar or proper DTS hi-fi system, the speakers do deliver impressive sound for those of the in-built variety, with a definite focus on vocal clarity. If you’re mostly into dialogue-driven shows and movies, it’s fine, though we’d definitely recommend a standalone soundbar or home theatre setup.

One new feature found in the X9300E that we especially liked was the ability to wirelessly pair a set of Bluetooth headphones to the set for a personal listening experience. We paired a set of Sony MDR-1000X Wireless Headphones to the X9300E and found this experience infinitely more pleasing than the usual headphone jack and dongle-based wireless headphone process we’ve had to go through in the past. On top of this, it being a Sony TV, pairing a Dual Shock 4 controller for use with Android games was also remarkably easy.

Other panels to ponder

If you prefer perfect blacks and wide viewing angles to brightness, LG’s B7 OLED TVs will be arriving soon, offering a performance level likely to be in line with the recently reviewed OLED65E7. Though you’ll need to spend a couple of grand more than the X9300E costs to secure the 65-inch LG B7.

Verdict

Featuring top-notch 4K HDR10/Dolby Vision quality thanks to its X1 Extreme processor, as well as truly outstanding upscaling and object-based HDR remastering capability for SDR content, the Sony Bravia X9300E is a television that promises to make everything you watch on it look as great as possible.

Complementing the display’s fantastic visuals is a build-quality and design that’s in a league of its own. If you’re looking for a beautiful television with an air of sophistication about it, you won’t find a more stylish one than the X9300E.

That said, if it’s infinite contrast and deep blacks you’re after, you may want to hold out for Sony’s A1 OLED Series.

With an entry price of AU$3,999 (£2,399), it’s admittedly a tad expensive for an LED TV. That said, it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed in what is an all-round excellent television.

(techradar.com, https://goo.gl/B1pCTd)

B&O BeoPlay E4 review

OUR VERDICT

The BeoPlay E4 in-ear headphones sound great and have admirable noise-cancellation abilities, but the overall weight of the wired remote and control box makes it a less comfortable package than it should be.

FOR

  • Detailed sound quality
  • A snug in-ear fit
  • Noise cancelling works well

AGAINST

  • No wireless capabilities
  • Control box is heavy…
  • …and oddly placed

If noise-cancelling is a must-have feature when you’re on the market for a new set of headphones, you’ve not really been spoilt for choice if you favor in-ear buds rather than over-ear cans.

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In fact, scan our selection of the best in-ear options, and we’ve only really got the Bose QuietControl 30 to truly recommend, thanks to their wireless nature combined with decent sound quality and fantastic noise-cancellation.

The B&O BeoPlay E4 wired earphones have the luxury of entering a relatively sparse market then, and certainly manage to hold their own. But a few annoying design decisions prevent them from being quite as good as they could be.

Design

In terms of aesthetics, the BeoPlay E4 earphones have the premium look we’ve come to expect from the B&O brand. With a matte black finish, the buds themselves are made of stainless steel, but manage not to feel too bulky in the ear. A selection of five different bud sizes (one pair being foam while the others are rubber) come in the box, along with a velvety carry case and airline jack adaptor, as well as a short micro USB charging cable.

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It’s when we slide down the cabling that things get a bit frustrating. The 130cm cable ends in an L-shaped 3.5mm headphone jack – no problems there, and the cable manages to avoid getting itself tangled up when jammed into a bag.

But it’s the noise-cancelling control box where the BeoPlay E4 hits a low. It looks innocent enough, again with a matte black finish, white B&O branding and measuring roughly 5cm x 3cm x 1cm. It’s here you’ll find the micro USB charging point and noise-cancelling controls too.

However, the placement is massively annoying – little more than an inch of cabling separates it from the jack. As a result, you ever push it into the same pocket as your music player – which runs the risk of scratching your screen unless you slip it in carefully – or let it dangle outside your pocket, which adds annoying weight and tug to the ear buds.

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With no clip on the box, and the noise-cancelling controls designed to be within easy reach at all times, it’s an uncomfortable compromise. The noise-cancelling slider on the side, which goes from off to on and has a toggle for a ‘transparency’ mode that uses an in-line mic to let in external sound, works well enough, but the transparency mode annoyingly doesn’t pause any audio playing, instead just muting it and boosting exterior noises.

As a result, I found myself just using the pause function, which sits in one of the three buttons on the in line remote a few inches down the left ear cable. As well as volume controls and pause functionality, the three buttons can be used to control track selection and answering calls, if you have an iOS device. Android users will have to just use their device’s own controls.

Performance

The B&O BeoPlay E4 earphones sound great, offering a balanced sound and solid noise-cancelling capabilities. B&O quote 20 hours of noise-cancelled playback with the earphones per charge. Mileage will vary depending on volume levels, but this seems broadly accurate, and is commendable.

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The noise-cancelling does a pretty good job of blocking out exterior noise, producing a quiet, barely-audible hiss to counteract sounds from the real world. Working best when music is playing (as opposed to audiobooks or podcasts), the low rumblings of a tube journey where practically muted, along with the sound of cars’ wet wheels on tarmac as I took a stormy walk home one night. They’re less well suited to offices though – it seems voices can still cut through the noise-cancelling effect unless you’ve pushed the volume up very loud.

Across a range of genres, the B&O BeoPlay E4 earphones sounded great. It’s a pretty balanced sound overall, leaning perhaps just a tad on the bassier end of the spectrum, with a consistent tone whether using the noise-cancelling option or otherwise.

The thrashy punk sounds of …And You Will Know Them By The Trail of Dead’s Baudelaire saw the tumble of distorted guitars and cymbal crashes cut through, without scrimping on bass levels.

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The more delicate ivory tinkling of Debussy’s classical Clare de Lune saw the interplay of mids and highs offer a rich soundscape, while the sharp synths and deep bass notes of Kraftwerk’s The Model we’re equally well reproduced.

As for mic performance, call quality was great at either end of the call – though as with most in-line earphone mics, windy weather can affect performance.

Verdict

The frustrations with the noise-cancelling box aside, the BeoPlay E4 are a solid pair of earphones. They look great and sound great too, keeping up the premium expectations that you’d have from a £229 pair of earphones. The noise-cancelling is great too, up with the best we’ve heard (or should that be haven’t heard?) from in-ears.

It’s the clunky positioning of the noise-cancelling control box itself that drags things down though. If it had been possible to combine the control box with the mic unit, or even simply slide it further up the cable with a clip for a shirt, it’d have been far easier to recommend the BeoPlay E4. It sounds like a minor grievance, but if you’re to use these at length, the annoyance adds up.

(techradar.com, https://goo.gl/3a6bZ5)

Canon EOS 6D Mark II Hands-on Review

KEY FEATURES
  • 26.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100-40,000
  • DIGIC 7 image processor
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF
  • 45-point AF system
  • 7560-pixel metering system
  • Full HD (1920 x 1080) video & 4K time-lapse movie
  • 3.5mm microphone port
  • Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth, GPS
  • Built-in intervalometer
  • Manufacturer: Canon
  • Review Price: £1,999/$2,538

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

HANDS-ON WITH CANON’S JUNIOR FULL-FRAME MODEL, THE CANON EOS 6D MARK II

After months of speculation, Canon has taken the wraps off the Canon EOS 6D Mark II. Replacing the four-year-old EOS 6D, the Canon EOS 6D Mark II slots into the EOS DSLR lineup below the EOS 5D Mark IV and above the company’s flagship APS-C model, the EOS 7D Mark II.

Often described as a junior full-frame DSLR, the original Canon EOS 6D became popular with enthusiast photographers who were looking to progress from an APS-C DSLR and take their first steps into full-frame photography without having to leap to the 5D.

Though the new Canon EOS 6D Mark II boasts full-frame status and many of Canon’s latest technological innovations, it remains a DSLR aimed at enthusiasts rather than professionals, and is priced accordingly. There’s a whopping £1350/$1728 difference between the 6D Mark II and 5D Mark IV. What’s also interesting is that it costs £200/$256 less than the original EOS 6D when it was launched in 2012.

The Canon EOS 6D Mark II will go on sale for £1999.99/$2560 (body only) or £2379.99/$3046 with the EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens.

A few days before the official release, I was invited to a product briefing where I got the chance to find out more and form some first impressions.

FEATURES

The EOS 6D’s 20.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor is replaced by a 26.2MP full-frame CMOS chip that we’ve never seen before in an EOS model. Compared to its predecessor that had a native ISO range of 100-25,600, the Mark II can now shoot between ISO 100-40,000, expandable to ISO 50-102,400.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Just like other Canon DSLRs of late, the new sensor teams up with Canon’s latest DIGIC 7 image processor. This pairing promises improvements to both image quality and speed of performance.

Image information is processed 14x faster than Canon’s DIGIC 6 image processor (the original EOS 6D featured a DIGIC 5+ image processor) and it can now shoot a continuous burst at up of 6.5fps, which is 2fps faster. A detailed look at its specification tells me that users can expect to sustain a burst of up to 150 JPEGs, or 21 RAW files, at 6.5fps.

Speed benefits are also gained in live view thanks to the integration of Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology. I’ve seen this technology rolled out across a number of other Canon DSLRs in the last few years, including the EOS 80D, EOS 7D Mark II and EOS 5D Mark IV. Not only does it allow for high-performance Servo AF tracking as well as smoother focusing, but it rules out the slothful autofocus performance in live view mode.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

For those unfamiliar with Dual Pixel CMOS AF, it’s a sensor-based, phase-detection autofocus system that works by splitting all the effective pixels on the surface of the sensor into two individual photodiodes – one for left and one for right.

Each of these photodiodes can be read separately, allowing faster phase-detection autofocus while simultaneously being used for image capture. It’s a system that’s become beneficial to photographers and videographers who’d like to shoot quickly without having to put up with clumsy focusing in Live View.

On the subject of autofocus, the EOS 6D Mark II’s new AF system is considerably more advanced than the 11-point AF system with one cross-type point you get on the original EOS 6D. This latest model inherits the 45-point all-cross-type AF system out of the EOS 80D. Out of the 45 AF points on offer, 27 are f/8 compatible, with the centre point being sensitive down to f/2.8.

The working range of the AF system is just the same as before, however, and is sensitive to -3EV to 18EV.

Turning attention to the camera’s metering, this is left in the capable hands of a 7560-pixel RGB IR metering sensor. I’ve seen this used before in the likes of the EOS 77D and it’s proven to be reliable at delivering consistently accurate exposures.

To counteract the rapid on/off pulsing you can get with some artificial lights, the EOS 6D Mark II also features Canon’s Flicker Detection technology that first made its debut in the EOS 7D Mark II.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

The camera sadly doesn’t support 4K movie recording. In its absence you get Full HD (1920 x 1080) video at up to 60p and you’re provided with a 3.5mm port to plug in an external microphone.

There’s no headphone port to monitor audio levels as you shoot, but it does become the first full-frame EOS to include five-axis in-camera digital stabilisation for movie capture – a feature I’ve found to be particularly effective at making handheld videos smoother and more professional looking on the other EOS cameras.

The good news is that video footage can be stabilised even when non-IS lenses are used, and the electronic stabilisation can be combined with optical stabilisation when using compatible EF lenses.

Though it won’t naturally be the first choice for videographers wanting to shoot the highest-resolution movies, the EOS 6D Mark II does come with an intriguing 4K time-lapse movie mode.

This mode records still images at 4K resolution over a duration set up via the camera’s in-built intervalometer before automatically merging the frames to create an effective time-lapse movie. If the example footage shown during the product briefing is anything to go by, the results from using this mode can be spectacular.

I’m looking forward to trying this new feature, and we’ll no doubt see it rolled out across other EOS models in the future.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity is built into the camera, offering photographers the freedom to control it wirelessly from a smartphone or tablet that’s running Canon’s Camera Connect app.

There’s also Bluetooth connectivity to form a permanent connection to a smartphone – a feature previously seen on the EOS M5, EOS 800D and EOS 77D. It allows your phone to be used as a remote control at any time, without having to mess around setting up a Wi-Fi connection between devices.

The Bluetooth connection can also instruct the camera to fire up its Wi-Fi for when you want to copy images across to your phone, or use full remote control with live view.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

BUILD AND HANDLING

The dimensions of the EOS 6D Mark II have changed very slightly. Compared to the original EOS 6D that measured W144.5 x H110.5 x D71.2mm, this latest model is fractionally more compact at W144.0 x H110.5 x D74.8mm, and weighs 765g (body only) when a rechargeable LP-E6N battery is loaded.

The disappointing news for existing EOS 6D users is that the BG-E13 battery grip isn’t compatible. Those who’d like to improve handling when using heavier lenses, and replicate the position of buttons in the portrait format as they are in the landscape format, will need to buy the new BG-E21 battery grip (£199/$254).

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

The chassis of the camera is made from aluminum alloy and polycarbonate resin with glass fibre, whereas the body is constructed from polycarbonate resin with special conductive fibre and glass fibre in some areas.

Though it feels noticeably lighter in the hand than the EOS 5D Mark III or EOS 5D Mark IV, the body feels well made and highly durable. Canon also states that the body is dust- and drip-resistant, which should see it survive a few drops of rain when used in the great outdoors.

The biggest change to the body is located at the rear where a 3-inch, 1,040k-dot vari-angle touchscreen replaces the 3-inch, 1040k-dot fixed screen of old.

Many Canon users have been asking for a vari-angle screen on a full-frame DSLR for some time now, so it’s great to see Canon acting on customer feedback. Being able to pull the screen out and tilt it to your preferred angle gives it a distinct advantage over a fixed screen when attempting to shoot from tricky angles or unusal perspectives. The touchscreen offers precise control and responds to the lightest of touches.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Above the screen you get an optical viewfinder that provides 98% coverage and 0.71x magnification. As well as revealing all the usual exposure and autofocus information, it can be set up to display the drive mode, battery level, alert symbol, flicker detection and image quality.

There’s a nice large rubber eye cup to cushion the viewfinder against your eye, and generally speaking it feels almost identical to the original EOS 6D in the hand. The grip is well sculpted, though you’ll find the grippy leather-effect finish doesn’t extend all the way around the side of the body, like it does on professional EOS bodies. You don’t get a joystick to nudge the AF point around the frame either, which is instead incorporated into the rear wheel as a multi-controller.

Button placement is virtually identical to before. The on/off switch shoulders the left corner of the body just below the mode dial and you get advanced controls such as an AF-ON button to easily perform back button focusing.

Other important buttons on the top plate allow you to access AF modes, drive modes, ISO and metering modes. A new addition, albeit a minor one, is the small button just behind the shutter button that’s particularly useful for adjusting the AF point selection method very quickly.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Those hopeful of dual SD card slots may be slightly disappointed to find that it only has a single slot. This unfortunately rules out any possibility of backing up files to a second card, spilling over to a second card when one becomes full, or assigning one card to the purpose of stills recording and the other to video.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

It’s safe to say anyone coming from an original EOS 6D will feel right at home operating the EOS 6D Mark II. It won’t feel intimidating for those upgrading from a double-digit or triple-digit Canon APS-C DSLR either, and Canon has done well to ensure that it feels both instinctive and intuitive to use for existing EOS DSLR users.

OPENING IMPRESSIONS

The Canon EOS 6D Mark II has been a long time coming. It sets its sights on improving where the EOS 6D left off and looks set to do so with a compelling set of features that will undoubtedly attract many enthusiasts who are thinking of upgrading to full frame.

Though it’s a so-called ‘enthusiast DSLR’ it’s likely to receive some interest from professionals who’d like a smaller and lighter backup body. It looks like a great option for travelling and situations where a vari-angle screen is preferable.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

While it’s seen as natural step-up for APS-C users and will undoubtedly satisfy the majority of those who buy it, the absence of dual card slots and 4K video might push a few people towards the EOS 5D Mark IV instead. If 4K video isn’t required, you’ll want to bear in mind that it’s still possible (at the time of writing) to buy an EOS 5D Mark III from new for the same price as the EOS 6D Mark II.

From my brief hands on with a pre-production model I got the impression that it’s well built and found little to fault in terms of its general performance and operation.

The autofocus is snappy, live-view focusing is in a different league to the original EOS 6D, and though the spread of AF points is fairly central, it’s great to have more of them at your disposal.

The burst rate isn’t blisteringly quick by today’s standards, but it’s adequate. The screen is absolutely superb and is one of the real standout features of this camera. Never before has it been so easy to compose an image from an awkward angle or position on a full-frame Canon DSLR.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

All that’s left to do now is wait a few weeks until a review sample arrives to find out how the new 26.2MP sensor performs and get a better impression of what it’s like to use over a prolonged spell of real-world testing.

(trustedreviews.com, https://goo.gl/mx6RoZ)

12.9-Inch iPad Pro Review

The Pros

Premium laptop-class performance; Long battery life; Amazingly bright, speedy display; Improved Pencil input; Stellar, booming sound; iOS 11 has a lot of promise

The Cons

Smart Keyboard needs a touchpad; Lengthy recharge time

Verdict

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro boasts the best screen and performance we’ve ever seen in a tablet, but we’d suggest waiting for the final version of iOS 11 to arrive before you splurge.

The tablet Apple claims can replace a PC laptop is finally living up to that promise. The new 12.9-inch iPad Pro (from $799; $1,067 with Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil) boasts a superbright ProMotion display that wows, and its A10X Fusion processor is so speedy, it leaves many premium laptops in its dust. This is a nearly perfect productivity tablet, and the upcoming iOS 11 will provide an even more computer-like experience than its predecessor. But there are still some reasons not to ditch your notebook yet.

Design: More of the same, in a good way

A massive slab of machined aluminum and glass, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is just as intimidating to pick up and hold as last year’s model. You’ll notice only two small design changes in this year’s model: The reception bar at the top of its shell is no longer black, and there’s now a flash below the rear camera.

On its own, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro weighs 1.5 pounds and measures 0.23 inches thick, making it heavier than the 10.5-inch iPad Pro (1.1 pounds, 0.24 inches) and lighter and thinner than the Microsoft Surface Pro (1.7 pounds, 0.33 inches).

As a laptop, with its optional Smart Keyboard ($169) attached, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro weighs 2.3 pounds and measures 0.55 inches thick. That’s similar to the Microsoft Surface Pro (2.4 pounds, 0.54 inches with Type Cover) and heavier than the 12-inch MacBook (2 pounds, 0.54 inches) and the 10.5-inch iPad Pro with its Smart Keyboard (1.6 pounds, 0.56 inches).

While it can’t match a laptop port for port, the connector selection in the iPad Pro is pretty standard for a tablet. This 12.9-inch slate features a headphone jack on the top, Apple’s proprietary Smart Connector on the left and a Lightning connector on the bottom.

ProMotion Display: Just wow

The vivid colors, smooth scrolling and amazing brightness in the iPad Pro’s screen make it probably the best panel I’ve seen in a product to date. For starters, the opening credits of Netflix’s GLOW looked fantastic on the slate, with pink, blue and yellow neon popping off the inky black background.

Its super-hi-res, 2732 x 2048-pixel display is just as lovely. When I watched the 4K film Tears of Steel on the tablet, I noticed teeny-tiny details, including the hairs of a fur collar and the fine print on a crumpled newspaper.

Apple’s new ProMotion technology is the cherry on top, using a 120-hertz refresh rate to allow for some of the smoothest scrolling I’ve seen on a mobile device. After seeing web pages and apps move so smoothly, I don’t think I’ll buy another device unless its panel can match this speed.

According to our colorimeter, the iPad Pro can reproduce 122 percent of the sRGB spectrum, matching the reading from the 10.5-inch iPad Pro (122 percent). That’s more than the 110 percent tablet average and the 117 percent rating from the MacBook, but less than the 140 percent mark from the Surface Pro.

The iPad Pro reproduces those colors accurately, as it scored 0.2 on the Delta-E test (0 is perfect). That’s tied with the 0.2 from the MacBook (0.2) and the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and better than the 0.5 from the Surface Pro.

This iPad Pro features one of the brightest screens we’ve ever seen in a tablet or a laptop, emitting up to 555 nits. That beats the 422-nit tablet average, the 477-nit 10.5-inch iPad Pro, the 396-nit Surface Pro and the 340-nit MacBook. Because the display is so bright and its surface isn’t too reflective, images stayed true at up to 75 degrees in every direction.

Smart Keyboard: A little lacking

If you want to use the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement, you need to get used to its Smart Keyboard first. The biggest learning curve for me was getting used to the shallowness of its keys, which feature just 0.5 millimeters of travel (a third of the 1.5-mm minimum we hope to see). While the 78 grams of required actuation force (we look for at least 60 grams) helped to make up for it, I needed to adjust the way I typed, so I clicked the keys more softly to avoid mashing my fingers against the base.

My favorite part of the Smart Keyboard is that when it was attached to the iPad Pro, the device felt stabler in my lap than any detachable 2-in-1 I’ve ever used. It does this by balancing the weight in the center of the keyboard (rather than toward the back), using a fold-flat folio (rather than a kickstand) and being wide enough to cover the width of my lap. All of these factors made it easy for me to use the iPad Pro in my lap to take notes by touch typing during a meeting.

The biggest issue with the Smart Keyboard is that it has no touchpad. Considering iOS doesn’t allow for a cursor, that’s not the biggest surprise, but I constantly found myself wishing I didn’t have to reach across to the screen to tap. If iOS 11 can bring the dock over from macOS, why can’t it sneak a cursor in, too?

Lastly, snackers may need to treat the Smart Keyboard with care. Its fabric coating snagged tiny flecks of the snack-size mozzarella bites I was eating. I had to apply some force to rub them out of the keyboard.

Apple Pencil: Better than ever

Despite not changing the hardware of its $99 Pencil, Apple made it work a whole lot better with the new iPad Pros. Thanks to the iPad Pro’s ProMotion display, writing feels more realistic than ever, as the company cut latency down from 40 milliseconds to 20 ms, beating the 21-ms latency shown by the Surface Pen (though I doubt anyone would notice the difference between the two).

I had the best Pencil experiences in apps such as Notes, Affinity Photo and Adobe Photoshop Sketch, where doodling with the Pencil (as well as my finger) resulted in nearly instantaneous responses. Not all programs seem to be optimized for the latest and greatest tech, though, as I observed lag in the Paper sketching app.

Audio: May this Force be with you

The iPad Pro’s four high-fidelity speakers (one in each corner) get loud. How loud? At work, the tablet produced enough sound to fill our open-floor office, and at home, it could drown out the noisy traffic leaking in through my bedroom window. It also sounded great, from the clear piano keys and crisp drums of rapper Action Bronson’s “Let Me Breathe” to the growling vocals and ferocious guitar riffs of alternative band FAITH/VOID’s “Messy, Isn’t It.”

Performance: Bigger, brawnier, more productive

The A10X Fusion processor and 4GB of RAM in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro make it so fast that full-featured PC laptops blush in shame. I saw nary a stutter or sputter when I split my screen between Safari with 13 tabs and the YouTube app streaming a 1080p video. The machine stayed responsive when I opened the Affinity Photo image editor, where I (a novice) easily applied a series of alterations to a selfie and ended up with a warped and wild kaleidoscopic portrait.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the speediest Apple tablet to date, posting a phenomenal score of 9,414 on the Geekbench 4 general performance test. That demolishes the 6,853 from the 12-inch MacBook (Intel Core m3-6Y30, 8GB of RAM), the 8,652 from the Surface Pro (Intel Core i7-7660U, 8GB of RAM) and the 6,066 tablet average. The 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which also features the A10X chip and 4GB of RAM, scored 9,233.

The A10X Fusion chip in the iPad Pro makes it the most powerful iOS device for graphics. The tablet took home a 54,198 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, which is above the 52,353 from the 10.5-inch iPad Pro (which also uses the A10X) and the 21,520 category average. The Surface Pro scored a much higher 109,678, thanks to its speedy Intel Iris Plus 640 GPU.

Battery Life: Better, but not the best

You can definitely leave your charger at home. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro lasted a fantastic 12 hours and 9 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which is longer than the 8:51 tablet average, as well as the runtimes from the MacBook (9:29) and the Surface Pro (7:30). The 10.5-inch iPad Pro posted a more impressive runtime of 13:55, possibly because it has a smaller screen to keep aglow.

That whopping battery life requires time and effort to maintain, as I noticed 4 hours of charging (from it being dead) only refilled 40 percent of its charge.

Cameras: Great viewfinder

The massive 12.9-inch iPad Pro feels awkward to hold as a camera, but its excellent images and video do not disappoint. Its 12-megapixel rear lens (the same as in the iPhone 7) captured the vibrant hues of purple flowers and green ferns, as well as the juicy pink tone of watermelons in an ad on the side of a truck. It reproduced detail just as well, including the crevices and seeds of those fruits and the veins of the petals.

This iPad Pro is no slouch on video, either, as it recorded 4K video at 30 frames per second and 1080p video at up to 60 fps. If your hands aren’t supersteady (mine are not), you might want to use the 1080p and 60-fps setting, which I found best for recording animated subjects such as an adorable dog ambling up Fifth Avenue.

The selfie-shooting 7-MP FaceTime HD camera is solid as well. My skin tone and the colors of my s shirt looked correct in the portraits I took, and I could see every hair of my stubble clearly in the photos, reminding me to shave.

iOS 11: A multitasker’s dream

The iPad Pro ships with iOS 10, along with improved Photos, Music, Maps and Messages, but the preloaded operating system felt like a drop in the bucket compared to what’s on the horizon.

iOS 11, coming this fall, looks to make the iPad Pro more laptop-like by adding several multitasking tricks and interface adjustments. Most notably, it adds drag-and-drop functionality, the Files app and a dock.

I installed the iOS 11 public beta on the iPad Pro, and my favorite feature is work spaces, which keeps apps paired together after you place them in the split view.

This way, I don’t need to re-pair the apps I always use in tandem (Tweetbot and Slack; Safari and the Bear writing app) after opening another one.

Also, the option to pull up a third app in Slide Over mode helps me briefly check my email or the news and keep my work up in the main screen.

Just know that iOS 11 changes how split-view multitasking works, moving from swiping in from the right side of the screen to dragging apps up from the dock.

Configuration options and accessories

Every 12.9-inch iPad Pro, including the $1,099, 512GB model we tested, comes with the same A10X Fusion CPU and 4GB of RAM. The entry-level $799 model includes 64GB of storage, and the $899 middle sibling packs 256GB of storage. Cellular connectivity costs an additional $130.

You’ll need to spend more to get the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard cover ($169) and Apple Pencil ($99) accessories, which brings you up to a starting price of $1,067.

Bottom Line

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro makes a case for bigger truly being better, with its jaw-dropping display, fantastic performance and powerful sound. And it will be a heck of a lot more practical as a laptop replacement once iOS 11 is released. Unfortunately, it’s facing two small hurdles: the lack of a touchpad and the weight of its price tag.

If you want a more complete desktop operating system, you can get the 12-inch MacBook, but it doesn’t last as long on a charge and, at $1,299, costs $232 more than the iPad with the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. You can save some change and work in the Windows world with the entry-level Surface Pro, Type Cover and Surface Pen for $1,059, though that machine packs an Intel Core m3 processor, which is puny by comparison. (The model we tested costs $2,459 with a stylus and keyboard.)

But if you’re good with a tablet, each iPad Pro offers its own merits. Get the 10.5-inch version if you want the best battery life. But if you want the brightest display and the best performance, opt for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro; with iOS 11, it will be a solid candidate to replace your laptop.

(laptopmag.com, https://goo.gl/4gLPgi)

Canon EOS 200D Hands-on Review

KEY FEATURES
  • 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100-25,600 expandable to ISO 51,200
  • DIGIC 7 image processor
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF
  • 9-point AF system
  • 63-zone dual-layer metering sensor
  • 3-inch, 1,040k-dot vari-angle touchscreen
  • 3.5mm microphone port
  • Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Manufacturer: Canon
  • Review Price: £579.99/$742

Canon EOS 200D

HANDS-ON WITH THE CANON’S LIGHTWEIGHT AND BEGINNER-FRIENDLY DSLR

Not long after adding the EOS 800D to its lineup of beginner DSLRs, Canon has released a new model to replace the four-year-old EOS 100D. The Canon EOS 200D follows in the footsteps of its predecessor and is designed to be small, lightweight and convenient to carry.

Bearing the distinction of being the world’s lightest APS-C DSLR with a vari-angle screen, it slots into the company’s range of DSLRs between the entry-level EOS 1300D and more advanced EOS 760D and EOS 800D models.

Aimed at those looking to buy their first DSLR, as well as people who’d like to learn more about photography and develop their skills, the EOS 200D inherits a good number of features found throughout Canon’s DSLR range, including the manufacturer’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF tech and built-in Wi-Fi.

Kết quả hình ảnh cho Canon EOS 200D

The Canon EOS 200D will be available to buy in July at a cost of £579.99/$742 (body only). It’ll also be available as part of a kit with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens for £679.99/$870 or with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens for £649.99/$832.

Prior to its official release, I attended a product briefing with Canon to find out a little more about the camera. These are my first impressions.

FEATURES

At the heart of the Canon EOS 200D is a 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor that offers a higher pixel count than the 18MP sensor used inside the Canon EOS 100D. This chip works in partnership with Canon’s DIGIC 7 image processor and provides a continuous shooting speed of 5fps, which is 1fps faster than the EOS 100D.

Canon EOS 200D

The sensor is identical to the one used inside the EOS 77D and EOS 800D. It offers an ISO range of 100-25,600 and can be expanded to a maximum of ISO 51,200 in its ‘H’ setting.

The EOS 200D is, at the time of writing, the cheapest DSLR (£579.99/$742 body only) in Canon’s EOS lineup to feature Dual Pixel CMOS AF. This technology provides increased autofocus speed and tracking performance in live view and when recording HD video.

On the subject of focusing, the EOS 200D presents a fairly basic layout of nine AF points with one single cross type in the centre. These AF points are arranged in a diamond formation and feature an AF working range of to -0.5EV to 18EV.

As well as offering the full manual shooting control you’d expect from a DSLR, the Canon EOS 100D offers image capture for the photographic newcomer in the shape of a Scene Intelligent Auto mode, with a selection of Creative Filters. Metering is looked after by a 63-zone dual-layer metering sensor and exposure can be refined using the exposure-compensation system, which offers 1/3 stop or 1/2 stop increments over a range of +/-5EV.

Canon EOS 200D

The shutter speed range spans from 30sec-1/4000sec and, like most of Canon’s entry-level DSLR’s, you only get a single scroll dial on the top plate. To adjust aperture with this dial when shooting in manual mode you’re required to press and hold the AV button at the rear that’s located just above the D-pad.

Those wishing the make quick adjustments on the fly will appreciate the impressive 3-inch, 1040k-dot vari-angle touchscreen. Unlike the EOS 100D’s screen that was fixed, the EOS 200D’s display is now the pull out and tilt type and comes into its own when shooting from awkward or unusual angles. Above it you’ll find an optical viewfinder. Although coverage isn’t a full 100%, at 95% it’s respectable for a camera aimed at beginners, and benefits from dioptre correction and depth of field preview.

There’s also a built-in flash with a guide number of 9.8, and those who require a bit more power can always attach one of Canon’s Speedlite EX series via the hot shoe.

There’s no 4K movie recording, but those who enjoy shooting the occasional video can do so at Full HD (1920 x 1080) quality at up to 60fps. Other available frame rates include 50fps, 30fps, 25fps and 24fps.

At the side of the body you’ll also notice there’s a 3.5mm stereo mini jack should you wish to use an external microphone and improve the audio of recordings.

Canon EOS 200D

One feature lacking on the EOS 100D that the EOS 200D now boasts is Wi-Fi. For anyone looking to step up from a smartphone this is, of course, seen as a must-have feature. It ties in with the free-to-download Canon Connect app and allows you to share images between mobile devices in seconds as well as take control of the camera’s key settings when you’d like to work remotely.

Inside the menu you’ll find the same optional guided interface that you get on the EOS 800D and EOS 77D, which, when activated, changes the shooting screen and menu display on the LCD to a more animated one that provides information and practical advice specific to the exposure mode selected. The information will be particularly useful for beginners who are starting their DSLR journey with little or no previous experience.

BUILD AND HANDLING

Canon has tweaked the layout of buttons and controls on the EOS 200D. The most obvious difference is the vari-angle screen at the rear. A small notch has been cut out of the body to make it easy to pull out, and the good news is that the screen sits virtually flush to the back of the camera when it’s not pulled out.

Live-view, playback and exposure-compensation buttons are all located in the same place, with the quick-menu button once again being located in the centre of a small D-pad.

Canon EOS 200D

Up on the top plate the on/off switch is now separate from the mode dial, making it slightly less awkward to operate with your thumb. Pushing the switch beyond its on/off settings engages video mode.

The mode dial has been simplified and you now get a display button alongside an ISO button to toggle through different views on the rear screen. Both the ISO and DISP buttons are fairly spongy, though, and need to be depressed quite a way before they do anything. Ahead of these you get a knurled scroll dial and the shutter button, which is no longer surrounded by the same rubberised material as you get on the EOS 100D.

Though the camera feels very similar size-wise to the EOS 100D, the finish of the grip has changed to a more traditional leatherette finish that’s more in keeping with other EOS models in the lineup. It doesn’t offer quite the same level of grip in the hand as the EOS 100D, but it does look smarter in my opinion.

As well as being made in black, the EOS 200D will be produced in white and a vintage-inspired silver and tan finish.

Those with sharp eyes will also notice a new connectivity button on the top of the camera to the left of the pop-up flash, which can be used to initiate a wireless connection.

Canon EOS 200D

The polycarbonate resin and carbon-and-glass-fibre body doesn’t feel as robust as the more expensive models in Canon’s range, however it feels adequately strong to shake off the occasional bump or knock it might receive in day-to-day use.

People with large hands might find the grip a little on the small side, but those with small or medium-sized hands are unlikely to have too many complaints.

With a battery and memory card inserted the camera weighs 453g without a lens. Studying the physical dimensions on the spec sheet reveals it’s fractionally larger than the EOS 100D. It measures W122.4 x H92.6 x D69.8mm as opposed to 116.8×90.7x69mm.

Canon EOS 200D

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

We knew it would only be a matter of time before Dual Pixel CMOS AF and the latest DIGIC 7 image processor were handed down to this level of DSLR. With their latest APS-C DSLR release, Canon has brought the EOS 200D bang up to date by incorporating features that until now we’ve only seen on more expensive models.

We’re expecting the image quality from its 24.2MP sensor to rival Canon’s more advanced EOS 800D and EOS 77D DSLRs. What’s most impressive, though, is how it manages to cram all the features you would expect from a mid-range enthusiast DSLR into a body that’s so much smaller. It really is quite an achievement!

Canon EOS 200D

Though it may be the smallest and most attractive entry-level DSLR in Canon’s EOS lineup right now, it’s certainly not short of competition in the mirrorless market. From my brief time with the camera it certainly seems like a tempting proposition for those who want the image quality and handing of a DSLR without the bulk and weight that’s so often associated with this type of camera.

Overall, my first impressions of the Canon EOS 200D are very good and I have high expectations of what it might be capable of. We’ll have to wait a couple of weeks before the first review samples start working their way through to the press. Watch this space for our full review.

(trustedreviews.com, https://goo.gl/mH72nJ)

Astro A10 Review: A Great, Cheap Gaming Headset

The good
  • Slick, durable design
  • Impressive audio performance
  • Clear microphone
  • Affordable
The bad
  • A little snug
Verdict

The Astro A10 is an impressive budget gaming headset that offers solid audio and a slick design for just $60.

Kết quả hình ảnh cho astro a10

When I think Astro, I think fancy wireless gaming headsets that cost hundreds of dollars. That’s why I was so eager to test out the $60 Astro A10, the company’s first foray into the entry-level headset arena, which is dominated by the likes of Turtle Beach and HyperX.

As it turns out, Astro can compete with the little guys just as well as it does with the big boys. The A10 performs impressively well for its price, offering a slick design, solid audio and a reliable microphone. However, it can get a bit snug, and faces some serious competition from cozier headsets that are even more affordable.

Premium looks on a budget

It might not have the metal components and fancy features of its more expensive siblings, but the Astro A10 is impressively slick and sturdy for a plastic $60 headset. It’s essentially a baby brother version of the premium Astro A50, sporting big, boxy ear cups and a bendable mic that you can flip up to mute.

The A10 comes in variations of blue, green and red that are aimed at Xbox One, PS4 and PC players, respectively, though all versions work fine with any platform. The headset’s 6.5-foot cable has a handy in-line volume slider and is fully detachable, making it ideal for travel.

Solid comfort, but a bit too snug

The A10 is fairly cozy, though it’s also the first Astro headset I’ve had to take breaks from wearing. While I’m a fan of the headset’s lightweight, 12-ounce frame and thick memory foam ear cushions, its relatively small ear cups didn’t give my big ears nearly enough breathing room.

The Astro A10 is impressively slick and sturdy for a plastic $60 headset.

This tightness didn’t deter me from using the A10 for hours at a time, but my ears needed a few seconds to decompress after long sessions. Unlike the HyperX Cloud Stinger and Logitech G231 Prodigy, the A10’s ear cups don’t swivel 90 degrees to automatically conform to your dome. You can adjust the A10’s ear cups about 2 inches up or down for a better fit, but even after tweaking the height, the headset simply felt too snug for me.

Impressive audio performance for the price

The A10 offers very impressive audio performance for an entry-level headset, delivering punchy highs and a solid low end for just about every genre.

Astro’s headset made it easy for me to pinpoint enemy footsteps during a tense Overwatch showdown and gave plenty of kick to the game’s snappy guns. Forza Horizon 3’s screeching tires and revving engines sounded crisp, and I could make out the subtle changes in tire noises when I went from driving on roads to coasting on the beach.

The A10 also did a fine job preserving Injustice 2’s excellent sound design. Every move and combo landed with impact, from the satisfying thud of punches and kicks to the crackle of Red Hood’s pistols.

As is the case with most cheap gaming headsets, the A10 is less than ideal for listening to music. I found that guitars and other treble tones simply sounded too muddy, whether I was headbanging to the Doom soundtrack or blasting the sunny indie rock of Tigers Jaw.

Microphone and extras

The Astro A10’s microphone performed reliably in my tests, allowing my Xbox Live friends to hear me clearly over the sounds of us murdering each other in Friday the 13th: The Game.

The A10 is light on fancy extras, though I did appreciate the volume slider on the headset’s removable 6.5-foot cable. The PC version of the A10 includes a splitter cable that you can use to plug into your computer’s microphone and headphone jacks.

Astro’s headset made it easy for me to pinpoint enemy footsteps during a tense Overwatch showdown and gave plenty of kick to the game’s snappy guns.

Xbox One owners can get a $100 bundle that adds in the MixAmp M60, which attaches to your controller and lets you activate various EQ modes while adjusting the balance between game and chat audio on the fly.

Bottom line

Taken on its own, the Astro A10 is a fantastic gaming headset value. For $60, you get great sound, a durable design, a solid microphone and a mostly cozy set of cans.

However, Astro’s wallet-friendly headset can get a little too tight, and it has some serious competition in the sub-$60 price range. The $50 HyperX Cloud Stingercosts $10 less and offers better comfort, thanks to its lighter weight and swiveling ear cup design that adjusts to various head sizes. It’s also worth considering the $70 Logitech G231 Prodigy, which has a sportier, more breathable design.

Still, if you prefer Astro’s design, want more color options and can live with some snug cans, there’s a lot to love about the A10.

(tomsguide.com, https://goo.gl/Tb4fmk)

Pioneer Rayz Rally review

The Good: The Rayz Rally is a ultracompact speaker that plugs into the Lightning port on your iOS device, doesn’t require batteries or charging, and plays without any setup or pairing required. It works well as a speakerphone and can play music or audio from videos louder than your iPhone’s internal speaker. A carrying pouch is included.

The Bad: It’s too expensive, it looks awkward attached to your phone, and its sound can’t match small Bluetooth speakers at the same price or less.

The Bottom Line: Although it should be a lot cheaper, the Rayz Rally is handy little plug-and-play speaker that significantly upgrades the audio of your iPhone.

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Let’s face it: the speaker built into your iPhone sounds pretty bad. Pioneer’s no-hassle Lighting-powered speaker, the Rayz Rally, is a real upgrade.

Available worldwide in Apple Stores and from Apple.com in ice, onyx or space gray colors for $100, £100 or AU$160, the tiny, pocket-size speaker dongle plugs into the Lightning port of your iOS device. It draws power from your phone, so there’s no internal battery — and no charging required. A mini business-grade speakerphone aimed at “digital nomads” who work from anywhere, it also has no trouble playing music or the sound from your video content.

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The single button on the speaker serves as a mute button during phone calls (so callers can’t hear you) or a pause/play button while listening to music or videos. And like the Rayz Plusheadphone, there’s a pass-through Lightning port integrated into the speaker that allows you to charge your phone with a separate Lightning cable.

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In my tests, the speaker had very little impact on my iPhone’s battery life, but — again — it does sip a tiny bit of juice from your phone to power itself. It’s hard to quantify just how much power it does draw, but it’s not much different than playing music through your phone’s speakers or using the iPhone’s speakerphone.

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The speaker’s software can be upgraded through the free Rayz companion app, and there’s a noise-reduction feature that helps cut down on background noise in a room while you’re making a call. A simple cloth carrying pouch is included.

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As for sound, the speaker does sound louder and fuller than your iPhone’s speakers, but it’s not on the same level as a $100 Bluetooth speaker such as the JBL Flip 4 or UE Wonderboom. The Rally is a step up from your phone’s internal speakers if you’re listening to music (though it’s not really an upgrade over the iPad Pro’s speakers), but as a single speaker it’s strongest in the midrange and tuned with an ear toward people’s voices. It’s not totally devoid of bass, but there certainly isn’t much of it.

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Ultimately, the Rally is at its best and excels as a speakerphone for making voice and video calls. For startups or solopreneurs that can’t afford a fancy Polycom, this might make for a suitable bootstrapping substitute.

My only issue with it is that its $100 price is pretty steep. It’s new to the market, so we’ll see how things shake out, but hopefully we’ll see someday at closer to $50, because that’s where it really should ideally be priced.

(cnet.com, https://goo.gl/XvyXHT)

Lenbaby Velvet 85 review

The Good: The Lensbaby Velvet 85 is well constructed with a strongly damped, precise focus ring, and it produces lovely, soft out-of-focus areas with round highlights.

The Bad: You have to rotate the focus ring a long way to get from infinity to macro, and you need to like focusing manually.

The Bottom Line: Another winning lens from Lensbaby, the Velvet 85 is a pleasure to use and a great option when you want seriously smooth bokeh and a little in-camera pop for portrait, macro and street photography.

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An 85mm version of its Velvet 56mm lens, the Lensbaby Velvet 85 delivers the same idiosyncratic, dreamy defocus effect, this time in an f1.8 telephoto. And it’s quickly become one of my new favorites for street photography.

The Velvet 85 will start shipping in mid-July on lensbaby.com for for $500 in a host of dSLR and mirrorless mounts, for both full-frame and crop sensors, including Sony E and Micro Four Thirds. I don’t have non-US pricing or availability yet, but directly converted, it’s £393 and AU$660.

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Like the Velvet 56, it’s constructed of metal with a clicky aperture ring on the body side. Apertures run from f1.8 to f16 in whole stops (except for the first step, f1.8 to f2, which is one-third of a stop). There’s also a knurled, strongly damped focusing ring. The distance range runs from 9.5 inch/24cm from the front element in macro mode up to 21 feet/7m before making the jump to infinity; a full rotation of the lens before you hit macro takes it down to 12 inches/0.3 m.

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It’s a long way from infinity to a foot, not to mention macro — 1.5 turns of the focus ring. On one hand, the long rotation makes it easy (and necessary) to get very granular focus adjustments at small distances. However, it also means that you can occasionally miss a shot when going from near to far or vice versa.

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Macro magnification is 1:2, and all the models take a 67mm filter, though the size and weight will vary with the mount. It’s no lightweight at about 19 ounces/530g — it’s a lot of glass and metal.  The dSLR versions include a built-in hood, while the mirrorless-mount models will let you unscrew it.

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As with most Lensbaby lenses, it’s all about the bokeh. Thanks to its 12-blade aperture, the out-of-focus areas look incredibly smooth and filmlike, with round highlights, while f2.8 and wider renders an interesting glow to the images, resulting in an oddly attractive twinkle to defocused bright highlights. I find that, on full-frame at least, you really need to shoot at f4 or wider to get any sharply focused areas. When in focus, the lens has good clarity and tends to saturate colors a little more than usual, but still delivers attractive skin tones. Of course, a lot depends on the camera you use; I tested it on a Sony  A7 II.

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The one aspect in which the quality differs from the Velvet 56 is chromatic aberration (CA); while it might have been my preproduction sample, I saw quite a bit of axial CA (fringing) on high-contrast edges. That look can be one of the charms of a Lensbaby, but if you’re looking for pristine images, you won’t be happy.

Like the Velvet 56, the Velvet 85 is an elegantly constructed lens that’s fun and creative to use for adding a little difference to portrait, product, street and similar standard-lens photography.

(cnet.com, https://goo.gl/8FH47H)

 

OLED vs QLED – which is the best TV technology?

There may only be one letter between these two technologies, but the way they deliver an image is vastly different. We illuminate the bright lights and gloomy darks of OLED and QLED TV screens..

These are halcyon days for TV technology. Ultra HD 4K is now pretty well established, HDR is beginning to make headway, and streaming puts a near-infinite supply of content at our fingerprints all day, every day.

But these are also confusing times for TV technology, with new acronyms and marketing terms raining down like confetti at the wedding of the managing director of a confetti company.

One of the key current confusions lies in the comparison between them and, as is so often the case, marketing is largely to blame – particularly from the QLED camp. So what exactly is the difference between OLED and QLED?

OLED pros and cons

“The way the Sony A1 defines edges and reveals textures is beyond our already lofty expectations for this TV tech”

OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) is a type of display tech that involves a carbon-based film being placed between two conductors that pass a current through and cause the film to emit a light.

What’s most important is that this light can be emitted on a pixel-by-pixel basis, so a bright white or coloured pixel can appear next to one that’s black or an entirely different colour, with neither impacting the other.

This is in direct contrast to a traditional LCD TV, which relies on a separate backlight to generate light that’s then passed through a layer of pixels.

Despite many attempts over the years, no TV with a backlight has ever managed to completely eradicate the issue of light bleeding from an intentionally bright pixel to those around it.

“[With the LG OLED55B7V] you never get the sense that what you’re watching is anything but precisely what was intended”

Other advantages of OLED are that the panels are lighter and thinner than a typical LCD/LED arrangement, viewing angles tend to be significantly wider, and response times can be supremely quick.

The major disadvantage is that OLEDs are very expensive to produce. Prices are beginning to get a little more realistic – thanks in no small part to LG (currently the only producer of OLED panels for TVs) selling panels to other manufacturers such as Sony and Panasonic, increasing both the amount being produced and competition in the shops – but OLED TVs still tend to be significantly more expensive than the alternatives.

For now, there isn’t an OLED TV available that’s smaller than 55in, either.

OLEDs also currently struggle to reach the same peak brightness levels of the best TVs that have a dedicated backlight.

QLED pros and cons

“It’s the clarity and amount of detail within those bright and colourful moments [on the Samsung QE49Q7C] that really impresses”

The one major TV manufacturer not onboard the OLED train is Samsung, which is instead promoting a rival technology called QLED.

QLED stands for Quantum-dot Light-Emitting Diode which, in theory at least, has a great deal in common with OLED, most notably that each pixel can emit its own light, in this case thanks to quantum dots – tiny semiconductor particles only a few nanometres in size.

“The biggest advantage an LCD TV with LED backlighting has over an OLED TV is brightness”

These quantum dots are (again, in theory) capable of giving off incredibly bright, vibrant and diverse colours – even more so than OLED.

The problem is that the quantum dots in current QLED TVs do not emit their own light. Instead they simply have the light from a backlight passed through them, in just the same way that an LCD layer does on non-QLED/LED backlit sets.

Quantum dots still improve colour vibrancy and control over LCD, but this isn’t the next-gen, game-changing technology that Samsung is suggesting with its QLED branding – it’s more a refinement of a technology the company was using in 2016.

“Skin tones are well judged [on the Panasonic TX-55EZ95B], with natural colour and genuine subtlety.”

But just because current QLEDs aren’t representative of endgame quantum dot tech doesn’t mean they should be written off. On the evidence of the models we’ve seen so far, QLEDs deliver significantly brighter, more vibrant pictures than their OLED rivals.

The current requirement that a quantum dot TV has a separate backlight does mean the compromises with LCD tech that we’ve been complaining about for years are still present. At the fairly minor end of the spectrum it means that panels simply can’t get as dramatically thin as an OLED – such as the LG OLED65W7 “wallpaper” TV.

But the major issue is that the overall brightness of the whole display still needs to be raised to light even a small, bright object at its centre, and that has a detrimental impact on the depth of black areas of the image.

Even with the Samsung QE55Q7F you occasionally notice the darkness of these areas (particularly the black bars at the top and bottom when watching a film) adjusting in accordance with the onscreen action – and that can be distracting.

OLED’s ability to light each pixel individually gives it a distinct advantage in that regard. While overall brightness levels are undeniably lower, contrast is still incredibly impressive.

If an image consists of very dark and very bright elements, OLEDs tend to combine the two more effectively, as shown by the Sony KD-55A1 and LG OLED55B7V.

The perfect TV technology would combine the brightness and vibrancy of current QLEDs with the black performance and uncompromised contrast of OLED, and current thinking is that the next-generation, genuinely light-emitting quantum dots could offer just that – to the extent that many manufacturers, including LG, are apparently working with that in mind.

Final verdict

There’s no telling how far away those next-gen QLEDs are, though, so for now a TV buyer is forced to choose which combination of strengths and compromises best suits their taste.

On the evidence of the sets we’ve seen so far, the more natural and authentic images offered by OLED just about trump the awesome punch of QLED.

But with Samsung’s current range generally costing significantly less than 2017’s OLEDs, there’s still a compelling case for its QLED screens.

(whathifi.com, https://goo.gl/vraD8h)

eero 2nd-gen Review (2017): Mesh network’s star raises its game

PROS

  • Speed increase over 1st-gen eero
  • Option for family filtering and malware protection
  • Easy setup and configuration

CONS

  • Still not a cheap router system
  • eero Plus subscription required for advanced features
  • Limited number of ethernet ports

No good idea in the tech world goes without replication, and while eero may have started the home mesh networking segment, it can’t afford to rest on its laurels. Throw open your doors, therefore, to the second-generation eero and the new eero Beacon, promising more flexibility, a more competitive price, and more speed. Indeed, performance is said be as much as twice that of the original eero, which launched back in 2015.

Since then, the mesh networking market has flourished. On the one hand, traditional router manufacturers like Netgear and Linksys have woken up to the idea that consumers will pay for more consistent coverage wherever they are in their home. At the same time, heavyweights like Google have weighed in with products like Google Wifi: with the bulk of their services residing in the cloud, it makes perfect sense to streamline how readily users can reach them.

Where does eero go after all that? The answer is doubling-down on its mesh’s core strengths – coverage and speed – and boosting its practicality in ways the company believes will benefit everyday consumers. So, has it managed that?

Hardware and eero Backward-Compatibility

Where once there was a single eero unit, now there are two. The second-generation eero looks like its predecessor, a short, slightly bulging white box with two gigabit ethernet ports on the back. Unlike the bevy of flashing lights that can leave some routers resembling KITT from Knight Rider, there’s a single LED that glows white when everything is fine and red when it’s not. Power now comes courtesy of a USB-C port.

It’s joined by the eero Beacon. Half the size of the regular model, it’s designed to plug directly into an outlet. You don’t get any ethernet ports, but you do get a nightlight that softly illuminates the ground underneath. It sounds like a gimmick – indeed, you can turn it off, or set a schedule for it to be active – but it’s actually a cunning plot to get you to leave the eero Beacon somewhere unblocked by furniture. That makes a significant impact on performance, after all.

While the design language may be familiar, inside it’s all-change. More than twice as powerful as the original eero, the second-generation system supports WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with 2×2 MU-MIMO and beamforming. A third 5 GHz radio has been added, for dedicated backhaul between eero units without congesting the bands your wireless devices are using.

There are also Bluetooth LE 4.2 and Thread radios. The latter paves the way for eero being a home hub for the broader Internet of Things, acting as a controller for smart locks, connected bulbs, thermostats, and other devices without needing to plug in the multitude of third-party hubs. For the moment, you’ll struggle to actually find devices that rely on low-power Thread – though recent hardware like the Nest Cam IQ has support for it – but eero argues that accessory makers have been collectively waiting for a compatible router before embracing it completely.

eero Beacon isn’t quite as advanced as the full-size eero, with dual-band WiFi but no ethernet ports, though it still gets Thread and Bluetooth support. Even so, the company claims that a two-unit combo of a 2nd-gen eero and an eero Beacon will outperform the first-gen three unit kit.

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Before you bemoan your original investment, though, don’t fret: both of the new models are backward compatible. If you have existing eero hardware you can merely add the new eero and eero Beacon into the mix. Just be aware that your Thread network coverage won’t be as good as your WiFi coverage, since the old routers lack the specific radio.

Installation and Setup

Ease of setup was one of the original eero goals, and this new system is even easier. It’s all done through the eero app, which walks you through installing the first router – basically involving plugging it into your modem, powering it up, and then waiting 30 seconds or so until it’s recognized – and then telling it where in your home it is. eero asks what sort of layout the building follows, whether it’s tall or long, and how many levels, and you can name each router according to where you place it.

After that, you plug in the eero Beacons one by one, and go through the same process. eero tests the connection speed between them at each stage, warning you if they need to be closer together. Over time, the promise is that the app will notify you if you could improve overall performance by changing their positions – there’s also a test you can run manually to check the efficiency of the interlink – but I didn’t get any advice.

At that point, you can just start using eero as you would any other router. Both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands are identified as a single network, devices automatically switching according to the needs of range and speed. There’s no browser-based page to monitor setup, everything being done instead in eero’s app. That gives you a simple read on how many WiFi clients are connected, the results of the most recent internet speed test, and the current status of each eero unit.

Dig in, though, and there are some extra settings you can play with. Most are shared with the original system, like guest access for a second network and family profiles for controlling permissions for groups of devices assigned to different individuals. You can put your kid’s phone, console, and tablet all in one group, for instance, and then cut them off from the internet teat with a single button press. Alternatively, you can schedule when their connectivity is paused.

Newly added are two premium features, part of eero’s plan to evolve its system from merely routers to a full platform. Eventually that’ll mean APIs so third-party developers can run apps and services on eero, but for now there’s eero Plus, a $9.99 per month subscription that enables whole-home network security, and parental controls with content filtering.

According to eero they’re the most-requested features users currently have. The former promises to spot any potential malware, ransomware, or phishing attempts and block them automatically. The latter, meanwhile, can control what an individual device – or a family profile’s assigned devices – can view online, according to categories like “illegal”, “adult”, or “violent”. It can also force Google’s SafeSearch to be applied. eero Plus wasn’t available for me to test for this review.

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eero isn’t the only company trying this subscription-based model. On the one hand, there’s clearly an appetite for these features, and if you have kids the ability to control what they can and can’t access might be a valuable selling point. eero errs on the side of simplistic with its settings – there’s little more than an on/off switch – which, though lacking the complex whitelisting abilities rival systems promise, does at least have the advantage of cutting out the setup headache that might dissuade many from actually using filtering and malware protection.

Compared to buying and installing software on every device in the home – which might be bypassed by sly kids, or even impossible on IoT devices – eero’s $9.99 subscription does make some financial sense. However, I could understand you opting to wait and see what else gets added to eero Plus: the company says it plans to treat it like Amazon Prime, adding extra talents over time, all for the same monthly fee.

Performance

Like an increasing number of people, I don’t have a particularly straightforward networking setup. First off there’s the sheer number of wireless devices each fighting for their connection: laptops, phones, tablets, smart TVs, and then the growing roster of WiFi-equipped gadgets like cameras, streaming speakers, home assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home, and more. Then there’s the topography of the building itself, with a mixture of wood and concrete construction, spread over a couple of levels.

No two houses are ever alike, of course. I opted to compare eero gen-two to its most likely competitor, Google Wifi. It’s the system which, when I first tested it late last year, out-performed the first-generation eero.

I installed three eero units – one second-generation eero, and two eero Beacon – in the same locations as three Google Wifi units. One was central in the house, in the living room where the internet modem is; another was on the same floor, but on the other side of the house. Finally, the third was downstairs in the basement. I then performed multiple iperf3 speed tests with a computer plugged directly into either the living room eero or Google Wifi, and a client device in the same room, at the opposite side of the house, and downstairs in the basement.

The results saw eero nudge slightly ahead of Google Wifi, at least when at a distance from the main unit. In the living room, the two systems were about equal in speed. At the intermediary distance, on the same floor but on the other side of the house, the new eero system was slightly faster. Down in the basement, though, eero was almost 50-percent faster than Google Wifi.

Notably, that’s the location where the first-generation eero struggled most in my tests last year. In comparison, this time around the new eero proved to be more than twice as fast in the basement. Again, your results will undoubtedly vary given the different wireless environment, how many other routers at neighbors houses you’re near, and such, but overall it’s an impressive showing.

Of course, a three-unit set of Google Wifi is $299, whereas the same amount only gets you a 2nd-gen eero and an eero Beacon. To see what difference that made, I unplugged the basement eero Beacon and re-ran the speed tests there. Interestingly, though it was slower than Google Wifi in that circumstance, it was only by around 20-percent. It was also still faster than the first-gen eero three-unit set had performed in the same location, with a third router in the basement. eero will also sell you a “Pro” system, with three full-sized 2nd-gen units, for $499.

Wrap-Up

Last year, I recommended Google Wifi over the first-generation eero, because it was both cheaper and faster in my testing. Now, the balance has shifted again. While performance is invariably dependent on the layout and construction of your home, an easy-to-install two eero system about matches a three-unit Google Wifi system, while a three eero system improves on its speeds.

Those three units will set you back $399, mind, a not inconsiderable amount. Yet eero also offers content filtering – albeit with a subscription fee – that Google’s system, so far, has not. My original criticisms about a shortfall in physical ethernet ports on either company’s routers still stands, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend existing eero owners jump to make the upgrade: eero Plus will be an option on the first-gen hardware, eero is promising ongoing software updates, and right now Thread isn’t really used. Still, if you’re shopping for your first mesh router system, eero should probably be your first port of call.

(slashgear.com, https://goo.gl/crhqNR)

The Miggö Pictar is a pricey camera grip for iPhone photographers – Review

What we like:
  • Good ergonomics and comfortable grip
  • Easy to use
  • Customizable configuration
  • Well-designed app
What we don’t like:
  • Cheap plastic material
  • Requires fairly obscure 1/2AA battery
  • Slightly stiff front dial makes precise zooming difficult
  • No Raw support in camera app

Many photographers would probably agree that the image quality of smartphone cameras has improved rapidly over the past few years and in many cases now rivals the output from some conventional digital compact cameras. However, even if the image quality of the smartphone camera in your pocket is all you need, there is still one area in which conventional cameras offer undeniable advantages over smartphones: ergonomics.

Multi-touch smartphone displays are great for general use and navigation of mobile devices, but many photographers prefer physical buttons and dials for setting camera shooting parameters over virtual controls on a screen.

Enter the Miggö Pictar camera grip. It attaches to your iPhone and provides a number of customizable physical controls, plus a tripod mount and a cold shoe connector. The Pictar is available in two versions. One is compatible with the iPhones models 4s, 5, 5s, 6, 6s, SE and 7 and will set you back $99. The other fits the larger iPhone Plus models, including the latest iPhone 7 Plus flagship, and is $10 more expensive.

I’ve been using the Pictar grip with an iPhone 7 Plus for a few days. Here are my impressions.

Features, ergonomics and build quality

Attaching the Pictar to your phone is straightforward process. You ‘click’ the phone in place where it is safely held thanks to a spring-loaded mechanism. Once attached to the phone and connected to the Pictar app the grip offers most essential controls that you would expect on a conventional camera.

The Pictar’s chunky rubberized grip allows for comfortable and secure holding.

The shutter button supports half-press for focusing and locking exposure and two dials at the back of the grip are by default configured for dialing in exposure and changing the shooting mode. A front dial acts as a zoom ring, pressing it switches to the front camera. This configuration makes sense but if you don’t like how things are set up by default, the Pictar app allows for an impressive amount of customization. You can have a different setup for each shooting mode and even create custom profiles.

The Pictar offers a range of controls and features you would normally find on a digital compact or interchangeable lens camera.

Thanks to its rubberized grip the Pictar is comfortable to hold, even with only one hand, and most of the controls can be easily reached. Only the front dial is in a slightly inconvenient place which means you have to loosen your grip slightly when using it. That’s not much of a problem when you hold the phone and grip with both hands but makes for slightly unstable shooting in one-handed use. On my test unit the front dial is also a little stiff, making it difficult to dial in the desired zoom factor with precision.

The grip’s open design allows for attachment of most add-on lenses that don’t need a phone case but you cannot charge your iPhone while the grip is in place. A cold-shoe mount lets you use lights or microphones with your phone and at the bottom of the grip you’ll find a standard tripod mount.

Two dials on the back allow for quick adjustment of shooting mode and parameters.

Two major drawbacks of the Pictar are build quality and power supply. It’s made of quite cheap-looking plastic which stands in stark contrast to the iPhone’s premium materials. The buttons feel quite flimsy as well and the spring mechanism makes creaking noises when the iPhone is being attached. I have had no particular quality issues during my relatively short test but it remains to be seen how the Pictar will stand up to longer travels or intense daily use over time.

Kết quả hình ảnh cho Miggö Pictar

Power is supplied by a 1/2AA battery which Miggö says should last between 4 and 6 months. I had no issues with battery life during my testing but those batteries aren’t cheap and, depending on where you are, not always easily available. In this day and age even the cheapest devices seem to be USB-rechargable, and it’s a shame that the Pictar doesn’t offer this feature.

Pictar App

The Pictar camera app displays all essential shooting information. A histogram, virtual level and framing grid can be activated in the settings.

To use the grip you have to download and install the dedicated Pictar app first. Instead of Bluetooth it communicates with the phone via ‘ultrasonic OS’. Essentially, the grip sends out ultrasonic frequencies that are picked up by the iPhone’s microphones with a unique frequency for each function. According to the Pictar makers, this drains less battery on both devices. Everything worked well during our test and all of the grip’s physical controls were responsive and reliable at all times.

The app’s user interface is simple and well-designed. It shows all important camera settings and gives you the option to display a grid, histogram and virtual horizon. You can set focus and exposure points on the display and in some modes one shooting parameter is adjusted on a virtual slider but otherwise most settings are modified via the grip’s physical dials and buttons.

The customization options for the physical controls are almost endless.

The mode dial lets you switch between Auto, Manual and Shutter Speed and ISO priority modes. There’s also a Macro mode and a Sports modes, which biases toward using higher ISOs for faster shutter speeds, and a filter mode which allows for some live image manipulation. A video mode is included as well, but manual control is limited to exposure compensation.

Unfortunately the Pictar app does not offer the option to shoot images in Raw format, and there is no button to switch between the iPhone 7 Plus dual-camera lenses but you can assign that function to the front button if you want to. Unlike on a conventional camera a press of the shutter doesn’t take you back to the capture screen from review mode or when using another app.

Conclusion

In my experience there are two types of mobile photographers: purists who like mobile photography for its inconspicuousness and want to keep their device as compact and portable as possible, and those who like to use any gadget they can get their hands on to enhance their smartphone’s camera capabilities or feature set.

If you belong to the latter group and also like to have manual control over your shooting parameters the Pictar grip could definitely be for you. The dials and buttons offer quicker adjustment than most on-screen controls and the tripod and cold-shoe mounts will be appreciated by most more serious photographers.

On the downside, the Pictar does feel a little cheap for a $100 device. We’d also prefer USB-recharging to relatively obscure 1/2AA batteries. Raw support in the camera app would have been nice, too, especially when considering the photographically minded target users. That said, quite a few buyers will probably get the Pictar for its attractive retro-look alone. More information is available on the Pictar website.

(dpreview.com, https://goo.gl/qgAZS2)

Fossil Q x Cory Richards review : One of the best looking Android Wear watches gets more value

Like its cousin the Fossil Q Marshall, the Cory Richards lacks substance in features but is heavy on style. When paired with the Cory Richards leather band, this watch is one of the more eye-catching smartwatches you could put on your wrist. It’s incredibly clear that a Fossil smartwatch will look good on your wrist, but everything else is clearly secondary.

Hit
  • Beautifully rugged
  • Nice customization options
  • Battery life
Miss
  • Light on features
  • Hardware feels archaic
  • Might be too big for some

Fossil Q Cory Richards

Over the past year or so, Fossil has made a big push into Android Wear watches. So much so that for its latest, it’s teamed up with famed National Geographic photographer Cory Richards for a special edition smartwatch.

Enter the Fossil Q x Cory Richards, a classy watch designed by an adventurer but perfectly suited to your fancy night out or a day at the office. Despite being designed by a professional adventurer, it’s not built for pure adventure. It’s a cousin of the Fossil Q Marshal, except with a couple of design differences and inspirations. It’s also quite pricy at $325.

But can those inspirations and class bridge the gap? And could it tempt you to part with a whole bunch of cash? Let’s find out.

Fossil Q x Cory Richards: Design

Fossil Q x Cory Richards review

The Cory Richards actually takes inspiration from the photographers love for Fossil watches. Specifically, it calls back to the Fossil Blue Chronograph that Richards himself wore in his 20s. That’s why the Cory Richards edition face has a small Blue logo.

In that way, the Cory Richards is trading on nostalgia. There’s even a grunge setting for the Cory Richards face, which browns up whichever face color you choose (blue, silver and black). It takes that attractive display, which is pretty good at displaying bright colors, and makes it look like you’ve taken across the African Savannah. It works well, but boy is it weird clicking a complication and getting booted to a bright, perfectly viewable settings screen. It makes me wish the grunge setting was available system wide.

Hardware wise, this is a similar story to the Fossil Q Marshal. You’ve still got a 45mm watch face that’s 14mm thick. You’ve still got a good heft to it, and the tachymeter-style ring around the watch face is still there. While that makes the Cory Richards feel a little recycled and less unique, it’s a design decision that still makes sense. If this is a watch designed by a photographer who went down to the Southern Antartica then sure, I see some rugged physical features like that making sense. Oh, and you still have that dumb flat tire along the bottom of the display. By the way, it’s IP67 water and dust resistant, so you’re good to go in the rain but don’t take it swimming.

Fossil Q x Cory Richards review

More annoyingly, there’s still a crowd that’s more of a secretive button than an actual crown. This feels like a place that Fossil could have updated the watch, bringing it up to speed with other watches that have utilized rotating motions to navigate watch-based operating systems. But nope, it’s still a button press. It makes the Cory Richards feel antiquated, but in a bad way not in a “but the watch is trading in a nostalgia!” way.

And yes, this is a big watch. If you have smaller wrists then this may not be for you. If you have bigger wrists though, then you’ll find the Cory Richards to be a pretty good fit. It’s big, but it’s not annoyingly big. It also just looks good, and that combination of big and looking good will grab people’s attention. There were numerous times people asked me about the Cory Richards, and each time they were surprised it was an Android Wear smartwatch.

A lot of those inquiries came about because of the signed Cory Richards band included with this one. Rather than get a single band of your choice, you’re getting two. There’s the link bracelet, which feels high quality and comfortable. It may be way too big for your wrist though, so be prepared to take out some links.

Fossil Q x Cory Richards review

The real star of the show is that signed leather band though. Not only is it soft and comfortable, it looks incredible. It’s definitely not minimalist, with metal rings and stitched lines adorning its buckle section. It looks rugged, yet it feels debonair. This is the kind of band Indiana Jones would wear to a fancy dinner. It’s also probably the one thing about this watch that perfectly captures what Cory Richards is going for. Bonus: it loops beneath the watch face itself, adding some nice, comfortable padding between your wrist and the watch. And of course, you can swap in and out out any 22mm watch band you like.

Fossil Q x Cory Richards: Features

Fossil Q x Cory Richards review

Talking about what features the Cory Richards doesn’t have is a little more interesting than what features it does have. There’s no heart rate sensor, firstly, which means if you want any good fitness metrics this is not the watch you’re looking for. There’s also no GPS, so if you’re an adventurer you might not be looking to do any serious adventuring. There are no NFC payments either.

Fossil itself calls out activity tracking as a signature feature, but without a heart rate monitor it feels like an afterthought that’s being called out because this is a “rugged” watch rather than anything spectacular that the Cory Richards does well.

There is one unique piece of software that Fossil builds in here, and that’s the preinstalled Fossil Q app, which is the same as on other Fossil smartwatches. It allows you to customize your watch face, mixing and matching faces and colors and complications until you’re blue in the face. It’s not as customizable as you might imagine, since you choose a watch face color first and then are giving options based on that color. You’re not going to be able to go crazy and build something bizarre.

However, depending on the watch face, you are able to change things around. You can have a green original boyfriend design with rose gold trimmings, for example. Or, you can change the dial color on something like the tailor watch face. These color customizations are only available on the more traditional watch-like faces. Other stuff, like the Ettore, Fred of compass faces only offer two general color options.

The best face of them all is that Cory Richards edition watch face with the grunge setting. While it’s just making the digital watch face look worn out and rusted, it adds a nice bit of character. Outside of that and the Fossil Q app, however, there just aren’t a lot of features here that set it apart from other smartwatches.

Fossil Q x Cory Richards: Android Wear experience

Fossil Q x Cory Richards review

What the Cory Richards does have though is Android Wear 2.0, which sings a good tune on the Cory Richards thanks to that Snapdragon 2100 processor. There’s also a good 512mb of RAM and 4GB of storage. Like others, clicking that crown will take you to the Android Wear menu if you’re on the watch face. If your screen is dimmed, it’ll take you to the watch face. Holding down that little crown button will activate Google Assistant.

Other than that though, Android Wear 2.0 functions as it does on other watches. There’s Google Assistant and the Play Store and Google Fit. It’s a bit of a shame Fossil isn’t building on top of Android Wear and doing anything more special, or giving users more features, but then again this watch isn’t promising to be a feature-packed powerhouse.

Fossil Q x Cory Richards: Battery life

Fossil Q x Cory Richards review

Fossil promises all day battery life with the Cory Richards and, well, that’s about what I got. I cleared a day pretty easily for about a week. One day, I was even able to squeak out one and three-quarters of a day. However, that three quarters included leaving the watch on table while sleeping and light usage the next day.

If you do need to charge it because of heavy usage, you shouldn’t be waiting too long. It’s a relatively fast charge compared to, say, the Apple Watch. Speaking of Apple Watch, Fossil retains the Apple Watch-like charger that the Fossil Q Marshal used for the Cory Richards.

(wareable.com, https://goo.gl/2Q6Lk2)

Honor 9 vs Honor 8: What’s the difference?

If you’re looking for a relatively affordable mid-level phone then Honor’s unveiling of the Honor 9 may well have sparked your interest – and not just because of its spangly Sapphire Blue finish. For this £380 phone delivers plenty of bang for your buck.

Compared to last year’s Honor 8, the newer model delivers some nips and tucks on the design front, enhanced dual cameras, along with revamped innards for greater power – but without a significant price bump between the two generations.

Here’s the skinny on how the Honor 9 differs from the Honor 8.

honor-8-pro_800x450

Honor 9 vs Honor 8: Design

  • Honor 8: 145.5 x 71 x 7.5mm; 153g
  • Honor 9: 147.3 x 70.9 x 7.45mm; 155g
  • Honor 8: rear-mounted fingerprint scanner
  • Honor 9: front-mounted ceramic fingerprint scanner

At first glance the two phones have a similar look – mainly because of that distinct blue finish (grey-white and black are also available in the Honor 9) and the way it catches light. In the Honor 9 the rear is a 15 layer build, with a three-dimensional curve for added depth.

The Honor 9 also does away with the rear-positioned fingerprint scanner of the Honor 8, instead placing a ceramic one to the front, much like a Home key as you’ll find on an increasing number of devices these days.

Size-wise, it’s great to see the Honor 9 sticking to a similar footprint to the earlier Honor 8. This isn’t a giant phone – there’s the Honor 8 Pro for that – which means it’s easy to hold in the one hand. The Honor 9 has even trimmed a couple of millimetres in width compared to the Honor 8.

gsmarena_001

  • Honor 8: 5.2-inch, 1920 x 1080 resolution IPS LCD
  • Honor 9: 5.15-inch, 1920 x 1080 resolution IPS LCD with 2.5D glass

By marginally condensing the size of the device, the Honor 9 also has an ever so slightly smaller screen than the Honor 8: it’s 5.15-inches rather than 5.2-inches.

Resolution is one and the same for the two devices, however, at 1080p. No qHD resolution to be found here, but that’s no surprise and, realistically, not a necessary spec requirement at this scale and price point.

honor-rn1_800x450

  • Honor 8: 3,000mAh; Honor 9: 3,200mAh battery capacity
  • Honor 8: Kirin 950 (2.3GHz) chipset, 4GB RAM; Honor 9: Kirin 960 (2.4GHz) chipset, 4GB RAM
  • Both: dual SIM / second slot acts as microSD card expansion
  • Both: EMUI 5.1 software skin over Android 7.0

In addition to the updated design, the Honor 9 also ramps things up on the hardware front. With the latest Kirin 960 processor, paired with 4GB RAM, this device is every bit as powerful as the Huawei P10. That’s a generational step-up compared to the Honor 8.

Both phones come with a microSD slot (it’s the second SIM slot) to expand the on-board memory. And with 64GB as standard, the Honor 9 has plenty of storage on offer as standard (the Honor 8’s starting capacity is 32GB).

On the software front, the Honor 9 delivers a similar experience to what you’ll find in the mother brand Huawei P10. With Android 7.0 running in the background and EMUI 5.1 running over the top of that, it’s a user experience that’s rather heavy on alerts and battery-saving methods.

Speaking of battery, the Honor 9 ups the capacity to 3,200mAh – which is a 200mAh increase compared to the Honor 8. That’s great news considering the smaller form factor of the new phone. Here’s hoping for a proportional increase from life per charge.

huaweitolaunchhonor9withdualcameraonjune21-13-1494644615

  • Honor 8: Dual 12-megapixel rear-facing cameras
  • Honor 9: 20-megapixel monochrome, 12-megapixel colour rear-facing dual cameras

Perhaps the biggest play of all is the Honor 9’s upgraded cameras. To look at you might not think the two devices appear that different: they both have two optics arranged side-by-side peering out of the rear.

The Honor 9 goes down the Huawei route of opting for a 20MP monochrome and 12MP colour one, however, rather than using two colour sensors – the second with a mono filter via software – in a similar fashion to the Huawei P10. The main difference in the Honor 9 compared to Huawei is that there’s no Leica affiliation and, thus, the software is slightly different, as are the optics.

Both Honor 8 and Honor 9 have the ability to use their two cameras to depth map scenes, providing the opportunity to create background blur in software after shooting. It’s possible to see this in real-time with the Honor 9, even in video mode.

Honor-8-set-to-launch-in-Malaysia-date-revealed

Honor 9 vs Honor 8: Conclusion

Overall the Honor 9 is a really interesting proposition – even more so in 2017 because so many manufacturers’ products have risen in the price stakes. The Honor 9 is only £10 more than the Honor 8 was at launch but, crucially, it’s £60 less than a OnePlus 5 and a massive £185-or-so less than the Huawei P10. Indeed, its only near competition is from the solid but ultimately less interesting Samsung Galaxy A5.

So while the Honor 9 may look like a minor tweak compared to last year’s Honor 8, its progress in terms of design and features, plus stubborn price point positioning, make it one lucrative mid-level purchase indeed.

(pocket-lint.com, https://goo.gl/FJP4jY)

Samsung UE55MU8000 review

PROS

  • Strong contrast
  • Deep blacks
  • Low latency
  • Clean, sharp picture

CONS

  • Colours not as striking as Quantum Dot sets
  • Some backlight clouding
  • Poor viewing angles

KEY FEATURES

  • 55-inch LED LCD screen
  • 4K UHD resolution
  • High Dynamic Range in HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG
  • 4 x HDMI
  • Manufacturer: Samsung
  • Review Price: £1,699.00/$2,549.00

WHAT IS THE SAMSUNG UE55MU8000?

The Samsung KS7000 won the TrustedReviews award for TV of the Year in 2016.

That wasn’t because it was the best-performing TV of 2016. There were objectively more capable alternatives. Instead it took the prize because it managed to bring a hugely impressive 4K and HDR viewing experience down to a reasonable price, at a time when most manufacturers were reserving the tech for flagship units.

This year, the Samsung has made a point of dividing its premium TVs from its midrange. The lovely quantum dot technology that propped up older SUHD models is now reserved for the top-tier QLED range, along with ramped up luminance and a proportionately higher price tag.

If that’s a bit rich for you, then consider the MU range. The MU8000 sits at the top of that with the Samsung MU9000. While it’s clear that Samsung has reserved its best for the QLED range, the MU8000 packs a few pleasant surprises. If you’re after a good 4K and HDR performance and you’re not hell-bent on taking out a mortgage for a QLED model, the MU8000 might be for you.

Samsung MU8000 5

SAMSUNG UE55MU8000 – DESIGN

It’s flat. That might seem like an odd place to start, but Samsung is the only manufacturer still strongly pushing curved TVs. For those who aren’t fans of the MU9000’s curve, the MU8000 is the perfect alternative since they share essentially the same specs elsewhere.

The design takes its cues from last year’s top KS models – slim bezels (the top and sides, anyway) and a Y-shaped stand. The thin frame surrounding the TV is metal, but everywhere else is plastic. To be blunt, it feels a little cheap up close – I noticed a few rough edges when I was setting it up, and the single-neck approach means it will wobble a bit if you nudge it.

Still, it looks nice from the sofa. And on a practical note I’m glad to see a TV with a centre stand, as opposed to having feet right at the corners – you don’t then need a bench as wide as the TV.

Samsung MU8000 3

As is now traditional on Samsung’s more fancy TVs, the bulk of the connections are housed separately in a One Connect box. There are four HDMI ports (all 4K and HDR compatible) and two USB ports alongside the aerial connections and a digital optical output. On the TV itself, there is also an ethernet socket and one more USB port.

Sadly, there’s no sign of the super-thin, almost invisible cable that runs from the TV to the One Connect box. It’s a regular chunky cable, although the stand’s back peels away to reveal a neat cable management channel.

There are two remotes: a traditional one with loads of buttons and a ‘smart’ one with a streamlined design and fewer buttons. TV smart remotes are always a bit hit and miss, but Samsung’s effort is one of the better ones and I found myself using it a lot more than the traditional one. This year’s smart remote has been improved with better grip and rubberised buttons.

Samsung MU8000

SAMSUNG UE55MU8000 – FEATURES

The MU8000 has a 10-bit panel with a 4K Ultra HD resolution (3840 × 2160 pixels). It offers high dynamic range in the common HDR10 format, as well as the upcoming broadcast-friendly HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma).

Alas, there’s no Dolby Vision, which is commonly considered better than HDR10 because its dynamic metadata can be used to optimise the picture frame by frame. But Samsung isn’t ruling out dynamic metadata – it’s offering HDR10+, a competitor to Dolby Vision. HDR10+ is an open-source format, that Amazon Video has already signed up to use.

It’s an edge-lit LED unit – Samsung isn’t offering a single direct-lit unit this year. I’d be really worried about this if it weren’t for the fact that last year’s Samsung KS7000 offered some very impressive dimming skills. Samsung is clearly confident.

Samsung MU8000 11

The MU8000 has a claimed brightness of 1000 nits. That’s the level of brightness offered by last year’s top models, but less than Samsung’s QLED range this year, which can hit 1500-2000 nits.

Samsung has been rocking its Quantum Dot technology for a few years now, but this year that’s been reserved for the QLED models, such as the Samsung Q7F. Instead, the MU8000 relies on the ‘Dynamic Crystal Colour’ engine, which claims to deliver more than a billion shades.

On the smart TV front, the MU8000 is equipped with Samsung’s Eden interface. It’s a launcher bar system that pops up on top of whatever you’re watching, without making you pause or kicking you out.

A couple of years ago I would have accused Samsung of shamelessly ripping off LG’s webOS interface, but these days it’s grown to be a different beast. The launcher bar offers two tiers of icons, some of which are customisable. It’s a quick way to jump between your preferred apps and sources, and it’s as easy as channel hopping.

I really like the way the interface automatically recognises what sources you’ve plugged in – the MU8000 correctly identified my game consoles and surround sound amplifier.

Samsung MU8000 17

SAMSUNG UE55MU8000 – PERFORMANCE

Picture performance is very impressive, as long as you temper your expectations. After all, 4K HDR TVs are still in their relative infancy, and if you step away from the cutting edge models, you will end up with more compromises. The MU8000’s image quality is a mixed bag, but the good does outweigh the bad.

I’ll start with the negatives. As is common with edge-lit LED TVs, there are some lighting issues. I occasionally spotted some clouding. It’s especially noticeable in dark areas at the top and bottom of the screen – if you’re watching a movie with black bars top and bottom, you’re more likely to see it. It’s pretty mild, as far as clouding goes – there’s less here than there was on last year’s KS7000, you’ll only really see it in a dark room and even then it’s certainly possible to get used to it. The flat form factor of the MU8000 might help – our review of the curved Samsung MU9000 had far harsher words in this department.

Viewing angles aren’t amazing. Samsung has gone for a VA panel here, which is good for contrast but poor for angled viewing. If you move out of 25-30 degrees from centre, you’ll begin to lose out on contrast and saturation, and the lighting will look noticeably non-uniform.

As for colours, I’ve seen stronger from Samsung, and this is clearly second-tier performance. What you get here is plenty vibrant, but the Quantum Dot models this year and last year just look richer and more subtle, with a more varied palette. There is also occasionally some striping in HDR. Thankfully it’s rare, though.

Samsung MU8000 15

Moving on to the positives. What I really like about the MU8000 is its contrast. It gets plenty bright, and it gets plenty dark. It’s not quite 1000 nits – we’re looking at a maximum of about 700, but that’s enough to give you a tangible visual impact, especially when the blacks are so impressive.

Blacks really look black, rather than slightly hollow and grey, which is what I’ve come to expect from LED LCD TVs. There’s not as much above-black shadow detail as you might find on a good OLED TV, and you get minimal crushing on all but the most extreme of HDR pictures.

Highlights do really well too, with little clipping on bright areas such as headlamps and explosions. Combine the two and you’ve got a level of contrast and dynamism strong enough to give you that HDR hit.

Samsung MU8000 13

Let’s not forget the 4K element – Samsung’s mastered the resolution. The picture is plenty sharp, with loads of fine texture but without the overly processed look that can come from being a little too enthusiastic. Upscaling from HD and standard-definition sources look clean too, with not nearly as much picture noise as there could be.

Gamers will be pleased to know the Samsung MU8000 does well on the latency front. The 24ms input lag I detected isn’t as impressive as the 21ms figure I recorded on the LG Signature G7 OLED, but it is more than good enough for competitive online gaming.

A final word on audio performance – it’s nothing to write home about. It’s fine for the news, but for any serious viewing I’d recommend a proper sound system, or at least a soundbar.

Samsung MU8000 9

To get the most out of the MU8000, here are some set up tips. I’d recommend using the Standard picture preset – while I usually advocate the Movie mode, I feel this one is too muted and soft. Go with Standard and nudge the colour temperature to Warm.

For bright room HDR viewing, I’d recommend having Contrast Enhancer and Local Dimming on high. For dark room HDR viewing, you’ll want to turn those down to Standard or Low so that you can avoid seeing the blooming – but note that this does knock your brightness down.

Lastly, the motion processing is far too aggressive by default, so go into Custom mode and manually knock the anti-blur and anti-judder settings down – I have it no higher than 3.

Samsung MU8000 19

SHOULD I BUY THE SAMSUNG UE55MU8000?

If you’re after that HDR punch, but your budget doesn’t stretch to a premium QLED or OLED model, then there’s plenty to like here. There are a few minor drawbacks, but the MU8000’s strengths easily outweigh the flaws. The contrast here is excellent for a non-premium TV, and if it’s impact you’re after you won’t be disappointed.

Alternatively, if it’s lush HDR colours you want, and you’re not as fussed about brightness and dynamism, it’s also worth checking out the Sony KD-55XE8596.

VERDICT

Samsung proves that you don’t need to spend a fortune to appreciate 4K and HDR.

(trustedreviews.com, https://goo.gl/XtuoAw)

 

Medion Erazor P7647 review

OUR VERDICT

The Medion Erazer P7647 is a decent low-to-mid-range gaming laptop that doesn’t blow us away when it comes to performance, but doesn’t cost the Earth either. It strikes a good balance between power and affordability.

FOR

  • Good price
  • Decent design
  • Lots of RAM
  • SSD and HDD storage included

AGAINST

  • Lacks graphics power
  • Dual-core CPU
  • Short battery life

The Medion Erazor P7647 is a gaming laptop that brings decent power for a very decent price. While many gaming laptops these days can cost a lot – with price tags well over the $1,000/£1,000/AU$1,400 mark – the Erazor P7647 comes in at quite a bit less.

Of course, when you’re a fair bit less expensive than your competitors there are bound to be compromises. Medion’s task when creating an affordable gaming laptop is to make sure it keeps the price down while not skimping too much on components, or build quality.

Has Medion achieved this delicate balancing act with the Erazor P7647? We put it to the test to see if it can handle some of the latest and most demanding PC games.

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Price, availability and value

The price tag for the Medion Erazor P7647 is perhaps its biggest draw, coming in at £929.99 (about $1,180). That’s quite a bit cheaper than its bigger brother, the Medion Erazer X7849, which costs £1,699 (about $2,199).

The big difference between these two machines is the graphics card; while the X7849 comes with the powerful and relatively recent GTX 1070, which can handle virtual reality games, the P7647 comes with the older (and weaker) GTX 950M.

We’ll go into more detail about the specifications later on, but it’s clear that the Medion Erazor P7647’s relatively low price comes at the cost of graphics horsepower. Of course, the GTX 950M is still a very competent GPU for mobile devices, and will play most modern games at medium settings without too many problems.

So if you play older games, or don’t mind tweaking graphics settings for less bells and whistles but more consistent frame rates, then the lower cost of the Medion Erazor P7647 will be very tempting.

However, if you want to play in VR, or run the latest games at the highest graphics settings, then you’re going to have to spend quite a bit extra for a more powerful graphics card.

The HP Pavilion Gaming Notebook is another gaming laptop that comes with the GTX 950M GPU, and while it’s showing its age (it was released at the beginning of 2016), we hailed its great value – it costs £800 (around $1,140). While the Medion Erazor P7647 is a bit more expensive, it boasts newer components than the HP machine (such as a seventh-generation Core i7 processor) and twice the RAM (16GB vs 8GB).

So, as far as value goes, you’re getting a pretty good deal here, with only the graphics card taking a hit when it comes to compromises.

Medion serves both the US and UK, as well as most of western Europe, when it comes to availability.

Design

At Computex 2017 Nvidia showed off its Max-Q technology, which ushers in a new generation of powerful (and expensive) gaming laptops that are impressively slim and light. The Medion Erazor P7647, being a relatively affordable machine, is not one of those – but neither is it a bulky monstrosity, as some gaming laptops can be.

It has a rather plain and restrained design – but its lack of flashy gimmicks is actually quite appealing in some ways. The body of the Medion Erazor P7647 is made of a tough-feeling rubberized plastic, which doesn’t give you a premium feel, but does at least feel like it will protect the Medion Erazor P7647 from knocks and bumps.

On the rear of the lid is the Erazer logo – which doesn’t light up, unlike those on some flashier gaming laptops. There’s no backlighting on the keys of the keyboard either (the Medion Erazer X7849 features this, however), which may disappoint people who like to show off their gaming machines, but the understated design also means you can take this laptop into the office without it looking like you’re there to play rather than work.

Instead of LED backlights on the keyboard, parts of the keys are subtly painted blue, which sort of gives a similar impression – but it’s not really fooling anyone. The WASD keys are also highlighted with the corresponding directions when used for gaming, which Medion says is to help gamers quickly find them – though we’d argue that most gamers’ hands will gravitate to those keys automatically.

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Speaking of the keyboard, the keys are a decent size, and comfortably spaced, which means writing (as well as gaming, of course) on the keyboard feels comfortable – and definitely not cramped.

The keys are rather flat, and the travel isn’t very pronounced when pressing them, so the keys don’t feel particularly responsive when in use – this is particularly noticeable if you’re coming from a mechanical keyboard. Still, during our time with the Medion Erazor P7647 we didn’t experience any problems typing or playing on the machine.

Above the keyboard sit two speakers and two chunky hinges that attach the screen to the body of the laptop. Again, not terribly stylish, but they certainly feel robust.

In front of the keyboard is the trackpad, which is slightly off center towards the left. It’s a decent size and seems responsive enough – though of course for most games you’ll want to plug in a proper mouse. There are no separate left and right mouse buttons on the trackpad – instead you press down or tap the trackpad to mimic a mouse click, while pressing on the bottom-right corner of the trackpad mimics a right mouse button click. This is a perfectly usable trackpad, which also includes gesture support.

On the right-hand side of the laptop are a mic and headphone jack, two USB 2.0 ports and an optical drive. Optical drives in laptops are definitely a rarity these days, mainly due to most people downloading programs rather than installing them from discs. Omitting an optical drive also enables manufacturers to keep the size and weight of their machines down – considerations that Medion clearly doesn’t worry about with the Erazor P7647.

Still, the inclusion of a DVD drive gives the Medion Erazor P7647 some extra flexibility, be it for installing legacy games or programs (or if you suffer from a dodgy internet connection), as well as allowing you to watch DVD movies.

On the left-hand side of the laptop are the power port, a VGA connection for older monitors or TVs, a gigabit Ethernet network port, HDMI, UBS 3.0 and a USB Type-C port – the latter is a nice addition, as an increasing number of peripherals are coming out that make use of the faster USB standard.

While the USB-C port future-proofs the Medion Erazor P7647, the VGA and DVD drive also gives you the flexibility to use older hardware – a nice combination that’s possible thanks to Medion not having to worry about making the laptop as thin and light as possible.

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Although the Medion Erazor P7647 is by no means svelte, with dimensions of 16.5 x 1.10 x 11 inches (42 x 2.8 x 27.9cm) it’s actually not that bad by gaming laptop standards. With a weight of 5.95 pounds (2.7kg) it’s perfectly feasible to carry this laptop to friends’ houses, although you wouldn’t be able to do so one-handed.

So in some ways the fact that the Medion Erazer P7647 doesn’t feature a premium design – it’s robust and chunky rather than slim and light – works in its favor, especially when it comes to its generous array of connections.

However, let’s not gloss over the fact that at £929.99 (about $1,180), this is still a very expensive laptop – that price is what many people would consider premium, and if you’re one of those people then you may be disappointed in the plain looks and lack of pizzazz of the Medion Erazer P7647.

As we’ve mentioned, the Medion Erazer P7647’s specifications mix some impressive new components with some compromises – namely the GTX 950M graphics card.

Last year the GTX 950M was seen in a lot more gaming laptops as the entry-level GPU, while this year we’re seeing a number of machines make use of the newer GTX 1050, GTX 1060, GTX 1070 and even (for very expensive machines) GTX 1080 graphics cards.

Including the GTX 950M has enabled Medion to keep the price of the Erazer P7647 relatively low, and despite its age it still comes with 4GB of graphics memory – that’s a great deal more than gaming laptops came with a few years ago, and it means the Medion Erazer P7647 can handle games with higher-resolution textures and greater draw distances.

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Games from a couple of years ago will mostly run pretty well on this GPU, but when it comes to newer, more graphically-ambitious titles, you will need to drop  the graphical settings to get a playable frame rate.

Things are helped by the Erazer P7647’s 17.3-inch 1920 x 1080 screen, which doesn’t tax the GPU quite as much as higher-resolution monitors while still providing impressive image quality.

The Intel Core i7 7500U processor is much more impressive, a seventh-generation Kaby Lake offering that comes with two cores clocked at 2.70GHz and a max turbo frequency of 3.50GHz. The fact that it’s a dual-core CPU in a world where quad-core CPUs are increasingly the norm is a bit of a shame, but if you’re using this as a pure gaming machine that doesn’t run CPU-intensive games, then you shouldn’t see too much of a performance impact.

The 16GB of RAM is a good amount – though really Medion could have stuck with 8GB to further lower the price. Still, 16GB will give this laptop a bit of future-proofing where it lacks in other departments.

Windows 10 Home is installed on a 256GB SSD, which means the Erazer P7647 will boot and perform quickly, and it also features a 1TB hard drive. This dual storage option is a nice touch, as it means you don’t have to worry about storing your games, while still getting the benefits of an operating system running from an SSD.

Overall, the specs are about what we would expect for a gaming laptop of this price. Sure, there are more powerful machines out there, but they also cost a lot more. It appears that Medion has done a good job of balancing power with value.

Performance

Considering the price and specifications, we kept our expectations in check when it came to the gaming performance of the Medion Erazer P7647 – and this proved to be a wise decision.

As we thought, there’s enough graphical oomph here to handle older games very well, with mid-to-high settings. More demanding older games, such as GTA V, needed their settings on medium, but still played very well.

Newer games, such as Dues Ex: Mankind Divided and Hitman proved more strenuous – and ‘Ultra’ graphics settings sent frames per second counts into the single digits, making the games stutter and generally become unplayable. It was also during these games that the fans kicked in audibly; while not terribly loud some people may find them distracting – but it’s a fact of life when you’re running powerful components in a small laptop form factor.

As you can see from our benchmark scores, at low settings the Medion Erazer P7647 returns perfectly playable frame rates in games, and returns high scores in undemanding benchmark tests.

It actually scores marginally lower in the 3DMark benchmarks compared to the HP Pavilion Gaming Notebook, but in reality the performance of both machines is very close. This doesn’t paint the Medion Erazer P7647 in a particularly flattering light, however, as the HP machine is both older and cheaper.

The 17.3-inch 1080p screen does a very good job of displaying games, media and the Windows 10 desktop, with bright and vibrant colors. The fact that it’s ‘just’ 1080p means games look good, while the resolution isn’t as demanding as 1440p or 4K.

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Battery life was very short, at just 3 hours 12 minutes, in our TechRadar battery benchmark, which plays a looped 1080p video until the battery becomes depleted. As anyone who’s familiar with gaming laptops knows, this kind of reduced battery life is expected (though no less annoying) due to the power-hungry innards of most devices.

So this is definitely not the laptop you want for working on away from a power source – our day-to-day testing bore this out, as we were needing to plug it in every four hours to charge it up, even when doing relatively simple tasks such as word processing and web browsing.

Overall, the Medion Erazer P7647 performs as expected of a mid-to-low range gaming laptop. It doesn’t excel at pushing modern games with graphical effects turned up to 11, but it will handle pretty much any game – you’ll just need to tweak the settings first, and live with reduced visuals.

We liked

The Medion Erazer P7647 does a good job of playing games at reasonable settings for a decent price. This isn’t a monster rig that will push out 4K visuals at impeccable frame rates – but for that you’d have to pay much, much more.

Instead, it does a competent job that makes its relatively low price tag very tempting. We also quite like the no-nonsense design of this laptop.

We didn’t like

While we understand the logic of going for an older, lower-powered graphics card, it does limit the capabilities – and future-proofing ability – of this laptop. While it does include some nice new components, the reality is there are more powerful gaming laptops out there.

Also, while we appreciate the design, in this age of increasingly thin and light gaming laptops the Medion Erazer P7647 could quickly look like a bit of a relic.

Battery life is also low, even for a gaming laptop.

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Final verdict

At the beginning of this review we mentioned the careful balancing act that Medion needed to perform with the Medion Erazer P7647, to create an affordable gaming laptop without making too many compromises.

On the whole, we feel that Medion has done a good job. We weren’t expecting a premium design, but the company has done well to make the Medion Erazer P7647 look good, while also feeling secure thanks to the rubberized body. It’s not as chunky or bulky as gaming laptops of yore, and it puts its size to good use by including a range of connectivity options, both old and new, as well as a DVD drive.

When it comes to power the compromises are more apparent, with the Erazer P7647 relying on a dual-core processor and an ageing GTX 950M graphics card. This limits the laptop’s ability to play modern games at the absolute maximum visual settings, but crucially these games can still be played, as long as you don’t mind tweaking settings and lowering graphical options.

So, if you want an all-singing, all-dancing gaming laptop that can handle VR and run games at ultra settings, this is not the laptop for you. However, if you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars or pounds on a laptop, and want a machine on which you can play games that still look good, but don’t have all the bells and whistles they’d have when played on a monster gaming rig, then the Medion Erazer P7647 is worth consideration.

(techradar.com, https://goo.gl/cah7uD)

ASUS ROG Zephyrus GX501 Quick Review : First Benchmarks

How well does ASUS’ ultra-thin gaming notebook perform on benchmarks?

Around a month ago ASUS launched their ultra-thing ROG Zephyrus, possibly the thinnest gaming notebook in the world that has an NVIDIA GTX 1080 graphics card. While we’ve already done our quick reviews with the thing while in ASUS’ home country of Taiwan, we weren’t able to measure the notebook’s performance in any tangible way.

Well, we’re happy to report that we’re now able to give you raw results from several performance benchmarks that we did with the Zephyrus, using 3DMark and several of Unigine’s benchmark tools, including the newly released Superposition benchmark.

Before we start, know that the ROG Zephyrus GX501 review unit that was lent to us is still an engineering unit, and not a retail sample. ASUS may well be able to tweak the software on their final, retail device when it hits the market.

It’s also important to note that NVIDIA’s Max-Q design technology that allowed ASUS to cram a GTX 1080 graphics card into the Zephyrus’ ultra-thin frame comes with a bunch of caveats. The GTX 1080 inside the Zephyrus uses less power than a typical desktop version: a desktop GTX 1080 consumes around 150 watts of power, while the Max-Q version will consume around 90 to 110 watts. Less power consumed means better power consumption and less heat produced overall.

That reduced power load also means that a Max-Q GTX 1080 will have lower base and boost clocks compared to the desktop version, ranging from 1,101MHz to 1,290MHz and boost clocks of 1,278MHz to 1,468MHz, respectively.

The short version is that while Max-Q GTX 1080’s have the roughly the same silicone as the desktop version (2,560 CUDA Cores, 8GB of GDDR5X, and a 256-bit wide memory interface) it consumes less power but has a lower clock overall. That’ll affect gaming performance down the line, so there’s definitely still a trade-off to the design.

Quickly recapping the rest of the specs, the ROG Zephyrus came to us configured with Intel’s Core i7-7700HQ processor, 24GB of RAM, 1TB of M.2 SSD, 15.6-inch full HD display with NVIDIA’s G-Sync tech and Windows 10 Pro.

With that out of the way, let’s check out the benchmarks:

As you can see, the ROG Zephyrus manages to post high numbers in all of our benchmarks so far. Despite being a hair thicker than the latest MacBook, the ROG Zephyrus delivers desktop-grade performance. We’re about to finish our full review within the week along with our gaming benchmarks, so stay tuned till then.

(unbox.ph, https://goo.gl/dzk18o)

2017 Aston Martin DB11 Henley Royal Regatta Review

Aston Martin is no stranger to making special edition models. Its Q by Aston Martin personalization department is responsible for recent creations like the Vanquish S Red Arrows Edition that paid tribute to the Spitfire plane and the Blades Aerobatic Display Team and the AM37 powerboat-inspired Vanquish Volante. These two special edition models were unveiled a few months ago, so you can imagine how much of a groove Q by Aston Martin is in. Turns out, we don’t need to wait too long for Q’s next creation because it’s already arrived. It’s called the DB11 Henley Regatta and it’s a sight to behold.

Created to celebrate Aston’s partnership with Henley Royal Regatta, the one-off DB11 packs plenty of exclusive nods that reflect the prestige associated with one of the world’s prestigious rowing events. For those who aren’t familiar, the Henley Royal Regatta is a rowing event held annually on the River Thames by the town of Henley-on-Thames. It was founded in 1839 and is considered one of the oldest sporting events in the world. It figures then that with the event’s history, coupled with Aston Martin’s long-standing involvement in the realm of nautical sports, a partnership between the two entities would happen. Now it has with a one-off DB11 that received extensive work on the exterior and interior to make it a true one-off creation.

What Makes The Aston Martin DB11 Henley Regatta Edition So Special?

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“The Diavolo Red paint finish and the Satin Scintilla Silver roof are the two things that draw you into this one-off DB11”

From afar, it’s easy to spot the DB11 Henley Regatta Edition. Up close, the one-off creation pops out even more. That’s the kind of effect this car has. The Diavolo Red paint finish and the Satin Scintilla Silver roof are the two things that draw you into this one-off DB11. Once that striking color treatment gets to you, that’s it. You’re done. You’re caught up in a pool of premium upgrades that help sell the creation even more.

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Aston Martin’s menu of packages and options also helps bolster the appeal of the car even more. Carbon fiber, in particular, is one premium material that’s used generously in the DB11 Henley Regatta Edition. In fact, Aston Martin dressed up the one-off DB11 with not just one carbon fiber pack, but two of them. There’s the Carbon Fiber Body Pack with the front splitter, side sills, and rear diffuser getting the carbon fiber treatment.

Then there’s the Carbon Fiber Exterior Pack, which adds carbon fiber on the side strakes, hood blades, and mirror caps. Carbon fiber was also used on exhaust finishers and the unmistakable Aston Martin wings badge. If there ever was a car that’s drowning in the premium and lightweight material, it’s the DB11 Henley Regatta. Finishing off the exterior upgrades on this truly magnificent looking one-off are the smoked taillights and the set of 20-inch, smoke-finished Gloss Black Directional wheels that come with diamond-turned faces.

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“Complementing that are flashes of Chancellor Red leather on the seats and door panels and swathes of Obsidian Black Alcantara on the headliner and pillars”

The interior of the DB11 Henley Regatta takes the treatment on the exterior and flips it completely around. instead of red being the primary color, Aston Martin went with a Metallic Black leather as the primary upgrade. Complementing that are flashes of Chancellor Red leather on the seats and door panels and swathes of Obsidian Black Alcantara on the headliner and pillars. From there, Aston Martin opened up its Shadow Chrome Jewellery pack as a final touch to the on-point detailing of the cabin.

Engine 5.2-liter V-12
Horsepower 600 HP
Torque 516 LB-FT
Transmission eight-speed ZF automatic
0 to 60 mph 3.9 seconds
Top Speed 200 mph

As unique as the Aston Martin DB11 Henley Regatta is from an aesthetics point of view, its power figures remain the same. Not that it’s a bad thing because even in standard form, the DB11 still packs a newly developed 5.2-liter V-12 engine that itself is mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. All in all, that engine is capable of producing 600 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, enough meat to propel the coupe to 62 mph in just 3.9 seconds on its way to a top speed of 200 mph. Some might say that the DB11 Henley Regatta Edition deserves an extra bump in power, but I can’t think of anybody who’ll complain about what the DB11 already has in the first place.

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The only downside to the DB11 Henley Regatta is availability. It’s still unclear as to what Aston Martin plans to do with it beyond using it as the centerpiece of the automaker’s display at the event, showcasing the company’s range of “acclaimed sports cars” in its own storied 104-year history. It’s unlikely that the car will be sold in the market, so the best guess at this point is it could be auctioned off at a later date. Whatever the case may be, whoever ends up with it is going to have arguably the most well-dressed, special edition Aston Martin DB11 that we’ve seen.

How does it compare to other special edition Aston Martins that were released this year?

Now, this is a difficult question because if you think about it, Aston Martin is in the short-list of automakers who have released some of the best special edition models this year. As I previously mentioned, the automaker released two such beauties in April alone – the Vanquish S Red Arrows Edition and the Vanquish Volante AM37 Edition. Throw in Q by Aston Martin’s work on the DB11 that was showcased in February at the Canadian International Auto Show together with the Valkyrie hypercar. So off the bat, we’re looking at three other options here to lay claim to the best special edition Aston Martin of the year.

The Vanquish S Red Arrows Edition stands out because it also featured an exclusive Eclar Red paint finish that’s inspired by the Red Arrows, one of the world’s best aerobatic display teams. Keeping with the theme, the car also came with white detailing in the front bumper and grille, blue highlights on the skirts and “smoke trails” on the side strakes. The car even has white graphics on the carbon fiber roof that’s inspired by the canopy design of a jet fighter, as well as enamel wing badges and side winglets dressed up in a “Union Jack” treatment.

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Note: photo of the Aston Martin Vanquish S Red Arrows Edition

Meanwhile, the Aston Martin Vanquish Volante AM37 Edition is another headlining showcase of Q by Aston Martin’s capabilities. It, too, was inspired by something, which in this case was the AM37 powerboat that Aston Martin unveiled in 2016. It was dressed up in a bespoke Concours Blue paint and had an interior that was dressed to the nines by Q by Aston Martin. There’s the Chestnut Tan and White Essence semi-aniline leather upholstery. There’s the Q Conker Saddle carpets, Q-exclusive Conker Saddle overmats, Q Rosewood High Gloss Fascia, Q Fender and Buckle Badges with white enamel infill, a full Q matching tailored luggage set, and just to make its exclusivity crystal clear, a special plaque that reads: “specially commissioned by Q to commemorate the AM37 yacht launch – 1 of 1.”

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Note: photo of the Aston Martin Vanquish Volante AM37 Powerboat Edition

Last but definitely not least is the Aston Martin DB11 Q by Aston Martin. It may not have been inspired by a sporting event, an aerobatics team, or a powerboat, but it is unique in its own right for having received its own list of exclusive features. Chief among them was the Zaffre Blue paint finish, a unique paint hue that has the ability to shift colors depending on the lighting elements around it. In addition, the showpiece creation also came with forged carbon fiber details on the exterior and interior, an Obsidian Black semi-aniline leather, and more Zaffre Blue detailing on the seats and door panels.

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Note: photo of the Aston Martin DB11 Q by Aston Martin

It’s hard picking among these four worthy choices, but if I had to choose one, I’m going with the DB11 Henley Regatta Edition. It’s not just the color scheme of the car that has me so mesmerized just by looking at it. It’s also the story behind it, the history from which it takes its inspiration from, and the fact that all the elements come together to make for a truly remarkable one-off creation.

(topspeed.com, https://goo.gl/3EWD8x)