Issuu on Google+

GET FREE SOFTWARE IN OUR ONLINE DOWNLOADS ZONE

EXPERT ADVICE YOU CAN TRUST

FROM IDG

BEST WINDOWS TIPS 18 essential Windows fixes Secure your PC or laptop Get more from Cortana

NAS drives

GROUP TEST

Access files, photos, music and video from anywhere – even your TV

REVIEWED OnePlus 3T

UP TO

40TB

OF STORAGE

2017’s best phone is here

How to get a strong Wi-Fi signal in every room

MARCH 2017

ISSUE 260


Specialists in business-class Internet connectivity, SIP and Voice over IP Hummingbird [Colibri Thalassinus]

COPPERSTREAM®

A hummingbird’s heart beats at over a 1,000 times a minute and its wings will beat about 70 times per second

• Copper Ethernet GEA/EFM Leased Lines • 2Mb to 35Mb • Auto failover (optional) • From £125 per month • Free connection*

FIBRESTREAM® • Fibre Ethernet Leased Lines • 10Mb to 1Gb • Auto failover (optional) • From £300 per month • Free connection*

VSTREAM®

Our FibreStream Internet connections transmit data at up to one Gigabit per second ®

• Fibre Broadband (VDSL) • Up to 76Mb • Auto failover (optional) • From £21 per month • Free connection and router on most services*

DUALSTREAM®SF

Whatever your budget, we have a

fast, resilient broadband solution

to suit your business needs.

• SDSLM and VStream® • 2Mb voice and up to 76Mb data • Auto failover • From £99 per month

Sales 0800 319 6010 • Partner Services 0800 319 6500 Innovative • Flexible • Reliable • Supportive

WINNER WINNE

HIGHLY HIGH FINALIST COMMENDED FINALIST

Service Provider ovider of the YYear

Provider ovider of the Year

2010 2011 2012 Internet rnet Service

HIGHLY HIGH

WINNER WINNE R COMMENDED

2013 2013 2014

Bestt Channel SME Ho Hosted ed Bestt Channel Bes Bes ISP Soluon Soluo ISP

IFC Spitfire Ad.indd 2

Bestt ISP

www.spitfire.co.uk *Subject to terms and conditions

16/12/2016 10:46


WELCOME Editor Jim Martin Group Managing Editor Marie Brewis Art Director Mandie Johnson Production Editor Rob Woodcock Multimedia Editor Dominik Tomaszewski Consumer Tech Editor Chris Martin Engagement Editor Ashleigh Macro Staff Writer Lewis Painter Staff Writer Henry Burrell Staff Writer Miriam Harris Associate Online Editor David Price Associate Editor Karen Haslam Associate Editor Neil Bennett Forum Editor Peter Thomas Editorial Director Matt Egan

jim_martin@idg.co.uk marie_brewis@idg.co.uk mandie_johnson@idg.co.uk rob_grant@idg.co.uk dominik_tomaszewski@idg.co.uk chris_martin@idg.co.uk ashleigh_allsopp@idg.co.uk lewis_painter@idg.co.uk henry_burrell@idg.co.uk miriam_harris@idg.co.uk david_price@idg.co.uk karen_haslam@idg.co.uk neil_bennett@idg.co.uk moderator@idg.co.uk matt_egan@idg.co.uk

Contributors Michael Ansaldo, Alex Campbell, Michael Connell, Hayden Dingman, Preston Gralla, Mark Hachman, Mike Halsey, Blair Hanley Frank, Benny Har-Even, Cliff Joseph, Gordon Mah Ung, Stephen Lawson, Josh Norem, Ben Patterson, Ian Paul, Jon Ribeiro, JD Sartain, Agam Shah, Steven J. Vaughan Nichols, Howard Wen, Andrew Williams

Advertising Account Director Jonathan Busse Senior Account Manager Gemma Rollason Campaign Support Manager Chris Brown

jonathan_busse@idg.co.uk gemma_rollason@idg.co.uk chris_brown@idg.co.uk

Marketing Marketing Manager Ash Patel Head of Marketing Design James Walker Subscriptions Customer Services

ash_patel@idg.co.uk james_walker@idg.co.uk pcadvisor@subscription.co.uk

Online Online Development Manager Adrian Black webmaster@pcadvisor.co.uk Web Developer Victor Chong Junior Developer John Copsey Web Developer Dominik Koscielak

Accounts Financial Director Chris Norman Credit Controller Dawnette Gordon Management Accountant Parit Shah

chris_norman@idg.co.uk dawnette_gordon@idg.co.uk parit_shah@idg.co.uk

Publishing Publishing Director Simon Jary Managing Director Kit Gould

sj@idg.co.uk kit_gould@idg.co.uk

Subscribe online: tinyurl.com/subscribepca Subscribe by phone: 0844 844 0232

Subscribe to digital editions: pcadvisor.co.uk/magazines Subscription enquiries: pcadvisor@servicehelpline.co.uk

CWO

DD

12 issues

£37.99

£35.88

Six issues

£24.99

£19.99

Europe (12 issues)

£100

£100

Rest of world (12 issues)

£125

£125

What do you think of this issue of PC Advisor? We welcome feedback – email Jim Martin at jim_martin@pcadvisor.co.uk and include the issue number in the subject heading

JIM MARTIN

Access all areas With a NAS drive you’ll have your own ‘cloud’ storage

W

elcome to another packed issue of PC Advisor. Just six months after the OnePlus 3 launched, we now have the 3T. This is a relatively minor upgrade, as you’ll read on page 28, but the latest CPU, more storage, a better front camera and a few other tweaks make this one of the very best phones you can buy right now, and it still costs less than £400. With many flagship phones costing upwards of £600, it’s great value even if it’s more expensive than its predecessor. But there’s even better value to be had if you’re willing to go for a less well-known brand. Xiaomi is one of the most popular phone makers in China and uses many of the same components you’ll find in a big-brand flagship, but at an unbelievably low price. Find out whether it’s right for you on page 37. There’s almost too much choice, with Google’s new Pixel (page 31), Lenovo’s modular Moto Z (page 34) and a budget offering from Vernee (page 42). If you use OneDrive in Windows or any other cloud storage service, you’ll appreciate the ability to access your files from any internet-connected computer (or phone). The cloud is great for small files, or even large files if you have fast broadband, but there are times when you want a collection of videos, music, photos and documents instantly available locally. That’s when a NAS drive is useful. These mini PCs connect to your router and offer a place to store everyone’s files. They can have separate accounts, and many NAS drives now have phone and tablet apps that make it really easy to listen to music, watch videos, browse photos, and more. Smart TVs can see these files too, so you can watch the same videos on the big screen, and at least one NAS in our group test on page 68 can connect directly to your TV’s HDMI input. Some NAS come with hard disks already installed, while others are ‘bare’ and you have to slide in disks of your own. With the latest disks offering capacities up to 10TB each, you can store a whole lot more than you can in the cloud. In our Windows tips feature on page 78, we explain how to use Windows’ built-in troubleshooting tools to fix any problems your PC might be having. From the Task Manager to the Event Viewer, you can use these utilities to diagnose and – hopefully – solve issues yourself instead of paying someone else to. And with many new PCs and laptops arriving stuffed with unwanted software, we also show you on page 102 how to reinstall Windows without this bloatware. Those new PCs come with Windows 10, of course, but one of its unique features is Cortana. Cortana is Microsoft’s digital assistant and is similar to Siri on the iPhone and Amazon Alexa, but it’s even more capable in the latest update on Windows 10. Find out how to get the most from Cortana on page 82, and don’t forget that she is now available on iOS and Android and so can assist you on the move even if you don’t have a Windows phone.

PC Advisor is published by IDG UK IDG UK, 101 Euston Road, London NW1 2RA. Tel: 020 7756 2800 Printer: Wyndeham Press Group Ltd 01621 877 777 Distribution: Seymour Distribution Ltd 020 7429 4000 No material may be reproduced in whole or part without written permission. While every care is taken, the publisher cannot be held legally responsible for any errors in articles, listings or advertisements. All material copyright IDG UK 2016

ISSUE 261 ON SALE 8 FEBRUARY 2017 March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk 3

003 Welcome 260.indd 3

21/12/2016 11:34


CONTENTS FEATURES & GROUP TESTS

NEWS & ANALYSIS 6

Latest technology news

16 Bluetooth 5 boosts IoT 17 Cortana for iOS and Android 17 Skype’s voice translator 18 Intel may use AMD GPUs 19 Apple’s self-driving cars

REGULARS & OFFERS 3

Welcome

68

20 Subscribe 116 Software downloads zone 146 Outbox

68 78 82 87 90

GROUP TEST: NAS drives Windows 10 tips Get more from Cortana Linux terminal commands Linux encryption tools

REVIEWS

GET FREE SOFTWARE PAGE 116

Subscribe to PC Advisor and

SAVE 50% SEE PAGE 20

8

22 25 28 31 34 37 40 42 45 46 48 50 51 52 54 56 59 60 61

62 64 66

92 Bookmark managers for Google Chrome 96 Get more from Play Music 100 Android gestures that speed up everyday tasks

TEST CENTRE

NAS DRIVES

Asus RoG G752Vm 15in Apple MacBook Pro (2016) OnePlus 3T Google Pixel Motorola Moto Z Xiaomi Mi 5s Huawei Nova Plus Vernee Mars Netgear Orbi Netamo Presence GoPro Hero 5 Black Kodak Pixpro SP360 4K Dual Pro Pack THieye i60e 4K Epson EcoTank ET-3600 HiMedia Q10 Pro Heat Genius Philips SHB9850NC Snugs Original S10 TP-Link AV2000 2-Port Gigabit Pass-through Powerline Starter Kit Final Fantasy XV Watch Dogs 2 Super Mario Run

70 71 72 73 74

Asustor AS1004T Netgear ReadyNAS RN212 QNAP TS-251A Synology DS216+II WD My Cloud Mirror 4TB

28

25

4 www.pcadvisor.co.uk March 2017

004_005 Contents 260.indd 4

21/12/2016 14:12


CONTENTS WINDOWS 10 TIPS

LINUX COMMANDS

78

87

GET MORE FROM CORTANA

LINUX ENCRYPTION TOOLS

82

90 TEST

ON THE COVER

CENTRE

20

78

Laptops Budget laptops Chromebooks Gaming laptops Gaming PCs Smartphones Budget smartphones Phablets Best tablets Smartwatches Activity trackers Budget printers/Printers Wireless routers/ Powerline adaptors 138 NAS drives/External hard drives 139 SSDs/Smart thermostats 140 Budget graphics cards/ Graphics cards 141 4K flat-panel TVs/ 4K flat-panel displays 142 e-book readers/Media streamers 143 Games console/ Budget portable speakers 144 Budget headphones/Headphones 145 Power banks/Desktop chargers

28

96 CHROME BOOKMARK MANAGERS

92 HOW TO 104

TOP 5 CHARTS: BUYER’S GUIDE 118 120 122 124 125 126 128 130 132 134 135 136 137

45

GOOGLE’S PLAY MUSIC APP

68

102 Reinstall Windows 10 without any bloatware 104 Defer Windows 10 updates 105 Download Windows apps with a local account 106 Add the Hibernate option 107 Change Windows 10’s colours 108 Use Microsoft Excel’s date and time functions 112 Collaborate in Dropbox Paper 114 Keep your kids safe online 115 Stop annoying animated GIFs

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk 5

004_005 Contents 260.indd 5

21/12/2016 14:12


NEWS

Intel, Microsoft renew ‘Wintel’ partnership with Project Evo and VR specs for PCs PC’s future revealed at Microsoft’s Windows Hardware Engineering conference, writes Mark Hachman Intel and Microsoft have reforged their traditional ‘Wintel’ partnership with a collaboration called ‘Project Evo’ in which the two companies will work together to improve how PCs think, see and hear. Their initiatives include everything from improved security and authentication to gaming innovations and ‘mixed reality’ experiences. Microsoft made the announcement at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Shenzhen, China, an event where the firm works with hardware partners to define the future of the PC and related devices. Much of this collaboration involves Intel, which helps provide the hardware reference designs that inform computers and other products made by manufacturers like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo. The conference was held six months after Microsoft declared its intentions to bring Windows 10 to virtual reality devices, and to help the five aforementioned hardware companies develop inexpensive head-mounted VR displays. To this end, Intel used WinHEC 2016 to unveil the PC specifications for those VR devices, and also announced its Project Evo partnership with Microsoft. WinHEC was paused between 2008 and 2014, so it’s great to see Microsoft, Intel and the PC manufacturers actively talk about shared priorities. On one front, the industry wants to redefine the PC’s basic intelligence, and how we interface with computers—that’s Project Evo. As for Microsoft and Intel’s virtual reality plans, this effort could have significant financial payoffs: Just like gaming PCs have helped drive high-end sales, we can now look to VR to inspire a return to the good old days of premium PC pricing.

That’s the firm’s bread and butter. But other features, such as Hello, use hardware innovations developed by Intel and others. Project Evo is designed to marry software and hardware in much the same way. “With Project Evo, Microsoft and Intel will deliver

all-new ways for devices to light up with the latest in advanced security, artificial intelligence and Cortana, mixed reality, and gaming,” Terry Myerson, the executive vice president of the Windows and Devices Group, said in a blog post.

Project Evo: Many of the improvements Microsoft built into Windows 10 have been software based. Windows Hello uses a camera to identify you and log you in

6 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news March 2017

006_009 News 260.indd 6

20/12/2016 15:21


NEWS Keep up to date with PC Advisor news: pcadvisor.co.uk/news

twitter.com/pcadvisor

facebook.com/pcadvisor

youtube.com/pcadvisor

CHRIS MARTIN

Specifically, Project Evo includes:

• Far-field speech communications, so that users will be able to speak to their connected PCs from across a room • Improvements to Windows Hello biometric identification, which currently includes fingerprint, iris, and facial recognition • Security intelligence from both Microsoft and Intel • Gaming innovations such as 4K displays with High Dynamic Range, Wide Colour Gamut (WCG), spatial audio, and the ability to broadcast games and e-sports • Improved mixed-reality experiences through affordable PCs and headmounted displays (HMDs)

What’s needed for VR PCs Microsoft and Intel can exercise their influence in head-mounted displays. Though they can’t control what components a Dell or an HP includes in these displays, they can suggest a minimum hardware specification for an enjoyable VR experience.

The HMDs from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo will be available later this year, Microsoft said. Developer kits, meanwhile, will be available at February’s Game Developer Conference. And by the end of 2017, hardware partners will begin building PCs that take advantage of the new HMDs. According to Intel and Microsoft, these are the minimum specifications: CPU: Intel Mobile Core i5 (7200U, for example) dual-core with hyperthreading GPU: Integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 (GT2) equivalent or greater RAM: 8GB+ dual-channel required for integrated graphics HDMI: HDMI 1.4 with 2880x1440 at 60Hz, or HDMI 2.0 or DP 1.3+ with 2880x1440 at 90Hz

Storage: 100GB+ SSD (preferred)/HDD USB: USB 3.0 Type-A or USB 3.1 Type-C Port with DisplayPort Alternate Mode Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0 for accessories “Windows is the only platform unifying the mixed reality ecosystem, providing inside-out tracking for HMDs, a single platform and standardized inputs for developers, and a consistent interface with a single store for customers,” Myerson said.

Many of the improvements Microsoft built into Windows 10 have been software based, but other features, such as Hello, use hardware innovations developed by Intel and others

006_009 News 260.indd 7

Microsoft showed off the integration of Windows 10 and virtual-reality devices at Computex 2016

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news 7

20/12/2016 15:21


News

AMD reveals how Zen – now renamed Ryzen – is its best chip family in a decade AMD unveils more details of its latest chip, reveals Mark Hachman AMD’s Zen is finally here. In August 2016, The firm stunned the hardware industry by showing that its Zen architecture could compete with Intel’s best. Now it has revealed more details about what executives call its most exciting processor in 20 years, including its brand name, its clock speed, and the five underlying ‘SenseMI’ technologies that make the chip so efficient. What AMD has previously referred to as its Zen architecture now has a formal brand name: Ryzen, which unfortunately sounds like the title of a bargain-bin video game. The first chip in the desktop family, codenamed Summit Ridge, will be AMD’s focus for 2017. Using Handbrake and ZBrush benchmarks, AMD recently demonstrated that its octa-core Summit Ridge chip can keep up with, or even potentially exceed, Intel’s octa-core, 3.2GHz Core i7-6900K that launched in May 2016. That’s due in part to the Summit Ridge chip’s higher 3.4GHz clock speed, according to AMD. AMD declined to disclose two key Summit Ridge details: the chip’s ‘boost’ speed, or maximum potential, and its price. In doing so, AMD avoids revealing too much to Intel’s marketing team, said analysts. Keep in mind, although it didn’t attract much attention at the time, Intel executives said in August they hadn’t ruled out increasing the core count of its Core i7-6900K – just as it did with the 10-core Core i7-6950X. That could help Intel maintain its performance edge over any upcoming Zen chips. All these machinations are to the consumers’ benefit, of course.

Benchmarks fuel anticipation

it now calls its Raven Ridge notebook chip for the second half of 2017. Remember, you’ll need Windows 10 to run all of them. AMD is aiming Ryzen at three markets that seem poised for growth: PC gaming, which some analysts say could see 35 percent growth from 2015 through 2020; virtualreality PCs, with expected 10X growth by 2020; and e-sports, which is experiencing a strong upturn in audience. “If you look at 2017, I don’t think we’ve seen anything this exciting since, honestly, back towards the 90s,” said Jim Anderson, senior vice president and general manager of AMD’s Computing and Graphics business, hearkening back to the AMD K6 series. AMD set out four years ago to design a ‘clean sheet’ processor architecture that could deliver 40 percent more instructions per clock than the previous generation. It seems the firm has achieved that goal. Previous AMD architectures were optimised for multicore performance. “That just didn’t work out because there’s a lot of stuff that needs single-threaded performance,” revealed Kevin Krewell, principal analyst with Tirias Research. “They had functional units that were split between two different cores... With Zen, you get this very wide execution engine, and then when you want to run an extra thread on it, you

share components, but you also have all the functional units at the bequest of that one thread. In a sense, they went back to square one, with the original Hammer processor.” In three demonstrations – using processor-intensive Handbrake, Blender and ZBrush benchmarks – the 3.4GHz Summit Ridge (with boosting turned off) either met or exceeded Intel’s 3.2GHz 6900K, which can boost to 3.7GHz. In Blender, AMD’s chip consumed 187.6W under load, while the Core i7 consumed 191.8W. The octa-core, 16-thread Ryzen chip will also pack a far lower TDP than Intel’s octa-core, 16-thread chip, at 95W versus 140W, CEO Lisa Su said during December’s AMD’s New Horizon event.

Here’s where we stand right now: Intel has begun shipping its first dual-core Kaby Lake chips – a third-generation 14nm chip, and for the time being, strictly for notebooks. Intel is expected to release its quad-core H-series processors in January 2017, kicking off the desktop PC race in earnest. AMD, meanwhile, has slated its 14nm Summit Ridge chip for the first quarter, its 32-core Naples server processor for the second quarter, and what

Summit Ridge’s basics: eight cores at 3.4GHz-plus, 20MB of combined L2+L3 cache, and SenseMI underneath it all

8 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news March 2017

008_010 News 260.indd 8

21/12/2016 11:38


News

Gaming performance We were shown Ryzen’s performance running DICE’s shooter hit Battlefield 1 and the chip still held up, big time. The 3.4GHz Ryzen system we saw contained a custom AM4 motherboard that will probably never see the light of day, plus 16GB of RAM and a pair of Nvidia Titan X cards. Yes, Nvidia cards – AMD representatives explained that they wanted to show how AMD and Nvidia technology could be mixed and matched, and that Ryzen could handle any gaming configuration you threw at it. On the other side was the same Intel Core i7-6900K AMD used for the Blender demo, with an Asus ROG X99 board, and 32GB of quad-channel memory, just to avoid claims that it was running with a subpar memory configuration. We were allowed to try a head-to-head playthrough of the first chapter of Battlefield 1, comparing the two machines. The catch: there was no onscreen overlay with frame rates. Instead, we had to go on what AMD product manager Jim Prior told us that both systems were running at between 100- and 130 frames per second, at 4K resolution under DirectX 11, using ultra settings. There were no functional or visible differences between the Ryzen and Intel systems. Both felt and looked exactly the same, whether playing on the PCs or peering over the shoulder of another player to watch the action side-by-side. In premium gaming, Ryzen was great. By contrast, AMD’s current FX-6xxx/8xxx chips are slower than comparable Intel budget parts in gaming.

Under the hood In a way, AMD’s Ryzen opens up another vector of consideration when buying a chip:

AMD set out four years ago to design a ‘clean sheet’ processor architecture that could deliver 40 percent more instructions per clock than the previous generation efficiency. Most PC enthusiasts consider price, core count, the speed of the chip, and the power each chip consumes before buying. Chip manufacturers, meanwhile, talk about the instructions per clock (IPC) as a way to measure effectiveness. Ryzen, though, proposes a new approach. According to Mark Papermaster, AMD’s chief technology officer, AMD set out to ensure that Ryzen had what he called the best “intelligent performance”, an adaptive technology that continually assesses the processor to deliver the best performance at a given power level. AMD calls this “SenseMI”. This consists of five different technologies: Pure Power, Precision Boost, Extended Frequency Range (XFR), Neural Net Prediction, and Smart Prefetch. The technologies all work together, using what AMD calls its Infinity Fabric – an on-chip network of connections – to constantly loop back and reassess how they’re doing. Pure Power and Precision Boost, for example, are like two sides of the same coin. Pure Power monitors the chip’s temperature using hundreds of temperature sensors embedded in the chip and fabric, constantly seeking to bump down the power by milliwatts at a time while maintaining the same level of performance. On the other hand, Precision Boost is a finegrained frequency control that can nudge performance up by 25MHz increments (versus 100MHz for Intel) to boost

performance without consuming more power. And if a user has a superior cooling system installed, the chip can sense it, via Extended Frequency Range (XFR), a fancy name for auto detection that allows the Ryzen chip to run at a higher frequency than normal. If designing a chip was like training a football player, than the first three SenseMI technologies would be like hitting the gym: improving speed, power and endurance. Think of the latter two, Neural Net Prediction and Smart Prefetch, as the mental aspects of the game: anticipation and awareness. Papermaster described AMD’s Neural Net Prediction capabilities as “scary smart” branch prediction, intended to remove pipeline stalls. A microprocessor’s instructions typically work on conditions: if this, then that. But executing those instructions, then waiting for the next one, can take several clock cycles where the chip is essentially doing nothing. To compensate, modern processors ‘cheat’ by trying to guess the way the conditional jump will go. If it’s right, then the processor can save time and improve the overall performance. If it’s wrong, then everything stalls while a new instruction is fetched. AMD’s technology uses a “massive amount of data” to retrain AMD’s branch predictor on the fly, minimising those pipeline stalls, Papermaster said. AMD’s latest processor generations have increasingly emphasised efficiency

008_010 News 260.indd 9

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news 9

21/12/2016 11:38


News

Likewise, Smart Prefetch makes that same bet, but in a different manner – it tries to guess what data Ryzen will need next, then grab it before the chip can act upon it. “That’s what we live for,” Papermaster added. “This inspires every designer.”

Battle for your wallet After years of scratching and clawing to stay afloat – restructuring debt, leasing and then moving its headquarters, layoffs – AMD is smartly doubling down on what it sees as a winning hand. Naples is just the first step toward a push back into the enterprise market, where higher margins can help fund future growth.

What isn’t clear, though, is how AMD will price its first Ryzen chip, Summit Ridge. Typically, Intel has applied the screws, forcing AMD to lower prices to gain market share. In August, Intel executives predicted that more than 350 new PC designs would be predicated on the various versions of Kaby Lake, beginning in January. For AMD’s part, Chief Executive Lisa Su predicted a “very, very strong line-up” of motherboards, hardware partners, and system builders, but didn’t disclose any numbers. Will Intel up its core count? Drop prices? Offer to assist with the marketing costs of hardware partners who sell Kaby Lake? And what’s the boost speed of AMD’s Summit

One of the secrets to Ryzen’s higher performance is fine-grained clock control Ridge? Will AMD be able to satisfy its customer demand? Will there be (gulp) bugs? All these questions remain unanswered. One thing is clear, however: AMD’s back at the table, and it finally has a good hand to play. “2016 was a very strong year; we’re very pleased with all the progress that we’ve made,” Su said. “But with 2017, the best is truly yet to come.” AMD’s Ryzen dynamically examines its power usage and makes adjustments on the fly

10 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news March 2017

008_010 News 260.indd 10

21/12/2016 11:38


NEW next generation Cloud Servers

UK data centres, UK support

Enterprise features • Load balancing • VPN • External firewall

Flexible

Set up in seconds • Easy to use control panel

Pay as you use pricing

Cloud Servers from:

£15.00 per month ex VAT charged at 20%

Call 0808 1686 777 or visit fasthosts.co.uk/cloud-servers SERVERS • WEB HOSTING • DOMAIN NAMES • EXCHANGE EMAIL

011 Fasthost AD.indd 13 GB145780100001_fasthosts_Ad_0516_210x297+5_46L.indd 1

29/09/2016 11:45 14.04.16 13:42


News

Microsoft-Qualcomm deal finally puts Windows 10 and Win32 apps on ARM devices Think of it as Windows RT 2.0, but done right. Mark Hachman reports In this photo from June 2012, a Qualcomm chip powers a tablet running Windows RT

Windows RT tried, and failed, to deliver a full-fledged Windows environment on top of anaemic ARM microprocessors. Now, Microsoft is trying again, with two major improvements: compatibility with the mainstream Win32 apps that PC users have enjoyed for years, and a new generation of powerful ARM chips to run them. At its Windows Hardware Engineering (WinHEC) conference in Shenzhen, China, Microsoft said that it has partnered with Qualcomm to enable new, low-cost PCs. These are intended to replace Windows tablets built around Intel’s Atom, a chip the company’s essentially discontinued. Traditional Windows apps can only run on X86 chips, not ARM thus, the failed RT. To get around this, Qualcomm is working with Microsoft to emulate X86 instructions, the companies said. Though the PC may be in decline, two growth segments have been low-cost (priced between £200 and £300) and two-in-one laptops. This announcement promises that upcoming Qualcomm chips will have the chops to handle that kind of hardware,

run apps like Photoshop, run efficiently on battery, and ship at consumer-friendly prices.

Backward compatibility Sources at Microsoft and Qualcomm say the partnership is designed around the Snapdragon 835, a chip that’s in production now and is due to ship in the first half of

2017, according to the chipmaker. The first Windows-on-ARM PCs are expected by the second half of next year. For now, Microsoft is thinking of the Windows-on-ARM relationship strictly in terms of enabling a new class of mobile PCs with superior battery life. But backward compatibility with Windows has also been

This Atom-powered Asus Transformer Mini provides compact computing for a low price, but with performance sufficient for web browsing and little else

12 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news March 2017

012_013 News 260.indd 12

20/12/2016 15:24


News

performance by 27 percent and battery life by 40 percent, compared to the company’s prior generation of 14nm chips. Microsoft itself crafted the X86 hardware emulator, according to industry sources. The emulator software attempts to minimise any CPU overhead by handling only CPU calls. Instructions sent to any associated storage, I/O, or GPU are all handled natively by those components, the company revealed. One source said Adobe’s Photoshop, one application Microsoft is expected to show at WinHEC, apparently runs well. Unfortunately, we won’t know how the new class of Snapdragon PCs will actually fare until Qualcomm ships the 835 and reviewers can get their hands on devices running the emulated software. The emulator won’t run on today’s hardware, meaning we’ll have to wait until the end of 2017 to discover how well it works.

The original Google Chromebook Pixel offered integrated cellular WWAN, but it was rarely used and dropped in later models. Microsoft reportedly wants to change that

a holy grail of sorts for fans of Windows phones, and reopens the door for a phone that could run traditional Windows apps. RT, which shipped with the original Surface (and tablets powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon processors) never managed to escape the parched hinterlands of Microsoft’s universal apps. Neither has Windows Mobile (with the exception of HP’s Elite x3, which runs Win32 apps in a cloud-based environment). That’s led to some frustration within the Windows community as Microsoft attempted to connect its various platforms. “Technically, there are really two things that are unique about Windows Mobile,” Microsoft’s Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group, answered, when ZDNet reporter Mary Jo Foley asked him about the future of its Windows Mobile operating system. “One is cellular connectivity and the other one is the ARM processors that are there.” “So we’re going to continue to invest in ARM and cellular,” he added. “And while I’m not saying what type of device, I think we’ll see devices there, Windows devices, that use ARM chips. I think we’ll see devices that have cellular connectivity.” The new Qualcomm-powered PCs will be able to join corporate domains, making them more than just consumer devices. The message is clear: the line between Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 for desktop PCs is blurring, but just not how we originally thought it would.

That’s what makes X86 emulation, at least on paper, a risky proposition. Emulation takes an instruction written for an X86 chip, intercepts it, and translates it into the chip’s native instruction set. In practice, emulation can slow the chip’s apparent performance considerably, as Transmeta learned in 2008. That startup challenged Intel with its line of Crusoe chips, which emulated the X86 architecture at slower speeds, while offering considerable power savings. But the chipmaker responded with its own line of low-power chips, largely maintaining its performance. That killed Transmeta’s competitive advantage, and the company eventually went under. Now, Microsoft seems to believe the performance of the Snapdragon 835 justifies its investment. Qualcomm hasn’t said much about the 835 specifically, but the company has said that simply shrinking to a 10nm manufacturing process can improve

Surface phone Microsoft also isn’t saying anything about the fabled Surface phone, which has been an on-again, off-again proposition for many months. The phone has been rumoured to ship sometime this year. One of its flagship features was supposedly Win32 apps, a feature that looked increasingly doubtful when Intel killed most of its Atom chips. In light of Myerson’s earlier comments, however, the Surface phone could in fact be a small, Snapdragon-powered, cellularconnected device – not one you hold to your ear, but one you can talk to on your desk via Bluetooth or Skype. Microsoft apparently sees Windows on ARM as a game-changing technology. But what that game actually will look like is still intriguingly hazy.

The Surface phone has achieved mythic status before it ships

Performance is priority one Look back to 2008, when Asus and others tried to market a range of Atom-based PCs, and they largely flopped. Even recent Atom-powered products like the Asus Transformer Mini balk at heavy workloads. Consumers have turned back to Intel’s Core chips (or Core m) instead.

012_013 News 260.indd 13

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news 13

20/12/2016 15:24


News

Watch Netflix content offline

Subscribers now able to download movies and TV shows onto a device for later viewing, writes Ian Paul Netflix has announced that select TV programmes and movies are available for download on Android and iOS devices. In other words, the subscription service now enables offline viewing. It’s not for all its content, though. Most of the company’s original programming will be covered by the new feature, but some titles may not be available due to licensing restrictions. The easiest way to see what shows can be downloaded is to tap the menu in the app, and then go to the appropriately titled ‘Available for download’ section. Otherwise, tap on something you’d like to watch offline, and if it’s available for download there will be a downward arrow icon next to each episode.

For movies, this will appear in the details section just below the movie description. Once you’ve downloaded something, it will show up in another section of the new app entitled ‘My Downloads’. People have been waiting for Netflix to add offline viewing for a very long time, and it isn’t the first streaming service to get the feature. Amazon, for example, added offline viewing for Prime Instant Videos in September 2015.

14 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news March 2017

014_015 News 260 .indd 14

20/12/2016 16:39


News

TSMC’s Fab 12 complex in Hsinchu, Taiwan

Moore’s Law lives on with speedy 7nm mobile chips coming in 2018 ARM is equipping TSMC to manufacture faster and more power-efficient chips. Agam Shah reports How do mobile devices keep get faster, thinner, and more power efficient? It’s thanks to the quick advances in chip manufacturing, which help churn out smaller processors packed with new features. The next round of premium smartphones early this year could feature chips such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835, made using the latest 10-nanometer process. Continuing with the Moore’s Law observation, it’s likely that two years after this, smartphones will get even faster and smaller chips will be produced using a 7nm process. Smartphone chipmaker ARM recently revealed it is working with prominent chip manufacturer TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.) to produced 7nm chips. Production is expected to start in 2018, explained Ron Moore, vice president of marketing for ARM’s physical design group. In ARM’s trials, the 7nm processors provided

infrastructures and at the right power consumption levels. Many advances are expected on the 7nm process, including EUV (extreme ultraviolet) that allows for finer details to be etched on chips. Chips designed with the ARM’s IP won’t require designers to have deep knowledge about the underlying manufacturing technologies, Moore said. TSMC’s rival Globalfoundries is also moving to the 7nm process, and production could start in 2018. Samsung hasn’t publicly talked about its 7nm plans, while Intel says it has “visibility” of 7nm, meaning it is on the company’s roadmap, but hasn’t talked about when it will be implemented. The next step beyond 7nm is the 5nm process, which was discussed at the recent International Electron Devices Meeting. Participants also discussed silicon replacement materials, such as silicon germanium. Intel is already planning to use III-V materials, based on elements from the third and fifth columns of the periodic table, like gallium-arsenide, in forthcoming chips. Gallium arsenide is a better electricity conductor than silicon, and it could add to the power efficiency of chips. J

a 15- to 20 percent speed boost compared to those made using TSMC’s 16nm process. Manufacturers could tweak the architecture to bring even better performance. ARM-based processors for servers and IoT devices will also be made on the 7nm process. Ultimately, only the chipmakers using ARM designs will be able to provide metrics on performance improvements based on the tweaks they made, Moore said. New technologies such as virtual reality are demanding more performance out of chips. The ARM manufacturing IP provided to TSMC solves some challenges around memory, power distribution, and moving data in and out of memory. For example, many customers are planning multi-GPU configurations for servers in the cloud or for machine-learning infrastructures. The chip IP provides data path optimisations, so data can travel quickly within these

The next round of premium smartphones early this year could feature chips such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835, produced using the latest, 10-nanometer process

014_015 News 260 .indd 15

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news 15

20/12/2016 16:40


IMAGE; STEPHEN LAWSON

NEWSANALYSIS

Bluetooth 5 to give home IoT a boost The latest version of the wireless protocol is faster and goes farther, reveals Stephen Lawson

B

luetooth is aiming straight for the Internet of Things (IoT) as the fifth version of the wireless protocol arrives with twice as much speed for low-power applications. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which gains the most from the new Bluetooth 5 specification, can now go as fast as 2Mb/s (bits per second) and typically cover a whole house or a floor of a building, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced recently. Those features could help to make it the go-to network for smart homes and some enterprise sites. The home IoT field is pretty open right now because most people haven’t started buying things such as connected thermostats and smart door locks, ABI Research analyst Avi Greengart argued. Bluetooth starts out with an advantage over its competition because it’s already built into most phones and tablets, he added. Alternatives such as ZigBee and Z-Wave often aren’t. “It’s easy to predict that within two- to three years, pretty much every phone will have Bluetooth 5,” Greengart explained. “Sometimes ubiquity is the most important part of a standard.” As the new protocol rolls out to smartphones, users should be able to control Bluetooth 5-equipped devices without going through a hub.

Bluetooth is in a gradual transition between two versions of the protocol. The ‘classic’ type is what’s been linking mobile phones to cars and mice to PCs for years. BLE, a variant that uses less power, works in small, battery-powered devices that are designed to operate for a long time without human interaction. BLE devices now outnumber classic Bluetooth products and most chips include both modes, explained Steve Hegenderfer, director of developer programs at the Bluetooth SIG. With Bluetooth 5, BLE matches the speed of the older system, and in time, manufacturers are likely to shift to the low-power version, he said. Range has quadrupled too, so users shouldn’t have to worry about getting closer to their smart devices in order to control them. Also, devices such as home security systems – one of the most common starting points for smart-home systems – will be able to talk to other Bluetooth 5 devices around the house, Parks Associates analyst Tom Kerber explained. Another enhancement in the new version will help enterprises use Bluetooth beacons for location. BLE has a mechanism for devices to broadcast information about what they are and what they can do, so other gear can coordinate with them. Until

now, those messages could contain 31 bytes of information only. Now they can be eight times that size, making it easier to share information like the location and condition of enterprise assets, such as medical devices in hospitals. Google’s Physical Web concept, intended to let users easily interact with objects, is based on BLE beacons. Bluetooth still needs to fill in a few pieces of the puzzle, ABI’s Greengart added. The new, longer range is an improvement, but a mesh would be better, he explained. In a mesh configuration, which is available in competing networks such as ZigBee and Thread, each device needs only to connect with the one closest to it. That takes less power, and it’s better than relying on each device’s range to cover a home, because walls and other obstacles can keep signals from reaching their full range, he said. The Bluetooth SIG is at work on a mesh capability now. Consumers are also waiting for a high-fidelity audio connection to wireless headphones, a need that’s getting more urgent as phone makers phase out physical jacks, Greengart said. As with mesh, it’s coming from Bluetooth but not here yet. Although Bluetooth 5 makes strides that could help drive IoT adoption, the field is still open, he said. “There’s room for almost any solution to succeed, including Wi-Fi.” J

16 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news March 2017

016_019 Analysis 260.indd 16

21/12/2016 12:06


NEWSANALYSIS

Cortana for iOS, Android features quick access to common actions Microsoft’s virtual assistant is launching in the UK on non-Windows platforms, writes Blair Hanley Frank icrosoft’s Cortana virtual assistant is getting a facelift on iOS and Android, aimed at making it more useful for users, and also bringing a bit of brightness to its dour interface. The app’s biggest change is the launch of a button that lets users quickly choose between a suite of common actions, such as viewing their calendar at a glance, checking reminders or getting a weather forecast. The app itself looks friendlier, with a purple gradient background (see right) replacing a stark black, white and blue colour scheme. On top of that, Microsoft has announced that the iOS and Android versions of Cortana are coming to the UK. The firm has been slow to expand its virtual assistant’s geographic reach until it has been set up to work with local social norms and other expectations. The Cortana app is a key part of Microsoft’s strategy for its virtual assistant.

M

Windows smartphones are an extreme minority compared to the iOS- and Androidpowered devices that overwhelmingly dominate the market. If Microsoft wants Cortana to be ubiquitous, it’s important to invest in an app that works on other platforms. The virtual assistant is a major feature of Microsoft’s Windows 10 push, along with its larger ambitions around powering intelligent assistants. Cortana is competing in a crowded market, against the likes of Siri, Alexa and the Google Assistant. In addition to the redesign, Microsoft also said the app is faster than its previous

version, which will be helpful for competing against other assistants. The update is available to Android devices now through the Google Play Store, and the iOS app will get updated early 2017. J

Skype’s radical real-time voice translator now works with normal phone calls Multi-language calls are no longer limited to the Skype network. Ian Paul reports kype has added an interesting new feature to its preview build of the Skype Windows Store app. The latest version of Skype Preview can now perform real-time spoken word translations via Skype Translator when calling landlines and mobile phones – no Skype required on the receiving end. This is a huge deal, bringing it one step closer to becoming a true universal translator. To try out the new version of Skype Preview you’ll need to be running the latest version of the Windows 10 Insider preview build on the fast ring – Build 14986. Once you’re running this, download and install the latest version of Skype Preview. If you already have this installed just check the Windows Store for any updates. On top of that, the new feature requires some Skype credits or a calling subscription since calls to landlines and mobile phones are not free. If you’re an Office 365 Home or

S

Personal subscriber, you already get 60 minutes of free Skype calling minutes every month. Prior to this experimental feature rollout, Skype Translator required both people to be using Microsoft’s messaging app. Now, the firm is looking to remove that dependence by allowing at least one side of the conversation to be Skype-free. That will make the service’s real-time translation much easier to use since users don’t need to work out a special time when both people are on Skype. Instead, one side just makes a regular phone call from the service on a Windows 10 PC. Translation to landlines and mobiles sounds like a great addition, and we can’t wait to test it out. Bear in mind that this

is still a preview feature, so expect some teething troubles. Using the new Skype feature appears straightforward: simply input the phone number of the call’s recipient, specify which language each party is speaking, then hit the phone icon to connect the call. Skype currently supports a number of languages, including Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, English, French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Italian and Russian. J

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news 17

016_019 Analysis 260.indd 17

21/12/2016 12:06


News: Analysis

Intel may use AMD GPUs to challenge Nvidia’s rising power Intel needs graphics power. AMD needs cash. Both need to fight Nvidia. Gordon Mah Ung reports MD already owns the graphics market for games consoles, and the next place it could plant its flag could be the last anyone expected: Intel. While rumours of a possible deal circulated throughout 2016, something firmer arose recently when Kyle Bennett, longtime editor of enthusiast hardware site HardOCP.com, posted that the ink on the deal was already dry. “The licensing deal between AMD and Intel is signed and done for putting AMD GPU tech into Intel’s iGPU,” he wrote on his site’s forum. He later added a little more detail. “To my understanding, Intel has a team of about 1,000 engineers working on their forward‑looking iGPU technology. Basically, that work will be scrapped and that team and their work will be replaced with AMD teams and technology going forward. There are also Apple implications here as well, and this deal is good for Apple assuredly.” As bizarre as such a partnership may sound to outsiders, the timing makes it more likely. Kevin Krewell, an analyst with Tirias Research, laid out two possible scenarios. First, Intel needs patent protection. Nvidia and Intel began suing each other in 2009 over Nvidia’s nForce chipsets for Intel CPUs. The suits were eventually settled in 2011: Nvidia agreed not to build chipsets for Intel’s Core i7 CPUs, and Intel was free to build graphics cores without getting sued by Nvidia. The price of Intel’s freedom was high, though: the chip giant agreed to pay Nvidia licensing fees over the next six years totalling $1.5 billion. After writing the last $200 million cheque in January 2016, the licensing deal is winding down, which means Intel has to go shopping for patent protection for its graphics cores. As AMD and Nvidia essentially own the lion’s share of graphics patents in the world, developing graphics cores is nigh on impossible without licensing deals. Krewell said Intel could just ink a deal and be done with it. The second scenario,

A

however, is far more intriguing, if, as Bennett believes, Intel uses Radeon graphics inside of Intel CPUs. He argued that the deal would give AMD some much‑needed funding. “AMD still has some significant financial headwinds with its debt load and needs cash to fund more R&D. The way I’d rationalize AMD’s licensing of Radeon GPU tech to Intel is that Radeon would become the dominant graphics architecture of the PC market and outflank Nvidia in graphics. If Intel then used Radeon GPUs for GPU computing, it would help push back on Nvidia and CUDA.��� Such a deal wouldn’t come cheap, but Intel was already cutting cheques of $200‑ to $300 million to Nvidia every year. “Intel would have to pony up some significant money to make this deal work,” Krewell explained. “The amount of extra cash AMD could make on royalties would be very appealing to the shareholders.” Fans may be concerned that such a deal would all but give up the last advantage

AMD’s upcoming Zen‑based APUs would have over Intel chips. The firm’s Zen core could equal Intel’s newest cores in x86 performance. Combine that with its much more powerful graphics cores and you’d have an instant winner. Financial realities, however, overshadow any moral victories. “Is it better to make a royalty on 80‑ to 90 percent of the PC processor shipments or fight it out for the remaining 10 percent or 20 percent?” Krewell asked. AMD can make a lot more money partnering with Intel rather than competing. For its part, Intel has plenty of reasons to stop sending money to Nvidia. As the GPU maker busily builds market share in self‑driving cars, machine learning and more, it’s becoming more of a threat to Intel (which is trying hard to get its own chunk of these businesses). In AMD, Intel would have a partner that offered competitive technology to Nvidia’s – and needed its money. J

This forum post points to a likely licensing deal between AMD and Intel

18 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news March 2017

016_019 Analysis 260.indd 18

21/12/2016 12:06


News: Analysis

Apple is ‘excited’ about the potential of self-driving cars Maybe Project Titan isn’t dead after all, writes John Ribeiro pple has said in comments to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it is “excited” about the potential use of automated systems in many areas, including transportation. Steve Kenner, the company’s director of product integrity, wrote that it is “investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation”. He did not specify whether the company would design or make self-driving vehicles, or perhaps only license some of its machine learning software to car manufacturers, reflecting Apple’s continued reticence on its plans for the automated vehicles market. The firm is already doing deals with car makers in the area of iPhone integration. A number of companies already support Apple’s CarPlay technology, which lets users integrate control of iPhone functions such as directions, making calls, sending and

A

receiving messages, and listening to music on the car’s built-in display. Apple’s plans in the area of self-driving vehicles have been the subject of intense speculation for some time. In September, The New York Times reported that the company had closed down a part of its project for self-driving cars – codenamed Titan – and also retrenched some staff. One of the problems the project faced was that people working on it struggled to explain what Apple could bring to self-driving cars that other companies could not, according to the report, which quoted people briefed on the move. In its letter to the NHTSA, Apple stressed the need for those developing and deploying automated vehicles to follow rigorous safety principles in design and production. However, it cautioned that such principles should not compromise safety or innovation. “Apple looks forward to collaborating with NHTSA and other stakeholders, so that the significant societal benefits of automated

vehicles can be realized safely, responsibly and expeditiously,” Kenner wrote. The company wants a level playing field for new entrants with traditional car manufacturers, particularly in areas such as car testing for which current legislation favours established makers. Apple agrees with proposals that ask companies to share data from crashes and near misses and said it “looks forward to collaborating with other stakeholders to define the specific data that should be shared”. The company also cautioned that data sharing should not be at the cost of privacy. A number of car makers and technology companies, including Alphabet and Uber, are testing self-driving cars. Startup NuTonomy signed a Memorandum of Understanding recently with the City of Boston and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to begin testing its self-driving cars on specific public streets in a designated area of the city. In August, the company started trialling self-driving taxis in Singapore. J

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news 19

016_019 Analysis 260.indd 19

21/12/2016 12:06


Subscribe to PC Advisor

R O S I V D A C P O T SUBSCRIBE GET FREE ONLINE D SOFTWARE IN OUR OWNLOAD S ZONE

EXPERT ADV YOU CAN TR ICE UST

E EXPERT ADVICST U TR N A YOU C

BEST VALUE LAPTOPS PS

OUR FTWARE INONE O S E E R F T Z GE WNLOADS ONLINE DO

FROM ID G

G FROM ID

O T P A L R E BEST EV

The new ge ne powerful an ration is d portable

GET FR ONLIN EE SOFTWAR E DOW NLOADE IN OUR S ZONE 15 P TO LAP

Full HD scre e

ns ableAll-day battery Powerful, port re Windows 10 laptops that a also tablets GOOGL

RECOMMENDATIONS

NEEW W + G E’S N A D G P O E TS 16 LAPT

FAOpR ple

iPhone

S

NS TION DATIO MENDA RERECOCOMMM INSIDE

BLE LAPTOP THE FIRST VR-CAPA

Why you’ll w ant a Daydre am View, Goog le Home an d more

7x packs Gigabyte’s P5 X 1070 an Nvidia GT N ANY HOW TO TUR INTO E SMARTPHON OT P A WI-FI HOTS

CALL NOW 0844 844 0232 & quote P260

020_021 Subs Spread 260.indd 20

BEST VPN SERVICES

REVIEWED

AMAWZatcOhN bal TV ECgHloO & leave no trace online

BEST PCs GAMES INSIDE

7

LATEST PHONES TESTED & RATED

FROM

Google Pixel XL

Powerfu l oneyskZ to p for all b XpSd udegriaeXts s

PLUS b est gam ing mo mice an d NOW THERE’S keyboards nitors, A DIGITALRAESS VIISETA WNED FOR13 EVLEReYnRoOvOM T JANUARY 20 17 o Yoga Bo ISSUE 258 OF YO TESTUED ItR’s aHnOotM ok epE ad, Android ta

blet and la

20 16 DECEMBER

ISSUE 257

ptop in one

Microso f Surface t Studio

A Windo w PC for th s e Mac cro wd Why the Pla best vir yStation VR is tual rea t lity hea he you can dset buy

F E B RU ARY 2 0 17

ISSUE 259

20/12/2016 10:31

IDG


7

Subscribe to PC Advisor

Pay just £2.99 an issue.

Get a 6-month subscription to PC Advisor for £19.99 or pick up 12 issues for just £35.88, saving 50% on the cover price

Enjoy these benefits from the next issue:

FROM

ONLY £2.99 an issue (normal price £5.99) Save over 50% on the shop price Software download zone for subscribers PRIORITY delivery direct to your door each month

IDG

Every issue of PC Advisor is packed with the latest news, reviews and features, plus comprehensive, impartial buying advice and easy-to-understand tutorials to help you to get the most from your laptop, PC and tech gadgets. Every subscriber will also have access to the Subscriber Download Zone. Here you will find programs in a wide variety of software categories and on platforms such as Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and mobile.

T&C’s: The above offer is a Direct Debit offer only. If you would prefer to pay by cheque or credit card it will cost £24.99 for a six-month subscription and £37.99 for 12 months. Your subscription will start with the next available issue. Offer expires 7 February 2017. For overseas rates please call +44 1795 414 609 and quote reference P260. To subscribe online visit tinyurl.com/subscribepca. For email enquiries write to: pcadvisor@servicehelpline.co.uk.

020_021 Subs Spread 260.indd 21

20/12/2016 10:31


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

REVIEWS GaMInG lapTop

£1,599 inc VAT

Asus RoG G752VM

Contact n

asus.com/uk

Specifications

17.3in (1920x1080, 141dpi) IPS LCD matt anti-glare; Windows 10; 2.6GHz, up to 3.5GHz Turbo Intel Core i7-6700HQ, four cores eight threads; Nvidia GTX 1060 6GB GPU; 16GB RAM DDR42400; 256GB SSD; 1TB HDD (7200rpm); Gigabit Ethernet; DVD multi-writer; 802.11b/g/n/ac 2x2; Bluetooth 4.2; 4x USB 3.0; 1x USB-C 3.1; HDMI; mini DisplayPort; SDXC card slot; stereo Band & Olufsen speakers; HD webcam; Digital array mic; 3.5mm headset jack; UK tiled keyboard; 67Wh lithium-ion battery non-removable; 428x334x43mm; 4.06kg

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

The asus RoG G752VM is one of the first laptops to offer one of nvidia’s new generation of graphics cards, which get much closer to offering desktop gaming performance in a normal laptop shell. It’s the second in this new class we’ve reviewed, but this belongs in a class above the Gigabyte p57 we looked at couple of months ago. While not cheap, the G752VM is a no-compromise machine that is worth saving up those pennies for.

Price The G752VM reviewed here costs £1,599. It has an Intel Core i7-6700HQ CpU, nvidia GTX 1060 GpU, 16GB RaM, a 256GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive for all the files you don’t need to access at lightning speed. Right now this is the only spec widely available in the UK. If you’re after a machine with an even faster graphics card, the model number changes a bit. The G752VS has a GTX 1070 GpU and costs around £2,299. If you have money to burn or are obsessed about frames per second figures, the monster G701VI has the top-end nvidia GTX 1080 card (£2,889). If all of these are too expensive for your budget, then the FX502VM costs £1,399, has a 3GB GTX 1060 card and some lesser components including a less adept cooling system. It’s also a lot lighter and slimmer.

Design a new generation of graphics hardware makes the G752VM exciting, but the design is much like the older G752 model we reviewed before nvidia’s 10-series GpUs arrived. You wouldn’t mistake it for anything but a gaming machine. The angular two-tone keyboard surround, Matrix-like keyboard font and moody red keyboard backlight tell you this isn’t a laptop designed to be used to check emails in Starbucks. It’s also far too big and heavy to be taken far comfortably. The G752VM is 43mm thick and weighs 4.06kg. Just the 17in screen footprint alone is enough to make you want to groan every time you have to take it room to room. This isn’t a criticism as such, just a reminder of exactly the kind of laptop we’re looking at. If you want something to entertain during a horribly long work commute, consider getting something much smaller and lighter. This is a performance machine foremost. like most gaming laptops, it’s largely made of high-quality plastic rather than the metal used

in light lifestyle machines. However, it’s solid throughout and the lid is topped with brushed aluminium for a little show-off extra touch. The colour strips and logo on the lid also light up, a classic gamer gear move, but you can switch these lights off if you like. one of the main positives of such a large laptop like the G752VM is that it can easily replace a desktop. The screen is huge compared with most laptops and the large frame means asus has been able to fit in many connections.

Connectivity There are four USB 3.0 ports, two on each side and a USB-C to let you plug in your peripherals past and future. In a couple of years we may wish asus had sacrificed another USB for a second USB-C, but at the moment we just don’t know how much life is left in the full-fat plug. other connectors include a full-size HDMI, mini Displayport and a Gigabit Ethernet socket. There’s also an unusually good array of audio connectors, with separate mic and headphone 3.5mm jacks, plus

The colour strips and logo on the G752VM’s lid also light up, a classic gamer gear move, but you can switch these lights off if you like

22 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

022_024 Asus RoG G752VM 260.indd 22

21/12/2016 11:47


REVIEWS a SPDIF output to let you plug in a digital headset without using up a USB. The G752VM has a tray-loader optical drive too, in this case a DVD multi-writer. Asus also offers a Blu-ray drive in other configurations.

Display Like a lot of gaming laptops, though, the G752’s screen spec may not blow you away. It’s a large 17.3in display, but the resolution is only 1920x1080 pixels. You’ll notice this on the Windows 10 desktop, with text looking pixellated just as it would appear on a 1080p monitor. However, our review unit’s GTX1060 graphics card is perfectly-suited to 1080p gaming. It has enough power to let you

environment, but this is still a very solid, satisfying screen for gamers. The display also has G-Sync, Nvidia’s hardware-powered alternative to V-sync, which stops ugly tearing in games. G-Sync gets you the benefits of V-sync without the performance hit.

Keyboard and trackpad It’s easy to think of the G752VM as a pure performance laptop, and in most respects it is, but there’s attention to detail paid in the keyboard and trackpad too. As in previous high-end G-series laptops, the keyboard keys have greater travel than the average laptop. They are extremely comfortable to type on, and have meaty

For an extra shot of gaming cred, the G752VM’s keyboard uses anti-ghosting tech that means it can register up to 30 key presses at once max-out the visuals in current games, where doing to at 4K would be too much of an ask. If you must have ultra-high resolution gaming, check out the Asus ROG GX800, which has an Nvidia GTX 1080 GPU and a 4K screen option. Other than unremarkable resolution this is a good screen. Colour is solid and the matt screen finish takes the edge off reflections. Maximum brightness is excellent too at 354cd/m2. We’ve been using the G752VM as our normal work PC, and even at 40 percent brightness it seems a bit too bright with indoors lighting. Looking a little deeper, colour and contrast performance are decent, but not at a level that’ll impress design professionals. The G752VM hits 85 percent of the sRGB standard, where at this price you can often get 100 percent. Coverage of the more demanding Adobe RGB and DCI P3 standard are relatively good given the sRGB coverage, though, at 62.5and 71.5 percent respectively. The slight weak point we actually noticed with the naked eye is contrast. At 569:1 it’s only reasonable, and at higher brightness you’ll see a slight bluish hint to blacks. It’s a good idea to play around with the backlight level to see what best suits your gaming

resistance that simply feels good. It’s about as far removed as you can get from the ultra-shallow style of Apple’s newer MacBook designs. The G752VM also has a full numerical pad and a series of custom buttons up above the standard key set. One boots up the XSplit Gamecaster video streaming software, and the other five are customisable macro buttons. You can set your own key sequence for each, or make them launch an app or website, which may be of more interest to those not into competitive gaming. Aside from their programmability, though, these are normal keys, so you need to remember exactly which button does what. Given how much the OLED shortcut bar adds to the price of the new MacBook Pro, we’ll take the extra brain work involved. The last bonus button sits in the numberpad: an ROG button that launches the Gaming Center app. This lets you see how hard the CPU and GPU are working and

how hot they are. It also lets you turn off the light strip on the back. For an extra shot of gaming cred, the keyboard uses anti-ghosting tech that means it can register up to 30 key presses at once. It’s techy overkill, the sort of feature you can only test by mashing the keyboard with a palm, but does mean that no keypress will be missed in the heat of the action. The mouse buttons match the feel of the keyboard too. Instead of being built into the pad they sit below. They’re oversized pads that depress almost as much as the keys but with a lighter feel, a bit like miniaturized space bars. This actually makes them easier to rapidfire tap than a normal mouse button, and gets rid of the problem of awkward-feeling mouse layouts that a lot of larger laptops suffer from. Its actual pad is large too, though it’s disappointing to see a laptop this high-end use a plastic surface rather than a textured glass one. Your finger doesn’t coast over it as smoothly, even if many people may not notice the difference. This seems to be a nod to the idea most serious gamers will want to use a mouse a lot of the time. This is one of the G752VM’s few weak points. Its greatest strength is performance, although it’s the GPU alone that sets the laptop apart.

Performance Arriving just before Kaby Lake CPUs were available, the G752VM uses a Skylake-generation CPU, which has

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 23

022_024 Asus RoG G752VM 260.indd 23

20/12/2016 11:30


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

been around for quite some time. It’s an Intel i7-6700HQ, a quad-core CPU with a clock speed of 2.6GHz and a Turbo Boost of 3.5GHz. While we haven’t tested a Kaby Lake laptop yet, it’s unlikely to prove a good reason to wait: we don’t expect a massive performance increase. This CPU is paired with 16GB of DDR4 RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive for all the data that doesn’t need to be accessed too quickly, like photos, video files and music. The SSD reads at 757MB/s and writes at 749MB/s, so is not an entry-level drive, but also isn’t as fast as the quickest PCIe SSDs. The companion hard drive reads at 141MB/s and writes at 135MB/s, so while nowhere near as fast as the SSD, it’s a decent 7200rpm model rather than the lumpen sort of drive you’d find in a cheap laptop. With that out of the way, we can tackle the G752VM’s Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU, the main reason to get excited. The claim for this ‘mid-range’ graphics brain is that it’s 30 percent faster than the GTX 970M, the model up from the last generation of Nvidia laptop cards. It’s a good time for gaming laptops. It can handle Alien Isolation with all settings maxed-out and resolution set to 1080p at an average 75fps, and at 188fps with the visuals dropped and the resolution at 720p. It sails through the more challenging Thief too, managing 70fps with all the effects turned up and the resolution at 1080p, and at 80fps with the visual quality dropped.

This is an excellent 1080p gaming laptop, with enough reserves to ensure top-end games will be playable for some time to come. While there are smaller, lighter laptops with this same CPU including Asus’s own FX502VM, the G752VM has a cooling system designed to take the heat produced with ease. It’s extremely quiet. Like almost any laptop with a high-performance CPU, the fans run constantly, but will be drowned out by even minor ambient

G752VM lasts just over four hours. This is fair longevity for a laptop with these brains, and a sign of the effort Intel and Nvidia have put into improving the efficiency of their processors. But it’s still not going to get you through a day’s work. Playing a looped video at 120cd/m2 brightness, the G752VM lasts three hours 23 minutes, giving you an idea of what it’s capable of when working at a low level consistently. Expect it to last about an hour when gaming

This Asus is an excellent 1080p gaming laptop, with enough reserves to ensure top-end games will be playable for some time to come noise when you’re just browsing or reading emails. We were surprised by how well the G752VM copes even after 30 minutes of gaming. It’s a lot quieter than we remember the previous generation of G752 computers. If you’re looking for a laptop you can play for hours without the keyboard getting hot and fans sounding like a Dyson hand-dryer, this is a great option: the best we’ve reviewed to date. You only need to look at its back to see how it words. The chunky rear of the laptop is all-grille, giving the large internal fans room to push out all the hot hair.

Battery life One element of the G752VM that was never going to be that strong, though, is battery life. Despite using a 14nm CPU, the core components just aren’t designed for battery-saving the way other chipsets are. Used as a normal work PC, with plenty of typing and some browsing the Asus ROG

flat-out: a reminder that this really isn’t a portable machine.

Audio This laptop deserves to have some speakers or headphones plugged-in, rather than relying on the internal speakers. While top volume is good and there’s a ‘bass woofer’ driver on the bottom to add some weight to the sound, a coloured mid-range leaves music and speech sounding stilted and unnatural.

Verdict The Asus ROG G752VM is a terrific gaming laptop for those who want top performance in a form designed to handle that power with ease. It doesn’t get overly hot or loud, making us confident that even the step-up model with the Nvidia GTX 1070 GPU will also be a joy to use. As the prices of top-end style laptops such as the MacBook Pro and HP Spectre 13 increase, the Asus starts to look like an even better buy than 2015’s models. And, as hoped, the latest 10-series Nvidia graphics cards blow away what came before. Despite being two rungs lower, gaming performance is not all that far off the former top dog GTX 980M, and similar to that of the desktop-grade GTX 970. In other words, it’s perfect for 1080p gaming. There are just a few issues. A textured glass (rather than plastic) trackpad would have been appreciated and we’d like to see Asus put a little more work into the sound quality of the speakers, rather than just trying to make them as loud as possible. J Andrew Williams

24 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

022_024 Asus RoG G752VM 260.indd 24

20/12/2016 11:30


Reviews

Laptop

£2,699 inc VAT Contact n

apple.com/uk

Specifications

15.4in (2880x1800, 220ppi) LED-backlit display with IPS technology; macOS Sierra; 2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz, with 8MB shared L3 cache; 512GB PCIe-based onboard SSD; 16GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 RAM; Intel Iris Graphics 530; 4x USB-C; 3.5mm headphone jack; 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.2; 720p FaceTime HD camera; 76Wh lithium-polymer battery; 349.3x240.7x15.5mm; 1.83kg

15in Apple MacBook Pro (2016) apple’s new MacBook pro is here at last. It comes in 13- and 15in screen sizes, features sixth-generation Intel Skylake processors, a slim new design and a cool customisable touch Bar above the keyboard.

Design Externally, the design is similar to 2015’s, albeit on a slimmer scale, though there are numerous physical changes under the lid. the most obvious, and the flagship feature that occupied much of the unveiling event, is a touchscreen bar above the keyboard that apple calls the touch Bar – more on this later. as expected, apple has removed the traditional USB ports on the MacBook pro, and the MagSafe charging port, and replaced them all with USB-C/thunderbolt ports: four on our review unit. plus, you get a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Touch Bar

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

the touch Bar is a long slender touchscreen that sits along the top of the keyboard in place of the old function keys. Depending on the application you’re running – and any customisation options you may have selected – it can display and enable a wide range of functions and controls. In Safari, for example, it shows tab thumbnails, forward and back buttons and the like; in Mail it shows Quicktype typing suggestions and an emoji button. (Mail also offers more general predictive suggestions, offering to move an email to a folder that it thinks is suitable, based seemingly on scanning the contents and/or sender of the message.) the touch Bar supports multitouch, and there are some applications (in areas such as DJing) where you’ll be swiping and tapping with two fingertips at once. We’ve found it admirably fast and responsive, switching near-instantly when changing apps or changing function within an app. Losing the function keys may occasionally be annoying – we must confess to still not having found a replacement shortcut for the handy old Cmd+F3 to temporarily clear the screen of all open windows, but its wide and customisable range of functionality should make for this.

Touch ID the one aspect of the touch Bar that’s had most effect on our dayto-day use so far has been the little touch ID sensor on the righthand edge. Not for apple pay, which we still rarely use even on iphone – although yes, this feature means you can make apple pay payments online, on your Mac, without having to use a linked iphone – but for unlocking the device. open the lid and as soon as the screen lights up, the touch Bar does too, with a bouncing arrow pointing to the fingerprint sensor and an instruction: ‘Unlock with touch ID’. place your fingertip on the sensor for the merest fraction of a second and the MacBook will unlock: there’s a tiny delay (of perhaps two seconds), but you don’t need to have your finger on the scanner for anything more than the very beginning of this period. In terms of speed and reliability, we’re definitely in the realms of the second-generation touch ID on the iphone 6s and later, rather than the creakier first-generation touch ID used in the iphone 6 and earlier. Fingerprint login is very convenient. But it becomes more so still when you factor in multiple user accounts. If you’re on the login window and multiple accounts are logged in, touching your finger to the scanner will automatically select and unlock your account and

ignore the others, reducing what would ordinarily be a multi-step job into literally a single tap. Furthermore, if you place your finger on the scanner and the account it’s connected to isn’t currently logged in and requires a password to unlock, the touch ID scanner does at least recognise who is trying to log in and jumps to the appropriate password entry field. QuickType perhaps the second most significant touch Bar feature for the average user is going to be Quicktype. In essence, and across a wide range of features including Mail, Messages, Notes, pages and textEdit, the touch Bar brings the predictive typing suggestions from the iphone and ipad and dumps them just above the keyboard of the Mac. that might sound like a sensible place for them, given that it’s right next to your busily typing fingers, but it’s actually not. Not at all. Quicktype is supposed to be all about saving time. When you start pecking out an octosyllabic word on an iphone SE’s little portrait keyboard, and Quicktype cleverly works out what you’re going for and gives you a shortcut to complete it and sticks that shortcut right in your eye line, that’s handy and a time saver. When the same thing happens on a MacBook, which has a full-size keyboard and places the suggestions

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 25

025_027 Apple MacBook Pro 260.indd 25

20/12/2016 13:29


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

well below your eye line, it’s saving you quite a bit less time. And while colleagues have noted that when typing at a good lick, the QuickType suggestions lag behind their fingers and they have to consciously slow down, we’ve never found that a problem, because we’re already having to slow down in order to look down at the Touch Bar. Sound touch-typing practice stipulates that you look at the screen and not at your fingers. But the QuickType element on the Touch Bar encourages and requires precisely the opposite. Then again, few people nowadays have perfect typing form, and most of us will find our own best way of working with Touch Bar QuickType after a little practice: that may just mean waiting for the very biggest words and saving yourself the trouble then. And we do like watching colourful emoji appearing and disappearing while we type. One thing we do love about the Touch Bar when typing out documents: formatting. Having Notes’ basic formatting palette at our fingertips is a small but crucial convenience – write a subhead, tab the B and it’s bolded up. Features like this are all about finding the little things that work for you, and there’s already deep enough support that you’re bound to find a few. Other features This naturally leads to our final thought, which is that nobody knows yet how successful the Touch Bar will be, because the software developer community has barely started to wrestle with its possibilities. Half the stuff it will be able to do by next summer hasn’t been thought up yet. The Touch Bar reminds us a little of the 3D Touch screen tech introduced with the iPhone 6s (and, to a lesser extent, the similar but

slightly older Force Touch tech in this very MacBook). For one thing, it has the potential to go one of two ways: it could remain a gimmick, or it could ‘shift the paradigm’ as people say about these things. It’s far too early to say which.

Trackpad and keyboard This is a vast trackpad: the one on the 15in model measures an astonishing 159x99mm. Apple says these new trackpads are up to twice the size of the ones on the previous generation, and the extra space really counts. It’s easy to swipe clear across the screen with one trackpad gesture, without having to increase the sensitivity to such a point that it’s impossible to be accurate. Desktop Luddites that we are, we continue to maintain that trackpads are an inferior choice to a decent mouse, but the glorious trackpad in the 15in MacBook Pro is almost enough to make us doubt that. It’s a Force Touch trackpad too, of course: once Apple commits to a new tech it really commits to it, and you can expect all new MacBooks for the next few years to boast Force Touch compatibility. For the uninitiated, Force Touch is different to traditional trackpad tech in both mechanism (when you click the trackpad it doesn’t actually move, instead simulating the feel of a click, more convincingly than the solidstate Home button on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, with a small haptic buzz) and function (it’s sensitive to two different degrees of touch pressure, which means you can either click things normally, or force-click them to invoke secondary controls that vary from application to application). Like 2016’s 12in MacBook models, and 2015’s MacBook Pro, these laptops get Apple’s Force Touch trackpad, which is sensitive to varying degrees of touch pressure and uses harder presses to activate

ancillary functions depending on the application. You can do a Forceclick on a word in Safari to pull up a dictionary definition, for instance. The lack of physical movement should in theory make the trackpad less prone to part failure (a little like more reliable flash rather than moving-disc storage), albeit at the expense of a tiny output of battery power making those little buzzes. More importantly, the fact that this is simulated means it’s easier to customise – you can go into System Preferences any time you like and fine-tune the magnitude of that ‘click’ effect. And more important still, the addition of force-clicks holds the potential to greatly expand the MacBook’s controls – a development as big in its way as the right-click. There are some nice little tricks and shortcuts at the moment (force-click to look up a word’s definition, fast-scrub a video timeline, and so on), and the longer the tech is out there, and the larger the user base of people with laptops that feature it, the more app makers are going to come up with clever Force Touch controls. When it comes to the keyboard some compromises have been made in order to incorporate this large and beautiful trackpad; principally in terms of the keys, which have been shunted up to make room. For most keys the difference isn’t too noticeable. But the arrow keys in particular are squeezed into a skinny little rectangle of space. To be frank, we’ve found them almost unusable, having grown used to the space around those keys on the 2015 MacBook Pro. The arrow up and arrow down keys are now virtually interchangeable – whichever one we aim for, there seems to be a 50/50 chance we’ll get the other. The keys are lower to the bed of the keyboard than on 2015’s model,

26 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

025_027 Apple MacBook Pro 260.indd 26

20/12/2016 13:29


Reviews

with a shallower typing action. To aid in the quest for slimness, and like the 12in MacBook, the new MacBook Pro features a low-travel keyboard using one of Apple’s ‘butterfly’ key mechanism designs. In this case, it’s a second-generation design intended to provide a better feel, but we found it harder for our fingers to find the right keys when touch-typing and preferred the bouncier mechanism of Apple’s old laptop keys. We experienced a slight loss of typing speed and accuracy, but this is somewhat offset by the QuickType text predictions that you get thanks to the Touch Bar, and the more pervasive auto-corrections that arrived with macOS Sierra. Other reviewers have observed a lag between even averagespeed typing and the predictions appearing/updating on the Touch Bar, and this is fair comment; it is on the slow side. But for the autocorrect element of this equation speed is less of an issue. Indeed, we find it oddly satisfying whenever we mistype a word in Notes, for example, to see the red underline appear a couple of words later and the auto-correct kick in a couple of words after that, like the OS is dutifully working its way through your errors while you carry on. The keys also feel slightly rattly under the finger, presumably as a result of the new shallow-action butterfly key-press mechanism used to make the laptop thinner than its predecessors, and they’re noisier than we’d like to boot. Mostly that doesn’t matter, but you might be surprised how often you find yourself typing next to your spouse on the sofa while they try to catch what’s just been said on The Affair.

Performance We tested the top of the range 15in model with 2.9GHz i7 processor and 16GB of RAM, using the Geekbench 4.0.3 benchmarking suite. It recorded overall speed scores of 4,232 in single core and 13,211 in multi-core. Those are impressive numbers by anyone’s standards. For a rough comparison, we looked at Geekbench 4 scores for the nearest equivalent from last year’s generation of Pros, the 2.8GHz 15in model, also with 16GB of RAM. This test produced scores of 4060 and 12033 respectively for the

Cinebench

Geekbench

2015 model; but this one produced 4415 and 14627 – the older laptop actually beating this year’s upstart. On the whole, the scores suggest a small speed boost this year. But for a more scientific analysis we turn to the systematic tests run by our colleagues at Macworld US, who put three models of the early- and mid-2015 MacBook Pros and three 2016 models through Geekbench 4.0.1. They found an upward trend, but for general processing it was small: between 1- and 5 percent in the single-core tests, although the multi-core scores were a little less predictable. They also tested the MacBook Pro models’ graphics capabilities with the Geekbench OpenCL and Cinebench OpenGL benchmarks. In Geekbench, the new 13in option with Touch Bar (equipped with Intel Iris Graphics 550) scored 30,826, which is 59 percent better than the last generation and 8.6 percent better than this year’s 13in MacBook Pro with function keys (with Intel Graphics 540). The 2016 15in MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (with AMD Radeon Pro 450 graphics and 2GB of dedicated graphics memory) scored 42,827, up 38.7 percent on last year. In Cinebench, the 13in MacBook Pro recorded 36.8 frames per second (fps), up 27.5 percent on last year’s entry-level 13in laptop, while

the 15in 2016 MacBook Pro scored a stunning 70.4fps – an increase of 13.7 percent on the 2015 model.

Verdict We’re rather in love with the new MacBook Pro, but as with many love affairs there are irritations. The trackpad is huge and wonderful to use; but it’s so big that the keyboard has been pushed up to make room, as well as flattened down to make the laptop slimmer. These factors together mean typing on the new Pro is a little harder than on previous models. And those arrow keys are a nightmare. The Touch Bar is lovely to look at and fun to use. It’s early days, both for us and for app developers, who will surely come up with reams of clever Touch Bar features. Right now it’s fun, but we’re confident that it will become essential; the key will be getting lots of users on machines with Touch Bars. This is a fast machine, of course, but maybe not fast enough for some tastes; it’s worth reflecting on that maximum spec of 16GB of RAM, which may hold this machine back from a role in genuine pro settings. We’re somewhat hopeful for a spring update to add the option of more RAM and Kaby Lake processors. All in all, this is a fast and beautiful laptop but one with some flaws to consider. J David Price March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 27

025_027 Apple MacBook Pro 260.indd 27

20/12/2016 13:29


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

SmaRTphone

£399 inc VAT Contact n

oneplus.net/uk

Specifications

5.5in (1920x1080, 401ppi) AMOLED display; Android Marshmallow 6.0.1 with Oxygen OS 3.5.1; 2.35GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad-core processor; Adreno 530 graphics; 6GB RAM; 16Mp main camera, LED flash, support for videos in 4K and 1080p at 60fps; 16Mp front camera; 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.2; 4G LTE; Nano-SIM; GPS; NFC; 3400mAh nonremovable battery; 152.7x74.7x7.4mm; 158g

OnePlus 3T The oneplus 3, launched summer 2016, was a sublime blend of design and performance for just over £300, so it’s odd that around six months later the firm has ended production of that handset, sticking to it’s motto of ‘never settle’ and released this upgraded version of the same phone, the 3T. The company that prides itself on listening to its fans’ reaction to its products has boldly dared to update a handset that people have had for less than half a year. Will the move gain new fans while annoying existing ones, or both?

Price The 3T is on sale SIm-free and unlocked directly from oneplus. It costs £399 for the 64GB version and £30 more for the £439 128GB version. Both are available in the Gunmetal colour, which is slightly darker than the Graphite version of the oneplus 3, and Soft Gold.

Design

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

even the ‘s’ iterations of iphones have an ‘s’ stamped on the back, but in this case there is absolutely no design change from the oneplus 3 to the 3T. The only change is in the darker colour option, the grey of which on the rear is a tad darker than the old model. The Soft Gold option is exactly the same, and visually indistinguishable from the previous model. This reinforces that oneplus sees the 3T as a small tweak for the line, hoping as it does to not frustrate loyal fans that shelled out for a 3. The phone retains an outstanding design, with build quality to rival any premium smartphone maker in the land. It does what apple has still failed to do and made a 5.5in screen phone slim, svelte and usable with one hand (just). apparently carved out of one piece of space-grade aluminium alloy the oneplus 3T measures 152.7x74.7x7.4mm and weighs 158g. The frame of the handset houses a power/lock button on the right edge, a USB-C port, speaker, mic and 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom and a volume rocker and oneplus’ excellent alert Slider on the left, leaving the top edge flat, curved and smooth. With a

front-facing fingerprint scanner that relies on haptic feedback as opposed to a physical button, this is a phone that screams ‘use me’ from the second you take it out the box. It also comes with a screen protector pre-applied, handy if you want to use it with one. The only lines that break the dark gunmetal of our review unit are the aerial lines and the oneplus logo that sits beneath a 16mp camera that protrudes ever so slightly from the casing. The front-facing camera sits next to the earpiece and is also an amazing 16mp, something we’ll explore later. at the launch event for the oneplus 3T, co-founder Carl pei explained that the company is always striving to do better; he used apple’s design as a benchmark and the phone is one of the best looking handsets on the market, rivalling the matt black iphone 7 plus in the looks department, which is no mean feat. It does, however, remain slightly slippy, and is a phone that could be destroyed with one drop onto the pavement. We recommend one of oneplus’ subtle but grippy cases that fit both this and the older 3.

Hardware much of the 3T’s spec sheet remains the same as its predecessor but there are also some important upgrades. Let’s take a look. Display The 3T has exactly the same display as the oneplus 3. It’s a 5.5in optic amoLeD with Full hD (1920x1080) resolution and 401ppi. By its own admission, oneplus continues to ship a screen that recreates colours more vibrantly than most, but with the oxygen oS skin of android that

it runs this feels right; the handset and feel of the software that the screen runs is right at home with the popping colours and bright whites. There’s the option to calibrate the colours to your tastes though, and this is one example of the granularity of android helping the 3T more than most become a truly personal device. Processor, memory and storage The 3T’s upgrades are mostly all internal, and while they’re all welcome, it took a few days of use to see why it’s come to be. We’ve used the oneplus 3 for a few months, so can draw decent comparisons – straight off, you need not upgrade for fear of missing out on processor power, speed or battery life if you own the older model. having said that, the 3T is faster, yet only noticeably so if you are really hammering it at full pelt. It joins the Google pixel (page 31) and pixel XL in having Qualcomm’s top of the line Snapdragon 821 processor, the current pinnacle of smartphone chips. While only the most graphically intensive games and busiest of multitasking days will make the 820 sweat, the 821 is faster on the 3T. Going from the 3 to

28 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

028_030 OnePlus 3T 260.indd 28

20/12/2016 15:12


Reviews

Tapping the same sensor acts as a home button, and is so good that when we try phones with physical buttons, it feels wrong. The best devices change our habits for the good, and the 3T has the best fingerprint sensor/home button combo of any current smartphone on the market.

Geekbench 4

Battery life

GFXBench Manhattan

GFXBench T-Rex

the 3T, the difference is noticeable if incredibly subtle. In a full week of use we experienced no lag, slow app changes or overheating. It is truly like using a desktop at some times, and even has more RAM than some of those computers with 6GB on board. Pair that with Adreno 530 graphics and you have an obscenely powerful smartphone in your pocket. Our benchmarks (see above) show that the OnePlus 3T runs equal with the best smartphones out there, though remember these benchmarks don’t represent real world use. The phones in this graph are the absolute best you can get right now, and broadly all perform to the same unbeatable standards.

The handset is available with 64GB of internal storage, but bear in mind there’s no SD card slot. The fact you only need to spend £30 more to get an impressive 128GB shows you that Apple charging £100 more for that jump in storage for the iPhone 7 is unnecessarily high. For most, spending that extra money will be well worth it. Fingerprint scanner and other specifications The fingerprint scanner is on the front bottom face of the device. The button is non-moving and gives the perfect level of feedback when unlocking the device or using a compatible app such as Android Pay to verify your identity.

The non-removable battery clocks in at 3400mAh, a step up from the 3000mAh of the OnePlus 3. The internals are the same dimensions but the battery is denser, hence the increase. In general use, the phone will last a full working day, which is about average. We left the house most days at 8am with 100 percent, and by the time we rolled in from work at about 6.30pm the 3T had about 30 percent left in the tank. This was when using the device as our primary email sender and using apps such as Slack, Spotify, and WhatsApp throughout the day. The battery percentage chugs down at the expected rate, and we didn’t experience any unexpected fall-off. On one busy Google Maps day out in Barcelona even after 12 hours on the go the battery was sitting at 15 percent, and that was with the phone used to navigate, take photos and video and more besides. Obviously, it depends what you’re doing on the device, but for all but the most intensive users, the 3T will last the whole day no questions asked and lighter users should be able to get a decent chunk into a second day with the 3T. Included in the box is OnePlus’ Dash Charger. The brick and cable, only when used together (important to note this point) charge the phone to 60 percent in 30 minutes. This is the firm’s claim, and it rings true – Dash Charge is excellent. It means you need not charge your 3T overnight, instead giving it a quick boost when you get up in the morning. There’s also a Dash Charger for your car in the shop. Not only does this encourage a better way to charge your phone, while allowing you to top up very quickly, but also more importantly means you won’t panic about running out of juice for all but the most phone-focused of days. The slight downside is that this fast charging only works with the included combo of plug and cable. March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 29

028_030 OnePlus 3T 260.indd 29

20/12/2016 15:12


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

and shadow to a high quality level. The front-facing 16Mp camera is an upgrade on the 8Mp of the OnePlus 3, and is one of the highest resolution selfie cameras on the market. It’s an impressive upgrade, but one that only the most ardent of selfie fans will notice. However, it did improve the quality of video calling considerably, and will benefit those into Snapchat stories and similar services.

Software

Image taken in low light Any other USB-C cable will charge it, but at a slower rate. OnePlus sells the Dash Power Bundle for £27.53.

Cameras The 3T’s slim casing means the camera protrudes slightly. This is an acceptable pay-off for what is an excellent sensor: a 16Mp lens with f/2.0 aperture and an LED flash. It’s also capable of shooting video at 4K resolution or 1080p resolution at 60fps. We used the camera extensively in Barcelona, and the results were very impressive. The panorama mode stitched together a mountain view exceptionally well, giving full detail to the scene. In a low-lit church the camera reproduced colour

Refreshingly the software update that the 3T ships with changes the user experience in all the right ways to represent a clean, intuitive and pleasant to use Android version that is every bit as good as Google’s own version. By basing its Android skin Oxygen OS closely to stock Android Marshmallow 6.0, OnePlus has been able to make small tweaks that don’t completely change the way we used the phone, but enough to notice positive improvements day to day. Oxygen OS 3.5.1 is the new version, compared to the 3.2.7 we had installed on the older OnePlus 3 at the time of writing. Never mind the decimals, here are the differences. Menus, in settings for example, look cleaner with no lines between options, a neater top bar and a bluer default font from the green of the 3. To be honest, they are minor changes, like the layout of the notification bar that you pull down from the top of the screen. The OnePlus 3T cleverly combines a physical slider with profile changes to quickly switch between modes. Here, the threeposition switch goes between Silent, Do Not Disturb and Ring. These are customisable and are useful for putting your phone into a

quieter mode for meetings or when you go to bed for example. This is different to how the slider worked on the OnePlus 3, where it went between Silent, Priority Notifications and All Notifications. The functions are basically the same, but again have some software tweaks within the settings menu. All in all, the alert slider is a great idea, improving on Apple iPhone silencer switch, and is a button you’ll miss if you use other phones afterwards. The best thing about these tweaks is the way they simply blend into the OS and are intuitive, thoughtful upgrades. At the time of writing, both the 3 and the 3T were due to receive updates to Android Nougat 7.0 in December 2016. We hope there is more of the same incremental updates rather than a full overhaul, because Oxygen OS 3.5.1 is very good indeed. Nor would it make sense for OnePlus to work so hard on an upgrade that most users would only see for one month.

Verdict The OnePlus 3T will be unfairly compared, for now at least, to the phone that came before it. So let’s ignore it. On its own, the 3T is everything a modern smartphone should be – slim, fast, and responsive, with above average battery life and cameras that produce stunning images. And then there’s the price. OnePlus may not like being known for it, but £399 remains an amazing price point for the phone on offer. As long as you don’t want an iPhone, this Android handset stands side by side with the Samsung Galaxy S7 as the best example of a smartphone on the market today. J Henry Burrell

Panorama mode

30 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

028_030 OnePlus 3T 260.indd 30

20/12/2016 15:12


Reviews

SmaRtphone

£599 inc VAT Contact n

google.co.uk

Specifications

5in (1920x1080, 441ppi) AMOLED display; Android 7.1 Nougat; 2.35GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 CPU; Adreno 530 graphics; 4GB RAM; 32GB storage; 13Mp main camera; 8Mp front camera; 802.11 a/b/ g/n/ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.2; 4G LTE; GPS; NFC; 2770mAh non-removable battery; headphone jack; 143.8x69.5x8.5mm; 143g

Google Pixel Joining the ranks of the pixel C and Chromebook pixel are Google’s new pixel phones. the new pixel and XL take over from Google’s nexus phone range and – like other pixel devices – isn’t cheap. But at £599 from Google’s online store it’s no more expensive than flagships from apple and Samsung: just don’t expect the same kind of unbelievable value you got from the nexus 4 and 5 (and the similarly unbelievably good-value and oneplus 3t phone, page 28). and unlike the lower specifications in the nexus 5X compared to the nexus 6p, Google hasn’t done that here: the pixel is simply a shrunk down pixel XL with essentially the same hardware inside: cameras, processor and connectivity are all identical.

Price

Build: Features:

You may see the pixel as a sort of successor to the nexus 5X, which was released in october 2015 priced at £339 for the 16GB model. Just over one year on and the pixel costs £599 for the base 32GB model, and you’ll pay £100 more for the 128GB version.

Value:

Design

Performance:

as you’d expect from a premium phone, the pixel is made from metal and glass. What’s not obvious is that the case tapers from top to bottom: it’s thicker at the top. this does avoid a camera bump though, and until someone pointed it out, we hadn’t noticed. the front is featureless aside from the front camera and earpiece, which also houses a stealthy notification LeD. the top and bottom bezels are thick like an iphone, but it’s a shame Google didn’t put a second speaker in the bottom bezel for front-firing stereo sound. In fact, there’s only a mono speaker in the bottom edge. positioned in the centre is a USB-C port and there’s a headphone jack off-centre in the top edge. power and volume keys are on the right and a single nano-SIm tray hides in the left-hand edge. there’s no dual-SIm option and no microSD expansion. on the back is the opiniondividing glass panel, which is a contrasting colour to the rest of

the phone (no matter whether you choose Quite Black, Very Silver or – exclusive to the US – Really Blue). It surrounds the fingerprint scanner, camera, LeD flash and microphone. the finish is so smooth – including the metal – that the pixel is a very slippery phone, sliding off tables and chairs and out of hands without any persuasion. So a case is a good investment: you can buy Google’s own clear or solid cases and several third-party ones, too. and a case can hide the glass panel, so don’t let the design put you off. Do note, though, that if you’re a ‘naked’ phone person, the glass on the rear scratches easily.

Hardware Display the 5in screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 4 and is an amoLeD panel. It’s half an inch smaller than the pixel XL’s and has a resolution of 1920x1080, which gives a density of 441ppi. that’s fine for most people and it has great colours, contrast and viewing angles. It also looks perfectly sharp from normal viewing distances. however, full hD isn’t so great when you look at it close

up, such as when using a Google Daydream headset. the pixel is one of just a handful of phones including the moto Z which are Daydream ready, and it’s one reason to choose it over its Daydream-incompatible rivals. But the pixel XL’s 534ppi display is a good reason to opt for the bigger phone if you’re planning to get Google’s VR headset, even though that phone costs £120 more. Processor, storage and connectivity even for £600 you’d expect top-notch components and the pixel doesn’t disappoint. there’s the Snapdragon 821 (a tweaked version of the 820 that’s around 10 percent quicker), 4GB of Ram, Cat 12 Lte (up to 600mb/s downloads when networks eventually support it), 802.11ac with 2x2 mImo, GpS, nFC and Bluetooth 4.2. Cameras are top notch, too. Storage is either 32- or 128GB, and it’s not expandable. the base £599 model has 32GB and – in line with apple – you’ll pay £100 more for the 128GB version. It’s a shame there are no other storage options, such as 64GB. But aside from the microSD slot there is one other

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 31

031_033 Google Pixel 260.indd 31

20/12/2016 10:42


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

HDR mode new Car Chase test. This increased to 33fps for Manhattan 3.1, 47fps in the original Manhattan, and 58fps in T-Rex. All are better than the Pixel XL, with the game tests benefiting from the lower screen resolution. The JetStream browser benchmark returned 54.9, which is slightly behind the XL, but not noticeably. If performance is your main concern, you can save a packet by going for the OnePlus 3T, which uses the same processor and has 2GB more RAM.

Auto settings

Battery life 100 percent crop missing feature: water-resistance. The Pixel has none, so it doesn’t tick a crucial box for many buyers. Samsung and Apple’s competing phones – the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 – will survive an accidental drop in the sink, but the Pixel will not. And that is a shame. The Pixel Imprint – the circle above – is not just a fingerprint sensor, you can swipe on it to access notifications in a similar way to Huawei phones. Sadly, you can’t swipe upwards to access to the new app draw, but you can double-tap to access the camera and use it to take photos.

Performance With this hardware, the Pixel is quick. It unlocks in a fraction of a second and Android 7.1 is highly responsive. Apps load speedily and there’s plenty of grunt for games. If you want figures, it scored 4116 in Geekbench 4 (1565 in the singlecore test) and in GFXBench, it managed a credible 20fps in the

The battery isn’t removable, but there’s quick charge support using the USB-C specification. You get a quick-charge mains charger in the box as well as USB-C to USB-C, plus USB-C to USB-A cables. In practice, we found the Pixel would charge rapidly even when connected to our in-wall-socket USB port, which was nice. When used as our main phone, we found there wasn’t enough juice to leave it overnight and make it into work the next morning, so a nightly charge is likely.

Cameras We loved the cameras on the Google Nexus 6P and 5X, and Google has improved them for the Pixel and Pixel XL, which share the same snappers. On paper not much has changed: the rear camera has a 12.3Mp sensor with 1.55µm pixels an f/2 lens. It focuses using a combination of laser and phase detection, and has a dual-LED flash. Once again with Google phones though, there’s no optical stabilisation, only EIS. In use, however, this is a fantastic and capable camera. It takes sharp,

well-exposed photos with loads of detail. Above is a photo shot in HDR+ mode, which does a good job of keeping things relatively sharp and increasing dynamic range. In low light, you will end up with a proportion of blurry photos, especially if you’re trying to photograph kids or animals. But in general, low light performance is very good with virtually no noise. Videos, too, are packed with detail. The stabilisation works well at 1080p, but less so at 4K and, because it’s not optical stabilisation, it can be jerk between positions if you pan around slowly rather than the more cinematic smoothness of the OIS on Samsung phones. And the good news is that you can select 30- or 60fps at 1080p, and either 120- or 240fps in the slo-mo mode. This is the same as the iPhone 7 offers, and many people will appreciate being able to shoot slo-mo at 1080p. Around the front is another capable camera, this time with an 8Mp sensor. It will take decent selfies and shoot 1080p video. Don’t forget, too, that Google gives you unlimited free cloud storage for original, full-resolution photos and videos with the Pixel. That’s a massive bonus that you don’t get with other Android phones. It also mitigates the absence of a microSD slot, since you won’t have to worry about hitting the ‘free up storage’ button as it will only remove photos and videos that have been backed up to Google Photos online.

Software Android 7 is a triumph and even as iOS fans, we can appreciate all the

32 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

031_033 Google Pixel 260.indd 32

20/12/2016 10:42


Reviews

Geekbench 4

GFXBench Manhattan

GFXBench T-Rex

nifty features and improvements the OS offers. Of course, since this is a Google phone, you’re getting the interface as Google intended it without the tweaks and overlays foisted upon you by other manufacturers. Plus, you get a guarantee of the next version and much sooner than other manufacturers’ roll-outs. One of the highlights is Google Assistant. This will likely appear on Google’s older phones soon, but it’s currently exclusive to the Pixels. It’s remarkably good at handling natural language, and has no problem following the train of a conversation. Siri can also do this – to an extent – but it’s where others such as Amazon Alexa fall down badly. You can say “Will it rain today”, listen to the answer and then say “What about at the weekend” or

“What about in Manchester” and the Assistant will understand and give you the information. However, her capabilities are somewhat limited compared to Alexa. Google Home is on the way, but the Pixel’s Assistant cannot yet control your Philips Hue lights or turn the heating up, simply returning web searches or saying, “I can’t do that yet”. She also refuses to book tables at restaurants, or arrange an Uber to work. Those functions will surely arrive soon in the UK, but for now, the Assistant can only do Siri and Cortana-like tasks such as setting a timer or alarm, sending a message or email, launching apps, navigating to a destination, playing music and checking sports scores. And, of course, searching Google. There are a few Americanisms which need to

be removed from the UK Assistant, too, such as her warning that “Sidewalks may be slippery” when asked if it would rain later. Another great Nougat feature is the ability to long-press on an app’s icon to get shortcut menus. So long-pressing on Messages brings up recent contact, as it does for the Phone app. Long-press on YouTube and you get shortcuts to search, subscriptions and trending videos. It’s a neat addition and doesn’t require a 3D Touch screen. The launcher has a new look, with round icons. We like them, but as with the phone’s glass rear, they are likely to divide opinions. There are new navigation buttons at the bottom, a new app dock and the Google search bar is now a tab on the left. You now have to swipe up to access the app draw rather than tap an icon. The Google tab at the top takes you to the Google Now section with a swipe to the right, a gesture most Android users are already familiar with. There are all the features and settings you’d expect from a modern mobile OS, and some are more granular than in iOS. The ability to set different Do not disturb times for different days (or even events or just for the next hour) is handy, and the shortcuts for Total silence, Alarms only and Priority only again give you more control than you get in iOS, where ‘silent’ mode doesn’t prevent vibrations unless you turn them off separately in the settings. In other respects, the software is pretty much the same as Marshmallow in terms of the notification bar and recent apps menu. Of course, you’ll get the usual selection of Google apps preinstalled, including the new Duo and Allo.

Verdict The Pixel has plenty going for it: it’s small, well built, speedy and has excellent cameras. It also supports Google’s Daydream VR headset and runs the plain version of Android 7 – complete with Google Assistant – and will get timely updates. But it isn’t waterproof, doesn’t have a microSD slot or stereo speakers and we’d have preferred a quad-HD screen for VR use at this price. If those downsides don’t bother you, and the OnePlus 3T is too large, then the Pixel is a fine choice and a great Android phone. J Jim Martin March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 33

031_033 Google Pixel 260.indd 33

20/12/2016 10:42


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

SMaRTphone

£499 inc VAT Contact n

motorola.co.uk

Specifications

5.5in (2560x1400, 535ppi) super AMOLED display; Android 6.0 Marshmallow; Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor; Adreno 530 GPU; 4GB RAM; 32GB storage; microSD up to 256GB; fingerprint sensor; 802.11ac dual band Wi-Fi with MIMO; Bluetooth 4.1; A-GPS; NFC; USB-C; 13Mp rear camera, LED flash; 5Mp front camera; 4G LTE (Cat 6); 2600mAh non-removable battery; 153.3x75.3x5.19mm; 136g

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

Motorola Moto Z announced back in June 2016, the Moto Z was launched alongside the Moto Z Force, a phone with a screen that is ‘unbreakable’. Motorola has no plans to launch the Z Force in the UK, but the Moto Z is now here, along with the Moto Z play (reviewed last month).

Price Motorola originally announced a price of £529, but the Moto Z now starts at £499 from Motorola’s website. It’s undeniably expensive, especially when compared to the £369 Moto Z play, but it’s cheaper than plenty of other flagship phones, including the Galaxy S7, Google pixel XL and iphone 7, and the Moto Z is every inch a flagship phone. however, to keep things in context it’s £50 more than the huawei p9 and £70 more than its modular rival, the LG G5. If you buy through Motorola’s site you can use the Moto Maker tool, though you can’t personalise the Moto Z like some of Motorola’s other phones. There’s a basic choice of black and white models, and internal storage is fixed at 32GB. all you can really do is to add Mods, but you can buy these separately anyway.

Design Modular is the name of the game with the Moto Z. It’s a new family of 5.5in phones, which has a special 16-pin connector on the rear for accessories that attach with super-strong magnets. We’ll get to those later. pinch and hold the Moto Z between two fingers and it feels both amazingly thin and light. It weighs only 136g, so it is exceptionally light for a 5.5in phone, yet feels strong thanks to the aircraft-grade aluminium frame. adding to its flagship credentials is a Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RaM and well specified front- and rear cameras. So what gives? Two things in the main: there isn’t room for a headphone jack, so there isn’t one. Motorola beat apple in this particular race to the future. In the box is a short USB-C cable which ends in the 3.5mm minijack you’ll need to use any standard headphones. or, you could just hook up some decent Bluetooth

headphones if you have money burning a hole in your pocket. The other trade-off is a small battery. at 2600mah, it will (read, might) get you through a day, but certainly not the two days that’s promised with the Moto Z play. For many, having a really thin phone won’t be a sensible trade-off for limited battery life. no corners are cut on the screen, which is a 5.5in super aMoLeD with a resolution of 2560x1440. It’s just as good as the Samsung Galaxy S7’s, although there are no curved screen edges here. There’s no always-on option, either. Motorola has, however, installed IR sensors which bring up the date and time (plus notifications and the ability to interact with them) when you wave your hand over the screen. It’s a great feature. Like the Z play, there’s a square fingerprint reader at the bottom of the screen. It’s instinctive to press it like a home button, but a button this is not. It does work as a way to wake the phone, though, which is handy

as the three equally-spaced power and volume buttons are easy to confuse with one another. on the rear, the camera protrudes quite a bit, but a black Style Shell is supplied in the box which – like all other Moto Mods – uses magnets to attach. This brings everything flush and hides the connector from view. But even without this rear cover, the Moto Z has a pretty attractive rear thanks to subtle horizontal lines in the metal (these are more visible on the white model than the black model shown here). however, both phones are prone to showing marks and fingerprints due to their smooth surfaces. and that connector is pretty ugly. If there’s one missing feature, it’s water resistance. The Moto Z has a water-repellent nano coating, but this means it’s really no different from any other phone that can’t survive being submerged in water. But, if you do want a waterproof phone with similar specifications, you’ll have to spend a lot more.

We already know how the Snapdragon 820 performs in other current flagship phones and it’s no slouch in the Motorola Moto Z either

34 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

034_036 Motorola Moto Z 260.indd 34

21/12/2016 11:53


Reviews

Moto Mods It’s all very well having the thinnest phone in the world, but this is rather negated once you snap on a PowerPack. And you will from time to time as the Moto Z really needs that extra battery life. There are various Power Packs available, including the Incipio offGRID and others. They cost around £60, and can double the phone’s battery life. You’ll want to carry one around at all times. Much more interesting is the Hasselblad True Zoom. This costs £199 and was developed by Motorola and Hasselblad to counter the three ‘pain points’ of phone photography. The first is, of course, a zoom. It manages to pack in a 10x zoom (25- to 250mm, 35mm equivalent) in a package just 15.1mm thick, and weighing 145g (note that this is more than the Moto Z). Second is the ability to shoot in RAW, or RAW+JPEG if you prefer. You can then process images in Adobe Lightroom or any other application which supports the RAW files. Third is low-light performance. Although we’re not going to do an in-depth review on the True Zoom here, it significantly outperformed the Moto Z’s built-in camera in low light, producing sharp-looking, almost grain-free images. We did notice that some images were a little soft towards the edges, and when we reviewed images actual detail levels were on a par with the best smartphone cameras, rather than rivalling a DSLR. The Samsung Galaxy camera was the first phone to have a built-in zoom lens, but here you can remove the camera when you don’t need it and use a different accessory. When attached, though, the camera and phone work seamlessly together as one. We like the dualstage shutter button with a zoom rocker in front of it, and the fact that it has a proper Xenon flash. The bad news is that, although there’s optical stabilisation, only electronic is used when shooting video. And that video is limited to just 1080p at 30fps – disappointing when the 12Mp sensor is plenty for 4K, and the Moto Z can shoot 4K using its built-in camera. However, the key point here is that you can have a surprisingly portable 10x optical zoom on your

Geekbench 4

GFXBench Manhattan

GFXBench T-Rex

phone and – for some people – this will make the Moto Z (or Z Play) a very tempting phone indeed. Another fun Moto Mod is the Insta-Share projector (£249). Again, it lives up to its name by instantly attaching and projecting whatever is on your phone’s screen. It has a built-in battery and stand, plus auto keystone correction to give you a square (well, rectangular) image no matter what angle you hold or place the phone. All you need to adjust is focus. We tried the projector in a well-lit room and found that if you limit the size to around 30 inches, it’s possible to see bright content without too many problems. Trying to watch a night scene in a video or a dark photo proved near impossible so, as with most pico projectors, it’s best used in the dark. The JBL SoundBoost certainly adds volume compared to the Moto Z’s built-in speaker, but it’s not as good as the best portable Bluetooth speakers you can buy. Still, you won’t have any problems with stuttering or going out of range as this isn’t a wireless connection of course. It’s particularly good for podcasts, but is also good for games, videos and the occasional bit of music.

Performance We already know how the Snapdragon 820 performs in other current flagship phones and it’s no slouch in the Moto Z either. Everything feels silky smooth – helped no doubt by the excellent screen. Overall, performance is almost on a par with the new Google Pixel XL (which uses a Snapdragon 821), so in pure performance terms, you’re getting great value: that phone is considerably more expensive than the Moto Z. Also, it’s important to notice how much more powerful it is than the cheaper Moto Z Play, and this – along with the higher resolution screen – helps to justify that extra cost. But on the flip side, the OnePlus 3 also uses the Snapdragon 820, and is even cheaper than the Moto Z Play. Plus, its lower-resolution screen means it can offer higher frame rates in games. Here, the Moto Z’s Quad HD screen counts against it.

Connectivity The Moto Z has a Cat 6 LTE modem: the Qualcomm X12 built into the Snapdragon 820. This supports up to 450Mb/s or 600Mb/s on compatible networks. It has all the other ingredients a flagship March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 35

034_036 Motorola Moto Z 260.indd 35

20/12/2016 15:18


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

HDR mode

Auto settings should have: 802.11ac Wi-Fi with 2x2 MU-MIMO, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC and Assisted GPS. The only disappointment is that it’s a single-SIM model for the UK; you can only get a dual-SIM Moto Z in other countries. On the UK model, the SIM tray takes one Nano-SIM, plus a microSD card for expanding the 32GB of on-board storage. Theoretically, you can add up to 2TB, though no such capacity is yet available in a microSD card.

Cameras In good light, the Moto Z’s f/1.8 lens and 13Mp sensor capture great-looking photos. Plus, optical stabilisation works effectively to smooth out jerkiness when shooting video, even when you’re walking. Note that it will default to 16:9 photos at 9.7Mp unless you swipe in from the left and change it to 4:3, whereupon you get the full 13Mp. There’s laser-assisted autofocus, and in general performance is very good with very minimal shutter lag. If you want to record video in 4K, you’re limited to 30fps (no surprise there – no phone can yet handle 60fps) but you can choose 60fps if you select 1080p video. Around the front is a 5Mp selfie camera, which does an admirable job of taking relatively detailed and sharp pictures (in good light, that is). Unusually, there’s an LED flash on the front, but you’ll only benefit from the ‘Colour Correlated Temperature’ dual-LED flash when using the rear camera. Things fall down when light levels drop, and the Moto Z finds it harder to get focus lock. Also, there’s more noise than we’re used to with

100 percent crop flagship phones in low light. It’s not terrible, but the Moto Z’s camera is not the very best you can get on a phone right now. But stick to using it during the day and you’ll be pleased with the results. We’d recommend avoiding the HDR mode because of the chance of ghosting. We tried to keep as still as possible for the photo, but moving subjects, such as the bus (top left), ended up with ghosting from the movement between exposures.

Software If you’ve already owned a Motorola phone, you’ll know that the firm sticks closely to Google’s version of Android. It comes with Marshmallow, and at the time of writing was set to get Nougat by the end of 2016. Android may look stock, but there are tricks such as being able to double-chop the phone to turn on and off the LED flash, double-twist to launch the camera app and hover your hand over the screen to quickly see the time and updates.

There’s also Attentive Display (a feature absent from the Moto Z Play), which keeps the screen from dimming or turning off while you’re looking at it. This uses the IR sensors in conjunction with the camera, which could explain why the Play doesn’t have it – it doesn’t have IR sensors. The Moto Z is also compatible with Daydream View – Google’s new VR headset.

Verdict The Moto Z is a mixed bag, successful in some areas and not in others. As long as you can deal with the jettisoning of the headphone jack and carrying a Power Pack Mod, the modular nature of the phone makes it a compelling alternative to other flagships. Battery life isn’t great though, and the Z Play is also compatible with Moto Mods, has much better battery life and is much cheaper at £369. If you don’t need a modular phone, the OnePlus 3 T is almost as good at the Moto Z for way less money. J Jim Martin

36 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

034_036 Motorola Moto Z 260.indd 36

20/12/2016 15:18


Reviews

SmaRtphone

£282 inc VAT Contact n

xiaomi-mi.co.uk

Specifications

5.15in full-HD (1920x1080) LED display; MIUI 8 International Edition (includes Google Play and services); 2.15GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad-core 64-bit processor; Adreno 530 GPU; 3GB RAM, 64GB storage (4GB RAM, 128GB storage model also available); Dual-SIM DualStandby (2x Nano-SIM); 4G FDD-LTE B1/B3/B5/B7; dualband 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.2; GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS; 12Mp rear camera with PDAF, dualtone flash; 4Mp, f/2.0 front camera; ultra-sonic fingerprint scanner; 3.5mm headphone jack; USB-C; 3100mAh non-removable battery; 145.6x70.3x8.3mm; 147g Build: Features: Value:

Xiaomi Mi 5s We’ve long been fans of Xiaomi products, but have always had one problem with its phones: for UK users who don’t speak Chinese and are familiar with Google services they can be confusing. having to install Google play and associated Google apps such as Gmail yourself, install an english keyboard and uninstall or hide away into the folders all the Chinese-language apps preinstalled on the device is too much of a push for less technical users, and the Chinese notifications that continue to pop up merely add to the confusion. In fairness Xiaomi phones aren’t intended to be sold in the UK, and it’s not its fault if we don’t speak the same language. however, with that in mind we’re extremely pleased to see GearBest is stocking the International edition of Xiaomi’s flagship mi 5s on its site. this version is preinstalled with Google play and select Google apps such as Gmail (any others that you require can be downloaded from the play Store), and it removes all the Chinese-language apps and notifications you don’t understand. this is an android phone just like any other you would buy on the UK market, but with the added bonuses brought by the mIUI 8 user interface.

Performance:

Price Usually in a smartphone review we’d tell you the RRp, plus for how much money you can currently buy it SIm-free and the rough price of any contract deals. Forget all that with the mi 5s. If you want this phone, you need to buy it through a Chinese importer such as GearBest, and the price you pay is the price you see. at the time of writing the Xiaomi mi 5s is available from GearBest for £282, which includes a 30 percent discount according to the site, and is available now. this is a SIm-free smartphone, which means you can connect it to any network you like, and plump for the best payas-you-go or contract deal to suit your needs. SIm-free deals typically are considerably cheaper, given that the total price of the plan doesn’t include the cost of the phone, so more savings can be made here. UK buyers should note, though, that the Xiaomi mi 5s does not support the 800mhz 4G band (band

20), which is the only 4G band supported by o2 and Giffgaff in the UK (other networks that support this band can also connect to alternative 4G bands that are supported by the Xiaomi).

Design We really liked the design of the Xiaomi mi 5, with its sleek glass-coated rear reminding us a little of Samsung’s lineup. Xiaomi has now moved away from that design with a unibody metal coat. as before the sides are curved at the rear, giving the impression of a device much smaller than you would expect in the hand, but its newly matt surface makes the mi 5s a lot more grippy, and less easy to drop on to the floor. that’s a good thing, given that for some unknown reason there is now no Gorilla Glass protective screen glass. aside from that the mi 5s feels tough and wellmade, like a phone that will last as long as your contract. Since metal bodies can cause problems with network reception, new antenna stripes run across the phone’s rear at top and bottom. a mic is built into the top stripe, while the camera sits flush just above it in the top-left corner. this is a new camera, and you’ll also notice that the dual-tone flash has now moved from its right- to its left side. the edges are largely unchanged, though the speaker holes along the bottom are now larger, and with a metal screw on either side of the USB-C slot it would appear that there are more of them. as before you’ll find the volume rocker and power switch on the right edge, a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top and a slot-loading dual-SIm tray on the left. Chamfered at the top the edges glide smoothly into the 2.5D screen, causing the mi 5s to feel as wellmade as it looks classy. the display itself hasn’t changed – at least in

this model – still a 5.15in panel with a full-hD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels and a pixel density of 428ppi. It’s sharp, it’s clear, and it’s vivid with colour. Xiaomi claims a brightness rating of 600 nits, and it’s certainly not going to cause any problems in direct sunlight. Should you buy the 128GB mi 5s, the screen has been upgraded to recognise force-touch, which works in much the same way as it does on the iphone. Unfortunately, our review model doesn’t support this feature, so we cannot comment further on that. From the front the mi 5s is quite a departure from its predecessor. It has the same screen bezels, same size screen, same sensor and camera setup above the screen – something is just missing. and we’re not referring to the mi logo. as good as the fancy new ultrasonic fingerprint scanner is, we have to say we much preferred the design of the old one, integrated as it was into the home button with a nice chrome surround. the space allocated to the new fingerprint scanner is greater, and there is a recess in the glass front so you know where to press. But it just looks like someone forgot to attach the home button, or like it fell off.

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 37

037_039 Xiaomi Mi 5s 260.indd 37

20/12/2016 10:52


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

It feels strange to refer to this as the home button when there is no physical button, but in fairness we’d also refer to the back and multitasking software keys that sit either side of it as ‘buttons’. (These are much easier on the eye, lighting up only in use, and their functions can be changed to suit whichever setup you prefer.) As we all know, though, beauty is only skin-deep. And this fingerprint scanner is a vast improvement on the old one, which is particularly impressive when you consider that the old one worked pretty well. Whereas most fingerprint readers scan a 2D image of your fingerprint, this new ultrasonic model with Snapdragon Sense ID uses sound to more accurately analyse the ridges and grooves of your fingerprint, even when your finger is wet. This allows the scanner to work more better. And so it does.

Geekbench 4

GFXBench Manhattan

Performance For a phone you can buy brand-new for less than £300, performance from the Xiaomi Mi 5s is breathtaking. In real-world use it can do no wrong, and it sailed through our benchmarks. We should point out, though, that we are testing the 3GB RAM version of the Mi 5s, and the 4GB model should be capable of more still. The hardware is still pretty tasty, though, with a brand-new Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor clocked at 2.15GHz. This is the same processor used by the Google Pixel and OnePlus 3T, both of which have more RAM than our Mi 5s review sample. Not that you’d know it: it beat the Pixel in nearly every benchmark and came incredibly close to the OnePlus 3T. You can compare the results of the Mi 5s against its rival flagships below. Unfortunately we do not have Geekbench 4 scores for the Xiaomi Mi 5, Galaxy S7, HTC 10 and iPhone 7 as these were all tested using Geekbench 3, and you should also take into account that the Mi 5s has arguably been able to perform better in graphics tests dues to its full-HD screen. That aside, performance is excellent, with a staggering 4137 points recorded in Geekbench 4 multi-core and a very high 141,433 in AnTuTu 3D. The Mi 5s flew through GFXBench, turning in an easily

GFXBench T-Rex

playable 59fps in T-Rex, 43fps in Manhattan, 31fps in Manhattan 3.1 and 20fps in Car Chase. Even its 57.4 score in JetStream, the JavaScript benchmark, is a decent result. Storage is generous at 64GB as standard (up from 32GB in its predecessor and most of its rivals), which makes up for the fact this phone doesn’t have a microSD

slot. This should be plenty of space for most users. The battery capacity has also been increased from 3000mAh to 3200mAh, but given the more powerful hardware it’s unlikely you’ll see a huge impact on runtime – perhaps an extra hour if you’re lucky. This supports superfast charging with Quick Charge 3.0,

38 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

037_039 Xiaomi Mi 5s 260.indd 38

20/12/2016 10:52


Reviews

Software

HDR mode and depending on your usage should easily be good for a day’s use.

Connectivity In common with so many of the Chinese phones we review, the Mi 5s is a dual-SIM model that operates in dual-standby mode. It takes two Nano-SIMs, and will support Cat 12 4G LTE on one of these provided your network supports the 2100- and 2600MHz bands (the other is restricted to 3G). Dual-SIM functionality is great for managing your business and personal calls from a single phone, or perhaps managing local and home tariffs when you venture abroad. Connectivity hasn’t changed much in this model, aside from the new ultrasonic fingerprint scanner. That means as before you get dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS and GLONASS. There’s also NFC, OTG but sadly no longer an IR blaster.

Cameras The Mi 5s is fitted with the Sony IMX378, which is also used by the Google Pixel. At that phone’s launch the company used DXOMark Mobile data in an effort to prove that it is the best camera ever seen in a smartphone, with a very high score of 89. Unfortunately, Xiaomi hasn’t done as much to optimise the camera software as has Google, so the Pixel is still arguably the better model for smartphone photography. The IMX378 is a 12.3Mp camera with an f/2.0 aperture and phasedetection autofocus, also capable of shooting 4K video. With large

1.55µm pixels and a 1/2.3in sensor (previously 1/2.8in in the 16Mp Mi 5) it can let in more light and capture more detail. Unfortunately, this camera lacks OIS which, according to Google at least, isn’t life or death. “EIS and OIS have very different goals, so you can’t compare them to ask which is better/ worse. OIS primarily improves low light photography by physically compensating for hand shake within each single frame, and EIS improves shaky video by maintaining a consistent framing between multiple video frames. OIS is primarily for photo, and EIS is only for video. Where OIS helps is still low-light photos. It compensates for hand shake, allowing longer exposures in low light, but this in turn increases motion blur within the frame. And it comes with all kinds of trade-offs, starting off with its physical size,” Google said of the IMX378. The camera app in MIUI 8 is easy to use, with various real-time filters and photography modes available. We found the camera was lightning-quick to capture shots, and the results showed plenty of detail and good colour reproduction. And while it’s not the most amazing camera for low-light photography, the results are reasonable. Above is just a taster of what the Xiaomi Mi 5s is capable of (in HDR mode). The selfie camera hasn’t changed, and the Mi 5s is still fitted with a 4Mp camera at the front. It offers the same real-time filters as the primary camera, plus modes including Timer, Audio and GroupShot.

Whereas the Mi 5 ran MIUI 7 out of the box, the Mi 5s is preinstalled with MIUI 8. This is a custom version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow with some cool extra features. And this is usually where you’d get a big BUT in one of our Xiaomi phone reviews, but the phone doesn’t support Google services blah, blah, blah. We don’t wish to undermine the importance of Google apps on an Android phone for UK users of course, but what it comes down to is this one does. Preinstalled with the International Edition of MIUI 8 (as sold via GearBest), the Mi 5s reviewed here comes preinstalled with Google Play and Gmail, and you can install any other Google apps you like. There are none of the usual Chinese-language apps and notifications – UK users can just pick it up and get started straight out the box. There are a number of changes in MIUI 8. The drop-down notification bar is perhaps the most obvious change, with new quick access icons running along its top. Xiaomi has also moved around a few items in the Settings menu, and introduced some new features such as double-tap to wake, Second Space (which creates a separate space on your phone), Dual Apps (allowing you to run a second version of an app on the phone), individual App Lock and Quick Ball (which places anywhere you like onscreen a button that lets you return to the home screen or perform other functions). There’s also support for Mi Wallet. Other new features include an energy saving mode, enhanced video-editing tools plus some photo features that allow you to add doodles and stickers and quickly share your snaps, the new and supposedly easier-on-the-eyes Mi Lanting font, updated QR scanner and calculator apps, an enhanced multi-tasking menu, brighter colours and new lock screen wallpapers.

Verdict We cannot recommend the Xiaomi Mi 5s enough. This is the smartphone every 2016 flagship wanted to be, and it comes with a price tag half that of theirs. Fantastic build quality, fantastic performance, fantastic storage, battery and connectivity options: the phone gets a big thumbs-up from us. J Marie Brewis March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 39

037_039 Xiaomi Mi 5s 260.indd 39

20/12/2016 10:52


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

SmaRTphone

€429 Contact n

consumer.huawei.com/uk

Specifications

5.5in (1920x1080, 401ppi) IPS display; Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow; 2GHz Qualcomm MSM8953 Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor; Adreno 506 GPU; 3GB RAM; 32GB storage (expandable up to 256GB with microSD card); 16Mp main camera with OIS, dual LED flash; 8Mp front-facing camera; 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.1; 4G LTE; Nano-SIM; GPS; 3340mAh lithium-polymer battery, non-removable; 151.8x75.7x7.3mm; 160g

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

Huawei Nova Plus huawei is going from strength to strength in the UK, with releases including the flagship huawei p9 proving popular. It’s latest release is the nova plus, a 5.5in android marshmallow smartphone.

Design as you can see from our photo (right) this is a premium device. It has curved 2.5D glass, small bezels and a metal unibody. The camera protrudes from the back of the nova plus, underneath which is a fingerprint scanner. The phone has a 5.5in display (more on this later), although you wouldn’t be able to tell when holding it in the hand. huawei uses small bezels to fit a larger display into a smaller-than-usual chassis measuring 151.8x75.7x7.3mm. This makes it smaller and easier to hold than apple’s iphone 7 plus, which also has a 5.5in display but measures 158.2x77.9x7.3mm. This means it’s comfortable to hold for extended periods and it’s easy to use one-handed. The nova plus is a gorgeous device, with the a brushed metal finish on the sides and rear. all the small details, from the slightly curved unibody to the different finishes on different parts of the chassis, provide the look and feel of a high-end, premium smartphone.

Display The Full hD screen is bright, crisp and vibrant. It also has a blue light filter that’s designed to make using the smartphone in the evenings easier on the eye. In testing, however, we found it to be a little too aggressive for our liking, leaving a noticeably orange hue on our display when activated. We prefer apple’s night Shift offering, which provides similar effects without having a noticeably orange display.

Hardware Inside the nova plus, users will find a Snapdragon 625 processor coupled with 3GB of Ram and 32GB of storage, which can be expanded thanks to the ‘hybrid SIm tray’ that allows you to use either one SIm and a microSD card, or two SIms at once. While we found that the nova plus was snappy when browsing

Google play and scrolling through Twitter, it stuttered when trying to multi-task (switching between apps quickly, and so on) and also when trying to play 3D games. Basic 3D platformers such as Faily Breaks perform fine, but the phone can’t handle graphically intense mobile games. other mid-range smartphones, such as the oneplus 3, perform better when it comes to gaming. huawei was quick to point out that the included Snapdragon 625 processor provides users with around 30 percent better battery life than the Snapdragon 615, and when that’s coupled with a large 3340mah battery, the company claims that the phone will last 2.2 days on average. To compare, apple’s similarly-sized iphone 7

Geekbench 4, measures a phone’s processing power. The huawei scored 848 in single-core mode, and 3177 in multi-core mode, a disappointing score when compared to the similarly-priced Xiaomi Redmi pro, which scored 1764 and 4539, respectively. huawei’s processor is fine for day-to-day tasks, but there are certainly more powerful handsets on the market. GFXBench, tests a smartphone’s graphical power and how well (or not) it can handle gaming. Unfortunately, the results were not good. The nova plus scored 23fps in T-Rex and 10fps in manhattan, whereas the £329 oneplus 3 managed 59- and 46fps respectively. as you can see there are much better options out there. our final benchmark is

Tapping on the screen gets the camera to quickly focus on the photo’s subject, even when positioned extremely close to the phone plus features a 2900mah battery, 440mah less than huawei’s nova plus. Despite huawei’s claims, we’re yet to experience a full 2.2 days of charge with standard use – it’ll get you through a day comfortably, but usually requires charging at some point during the second day.

Performance To measure the nova plus’s performance, we ran a number of benchmark tests. The first of these,

JetStream. This tests the speed of a phone’s built-in browser which, in the case of the nova plus, is Google Chrome. While ioS devices run faster than android counterparts (the iphone 7 scored 160.2, while the Samsung Galaxy S7 recorded 61), it’s interesting to see that even among android devices, browser speeds can vary. That said, huawei’s handset scored 30.2, a distinctly average score for a mid-range android smartphone.

40 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

040_041 Huawei Nova Plus 260.indd 40

20/12/2016 11:46


Reviews

Cameras The Nova Plus has a rear-facing 16Mp camera and uses Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), to help capture sharper photos. During testing, we found that while our shots looked impressive when viewed on the phone itself, it was a different story when looking at them on a Mac. Zooming in to 100 percent (1:1 pixels) revealed a lack of fine detail, possibly due to aggressive noise cancellation. It’s not a huge deal, but we wouldn’t crop photos taken on the Nova Plus. What the camera does do well is take photos quickly. Most cars in our test shot of St. Pancras (below left) were moving when the picture was taken, though you can’t tell. General colour reproduction is good, too. Macro photography is also decent for a mid-range smartphone. Tapping on the screen gets the camera to quickly focus on the photo’s subject, even when positioned extremely close to the phone. In the case of the bottomright photo, the Nova Plus easily grabbed the focus of the closest leaf, allowing us to clearly see the finer details. While the focus could have been slightly improved, we feel this is more a reflection on our photography skills, rather than that of the smartphone. On the flip side, the Nova Plus has an 8Mp front-facing camera, which is fine for taking selfies and performs well in low-light conditions, but won’t light up dark conditions – for those, users have the option of using the 5.5in display as a forward-facing flash. To test out the phone’s video capabilities, we recorded a small video clip in 1080p at 30fps (it goes

Photo taken with 16Mp rear camera

up to 4K at 30fps) and walked a few steps. When watching it back, despite the video being clear and decent quality, we noticed visible shakiness from each step we took. When compared to the softwareenabled OIS of the iPhone 6s, Apple’s handset wins hands down.

Geekbench 4

Software The Nova Plus comes with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow and Huawei’s own Emotion UI (EMUI). If you are a fan of Google’s OS, you should note that this is about as far removed from stock Android as you can get since Huawei has tweaked almost every element of the interface. Although this may be slightly controversial, we love EMUI – it looks good and offers functionality not available on standard Android devices, such as tapping the screen to take a screenshot and being able to view your notifications in a timeline-esque view. Yes, it may take some time to get used to, but we feel that the learning curve is worth it. There’s no word yet as to when, or even if, the OS will be updated to Android Nougat.

GFXBench Manhattan

GFXBench T-Rex

Verdict While the Huawei Nova Plus looks the part, with a premium design and a bright, crisp display, its internals let it down. Despite featuring a 16Mp camera with OIS, the photos are distinctly average. We could, however, look past the camera if it wasn’t for the sub-par CPU and GPU, which produce disappointing results when compared to other mid-range Android handsets. While the Nova Plus isn’t a terrible phone, there are better options on the market. J Lewis Painter

JetStream

Close-up shot

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 41

040_041 Huawei Nova Plus 260.indd 41

20/12/2016 11:46


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

SmARTphone

£198 inc VAT Contact n

vernee.cc

Specifications

5.5in full-HD (1920x1080) 2.5D full in-cell LCD display with Gorilla Glass 3; Android 6.0 Marshmallow; 2GHz Helio P10 octa-core processor; Mali-T860 MP2 GPU; 4GB LPDDR3 RAM; 32GB storage, up to 128GB via microSD; 4G FDD-LTE 800/1800/2100/2600MHz, Dual-SIM Dual-Standby (choose second SIM or microSD); dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0; GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS; USB-C; OTG; fingerprint scanner; 13Mp Sony IMX258 rear camera with f/2.0 aperture, PDAF, dual-LED flash; 5Mp Samsung S5K5E2 front camera; 3000mAh battery with Vcharge; 151x73x7.6mm; 165g

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

Vernee Mars We were impressed with what Vernee was able to offer with its Apollo Lite at under £200, but arguably more so with the mars. While this octa-core smartphone isn’t as fast as the deca-core Apollo Lite, it has a great build at this price point. Both the Apollo Lite and Vernee mars are on sale at GearBest, which offers free shipping to the UK. We recommend selecting the option to buy the Vernee mars from the eU warehouse, because although you’ll pay more upfront you won’t be liable for any import duty, so there won’t be any nasty surprises. From the eU warehouse the Vernee mars costs £198. By comparison, there is currently no eU warehouse option for the Vernee Apollo Lite, so you must buy from China. The price is lower at £144, but with import duty on top the difference will be much less. Both phones are sold SIm-free, and support all three 4G bands used in the UK. With a hybrid SIm slot they can support either microSD (up to 128GB) or a second (nano-) SIm. The primary SIm is a micro-SIm, although an adaptor is supplied in the box.

Design Whereas the Apollo Lite majors on performance and less so on design, the Vernee mars is the complete opposite. It’s not a slow phone by any means (and we’ll talk more about this in the performance section below), but where it really excels is in design. From the rear, at least, the Vernee mars could easily be mistaken for an iphone 6 – especially in gold as per our review sample. The mars is built entirely from 6000 series aluminium, with a camera sensor slightly raised from the surface in the top left corner (though not by enough that the phone rocks when placed on a desk). As with the

iphone there are slim antenna stripes visible on the rear to help combat the problem of poor mobile reception in all-metal phones. But this is no iphone, and viewed from the front it has a very clean appearance. There is no physical home button, and the Android-standard home, Back and multitasking buttons are software keys that sit at the bottom of the screen and are visible only when it is awake. All that breaks up the jet black surface is a speaker, selfie camera and notification LeD at the top. The mars is one of few phones we’ve seen to sport a fingerprint scanner on its right edge – something we’ve seen on recent Sony phones, but here it sits below the power button rather than integrated to it. This is a fantastic place to place the fingerprint scanner as it is where your thumb or middle finger (depending on whether you are a leftie or a rightie) falls naturally as you hold the phone. In our tests it worked well, living up to its claimed 0.1s recognition speed, and it looks right at home on the Vernee mars’ smooth metal edges. Thinly chiselled at the top, this metal edge runs smoothly into the 2.5D curved glass sitting atop the screen. There’s no obvious join here as you run a finger across the surface, which adds to the phone’s aesthetic appeal. The screen itself is a 5.5in full in-cell LCD display, protected with Gorilla Glass 3. It has a full-hD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, which is still not always a given at this price point. everything on screen seems crystal clear, while viewing angles are very good and colours realistic. Vernee states a

1000:1 contrast ratio, though we’d like to see higher brightness. Again, at this price it’s difficult to complain. The screen bezels are just 1mm thick at the left and right sides, which helps keep down the overall size. Although this is strictly speaking a phablet, it certainly doesn’t feel as unwieldy as some, measuring 151x73mm with a 7.6mm frame. however, there is a fair amount of space top and bottom, resulting in a screen-tobody ratio of 81 percent. In common with the Apollo Lite there is a mono speaker grille on the phone’s bottom edge, which is a much preferable position than on the rear (as is the case with many budget phones) where sound is fired exactly where you don’t want it. It, too, sits beside a USB-C port, which supports digital audio. no USB-C (or other) headphones are supplied in the box, so we weren’t able to test the improved quality such a feature is expected to provide, but it’s good to know you can still use a standard pair of headphones with a traditional 3.5mm jack also present. on the left side is a single slotloading SIm tray. This is a hybrid tray that can accept either one nano-SIm

In common with the Apollo Lite there is a mono speaker grille on the phone’s bottom edge, which is a much preferable position than on the rear

42 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

042_044 Vernee Mars 260.indd 42

20/12/2016 11:11


Reviews

and one Micro-SIM, or one Micro-SIM and one microSD card up to 128GB in capacity. Not being able to use two SIMs and microSD at once will be a frustration for some users, but not everyone needs both – and it’s worth pointing out that many UK budget phones offer neither.

Geekbench 4

Performance Performance from the Vernee Mars is certainly adequate for daily tasks, though it’s not really anything to shout about. In real-world use we found operation mostly fluid, which is little surprise given the sheer lack of bloatware and almost entirely vanilla Marshmallow setup on this phone – a real bonus. In terms of core hardware the Vernee Mars runs an octa-core Helio P10 processor, a chip building in eight Cortex-A53 cores which is also used by the Elephone P9000 and Meizu M3 Note. In most respects it is a touch faster than both those phones, if not as fast as the decacore Vernee Apollo Lite. We recorded scores of 2732 and 50,004 in the Geekbench 4 and AnTuTu 3D general performance tests, and 8- and 18fps in the T-Rex and Manhattan components of graphics benchmark GFXBench. In JetStream, a JavaScript benchmark, the Mars recorded 24.712, which is about average for a budget phone. You can see how its performance compares to all those phones in the charts right. We’ve already mentioned that the Vernee Mars supports up to 128GB of removable storage via microSD, but arguably more impressive is its 32GB of internal storage. We still live in a time where many budget phones come with just 8GB, and perhaps 16GB if you’re lucky. Many users will find 32GB is enough for their needs without expansion. The battery is a highlight, and we managed to get in excess of a full day’s usage from the 3000mAh cell. Of course, this is difficult to measure exactly since everybody uses phones differently, so your mileage may vary. What’s more interesting though is that it

GFXBench Manhattan

GFXBench T-Rex

supports quick charge. That’s not quick charge as in Qualcomm Quick Charge, but Vcharge; using the supplied adaptor you can get a 50 percent charge in 30 minutes.

Connectivity It is in this section that we come to the one departure from vanilla Android Marshmallow for the Vernee Mars: it supports Turbo Download, which combines the power of cellular and Wi-Fi internet to speed downloads. How much that appeals really depends on how often you download large files.

There’s no IR blaster or NFC support on this phone (ruling out Android Pay), though it does cover most other bases with dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, A-GPS and GLONASS, and OTG. The dual-SIM capability will be a real draw for some, and whereas some Chinese phones (notably Xiaomi) do not provide support for the 800MHz 4G band used by O2 and Giffgaff, the Mars can work with all UK 4G bands. The phone supports a Micro-SIM plus either a Nano-SIM or a microSD card.

Cameras

One of the best things about this phone, other than the build, is that it’s running an up-to-date version of Android – 6.0.1 Marshmallow

Vernee’s Apollo Lite plumped for two Samsung cameras, but here it has selected the 13Mp Sony IMX258, which in our opinion is a reasonably good choice at this price. It has an March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 43

042_044 Vernee Mars 260.indd 43

20/12/2016 11:11


DVDRW. J Marie Brewis

Reviews

Auto settings f/2.0 aperture, phase-detection autofocus and a dual-LED flash, plus support for full-HD video recording at 30fps, but no image stabilisation – which became quite obvious when trying to take photos from a windy seventh floor roof terrace. At the front is a 5Mp Samsung S5K5E2. As with the Apollo Lite, the camera app is very basic, offering little more than normal, Panorama and HDR modes. In the Settings menu you also have options for face detection, smile shot and auto scene selection, plus a 40shot burst mode. Here we have a couple of test shots, taken in Auto and HDR modes.

There’s quite a lot of blurring visible, while HDR mode overcompensated for the dreary conditions outside. However, the camera can do an acceptable job given decent lighting.

Software One of the best things about this phone, other than the build, is that it’s running an up-to-date version of Android – 6.0.1 Marshmallow. And better still, Vernee hasn’t messed around with the OS any more than adding the aforementioned Turbo Download mode. That does mean you don’t get extras such as gestures, for example the ability to double-tap to wake the phone, but

many users will be pleased to see Android as it was intended. Vernee has not preinstalled Google apps such as Gmail, YouTube and Maps, though installing these is as simple as visiting the Play store.

Verdict The Vernee Mars is a decent budget smartphone with a great build and adequate performance. With 32GB of storage as standard and support for quick charge, microSD and dual-SIM operation, it may prove a more attractive option than many UK budget rivals – especially when purchased from GearBest’s EU warehouse. J Marie Brewis

HDR mode

44 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

042_044 Vernee Mars 260.indd 44

20/12/2016 11:11


Reviews

WiReless RouteR

£350 inc VAT Contact n

netgear.co.uk

Specifications

802.11ac wireless router with satellite (tri-band); 6 internal antennas; 3x3 MU-MIMO; Gigabit Ethernet; router, 1x USB 2.0; satellite, 1x USB 2.0; 26x170x79xmm

Netgear Orbi Mesh networking is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, with the modular eero system getting rave reviews last year, and the recently announced Google Wifi getting in on the act too. And now it’s Netgear’s turn to provide a mesh networking system with its attractively designed two-piece orbi system. using a single router for your home Wi-Fi network often means that there are ‘dead spots’, perhaps on the upper floors of your home – or, in this reviewer’s case, the office in the back bedroom where the Wi-Fi signal is obstructed by a couple of partition walls. Mesh networking tackles the dead spot problem by using multiple devices that are placed in separate rooms in order to provide more comprehensive Wi-Fi coverage throughout your home. the orbi system consists of two devices – a primary router, and a secondary satellite – which Netgear claims can provide a strong, reliable Wi-Fi signal for homes up to 4,000 square feet in size.

Design Build: Features: Value: Performance:

the orbi system is attractively designed, with both the main router and satellite looking more like little air humidifiers than high-tech pieces of networking kit. the main router is actually a conventional tri-band router, equipped with six internal antenna that provide 3x3 Mu-MiMo connectivity for suitably equipped computers and mobile devices. tucked around the back of the router there are three Gigabit ethernet ports, along with a usB 2.0 port – which, at this price, should be usB 3.0 – for connecting a printer or external storage device. the router doesn’t include a modem though, so there’s a fourth ethernet/lAN port that you have to use to connect the orbi to an existing modem or router in order to provide internet access. the satellite is very similar, although it lets you use all four of its ethernet ports for wired connections. Both units also have a glowing leD on top that helpfully changes colour to indicate signal strength. However, the best part of the orbi’s design is its sheer ease of use. You simply connect the orbi router to your existing modem and router, then place the satellite

in another room (which Netgear recommends should be roughly in the centre of your home). the router and satellite automatically sync together – glowing magenta once the process is complete – and the orbi’s web browser controls include a start-up wizard that guides you through the process in a few simple steps. the only drawback here is that the orbi’s keep-it-simple approach means that it overlooks a few options that more experienced users might look for. You can change the name and password for your network, and set up parental controls. However, the orbi creates just a single network using the combined 2.4- and 5GHz bands, with no option for creating separate networks on those two bands. this means you can’t force your phone, tablet, laptop or other kit to connect to one frequency or other. there’s no mobile app either, although Netgear says that it’s working on one for ios and Android.

Performance Although the orbi is a tri-band 802.11ac system, it uses one of its 5GHz bands as the ‘backbone’ that syncs the router and satellite together. this means that the orbi offers a theoretical maximum speed of 3000Mb/s on the remaining 2.4- and 5GHz bands, so it’s not the fastest router currently available. even so, our tests showed that the orbi is still pretty fast,

and also achieves its primary aim of providing better coverage throughout your home. With two desktop computers located just five feet away from the main orbi router, the tamosoft throughput test recorded a speed of 435Mb/s. that’s by no means the fastest speed available from the latest tri-band routers, but it’s more than adequate for streaming music, high-definition video, and online gaming. And, more importantly, with the orbi satellite set up in my office dead spot, we were able to get a steady, reliable Wi-Fi signal on my iMac for the very first time. the speed in our hone office did dip to around 400Mb/s, but it gave me perfectly usable Wi-Fi in a room where we’d previously relied on powerline adaptors to provide a wired connection.

Verdict the orbi system is expensive, even given the fact that it includes both a router and satellite together. if you only have one room where the Wi-Fi doesn’t work very well, then you could save money simply by buying an inexpensive powerline adaptor or range extender for that particular spot. But for larger homes where you need to boost your Wi-Fi to an upper floor, or perhaps out into your garden, the sheer reliability (and expandability) of the orbi’s Wi-Fi coverage will make it a very worthwhile investment. J Cliff Joseph

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 45

045 Netgear Orbi 260.indd 45

20/12/2016 10:44


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

SecuRITy cameRa

£249 inc VAT

Netatmo Presence

Contact n

netatmo.com

Specifications

4Mp sensor, video resolution up to 1920x1080; 100 degrees field of view; Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz; 16GB microSD card included, optional Dropbox integration or FTP server; 12W, dimmable floodlight; IR night vision up to 15m (50ft); 50x200x110mm

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

The Netatmo Presence is the first security camera we’ve tested that doubles as a floodlight. It’s easy to install and it works well, too. It will detect people, animals and cars up to 65 feet away, sending alerts to your phone – and even your apple Watch.

Price The Netatmo Presence costs £249, which is relatively expensive compared to some outdoor security cameras, but bear in mind that dimmable LeD floodlights aren’t cheap. also, and more importantly, there’s no monthly subscription charge: an SD card is built-into the

camera and stores the footage. you can also set the Presence up to save video to Dropbox, or your own FTP server. If this is out of your price range, consider the y-cam Homemonitor HD Pro (£199).

Design The best thing about the Presence is that it doesn’t look like a ccTV camera. The lens is at the bottom, but at first glance you notice only the light. If anything, the camera is easily mistaken for a motion sensor, so few people will realise they’re being recorded. (Note that the Protection of Freedoms act sets out guidelines for using outdoor

cameras in “a responsible way to protect the privacy of others”.) unlike other outdoor cameras, the Presence doesn’t have an inconvenient mains adaptor – few people have an outdoor socket, let alone right where they would want to install a camera. Instead, the Presence is designed to replace an existing outdoor light. This makes installation a breeze – as long as you can drill the two necessary holes in your wall. Then it’s just a case of connecting the three wires which powered your old light to the chocolate block on the Presence. Doing it this way means there are no visible wires a burglar can quickly cut, an no adaptor that can be unplugged. Before mounting it, though, do check you have a strong Wi-Fi signal in that position. The only issue is if you have multiple lights operated by the same switch, as those which aren’t replaced by the camera will be on all the time (or your camera will be switched off if you turn the other lights off). Netatmo says it has no plans to release a matching LeD light without the camera. you’ll need to install the Netatmo Security app and sign up for a free account to complete the installation. and as with any Bluetooth-equipped camera, this process is quick and

46 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

046_047 Netatmo Presence 260.indd 46

20/12/2016 11:19


Reviews

simple and can be done entirely from your phone.

Performance On the main screen of the app you’ll see each of your Netatmo cameras (including Welcome cameras) and an up-to-date thumbnail. You tap the play button to see the video feed (rotating the phone to portrait for full-screen) but below the thumbnail is a timeline of events (see bottom left screenshots). These crop in on the subject detected, and you can tap one to bring up the full frame from the video. It’s a great feature, but if you play back the video it will start at the beginning rather than going straight to the action. However, it’s a minor quibble. In general, the Presence reliably records the motion you want and doesn’t give false alarms. Plus, you can download any clip and save it to your phone’s camera roll. It’s best to do this when you’re at home on the same Wi-Fi network for the fastest speed, but you can do it remotely. However, there’s no progress indicator and you can’t leave it downloading in the background while you review other clips or change settings. Videos are stored on the built-in 16GB microSD card (but you can replace this with a 32GB card if you want more storage space). When the card fills up, the oldest videos are deleted automatically. If you want to keep everything, you can link your Dropbox account, but the best option is to get the camera to send

video to an FTP server, such as one running on a NAS drive. This way you can easily access the full-HD clips and the video will be safe even if someone steals the camera. As part of the setup, you can name your camera and set up one or more zones for motion detection. You can create multiple zones, but they can only be rectangles and there’s a minimum size. This restriction is there because Netatmo uses an intelligent algorithm to detect what’s creating the motion in a bid to avoid false alarms. It can detect people, animals and cars. Not everyone can choose the perfect mounting location and when mounted on a shed in a back garden we found we couldn’t avoid including a small tree in one zone and had a fair few alerts telling us a person had been seen, along with thumbnails of said tree. In the end, we deleted that motion zone and relied on another one. The floodlight is nice and bright and there’s a slider so you can choose the brightness you want (see above). The light can be set to on, off or auto mode. In the latter, you can set it to turn on whenever people, cars or animals are detected. You just enable the categories you want. There’s also ‘other motions’ as a catch-all for anything else.

If you prefer, you can set it to turn on whenever it’s dark. What’s missing is a timed option so you can have it on from, say, dusk until 10pm, so you don’t annoy your neighbours should it keep turning on through the night. Also, we’d prefer the floodlight power control to be on the main screen rather than buried in the settings, or in an iOS widget so you can turn it on or off quickly. As it is, the Security app offers no iOS widget at all. There’s an Apple Watch app, and this has just been updated so you can add it as a complication for quicker access. There’s no sensitivity slider for motion detection (there’s no need because of the intelligent detection) but it’s a shame there’s no way to specify which type of motion you want to watch out for in each zone. These are set globally. You can turn the camera on or off by bringing up the settings, though there’s no scheduling to record at certain times or by using geofencing, so it disables recording while you’re home. For most people this makes sense. It’s also good that you can choose when to receive notifications. Two sliders let you set ‘from’ and ‘to’ times. There’s also an option to get notifications only when nobody is home, and only for certain types of motion. We found that alerts arrived on our phone (and Apple Watch) within a couple of seconds of motion being detected, and we were impressed at the accuracy of the algorithm. It correctly identified a person moving in the garden roughly 60 feet away, and picked up a surprising number of animals roaming during the night when using its infrared LEDs.

Verdict It isn’t perfect, it isn’t cheap and it lacks a few features we’d like to see added to the app, but overall we really like the Presence. It doesn’t look like a security camera and the LEDs do a good job of replacing an existing outdoor light. Plus, it’s not difficult to install and there’s no subscription to pay. J Jim Martin

Alerts arrived on our phone within a couple of seconds of motion being detected, and we were impressed at the accuracy of the algorithm March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 47

046_047 Netatmo Presence 260.indd 47

20/12/2016 11:19


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

AcTIon cAmeRA

£249 inc VAT Contact n

gopro.com

Specifications

12Mp action camera; max video resolution: 3840x2160 at 30fps; Electronic stabilisation; built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; GPS; microSD up to 64GB; Micro-HDMI output, USB-C charging; 1200mAh battery; 61.7x24x44.4mm; 118g

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

For video clips, go to tinyurl.com/hwpfumq

GoPro Hero 5 Black GoPro made fans wait a long time for a new model, but the Hero 5 Black doesn’t disappoint. It’s an all-new action camera that combines the best bits from previous GoPro models and adds some new features, such as stabilisation and built-in GPS, which make it the best yet.

Design A few millimetres bigger in all directions, the Hero 5 isn’t going to fit any housings designed for older GoPros, such as the Hero 4. But it will – naturally – fit the firm’s new drone, the Karma. It also works with the Karma Grip, a handheld gimbal, which can be bought separately. The chunkier styling and rubbery finish have a purpose, though: the Hero 5 is waterproof without a case to a depth of 10m – you can buy the optional Super Suit if you want to go to 60m. Being water resistant is almost expected from today’s gadgets, and the original Hero Session was GoPro’s first waterproof action cam. But the Hero 5 packs in lots more features, including a 1.95in touchscreen on the back and integrated GPS. It comes with a frame, so you can attach it to all of GoPro’s usual mounts and a handy feature is that the cover that protects the micro-HDmI and USB-c port is removable, so you can connect cables even when it’s in the frame. The microSD slot is right next to the battery and it’s a little fiddly getting the card in and out.

The battery is removable – unlike the Session’s – but it’s a new design, so your old ones won’t fit. GoPro claims it will last somewhere between 1.5- and 2.5 hours, depending on the resolution, frame rate and whether eIS is enabled or not. We couldn’t find an option to disable Wi-Fi in the menus. This electronic stabilisation has been a long time coming, and it would have been a severe disappointment had GoPro not introduced it on the Hero 5. It works effectively, but it’s a blow that it doesn’t work in 4K, which is because there are no spare pixels to crop off to stabilise the video. It records 4K at 30fps only, just like the Hero 4, though you can choose up to 120fps in 1080p and 240fps at 720p. The field of view is selectable in most modes and restricted in some: have a play and you’ll soon find which works best for you. new on the Hero 5 is timelapse video, which is automatically created in camera and can then be shared straight away (via your phone) to Facebook and other means. Controls GoPro has adopted a similar control method as for the Session, removing the traditional front

button. one press of the big button on top turns on the camera and starts recording in the default mode, which you can choose. The side button can be used to instead turn on the camera, so you can change settings (or to mark a highlight if you’re already recording). With the touchscreen, it’s really easy to change the resolution, framerate and field of view. It takes a little while to learn how to get to the other options: swipe right to review and trim videos; swipe down to see and change the general settings and swipe left to access other settings such as ProTune, stabilisation, microphones and low light. enabling the latter means the Hero 5 will automatically reduce the framerate in low light – a very handy function if you tend to record everything at 60fps or higher. our only complaint is that the operating system is a little slow to respond compared to what you’d expect from a modern touchscreen device. Also, when in the frame, it’s hard to swipe in from the edge and the gesture isn’t always recognised. A new way to control the Hero 5 is with voice commands (it supports seven languages at the moment). Testing these indoors proved very effective, such as “GoPro start recording”, “GoPro stop recording”, “GoPro take a photo” and “GoPro turn off”. But it’s not as reliable outdoors when there’s lots of background noise, and it can be hard to know if your command worked if you can’t see the camera. Also, you can’t use a voice command to turn on the Hero 5.

48 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

048_049 GoPro Hero 5 260.indd 48

21/12/2016 11:57


Reviews

The usual GoPro beeps are pretty loud, although seemingly not as loud as the Hero 4, but it would be better to have vibration feedback like certain other action cams have. App Another way to control the Hero is via the free Capture app. The name has changed, but overall it’s basically what you’re used to with GoPro’s previous cameras. It uses a combination of Wi‑Fi and Bluetooth: Wi‑Fi for the live video stream and Bluetooth to allow you to turn on the camera remotely when it’s in standby. Videos can be streamed from the camera over Wi‑Fi and you can capture a still photo from a video, which is a feature many GoPro users have loved for a while now. New is the Quik app. This is available on the desktop as well as mobile and allows you to pick several video clips from which the app will automatically create an edited video. You can tweak which portions of each clip are used, as well as picking background music. Obviously, if you’ve pressed the Highlight button, it will use those sections from the videos. The latest update of the desktop version includes the ability to overlay the GPS data on your video. You can choose to display speed, altitude, distance, date, time and elevation gain. A new service is GoPro Plus. There’s a free 60‑day trial if you sign up on an Android device through the Capture app, but iOS users should

use GoPro’s website as you’ll get only 30 days via the app. When set up, the Hero 5 can automatically upload photos and videos from its memory card to GoPro’s cloud storage. Unfortunately, 4K clips are down‑sampled to 1080p, so it’s not a great option if you mainly shoot in 4K.

Quality Before getting to video quality, it’s worth talking audio. As with the Session, the fact you can use the Hero 5 without a waterproof case all the time means the microphones aren’t blocked by a plastic case. This immediately has huge benefits for sound quality. Plus, there are two mics and the processor will automatically switch between them to try to eliminate wind noise. Alternatively, you can lock it to either wind cut or stereo recording if you prefer. Stereo, as the eagle‑eyed will have spotted, is a first for GoPro – even the older Session with dual mics doesn’t record in stereo. The Hero 5 will even save a separate WAV file, so you can edit the file with an audio editor. Overall, audio quality is very impressive for an action camera. Video quality isn’t markedly different from the Hero 4 Black since both max out at 4K30. Comparing footage from both cameras, it’s difficult to see any differences: they both offer the same amount of detail in each mode and they have very similar colours and exposure.

The big difference comes from the stabilisation. Even with it turned off there’s a noticeable improvement over the Hero 4 Black. But when you turn it on, the difference is like night and day. Ultimately, the Hero 4 Black already had top‑notch image quality, so the Hero 5 can’t be criticised for being no better. But when you factor in the excellent stabilisation and better sound quality, it is better overall.

Verdict The Hero 5 Black is the best action camera we’ve tested and the fact it’s cheaper than the outgoing Hero 4 Black sweetens the deal even further. With GPS, water resistance and video stabilisation, the Hero 5 is a fantastic upgrade from a Hero 4 Black. J Jim Martin

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 49

048_049 GoPro Hero 5 260.indd 49

20/12/2016 11:16


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

AcTIon cAmeRA

£889 inc VAT Contact n

kodakpixpro.com/europe

Specifications

2x Pixpro SP360 4K cameras; 12Mp BSI sensor; 2800x2800 pixels (round video), 3840x2160 pixels (flat video); Wi-Fi; NFC; microSD; Micro-USB; MicroHDMI; 48x50x52.5mm; 128g

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

Kodak Pixpro SP360 4K Dual Pro Pack With support on the likes of Facebook and YouTube, 360-degree photos and videos are all the rage and Kodak’s action camera bundle has everything you need to create your own 360-degree content.

Design The nature of having two separate cameras to create a 360-degree setup is fiddly and cumbersome. The more user-friendly options out there require little more than switching on and hitting the shutter button. Sadly that couldn’t be further from the truth here. For starters, you’ll need to insert the batteries and each camera requires a memory card (not included). Plus, there’s just one battery charger – another annoyance as they will run out at the same time being used as a pair. You’ll also need to make sure you’ve fully charged the battery and have enough space on the memory card before screwing the cameras onto the mount as there’s no access once they are in and it takes a while to disassemble the whole thing. The SP360 4K is a well-made action camera and certainly looks the business with that huge domed lens on the front. on the side are four buttons, which control settings such as resolution and stabilisation. Be warned that the SP360 4K camera is only splash- rather than waterproof, so don’t go dunking it underwater. It doesn’t come with a case either.

Performance Setting up and using one of Kodak’s cameras on their own is easy, but operating the two together is a very different matter – during testing, the dual-setup took us a long time to set up. While it’s great that the cameras have features such as Wi-Fi and nFc for easy pairing, you can connect to just one device at a time. We weren’t to know this as the instruction manual fails to mention this. Instead, you need to connect each to the smartwatch-esque remote control. That’s easy once you know how, but means you can’t make use of your smartphone to get a live preview and adjust settings. The remote only lets you switch between photo and video and global or front display modes, so you’ll have to tweak anything more advanced on the cameras themselves. You can capture content with just one camera, but the idea is to unite the two for a full spherical result. Unfortunately, combining the files together with the Pc software isn’t easy.

Verdict Although there are high quality results on offer here, the high price will put many people off. Plus, there’s how complicated this two-camera system is to operate,

which will be too much for most consumers. We’re still trying to get our head round it, which says a lot. J Chris Martin For video clips, go to tinyurl.com/jv93laa

In the box

50 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

050 Kodak Pixpro SP360 260.indd 50

20/12/2016 11:52


Reviews

Action cAmeRA

£44 inc VAT Contact n

thieye.com

Specifications

4K at 30fps; 1080p at 60fps; slo-mo mode; waterproof case brings IP68 water resistance; 59x41x25mm; 65g

ThiEYE i60e 4K At £44, the thieYe i60e 4K is one of the cheapest action cameras we’ve seen, with a decent design and a range of shooting modes.

Design it looks like a standard action camera, with a wide-angle lens on the front, a 2in display on the rear and a smattering of buttons. there’s a slot on the side of the camera for a microSD card, a micro-USB socket for charging and transferring files, and a mini-HDmi port. the device is coated with textured black rubber for extra grip when not in the iP68-rated waterproof case (also supplied), and it certainly doesn’t feel or look cheap. the case allows you to submerge it up to 60ft underwater, although it adds extra bulk to the camera (an additional 75g).

For video clips, go to tinyurl.com/h5sqoy2

Features

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

Unlike the GoPro Hero 5 Black (page 48), the i60e isn’t touchscreenenabled – one of the drawbacks of a cheap action camera. You’ll need to use various buttons which, despite reading the instructions, we found confusing to navigate at first, although we got used to them after some experimentation. one plus for the i60e is that it has an accompanying ioS and Android app that provides you with a live feed of the camera, along with controls and the option to browse recorded media via Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, we ran into errors when using the app, ranging from general connectivity issues to

plan on frequently recording in 4K, as the file sizes are much larger than standard 1080p. the camera has several shooting modes, including 720p at 120fps, 1080p at 60fps, 2.7K at 30fps and 4K at 30fps, and is also able to take 12mp 3:2 photos. the lens is a 170-degree wide-angle offering, with an aperture of f2.2, and provides clear video when well lit. Despite the relatively large aperture, the quality of both videos and pictures decreases as light levels drop, regardless of the video format. We

the 160e is coated with textured black rubber for extra grip when not in the iP68-rated waterproof case (also supplied), and doesn’t feel or look cheap problems accessing media. it’s handy for starting and stopping recordings, but we’d prefer the traditional method of accessing the media – via a micro-USB cable and a computer. the i60e doesn’t come with any built-in storage, but has a microSD slot that accepts cards up to 128GB. it’s worth investing in a high-capacity microSD card if you

also noted slight distortion around the edges of recorded video clips, although it isn’t prominent enough to ruin them. Despite the camera having 4K capabilities, we weren’t blown away by the quality of the video when viewed on a 4K tV. in fact, we’re not convinced that the thieYe actually records in 4K – we think it’s upscaled from a lower resolution and as

such doesn’t take in four times the amount of detail as it’s supposed to. it’s not horrendous, but it isn’t up to the standards of GoPro Hero action cameras or even cheaper options. the 1080p at 60fps mode, however, provides clearer video and should be enough for most users. the i60e can also take timelapse or slow-mo videos (using the 720p at 120fps format) and, most impressively, is able to double up as a dash cam. Simply select this option on the thieYe, connect it to your car and whenever the camera registers power it will start recording, only stopping once the engine is turned off (when turning off the ignition).

Verdict the thieYe i60e 4K is a great action camera for those who don’t want to spend hundreds on a GoPro, and the included mount and waterproof case sweeten the deal. the 4K video quality isn’t great, but in our tests the 1080p at 60fps option produced slightly clearer results and should suffice for most. the extra features, such as time-lapse, the ability to double up as a dashcam and accompanying ioS and Android apps make the £44 price tag a bargain. J Lewis Painter

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 51

051 THieye i60e 260.indd 51

20/12/2016 13:50


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

COLOUR INKJET PRINTER

£399 inc VAT

Epson EcoTank ET-3600

Contact 

epson.co.uk

Specifications

1200dpi scanner/copier; 150 sheets A4; USB; Ethernet; Wi-Fi; Apple AirPrint; 489x300x169mm; 4.7kg

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

At first glance, the latest addition to Epson’s EcoTank range of multi-function printers looks pretty expensive – in fact, at £399 the ET-3600 is one of the most expensive inkjet printers we’ve ever seen. But, like the previous two generations of EcoTank printers, the ET-3600 – an A4 model – turns the traditional business model for printers upside down. Instead of selling the printer cheaply and then hitting you with high costs for replacement ink cartridges, the EcoTank approach is to charge more for the printer itself, while offering extremely low running costs in the years ahead. The EcoTank printers achieve this by doing away with conventional ink cartridges that can only print a few hundred pages before they have to be replaced. Epson then bolts a large ink tank onto the side of the printers, which you can fill up using low-cost, high-capacity bottles of ink. The ET-3600 makes some amends for its high purchase price by including two bottles of ink for each colour – cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). This means that the printer will allow you to print around 11,000 pages in mono and 11,000 pages in colour before you need to buy any new inks at all. That’ll be overkill for most home

users, of course, but it does provide extremely low running costs for busy offices that need a shared printer for daily use.

Running costs The bottles of replacement inks are much less expensive than traditional ink cartridges, costing just £12.99 for the black ink, which lasts for around 6,000 pages per bottle, while the three coloured inks last for 6,500 pages and cost £8.49 each (£25.47 for all three). That works out at 0.2p per page for mono printing and 0.4p for colour, which is drastically lower than the costs associated with conventional inkjet printers.

Design Those costs are in line with previous EcoTank printers, but the ET-3600 also offers additional features and performance that make it more suitable for office use than its predecessors. As well as USB and Wi-Fi, the ET-3600 also includes an Ethernet interface for an office network, and supports Apple’s AirPrint for iOS devices, along with Google Cloud Print and Epson’s own iPrint app for everyone else. It’s the first EcoTank printer to provide automatic two-sided printing, which makes it a lot more useful for office work, and the 150-sheet input tray

As well as USB and Wi-Fi, the ET-3600 also includes an Ethernet interface for an office network, and supports AirPrint for iOS devices

should be enough for most small offices. There’s a 1200dpi scanner/ copier as well, which can scan an A4 magazine cover in 25 seconds, but no fax machine in this model.

Performance None of the EcoTank printers seems to be particularly fast – perhaps because of the more complicated plumbing required by those large ink tanks – but the ET-3600 outpaces the other EcoTank printers that we’ve seen in the past. It turned out 13 pages per minute (ppm) when printing plain text documents, with Epson’s pigmented black ink and 1200dpi resolution providing near-laser smoothness on our test documents. Colour printing is slower, at around 6ppm for our mixed text-and-graphics files, but that should still be adequate for printing presentations and marketing documents. Photo printing is speedy too, at 12 seconds for a 6x4in glossy postcard, so it’ll be able to handle product brochures and flyers too.

Verdict The high purchase price of the ET-3600 means it’s obviously not suitable for home users who simply need an affordable printer for occasional use. And at its high price it could also be a bit faster. However, the EcoTank’s low running costs are unmatched by most conventional inkjet printers, and will offer genuine savings for office users who need a workhorse printer that can handle hundreds of pages every month. J Cliff Joseph

52 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

052 Epson EcoTank ET-3600 260.indd 52

20/12/2016 11:32


FOR EVERYTHING

ANDROID

DIGITAL EDITION ON ANDROID & iOS

tinyurl.com/nk4osoh

Every issue is packed with the latest reviews, features, tutorials & more.


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

SeT-Top box

£159 inc VAT

HiMedia Q10 Pro

Contact n

himediatech.com

Specifications

Android 5.1.1 Lollipop; HiSilicon Hi3798C V200 (Cortext A53) quad-core 64-bit processor; Mali-T720 GPU; 2GB DDR3 RAM; 16GB storage; 3.5in HDD bay; SD card slot; Imprex 2.0 processing engine with HDR; 10-bit colour depth; BT.2020 wide colour gamut; dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0 + EDR; SATA 3.0; 1x USB 3.0; 1x USB 3.0 Slave; 2x USB 2.0; 1x Gigabit Ethernet; Optical & Coaxial SPDIF; Composite; HDMI 2.0a; H.265; 7.1 HD Audio passthrough and downmix: Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD; 192K/24-bit audio decoding and output; IR remote control; 230x180x50mm; 920g

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

The Q10 pro brings together Kodi’s excellent media management and HiMedia’s insane format support and 4K image quality in one stylish Android TV box.

What it is, what it does In its most basic form, the HiMedia Q10 pro is a box that connects to your TV over HDMI and allows it to operate as a giant Android tablet, though without the touchscreen (you get a remote control instead). You can install any apps you might install on a phone or tablet, whether that be games, social media, catch-up TV or other. one of the most commonly installed apps on Android TV boxes is the Kodi media-management

app, which is helpfully preinstalled and fully integrated here. but the Q10 pro sets itself apart from most Android TV- and Kodi boxes with a great deal of extra functionality. Let’s start with the obvious: the HiMedia Q10 pro doesn’t look like your average Android TV box. It’s larger than most – more so when you factor in the rear-mounted detachable Wi-Fi antenna – and yet it’s still easily one of the betterlooking examples we’ve seen. It has a black premium brushed aluminium casing (that thanks to a rear cooling fan kept its cool during our testing), with a glass panel at the front revealing an LCD display and a useful touch panel. An IR sensor at the centre

pairs with a bundled remote that would appear to do it all (except ‘Stop’, though we’re told there is a workaround). The chrome trim and gently rounded corners are nice finishing touches that will allow this Kodi box to slip right into any home-entertainment setup. The reason for its size becomes obvious when you slide the catch on the right edge and open up the lid: the HiMedia Q10 pro has a 3.5in drive bay that allows it to support up to a staggering 6Tb of storage. Should you need more there’s also support for NAS reading, simplifying sharing and backup across a network, plus an SD card slot. A USb 3.0 and two USb 2.0 ports on the left edge enable you to attach USb peripherals or even more storage. It’s worth pointing out, though, that with 16Gb Flash storage built-in you can use this Android TV device right out the box. The aforementioned USb 3.0 port is another highlight in this Android box (there’s also a USb 3.0 Slave port), and when you factor in the sheer number of connections on the Q10 pro you begin to see another reason why it is so large. With support for SATA 3.0, USb 2.0, USb 3.0, Gigabit ethernet, optical and Coaxial SpDIF, Composite and HDMI 2.0a, there are few devices you won’t be able to connect to this box.

54 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

054_055 HiMedia Q10 Pro 260.indd 54

20/12/2016 11:48


Reviews

Miracast, HappyCast and Bluetooth 4.0 +EDR are also available for wirelessly connecting devices. The Q10 Pro’s support for HDMI 2.0a is particularly interesting, and something of a game-changer over HDMI 1.4. Where HDMI 1.4 has a transmission bandwidth of 10Gb/s, HDMI 2.0a can handle 18Gb/s. This enables it to deliver 4K streams at 60fps with no fuss. The box can also support 3D, though UltraHD content is really where its strengths lie. Of course, it’s all very well connecting any device you can think of, but the hardware also needs to be able to read the files stored on them. The HiMedia gets a thumbs-up here with very strong audio and video file format support: HiMedia says it will support any format you can name.

User interface Out of the box, the Q10 Pro runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, though an update to Nougat is promised. However, you wouldn’t necessarily know that this was Lollipop, since the custom UI makes it somewhat unrecognisable. In fact, its colourful tiled interface reminds us more of Windows 10 than it does Android (see right). But for use on a TV this type of setup is essential, and the HiMedia is easy to operate. The largest tile on the home screen is for Kodi, which is preinstalled on this box. HiMedia also includes in the software a Kodi wrapper, which is in essence software that pairs Kodi’s media management expertise with HiMedia’s format support and image quality, allowing you to take advantage of 4K Ultra-HD, HDR, 10-bit colour, 7.1 HD-Audio and 3D ISO support within the application. It’s more than just a Kodi box, though: the HiMedia Q10 Pro is a full Android system, and you can install any apps you like to start streaming content. From the home screen you can access a MediaCenter, YouTube, Skype, Facebook and Chrome, but remember that this is Android, so any app you’d use on your phone or tablet can be installed from the Play Store. Whereas a phone or tablet has an app tray, the Q10 Pro has a My Apps menu available from the home screen that lists all the apps downloaded to the box. We were pleased to find very little bloatware

preinstalled here, though as we’ve noted storage shouldn’t be an issue. If you’re missing Android as you know it, the one place it looks familiar is in the Settings menu. This is where you’ll find options to upgrade the software, join a wireless network (which we weren’t prompted to do during setup) and alter display and playback options.

Performance Our first impressions of the Q10 Pro were good, with the device booting up and ready to go in under 20 seconds. With 2GB of DDR3 RAM, the Mali T720 GPU and a HiSilicon Hi3798C V200 quad-core processor (based on the Cortex-A53) inside, our perceptions of its real-world performance were also very good. Operation was fast and fluid, and the Q10 Pro is easily capable of 4K streaming. The picture is good, and shown in the best possible light by

HiMedia’s wide colour gamut, 10-bit colour and HDR. We ran the Q10 Pro through the benchmarks we use for all our Android phone and tablet reviews, though the differences in their usage makes drawing comparisons rather unimportant. Nevertheless, in Geekbench 4 it recorded a multicore score of 1891, and in GFXBench it recorded 17fps in T-Rex and 7fps in Manhattan. In AnTuTu, it’s capable of around 38,000. These are good scores for an Android TV box.

Verdict The Q10 Pro prices itself out of range for those wanting a simple, no-frills box that adds Android functionality to their TV, but it offers so much more than this. Fantastic format support, expansive storage options and good 4K image quality make this a great Kodi box for enthusiasts. J Marie Brewis March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 55

054_055 HiMedia Q10 Pro 260.indd 55

20/12/2016 11:48


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

SmaRT heaTIng SySTem

From £249 inc VAT

Heat Genius

Contact n

heatgenius.co.uk

Specifications

Genius Hub; TRVs; TRV adaptors; manual switch; smart thermostat; smartplugs

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

heat genius offers smart heating control that learns when you use each room of your house. It allows you to automatically and remotely control each radiator. and it lets you do so from any webconnected device. Then you can either set your desired temperature for each room according to the time of day, or let the system watch and learn from your room occupancy, and set temperatures and timings appropriately. In effect, heat genius makes any home a smart home, allowing you to remotely control the heating in every part of the house, as well as the hot water. It also offers other connected devices such as smart plugs and sensors, all controlled by a central hub and accessed via a mobile app or web page. and it lets you view historical usage. So – critically – it should mean you have a warm and comfortable house, with hot water, without using any more power than you absolutely need. Thus, in principal, over time heat genius will save you money.

Price That’s important, because heat genius isn’t the cheap option in this space. at £249 for the ‘genius Kit’ base system that comprises hub and Thermostat, it compares reasonably well with the £200 nest smart thermostat, and £179 hive active heating – although the price goes up to £294 if you want to control the hot water. and the costs add up as you add zones, with each radiator valve costing £59, and room sensors £34. you don’t need a sensor in every room as the radiator valves can measure temperature,

but the sensors are required to measure room occupancy. So it can soon add up. even more so if you want smart plugs at £29 a pop, or you have underfloor heating to control. The heat genius website has a smart ‘Create my system’ tool that allows you to spec up your home. Through this you can see that to fully zone a fourbedroom house with a separate hall, kitchen and dining room (and with one radiator and one sensor in each room) will cost around £1,100 just for the kit. In that instance installation is free as there are more than six valves, but heat genius will charge £99 to send it all out to you. (If you fit it yourself postage and packing is a more reasonable £20.) That’s £1,200 inc VaT to get a fully trained heat genius central heating engineer in your house, who won’t leave before the system is installed, tested and working to your satisfaction. not a trivial amount of money, but if you have a large house and parts of it are regularly unoccupied, heat genius estimates it could save you 20- to 40 percent on your annual heating bill. So at some stage it will pay for itself. and, in our experience, you don’t need to zone everything. you can collect up into a ‘Rest of house’ quasi-’zone’ all the rooms that are incidental (like hallways) or rarely used (guest bedrooms). These can be heated only altogether or not at all, but in the case of a guest room you can just turn down the radiators when no-one is in there. In our current setup we haven’t got smart valves in either the dining room or several of the bedrooms, so we have to control them all together.

Basically, if it is cold they need to be heated, and they take their temperature from the thermostat in the dining room. So it is virtually as good as separate zones.

How it compares to alternatives systems This is not a nest or a hive - it is much more sophisticated, and somewhat more expensive than those products. hive or nest is, in essence, a dumb on-off switch that allows you to remotely switch on and off your heating. It will let you set a temperature, but only from a single thermostat. For a smaller modern house, that is generally sufficient. and it is a lot more efficient than a timer-based heating system. heat genius is better, though. For one thing the company tells us it has yet to find the house within which it won’t work, regardless of type of boiler. a true IoT system, it creates a network of connected devices around your home. That in turn allows you to zone off living areas. Then you can set desired temperatures for each based on your occupancy of those areas. What’s great is the modular nature of heat genius. you can get the hive or nest experience by simply buying the genius Kit base system at £249. adding in valves and sensors as you desire to zone off additional areas of the house. So you are paying only for the tech you use – not forgetting that you can move the zones as your needs change. The only system that offers anything like the comprehensive control of heat genius is that of

56 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

056_058 Heat Genius 260.indd 56

20/12/2016 13:33


Reviews

Tado. Tado started with a bells and whistles central controller and is now adding networked control of individual radiators. Heat Genius has always been a network product, and is now getting really sophisticated and stylish with the central hardware. And unlike Tado, it does work with every type of boiler. Honeywell EvoHome is the other product that gives Heat Genius a run for its money, and is worth your consideration. But, basically, if you have a large property, with areas that are regularly unoccupied, Heat Genius is the ideal product for you.

What’s new Late last year, Heat Genius started shipping its new ‘Genius Hub’ system to consumers. This builds on the existing zoned heating system and offers some significant upgrades. For one thing, the kit looks better: the new thermostat is small and stylish, and connects wirelessly. It replaces an older thermostat that was wired into the wall and didn’t do a lot other than confuse guests who presumed it controlled the heating. With the new thermostat you can stick it anywhere in the house and in effect create a new, movable zone. As well as measuring the temperature, it allows you to manually set the temperature for a particular length of time. So when Granny visits it is trivial to make things warmer. Going wireless and being able to be placed anywhere means you can measure ambient temperature at a sensible point that accurately reflects the feel of the house, rather than a fixed point in a drafty hallway or above a radiator. (And it really is small: ours mostly lives in the unzoned dining room,

behind a picture frame on a shelf.) The Genius Hub itself is also smaller and more attractive. This matters as the previous model was somewhat bulky and resembled the mini PC that it truly was. Given that it needs to be connected to the router this wasn’t ideal in terms of space and the attractiveness of your home. The new slimline device is, if anything, an advert for Heat Genius, as curious visitors may be minded to ask just what is that slick piece of digital home kit. Critically, the improvements aren’t skin-deep. The smaller Genius Hub now has a longer wireless range, coping easily with our old house and its solid walls. In our previous, smaller home the lastgeneration Genius Hub needed a smart plug to be in situ in order to reach around the whole house. The new system effortlessly reaches throughout our current abode, despite having to go further and through thicker walls. (It’s better than our Wi-Fi network that is still a little flaky with an extender installed.) This is important, given that Heat Genius’ core constituency is large, older properties.

The app The main improvement is in the app via which you control your Heat Genius network. In the past this was functional without being pretty, and some of the language was a bit technical. Function is everything in an app that controls a system, and even the old Heat Genius app was simple to use in terms of operating the heating and setting a schedule. If everything worked it was great, but if a device dropped off the network or wasn’t responding understanding how to fix it required

support. And it looked pretty rough. Plus it didn’t scale well on mobile: have more than a few zones and you were doing a lot of scrolling. Finally, although you could access some pretty hard core installer settings, you had to hunt to find them. You can access the new app on Android and iOS devices, and via the open web. It looks great, and is very easy and intuitive to use. Heat Genius has managed to pull off the clever trick of putting installerlevel settings into the app, but making them easier to use. This is principally because of the ‘Settings’ and ‘Doctor’ areas of the app, accessed from the main menu. ‘Settings’ gives you access to a list of all the devices on the system. It shows you when each device last communicated with the hub, and shows its battery life where appropriate. It also allows you to Ping the device, which will often kick into gear a valve that isn’t playing for some reason. Other options include configuration, updates and removal of the device. You’re not going to need this page often, if at all, but knowing that this level of control is available and easy to understand is a good thing. As is the ‘Doctor’. This is a series of in-app wizards that allow you to solve problems in natural language and with no technical knowledge. Simply by answering questions about the issue you are looking to solve, the Doctor points you in the direction of a solution, taking you through required remedial action step by step. And the app alerts you to issues that your system may have via a large red ‘Issues’ pane at the top of the app home screen. We used the Doctor to fix a problem with a radiator valve that

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 57

056_058 Heat Genius 260.indd 57

20/12/2016 13:33


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

had been incorrectly set up in the factory. Simply by answering the questions asked it showed us how to reset the device and reconnect it to the network. A really smart result, that will give end users a lot of confidence in the system (and keep them off tech support phone lines). Heat Genius does offer on the phone tech support 24/7, however.

In use We had Heat Genius in our previous, three-bedroomed semi-detached home, and we loved it. We just love the level of control over heating and – via smartplugs – lights and the kettle, to the extent that any money-saving aspect feels like a secondary issue. Being able to remotely control the heating is useful and cool. And it definitely reduces our power usage. Over time you heat only what you need to heat. And because you know that you can set a temperature in advance you don’t waste time and energy pre-heating spaces. (Plus, with a burgeoning family being able to heat the kettle at 5am to make a bottle at 6am is a lifeand sleep saver.) Aside from the cost, the only negative associations we have ever had with Heat Genius were the relatively ugly, relatively big and relatively bulky Hub, and the fact that on the very rare occasions on which things went wrong the app wasn’t particularly helpful (phone-based support was). Neither was a huge issue, but in digital kit visuals matter, and as you can’t tune in a digital radio you need to be confident that any digital system will just work – or be fixable when it breaks.

The only other thing to note was that in a smaller house we needed two smart plugs to ensure the network was sufficiently robust. And we had to use Powerline adaptors to place the hub in the kitchen away from the router, but closer to the radiator action. Moving to a bigger house at exactly the same time as the updated Genius Kit is launched was serendipity, honest. But it was great to get the new system up and running, testing a beta of the new app with the all-new hardware. The (minor) issues with the old system are all solved here. The new hardware is discreet and stylish. Being able to move the thermostat around, and use it to set the temperature, adds a new layer of intuitive functionality. And the app is – as outlined above – a massive improvement in all aspects, but in particular with the control and problem-solving capability it offers. The major improvement is connectivity. Our house is a largish four-bedroom house with playroom, utility room, garage, front room and dining room. Parts of it were built in the 1880s, and parts in the 1980s, so it is a connectivity nightmare: for all but the Genius Hub. It just works, and works well.

The future One intriguing aspect of Heat Genius is what the future may hold. Once you have the central hub in place, and you start adding valves, sensors and smart plugs, you are creating an IoT network around your home. Heat Genius hasn’t announced any concrete plans to add to the main heating focus of the network, but says that the new setup’s use of

If This Then That (IFTTT) makes it easy to set up ‘recipes’ with third-party devices. It says you can ‘easily set your Heat Genius system to interact with 376 other devices and online services’. So you could use your location-enabled smartphone to switch on your heating when you’re close to home and off when you leave, or set up a sensor behind the front door so that you know when someone else walks in. This gets interesting if, and when, Heat Genius persuades hardware manufacturers to make or adapt other devices to its system. It can’t be long before customers with zoned heating systems are able to set up IP cameras, or other connected devices that can be controlled remotely and set to a timer. In our house we use two smartplugs to remotely control lights in the front room and the kettle. So moving forward it may be sensible to think of Heat Genius as a true smart home network in the making.

Verdict Heat Genius is very good at a very useful thing. It is easy to use and efficient, and over time it will save you the cost of installation. And it is fairly priced. How long Heat Genius takes to pay for itself will depend on your circumstances, and it may be that dropping £800 to £1,200 or more is too much of a long-term investment for you. But it is a great product, and if you are looking to install in your home a zoned smart heating system, we are happy to recommend Heat Genius – not least because of its potential as a true smart home network for your house. J Matt Egan

58 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

056_058 Heat Genius 260.indd 58

20/12/2016 13:34


Reviews

OveR-eaR HeadpHOnes

£109 inc VAT

Philips SHB9850NC

Contact n

philips.co.uk

Specifications

8- to 40,000Hz frequency response; 40mm drivers; Bluetooth 4.0; NFC; 3.5mm headphone jack; noisecancelling; dual-mics; 230g

Build: Features:

If you aspire to own a pair of Bose or sony headphones with noise-cancelling technology, but can’t stomach the price, then the philips sHB9850nCs are designed for you.

Value:

Design

Performance:

at this price, you can’t expect the kind of build quality and materials that more expensive models offer. These headphones have a distinct plastic look and feel to them, though not the kind that creaks and makes you think they’ll crack. The advantage of using plastic is that it keeps the weight down, and 230g isn’t bad for over-ear headphones. We also like the faux leather earpads, which are comfortable to wear. There’s not a great deal of airflow due to the closed-back design though, so you may find that your ears get hot if you use them for a long time. Over-ear headphones can be difficult to transport, making them more suitable for home use, but these have a foldable design, so will fit into a bag easily. You don’t get a carry case, though. Most wireless headphones have various buttons and controls on the sides of the ear cups and these are no exception. The left cup houses the noise cancelling button

and an nFC chip for easier paring. On the right is a power button, a Bluetooth button, indication lights and a headphone jack. There’s also a touchpad for controlling playback – you swipe up and down for volume, front and back to change track, and tap to pause/play. This is hit-andmiss and normally takes at least two attempts to get the right result. each cup has a microphone, so you can make hands-free phone calls.

Audio setting up a wireless connection is easy: either use the Bluetooth button or the nFC chip. as is usual, wireless performance isn’t as good as wired, plus it will vary depending on what device you connect to. The philips sHB9850nCs have 40mm neodymium drivers, which combine with the closed-back design to create a contained sound, with very little leakage. The overall audio quality is very good for the price and the headphones produce a rich and warm sound. The frequency

response, partly due to the design, is somewhat lopsided though, with the bass end most prominent. That may be a strategic move by philips as this kind of balance will suit a lot of general users listening to popand dance music. There is still good definition in the mid-range, so tracks with acoustic guitars, for example, sound lively, but there’s a lack of top-end to provide clarity. We’re not impressed with the quality of the noise cancelling here. In fact, sometimes switching it on can make your music sound worse. For the price it’s not bad, but we don’t recommend buying them simply based on this feature.

Verdict These sHB9850nCs are not for the discerning listener, but for a little over £100 they make a good choice for those looking for a combination of over-ear wireless headphones. The touch controls aren’t great and the noise cancellation isn’t overly impressive, but sound quality is decent for the price. J Chris Martin

Over-ear headphones can be difficult to transport, making them more suitable for home use, but these have a foldable design, so will fit into a bag March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 59

059 Philips SHB9850NC 260.indd 59

20/12/2016 13:56


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

In-eaR headphones

£199 inc VAT Contact n

snugsearphones.co.uk

Specifications

Medical grade silicone tips; 8mm drivers; 20- to 20,000Hz frequency range; 1.2m cable; 3.5mm jack gold plated; in-line mic and control; hard carry case

Snugs Original S10 If you struggle with in-ear headphones that are uncomfortable and keep falling out, then snugs’ custom-fit s10 could be the answer.

Scanning Buying a pair of snugs headphones is different to purchasing a regular set since they’re custom made for your ears. Fortunately, long gone are the days of filling your ears with putty in order to create an impression of your ear canal. If you live in or near London, you can visit one of the firm’s fitting centres and have the inside of your ears digitally scanned. For the rest of the UK, a physical impression is still taken. The digital scan is a quick and easy process. You’ll need to wear a headband while the engineer carefully makes a digital impression of the ear canal (see the image below). You’ll receive the headphones by post.

Design

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

They come with a small logo with your name printed on the side in different colours, so you’ll be able to tell which is left and which is right. If that’s too subtle, you can get each ear in a different colour – there are 10 to choose from. The cable is 1.2m in length and you get a compact hard carry case, too. There’s an in-line control that sits at chin level offering a mic for calls and a play/pause button.

Comfort If you haven’t worn custom-moulded headphones before they will take a little getting used to. The first thing to do is get the ear buds facing the correct way in relation to the mould – the wires need to point down. Getting them into position is tricky at first, but we got the hang of it

within a week – hint, the tip faces far more vertically than you might expect. If, however, you’re struggling, the headphones are supplied with a small tube of cream to help. You’ll soon find that the s10 are exceptionally comfortable. We typically find ourselves adjusting in-ear headphones, but these stay in place. as a reviewer who has struggled to find a pair that are well-fitting and don’t fall out every few minutes, the snugs are a revelation. during testing they stayed in place even when we were doing something energetic and remained comfortable after hours of constant use.

Audio The moulded fit brings audio-related bonuses, too – you get natural noise isolation and minimal leakage, so you won’t need to pump up the volume to hear adequately. The earphones have 8mm titanium composite drivers with a frequency response of 20- to 20,000hz. You can also opt for the firm’s Flare R2 drivers if you’re happy to pay an additional £100. It’s important to note that

the moulds make a big impact on the sound quality here, so we’re writing about the package as a whole, not just the headphones inserted into the tip. The audio is excellent. The cosy fit helps with the bass and you’ll feel more immersed because of it. It’s not the best we’ve heard from in-ear headphones, but it’s decent for everything from both dance music, to the kick drum of rock or the double bass of a folk band. The mid-range is impressive too, with bags of presence and clarity. This means vocals sound intimate and you can hear every pluck of a guitar string as if you were playing it. one downside is the high-end, which isn’t as pronounced compared to the mid and low end. It’s not a huge problem but can, at times, make the mix sound a bit muddy.

Verdict If you have trouble with in-ear headphones, snugs original s10 are an excellent solution. The new scanning tech is quick and easy, and you’ll find it hard to go back once you get used to the feel of a custom tip. J Chris Martin

60 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

060 Snugs S10 260.indd 60

20/12/2016 13:39


Reviews

PoweRline adaPtoR

£99 inc VAT Contact n

uk.tp-link.com

Specifications

2000Mb/s max throughput; 2x Gigabit Ethernet ports; pass-through socket; 128-bit encryption; 131x72x42mm

TP-Link AV2000 2-Port Gigabit Pass-through Powerline Starter Kit the tP-link aV2000 2-Port Gigabit Pass-through Powerline Starter Kit (tl-Pa9020P Kit) is one of the fastest set of adaptors we’ve tested. at £99, we think it represents excellent value. there are cheaper options out there, but none of these match it for speed and features.

How it works Powerline is a plug-and-play technology that transforms your home network, so you can nearreplicate internet router speeds in more than one room of your house. Plug one adaptor into a wall power socket near your router, and connect the aV2000 and router using the supplied ethernet cable. in the second room where you require fast, wired internet access – say for your smart tV, set-top box PVR, PC or laptop – you plug the second adaptor into a wall socket, and then connect the devices via the ethernet cable.

Speed myths

Build: Features: Value: Performance:

Powerline adaptors come with theoretical maximum speeds of between 200- and 2000Mb/s. there are, of course, environmental factors that slow this. that doesn’t mean they are useless, just that you shouldn’t expect the stated speeds. in general, the 500Mb/s Powerlines are faster than the 200Mb/s, and the 2000Mb/s adaptors are faster than the 430Mb/s, so use the speeds as a gauge of speed between models.

Speed we thought Powerline speeds had reached a plateau for a while with the release of 1200Mb/s adaptors, but now tP-link is claiming a 2000Mb/s maximum. on top of the speed boost, the aV2000 has more ports than the aV1200, as well as a pass-through socket. it uses the same 2x2 MiMo with beamforming technology as the 1200Mb/s Powerlines, so the faster speed must be due to the wider data bandwidth (86MHz) it enjoys over the 1200Mb/s adaptor’s 67MHz. aV2

MiMo utilises all three wires in an electrical cable, transmitting data on any two pairs. it improves speed and longer distances between adaptors. at PC advisor we use realworld tests to determine Powerline speeds. Much is dependent on the building it is tested in, and we suspect our house slightly plays down possible speeds, but having one test environment means we can compare different makes and models of Powerline adaptor.

Performance in our first test, we check speeds when both adaptors are in the same room. we use this to check its top speed and the aV2000 did very well, scoring 432Mb/s by transferring a 1GB file in 19 seconds. when we positioned the second adaptor in a room two floors down and about 30m apart speeds dropped. this time, the aV2000 scored 117Mb/s – way below the 2000Mb/s on the box, but still the fastest we’ve seen from a Powerline. Remember that you might see faster (or slower) speeds in your home, but the aV2000 stands as the fastest we’ve tested so far.

Features the aV2000 comes with a passthrough socket on each adaptor,

Powerline transforms your home network, so you can near-replicate internet router speeds in more than one room of your house

which is great for not clogging valuable wall power sockets. each adaptor also boasts two Gigabit ethernet ports – older 500Mb/s Powerlines used slower-grade 10/100 ethernet ports that limited any transfer speed to 100Mb/s. Having two ports is great if you have more than one smart device that requires a wired connection for top speed. Many of us have three or more such gadgets, and there are adaptors that include up to three ports. alternatively, you can buy an ethernet Switch that will include five or more ports that you can attach to the device. the aV2000 seats its ports at the top, which is useful if your power sockets are close to the floor, as it gives the cables more space. Some Powerlines can also create an extra wi-Fi hotspot in the second room – handy if the wi-Fi in your house is particularly weak. the aV2000, however, doesn’t have this wireless booster function.

Verdict we were impressed by the realworld performance of the tP-link aV2000, which is our top scorer in our tests. the inclusion of passthrough sockets and two Gigabit ethernet ports per adaptor are also welcomed. there’s no extra wi-Fi hotspot function, but if your house wi-Fi is acceptable this isn’t the worst omission. if you want a fast Powerline starter kit with more than one ethernet port plus pass-through, then this is highly recommended. J Simon Jary March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 61

061 TP-Link AV2000 260.indd 61

20/12/2016 11:35


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

Game

£39 inc VAT

Final Fantasy XV

Contact n

ubisoft.com/en-GB

Specifications

Sony PlayStation 4; Microsoft Xbox One

Final Fantasy XV has taken a long time to hit the shelves, with fans of the series waiting almost 10 years for the game. Set in the open world of Lucis, gamers follow Prince Noctis and his three friends Ignis, Prompto and Gladiolus on their quest to reunite the prince with his bride-to-be Lunafreya, and to seek out the Royal arms and defeat the technologicallyadvanced empire of Niflheim.

Plot The main story is full of plot twists and turns, vital for any game that offers a story that takes over 40 hours to complete. There are 15 chapters, and once you’ve completed the main quest there’s an additional 140 hours of in-game content in the form of side quests, hunts and more to keep you occupied. While the game is open world, there are times when the story takes a more linear approach. You’ll be told beforehand that you’re about to leave the open world for a while – a last warning to stock up on the various weapons, medicines and equipment available to you. While this only happens for brief periods in the beginning, the game becomes more linear as you progress, with much of the second half feeling more like a traditional Final Fantasy game. We love the open world and although more linear chapters of the game offer more intense drama

and gameplay, we’re not a fan of the restrictions put into place during those periods in the game.

Environment and transport The open world of Lucis is vast and varied, featuring elements similar to the real world, with cars and motorways alongside more medieval and archaic elements such as castles and armoured soldiers. There’s even a huge meteor that’s said to be held up by a god, a spectacular sight to come across during Noctis’s travels. everything you can see in-game can be reached by the player, adding an extra level of depth. See a weird, twisted mountain in the background? You can go there. Huge glaciers of ice protruding from the ground? Yes, you can go there, too. There’s also a weather system and a full day-and-night cycle, which bring out a varying number of beasts. If you’re wandering through a forest on a rainy day, for example, your chances of running into a high-level giant toad are pretty high, although the scariest and most powerful monsters (or daemons, as they’re known) only come out at night. It’s recommended that low-level gamers avoid travelling at this time as daemons can range from level 20 to 54, and it’s also worth noticing that Ignis will refuse to drive at night, forcing Noctis to take the wheel. The

dark environment brings its own challenges, such as visibility and being more prone to ambushes. The main method of traversal in-game is to use the Regalia, the customisable vehicle of choice for Noctis and his friends. This is one of very few to integrate an automatic driving mode where fellow adventurer Ignis takes the wheel and drives you to any destination in real time, allowing you to sit back and take in the variety of vistas that the game provides. We’ve stumbled across many an impressive view while exploring the game, enhanced only by the stunning visual effects employed by the game. The environment is vibrant, gorgeous and most importantly, alive, featuring many a creature – some friendly, some not so much. While it’s fun to sit back and have somebody drive around for you, it can become slightly boring at times – especially if you’re travelling from one side of the map to the other, which can take up to 10 (real) minutes. The good news is that if you’ve been there before, you’ll be offered the option to fast travel there for 10 Gil (the game’s unit of currency), an option we found ourselves taking increasingly often as we progressed through the game. apart from the Regalia you also have access to Chocobos, large chicken-like creatures that you ride to traverse areas that the car

62 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

062_063 Final Fantasy 15 260.indd 62

20/12/2016 11:38


Reviews

can’t handle, such as forests and mountains. It’s faster and easier than travelling on foot, and your Chocobo will also give you a hand in battle once its levelled up enough.

Battle system This isn’t your standard button bash setup – gamers need only hold the attack button to unleash a chain of attacks on the enemy, allowing them to use the left analogue stick to select various moves. Pointing the stick upward may prompt an aerial attack, while moving it down will trigger a charging move, although the moves available depends on the type of weapon used. The slightly automated attack system also lets you keep an eye on not only your attacker but those around you too. You must watch for small cues that suggest the enemy may attack, and defend against, parry and counter the attacks. We must admit that this took a lot of getting used to, but once it ‘clicked’ it was an extremely effective way of battling, from taking out groups of weaker enemies to timing dodges and parries right to weaken even the biggest and strongest opponent. Prince Noctis also has access to abilities that let him ‘warp’, providing an extra in-battle advantage. He can warp to wherever his sword is thrown and although the distance travelled isn’t much, it comes as a great help when cornered. The Warp Strike warps Noctis towards an opponent sword-first, causing huge damage when he hits, and can become more powerful if performed over great distances. You can also warp to locations to recover health points (HP) and magic points (MP), while also providing a bird’s-eye view of the battle below. There are a variety of weapons available too, each with unique characteristics that make it moreor less effective against certain enemies. Weaponry is available throughout the open world, with Noctis responsible for not only upgrading his own weapons but those of his comrades, too. Another powerful string to Noctis’s bow of weapons is magic. There are three spell elements – thunder, ice and fire – and these can be crafted in the Elemency menu and combined with items for extra effects. While these spells

are powerful when used in the right situations, there aren’t many areas from which you can collect each element, so you’ll need to be selective when you use magic. Ignis, Prompto and Gladiolus each have unique qualities, and while you can only control Noctis, your AI-controlled friends can be called upon to unleash huge attacks, although these require the Tech Bar to be filled. Joint links allow teammates to gang up on enemies, and are usually triggered after a successful block and counter, or if you blind side an enemy. These attacks can be devastating, and show off some of the more complex moves available in the game. However, they’re nowhere near as devastating as the Astrals that you can summon once unlocked. In essence these are gods that Noctis can call upon for a favour to deliver a crushing blow to the enemy. The environment will determine which Astral will appear, along with the type of attack used. We, for example, were scooped up by one gigantic Astral before he unleashed a flurry of thunderbolts on the battlefield, which destroyed all the enemies within it. While these moves are uncommon, the fact you can summon a god mid-match adds a level of excitement unmatched by similar open world games. There’s a lot to think about in battles, so the game features a Wait Mode akin to earlier turn-based Final Fantasy games, applied to real-time gameplay. With this enabled, you’re able to pause the game and look at the battle going on around you. You’re able to scan enemies for strengths and weaknesses, as well

as plan who to attack next, without the need to move quickly. There is, of course, a Wait Mode timer and once it runs out, you can’t use it again during that battle, but this makes the system a lot fairer.

Havens and camping The experience points (EXP) you earn from battling and completing quests aren’t automatically added to each character. Instead, the game requires you to camp in order to tally up all your EXP since the last time you slept. This makes it an essential part of the game, as the only way you’ll be able to level up is by camping out or staying in a hotel. The benefit to staying in a hotel is that your EXP will be multiplied by up to two, depending on the quality of the establishment, although you’ll have to pay to stay in them. As a Chef, Ignis will take the ingredients available to him and cook meals that provide the team with ‘buffs’ that, for example, increase damage or provide immunity to poison.

Verdict Final Fantasy XV is phenomenal, in terms of the open world environment and the engaging storyline it provides. There’s so much to do that it will take around 200 hours to complete, with 40to 50 hours being spent on the main storyline alone. The Battle Mechanics are different to similar games and although it takes some getting used to, it’s extremely effective. The world of Eos feels alive, and is a place we can’t see ourselves leaving for quite some time. J Lewis Painter

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 63

062_063 Final Fantasy 15 260.indd 63

20/12/2016 11:38


DVDRW. J Andrew Williams

Reviews

Game

£27 inc VAT

Watch Dogs 2

Contact n

ubisoft.com/en-GB

Specifications

Sony PlayStation 4; Microsoft Xbox One; Windows 7 or later (64-bit versions only)

Bear with us for a bit. We’re going to get around to Watch Dogs 2, but it’s going to be by way of a semi-lengthy tangent into assassin’s Creed – particularly, what assassin’s Creed II meant to that now-juggernaut of a series. It’s easy to forget, with almost a decade of sequels under our belt, that there was a time when assassin’s Creed could have conceivably died off. early on, too. after garnering quite a bit of hype, the original game released in 2007 to middling reviews. “Disappointing,” said many, or “Repetitive.” It had some great ideas, but was a boring mess of a game. That might have been the end, but no. assassin’s Creed II, released in 2009, ushered in the ‘Ubisoft Formula’ that propelled the publisher to new heights and then became the butt of industry jokes: 1) Climb towers 2) Unlock a million icons on the map 3) Grind out some missions 4) Repeat. Sure, it’s trite now, but at the time, it marked a huge shift in the open-world genre. One of those assassin’s Creed II-alikes was Watch Dogs. Released in 2014 following years of hype, it adapted all the same assassin’s Creed II tropes to the modern era, with just a dash of ‘hacking’ on top. and it was incredibly boring. So if you’d asked us whether Watch Dogs needed a sequel, we’d have said no. absolutely not. and

yet surprise of all surprises, Watch Dogs 2 is just as big a comeback as assassin’s Creed II. The irony? It had to burn down the assassin’s Creed II formula in order to do it.

A twist on old tricks Okay, maybe we’re overstating things a bit. We don’t think Watch Dogs 2 is going to mark the same genre-shaking shift as assassin’s Creed II, nor is it a perfect game. There are still some dodgy bits to this tale of marcus, San Francisco Bay area hacker extraordinaire. But it takes some meaningful steps away from the formula. The one Ubisoft publicized the most prior to release is of course “No tower climbing”, which also equates to no more tedious district reclamation and none of those overdone ‘Camera Pulls Way Out and Swirls around The Landscape’ scenes. Tower climbing was an obvious target. Its inclusion in the original Watch Dogs was one of the first times we really started to see a homogenization across all of Ubisoft’s games, because how does tower climbing fit in the story of an all-powerful hacker? and it’s only got worse since. Obvious or not, it’s a huge shift in presentation, though. The San Francisco of Watch Dogs 2 feel more like a world and less like a series of artificial hurdles to overcome.

as if to bring the point home, the game’s second mission has you drive from Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, as if to say: “See! No gates here! Go wherever you want!” and without tower climbing to rely on as a crutch, other pieces of Ubisoft’s formula start to crumble. Side missions must be introduced in a logical manner, for instance – and are. They are couched in the world’s fiction, with marcus hacking people’s phones or being handed missions by his friends at hacking collective Dedsec. They’re creative, too. The assassin’s Creed II formula was “Do the same tedious activity a dozen times, but in different parts of the city.” In Watch Dogs 2, however, each side mission has its own story, and often its own unique environment to explore – be it a robot assembly line or Ubisoft’s own San Francisco studio. even collectibles are covered within the Watch Dogs 2 fiction. ‘ScoutX’, for example – an app on marcus’s phone that rewards you for seeking out and taking pictures of Bay area landmarks. It’s like Niantic’s real-life Field Trip app mixed with Foursquare, in other words an app that could conceivably exist in our actual reality. and each ‘collectible’ is technically unique, so you’re not just grabbing your hundredth feather

64 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

064_065 Watch Dogs 2 260.indd 64

20/12/2016 11:13


Reviews

from a rooftop, you feel like you’re exploring the city. The result? Instead of feeling like a straightforward story with optional side activities, as in the Ubisoft Formula of old, Watch Dogs 2 feels more like a non-linear narrative. You’ve got a character (Marcus) and an end goal (overthrow the evil Blume corporation), but other than that you’re free to dabble in the story wherever you’d like. We’ve advocated for that style of openworld storytelling in the past, and while we don’t think Watch Dogs 2 makes it all the way – there’s still definitely a central thread to follow – it gets damn close. It made us want to engage. In Assassin’s Creed, we’ve long since given up on grabbing every asinine treasure chest or dumb MacGuffin on my way to the finish line. But in Watch Dogs 2, we’d often see the little ‘ScoutX location nearby’ tag pop up on the GPS, hit the brakes, and jump out to take a picture on the way to my next mission. Sure, there are still issues. The people walking down the street don’t seem particularly smarter than Assassin’s Creed’s mobs – strangle a guy in front of them and half the time they’ll forget to react. Sometimes you’ll see pedestrians act out scenes together, but then you’ll see the same scene repeated later and it loses the magic. There are also still some scattered holdovers from the ‘Let’s just cram everything in’ mentality. A series of race missions are the worst offenders, standard open-world fodder that we should just let die already. Overall though it’s an impressive shift for Ubisoft. In recent years, we’ve thought that Ubisoft’s output feels more like a collection of incredible art assets than a real game – a beautiful city, in other words, brimming with some of the most vapid ‘content’ possible. That’s not the case here. There’s more to Watch Dogs 2 than a sometimesstunning recreation of San Francisco and the surrounding areas. And while this upturning of the Ubisoft formula is in large parts the reason we enjoyed Watch Dogs 2, we’d feel remiss if we didn’t talk briefly about its improvements within the context of the first game: writing a character who matters and making hacking a viable strategy.

The first is pretty selfexplanatory. New protagonist Marcus is simply a hell of a lot more interesting than his predecessor, the Forever-GrumpyAnd-Entirely-Forgettable Aiden Pearce, a character who’s only memorable (get ready for the paradox) because he’s so generic. Watch Dogs 2 ditches the dour, cliché tale of vengeance for a lighthearted power fantasy where the hackers are party-hounds and outcasts fighting ‘The Man’ for reasons that come straight out of a Marxist handbook. It’s pure bubblegum fluff, but at least it remembers not to take itself too seriously – for the most part. There is one embarrassing and hackneyed series of missions in Oakland mid-game, but it’s quickly abandoned and afterward Marcus and co. are right back to stupid jokes and ridiculous slang. As for the hacking, we’re pleased with how it’s changed in the sequel. Functionally, it’s not much different. You’re still jumping camera-tocamera, maybe distracting guards with an incoming phone call or stunning them with a jolt from a convenient electrical panel. But where the original Watch Dogs felt like a shooter in which you occasionally paused to hack something, Watch Dogs 2 makes it much more viable to ghost through entire missions unseen. One of our favourite examples: a mission charged us with blowing up some contraband hidden in a heavily

guarded garage. In most games that would mean shooting our way into the garage, putting explosives on the crates inside, blowing them up, and then jumping into a car to escape my pursuers. And sure, you could play it that way in Watch Dogs 2. Or you could hack a nearby forklift, direct it to pick up a nearby petrol tanker, drive that into the garage, and use your phone to tell it to explode – all without the guards ever realizing you’re there. Then it’s just a leisurely drive away from the scene of the crime, no pursuit, and you’re out. Almost every mission seems to have some sort of creative path towards completion, and the possibilities open up even more once you unlock Marcus’s RC Car and Quadcopter, both of which can be used for scouting or long-range hacking while Marcus sits safely outside the mission area. The hacking is still completely ridiculous and unrealistic, and the guards a bit stupid – what, nobody suspects the guy using his laptop in the woods outside their heavilyguarded compound might be up to something? But it’s a much better proof-of-concept of the whole Watch Dogs idea than the original game.

Verdict We really enjoyed Watch Dogs 2. More than just a pretty backdrop for an average game, Ubisoft has finally broken with its formula and put out something fresh. Hopefully, it’s the first in a new trend. J Hayden Dingman

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 65

064_065 Watch Dogs 2 260.indd 65

20/12/2016 11:13


DVDRW. J David Price

Reviews

Game

Free (£7.99 full game)

Super Mario Run

Contact n

supermariorun.com/en-gb

Specifications

iOS 8.0 or later

Super mario Run is easily one of the most anticipated iPhone and iPad games to date. Nintendo’s game takes the full-fledged Super mario side-scrolling experience that we’ve seen for the past 30plus years and streamlines it for touchscreens and one-handed play.

Modes The game is nominally split into three modes, although the first, World Tour, is sure to dominate your play time, at least at first. World Tour is mario as it would ordinarily be understood: a series of worlds, each divided up into three conventional levels and a Bowzer’s castle boss level to finish up. (In this simple structure SmR harks back to the very earliest mario games.) The second mode, Toad Rally, is a bit more unconventional and social: it involves trying to beat the performances of other players. You’ll be presented with a series of high scores, in effect recorded by real-world players, and if you see one you reckon you can beat, and have a spare ticket to pay for entry (these are acquired in World Tour), you can take it on. You play against a ghost of the player’s performance, ‘as live’ as it were, and try to pick up more coins, impress more Toads and generally outperform your rival in the time allowed. (It’s also possible to play Toad Rally games against actual friends

you know in the real world, as a sort of local multiplayer. This doesn’t cost tickets, but doesn’t earn you rewards either.) The final mode is called Kingdom Builder and is really just a place to go to spend your ill-gotten gains from the other two modes. You gradually build up your own little kingdom, adding decorative elements and new buildings when your acquired resources allow it; some of the new buildings bring with them bonus games and other goodies. This is where impressing Toads in Toad Rally is particularly important: if you impress them, they’ll come and live in your kingdom, and the more Toads you’ve got of each colour, the more other stuff you can unlock.

Gameplay The essence of SmR across both World Tour and Toad Rally, the principle underlying every design decision, is that it is played with one hand. (entertainingly, Shigeru miyamoto says this is to allow players to eat a hamburger at the same time, but it seems more likely to be a decision made with commuter gaming in mind.) Which means it’s an endless, or rather auto runner – albeit nowhere near as limited as that implies. Whereas traditional mario games occupy multiple buttons and both hands at once – the left

hand working the joypad on a Wii controller, for instance, and the right hand controlling one button for jumping and another for running, shooting fireballs, and so on – this game only ever requires one button, and that’s jump. That button is most of the screen. mario is automatically and continuously – with some exceptions we’ll discuss in a moment – propelled at maximum velocity to the right, which instantly removes the need for a joypad, a run button and the rest. (There are no fire flowers in the game, so there’s no need for a button for these; indeed, other than the size-up mushroom there are no power ups at all.) all you need to do is decide when to jump, and how high – a longer press produces a bigger jump. This probably sounds rubbish, barely a game at all. But the surprising thing is how full a game it feels, and how quickly you stop missing the old control method – the one we had drilled into us back in the last millennium. mario has lots of different jump and flip moves, depending on what he’s jumping off or the way you time it, including the ability to slide down vertical blocks and jump off in the opposite direction when you fancy. and the makers have worked hard to populate the game with other mechanisms for stalling, halting or reversing mario’s

66 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

066_067 Super Mario Run 260.indd 66

20/12/2016 10:37


Reviews

progress: stop blocks, backflip blocks, doors on ghost levels, bubbles that take you backward, special wraparound levels where leaving the screen on the right brings you out on the left and your real aim is to progress vertically. The backwards-drifting bubble appears the first two times you die on each level, although you can use up a bubble voluntarily if you miss something vital If we mention there’s a timer that kills you if it runs out, you’ll get an idea of how much control and responsibility you have over Mario’s forward progress. It’s a game about agency just as much as urgency. We think they’ve pitched it just right. Indeed, at the same press event where we first tried out Super Mario Run, we also got to try out the (much more traditionally controlled, and very fun) Mario Maker on the 3DS, and it actually felt a little pedestrian in comparison: with no surging impetus to the right we were able to bimble about and think about everything, rather than the manic hurtling that Mario is all about at its best. Mario really, really works as an auto runner. (We say auto runner rather than endless runner because, in World Tour at least, these are proper levels with a beginning and end, complete with flagpole and little castle. There is a planned arc to each level; you’re not just running until you die, like in a Temple Run clone.) And that initial batch of levels, even though many of them seem fairly easy to complete, offer plenty of replayability. As well as the usual gold coins, there are five pink coins hidden on each level; get them all in a single run-through and you unlock a new version of the level with five purple coins, this time hidden in far more difficult places. Finish the level with all five of those and you unlock the blackcoins level, the hardest of all.

Always-online requirements Since we first played Super Mario Run at Nintendo’s offices (where naturally there was a consistent WiFi connection), it’s become apparent that the game requires an internet connection to play – even for the non-social, single-player World Tour Mode. This appears to be an antipiracy measure. (Yep, piracy, that great scourge of the App Store.)

We tested this out for ourselves and, sure enough, whenever we turned on Airplane Mode, or went through a tunnel on our commuter train, or the office Wi-Fi was just being spotty, we got an error message. If there isn’t a good connection you cannot start up the app; and if you’re in the level select screen and choose a new level, you won’t get anywhere. If you’re in the middle of a level and lose connection you’ll be allowed to finish the level, but at that point the error message will reappear, just before Mario gets his points. (You can die and retry a level several times with no connection. It’s when you try to do something else that it falls down.) Clearly this is a concern. One of the great advantages of SMR’s single-button control method is the fact that you can play it easily while commuting, but this means a wide range of commuters – Tube passengers, and rail passengers going through a tunnel, and anyone travelling through an area with spotty 3G or using a Wi-Fi-only iPad – is out of luck. A significant caveat now hangs over would have been an enthusiastic recommendation of this game.

that on mobile is astonishing. However, the requirement that you have access to an internet connection in order to open and run the app is hugely disappointing. This kind of thing caused annoyance when Diablo 3 came out in 2012, but that was a PC game, so a consistent internet connection was a reasonable expectation. But this is supposed to be a mobile game, and there are numerous situations when you’ll want to play the game but won’t be able to because of this absurd, unnecessary and infuriating ‘feature’ of the game. If it wasn’t for the always-online requirement, this would have been a five-star review – and if you’re going to always play in locations with a secure and consistent connection, and you’re not worried about Nintendo’s servers going down, then you can continue to treat this as a glowing recommendation. But for the rest of us, this is a hugely frustrating fly in an otherwise charming ointment. J David Price

Verdict We went in with an open mind but a degree of scepticism; could Mario be transplanted into a modern mobile game with his soul intact? But the fun we’ve had with Super Mario Run has put most of those fears to bed. It may be free, but the pricing model is fair and non-exploitative (faint praise, perhaps, but by no means assumed in the murky world of in-app purchases). Some may baulk at £7.99 to unlock the full game, but it’s a one-off payment, perfectly good value in our view for a full and beautifully designed game, and you get plenty of opportunity to try out the early levels for free before committing yourself. No one is getting tricked out of their money. And the auto running aspect seems completely natural, thanks to the sheer effort the designers have put into making each level work with the new control method. This is the gold standard of level design we have come to expect from the Mario team over the years. The greatest compliment we can pay the designers is that this just feels like another Mario game. To achieve March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 67

066_067 Super Mario Run 260.indd 67

20/12/2016 10:38


GROUP TEST

NAS

S E V I DR

Benny Har-Even reveals what to look for in a NAS drive and reveals our top picks

N

AS stands for Network Attached Storage and it enables you to have a large amount of storage connected directly to the router, making it available to all your devices. NAS drives are designed to be left on permanently, which means you can access your music, movies, photos and documents without having to make sure a computer is turned on. One of their most popular uses is for media playback, so files can be viewed on your TV, without having to connect a PC. A NAS drive also uses much less power than a regular computer making them much cheaper to run. For ease of setup and use, a dedicated NAS drive is hard to beat.

Capacity It’s vital that you opt for a drive that has enough storage to meet your needs both now and in the future. Plenty of NAS drives come with no disks – these are known as diskless or bare drives. Their advantage is that you can choose the drives you want and how much capacity you need.

68 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

068_077 GT NAS Drives 260.indd 68

You can now get disks up to 10TB in size, though for each disk you’ll be paying at least £400 or so for the privilege. 4TB disks are arguably the sweet spot, at around £120.

Disks for NAS drives When you choose your disks, look for ones that have been designed to work specifically with NAS boxes. NAS‑optimised features include more secure construction providing more resistance to vibration, which makes a lot of sense for a drive

as TLER (Time‑Limited Error Recovery) and by Samsung and Hitachi as command completion time limit (CCTL). This optimises the error correction for drives when they are installed in a RAID array (explained below) as is usually the case with NAS drives.

RAID RAID, stands for redundant array of inexpensive disks. It can be complex, but at a basic level you’ll want to use it primarily to provide redundancy, so if a disk fails your

You can now get disks up to 10TB in size, though for each disk you’ll be paying at least £400 or so for the privilege. 4TB disks are arguably the current sweet spot, at around £120 that’s designed to be on the whole time. They also offer power management, so they can adjust performance based on their temperature. These drives also offer special features in firmware known by WD

data is still safe. There are many variants, but three of the most popular are known as RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 6. Most NAS drives offer at least two bays, which means you can set them up as

TEST CENTRE

15/12/2016 14:50


GROUP TEST

Photography by Dominik Tomaszewski

RAID 1. In this scenario, the second drive is a mirror of the first, so if one drive fails completely all your data is safe on the other. You then can replace the faulty disk and rebuild the RAID array, though this will take several hours. RAID 5 requires at least three drives and offers parity data. That means a RAID 5 array can withstand a single drive failure without losing data or access to it. As data is ‘striped’ across three drives, reads are fast, but at the expense of slower writes because of having to also write the parity data. RAID 6 requires four drives but offers both striped and dual parity, so two drives could fail and the RAID could still recover. Whichever you choose don’t consider RAID to be your only backup. First, you’re relying on the RAID array rebuilding successfully, and while from experience we know that it does work, it is another point of failure. If the box just dies, you’ll still lose all your data. To mitigate this you’ll want another external backup, preferably to the cloud. Most NAS offer native applications

TEST CENTRE

068_077 GT NAS Drives 260.indd 69

for certain providers, but these will require subscription to the service and won’t necessarily be from your preferred one.

Hot swap Another feature to look out for is hot-swap capability, which enables you to take out or add a drive without having to power down first, which could be important if you’re running business applications off your NAS and want to maintain uptime when replacing or adding a drive.

Remote connectivity You should also consider whether you’ll need remote access to the drive. Previously this required signing up to a third-party DNS service, but these days you can just sign up for an account with your NAS manufacturer as you set up the drive. Login to the account and they’ll handle the connectivity to your box at home. If privacy is a concern you many not wish to go down this route, but for ease of use it’s the way to go.

Transcoding It’s also worth considering how powerful you need your NAS’s processor to be. The dedicated OS that NAS drives use are lightweight, but a faster processor and more memory will enable features such as transcoding. This means any media files will be converted on the fly into a playable format, so you don’t have to rely on your client device being able to play them smoothly. For example, HEVC H.265 files are becoming popular due to the small file sizes, but devices that can play them back natively are still uncommon. Transcoding will deal with this for you if your NAS is powerful enough. If, however, you have 4K files and want to play these you’ll need a fast NAS.

Applications Finally, you might want to consider to what use you’ll be putting your NAS to. As well as media a small business owner will want to know what applications it has to offer, such as setting it up as an email server, a VPN server or using it to host a website.

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 69

15/12/2016 14:50


Group test: NAS drives

ASUSTOR AS1004T

£239 inc VAT • asustor.com Storage is a big deal these days, with most people storing much of their movies, music, photos and documents in digital form. As such, Asus has created a brand especially to cater for this market in the form of Asustor. The AS1004T is a four-bay NAS drive compatible with disks up to 10TB in size, enabling you to have up to 40TB of storage, which should be enough for anybody.

Design Removing it from the box we were impressed with its sharp angular design and patterned black finish. We think this gives it a modicum of style, so it won’t stick out like a sore thumb if it’s visible in the home. It’s also quiet in operation, rated at just 19.7dB. This is due to the use of a large 70mm fan, which helps it be a room friendly device. That said, when a Time Machine backup was in progress and the drives were whirring away inside, we measured it peaking at a rather louder 71dB. Don’t backup while watching a quiet movie would be our tip unless you equip it with solid-state drives (SSDs). We also liked the tool-less installation. Thumbscrews are used both to remove the cover and to install the disks inside, so you can get it up and running without needing to a screwdriver. To initialize, the driver you’ll need to install the Control Center software, and we were bemused to see that this was supplied on a CD. This was of little use to us as the laptop we used for testing was bought in the 21st century, so didn’t have an optical drive. The quick start guide told us to go online if we couldn’t use a disk, but we were rather stumped when the web page to download the software only produced a broken link. We had to resort to a search engine to find the file we needed. Once we’d managed to downloaded the file, installation proved straightforward, with the software detecting the drive and launching the install process. If, however, you are using fewer than four disks, make sure you start by installing the first disk in the first bay otherwise the disks will not be detected. We didn’t do this at first, so had to open up the NAS and reinstall the disks. With disks correctly in place, we were given the choice between using the full capacity of both disks or going for RAID 1, giving us backup protection for our data should one drive fail. We went for the latter. Note you can’t hot swap the drives, should you need to replace or install a new one, so there will be downtime to do either. Logging into the AS1004T for the first time and you’re presented with a grid of basic-looking icons arranged in a grid. It’s not as

70 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

068_077 GT NAS Drives 260.indd 70

Build Features Performance Value Overall sophisticated looking as what you’ll find from Synology or QNAP, but in terms of available apps you won’t feel shortchanged. The App Center provides access to a wide range of applications – though you will need to register for an account first before you can gain access. Staples such as an application for downloading P2P files and photo browsing are all available, but it’s also possible to find programs for business functions such as database management, using it to host a WordPress website, or running virtualised operating systems. You can even plug in security cameras, too. It’s also straightforward to configure rights access for different users and create shared folders and Mac users will appreciate being able to set up a Time Machine back up. Multimedia-wise, it comes with a number of mobile apps such as the AIVideo app for iOS. The Marvell processor allowed us to play back an H.265 encoded MKV files on an iPhone 7 Plus flawlessly. However, the same file was not recognised over DLNA using our favourite AVPlayer app for iOS. Our other test files played without issue, though.

Performance With a Marvell rather than Intel processor and only 512MB of RAM, some may have doubts as to the performance of the Asustor, but it delivered for us in our tests. Playback of files over the network and via PS4 was responsive. However, there’s not enough grunt for hardware transcoding on the fly, which meant that there was no way we could play back our H.265 test file. In terms of write performance, we saw a decent 110MB/s using the CrystalDiskMark test for maximizing the throughput of a single Ethernet connection. Read speeds meanwhile only peaked at 82.2MB/s, slower than other NAS drive, which can break 100MB/s.

Verdict We liked the Asustor AS1004T for its ease of installation, it’s relatively quiet operation in normal use and its decent performance. It isn’t fast enough for hardware transcoding though, so you’ll need native support for all your files on all your client devices. Where it trumps the completion is that if offer a four-bay chassis where others at a similar price offer only two. If storage rather than performance is the priority, then it’s a great choice and while the ADM interface isn’t as accomplished looking as some of its rivals it’s got the apps you’ll likely need.

TEST CENTRE

15/12/2016 14:50


Group test: NAS drives

NETGEAR READYNAS RN212

£250 inc VAT • netgear.co.uk Netgear virtually owned the market for NAS drives for the home and small business markets a few years ago, but these days there’s a lot of competition, which is a great thing for consumers. This means that the ReadyNAS needs to be good to stand out. It’s a two-bay diskless drive and at £250 it’s not a bargain basement option as you’ll also have to find funds for disks too. It’s powered by a 1.4GHz ARM Cortex A15 Quad Core processor backed by 2GB of RAM. ARM designed processors are what powers most smartphones, but it’s unusual to see them used in a NAS drive, so we were interested to see how this high-end ARM processor performed. Connectivity wise there are two USB 3.0 ports, one on the front and two at the rear. Also at the rear is a Kensington lock to physical secure the unit. As well as the power button and the indicator lights, there’s a Backup button, for manual backup activation. At the rear are two Gigabit Ethernet ports. Two ports are theoretically useful for increasing performance, but you’ll need compatible hardware, and it will be more hassle than it’s worth for most users to get working. If you are spending this much money you should expect solid construction and that’s what the Netgear provides. The metal housing of the RN212 inspires confidence and its narrow design means it might sneak into areas that other boxes won’t. Netgear says its tool-less drive installation is the easiest in the industry, though that wasn’t the case for us. You should be able to just pop the drive into the tray, but our 8TB test disk hard disks didn’t have a second securing hole, which means removing the inner mechanism and affixing the drives into the bay with old fashioned screws using a screwdriver. It was a bit of faff, but not the end of the world as it should be a one-time job. Just be prepared for it. During installation, we were prompted to set up the Ready Cloud – Netgear’s system for remote access to the drive. However, during installation, it kept throwing up a message that ReadyCloud had ‘lost communication’ with the device, but once we had completed installation we were able to set it from there. It did the job as we could login remotely, enabling us to access the drive and download a movie when we were out of the house. While the likes of QNAP and Synology tend to ape each others operating system designs, the ReadyNAS interface is quite different. Rather than a window system it’s a more simple series of tabs running across the top. The system tab shows the health of your

TEST CENTRE

068_077 GT NAS Drives 260.indd 71

Build Features Performance Value Overall drive, fan and CPU temperature, and shares allows you to create folders and assign them to users. Compared to other rivals we found the number of third-party apps relatively lacking. They aren’t placed into categories with just a single page of app to choose from. There is a decent selection at least, such as an anti-virus, a Dropbox connection, and a native app for backing up to iDrive. You can also use the box as a Mac Time Machine backup. We looked for a BitTorrent client, but our first choice refused to install, which was baffling, our second was too complex for us to quickly get to grips with, while the third was the basic client we were looking for its interface opened in browser tab and wasn’t particularly appealing to use. We also found apps took over the NAS while installing with a dialog box, so you couldn’t do anything else until it was done. Our favourite Plex Media server app was available at least and we set this up to test the Netgear’s media playing capabilities.

Performance We found that the Netgear did a great job playing back all our media test files to a Sony PlayStation 4 via Plex and was able to transcode a 1080p H.265 file to play back smoothly. However, the Netgear couldn’t transcode the files to play back on an Oppo Blu-ray player. We also tried playing back a UHD 4K file, and while Plex attempted to transcode there was not enough horsepower in the Netgear CPU to do so smoothly. We could stream to an iPhone 7 Plus, however, via the AV player app, with the transcoding done by the handset, though it took a while for the file to start playing back. In our CrystalDiskMark test, the drive achieved a peak read speed of 116.9MB/s, nearly maxing out the Gigabit Ethernet connection. The write speed was slower though as 98.42MB/s, so copying to the drive isn’t the fastest we’ve seen.

Verdict The Netgear’s physical design is very impressive, but we were troubled by issues that meant it lacked the appeal of drives we’ve tested from QNAP and Synology. Not all disks can be installed in a tool-less fashion and the interface for installing and using apps isn’t the best we’ve seen, nor is the range of choices. Performance is good, but the ARM processor doesn’t quite have chops to handle 4K transcoding. It’s a good drive, but it would need to be cheaper for us to recommend it over the competition.

February 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 71

15/12/2016 14:50


Group test: NAS drives

QNAP TS-251A

£249 inc VAT • qnap.com/en QNAP is one of the major brands when it comes to network attached storage disks for the home and the TS-251A is another strong proposition. It offers a high-end specification for a home NAS, powered by an Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core processor running at 1.6GHz, with boost speeds up to 2.48GHz. That performance is there for a reason – it claims to offer 4K playback and decoding on the fly, so you can watch high-quality files on your TV smoothly. That power doesn’t come cheaply, though. This model can be picked up online for around £250 but that doesn’t include any hard disks, so you’ll have to purchase those separately. It comes in 2GB or 4G variants – our supplied model was 2GB.

Design At the back are two USB 3.0 ports and two Gigabit Ethernet sockets. There’s also an HDMI port, so you can even hook the QNAP up directly to a TV and watch content direct from the drive on it. And if your network is down for any reason you can also plug in a mouse and keyboard and operate the NAS directly, like you would with a conventional computer. A remote control is supplied, suitable for basic operations. There are two USB 3.0 ports on the front but one of these is an unusual Micro-B connection. This is for hooking up to an external drive, so you can back up or copy content from or to the drive. This seems an unusual option to have, but has been designed so that you can back up your files without having to worry about the network. Bizarrely though, the necessary cable isn’t included in the box, though you can pick one up for a fiver, so it’s not the end of the world. An SD card slot is also available, so you can transfer the photos from your DSLR straight onto the NAS. The drive bays slide out easily, but installation is not tool-less – getting the disks in will require the use of a screwdriver. When you turn on the drive and it’s hooked up via Ethernet, you should, in theory, be able to set it up via a ‘Cloud Installation’ – whereby you scan a QR code with a reader app on your mobile and the drive will be identified and set itself up. This didn’t work smoothly for us as it didn’t detect the drive, so we went with a more traditional approach. We downloaded and installed the QFinder Pro utility to our computer and using this the drive was duly detected and the latest firmware installed. In fact, you’ll need this utility installed to be able to make use of the USB 3.0 Micro-B port on the front for hooking up an external drive.

72 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

068_077 GT NAS Drives 260.indd 72

Build Features Performance Value Overall

Software Once set up, and you’ve logged in to your NAS via a browser, you’ll discover the TS-251A to be powered by one of the most comprehensive NAS operating systems on the market. The simple icon and window based interface is speedy and easy to use. QTS offers a huge range of apps available to install. There are staples such as a Photo Station, Music Station, and a Download Station, from which you can search for P2P files without having to use a PC. There’s also a wealth of choice in the App Center with a wide range of categories, from surveillance apps to software that enables you to run a WordPress site to an email server. There’s also a Video Station app, though this has no support for MKVs, which means it won’t be much use to many. Of all the apps available, the one that interested us most was Plex, the media organisation software. Interestingly, you can run both the Plex Media Server and the Plex client on the same box. It works very well and with the QNAP attached to the TV we were able to browse and play content using the supplied remote control. You can also access it via a Plex client on an Xbox One or PS4. One issue we found was the noise level. Our drive was filled by two Seagate ST8000VN0002 8TB drives set up in RAID one. This proved to be noisier in operation than we would have liked. This could be corrected if we slightly moved the unit. To test performance, we used CrystalDiskMark and with a 1GB sequential test with saw read performance of 111MB/s and write performance of 118.5MB/s – very impressive indeed. You won’t be wanting for performance from this drive. To test the port on the front we hooked up to a MacBook Pro laptop and using BlackMagic Disk Test we saw speeds of 106MB/s write and 107MB/s read – very good indeed.

Verdict The QNAP is an undoubtedly impressive NAS drive. There’s plenty of power for virtually all tasks, and H.265 aside it will handle anything you throw at it. The range of apps is very comprehensive and the interface is excellent. The downside is the lack of support for MKV from its native app, which will mean having to pay for Plex to play files on mobile devices. The unit was also noisier than we would have liked in operation and while it’s good value, it’s not cheap. If you’re willing to stretch to paying this much for a diskless system, the QNAP TS-251A is the best featured NAS drive at the price.

TEST CENTRE

15/12/2016 14:50


Group test: NAS drives

SYNOLOGY DS216+II

£231 inc VAT • synology.com/en-uk Synology is the first company that many people think about when it comes to NAS, so we had high expectations for the DS216+II. It’s a twobay device that supports drives up to 10TB in size, so providing 20TB of storage or 10 B if you use either RAID 1 mirroring or the company’s own Synology Hybrid RAID, which we’d recommend. It’s powered by Celeron N3060, part of a Braswell-based SoC, offering burst speeds up to 2.48GHz. Synology says the DS216+II NAS can support fast transfer speeds even with encrypted data and 4K UHD transcoding on the fly, so it should make for a good solution for work and play. At just over £230, the Synology is decent value, though the QNAP TS-251A is even more so as it features an HDMI out, two Ethernet ports and a USB port you can use to copy files to the drive, while the Asustor AS1004T offers four bays rather than two for less money. Neither can match the Synology’s build, though. The design could be described as classy with a more solid feel than most of the other NAS units we’ve seen. At the front there’s a power button Status and LAN lights and a light to show the presence of activity on the two disks. A curved plastic cover hides the two drive bays. As far installation is concerned we liked the tool-less set up. You push and slide out the mechanism and slot in the disks, which are held in place by plastic pins that affix to the side. Sure, you won’t be installing disks often, but it’s a pleasing touch. The software setup was also equally impressive readying the disks quickly and installing Synology’s DiskStation Manger (DSM) 6.0 software. The remote connect feature was particularly smooth, suggesting we drag a shortcut to the desktop during set up for the Easy Connect link, which provides remote access to the NAS. DSM 6.0 is Synology’s slick and very mature NAS OS. It has detailed, looking icons and a clear layout making it a pleasure to navigate. System Heath and Resource monitor widgets sit by default in the bottom right with the main menu accessible at the top left. The Package Center reveals the huge range of apps available across a wide range of categories for media, such as streaming apps such as Plex and audio and photo apps. There’s also business features such as cloud syncing apps, mail servers and surveillance apps. If you want to use your NAS for something the chances are there’s a Synology app for that. However, it wasn’t until we tried to install an app that we were told we needed to set up our storage. We were a little surprised thinking it was all done at this point, but it turned out that this is where you choose how your disks are configured. With two disks

TEST CENTRE

068_077 GT NAS Drives 260.indd 73

Build Features Performance Value Overall we were going to choose the standard RAID 1, but we then noticed the option for Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). This lets you combine hard drives of different sizes, which was moot for our tests with two 8TB drives, but in this NAS would give your more flexibility in the future for upgrades. Either way we were pleased that the process completed very quickly. Once set up, the drives are pre-populated with Music, Photos and Video share, and USB share option if you have a memory stick in.

Performance Once set up we were keen to test the DS216+II multimedia prowess, so we loaded it with our tests video MKV and MP4 files. Some of these are encoded in H.264, while we also include two HEVC H.265 encoded files, once at 720p and one at 1080p. We installed Plex Media server and tested on a PS4 only to initially find that both files skipped and buffered. This was something of a surprise considering the impressive-looking specs. After some head scratching and investigation we found that video and audio transcoding must be manually enabled in the Media Server app. This simple tick box did the trick and our high quality 1080p H.265 test file played back with no issue on our TV, via both a PS4 and an Oppo Blu-ray player. The files couldn’t be picked for some reason up by our favourite DLNA AVPlayer Media iPhone app but we were placated by the fact that using Synology’s DS Video app on an iPhone 7 Plus we had no problems streaming our files. To test the hardware transcoding, we then switched to some 4K files. A 28.3GB HEVC encoded files would not play on our Oppo and would only play stutteringly on a PS4 via Plex. However, using Synology’s Video Station on PC and DS Vide iOS app, we were able to play it back flawlessly. In use, the Synology always felt snappy and responsive. To get some raw performance numbers we used CrystalDiskMark on a Windows 10 PC and saw peak speeds of 118.3MB/s read and 117.9MB/s write. This is close to the maximum you’ll see from a single Gigabit Ethernet connection, so there are no problems on that front.

Verdict With its fantastically easy installation, setup, app support and general ease of use, the Synology DS216+II is a very solid choice. However, if you like the idea of direct hook up via HDMI you may be swayed by the slightly pricier QNAP TS-251A.

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 73

21/12/2016 14:14


Group test: NAS drives

WD MY CLOUD MIRROR 4TB

£239 inc VAT • wdc.com While many NAS drives, with their need for installing disks and using screwdrivers, have a rather technical feel about them, the WD My Cloud Mirror range is clearly aimed at the consumer. It’s a very compact unit with a pleasingly space age looking shell with curves rather than the harsh angular lines of most NAS. It looks more like WALL-E’s futuristic friend EVE, rather than well, WALL-E. It does, however, have a plastic feel to it and is less sturdy than other units here. It’s a two-bay model and this 4TB models comes pre-populated with two 2TB disks preconfigured as RAID 1, so you get 1.96TB of usable storage capacity, which doesn’t seem that much for a NAS these days. You can buy one with 16TB, but that versions costs over £750. The 6TB version could be the better value option. If a drive does fail, or if you wanted upgrade you can access them simply just by popping the lid off on the top. At the rear, there are two USB 3.0 ports and a simply Gigabit Ethernet port. Make sure your router and your computer have Gigabit Ethernet if you want to ensure you get the maximum speeds you can. There’s also a cable lock port for physically securing the drive and a reset button. Set up was straightforward – you type http://wdmycloud into your browser and from there you create a login password and an account for remote access. With no need to install disks or build the RAID you are up and running very quickly. The main user interface has a rather simplistic look to it, but is designed to be easy to use. The remaining capacity is presented in very large numbers and the range of functions is spread across the top. You still need to click small arrows to view all the options at the top though. This includes the Apps button from where you can install third-party apps by clicking the icons below the list of preinstalled apps. Of these the P2P downloads app was the only one of interest. Oddly, when we first selected the list it appeared blank,

From the user interface, you can easily create new users and extra shared folders and perform backups to another external device 74 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

068_077 GT NAS Drives 260.indd 74

Build Features Performance Value Overall and we had to reboot the device to solve this. Compared to the huge number of options you find from the likes of Synology and QNAP the choices are limited, but you will find essential such as a Plex Media Server and even Dropbox, so you can sync all your files between the web and the drive without having to take up space on your main computer. Standard DLNA is also supported as is an iTunes server. Remote access is possible via a dedicated app. You simply sign into your My Cloud account and then you can access your drives content. As the iPhone doesn’t natively support test files the app could not stream the videos direct to our phone. Instead, we downloaded the whole file and from there could lunch it to our app of choice to play the file. From the user interface, you can easily create new users and extra shared folders and perform backups to another external device. What we really appreciated was that the My Cloud Mirror was quiet in operation, hovering around 50db.

Performance Testing video file playback via PS4 client, Plex worked as advertised, playing our H.264 MKV tests files and an MP4, but it could not transcode our test H.265 encoded files. However, these did stream the files flawlessly to an iPhone 7 Plus and the AV Player app, which handling the decoding without any issues. In our tests, we were more than satisfied with the speeds we say, hitting a read speed of 107- and 115.8MB/s with the CrystalDiskMark, nearly the limit of the Gigabit Ethernet link. Files copied from a USB key to the drive at a peak of 11.1MB/s.

Verdict When it comes to ease of use the WD My Cloud Mirror 4TB is hard to beat. Initial setup is very easy and even sorting our remote access is simple too. For sharing music, movies, photos and documents it works a treat and performance is fine. The downside is that you don’t get the huge range of apps that are available for other brands. However, if you prioritise ease of set up and ease of use, then the WD is worth looking at, and with 4TB of storage included for the price, it’s a great value option.

TEST CENTRE

15/12/2016 14:51


iPad & iPhone User magazine is the essential guide for all things iOS-related download the latest issue today

DIGITAL EDITION ON ANDROID & iOS

tinyurl.com/kg776m8

Every issue is full of the latest app reviews, gaming, tutorials, buying advice & more 075 IPU115 AD.indd 75

15/12/2016 11:15


Group test: NAS drives

Sequential read

Sequential write

Conclusion The Netgear takes a left field approach with its ARM-based CPU and it almost comes off. The non-windowed interface is simple, but it’s not as pleasant to use as app-based ones. While it handles H.265 1080p files, it doesn’t have the power to transcode 4K, so for us, it’s too expensive for what it is. The QNAP was a contender for an award, thanks to its exhaustive feature list. It’s a great NAS and the ability to plug it into a TV or monitor via HDMI and use it as a mini workstation is appealing. What let it down was its noisy operation, and

the fact that it didn’t match the Synology for 4K transcoding. The WD will appeal to anyone who wants a NAS but doesn’t want the hassle of having to install their own hard disks. It’s compact and easy to use, and considering it comes with two disks preinstalled, it’s a bargain, earning itself a Recommended award. If you are willing to install disks, go for the Asustor, which also picks up a recommended award. No, it’s not fast enough for transcoding but it does everything else very well, from set up,

construction, ease of use and quiet operation. What swings it though is that it is a four-bay for the same price as most two bays. The Best Buy award goes to the Synology. On paper, it loses out to the QNAP, but in practice its class shone through, with superbly simple set up, the best-looking OS, the widest range of apps, and the most power under the hood – it was the only one that comfortably transcoded our 4K test files. It’s also quiet in operation and a stylish and well-made box. It’s a winner.

ASUSTOR

NETGEAR

Model name

AS1004T

ReadyNAS 212

Number of bays

4

2

Pre-populated

CPU

1GHz Marvell Armada-385 (dual core)

1.4GHz ARM Cortex A15 (quad core)

Memory

512MB

2GB

Ports

1x USB 3.0 (rear), 1x USB 3.0 (front), 1x Gigabit Ethernet

2x USB 3.0 port (rear), 1x USB 3.0 (front), 1x eSATA, 2x Gigabit Ethernet

Transcoding support

Audio only

1080p

Maximum capacity

40TB

24TB

Dimensions (wxhxd)

164x65x218mm

220x101x142mm

CrystalDiskMark Read (MB/s)

82.2

116.9

CrystalDiskMark Writes (MB/s)

110.4

98.42

£239 (inc VAT)

£250 (inc VAT)

PERFORMANCE

76 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

068_077 GT NAS Drives 260.indd 76

TEST CENTRE

15/12/2016 14:51


Group test: NAS drives

How we test Where NAS units were supplied with disks, these were left in place for testing; diskless drives were fitted with two 8TB Seagate NAS drives (ST8000VN0002). These are 7200rpm SATA 6Gb/s drives and are well-suited to NAS apps. All NAS units were configured to use a RAID 1 array (mirrored), enabling us to test performance in the most common setup.

The only exception was the Synology, which offers the firm’s Hybrid Raid and is the option most users will choose upon setup. We tested on an isolated local gigabit network with a D-Link 890L router, and read/write performance was measured with CrystalDiskMark on a MacBook Pro, using AFP for its improved large-file sequential performance.

Media playback and transcoding performance was assessed using a basket of files, including 4K videos, in various formats, including MKVs and the latest H.265 codec. We streamed these files to a Sony PlayStation 4, Oppo BDP93EU Blu-ray player and an iPhone 7 Plus using several apps including the manufacturers’ own and Plex. J

QNAP

SYNOLOGY

WD

TS-251A

DS216+II

My Cloud Mirror 4TB

2

2

2

1.6GHz (up to 2.48GHz) Intel Celeron N3060 (dual core)

1.6GHz (up to 2.48GHz) Intel Celeron N3060 (dual core)

1.33GHz Marvell Armada-385 (dual core)

2 GB

1 GB

512MB

2x USB 3.0 (rear), 1x HDMI, 1x USB 3.0 (front), 1x Micro-B, 2x Gigabit Ethernet

2x USB 3.0 (rear), 1x USB 2.0 (front), 1x eSATA, 1x Gigabit Ethernet

2x USB 3.0 (rear), 1x Gigabit Ethernet

4K

4K

No

16TB

20TB

20TB

102x169x219 mm

108x165x233.2mm

139.9x170.6x49mm

111

118.3

107.3

118.5

117.9

115.8

£249 (inc VAT)

£231 (inc VAT)

TEST CENTRE

068_077 GT NAS Drives 260.indd 77

£239 (inc VAT)

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 77

15/12/2016 14:51


FEATURE

WINDOWS 10

TROUBLE

Mike Halsey offers some troubleshooting basics if your PC is running into problems f you think back just 10 years or so, we lived in an era where we simply couldn’t rely on our PCs to work consistently for long periods of time. Snarlups and crashes would come with frustrating regularity. And if a PC were used heavily, reinstalls of Windows would usually need to be performed every year, if not more often. Since then, the reliability of Microsoft’s operating system has improved significantly – and it needed to. We’re used to buying tablets and IoT devices, on which the OS is embedded on a chip, not a volatile hard disk, and where simply turning the thing off and on again will fix most problems. Yet, despite our PC’s newfound reliability, problems do still occur. And when they do, they’re probably more frustrating than they were a decade ago. This is for two reasons. First, because we expect things to work, and second because we are using our PCs and computing devices more often and for more things than we used to. When you encounter a problem though, how can you get going again quickly and with as little fuss as possible? Nobody wants to be without his or her PC for days on end while it’s professionally repaired, usually at great cost. Fortunately, as the reliability of

I

Microsoft Windows has increased, so have the number of bundled tools and utilities you can use to fix problems. We’d like to guide you through some of these, so you can learn about what goes wrong, and what the quick solutions might be.

Recovery Drive System Repair Disc We’d like to begin with prevention. All editions of Windows allow you to create recovery media, and you can look for Recovery in the Control Panel to create it. In Windows 8.1 and 10, you can create a USB Flash Recovery Drive with Windows 10 also allowing you to include a full backup copy of the operating system should something go horribly wrong. Windows 7, meanwhile, lets you create a System Repair Disc on a blank CD or DVD. You can use this recovery media to perform a variety of tasks, from Windows’ automatic Startup Repair, which will fix simple and common faults, to System

Restore. System Restore can roll back changes, driver installations or updates that have made the computer unstable. If you have created a full backup image of Windows manually, then the recovery media will allow you to quickly restore it. In Windows 8.1 and 10, the latter of which keeps its own up-to-date backup image on the hard disk, you can reinstall the OS without affecting your files, settings or accounts.

System File Checker Should there be a corruption with a Windows operating system file, you can run the System File Checker from a Command Prompt (Admin) window. Typing SFC /ScanNow will scan the OS for file corruptions, and if you have an up-to-date installation DVD – you can’t use a USB flash drive for this – you can reinstall the files. You can download installation media for Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.

In Windows 8.1 and 10, you can create a USB Flash Recovery Drive with Windows 10 also allowing you to include a full backup copy of the OS should something go horribly wrong

78 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features March 2017

078_081 Windows 10 Tips 260.indd 78

16/12/2016 14:59


FEATURE

FE VER ATURE CO

BEsT WinDoWs 10

Tips

shooTing

Tips Reliability History can be useful to look for patterns in crashes and errors

Reliability history If you’re not sure what’s been going wrong with your PC, you can search for Reliability in the Start Menu to View (the PC’s) Reliability History. This will use red and yellow warning icons to detail crashes and errors. Clicking

one will display information about the problem, and include a Check for a solution link. The Reliability History can be useful to look for patterns in crashes. This way, you’ll be able to see if a particular Windows service or installed application is causing the issue.

Event Viewer If you need more information about a problem, search for the Event Viewer. This will list all errors, warnings and critical events, sorted by the date and time they occurred and by their severity. You can click

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features 79

078_081 Windows 10 Tips 260.indd 79

16/12/2016 14:59


Feature: Windows 10 troubleshooting tips

Event Viewer lists all errors, warnings and critical events, sorted by the date and time they occurred and by their severity

any event to view detailed information. At its most basic, this can include an error code (in the format 0xA1234567), which you can use to search for a solution online. You can also export information about problems, so they can be studied by tech support.

Task Manager, Performance Monitor and Resource Monitor If you’re trying to diagnose a problem as it happens, the Task Manager can be used (in Windows 8.1 and 10) to view detailed metrics of your processor, memory, disk and network activity. This is done through the Performance tab. In the Details tab in all Windows versions you can right-click on any

running application to find out more details about a problem online. The Performance Monitor and Resource Monitor (search for these in the Start Menu) can provide even more fine-grained information about what’s going on with your computer at that moment.

detailing exactly what’s been clicked or changed whenever an action occurs. This can be used to see exactly what someone is doing on his or her PC, and exactly what the resulting error or problem is.

Problem Steps Recorder

You can even provide remote help to another person using the Windows Remote Assistance feature. This needs to be activated on both PCs in the System > Remote Settings options of the Control Panel, and it enables easy remote control of another computer. Windows 10 goes one step further with its Quick Assist feature. If both parties are

If you still don’t know what’s going on, or if you’re trying to assist somebody else who can’t find the technical language to describe the problem they’re facing, the Problem Steps Recorder can be invaluable. Search for PSR in the Start Menu to launch this tool. It records annotated screenshots,

Remote Assistance and Quick Assist

Problem Step Recorder shows annotated screenshots, detailing exactly what’s been clicked or changed whenever an action occurs

80 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features March 2017

078_081 Windows 10 Tips 260.indd 80

16/12/2016 15:00


Feature: Windows 10 troubleshooting tips

Quick Assist goes further than Remote Assistance in permitting PC restarts and live annotations onscreen

using a Microsoft Account to sign into their PCs, Quick Assist goes further than Remote Assistance in permitting PC restarts and live annotations on screen. If you’re assisting users in a corporate environment, then you can get more control with Remote Desktop, in which you’ll have complete control of the PC.

Bootrec /FixMBR will repair the Master Boot Record on the hard disk.

Identifying unknown hardware

If you find that Windows Update won’t download or install anything, then you can reset it. To achieve this, restart the computer and delete the contents of the C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution folder. However, note that any updates you have previously marked as hidden will become available to install again.

Of the problems that are most annoying on PCs, hardware devices that aren’t correctly installed are one of the most frustrating. If a device is listed as ‘unidentified’ you can double-click it, and view the Hardware IDs section of the Details panel to view its VEN_ (Vendor) and DEV_ (Device) codes. A search for these online can reveal what the device is, so you can get the correct driver.

Repairing Windows Startup By far the most frustrating problem, however, is a PC that simply refuses to start into Windows. Using your Recovery Drive or System Rescue Disc, you can open a Command Prompt window. From here, several commands can rebuild the Windows start-up system, and hopefully get you working again. Bootrec /RebuildBCD will rebuild the Boot Configuration Database, in which Windows stores details of installed operating systems, and where it can find them.

Bootrec /FixBoot will write a new boot sector to your hard disk, if your current boot sector is corrupt.

Resetting Windows Update

For everything else Windows Diagnosing and troubleshooting problems with PCs is usually a process of elimination and investigation. Ask yourself whether the problem has occurred before, is anybody else experiencing the problem or a similar one, and are any more of my devices experiencing a problem?

Sometimes network and internet connection problems come down to the PC not being able to get a good enough signal from the router. This could be because an unshielded network cable is being used close to a strong magnetic field, such as a TV. It could be that you just live or work in a building with thick brick or stone walls. Or, it could be that the workmen next door have run their gear through the phone line. Problems with printers can often be caused by a cable being snagged, or by somebody else having filled the print queue and clogged it up. Slow startup or performance could be caused by something as simple as not uninstalling the bloatware that came preinstalled when you purchased the PC, or by having too many applications running at startup. For everything else, there’s always the good old-fashioned fix of turning it off and on again. And if you’re still struggling with Windows and Windows 10 problems after all this, try some of my Windows courses on Pluralsight. They may be just the thing. J

If both parties are using a Microsoft Account to sign into their PCs, Quick Assist goes further than Remote Assistance in permitting PC restarts and live annotations on screen March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features 81

078_081 Windows 10 Tips 260.indd 81

16/12/2016 15:00


FEATURE

WindoWs 10 quick tips:

Get more out of cortana Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana can make your life easier and more efficient – if you know how to really take advantage of it, explains Preston Gralla. icrosoft’s Cortana is one of the major additions to Windows 10, and it’s a winner. Turn it on and the digital assistant alerts you to upcoming meetings; searches your computer and the internet; tells you about the weather, news and sports; and a lot more. To help you get the most out of Cortana, we’ve put together some of our favourite tips, including using it to manage your Google Calendar, identify the music you’re listening to and track packages and flights.

M

Get a direct answer to a question When you ask Cortana a question, it will typically show you the answer via a listing of web links; you then open the search results in your browser. That’s what happened, for example, when we asked, “What was the coldest day of the year in 2015 in London?” That’s a useful but time-consuming process, because you have to browse through the search results, click one and then look for information from the web page that appears. But there are plenty of questions that it can answer directly, without first sending you out to the internet. Instead, you get your answers right in Cortana’s pane. Here is a partial list:

When is [name of holiday]? Cortana knows when bank holidays fall on the calendar. Who is [title of person]? Cortana can tell you who are the CEOs of Microsoft, Google and Apple, as well who is the prime minister of the United Kingdom. What time is it in [place]? Confused about what time it is right now somewhere else in the world? Cortana knows. Convert [currency] to [currency] Want to know the current exchange rates between? Just ask.

How tall is [person]? It knows how tall most famous people are; for example, that Barack Obama is six feet, one inch tall. How long is [movie]? How long is The Godfather? Just ask and Cortana will tell. However, it doesn’t know every movie ever made, so sometimes you’ll need to search the web for an answer.

Connect your accounts to Cortana One way to extend the digital assistant’s usefulness is to connect it to an account: LinkedIn, for example. To get started, click in Cortana’s search box and, when

Define [word] Want a definition for “absquatulate”? Just ask Cortana. Cortana can offer you answers directly without sending you out to the web

82 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features March 2017

082_086 Get More From Cortana 260.indd 82

15/12/2016 10:56


FEATURE

2

the navigation panel appears, click the notebook icon. Select Connected Accounts and you’ll see a list of services you can link to. You’ll also see those to which you don’t belong but can connect to. To link to an account, click it and then the Connect button that appears. Enter your login details and the assistant will do the rest. The benefits you get vary. If you connect it to LinkedIn, for example, it will remind you when you have a meeting and look to see whether any of the attendees also belong to the service. If they do, the digital assistant will look at their LinkedIn profile. You’ll then be able to view a photo, see their job title and the firm they work for. Note that the Office 365 integration is available only if you have a business Office 365 account, not a personal one.

Integrate Cortana with Windows 10 apps If you use Windows 10 apps, you’ll be pleased with some of the tricks Cortana has up its sleeve. You can, for example, use it to find a programme and play it on Netflix or Amazon. (Note that Windows 10 apps are those specifically written for the operating

system, and either come with it or can be downloaded from the Windows Store. They’re not desktop-based programs.) First, you need to find out whether a particular Windows 10 app integrates with Microsoft’s assistant. After downloading the app, click in the Cortana search bar and then the question mark in the left-hand navigation panel. (If you’re using the Anniversary

If you connect it to LinkedIn, for example, it will remind you when you have a meeting and look to see whether any of the attendees are also belong to the service

You can link a variety of accounts to Cortana, enabling it to search for additional data Update, scroll to the ‘Tips & Tricks’ section and click ‘See more tips’.) Scroll to the bottom of the screen that appears and you’ll see a list of the Windows 10 apps on your system that are compatible with Cortana. At the moment, there aren’t that many, but several popular apps do, including Netflix, Fitbit and Uber. For example, if you want to play the TV series Master of None on Netflix, you can type Netflix find Master of None. (Actually, you can type netflix find master of none as Cortana

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features 83

082_086 Get More From Cortana 260.indd 83

15/12/2016 10:56


Feature: Get more out of Cortana

Several popular apps, such as Netflix, integrate with Cortana, allowing you to use voice commands

is case-insensitive.) If you want to use a voice command instead, you can say, “Hey, Cortana, Netflix find Master of None”. Use the same syntax for Amazon – for example, “Amazon find The Grand Tour” if you want to find and play the motoring programme. Other apps integrate with Cortana on Windows 10 Mobile but not on Windows 10 for PCs, including Twitter, LinkedIn and Wikipedia. (You can find out whether a particular mobile app works with Cortana in the same way that you find out if a Windows 10 app will.) Unfortunately, you’ll have to use the precise syntax required for each app – you can’t type or speak using real-life, natural language. And it’s different for each app. For Netflix and Amazon, for example, the syntax is [name of app] find [name of show]. You can’t say, “Play Master of None on Netflix” or even “Netflix play Master of None” and have it work. Hopefully, more Windows 10 apps will integrate with Cortana over time as developers use Microsoft’s API.

Manage your Google Calendar Windows 10 includes a built-in calendar app that works with Cortana. If, however, you’re a Google Calendar user, you can

get the assistant to integrate with that as well, so you can use it to create and edit appointments, and show you your schedule with Google Calendar in the same way as you do with the built-in Windows 10 Calendar app. To do this, you’ll need to integrate your Google Calendar with the Windows 10 Calendar. First, launch the Calendar app. (It’s typically found on the upper left corner of the Start menu. You can also launch it by typing Calendar into Cortana, then clicking the Calendar app icon that appears at the top of search results.) Next, click the Settings icon on the lower left of the Calendar screen – the icon is in the shape of a gear. When the Settings menu appears, select Account >

Add account. From the ‘Choose an account’ screen, pick Google. You’ll be asked to sign in with your Google account information. Follow the onscreen prompts. That’s all it takes. From now on your Google calendar will sync with the Windows 10’s Calendar app. So if, for example, you ask Cortana to create appointment, you’ll be able to fill in the details using the assistant, including the date, time and subject of meeting. It will add the event to the Windows 10 Calendar. To save it to your Google Calendar directly, choose it from the drop-down list just above the Add button. Regardless of which calendar you add an event to, both Google and Windows

You can create an appointment in your Google Calendar using Cortana

84 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features March 2017

082_086 Get More From Cortana 260.indd 84

15/12/2016 10:56


Feature: Get more out of Cortana

Cortana allows you to create reminders based on location

10 Calendar will remain in sync. Also, when you ask to see your schedule – such as by asking “What’s my schedule today?” – Cortana will show you the events from all of your calendars, including Google. One downside is that you can’t add events to sub-calendars on Google Calendar (such as ‘home’ or ‘work’). Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Use Google rather than Bing search with Cortana When you ask Cortana to search the internet, it uses Microsoft’s Bing search engine. If, however, you prefer to use Google instead, you can, with a little bit of work. First, install Chrome and then set it as your default browser. Open the Windows 10 Settings app and select System > Default apps. Click the browser icon and choose

Note that this only happens when you search the internet and not every time you do a search in Cortana. The assistant answers a lot of questions directly without sending you to a web results page, as explained earlier in this article. For example, if you use Cortana to search for ‘weather’ you’ll see the results right in Cortana.

Set and use reminders One of Cortana’s most useful features is the way in which it can remind you about tasks or upcoming events. It’s simple to set a reminder – just say or type remind me. From the screen that appears, fill in the form with the person, place, time or thing that you want to be reminded about. If you prefer, you can bypass the form and just say something such as: “Remind me about my tennis game today at 6pm.”

One of Cortana’s most useful features is the way in which it can remind you about tasks or upcoming events. It’s simple to set a reminder – just say or type remind me Google Chrome from the list that appears. Next, open the browser, go to the Chrome Web Store, search for the Bing2Google extension and install it. From now on, whenever you use Cortana to search the web, that search will be redirected from Bing to Google, and you’ll see your search results in Google. In fact, even if you’re on Bing.com and search for something, it will be done by Google, not Bing. (While we didn’t have any issues with this feature, some have reported that it sometimes gave results from Bing rather than Google.)

Microsoft’s digital assistant can set three general types of reminders: based on location, time and contacts. We’ll start with location. Let’s say that you always want to be reminded to buy a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream when you’re near your favourite supermarket – Waitrose, for example. Say or type remind me to get Cherry Garcia ice cream when I’m at Waitrose. A screen will appear, showing the address of any nearby Waitrose stores, asking you which one to set a reminder for, or whether the reminder should show up

when you’re in any Waitrose. Then, the next time you are there, Cortana will remind you to indulge in your ice cream addiction. Note that if the place isn’t one that Cortana readily recognizes, it will ask you for more information or have you type in the address yourself. You can set reminders in the same way for time and contacts. If you want to be reminded to fill your car with petrol tomorrow morning, for example, you say or type remind me to get petrol tomorrow morning. A screen will pop up asking for more details, such as the exact time and whether it should be a recurring reminder. You can also tell Cortana to remind you to do something when you interact with someone in your contact book. So if you want to remind yourself to ask your friend Lydia about a dinner invitation, say: “Remind me to ask Lydia about a dinner invitation.” A screen pops up asking for the contact’s name if the assistant didn’t recognise it. Then the next time you send or receive an email with that person, you’ll get the reminder. If you have a Windows phone, it will pop up when you talk by phone, also.

Windows 10 Anniversary Update tips Microsoft introduced a few new Cortana features in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. So if you’ve got it, here are a few handy new tricks. Use Cortana on the Lock Screen You can now work with the digital assistant on the Lock screen, which means you won’t even have to log into Windows to use it. To get started, click in the Cortana search bar and click the gear icon that appears

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features 85

082_086 Get More From Cortana 260.indd 85

15/12/2016 10:56


Feature: Get more out of Cortana

Overall, Cortana is smarter in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update because it lets you use natural-language queries – in other words, make requests of it using plain English on the left side of the pop-up menu. This brings up Cortana’s settings. Scroll down to the Lock Screen section and move the slider to On. Look just below that for the setting, ‘Let Cortana access my calendar, email, messages and Power BI data when my device is locked’. Switch that on as well. If you don’t, the assistant will be limited in what it can do for you from the lock screen – you’ll be able to listen to music and find out the weather from the lock screen, but you won’t be able to set reminders, send emails or add events to your calendar. From now on whenever you want to use Cortana from the Lock screen, simply say “Hey Cortana” and use it from the Lock screen as you normally would, to set reminders, play music, check your calendar and more without logging into Windows. Use natural-language queries Overall, Cortana is a bit smarter in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update because it lets you use natural-language queries – in other words, make requests of it using plain English (or whatever your language is), rather than having to use specific words.

For example, to send an email to a contact, you can now say “Send an email to Jane Doe”. The assistant will look through your contacts, find the person to whom you want to send the email, and then let you fill out a form onscreen to create and send the email without having to go into a mail app. If you’ve linked your Outlook account to another, such as a Gmail, it will look through that as well. And if it finds multiple matches for the person’s name, it will ask you which address you want to send the mail to. Check your calendar for Cortana-created information In the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Cortana will automatically add events to your calendar based on emails you were sent – for example, it will add airline flight information to your calendar if you receive a flight confirmation via email. Keep in mind, though, that it only does this with mail sent to your Outlook.com account. Miscellaneous cool stuff There are a variety of other useful and/ or fun things that Cortana can do for you.

Cortana will automatically add events to your calendar based on emails you were sent – for example, it will add airline flight information to your calendar based on emails you were sent

This setting lets you use Cortana on the lock screen in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update A couple of our favourites: you can track packages or flights by typing or saying the flight number or package tracking number. You can identify a piece of music by asking “What is this song?” and holding your phone up to the audio source. Cortana will listen to the music using the phone’s microphone and (hopefully) tell you the name of the song. To find out other things that Cortana can do, type or say Help Me and you’ll get a long list of other Cortana features. Click anything on the list – “Play music,” for example – and the personal assistant will do your bidding. J

There are a variety of other useful services Cortana can perform, such as tracking flights

86 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features March 2017

082_086 Get More From Cortana 260.indd 86

15/12/2016 10:56


Feature: Linux terminal commands

5 terminal commands every

Linux newbie should know

Sometimes you’ll need to use the terminal, but it’s not as scary as you think, reveals Alex Campbell e’re big fans of the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. One of the quotes from it that stands out in my head is, “Man fears the darkness, and so he scrapes away at the edges of it with fire.” For newcomers to the world of Linux, the black screen of the terminal can seem like a deep, foreboding darkness, which is desperately replaced by a GUI whenever possible. It doesn’t have to be that way. A graphical user interface makes modern computing more enjoyable and easier to use

W

1

the majority of the time. After all, placing an Amazon order using a text-mode browser in a terminal sounds like an over-enthusiastic exercise in masochism. We like our GUIs and graphical browsers, but there are times when you’ll find yourself in the world of the command line. Like any new tool, knowing a few basics can keep your blood pressure in check when a GUI fails to start, or you need to perform maintenance. Here are five commands you should become comfortable with as a Linux user.

SUDO

If there is one command that should be treated with equal parts certainty and respect, it’s sudo. Sudo’s effect is simple: it runs any command that follows it with superuser (or root) privileges. Running commands with sudo is necessary when doing things such as updating the system or changing configuration files.

If you’re looking to edit or change any file that’s outside of your user’s home directory, there’s a good chance you’ll have to use sudo to do it. To be able to use sudo, your user needs to be in the sudoers file or part of a superuser group (usually ‘wheel’ or ‘sudo’). Ubuntu offers a great guide on the sudoers file. Since sudo carries so much power, it goes without saying that you should not type it before a command if you don’t know what the command does. There’s an old prank online that instructs newbies to type sudo rm -R /. (Don’t do this.) The command recursively deletes every file on your system, and your operating system will happily do it without further prompting. As the lecture file says, when using sudo, “think before you type”.

Since /mnt is owned by root, you have to use sudo to create a directory in /mnt Sudo also gives the user the power to destroy a system or violate the privacy of other users. This is why you’ll see the following lecture the first time you use sudo on a system: We trust you have received the usual lecture from the local System Administrator. It usually boils down to these three things: 1) Respect the privacy of others. 2) Think before you type. 3) With great power comes great responsibility.

A look at a typical sudoers file, where the groups that allow root access are specified. It is very unwise to allow sudo access to a user or group without requiring a password

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features 87

087_089 Linux Commands 260.indd 87

15/12/2016 11:04


Feature: Linux terminal commands

2

Your package manager tools (Yum, apt, or pacman)

The number one reason you’ll be using sudo is to add or remove programs from your PC via your package manager. Although the three major package managers we mention here all differ in their respective command arguments and grammar, they are all capable of the same three basic functions: installing a package, removing a package, and upgrading all the packages on the system. (Note: Unless you’re logged in as root, you will need to prepend these commands with sudo.)

Upgrade the system:

yum update

apt (Debian/Ubuntu/Mint) Install a package:

apt install <package> Remove a package:

apt remove <package> Upgrade system:

apt update apt upgrade

pacman (Arch/Manjaro) Install a package:

pacman -s <package> Remove a package:

pacman -r <package> A system upgrade using pacman on Arch Linux. Note the use of sudo before the pacman command

yum (Red Hat/Fedora/CentOS) Install a package:

yum install <package>

Upgrade the system:

pacman -syu All of these package managers have many more features than what we’ve listed here, but these three functions are what you’ll use most of the time. Whatever Linux distribution you choose, you should be comfortable with the package manager, and know where to find its documentation.

Remove a package:

yum remove <package>

3

sYstemctl (sYstemd)

For a long time, background programs called daemons were started using a series of scripts called initscripts. For newcomers, initscripts were hard to read and interpret or change. More recently, initscripts have been replaced by a service management application called Systemd. If you’re running a recent Linux distribution, there’s a good chance that Systemd is starting the services you need. One of the chief complaints about Systemd is that it can do too much. (Unix programs usually aim to do one thing, and one thing very well.) However, there are five keywords you should consider with systemd. To start a service, simply use the start keyword:

Disabling and re-enabling the NetworkManager service to run at boot time

systemctl start <service name> To enable the service at boot, you can use the enable keyword: Similarly, you can restart a service if it has failed or if its configuration has changed:

systemctl restart <service name>

systemctl enable <service name> To disable a service to keep it from starting at boot:

systemctl disable <service name> To stop a service, use stop:

systemctl stop <service name>

88 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features March 2017

087_089 Linux Commands 260.indd 88

15/12/2016 11:04


Feature: Linux terminal commands

4

Is

The ls command is simple and straightforward, but it is more useful than one might think. By default, it lists the files and folders in the current working directory (usually the user’s home). You can find the contents of a given path, too. So what makes this Linuxy-version of the Windows dir so useful? Well, for one you can look in subdirectories for configuration files. It’s also helpful for looking for file names in an environment without a GUI. Since Linux filenames and commands are case-sensitive, it’s handy to know exactly how something is spelled. In short, think of ls as your scout that you can use to peek around the system.

There are several options to ls, but the most common to use is -l, which shows file permissions and ownership

5

Man

Sometimes you need help. Sometimes you need help and you don’t have access to the internet. Those are dark times. In those situations, man can save your bacon. The command man is short for manual, and provides ‘online’ (stored on your computer) access to command documentation. If you need reminding about what chmod does, you can simply type man chmod into your terminal to read about the command. You can scroll up and down in the man page by using the arrow keys or PgUp and PgDn keys. When you’ve finished, hit Q to quit. Though man can be useful when an internet connection isn’t available, Google is a better resources when you are online. It’s worth noting that the first few Google results you’ll get for a given command such as chmod will be a web version of the man page. The manual page for ls

Wrapping up There are many, many more commands to learn, but dipping your toes into the world of text-mode commands can help you understand your system better and make it a bit less scary. While there are lots of ways to accomplish things in a graphical desktop, console commands are still the fastest way to update your system. Console commands also have the added benefit of showing errors when things go wrong.

That means when an update fails, you can generally tell if something was wrong with the package, or if you simply didn’t have an internet connection. With a bit of practice, anyone can start banging out terminal commands with confidence and the skilful use of sudo. For more information on Linux commands, there is a great cheat sheet at Pixelbeat.org. J

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features 89

087_089 Linux Commands 260.indd 89

15/12/2016 11:04


FEATURE

33 encryption tools for Linux that will keep your data safe Alex Campbell reveals why everyone benefits from keeping data safe from prying eyes ncryption is an interesting thing. The first time this writer saw encryption in action was on a colleague’s Gentoo Linux laptop that could boot only if the USB key with the boot partition and decryption key was inserted. Interesting stuff, from a geek point of view. Fast forward, and revelations from Edward Snowden and ongoing concerns about government snooping are slowly bringing encryption and privacy tools into the mainstream. Even if you’re not worried about a Big Brother or some shady spy-versusspy scenario, encryption can still protect your identity and privacy if your laptop is stolen. Think of all the things we keep on our laptops: contact information, financial details, and client and company data. All of that is worthy of protection. Luckily, Linux users have access to several tools for free. There are three main methods for protecting the data on your laptop, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

E

1 OpenPGP and email encryption Using Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption to protect email isn’t anything new. While the original PGP implementation is proprietary, the OpenPGP specification was written in 1997. OpenPGP uses publickey cryptography, which means every keypair comes with a private and public key. You use a private key (that you keep secret) to unlock and sign files, while a public key (that you give to people) can be used to encrypt files to you and verify files you’ve signed. In the context of email, your plaintext email is encrypted with a public key into either a file or ASCII cyphertext (which looks random to people and machines) that can only be read by someone with the matching private key. In basic terms, this means that the email is encrypted before it leaves your PC, so no amount of snooping on the email server you’re using will allow someone to see the contents of the file.

This is known as end-to-end encryption. (Metadata, such as the subject line, recipients, and time sent are all left in plaintext, though.) The most widely used implementation of this standard (as far as Linux users are concerned) is GNU Privacy Guard (tinyurl.com/LL78vuc). Most modern Linux distributions come with GnuPG preinstalled. If it isn’t, it can be easily found using your distribution’s package manager, usually with the name gpg. While you can use GPG on the command line, it’s often easier to create and manage keys using a GUI program. The GnuPG team provides the GNU Privacy Assistant (tinyurl.com/jfr5c3m) GUI to create and manage keys. If you prefer a KDE-compatible interface, you can install Kleopatra, while GNOME 3 users might

prefer GNOME’s Seahorse. GnuPG is also available for Windows using GPG4Win, which provides Windows versions of both Kleopatra and GPA. Before you can encrypt files or email with OpenPGP, you’ll need to create your first keypair. When you create your key you’ll need to provide (at least) a name and email address to help identify the key. You’ll also need to provide a key strength. While a 2048-bit key is considered pretty safe, a 4096-bit key will provide more protection, though at the expense of slightly longer times for key creation, encryption, and decryption. How you set up GnuPG for use with your email will vary depending on the client you use. If you use Mozilla’s Thunderbird, you’ll need to install the Enigmail extension (tinyurl.com/zsussLe). Both KDE’s KMail and GNOME’s Evolution support OpenPGP natively. KDE’s online documentation provides a manual for GPG integration with KMail (tinyurl.com/j728d5h), and Fedora has a great how-to for Evolution (tinyurl.com/ckzf9rw). There are a few browser plugins such as Mailvelope (which offers add-ons for both Chromium/Chrome and Firefox) that work pretty well for those who prefer webmail (tinyurl.com/bozjz8r). GnuPG provides a great in-depth online manual on how OpenPGP works and how to use the GnuPG tools (tinyurl.com/6dktac).

2 Encrypted containers

Not everything you want to keep secret or secure is a text file or email. To secure groups of files, some people prefer to use encrypted containers. Containers are handy because they’re portable. In its simplest form, a container is

To create a GnuPG keypair using the command line, use gpg —gen-key

90 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features March 2017

090_091 Linux Encryption 260.indd 90

15/12/2016 11:08


FEATURE A partition tree viewed with lsblk. Note that the encrypted partition / dev/sda3 is host to the LVM partitions that are mounted to the root directory (/) and swap, while the boot partition (/dev/sda2) is unencrypted

a lot like a zip file that’s encrypted. That file can be in your home folder, copied to a USB drive, stored in the cloud, or put anywhere else that’s convenient. The most basic container can be a zip or gzipped tar file (.tar.gz) that you encrypt using OpenPGP. The downside to such a simple container is that you have to delete the plaintext (decrypted) file once you’re finished with it. If you have to modify or add files in the archive, you basically have to delete the old file and encrypt a new one. A simpler and more secure way to handle containers is to use VeraCrypt (the successor to TrueCrypt). VeraCrypt is capable of creating encrypted containers of fixed size, which can help obscure the size of the files in the container. There’s a good tutorial on VeraCrypt’s website that explains how to create such a container (tinyurl.com/ldqbj3p). The good thing about using a VeraCrypt container is that you can access its contents using VeraCrypt on both Windows and linux. Finally, there’s a tool called Tomb. Tomb is little more than a script, but it makes creating and managing containers and keys for dm-crypt really easy. The dm-crypt

utility is standard to linux and is its built-in disk encryption engine (I’ll get to more on that in a bit), but it can also be used to create containers. Tomb’s usage is quite simple, and the project website offers useful guidance (tinyurl.com/ldywgf8).

3 Whole-disk encryption

Sometimes, it can be easier to encrypt everything on your system. That way, there’s little need to worry (for the most part) about what files are stored where. Everything is protected, so long as your PC is off. Windows users may recall that VeraCrypt (or TrueCrypt) can encrypt drive partitions and entire disks. This can be done on linux as well, but most users will likely prefer to use linux’s built-in disk encryption tool, dm-crypt. By itself, dm-crypt and its tool cryptsetup are very basic and can be a little cumbersome, since dm-crypt can only use a single key. Most people prefer to use linux Unified Key Setup (lUKS) to manage keys for an encrypted device, which allows up to eight keys to be used with dm-crypt, such that any one key or passphrase supplied can unlock the drive. When using dm-crypt

to encrypt a drive, a passphrase must be entered at boot time to unlock it. We should also note that lUKS and dm-crypt are the underlying programs that Tomb uses to work its magic. Setting up dm-crypt, lUKS, and optionally lVM (logical partitions) can be a messy task for a newbie. For users who feel up to the task, the Arch linux Wiki has a great guide on using lUKS and dm-crypt to encrypt a system (tinyurl.com/zubfxpw). For those less inclined to get down and dirty with terminal commands, there’s an option to use lVM and lUKS drive encryption when you install Ubuntu or Debian. There are a couple pitfalls when using whole-disk encryption. First, the boot partition (/boot) is usually left unencrypted, since the system has to boot to an initial ramdisk to get itself going. The system can’t do that if the ramdisk and boot partition are unreadable. (You actually can encrypt the boot partition, but it takes extra steps and is a bit more tricky.) The consequence of this is that it if someone got their hands on your PC, they could theoretically install a modified kernel that could harvest your passphrase. It’s an unlikely scenario, but technically possible. This can be circumvented by placing your boot partition on a USB thumb drive that you keep separate from the system. The minute you turn on your PC and unlock the disk, files on the system can be read as though it weren’t encrypted at all. If your laptop is stolen and you don’t have a screen lock enabled, someone could simply compromise your system as long as it has power (which is very similar to device encryption on an Android phone). Finally, SSDs present special problems because of the way they allocate and clear (or don’t clear) cells. You can still use an SSD with disk encryption, but extra steps should be taken when preparing the drive. Even with a few pitfalls, we consider using disk encryption on laptops to be good practice. While encrypting desktops is less common because they are stolen less often, everyone has seen someone leave a laptop at a coffee shop or on a seat on a train. We rest a little easier knowing that if our laptop is ever taken, we’re only losing a device, not our privacy along with it. J Setting up a container and key using Tomb is really easy, if you’re comfortable with the command line

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features 91

090_091 Linux Encryption 260.indd 91

15/12/2016 11:08


FEATURE

Best bookmark managers for Google Chrome Tidy Bookmarks and Popup My Bookmarks among the bookmark managers on offer. Howard Wen reports ecently, while going through our bookmarks in Chrome to determine which ones we wanted to keep, this reviewer accidentally deleted all of them. Rather than panic, we felt an odd sense of relief after realising we had collected several hundred of bookmarks over the years, and that managing them was difficult. So we thought it was a good opportunity to discover which alternatives are available beyond Chrome’s default bookmark manager, and Google’s optional extension for Chrome, Bookmark Extension. Both options open a tab and present you with a user interface inside it for you to manage your bookmarks. But we wanted a manager that works without having to open up a tab. There are several, and they generally work like this: you, click an icon on the extensions toolbar (located to the right of the URL box), which pops open a panel that lists your bookmarks and bookmark folders. Right-clicking on a bookmark’s name opens a small menu, which lists choices to edit the bookmark’s name or URL, or to delete it. So which one of the seven that we tested is the best overall? Despite some misgivings about the smoothness of their user interfaces, our favourite is Tidy Bookmarks, with Popup my Bookmarks coming in second. Both utilise a panel that expands to the left to list your bookmarks inside a folder, which we found

R

1

necessary in order to effectively drag-anddrop bookmarks among folders. Popup my Bookmarks has a few more features, but its UI felt more unstable while running on either the 32- or 64-bit versions

of Chrome on two different Windows 10 notebooks. According to its listing in the Chrome Web Store, though, it’s far more popular than Tidy Bookmarks, so maybe your experience will be better.

Bookmarkie A search box is located along the top of Bookmarkie’s panel, which you can use to find a bookmark by entering keywords. Click a folder and a list of the bookmarks you’ve stored under it expands downward. Bookmarks can be moved to another folder or spot on a list by dragging and dropping them. Managing your bookmarks through this user interface works well enough, but becomes difficult when you’re having to drag a bookmark vertically through a long, scrolling list of bookmarks and bookmark folders. (We found this was the same problem with the other pop-up bookmark managers we tested that used only a single column layout to present your bookmark folders and the bookmarks contained within them.) There’s no option to sort your bookmark listings by alphabetical order.

92 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features March 2017

092_094 Best Chrome Bookmarks 260.indd 92

15/12/2016 10:50


FEATURE

2

Bookmarks menu Move the cursor over a bookmark folder and another panel automatically opens to the left, which lists your bookmarks that are stored inside that folder. You can reorder bookmarks by alphabetical order. But you cannot drag-and-drop a bookmark to another folder. This extension doesn’t allow you to delete folders, and it lacks a search function.

3

Chromarks Clicking a folder opens a list of all the bookmarks inside it, which branches down. A bookmark can be dragged and dropped from one folder to another, but can’t be moved to another spot on a list. You can sort the order of your bookmarks alphabetically or by date, but this can only be done through the extension’s options settings. The top of the Chromarks panel has a search box.

4

minimal Bookmarks tree Click a folder and the bookmarks saved inside it scroll down in an animated effect. You can drag-and-drop a bookmark from one folder to another, or move it to a new spot on the list, though there’s no option to organise your bookmarks in alphabetical order. This pop-up bookmarks manager doesn’t include a search tool. While the animation of the list of bookmarks scrolling down looks appealing, it became unnecessary eye candy whenever we simply wanted to get through deleting, editing or rearranging our bookmarks as quickly as possible. You can adjust the speed of this effect or turn it off.

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features 93

092_094 Best Chrome Bookmarks 260.indd 93

15/12/2016 10:51


Feature: Best bookmark managers for Google Chrome

5

PoPuP my bookmarks Similar to the way the Bookmarks Menu extension works, hovering the cursor over a folder will cause the panel to expand toward the left to show the bookmarks inside the folder. There’s a search box at the top of the panel. Bookmarks can be sorted alphabetically or dragged from a folder and dropped into another, or to another place within a list. This extension includes some other maintenance tasks that the others lack, such as adding a horizontal line separator to your bookmark lists. Everything sounds good, but the responsiveness of the UI of this extension came across as a little unreliable – it didn’t perform as smoothly as the other pop-up bookmark managers in this feature, occasionally jamming up.

6

Tidy bookmarks When you hover the mouse cursor over a bookmark folder, the Tidy Bookmarks panel expands to the left to list the bookmarks saved inside the folder. You can also manually adjust the panel’s width by clicking-and-holding onto its left border and dragging it side-to-side. When you open a folder, the top of the panel then shows the nested path of the folder as a series of buttons representing any folders that are containing it; you can jump to a folder in this hierarchy by clicking the button with its name. There’s a search box at the top of the panel, but it goes away when you hover the mouse cursor over a folder. The drag-and-drop functionality lets you move bookmarks to another folder, or spot on a list, and this extension can sort your bookmarks alphabetically. This extension was a little jumpy whenever we would open it and click on a folder for the first time – the panel that appears to the left, to show your bookmarks inside a folder, slides out erratically as an animated effect.

7

Vbookmarks VBookmarks is a continuation of Neater Bookmarks, which hasn’t been updated since November 2014. Clicking a folder will list the bookmarks contained inside it, which expands down. Like Tiny Bookmarks, you can adjust the width of this extension’s panel by clicking-and-holding onto its left border and dragging it horizontally. Like Popup my Bookmarks, you can add a line separator to your bookmark lists. A search box is situated at the top of the panel. There’s no option to alphabetize bookmark names, but you can drag-and-drop a bookmark from one folder to another, as well as move a bookmark to another spot on a list. J

94 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features March 2017

092_094 Best Chrome Bookmarks 260.indd 94

15/12/2016 10:51


Macworld magazine is the essential guide for all things Mac-related download the latest issue today

DIGITAL EDITION ON ANDROID & iOS

tinyurl.com/kg776m8

Every issue is full of the latest news, reviews, features, tutorials, buying advice & more 095 MWJAN17 AD.indd 95

15/12/2016 10:52


FEATURE

9 Free ways

To get the most out OF

Google’s

Play music

APP

ubscribe now’ blares the banner at the bottom of Google’s Play Music control panel, and indeed, everything about the just-revamped app seems to be singing the praises of its subscription streaming service, particularly the new auto-generated radio stations that sit in Play Music’s Home tab. But even if you don’t want to cough up £9.99 per month to play a streaming shuffle on your phone (£14.99 for a family subscription), there’s still plenty of free stuff to like in Google’s Play Music app for Android and iOS. For example, you can bring pretty much your entire music collection wherever you go once you upload your tunes and create and save ‘instant mixes’ based on any of your songs. There’s also an offline mode and bandwidth settings to keep you from blowing through your mobile data, an equalizer for teasing the best sound out of your headphones, and even a sleep timer so you can doze off to your most soothing playlist.

S

Even if you don’t pay for Play Music, you can still upload your music collection, create and save ‘instant mixes’, tweak your equalizer levels, set a sleep timer, and more. Ben Patterson reports

Google offers a downloadable ‘Music Manager’ tool that will upload music from your PC or Mac to your Play Music account, or you can drag-and-drop music files into the Upload window of Play Music for Chrome. Google’s Music Manager tool does its best to ‘scan and match’ your tunes with existing tracks in the cloud, but it will end up uploading many of your songs, a process that could take hours or even days depending on the speed of your broadband connection and the size of your music collection. Once you’re done with all the uploads, though, your music will be available for

streaming or download in the Play Music app for iOS and Android, and even on Play Music in a web browser – and best of all, Google will let you upload up to 50,000 tracks for free. Note: Any music you’ve previously purchased from the Google Play Music store will already be sitting in your online music library, and they won’t count against your free 50,000 song uploads.

Create and save an ‘instant mix’ Sure, the free version of Google Play Music will let you listen to streaming radio stations, but you’ll have to deal with some ads and

Upload your music collection One of the most powerful features of Play Music – namely, its ability to stream your music collection to your Android or iOS device – demands a lengthy, tedious chore on your desktop PC, but the results are worth the time and effort.

You can upload up to 50,000 tracks to Google Play Music for free

96 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features March 2017

096_099 Google's Play Music 260.indd 96

15/12/2016 11:13


FEATURE

2

limits to how often you can skip tracks, and downloading a station for offline listening is out of the question. If your music collection is in the cloud, though, you can create ‘instant mixes’ of your tracks based on your favourite songs, albums, and artists, and then save and download those mixes to your Android or iOS device. Just go to any song, album or artist in your music library, tap the three-dot menu button, and select Start instant mix. When you do, Play Music will generate a mix and start playing the first tune. Tap the

Tap ‘Start instant mix’ to create a mix of tunes based on a specific song, album, or artist

mini-player at the bottom of the screen, tap the three-dot menu button again, tap Save queue, then save the songs in the queue to a new playlist. Next, navigate back to the main Music Library screen, tap the Playlists tab, tap the three-dot menu button on the playlist you just created, then tap Download to save your mix for offline listening.

Switch to offline mode Once you’ve saved a few instant mixes to your device, you’ll be ready to tee them

up wherever you are, even if you’re offline – and indeed, if you’re intent on burning as little mobile data as possible while listening to your tunes on the go, your best bet is to switch the Play Music app to offline mode. Tap the main menu button in the topleft corner of the screen, then toggle on the Downloaded only setting. Once you do, Play Music will only drop the needle on tracks that are already downloaded on your Android or iOS device, perfect for listening on the train or keeping your mobile data use in check.

Google Play Music’s offline mode lets you listen to downloaded tracks when you’re out of range of cellular or Wi-Fi, or simply to cut down on your mobile data use

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features 97

096_099 Google's Play Music 260.indd 97

15/12/2016 11:13


Feature: Google’s Play Music app

You can get your music to sound just right with a little help from Play Music’s equalizer settings

Google Play Music’s offline mode lets you listen to downloaded tracks when you’re out of range of cellular or Wi-Fi, or simply to cut down on your mobile data use

Use as little mobile data as possible Let’s say that you’re out and about and you’re itching to play an album that you forgot to download in advance. With the right settings enabled, you can still stream your music without taking too big a bite out of your mobile data allowance. Tap the main menu button in the top-left corner of the screen, tap Settings, then scroll down and tap Mobile networks stream quality. Now, pick a setting. Low uses the least amount of cellular bandwidth but leaves your music sounding muddier than you might like. Normal strikes a decent balance between sound quality and mobile data use, while High spares no expense when it comes to delivering crystal-clear sound quality.

Tweak your equalizer settings When it comes to audio quality, you can make your own adjustment to how your tracks sound by adjusting the Play Music’s equalizer levels, though only in you have an Android device. If you own an iOS handset you’ll be unable to access this feature. Tap the main menu button, then tap Settings > Equalizer, and toggle on the main Equalizer switch. The drop-down menu in the top corner of the screen lets you choose from 11 equalizer presets, ranging from Normal and Classical to Hip-Hop and Jazz, or you can pick User to mess with the quintet of EQ sliders.

Below the main equalizer settings are a couple more audio settings: one for Bass Boost and another for Surround sound, handy for giving Play Music’s audio some extra punch and presence. Note: If the Bass Boost and Surround sound sliders are greyed out, try plugging in a pair of headphones.

Tinker with your music queue Just like the Music app on iOS, Play Music has a queue of ‘up next’ songs – in other words, a list of all the songs that are queued up depending on the album, playlist or artist you’re playing.

You can change the order of songs in your music queue by dragging the little handles to the left, or just swipe a track away to take it off the list

98 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features March 2017

096_099 Google's Play Music 260.indd 98

15/12/2016 11:14


Feature: Google’s Play Music app

You’ll never be caught without something to listen to thanks to Play Music’s ‘cached music’ playlist

Back on the main menu, tap Home – and when you do, you’ll find a ‘cached music’ playlist, all downloaded and waiting for you. If you’re short on storage space and you actually don’t want Play Music automatically downloading any music, tap the main menu button, tap Settings, then toggle off the Cache music while streaming setting (or Cache during playback on iOS). You’ll lose your cached‑music playlist, but at least you’ll conserve precious storage space on your handset.

Clear out old cached data and downloads

When you are playing a track, tap the mini‑player at the bottom of the display to zoom it to full‑screen view, then tap the queue button (the one with three lines and a little music note icon) in the top‑right corner of the screen. Now that you can see your music queue, time to tinker. First, tap and drag a handle next to a song to shuffle its position in the queue, or swipe away the song to nix it from the queue. To jump any song, album or artist in your music library to the front of the queue, tap the three‑dot menu button next to its title and tap Play next – or, if you want

your selection to play after everything else in your queue, tap Add to queue instead.

Check out your ‘cached’ music One of the tricks that Play Music has up its sleeves is the ability to automatically download a playlist of your recently played songs. If you ever get caught offline without having downloaded any music manually, you can count on your cached music to tide you over. First, make sure you’re in offline mode: Tap the main menu button, then toggle on the Downloads only switch.

Running out of storage space? There’s an easy way to instantly zap all of Play Music’s downloaded tunes, along with any auto‑downloaded ‘cached’ music. Head to the main menu, then tap Settings > Clear cache. That’s a move that could instantly free up hundreds of megabytes of storage, depending on the size of your ‘cached music’ playlist. Next, tap Manage downloads. You’ll jump to a screen that shows all the downloaded music and podcasts on your device. Just tap the little orange buttons next to each track, album or artist to instantly wipe them.

Fall asleep to your tunes There’s nothing like a mix of mellow tunes to help you doze off, and Play Music has a feature that’ll help you get some sleep without playing your music on all night. J

Google Play Music’s sleep timer can help you snooze to your most soothing tunes. Tap the main menu button, tap Settings > Sleep Timer, then select how many hours and minutes you’d like to snooze to

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features 99

096_099 Google's Play Music 260.indd 99

15/12/2016 11:14


FEATURE

8 Android gestures that speed up everyday tasks Ben Patterson shows how to cycle through Chrome tabs, go 3D with Maps, launch the camera and more avigating your way around a new Android device will get a lot easier once you’ve mastered a few handy touchscreen gestures. For example, you can switch between Chrome tabs with a single swipe, while a two-finger swipe will add a whole new perspective to Google Maps. No sign of the virtual Home button? There’s a gesture that’ll bring it back. Read on for all that and more.

N

1. A quicker way to get to your Quick Settings When you swipe down from the top of the screen on your unlocked Android device, you’ll see a small row of buttons sitting at the top of your various notifications (or in the very top corner of the screen, on preNougat handsets). These are your so-called ‘quick settings’ – a series of one-tap buttons that’ll let you do things like turn Wi-Fi on and off, switch on your phone’s flashlight mode, or toggle Airplane Mode. Swipe down again and you’ll see even more quick settings, such as (depending on your setup) the screen’s auto-rotate setting, Bluetooth, and your device’s hotspot feature. If you’d rather jump directly to all your quick settings rather than having to swipe once and then again, try this: swipe down from the top of the screen with two fingertips instead of just one. When you do, you’ll reveal an expanded view of your various quick settings.

Swipe down with two fingers to reveal all your Quick Settings on an unlocked Android device

2. Swipe to get the Home button back It can be a little disconcerting when you’re viewing a video or doing another full-screen activity on your Android device, and the virtual Home button goes AWOL. In many cases, the Home button will reappear by simply tapping the screen. But that doesn’t always work, depending on the app you’re using. With YouTube, for example, tapping the screen while watching a video in full-screen mode only pauses the clip, leaving the Home button hidden.

If your Android device’s Home button has deserted you, try this: swipe down from the top of the display. The three main navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen – including the Home button – will slide back into view.

3. Double-click for the camera Whether clicking a physical button on your Android phone counts as a gesture may be a matter of debate, but this particular shortcut is so handy it’s worth mentioning here. Basically, you can jump to the Android

Missing Home key? You can get it back with a simple swipe

100 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features March 2017

100_101 Android Gestures 260.indd 100

15/12/2016 10:59


FEATURE

You can jump to the camera at any time by double-clicking the power button on your Android handset

Tugging down on a web page in Chrome for Android for a quick refresh

camera app anytime – even when your phone is unlocked and you’re deep within an app – by double-clicking the power button (assuming your Android device is running on Lollipop or better). That’s in stark contrast to iOS, which lacks a camera shortcut in its unlocked state – meaning you’ll need to scramble to the Camera app if that Kodak moment arises while actively using your phone.

the main menu by tapping the button in the top-right corner of the screen. That said, there’s an easy way to refresh a Chrome web page in a flash: just pull down on the page with your fingertip. Bonus: If you’re holding your phone with your right hand, you can quickly open the main Chrome menu by swiping down in an arc with your thumb, starting from the top-right corner of the display.

4. Get a new perspective in Maps

6. Swipe address bar to change Chrome tabs

The Maps app for Android offers such an eyeful of information that it’s easy to forget the whole different way of looking at the world – or at least, the world according to Maps. Just drag two fingertips down the screen to make the view in Maps tilt for a 3D perspective, complete with 3D buildings (depending on the city). To go back to a flat view, slide two fingertips back up the screen.

5. Refresh Chrome will a pull There’s no obvious way to refresh a page when you’re browsing in Chrome for Android, or at least, not unless you open

Give Google Maps a little depth by swiping down with two fingers

Unlike the missing refresh button in Chrome, there is a small Tabs button at the top of the screen, but there’s an easier way to switch tabs than trying to tap that tiny target. Just swipe one way or another across the Chrome address bar. When you do, the next tab will slide onto the screen. Keep swiping to cycle through all your open tabs.

7. Slide across space bar to move the cursor When we were initially writing about our own recent switch from iOS to Android, we complained about missing the magnifying glass that appears when you tap and hold a word you want to edit. You’ll be pleased to know that Android has its own answer to iOS’s magnifying glass. With the stock keyboard, you can move the cursor by sliding your finger back and forth across the space bar. It’s not as elegant as Apple’s magnifying glass, but it’s far easier than trying to move the cursor with your fingertip. If you want to try Android’s space bar trick, you’ll need to have the right setting

You can cycle through all your open tabs in Chrome for Android by repeatedly swiping the address bar enabled. Tap Settings > Languages & input > Virtual keyboard > Google Keyboard > Gesture typing, then make sure the Enable gesture cursor control setting is toggled on.

8. Slide left from the delete key to delete words If tapping the Android backspace key or selecting passages of text to delete feels almost as tedious as dealing with the cursor, there’s another keypad gesture that might make your day. Tap the backspace key and then start swiping to the left. As you do, Android will start selecting more and more text from the left of the cursor. When you’re ready to delete, just release the keypad. To change your mind, slide your finger back to the right before releasing. J

The Maps app for Android offers such an eyeful of information that it’s easy to forget the whole different way of looking at the world – or at least, the world according to Maps March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/features 101

100_101 Android Gestures 260.indd 101

15/12/2016 10:59


HOW TO

Reinstall Windows 10 without any bloatware Windows 10 has the ability to install just the OS without any additional software, writes Josh Norem A colleague recently bought some laptops for his children, but they were so slow they stopped using them. This is a common issue with bloatware-laden consumer laptops, sadly. He performed a ‘factory reset’, with the hopes of reinstalling the OS without all the crap

that was preinstalled. To his horror he discovered the factory reset reinstalled all the bloatware, leaving him back where he started. Luckily, there’s a way to get a clean installation of Windows 10, without all the apps that came with your PC. Here’s how it works.

102 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to March 2017

102_103 HT Reinstall Windows 10 260.indd 102

12/12/2016 15:25


HOW TO From Windows 10’s Start menu, go to Settings > Update & security > Recovery. You can also get there from the traditional Control Panel by clicking Recovery. At the bottom of that window, click the long hyperlink that reads, ‘If you’re having problems with your PC, go to Settings’.

Either way, you end up in the Recovery section of Settings. Under More recovery options you’ll see a long hyperlink that reads, ‘Learn how to start fresh with a clean installation of Windows’. Click that and this web page will open.

2

That web page has a tool you can download, which will ‘...install a clean copy of the most recent version of Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro, and remove apps that you installed or came preinstalled on your PC’. Let’s be completely clear here, as Microsoft is in the further explanation right: “Using this tool will remove all apps that don’t come standard with Windows, including other Microsoft apps such as Office. It will also remove most preinstalled apps, including manufacturer apps, support apps, and drivers.” Don’t use this tool unless you’re ready to let go of everything. Run the tool, and get some coffee or go for a walk. When it’s finished you’ll have a fresh installation of Windows 10, without bloatware (or anything else). J

3

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to 103

102_103 HT Reinstall Windows 10 260.indd 103

12/12/2016 15:25


How to: Defer unwanted updates to a Windows 10 PC

Defer unwanted updates to a Windows 10 PC Windows 10 Pro users can slow down feature upgrades if they want. Ian Paul explains how Forced updates in Windows 10 have their appeal. For Microsoft, it helps keep the majority of its users on the same build of Windows 10, reducing legacy support issues. For users, it keeps your system up to date and reduces the chances of getting hit with malware that takes advantage of unpatched systems. But some people resent the idea of having updates forced on them – especially when some of those updates cause problems or won’t install properly. If you’re running Windows 10 Home you’re at the mercy of Microsoft’s update schedule. Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise users, however, have the opportunity to defer certain

types of updates. Now, when we say that Pro and Enterprise users can do this, we really mean Pro users. Most enterprise PC update settings will be under the control of an IT department that’s probably deferring updates anyway. But there are undoubtedly a lot of Pro users out there since Microsoft allowed people to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro (and later to 10 Pro) from any version of Windows 7 and XP.

How to defer Windows 10 updates First, click on Start and select the Settings cog icon on the left side of the Start menu to open the Settings app. Now go to Update & Security > Windows Update; under the ‘Update settings’ subheading, select Advanced options. A new Advanced options screen will pop up. From here, click the Defer feature updates check box.

What deferring Windows 10 updates means Adjusting this setting puts you on a special update channel for Windows 10 known as the ‘Current branch for business’. This version of Windows 10 doesn’t receive feature upgrades as quickly as everyone else. Security updates, however, are delivered on the same schedule regardless of branch. Microsoft says that when you defer upgrades you won’t be forced to install feature updates for ‘several months, which should be enough time to make sure all the major bugs are worked out on Windows 10 Home systems, though. J

104 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to March 2017

104 HT Windows 10 Updates 260.indd 104

12/12/2016 15:24


How to: Get Windows Store apps with local account

Get Windows Store apps with local account You no longer need a Microsoft account to use the Windows Store, writes Ian Paul It’s common knowledge that if you decide to go all Windows 7 in Windows 10 and create a local user account, you get shut out of the Windows Store. You can open the Store of course, but you can’t download anything without signing in with a Microsoft Account. Thankfully, that’s been changed recently. It’s not clear when the change took place: Microsoft could have quietly added this ability over the summer with the Anniversary Update, or only just recently just flipped the switch for everyone. Whatever happened, you no longer need a Microsoft Account to download free apps from the Windows Store. If this feature doesn’t work for you, try updating your version of Windows 10 to make sure you’re on the latest stable build. Installing apps without a Microsoft Account works with most, but not all, free apps. We had no trouble downloading Asphalt 8 and Cut the Rope 2, for example, but Microsoft’s free Halo 5: Forge Bundle required a Microsoft Account sign-in. There’s no trick to this process. All you do is create a local user account, and then peruse the Windows Store. If you see a free app you like, try to download it. Most of the time you should be able to get it without a problem, but you may run across some restrictions. This feature doesn’t appear to exclude Windows Store games that tie into Xbox Live, by the way. Keep in mind that if you use the Windows Store without an account, you lose out on a number of features such as the ability to maintain a list of previously owned apps across devices. Purchases

are also impossible without a login. Nevertheless, if you want the thrill of free Windows Store apps without the hassle of tying your desktop to a Microsoft Account, you can now do it. J

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to 105

105 HT Windows Store Apps 260.indd 105

12/12/2016 15:22


How to: Add Hibernate option to the Start menu

Add Hibernate option to the Start menu Windows 10 doesn’t offer Hibernate in the shut-down options by default. Ian Paul shows how to add it At the end of every day do you still dutifully close every file and program window before shutting down your PC? That’s the standard way to handle things, but for quite a few versions of Windows Microsoft also offered the ability to use Sleep and Hibernate modes instead of just a regular shut down. In Windows 10, however, Microsoft decided not to include hibernate with the rest of the shut down options under Start > Power by default. The good news is it’s easy to put the option back. Hibernation is kind of a mix between a traditional shut down and sleep mode primarily designed for laptops. When you tell your PC to hibernate, it saves the current state of your computer – open programs and documents – to your hard disk and then turns off your PC. Then, when it’s time to start it up again, all your previous work is ready and waiting for you. Plus, unlike sleep mode, it doesn’t use any power, but it does take longer to start up again.

To add Hibernate to Start > Power, click on the Cortana/search box in the taskbar and type power options. The first result you see should be a Control Panel setting of the same name. Click on that. Once the Control Panel opens, select Choose what the power buttons do from the left-hand panel.

2

At the top of the next screen, click on the link that says ‘Change settings that are currently unavailable’.

Scroll down to the bottom and under Shutdown settings, click the checkbox next to Hibernate. Next, click Save changes and you’re done. Go to Start > Power and you should now see Hibernate among all the rest of the shut-down options. J

3

106 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to March 2017

106 HT Add Hibernate Option 260.indd 106

12/12/2016 15:17


How to: Customise the colours in Windows 10

Customise the colours in Windows 10 Microsoft has hidden the Windows 10 colour mixer. Josh Norem reveals how to find it A reader recently wrote in asking why she couldn’t adjust the colours of her windows in Windows 10 like she could in Windows 7. The simple answer is, because Microsoft has hidden it. Before we show you where to find this hidden setting, know that we’re talking about being able to adjust the look of the colours included with Windows 10, not how to change the colours themselves, nor are we referring to the cool new Dark Mode that was included with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

When that window appears, click Show Colour Mixer.

Right-click the Start button and select Run, then type Control Colour.

An array of sliders will appear for you to mix colours to your heart’s content. J

2

3

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to 107

107 HT Customise Colours 260.indd 107

12/12/2016 15:40


How to: Use Excel’s Date and Time functions

Use Excel’s Date and Time functions JD Sartain shows how to go back and forth in time with retirement dates, expiration dates, and more

108 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to March 2017

108_111 HT Use Excel Date And Time 260.indd 108

12/12/2016 15:14


How to: Use Excel’s Date and Time

The Excel Date & Time functions we’re covering here – EDATE, YEARFRAC, EOMONTH, and NETWORKDAYS.INTL – are four of the many used for counting days. For each function listed below, we’ll define it first, then show the function’s arguments, which are the values that functions use to perform calculations. Then

we’ll show a sample of the function’s syntax – how the formula is arranged, which includes the function’s name, parentheses, comma separators, and its arguments. Note that Arguments are always surrounded by parentheses, and individual arguments are separated by commas.

EDATE() EDATE is a practical function for returning a date some number of months in the future or past, using a positive value for future dates, a negative value for past dates. For instance, you can use this function to calculate a retirement date or expiration date, to calculate someone’s age from a birth date, or to add a given number of years to a specified date. The arguments for this function are: start_date: specify a date to represent the start date (must be in a valid Excel serial number format). months: the number of months before or after the start_date. The syntax looks like this: =EDATE(start_date,months). 1. For this example, let’s calculate some retirement dates for our colleagues at work. Open a blank worksheet and enter the following field names as column titles in cells A3, B3, C3, D3, and E3: Name, Birthday, Retirement Date, Time Left, and In Years. 2. Enter some names and birthdays in columns A and B. 3. Click cell C4, then go to Formulas > Date & Time, and select EDATE from the list. You may also enter the EDATE() formula manually in cell C4: =EDATE(B4,12*62). If you don’t want to calculate and enter the specific number of months, it’s lots easier to multiply 12 times the retirement age (that is; 12 months per year times the age of 62 years). 4. Copy the formula from cell C4 to cells C5 through C13, and you get the date each individual can retire. See the next function YEARFRAC() to calculate the time left for each employee.

YEARFRAC() This function calculates the number of days between two dates as a decimal number, which represents a fraction. This function is particularly useful because other Excel Date & Time functions return only a whole number. Use this formula to calculate retirement dates, to get one’s age from a birthday, to calculate years between dates, to ascertain the percent of the year that’s complete (so far), and so on. Note that Excel uses whole days between two dates to calculate the fraction of a year as a decimal value. The arguments for this function are: start_date: the start date. end_date: the end date. basis (optional): the type of day count basis (or code). The syntax looks like this: =YEARFRAC(start_date,end_ date,basis). Although Excel allows spaces between arguments, you still cannot use spaces between the function and the opening parentheses. Most old timers just remove all spaces from their formulas to avoid any chance of such errors. Enter this formula in cell D4: =YEARFRAC(TODAY(),C4,1). The start_date in this formula is TODAY() – as opposed to an actual date. The TODAY() function returns today’s date. The date in cell C4 is the end_date, and the optional basis is 1, which means the actual days in the months and the actual days in the years.

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to 109

108_111 HT Use Excel Date And Time 260.indd 109

12/12/2016 15:14


How to: Use Excel’s Date and Time functions

This may seem confusing, but Excel provides five options for calculating the days and years in this formula. Some accountants in Europe and the US work on 30-day months and 360-day years; other systems are set up for actual days in a month, but only 360 days in a year; and some are defined as actual days in each month and year. The codes for each option are as follows: 0 = US NASD 30-day months/360-day years. 1 = Actual days in the months/Actual days in the years. 2 = Actual days in the months/360 days in the years. 3 = Actual days in the months/365 days in the years. 4 = European 30 days in the months/360 days in the years.

When the function is entered, if you press any key (such as the space bar) after the last argument (C4), Excel provides a pop-up menu that lists the five options above. Select the appropriate code from the list and press Enter. If you do not enter a basis number, the default is 0, which means 30-day months and 360-day years – not a good choice if you’re looking for real-time results. The last column (E) in this spreadsheet shows how column D looks when it’s formatted as a fraction using quarters. For example, E4 is a hair less than two years, while E5 is a hair over one year. E6 is 1-1/4 years, E7 is 8-3/4 years, and so on.

EOMONTH() Use this function to determine the date of the last day of the month (in future or past months). Because when creating spreadsheets with many dozens of calculations, poems and calendars cannot be included in a formula that’s needed to produce numeric results. This function returns a serial number, which represents a specific date in Excel. The arguments for this function are: start_date: a date that represents the start date in a valid Excel serial number format. months: the number of months before or after the start_date. The syntax looks like this: =EOMONTH (start_date, months). For months, use a positive number for future dates and a negative number for past dates. 1. Enter 10 dates in cells A4 to A13. 2. Enter the following formula in cell B4: =EOMONTH(A4,1). A4 is the date in that cell, and the number ‘1’ means one month. This means show the last day of the month for one month past the date in cell A4. Notice that the program returns an Excel serial number. 3. Next, position your cursor on Cell B4 and press the function key F2 (Edit). Cursor over to the letter ‘A’ in the formula and press function key F4 (absolute reference) three times, or until the formula looks like this: =EOMONTH(£A4,1). 4. For those unfamiliar with this feature, the dollar sign in front of the letter ‘A’ means that column reference will not change when the formula is copied. Now, when we copy the formula in A4 down and over, the cell rows change but the column remains the same. 5. Next, format the serial number in cell B4 to a medium-long date; that is, Mon Feb 26, 2016. 6. Copy cell B4 down from B5 through B13. Note that the mediumlong number format also copies with the formula. 7. Next, copy the formula in B4 to C4, D4, and E4. Edit each formula to reflect the new month numbers: Change the ‘1’ in C4 to number 6. Change the ‘1’ in D4 to ‘12’ and the ‘1’ in E4 to number ‘18.’ Now copy C4 through E4 to C13 through E13. 8. Remember to widen the columns to accommodate the new formats, then notice how quickly you can find out this information using this valuable function.

£

110 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to March 2017

108_111 HT Use Excel Date And Time 260.indd 110

12/12/2016 15:14


How to: Use Excel’s Date and Time

NETWORKDAYS.INTL() This function calculates the number of working days between two specified dates, excluding weekends. This is useful if you’re counting work days (or school days) in a quarter, semester, or year. The difference between this function and others like it is the option to choose which days are counted as weekend days. Not everyone gets Saturdays and Sundays off. Some get Mondays and Tuesdays off, others Wednesdays and Fridays. With this function, you can set the weekend days to your individual schedule. In addition, this function allows you to select and set the individual holidays in a specified timeframe. For example, in the fourth quarter of the calendar year there are two holidays in October, two in November, and two in December if you include Halloween and Christmas Eve. If not, then you can set the holidays to four in the fourth quarter instead of six. These are the code numbers that correspond with the days of the week needed to custom-define your weekend days. Number Weekend days 1. Saturday, Sunday 2. Sunday, Monday 3. Monday, Tuesday 4. Tuesday, Wednesday 5. Wednesday, Thursday 6. Thursday, Friday 7. Friday, Saturday 11. Sunday only 12. Monday only 13. Tuesday only 14. Wednesday only 15. Thursday only 16. Friday only 17. Saturday only If you leave this parameter blank (or unidentified), it defaults to number 1. Enter holidays as a range of cells where you have specified the actual holiday dates (for example, F4:F10) or as a list of serial numbers that represent the actual holiday dates. The arguments for this function are: start_date: the start date. end_date: the end date. weekend: setting for which days of the week should be considered weekends (optional parameter). holidays: a reference to dates that should be considered non-work days (optional parameter). The syntax looks like this: =NETWORKDAYS.INTL (start_date, end_date, [weekend], [holidays]). 1. Enter the following field/column headers over columns A, B, C, F, and G, respectively: Start Date, End Date, Number of Work Days. Finally, enter Holidays (centred and merged over F and G).

2. Enter some random dates in columns A and B. Be sure the End Date is not a date before the Start Date. 3. Enter some random holidays (names and dates) into columns F and G. 4. Position your cursor in cell C4. Go to Formulas > Date & Time, and select the NETWORKDAYS.INTL function. 5. In the Function Arguments dialog box, click inside the Start_Date field box, then click your cursor in cell A4. 6. Press the Tab key down to the field box End_Date and click your cursor in cell B4. 7. Press the Tab key down to the field box Weekend and enter one of the defined weekend codes (remember, 1 = Saturdays and Sundays). 8. Press the Tab key down to the field box Holidays, then select/ highlight cells G4 through G11. Click OK. Before you copy this formula from cell C4 down to C5 through C11, use the function key F4 to make the Holiday cells absolute: =NETWORKDAYS.INTL(A4,B4,1,£G£4:£G£11), so the days in the Holidays range are always G4 through G11. J

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to 111

108_111 HT Use Excel Date And Time 260.indd 111

12/12/2016 15:14


How to: Collaborate on a document in Dropbox Paper

Collaborate on a document in Dropbox Paper If you haven’t tried Dropbox’s writing tool, Michael Ansaldo explains how to get started People have used Dropbox Paper to create more than a million documents since it launched in private last year. If you haven’t tried it yet, you’re missing out on an impressive collaboration tool,

particularly if you’re already using Dropbox to store your files. You can share and co-author documents, enter comments and pull in images directly from Dropbox. Here’s how to start using it.

112 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to March 2017

112_113 HT Collaborate In Dropbox 260.indd 112

12/12/2016 15:08


How to: Collaborate on a document in Dropbox Paper

Create a new Paper document Open Dropbox in your browser and select Paper from the left sidebar menu on the main Dropbox page. By default, this takes you to the Docs page. (As you create more projects in Paper, you’ll be able to navigate between your Docs, Folders and Favourites using the menu on the left.) Click the ‘Create new doc’ button on the right. When your new document opens, you’ll be prompted to give it a name and a contextual description. You can create a document right within Dropbox Paper To give other people access to the document, tap the Share button at the top right to open an invitation to collaborate. Before you enter any names in the ‘to:’ field, click Link settings. Here you can determine who can open the document – only the people you send the link to directly, or anyone they share the link with as well. You can also set editing permissions for your invitees at this point, allowing anyone with the link to edit the document or only comment on it. Once you’re done with these settings, enter the email addresses of your collaborators in the field at the top. You have another chance to decide if each individual or group of collaborators can edit or just comment on the document from the drop-down menu to the right. Add a message and click Send. Everyone you’ve invited will be notified and be able to join Dropbox Paper beta and access the document.

To start collaborating on a document, set editing permissions and invite people via email

Start collaborating Depending on individual permissions, your collaborators will be able to add or delete text and/or add their feedback on a document. Dropbox Paper offers several powerful tools for working together more efficiently: @mentions: You can make any content in your document visible to a specific collaborator by typing @ followed by their name. The person will get a notification alerting them to the content. Even if they aren’t already a collaborator on that document, they’ll be invited to join and will have the ability to edit or update the document. Comments: Any collaborator can comment on a document by highlighting the relevant line of text and clicking the speech bubble in the toolbar that pops up. Include an ‘@mention’ for any collaborator you want to alert to the feedback. Comments will be visible to all collaborators in the right margin. Attribution: Any text in a Dropbox Paper document displays its author’s name next to it, so you can easily track each collaborator’s contributions.

You can enter comments in a document and alert the appropriate person to address them with an @mention Task lists: You can project manage your document by creating to-do items right inside it. Just highlight some text and click the check-mark icon in the popup toolbar. Enter tasks and assign them to collaborators using @mentions next to each one. Once you have these basics down, you’ll be able to collaborate on all kinds of documents both through the Dropbox web app and on your Android or iOS device. J

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to 113

112_113 HT Collaborate In Dropbox 260.indd 113

12/12/2016 15:08


How to: Keep your kids safe from unsuitable websites

Keep your kids safe from unsuitable websites Michael Connell reveals how OpenDNS allows you to monitor websites on a home network A reader has written in asking:

How do I use a router to monitor which websites are visited? I want to see what URLs are visited through my router. Is there a way to view who is going to which sites on my home network without checking on my children’s laptops? To start, set up an OpenDNS account (opendns.com) and change your router settings to add the OpenDNS server. With OpenDNS, you can easily monitor activity, block content, and set up extra measures to fend off identity theft – all with their free Family Shield and Home options. This is a solid solution if you don’t need to break visits down by device – it’s a little harder to monitor which laptop is visiting which site than it is to see all traffic over the router. If you simply want to restrict visits to websites that you consider objectionable and not monitor the activity of each individual on your network, you can also do this via OpenDNS. They have both free and paid services, but free should do the trick if you just want to block a certain type of website, or if there are particular websites

you want to block. You can also use OpenDNS to log each URL visited, but the last time we used OpenDNS we couldn’t see which device on our network was visiting the site. If you want to try it, just get OpenDNS and enable ‘stats and logs’, which should at least show you what sites are being visited. J

114 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to March 2017

114 HT Monitor Websites 260.indd 114

12/12/2016 15:00


How to: Stop annoying GIFs in your web browser

Block annoying GIFs in your web browser GIFs are fun... in small doses. Ian Paul shows how to gain some sanity amid all the animated madness Some people find them annoying but animated GIFs can be a lot of fun, at least the first few times you see them. After that they tend to lose their appeal, especially when you’re trying to read something right next to them. Most of the major browsers don’t offer a built-in way to control them. For those who care, however, you can take control of animated GIFs on Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox through the magic of add-ons and extensions.

Google Chrome Google created its own extension, called Animation Policy (tinyurl.com/zudxr3c), to help Chrome users gain control of GIFs in their browser. Built as an accessibility extension, Animation Policy lets you choose between allowing animated images, allowing them just a single occurrence, or disabling them altogether. Once you’ve installed the extension from the Chrome Web Store, click on the lightning bolt icon

that appears to the right of the address bar. Now just choose which option you’d prefer. Personally, we’d opt for allowing the animation to run once. That way you get the joy of animated GIFs without the annoyance.

Mozilla Firefox Firefox has an even better add-on for stopping animated GIFs, called ESCape From Them GIFs (tinyurl.com/ho7vcvd). All you do is install it from Mozilla’s add-on catalogue and restart your browser. The next time you’re tired of seeing a GIF on a web page, hit Esc on your keyboard and the GIF stops. This includes every GIF on a web page. Even a page filled with animated GIFs, such as Giphy, will stop with one key press. Hit Esc again and the GIFs start moving again.

Internet Explorer/Edge Users can turn off GIFs completely by going to Internet options > Advanced and unchecking Play animations in web pages. Once you restart your PC, IE stops playing GIFs. Edge, Microsoft’s newest browser, currently doesn’t have a way to stop GIFs, but maybe someone will make a browser extension for it in the future. J

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to 115

115 HT Stop Chrome GIFs 260.indd 115

12/12/2016 15:04


Reader software downloads zone

DOWNLOADS ZONE Download the latest software from the PC Advisor Software Downloads Zone Available in print and digital formats, and featuring latest news, reviews, group tests, features and tutorials, PC Advisor magazine is simply the best technology magazine you can buy. In every issue we bring you software downloads through the PC Advisor Download Zone. All software downloads can be found in a central location. To make things as easy as possible, we have removed the need for individual codes to download or register each program. The only code youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll need is DOWNLOAD1215, which you can enter at the following page: pcadvisor.co.uk/magazine/download Once logged in, youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll be able to browse the software on offer or search for something specific using the search box, or click the Downloads link at the top of each page and browse by category. The Downloads Zone has hundreds of great programs and apps that are just a click or two away.

116 shop.pcadvisor.co.uk March 2017

116 Software Download 260.indd 116

13/12/2016 15:35


TOP5CHARTS TEST CENTRE PC Advisor’s charts rank and rate the best products every month. If you’re looking to buy the latest and greatest kit, look no further than our 100-plus reviews

118

120

122

124

125

126

128

130

132

134

135

136

137

138

139

140

141

142

143

144

145

145

TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 117

Prices listed are those quoted by the distributor or manufacturer and include VAT. They are intended only as a guide. If you’re interested in purchasing one of the products reviewed here then please contact the manufacturer or supplier directly, mentioning both PC Advisor and the issue in which you saw the product. If it won’t supply the product as reviewed, contact us at jim_martin@idg.co.uk. Manufacturers are under no obligation to feature reviewed products on their websites. Our recommendations are for guidance only. Star ratings are awarded at the time of the original review and given in relation to the market competition at that time.

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 117

06/12/2016 16:40


Top 5 charts

1

2

3

4

5

Dell XPS 13 9350

Lenovo Yoga 710 (11in)

Asus ZenBook UX305CA

Dell Latitude 13 7370

HP Envy 13

Price

£1,720 inc VAT

£549 inc VAT

£649 inc VAT

£1,079 inc VAT

£799 inc VAT

Website

Dell.co.uk

Lenovo.com/uk

Asus.com/uk

Dell.co.uk

Hp.com/uk

Processor

2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5200U

Intel Core M3-6Y30

Intel Core i5-6300HQ

Intel Core m5-6Y57

2.5GHz Intel Core i7

RAM

8GB DDR3

8GB LPDDR3

8GB

8GB

8GB DDR3

Storage

128GB SSD

128GB SSD

128GB SSD

256GB SSD

256GB SSD

Screen size

13.3in matt IPS

11.6in TN glossy

13.3in matt

13.3in InfinityEdge

13.3in matt

Screen resolution

1920x1080

1920x1080

3000x2000

1920x1080

1920x1080

Graphics

Intel HD Graphics 5500

Intel HD 515

Intel HD 515

Intel HD 515

Intel HD 520

Video memory

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Wireless

802.11ac

802.11ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

Ethernet

Gigabit

Gigabit

Gigabit

Gigabit

Gigabit

Bluetooth

USB

2x USB 3.0

1x USB 3.0

3x USB 3.0

1x USB 3.0, 2x USB-C

3x USB 3.0

FireWire

Thunderbolt

DisplayPort

HDMI

DVI

VGA

eSATA

Media card slot

Audio

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone jack, mic

Optical drive

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Extras

720p webcam

HD webcam

HD webcam

HD webcam

HD webcam

Operating system

Windows 10 Home

Windows 10 Home

Windows 10

Windows 10 Professional

Windows 10 Home

Bundled software

None

None

None

None

None

Gaming scores

24.5/17.9fps in Tomb Raider

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Battery

Not stated

40Wh lithium-ion

44Wh lithium-ion

34Wh

45Wh lithium-ion

Battery life

Not tested

9 hrs 45 mins

8 hrs

8 hrs 23 mins

1 hr 24 mins

PCMark8 score

Not tested

4712

1985

2942

2657

Dimensions

304x200x15mm

281x195x14.9mm

324x226x12.3mm

304.8x210.5x14.mm

326x226x13mm

Weight

1.3kg

1.04kg

1.2kg

1.12kg

1.3kg

Warranty

2-year return-to-base

1 year

1 year

1 year

1-year collect-and-return

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/ZZF4ZQ2

TINYURL.COM/ZSVR34C

TINYURL.COM/HWHAJYR

TINYURL.COM/HDHYG2P

TINYURL.COM/HDAQHQX

Best laptops

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/P82TEPF FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE 118 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 118

TEST CENTRE

06/12/2016 16:40


Top 5 charts

6

7

8

9

10

Microsoft Surface Book

Toshiba Chromebook 2

Apple MacBook Air 13in

Apple MacBook (2016)

Lenovo Yoga 900-131SK

Price

£1,299 inc VAT

£269 inc VAT

£849 inc VAT

£1,049 inc VAT

£1,499 inc VAT

Website

Microsoft.com/en-gb

Toshiba.co.uk

Apple.com/uk

Apple.com/uk

Lenovo.com/uk

Processor

Intel Core i5

Intel Celeron

1.6GHz Intel Core i5

1.1GHz Intel Core m3

2.5GHz Intel Core i7

RAM

8GB

4GB DDR3

4GB LPDDR3

8GB LPDDR3

16GB DDR3

Storage

128GB SSD

16GB SSD

128GB SSD

256GB SSD

512GB SSD

Screen size

13.5in PixelSense

13.3in IPS

13.3in glossy

12in IPS

13.3in IPS

Screen resolution

3000x2000

1920x1080

1440x900

2304x1440

1920x1080

Graphics

Intel HD Graphics 520

Intel HD graphics

Intel HD Graphics 6000

Intel HD Graphics 515

Intel HD 520

Video memory

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Wireless

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

Ethernet

Gigabit

Gigabit

Bluetooth

USB

2x USB 3.0

1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

2x USB 3.0

1x USB-C

2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

FireWire

Thunderbolt

DisplayPort

HDMI

DVI

VGA

eSATA

Media card slot

Audio

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone minijack

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone jack, mic

Optical drive

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Extras

Surface Pen

Webcam

720p FaceTime

480p FaceTime

720p webcam

Operating system

Windows 10 Professional

Google Chrome OS

macOS Sierra

macOS Sierra

Windows 10 Home

Bundled software

None

None

None

None

None

Gaming scores

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Battery

Not stated

Not stated

38Wh lithium-ion

41.4Wh lithium-polymer

40Wh lithium-ion

Battery life

12 hours

7 hrs 36 mins

12 hrs 49 mins

8 hrs 23 mins

5 hr 21 mins

PCMark8 score

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

2295

Dimensions

312.3x232.11x3mm

320x214x19.3mm

300x192x17mm

280.5x196.5x35mm

299x209x16mm

Weight

1.52kg

14kg

1.4kg

920g

1.3kg

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1-year return-to-base

1 year

1-year collect-and-return

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/ZZF4ZQ2

TINYURL.COM/ZSVR34C

TINYURL.COM/PH3YN5K

TINYURL.COM/HSSXYUJ

TINYURL.COM/Z8VGOZ8

Best laptops

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/P82TEPF FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 119

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 119

06/12/2016 16:41


Top 5 charts

Best budget laptops

1

2

3

4

5

HP 250 G4

HP 255 G4

Asus X555LA-XX290H

Dell Inspiron 11 3000

HP Stream 11

Price

£299 inc VAT

£269 inc VAT

£300 inc VAT

£179 inc VAT

£179 inc VAT

Website

Hp.com/uk

Hp.com/uk

Asus.com/uk

Dell.co.uk

Hp.com/uk

Processor

2.1GHz Intel Core i5-5005U

2.2GHz AMD A8-7410

1.9GHz Intel Core i3-4030U

1.6-2.1GHz Intel Celeron N3050

2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2830

RAM

8GB

4GB DDR3

4GB DDR3

2GB

2GB DDR3

Storage

1TB HDD

1TB HDD

1TB HDD

32GB SSD

32GB SnaDisk eMMc drive

Screen size

15.6in matt

15.6in matt

15.6in glossy

11.6in matt

11.6in matt

Screen resolution

1366x768

1366x768

1366x768

1366x768

1366x768

Graphics

Intel HD GPU

AMD Radeon 5

Intel HD Graphics 4400

Intel HD

Intel HD Graphics

Video memory

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Wireless

802.11b/g/n

802.11b/g/n

802.11b/g/n

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11b/g/n

Ethernet

Gigabit

Gigabit

Gigabit

Bluetooth

USB

1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0

1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0

1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0

1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

FireWire

Thunderbolt

DisplayPort

HDMI

DVI

VGA

eSATA

Media card slot

Audio

Headphone minijack

Headphone minijack

Headphone minijack

Headphone minijack

Headphone minijack

Optical drive

DVDRW

DVDRW

DVDRW

None

None

Webcam

Kensington lock slot, webcam

Kensington lock slot, webcam

Webcam

Kensington lock slot, webcam

Operating system

Windows 10

Windows 8.1 Pro

Windows 8.1

Windows 8

Windows 8.1

Bundled software

None

None

None

None

None

Battery

31Wh Lithium-ion

31Wh Lithium-ion

37Wh Lithium-ion

32Wh Lithium-polymer

37Wh Lithium-polymer

Battery life

5 hrs 5 mins

4 hrs 6 mins

5 hrs 17 mins

8 hrs 15 mins

8 hrs 45 mins

PCMark 8 Home score

2171

1863

1985

Not tested

Not tested

Batman (Low/High)

Not tested

28fps/Not tested

30fps/Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Dimensions

384x254x24mm

385x255x24.6mm

381x257x26.3mm

292x196x19.9mm

300x205x20mm

Weight

2.1kg

2.1kg

2.1kg

1.39kg

1.25kg

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/Z5XNZOR

TINYURL.COM/GWWV8TH

TINYURL.COM/OMYZQJ3

TINYURL.COM/Z3AUEFY

TINYURL.COM/GNRP9BC

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating

Extras

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/PVGMVTS FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE 120 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 120

TEST CENTRE

06/12/2016 16:41


Top 5 charts

Best budget laptops

6

7

8

9

10

Asus X553SA

Toshiba Satellite C55-C-175

Dell Vostro 15 3000

Chuwi HiBook Pro

Lenovo Yoga 300

Price

£279 inc VAT

£395 inc VAT

£442 inc VAT

£172 inc VAT

£299 inc VAT

Website

Asus.com/uk

Toshiba.co.uk

Dell.co.uk

En.chuwi.com

Lenovo.com/uk

Processor

2.1GHz Intel Core Celeron

2.2GHz Intel Core i5

2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5200U

1.84GHz Intel Atom X5

2.16GHz Intel Pentium N3700

RAM

8GB DDR3

4GB DDR3

4GB DDR3

4GB DDR3

4GB DDR

Storage

500GB

500GB

500GB SSD

64GB

500GB

Screen size

15.6in glossy

14in matt

15.3in matt

10.1in matt IPS

11.6in IPS

Screen resolution

1366x768

19366x768

1366x768

2560x1600

1366x768

Graphics

Intel HD

Intel HD Graphics 5500

Intel HD Graphics 5000

Intel HD Graphics

Intel HD

Video memory

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Wireless

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11ac

802.11b/g/n/ac

802.11b/g/n

802.11ac

Ethernet

Gigabit

Gigabit

Gigabit

Gigabit

Gigabit

Bluetooth

USB

1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 3.0

1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0

1x USB-C

1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0

FireWire

Thunderbolt

DisplayPort

HDMI

DVI

VGA

eSATA

Media card slot

Audio

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone minijack

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone jack, mic

Optical drive

Super-Multi DVD

N/A

None

N/A

N/A

VGA webcam

0.9Mp webcam

Kensington lock slot, webcam

720p webcam

None

Operating system

Windows 10 Home

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1

Windows 10 Home

Windows 10 Home

Bundled software

None

None

None

None

None

Battery

48Wh lithium-ion

44Wh lithium-ion

40Wh Lithium-polymer

8000mAh

48Wh lithium-ion

Battery life

4 hrs 35 mins

5 hrs 4 mins

5 hrs 17 mins

Not tested

6 hrs 34 mins

PCMark 8 Home score

Not tested

Not tested

2296

940

1457

Batman (Low/High)

Not tested

27/30fps

29fps/Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Dimensions

380x258x25.3mm

380x257x23.8mm

1378x259x24.5mm

262x167.5x8.5mm

299x209x22mm

Weight

2.2kg

2.2kg

2.4kg

550g

1.39kg

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/ZLN2DVF

TINYURL.COM/ZAZPTNX

TINYURL.COM/NDAX6WT

TINYURL.COM/JVYEQYV

TINYURL.COM/HRXVJXT

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating

Extras

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/PVGMVTS FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 121

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 121

06/12/2016 16:41


Top 5 charts

Best Chromebooks

1

2

3

4

5

Dell Chromebook 11 (3120)

Toshiba Chromebook 2

Asus Chromebook Flip C100PA

Dell Chromebook 13 (7310)

Chromebook Pixel (2015)

Price

£202 inc VAT

£269 inc VAT

£249 inc VAT

£1,078 inc VAT

£799 inc VAT

Website

Dell.co.uk

Toshiba.co.uk

UK.asus.com

Dell.co.uk

Google.co.uk

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating Processor

2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840 Intel Celeron

1.86GHz Rockchip RK3288C 2.9GHz Intel i5-5300U

Intel Core i7

RAM

4GB DDR3

4GB DDR3

4GB DDR3

8GB

8GB DDR3

Storage

16GB SSD

16GB SSD

16GB SSD

32GB SSD

32GB SSD

Screen size

11.6in HD

13.3in IPS

10.1in

13.3in

12.85in IPS

Screen resolution

1366x768

1920x1080

1280x800

1920x1066

2560x1700

Graphics

Intel HD graphics

Intel HD graphics

Rockchip Mali T764

Intel HD graphics

Intel HD 5500

Video memory

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Wireless

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

Ethernet

Gigabit

Gigabit

Gigabit

None

Gigabit

Bluetooth

USB

1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

2x USB 2.0

1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

2x USB 3.0

FireWire

Thunderbolt

DisplayPort

HDMI

DVI

VGA

eSATA

Media card slot

Audio

Headphone minijack

Headphone minijack

Headphone minijack

Headphone minijack

Headphone minijack

Optical drive

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Webcam

Webcam

Webcam

Webcam

Webcam

Operating system

Google Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS

Bundled software

None

None

None

None

None

Battery life

9 hrs 46 mins

7 hrs 36 mins

9 hrs 33 mins

10 hrs 46 mins

9 hrs

SunSpider score

697ms

Not tested

803ms

219ms

Not tested

Dimensions

297x217.7x120.1mm

320x214x19.3mm

262.8x182.4x15.6mm

381.9x252.5x19.9mm

297.7x224.55x5.3mm

Weight

1.25kg

1.4kg

890g

1.72kg

1.5kg

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/ZQFP4MF

TINYURL.COM/OP9NQAY

TINYURL.COM/J9CU5YH

TINYURL.COM/HKLN3U9

TINYURL.COM/HQDFR8H

Extras

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/NPO9J8A FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE 122 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 122

TEST CENTRE

06/12/2016 16:41


Top 5 charts

Best Chromebooks

6

7

8

9

10

Acer Chromebook 14

Acer Chromebook R11

Acer Chromebook 13

HP Chromebook 11

Asus C300M

Price

£199 inc VAT

£229 inc VAT

£219 inc VAT

£229 inc VAT

£250 inc VAT

Website

Acer.co.uk

Acer.co.uk

Acer.co.uk

Hp.com/uk

UK.asus.com

Processor

1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3060

1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050

2.1GHz nVidia Tegra K1

1.7GHz Exynos 5250

Intel Celeron N2830

RAM

2GB

2GB DDR3

4GB DDR3

2GB DDR3

2GB DDR3

Storage

16GB eMMC

16GB SSD

32GB SSD

16GB

16GB SSD

Screen size

14in LCD

11in IPS

13.3in

11.6in IPS

13.3in

Screen resolution

1366x768

1366x768

1920x1080

1366x768

1366x768

Graphics

Intel HD graphics

Intel HD graphics

nVidia Kepler

Intel HD graphics

Intel HD graphics

Video memory

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Wireless

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11a/b/g/n

Ethernet

Gigabit

Gigabit

Gigabit

None

Gigabit

Bluetooth

USB

2x USB 3.0

4x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

2x USB 3.0

2x USB 2.0

1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

FireWire

Thunderbolt

DisplayPort

HDMI

DVI

VGA

eSATA

Media card slot

Audio

Headphone minijack

Headphone minijack

Headphone minijack

Headphone minijack

Headphone minijack

Optical drive

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

HD webcam

Webcam

Webcam

Webcam

720p webcam

Operating system

Google Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS

Bundled software

None

None

None

None

None

Battery life

11 hrs 13mins

9 hrs 30 mins

9 hrs 20 mins

5 hrs

9 hrs 28 mins

SunSpider score

638ms

Not tested

660ms

Not tested

Not tested

Dimensions

340x236x17mm

19.2x294x204mm

18x327x227.5mm

297x195x17.4mm

339x230x20.3mm

Weight

1.6kg

1.25kg

1.5kg

1.03kg

1.4kg

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/HH8OOT4

TINYURL.COM/GOVMT3X

TINYURL.COM/Q2YT5AD

TINYURL.COM/HB3JEBG

TINYURL.COM/HW86CWG

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating

Extras

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/NPO9J8A FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 123

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 123

06/12/2016 16:41


Top 5 charts

Best gaming laptops

1

2

3

4

5

Asus RoG G752

Alienware 17

Schenker XMG U506

Asus RoG GL552VW-DM201T

MSI GL62-6QC 065UK

Price

£1,299 inc VAT

£1,350 inc VAT

£1,585 inc VAT

£899 inc VAT

£599 inc VAT

Website

Asus.com/uk

Alienware.co.uk

Mysn.co.uk

Asus.com/uk

Uk.msi.com

Processor

2.7GHz Intel Core i7-6820HK

4.1GHz Intel Core i7-6820

3.5GHz Intel Core i5-6600K 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ

2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ

RAM

32GB DDR4

8GB DDR5, 16GB DDR4

8GB (2x 4GB) DDR3

8GB DDR3

8GB DDR3L

Storage

1TB HDD

512GB SSD, 1TB HDD

256GB SSD, 1TB HDD

1TB HDD

1TB HDD

Screen size

17.3in IPS

17.3in IPS

15.6in matt

15.6in IPS

15.6in IPS

Screen resolution

1920x1080

1920x1080

1920x1080

1920x1080

1920x1080

Graphics

Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M

Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M

Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M

Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M

Nvidia GeForce GTX 940MX

Video memory

Not specified

Not specified

Not specified

Not specified

Not specified

Wireless

802.11ac

802.11ac

802.11ac

802.11ac

802.11ac

Ethernet

Gigabit

Gigabit

Gigabit

Gigabit

Gigabit

Bluetooth

USB

3x USB 3.0

3x USB 3.0, 1x USB-C

3x USB 3.0, 1x eSATA/USB 3.0

2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.0

3x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, 1x USB-C

FireWire

Thunderbolt

DisplayPort

HDMI

DVI

VGA

eSATA

Media card slot

Audio

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone jack, mic

Headphone jack, mic

Optical drive

None

None

None

Extras

1.2Mp webcam

2Mp webcam

2Mp webcam

HD webcam

HD webcam

Operating system

Windows 10

Windows 10 Home

Windows 8.1 Pro

Windows 10

Windows 10

Bundled software

None

None

None

None

None

Gaming scores

Not tested

Not tested

113/58fps in Tomb Raider

Not tested

35.6/14.9fps in Thief

Battery

66Wh lithium-ion

31Wh lithium-polymer

82Wh lithium-polymer

48Wh lithium-polymer

48Wh lithium-ion

Battery life

4 hrs 37 mins

3 hrs 59 mins

2 hrs 23 mins

4 hrs 50 mins

3 hrs 55 mins

PCMark 7 score

4184 (PCMark 8)

3400 (PCMark 8)

4000 (PCMark 8)

3102 (PCMark 8)

2681 (PCMark 8)

Dimensions

428x334x43mm

430x292x34.4mm

387x266x37.5mm

384x257x34.5mm

383x260x27mm

Weight

4.4kg

3.8kg

3.4kg

2.6kg

2.3kg

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/J8AFNHP

TINYURL.COM/JYK953S

TINYURL.COM/NT6UUKF

TINYURL.COM/HQKNNRJ

TINYURL.COM/JAXBRDB

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/QCDUCZ7 FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE 124 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 124

TEST CENTRE

06/12/2016 16:41


Top 5 charts

Best gaming PCs

1

2

3

4

Chillblast Fusion Catapult

Wired2Fire Diablo Predator VR

Yoyotech Warbird RS14

Overclockers Kinetic VR Gaming Palicomp i5 Matrix

Price

£999 inc VAT

£1,150 inc VAT

£999 inc VAT

£739 inc VAT

£1,199 inc VAT

Website

Chillblast.com

Wired2fire.co.uk

Yoyotech.co.uk

Overclockers.co.uk

Palicomp.co.uk

Processor

3.5GHz Intel Core i5 6600K (4.4GHz OC)

3.5GHz Intel i5-6600K (OC 4.4GHz)

3.3GHz Intel Core i5-6600 (3.9GHz Intel Boost)

3.2GHz Intel Core i5-6500 (3.6GHz Turbo)

3.5GHz Intel Core i5-6600K (OC 4.7GHz)

CPU cooler

Corsair Hydro H55

ID Cooling SE-214

Silentium Spartan PRO

Intel CPU

BeQuiet Pure Rock

Memory

16GB DDR4

16GB DDR4

8GB DDR

8GB DDR4

16GB DDR4

Storage

1TB HDD

1TB HDD, 250GB SSD

21TB HDD, 128GB SSD

1TB SSHD

2TB HD, 256GB SSD

Power supply

750W FSP

750W FSP

600W Aerocool Integrator

Kolink 600W

750W FSP

Motherboard

Asus Z170-K

Asus Z170-E

MSI B150M Mortar

Asus H110M-A micro ATC

Asus Z170-Pro Gaming

Operating system

Windows 10 Home

Windows 10 (64-bit)

Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Windows 10 Home

Windows 10 (64-bit)

Screen

None supplied

None supplied

None supplied

None supplied

None supplied

Graphics

XFX AMD Radeon R9 390X

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070

MSI GeForce GTX 980Ti Armor X2

Asus GeForce GTX 970 Turbo KFA2 nVIDIA GTX 980

Sound

Onboard

Onboard

Onboard

Onboard

Onboard

Connectivity

Gigabit ethernet

Gigabit ethernet

Gigabit ethernet

Gigabit ethernet

Gigabit ethernet

Ports

2x USB 3.1 Type-A, 6x USB 3.0, 4x USB 2.0, 1x USB 5Gb/s (Type C), 2x DVI, 1x DP, 1x HDMI

4x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0 On Motheboard I/O, 1x DVI, 1x HDMI, 3x DP

2x USB 3.1 Gen2, 6x USB 3.1 Gen1, 6x USB 2.0

2x USB 3.0, 4x USB 2.0, 2x dual-link DVI, 1x DP, 1x HDM

1x USB 3.1 (Type-A) 1xUSB 3.1 (Type-C) 4xUSB 3, 2x USB 2.0, 1xPS/2, 1x DVI, 1x D-Sub, 1x DP, 1x HDMI

Optical drive

None

None

None

None

None

Case

Zalman Z11 Neo

Aerocool QS240 M-ATX

Phanteks Enthoo Pro Mid

Kolink Satellite Cube

Sharkoon VG5-W

Keyboard & mouse

None supplied

Cooler Master Devastator Keyboard and Mouse

None supplied

None supplied

Nemesis Kane Gaming Keyboard and Mouse

PCMark 8 2.0 Home score

4832

5670

4818

4669

5911

Alien Isolation score (4K)

17.02/49.28fps

12.99/63.23fps

16.48/59.94fps

20.24/40.43fps

116.55/50.37fps

Thief (4K Ultra)

21.5/32.9fps

36.2/42.1fps

35.4/42.5fps

Benchmark failed to run

27.6/32.8fps

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

212,222

227,383

183,814

145,866

230,982

3DMark Fire Strike

10,629

14,235

13,482

7,005

11,917

Power Consumption

Not tested

56/385W

48/369W

36/235W

73/436W

Warranty

5 years labour, 2-year C&R

2 years return to labour, 3 years labour

3 years RTB. first year parts and labour, 2 years labour only

2-year parts and labour C&R warranty

3 years C&R

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/J6X5HFD

TINYURL.COM/JJCP6N3

TINYURL.COM/ZOQXPGU

TINYURL.COM/GV5AZTU

TINYURL.COM/ZZMN9HW

5

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/OW68EKE FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 125

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 125

06/12/2016 16:42


Top 5 charts

Best smartphones

1

2

3

4

5

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

Samsung Galaxy S7

LG G5

Google Nexus 6P

Apple iPhone 7

Price

£639 inc VAT

£569 inc VAT

£529 inc VAT

£449 inc VAT

£599 inc VAT

Website

Samsung.com/uk

Samsung.com/uk

LG.com/uk

Google.co.uk

Apple.com/uk

OS (out of box)

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

iOS 10

Processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Qualcomm Snapdragon 810

A10 Fusion

RAM

4GB

4GB

4GB

3GB

2GB

Storage

32GB

32GB

32GB

32/64/128GB

32/128/256GB

MicroSD support

Graphics

Adreno 530

Adreno 530

Adreno 530

Adreno 430

Not stated

Screen size

5.5in

5.1in

5.3in

5.7in

4.7in

Screen resolution

2560x1440

2560x1440

2560x1440

2560x1440

1334x720

Pixel density

534ppi

577ppi

554ppi

518ppi

326ppi

Screen technology

IPS

IPS

IPS

AMOLED

IPS

Front camera

5Mp

5Mp

8Mp

8Mp

7Mp

Rear camera

16Mp, LED flash

12Mp, LED flash

8/16Mp, LED flash

12.3Mp, LED flash

12Mp, LED flash

Video recording

4K

4K

4K

4K

4K

Cellular connectivity

4G

4G

4G

4G

4G

SIM type

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Dual-SIM as standard

Wi-Fi

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

GPS

GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

NFC

USB OTG

Extra features

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint scanner

Geekbench 3.0 (multi)

6469

6466

5404

3939

6088

SunSpider

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

636ms

Not tested

GFXBench: T-Rex

53fps

53fps

53fps

34fps

60fps

GFXBench: Manhattan

27fps

27fps

29fps

14fps

60fps

Battery

3600mAh, non-removable

3000mAh, non-removable

2800mAh, removable

3450mAh, non-removable

Lithium-ion

Dimensions

151x73x7.8mm

142x70x7.9mm

149x74x7.7mm

159.3x77.8x7.3mm

138.3x67.1x7.1mm

Weight

157g

152g

159g

178g

138g

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/ZDKDRE4

TINYURL.COM/J5CQ9OU

TINYURL.COM/JES3ZUD

TINYURL.COM/NABSV4E

TINYURL.COM/JKDLR6H

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/PNWWW6X FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE 126 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 126

TEST CENTRE

06/12/2016 16:42


Top 5 charts

Best smartphones

6

7

8

9

10

OnePlus 3

HTC 10

Huawei P9

Apple iPhone 6s Plus

Samsung Galaxy Note5

Price

£309 inc VAT

£569 inc VAT

£449 inc VAT

£619 inc VAT

£499 inc VAT

Website

Oneplus.net

Htc.com/uk

Consumer.huawei.com/uk

Apple.com/uk

Samsung.com/uk

OS (out of box)

Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

iOS 9

Android 5.1.1 Lollipop

Processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 HiSilicon Kirin 955

A9

2.1GHz Exynos 7420

RAM

6GB

4GB

3GB

2GB

4GB

Storage

64GB

32GB

32GB

16/64/128GB

32/64GB

MicroSD support

Graphics

Adreno 530

Adreno 530

Mali-T880 MP4

M9

Mali-T760MP8

Screen size

5.5in

5.2in

5.2in

5.5in

5.7in

Screen resolution

1920x1080

2560x1440

1920x1080

1920x1080

1280x720

Pixel density

401ppi

565ppi

423ppi

401ppi

518ppi

Screen technology

AMOLED

Super LCD

IPS

IPS

Super AMOLED

Front camera

8Mp

5Mp

8Mp

5Mp

5Mp

Rear camera

16Mp, LED flash

12Mp, LED flash

12Mp, LED flash

12Mp, LED flash

16Mp, LED flash

Video recording

4K

4K

4K

4K

Cellular connectivity

4G

4G

4G

4G

4G

SIM type

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Dual-SIM as standard

Wi-Fi

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

GPS

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

NFC

USB OTG

Extra features

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint scanner

Heart-rate sensor, fingerprint scanner

Geekbench 3.0 (multi)

5546

5132

6505

4407

Not tested

SunSpider

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

210ms

718ms

GFXBench: T-Rex

59fps

52fps

19fps

59fps

37fps

GFXBench: Manhattan

46fps

27fps

36fps

38fps

15fps

Battery

3000mAh, non-removable

3000mAh, non-removable

3000mAh, removable

Lithium-ion

2300mAh, non-removable

Dimensions

152.7x74.7x7.4mm

145.9x71.9x9mm

145x70.9x7 mm

158.2x77.9x7.3mm

153.2x76.1x7.6mm

Weight

158g

161g

144g

192g

171g

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/Z3HQ6BZ

TINYURL.COM/HPEW53R

TINYURL.COM/HJG8XCJ

TINYURL.COM/OYRA5MX

TINYURL.COM/OCQAJPL

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/PNWWW6X FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 127

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 127

06/12/2016 16:42


Top 5 charts

Best budget smartphones

1

2

3

4

5

Motorola Moto G (3rd gen)

Vodafone Smart Ultra 6

Vodafone Smart Prime 7

Vodafone Smart Prime 6

Xiaomi Redmi 3S

Price

£149 inc VAT

£125 inc VAT

£75 inc VAT

£79 inc VAT

£121 inc VAT

Website

Motorola.co.uk

Vodafone.co.uk

Vodafone.co.uk

Vodafone.co.uk

Xiaomi-mi.co.uk

OS (out of box)

Android 5.1.1 Lollipop

Android 5.0.2 Lollipop

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Android 5.0.2 Lollipop

MIUI 7.5

Processor

1.4GHz Snapdragon 410

2.5GHz Snapdragon 615

1.2GHz Snapdragon 210

1.2GHz Snapdragon 410

1.4GHz Snapdragon 4130

RAM

2GB

2GB

1GB

1GB

2GB

Storage

16GB

16GB

8GB

8GB

16GB

MicroSD support

Up to 32GB

Up to 128GB

Up to 128GB

Up to 64GB

Up to 128GB

Graphics

Adreno 406

Adreno 405

Adreno 304

Adreno 306

Adreno 505

Screen size

5in

5.5in

5in

5in

5in

Screen resolution

1280x720

1920x1080

1280x720

1280x720

1280x720

Pixel density

294ppi

401ppi

294ppi

294ppi

294ppi

Screen technology

IPS

IPS

IPS

IPS

IPS

Front camera

5Mp

5Mp

5Mp

2Mp

5Mp

Rear camera

13Mp

13Mp

8Mp

8Mp

13Mp

Video recording

720p

1080p

720p

1080p

1080p

Cellular connectivity

4G

4G*

4G*

4G*

4G

SIM type

Micro-SIM

Nano-SIM

Micro-SIM

Micro-SIM

1x Micro-SIM, 1x Nano-SIM

Dual-SIM as standard

Wi-Fi

802.11b/g/n

802.11b/g/n

802.11b/g/n

802.11b/g/n

802.11b/g/n

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 4.0

Bluetooth 4.0

Bluetooth 4.1

Bluetooth 4.0

Bluetooth 4.1

GPS

GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS

GPS, A-GPS

A-GPS

A-GPS

GPS, A-GPS

NFC

USB OTG

Extra features

FM radio, accelerometer

FM radio

FM radio

FM radio

Rear-mounted fingerprint scanner

Geekbench 3.0 (single)

Not tested

649

Not tested

464

Not tested

Geekbench 3.0 (multi)

1628

2469

1098

1401

2848

SunSpider

1344ms

1545ms

Not tested

1301ms

Not tested

GFXBench: T-Rex

10fps

14fps

10fps

9.4fps

24fps

GFXBench: Manhattan

4fps

5.7fps

4fps

3.8fps

13fps

Battery

2470mAh, non-removable

3000mAh, non-removable

2540mAh, non-removable

Not specified

4100mAh, non-removable

Dimensions

142.1x72.4x11.6mm

154x77x9mm

144x72x8mm

141.65x71.89x9mm

139.3x69.6x8.5mm

Weight

155g

159g

128g

155g

144g

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/HTEFW7H

TINYURL.COM/Q7Q9NXR

TINYURL.COM/ZTLQLUZ

TINYURL.COM/Q5DSNHE

TINYURL.COM/J8HXZ49

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating

* Locked to Vodafone. All other models here are unlocked

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/PAUHFUN FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE 128 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 128

TEST CENTRE

06/12/2016 16:42


Top 5 charts

Best budget smartphones

6

7

8

9

10

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7

Motorola Moto E 4G 2015

Cubot P12

Wileyfox Swift

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3

Price

£135 inc VAT

£109 inc VAT

£74 inc VAT

£129 inc VAT

£118 inc VAT

Website

Vodafone.co.uk

Motorola.co.uk

Cubot.net

Wileyfox.com

Xiaomi-mi.com

OS (out of box)

Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow

Android 5.0 Lollipop

Android 5.1 Lollipop

Cyanogen OS

Android 5.0 Lollipop

Processor

1.8GHz Mediatek MT6755M

1.2GHz Snapdragon 410

1.3GHz MediaTek MT6580

1.2GHz Snapdragon 410

2GHz MediaTek MT6795

RAM

2GB

1GB

1GB

2GB

2GB

Storage

16GB

8GB

16GB

16GB

16GB

MicroSD support

Up to 256GB

Up to 32GB

Up to 32GB

Up to 32GB

No

Graphics

Mali-T860MP2

Adreno 306

Mali 400mp

Adreno 306

Not specified

Screen size

5.5in

4.5in

5in

5in

5.5in

Screen resolution

1920x1080

960x540

1280x720

1280x720

1920x1080

Pixel density

401ppi

245ppi

294ppi

294ppi

403ppi

Screen technology

IPS

IPS

IPS

IPS

Full HD

Front camera

5Mp

0.3Mp

5Mp

5Mp

5Mp

Rear camera

13Mp

5Mp

8Mp, LED flash

13Mp, LED flash

13Mp, LED flash

Video recording

1080p

720p

1080p

1080p

Not specified

Cellular connectivity

4G*

4G

3G

4G

4G

SIM type

Micro-SIM

Micro-SIM

Micro-SIM

Micro-SIM

Micro-SIM

Dual-SIM as standard

Wi-Fi

802.11b/g/n

802.11b/g/n

802.11b/g/n

802.11b/g/n

802.11ac

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 4.1

Bluetooth 4.0

Bluetooth 4.0

Bluetooth 4.0

GPS

GPS, A-GPS

GPS, A-GPS, Glonass

GPS, A-GPS

A-GPS

GPS, A-GPS, Glonass

NFC

USB OTG

Extra features

FM radio, accelerometer

Double-twist launches camera, lockscreen alerts

Gesture controls

3D G-Sensor

Fingerprint scanner

Geekbench 3.0 (single)

Not tested

464

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Geekbench 3.0 (multi)

3002

1463

1401

1456

4597

SunSpider

Not tested

1301ms

1726ms

1760ms

907ms

GFXBench: T-Rex

13fps

13fps

13fps

10fps

122fps

GFXBench: Manhattan

5.3fps

6fps

6fps

4fps

8fps

Battery

2960mAh, non-removable

2390mAh, non-removable

2200mmAh, removable

2500mAh, removable

4000mAh, non-removable

Dimensions

152.2x78.1x8.7mm

66.8x5.2-12.3x129.9mm

141x71x9.4mm

141x71x9.4mm

150x76x8.65mm

Weight

150g

145g

71.5x8.1x143.9mm

135g

164g

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/ZL3X7QG

TINYURL.COM/Q7Q9NXR

TINYURL.COM/JVEOZSF

TINYURL.COM/PO9KG38

TINYURL.COM/JQNP2RB

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating

* Locked to Vodafone. All other models here are unlocked

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/PAUHFUN FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 129

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 129

06/12/2016 16:43


Top 5 charts

Best phablets

1

2

3

4

5

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

Google Nexus 6P

OnePlus 3

Samsung Galaxy Note5

Apple iPhone 6s Plus

Price

£639 inc VAT

£449 inc VAT

£309 inc VAT

£499 inc VAT

£619 inc VAT

Website

Samsung.com/uk

Google.co.uk

Oneplus.net

Samsung.com/uk

Apple.com/uk

OS (out of box)

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow

Android 5.1.1 Lollipop

iOS 9

Processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Qualcomm Snapdragon 810

Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 2.1GHz Exynos 7420

A9

RAM

4GB

3GB

6GB

4GB

2GB

Storage

32GB

32/64/128GB

64GB

32/64GB

16/64/128GB

MicroSD support

Graphics

Adreno 530

Adreno 430

Adreno 530

Mali-T760MP8

M9

Screen size

5.5in

5.7in

5.5in

5.7in

5.5in

Screen resolution

2560x1440

2560x1440

1920x1080

1280x720

1920x1080

Pixel density

534ppi

518ppi

401ppi

518ppi

401ppi

Screen technology

IPS

Quad HD capacitive

AMOLED

Super AMOLED

IPS

Front camera

5Mp

8Mp

8Mp

5Mp

5Mp

Rear camera

16Mp, LED flash

12.3Mp, LED flash

16Mp, LED flash

16Mp, LED flash

12Mp, LED flash

Video recording

4K

4K

Auto HDR

4K

4K

Cellular connectivity

4G

4G

4G

4G

4G

SIM type

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Dual-SIM as standard

Wi-Fi

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

GPS

GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

NFC

USB OTG

 Fingerprint scanner

Build rating Features rating Value rating Performance rating Overall rating

Extra features

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint scanner

Heart-rate sensor, fingerprint scanner

Geekbench 3.0 (single)

6469

Not tested

Not tested

1497

2527

Geekbench 3.0 (multi)

Not tested

3939

5546

Not tested

4407

SunSpider

53fps

636ms

Not tested

718ms

210ms

GFXBench: T-Rex

27fps

34fps

59fps

37fps

59fps

GFXBench: Manhattan

27fps

14fps

46fps

15fps

38fps

Battery

3600mAh, non-removable

3450mAh, non-removable

3000mAh, non-removable

2300mAh, non-removable

Lithium-ion

Dimensions

151x73x7.8mm

159.3x77.8x7.3mm

152.7x74.7x7.4mm

153.2x76.1x7.6mm

158.2x77.9x7.3mm

Weight

157g

178g

158g

171g

192g

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/ZDKDRE4

TINYURL.COM/NABSV4E

TINYURL.COM/Z3HQ6BZ

TINYURL.COM/OCQAJPL

TINYURL.COM/OYRA5MX

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/OE56HJY FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE 130 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 130

TEST CENTRE

06/12/2016 16:43


Top 5 charts

Best phablets

6

7

8

9

10

Google Pixel XL

Huawei P9 Plus

Xiaomi Mi Max

LG G4

Xiaomi Redmi Pro

Price

£719 inc VAT

£629 inc VAT

£212 inc VAT

£500 inc VAT

£256 inc VAT

Website

Google.co.uk

Consumer.huawei.com/uk

Xiaomi-mi.co.uk

Lg.com/uk

Xiaomi-mi.co.uk

OS (out of box)

Android 7.1 Nougat

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Android 5.1 Lollipop

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 821

HiSilicon Kirin 955

Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 1.82GHz Snapdragon 808

1.55GHz Helio X25

RAM

4GB

4GB

6GB

3GB

3GB

Storage

32/128GB

64GB

32/64GB

32GB

64GB

MicroSD support

Up to 256GB

Up to 256GB

Up to 128GB

Up to 128GB

Graphics

Adreno 530

Mali-T880 MP4

Adreno 510

Adreno 418

Mali T880

Screen size

5.5in

5.5in

6.4in

5.5in

5.5in

Screen resolution

2560x1440

1920x1080

1920x1080

1440x2560

1920x1080

Pixel density

534ppi

401ppi

342ppi

538ppi

401ppi

Screen technology

IPS

AMOLED

IPS

IPS

IPS

Front camera

8Mp

8Mp

5Mp

8Mp

5Mp

Rear camera

12.3Mp, LED flash

12Mp, LED flash

16Mp, LED flash

16Mp, LED flash

13Mp, LED flash

Video recording

2160p

1080p

2160p

4K

1080p

Cellular connectivity

4G

4G

4G

4G

4G

SIM type

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Micro-SIM

Nano-SIM

Dual-SIM as standard

Wi-Fi

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.0

Bluetooth 4.2

GPS

GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

NFC

USB OTG

 Fingerprint scanner

Build rating Features rating Valuee rating Performance rating Overall rating

Extra features

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint scanner

Fingerprint scanner

24bit/192kHz audio, rear key, IR blaster

Geekbench 3.0 (single)

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Geekbench 3.0 (multi)

Not tested

6682

3825

3513

Not tested

SunSpider

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

715ms

Not tested

GFXBench: T-Rex

55fps

44fps

34fps

25fps

15fps

GFXBench: Manhattan

30fps

20fps

15fps

9fps

25fps

Battery

3450mAh, non-removable

3400mAh, non-removable

4850mAh, non-removable

3000mAh, removable, Qi

4050mAh, non-removable

Dimensions

154.7x75.7x8.5mm

152.3x75.3x7mm

173.1x88.3x7.5mm

76x149x6.3-9.8mm

151.5x76.2x8.2mm

Weight

168g

162g

203g

155g

174g

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/HBXFGXX

TINYURL.COM/ZABGKKC

TINYURL.COM/HPFLJ4M

TINYURL.COM/QDGU48T

TINYURL.COM/JV6ZMED

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/OE56HJY FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 131

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 131

06/12/2016 16:43


Top 5 charts

Best tablets

1

2

3

4

5

Apple iPad Air 2

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8

9.7in Apple iPad Pro

Apple iPad mini 4

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Price

£399 inc VAT

£319 inc VAT

£499 inc VAT

£319 inc VAT

£319 inc VAT

Website

Apple.com/uk

Samsung.com/uk

Apple.com/uk

Apple.com/uk

Samsung.com/uk

OS (out of box)

iOS 10

Android 5.0 Lollipop

iOS 10

iOS 10

Android 4.4 KitKat

Processor

Apple A8X, Apple M8

1.9GHz Exynos 5433

Apple A9X, Apple M9

Apple A8, Apple M8

Exynos 5420, octa-core

RAM

2GB

3GB

3GB

2GB

3GB

Storage

16/64/128GB

32GB/64GB

32GB/128GB/256GB

16GB/64/128GB

16GB/32GB

MicroSD support

Up to 128GB

Up to 128GB

Graphics

Apple A8X

Not specified

Apple A9X

Apple A8

ARM Mali-T628 MP6

Screen size

9.7in

8in

9.7in

7.9in

8.4in

Screen resolution

2048x1536

2048x1536

2048x1536

2048x1536

2560x1440

Pixel density

264ppi

320ppi

264ppi

326ppi

359ppi

Screen technology

IPS

Super AMOLED

IPS

IPS

Super AMOLED

Front camera

1.2Mp

2.1Mp

8Mp

1.2Mp

2.1Mp

Rear camera

8Mp

8Mp

12Mp, LED flash

8Mp

8Mp, LED flash

Video recording

1080p

QHD

1080p

1080p

1080p

Cellular connectivity

4G version available

4G version available

4G version available

4G version available

4G version available

Wi-Fi

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 4.0

Bluetooth 4.1

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth 4.0

GPS

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

GPS in cellular model only

A-GPS, Glonass

GPS, Glonass

NFC

USB OTG

Fingerprint scanner

Waterproof

Extra features

None

None

Stereo speakers

None

Stereo speakers

Geekbench 3.0 (single)

1816

Not tested

Not tested

1719

Not tested

Geekbench 3.0 (multi)

4523

4305

5257

3101

2765

JetStream

Not tested

Not tested

142

Not tested

1089ms (SunSpider)

GFXBench: T-Rex

48fps

26fps

60fps

52fps

14fps

GFXBench: Manhattan

Not tested

11fps

34fps

25fps

3fps

Battery

7340mAh, non-removable

4000mAh, non-removable, Qi 7306mAh, non-removable

5124mAh, non-removable

4900mAh, non-removable

Dimensions

240x169.5x6.1mm

198.6x134.8x5.6mm

170x240x6.1mm

203.2x134.8x6.1mm

126x213x6.6mm

Weight

437g

265g

437g

304g

294g

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/PLQXWSZ

TINYURL.COM/P37QFDW

TINYURL.COM/HFY7T4Z

TINYURL.COM/PBMONMA

TINYURL.COM/OUEM64Z

Build rating Features rating Performance rating Value rating Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/QXC8GDB FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE 132 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 132

TEST CENTRE

06/12/2016 16:44


Top 5 charts

Best tablets

8

9

10

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact Google Pixel C

6

7

Amazon Fire

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Xiaomi Mi Pad 2

Price

£299 inc VAT

£399 inc VAT

£49 inc VAT

£499 inc VAT

£144 inc VAT

Website

Sony.co.uk

Google.co.uk

Amazon.co.uk

Sony.co.uk

Mi.com/en

OS (out of box)

Android 4.4 KitKat

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

FireOS 5

Android 5.0 Lollipop

Android 5.1 Lollipop

Processor

2.5GHz Snapdragon 801

Nvidia Tegra X1

1.3GHz quad-core

Snapdragon 810

Intel Atom X5-Z8500

RAM

3GB

3GB

1GB

3GB

2GB

Storage

16GB/32GB

32GB/64GB

8GB

32GB

16GB/64GB

MicroSD support

Up to 128GB

Up to 128GB

Up to 128GB

Graphics

Adreno 330

Nvidia Tegra X1

Mali 450

Adreno 430

Intel HD Graphics

Screen size

8in

10.2in

7in

10.1in

7.9in

Screen resolution

1920x1200

2560x1800

1024x600

2560x1600

2048x1536

Pixel density

283ppi

308ppi

171ppi

299ppi

326ppi

Screen technology

IPS

IPS

IPS

IPS

IPS

Front camera

2.2Mp

2Mp

VGA

5.1Mp

5Mp

Rear camera

8.1Mp

8Mp

2Mp

8.1Mp

8Mp

Video recording

1080p

1080p

Not specified

1080p

Not specified

Cellular connectivity

4G version available

4G version available

Wi-Fi

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 4.0

Bluetooth 4.1

Bluetooth 4.0

Bluetooth 4.1

Bluetooth 4.1

GPS

A-GPS, Glonass

A-GPS, Glonass

NFC

USB OTG

Fingerprint scanner

Waterproof

Extra features

PS4 Remote Play, stereo speakers

None

None

None

None

Geekbench 3.0 (single)

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Geekbench 3.0 (multi)

2708

4048

Not tested

4573

3280

JetStream

1017ms

Not tested

Not tested

580ms (SunSpider)

454

GFXBench: T-Rex

28fps

48fps

Not tested

37fps

30fps

GFXBench: Manhattan

11fps

28fps

Not tested

16fps

13fps

Battery

4500mAh, non-removable

9000mAh, non-removable

Not specified

6000mAh, non-removable

6190mAh, non-removable

Dimensions

213x124x6.4mm

242x179x7mm

191x115x10.6mm

254x167x6.1mm

200x133x7mm

Weight

270g

517g

313g

393g

322g

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1-year return-to-base

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/NJ6VHEO

TINYURL.COM/ZA79M7Z

TINYURL.COM/J3LJP7T

TINYURL.COM/JG34GZP

TINYURL.COM/H7DYTTL

Build rating Features rating Performance rating Value rating Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/QXC8GDB FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 133

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 133

06/12/2016 16:44


Top 5 charts

Best smartwatches

1

2

3

4

5

Huawei Watch

Apple Watch Series 2

Motorola Moto 360 2

Samsung Gear S2

Fossil Q Founder

Price

£289 inc VAT

£369 inc VAT

£229 inc VAT

£199 inc VAT

£259 inc VAT

Website

Consumer.huawei.com/en

Apple.com/uk

Motorola.co.uk

Samsung.com/uk

Fossil.com/uk

Operating system

Android Wear

iOS 10

Android Wear

Tizen-based OS

Android Wear

Compatibility

Android

iOS

Android, iOS

Android, iOS

Android, iOS

Display

1.4in 400x400 AMOLED

38mm, 340x272; 42mm, 390x312, AMOLED

1.37in 360x325 LCD

1.2in 360x360 AMOLED

1.5in, 360x326 LCD

Processor

Snapdragon 400

S2

Snapdragon 400

1GHz Exynos 3250

Intel Atom Z34XX

RAM

512MB

Not stated

512MB

512MB

1GB

Storage

4GB

4GB

4GB

4GB

4GB

Waterproof

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery

300mAh

273mAh

300mAh

250mAh

400mAh

Dimensions

42x11.3mm

38.6/42.5x33.3/36.4mm

42x11.4mm

42.3x49.8x11.4mm

47x13mm

Weight

40g

28.2g/34.2g

53.6g

47g

156g

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/PXV9PVX

TINYURL.COM/HAT545L

TINYURL.COM/GUJR9XX

TINYURL.COM/P4UKB74

TINYURL.COM/Z3X6D6F

Overall rating

Best smartwatches

6

7

8

9

10

LG G Watch R

Asus ZenWatch 2

Motorola Moto 360

LG Watch Urbane

Sony SmartWatch 3

Price

£195 inc VAT

£149 inc VAT

£199 inc VAT

£259 inc VAT

£189 inc VAT

Website

Lg.com/uk

Uk.sasus.com

Motorola.co.uk

Lg.com/uk

Sony.co.uk

Operating system

Android Wear

Android Wear

Android Wear

Android Wear

Android Wear

Compatibility

Android

Android, iOS

Android

Android

Android

Display

1.3in 320x320 P-OLED

1.63in 320x320 LCD

1.56in 290x320 LCD

1.3in 320x320 P-OLED

1.6in 320x320 LCD

Processor

1.2GHz Snapdrgon 400

1.2GHz Snapdragon 400

TI OMAP 3

1.2GHz Snapdragon 400

1.2GHz ARM V7

RAM

512MB

512MB

512MB

512MB

512MB

Storage

4GB

4GB

4GB

4GB

4GB

Waterproof

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery

410mAh

300mAh

320mAh

410mAh

420mAh

Dimensions

46.4x53.6x9.7mm

40.7x49.6x10.9mm

46x11.5mm

46x52x10.9mm

36x51x10mm

Weight

62g

50g

49g (leather band model)

67g

45g

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/QATY8FT

TINYURL.COM/ZVRZLNJ

TINYURL.COM/O9C69K6

TINYURL.COM/Q3VK7ES

TINYURL.COM/OQVZ3PN

Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/QCXEDLX FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE 134 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 134

TEST CENTRE

06/12/2016 16:46


Top 5 charts

Best activity trackers

1

2

3

4

5

Fitbit Charge 2

Fitbit Charge HR

Apple Watch Series 2

Fitbit Alta

Xiaomi Mi Band 2

Price

£129 inc VAT

£119 inc VAT

£369 inc VAT

£99 inc VAT

£33 inc VAT

Website

Fitbit.com/uk

Fitbit.com/uk

Apple.com/uk

Fitbit.com/uk

Mi.com/en

Compatibility

iOS, Android, Windows

iOS, Android, Windows

iOS

iOS, Android, Windows

iOS, Android

Display

OLED

OLED

AMOLED

OLED

OLED

Pedometer

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Heart-rate monitor

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Sleep tracking

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Alarm

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Third-party app synching Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Call notifications

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Waterproof

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery life

5 days

5+ days

18 hours

5 days

20-day

Weight

35g

26g

28.2g/34.2g

32g

7g (tracker only)

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/Z3NN8RL

TINYURL.COM/PCKV4SU

TINYURL.COM/HAT545L

TINYURL.COM/ZO8TN2L

TINYURL.COM/ZAF6OAW

Overall rating

Best activity trackers

6

7

8

9

10

Fitbit Surge

Misfit Ray

MyZone MZ-3

Microsoft Band 2

Fitbit One

Price

£199 inc VAT

£79 inc VAT

£129 inc VAT

£199 inc VAT

£79 inc VAT

Website

Fitbit.com/uk

Misfit.com

Myzone.org

Microsoft.com/en-gb

Fitbit.com/uk

Compatibility

iOS, Android, Windows

iOS, Android

iOS, Android, Windows

iOS, Android, Windows

iOS, Android

Display

Touchscreen

No

No

AMOLED

OLED

Pedometer

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Heart-rate monitor

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

No

Sleep tracking

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Alarm

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Third-party app synching Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Call notifications

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

Waterproof

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Battery life

5 days

6 months

7 months

2 days

10-14 days

Weight

51g

8g

Not stated

159g

8g

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/O83DR47

TINYURL.COM/JG3XVT9

TINYURL.COM/HK5JOXX

TINYURL.COM/HHP4LMR

TINYURL.COM/PT2TC6F

Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/PGMS2PW FOR OUR BUYING ADVICE TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 135

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 135

06/12/2016 16:46


Top 5 charts

1

2

3

4

5

Canon Pixma MG7550

Samsung Xpress M2835DW

Brother HL-L9200CDWT

HP LaserJet Pro M277dw

HP OfficeJet 7510

Price

£130 inc VAT

£143 inc VAT

£548 inc VAT

£258 inc VAT

£129 inc VAT

Website

Canon.co.uk

Samsung.com/uk

Brother.co.uk

Hp.com/uk

Hp.com/uk

Technology

Colour inkjet

Mono laser

Colour laser

Colour laser

Colour inkjet

Max print resolution

9600x2400dpi

4800x600dpi

2400x600dpi

300dpi

1200x600dpi

Actual print speed

B=14.3ppm

B=22.7ppm

B=30ppm C=30ppm

B=15ppm C=13ppm

B=12.5ppm C=7.5ppm

Scan/fax facilities

2400x4800dpi scanner

None

None

1200x1200dpi scanner, 300x300dpi fax

1200x1200dpi scanner, 300x300dpi fax

Supported interfaces

USB 2.0, ethernet, 802.11b/g/n USB 2.0, ethernet, 802.11b/g/n USB 2.0, ethernet, 802.11b/g/n USB 2.0, ethernet, 802.11b/g/n USB 2.0, ethernet, 802.11b/g/n

Cost per page

B=2.4p C=8.1p

B=1.5p

B=1p C=5.9p

B=2.2p C=9p

B=1.7p C=3.3p

Media card/auto duplex











Input capacity

125 sheets

250 sheets

750 sheets + 50 sheet

150 sheets + 50 sheet

250 sheets + 75 sheet

Dimensions

435x370x148mm

368x335x202mm

410x495x445mm

420x417x322mm

613x725x287mm

Weight

7.9kg

7.4kg

28.3kg

16.3kg

13kg

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/PZ3SVH7

TINYURL.COM/QECOF7V

TINYURL.COM/PT52MH6

TINYURL.COM/GPXACL7

TINYURL.COM/HDXF85Y

Best printers

Overall rating

6

7

8

9

10

Epson EcoTank ET-2500

HP OfficeJet 3830

Lexmark CS410dn

HP Envy 5640 e-All-in-One

Epson Expression XP-530

Price

£229 inc VAT

£60 inc VAT

£268 inc VAT

£69 inc VAT

£92 inc VAT

Website

Epson.co.uk

Hp.com/uk

Lexmark.co.uk

Hp.com/uk

Epson.co.uk

Technology

Colour inkjet

Colour inkjet

Colour laser

Colour inkjet

Colour inkjet

Max print resolution

5760x1440dpi

1200x1200dpi

2400x600dpi

4800x1200dpi

5760x1440dpi

Actual print speed

B=7.5ppm C=4ppm

B=11ppm C=4ppm

B=30ppm C=30ppm

B=12.5ppm C=8.5ppm

B=9.5ppm C=9ppm

Scan/fax facilities

2400x4800dpi scanner

None

None

1200x1200dpi scanner

2400x1200dpi scanner

Supported interfaces

USB 2.0, ethernet, 802.11b/g/n USB 2.0, 802.11b/g/n, AirPrint

USB 2.0, ethernet, 802.11b/g/n USB 2.0, 802.11b/g/n

USB 2.0, ethernet, 802.11b/g/n

Cost per page

B=0.2p C=0.4p

B=6p C=7p

B=1.8p C=9.5p

B=2.2p C=9p

B=3.8p C=5.2p

Media card/auto duplex











Input capacity

100 sheets

60 sheets

250 sheets

125 sheets + 15 sheet

100 sheets

Dimensions

169x489x300mm

222x454x362mm

291x442x407mm

454x410x161mm

390x341x138mm

Weight

4.6kg

5.8kg

20.5kg

6.8kg

6.2kg

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/ZWCECPA

TINYURL.COM/HBTE9BX

TINYURL.COM/PT52MH6

TINYURL.COM/JGZPOZ3

TINYURL.COM/HRFB62D

Best printers

Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/NMMP4ER FOR OUR PRINTERS BUYING ADVICE 136 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 136

TEST CENTRE

06/12/2016 16:47


Top 5 charts

Best wireless routers

1

2

3

4

5

Apple AirPort Extreme

TP-Link Archer VR900

BT Smart Hub

Netgear Nighthawk R7000

TP-Link VR2600

Price

£169 inc VAT

£139 inc VAT

£129 inc VAT

£150 inc VAT

£174 inc VAT

Website

Apple.com/uk

Tp-link.com

Bt.com

Netgear.co.uk

Tp-link.com

Standards supported

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

Frequency modes

2.4GHz/5GHz (concurrent)

2.4GHz/5GHz (concurrent)

2.4GHz/5GHz (concurrent)

2.4GHz/5GHz (concurrent)

2.4GHz/5GHz (concurrent)

Antennas

6x internal

3x external

7x internal

3x external

4x external

Built-in modem

Manufacturer’s rating

1300/450Mb/s

1300/600Mb/s

Not specified

1300/600Mb/s

1733/800Mb/s

WPS

Ports

Gigabit WAN, 3x gigabit LAN, USB

Gigabit WAN, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

Gigabit LAN, 1x USB 3.0

Gigabit WAN, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

2x USB 3.0, 4 x RJ11

Average power use

8W

N/S

N/S

9W

N/S

Max speed (11n/11ac)

171/572Mb/s

146/622Mb/s

85/239.5Mb/s

171/592Mb/s

Not tested

Dimensions, weight

98x168x98mm, 945g

245x181x90mm, 720g

240x155x65mm

285x186x45mm, 750g

263.8x197.8x37.3mm

Warranty

1 year

Not specified

Not specified

Not specified

Not specified

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/MFDLLSC

TINYURL.COM/OF8KYPC

TINYURL.COM/ZL9TV96

TINYURL.COM/Q2NRQ8Q

TINYURL.COM/Z6E2DMG

Overall rating

Best powerline adaptors

1

2

3

4

5

TP-Link AV2000

TrendNet Powerline 500 AV2

TP-Link AV1200

Solwise SmartLink 1200AV2

Devolo dLan 1200+

Price

£99 inc VAT

£41 inc VAT

£88 inc VAT

£43 inc VAT

£119 inc VAT

Website

Uk.tp-link.com

Trendnet.com

Uk.tp-link.com

Solwise.com

Devolo.com/uk

No of adaptors in kit

2

2

2

1 (2 required)

2

Max throughput

2000Mb/s

600Mb/s

1200Mb/s

1200Mb/s

1200Mb/s

Near test result

432Mb/s

146Mb/s

500Mb/s

410Mb/s

357Mb/s

Far test result

117Mb/s

71Mb/s

200Mb/s

107Mb/s

126Mb/s

Ethernet ports

2x gigabit

1x gigabit

1x gigabit

2x gigabit

1x gigabit

Passthrough socket

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Wireless hotspot

No

No

No

No

No

Encryption

128-bit

128-bit

128-bit

128-bit

128-bit

Dimensions

131x72x42 mm

55x87x58mm

230x190x100mm

62x122x41mm

130x66x42mm

Weight

Not specified

90g

898g

Not specified

Not specified

Warranty

1 year

3 years

1 year

2 years

3 years

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/H9W89QM

TINYURL.COM/QYEPJQ7

TINYURL.COM/NVONCWT

TINYURL.COM/NZ4EJW8

TINYURL.COM/Q4EOO4M

Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/PNUDFBK FOR OUR PERIPHERALS BUYING ADVICE TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 137

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 137

06/12/2016 16:47


Top 5 charts

Best NAS drives

1

2

3

4

5

Synology DS115j

Qnap HS-210

WD My Cloud EX2100

Synology DS216play

Synology DS414j

Price

£83 inc VAT (diskless)

£190 inc VAT (diskless)

£205 inc VAT (diskless)

£190 inc VAT (diskless)

£270 inc VAT (diskless)

Website

Synology.com

Qnap.com

Wd.com

Synology.com

Synology.com

Drive bays

1

2

2

2

4

Processor

800MHz Marvell Armada 370

1.6GHz Marvell single-core

1.3GHz Marvel Armada 385

1.5GHz STM STiH412

1.2GHz Mindspeed Concerto

Memory

256MB DDR3

512MB DDR3

1GB DDR3

1GB DDR3

512MB DDR3

Remote access

eSATA

1x

USB port

2x USB 2.0

2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0

2x USB 3.0

2x USB 3.0

1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0

Raid options

None

0/1/JBOD

00/1/JBOD

00/1/JBOD

0/1/5/6/10/JBOD

Software

DSM 5.1

HD Station

My Cloud

DSM 5.2

DSM 5.0

Dimensions

71x161x224mm

302x220x41mm

216x109x148mm

165x100x226mm

184x168x230mm

Weight

700g

1.5kg

3.5kg

1.8kg

2.2kg

Warranty

1 year

2 years

3 years

2 years

3 years

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/MNEYVNK

TINYURL.COM/OEXRYNY

TINYURL.COM/M643BSG

TINYURL.COM/JTQF67V

TINYURL.COM/M643BSG

Overall rating

Best portable hard drives

1

2

3

4

5

Adata SE730

Samsung Portable SSD T3

Transcend ESD400

SanDisk Extreme 500 Portable SSD

Western Digital My Passport

Price

£106 inc VAT

£606 inc VAT

£420 inc VAT

£70 inc VAT

£159 inc VAT

Website

Adata.com

Samsung.com/uk

Transcend-info.com

Sandisk.co.uk

Wdc.com

Price per GB (at capacity tested)

46p

32p

39p

31p

4p

Capacity tested

250GB

2TB

256GB

240GB

4TB

Capacity range

250GB

250GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB

128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB

120GB, 240GB, 480GB

1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB

Storage

MLC NAND Flash

NAND Flash

NAND Flash

NAND Flash SSD

HDD

406.9/211.2MB/s

410.8/163.8MB/s

398.3/203.4MB/s

119.3/112.8/s

Overall rating

Sequential performance 380.8/278.5MB/s 4K performance

19.8/38.9MB/s

21.9/2.3MB/s

16.1/2.7MB/s

19.8/3.7MB/s

0.5/1.6MB/s

Other interfaces

USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C

USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C

USB 3.0

USB 3.0

USB 3.0

Encryption

None

256-bit AES

None

128-bit AES

256-bit AES

SanDisk SecureAccess

WD Backup, WD Utilities

Software

None

T3 Security Enabler

Transcend Elite Data Management

Dimensions

44x73x12mm

58x74x10mm

92x62x10.5mm

75.7x75.7x10.7mm

81.5x110x16.3mm

Weight

33g

51g

56g

79g

245g

Warranty

3 years

3 years

3 years

3 years

2 years

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/OABWL4B

TINYURL.COM/M72D3EP

TINYURL.COM/J43SQM5

TINYURL.COM/HNKNV3M

TINYURL.COM/GP6JNCM

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/O99Z6ZO FOR OUR STORAGE BUYING ADVICE 138 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 138

TEST CENTRE

06/12/2016 16:47


Top 5 charts

Best SSDs

1

2

3

4

5

Samsung 850 Evo (500GB)

Toshiba Q300 (480GB)

Samsung 850 Pro (1TB)

SanDisk Extreme Pro (480GB)

Kingston KC400 SSDNow (512GB)

Price

£109 inc VAT

£79 inc VAT

£365 inc VAT

£172 inc VAT

£132 inc VAT

Website

Samsung.com/uk

Toshiba.co.uk

Samsung.com/uk

Sandisk.co.uk

Kingston.com/en

Price per GB

23p

18p

36.5p

35.8p

28p

4K performance

36.3/106.2MB/s

29.8/65.1MB/s

36/89MB/s

32/88MB/s

29.4/98.2MB/s

529.3/511.5MB/s

508/482MB/s

513/490MB/s

533.7/521.6MB/s

Overall rating

Sequential performance 525.4/512.1MB/s Memory cache

512MB DDR3 SDRAM

Unknown

1GB LPDDR2

1GB

Unknown

Controller

Samsung MGX Controller

Toshiba TC58NC1000

Samsung MCX

Marvell 88SS9187

Phison 3110

Encryption

AES 256-bit

None

AES 256-bit

AES 256-bit

None

Flash

Samsung 3D V-NAND

TLC NAND

Samsung 40nm V-NAND MLC

SanDisk 19nm MLC

Kingston NAND

Connection

SATA III 6GB/s

SATA III 6GB/s

SATA III 6GB/

SATA III 6GB/s

SATA III 6GB/s

Power consumption

4.7W active/0.5W idle

3.6W active/0.3W idle

5.8W active/0.6W idle

3.5W active/0.15W idle

3.74W active/0.255W idle

Warranty

5 years

3 years

10 years

10 years

5 years

Dimensions

69.85x100x6.8mm

69.85x100x7mm

69.85x100x6.8mm

69.85x100.5x7mm

69.9x100.1x7mm

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/JB2VWLF

TINYURL.COM/ZZBWFJZ

TINYURL.COM/OVHDALD

TINYURL.COM/NMSJU25

TINYURL.COM/JF4E3NL

Smart thermostats

1

2

3

4

5

Honeywell EvoHome

Heat Genius

Nest Learning Thermostat

Hive Active Heating

Tado

Price (from)

£249 inc VAT

£249 inc VAT

£179 inc VAT

£179 inc VAT

£199 inc VAT

Website

Honeywelluk.com

Heatgenius.co.uk

Nest.com

Hivehome.com

Tado.com/gb

Zones controlled

12

6

1

1

1

Hot water control

Underfloor heating

Warranty

18 months

2 years

2 years

1 year

1 year

Verdict

EvoHome is the best smart heating system we’ve tested. It isn’t perfect though, and it’s also very expensive, or can be. But if you value convenience and comfort above saving money, it’s the one to buy.

Heat Genius is very good at a very useful thing. It is easy to use and efficient. How long it takes to pay for itself will depend on your circumstances, and it may be that a full system is too much of a long-term investment for you. If you are looking to install in your a zoned smart heating system, we are happy to recommend Heat Genius.

If you need only a single thermostat and don’t need control over hot water, the Nest is a good choice. The Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm also works with the thermostat, but it’s not cheap. There’s also the Nest Cam, but the tie-in with the thermostat is minimal.

The Hive Active Heating system is a great upgrade for anyone that wants or needs the ability to be able to control their heating remotely. It’s by no means the most advanced smart thermostat, but it will do the job at a good price for a lot of people.

Tado is the best smart thermostat if you like the idea of presence detection as it simply follows you and your smartphone via GPS, and turns the heating up or down as you get further away or nearer home. There’s also hot water control, but the thermostat itself isn’t the best looking.

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/Q3CXA4Z

TINYURL.COM/Q2TUKL9

TINYURL.COM/N9MWV4G

TINYURL.COM/PDLCSAS

TINYURL.COM/O4K3A2A

Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/O99Z6ZO FOR OUR STORAGE BUYING ADVICE TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 139

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 139

06/12/2016 16:47


Top 5 charts

Best graphics cards

1

2

3

4

5

Asus ROG Strix GTX 1080

Nvidia GTX 1080 Founders Ed

MSI GTX 1070

Nvidia GTX 1060 Founders Ed

XFX Radeon RX 480

Price

£659 inc VAT

£619 inc VAT

£419 inc VAT

£275 inc VAT

£249 inc VAT

Website

Asus.com/uk

Nvidia.co.uk

Uk.msi.com

Nvidia.co.uk

Novatech.co.uk

Graphics processor

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060

AMD Radeon RX480

Installed RAM

8GB

8GB

8GB

6GB

8GB

Memory interface

256-bit

256-bit

256-bit

192-bit

256-bit

Core clock/boost

1759/1898MHz

1607/1733MHz

1607/1797MHz

1506/1708MHz

1120/1288MHz

Memory clock

10,010MHz

10,000MHz

4006MHz

4006MHz

7000MHz

Stream processors

2560

2560

1920

1280

2304

Texture units

160

160

120

80

144

Power connectors

1x 8-pin, 1x 6-pin

1x 8-pin

1x 8-pin, 1x 6-pin

2x 6-pin

1x 6-pin

DirectX

12

12

12

12

12

Digital interface

DVI, 2x HDMI, 2x DisplayPort

DVI, HDMI, 3x DisplayPort

DVI, HDMI, 3x DisplayPort

DVI, HDMI 2.0, 3x DisplayPort 1.4

3x DP 1.4, HDMI

Warranty

3 years

3 years

3 years

3 years

2 years

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/HL4SOJ2

TINYURL.COM/ZEQXYQU

TINYURL.COM/J6HWN55

TINYURL.COM/HH6TYT8

TINYURL.COM/HSVQWBQ

Overall rating

Best graphics cards

6

7

8

9

10

Sapphire Radeon R7 250X

Asus GeForce GTX 980 Ti

Zotac GeForce GTX 980 Ti

MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G

Club3D Radeon R9 390

Price

£65 inc VAT

£639 inc VAT

£532 inc VAT

£404 inc VAT

£288 inc VAT

Website

Sapphiretech.com

Asus.com/uk

Zotac.com

Uk.msi.com

Club-3d.com

Graphics processor

AMD Radeon R7 250X

nVidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti

nVidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti

nVidia GeForce GTX 980

AMD Radeon R9 390

Installed RAM

1GB GDDR5

12GB

12GB

4GB

8GB

Memory interface

128-bit

384-bit

512-bit

256-bit

512-bit

Core clock/boost

950MHz

1216/1317MHz

1105/1140MHz

1216/1317MHz

1010MHz

Memory clock

1125/4500MHz

7200MHz

7010MHz

7010MHz

6000MHz

Stream processors

640

2816

2816

2048

2560

Texture units

40

172

172

128

160

Power connectors

1x 6-pin

2x 8-pin

1x 8-pin, 1x 6-pin

2x 8-pin

1x 8-pin, 1x 6-pin

DirectX

12

12

12

12

12

Digital interface

1x DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort

DVI, HDMI 2.0, 3x DisplayPort 1.2

DVI, HDMI, 3x Mini-DisplayPort DVI, HDMI, 3x DisplayPort

2x DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort 1.2

Warranty

2 years

3 years

5 years

3 years

2 years

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/OLJ83SQ

TINYURL.COM/NDZZQKJ

TINYURL.COM/POYHNUH

TINYURL.COM/Q5OPK9S

TINYURL.COM/PC5PGWM

Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/H2OU2QM FOR OUR GAMING BUYING ADVICE 140 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews March 2017

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 140

TEST CENTRE

06/12/2016 16:47


Top 5 charts

Best 4K flat-panel TVs

1

2

3

4

5

Panasonic TX-50CX802B

Samsung UE48JU7000

Sony KD-55X8505C

Philips 40PUT6400

Finlux 55UX3EC320S

Price

£1,299 inc VAT

£1,200 inc VAT

£1,200 inc VAT

£449 inc VAT

£799 inc VAT

Website

Panasonic.co.uk

Samsung.com/uk

Sony.co.uk

Philips.co.uk

Finlux.co.uk

Screen size

50in

48in

55in

40in

55in

Panel type

LCD (LED)

LCD (LED)

LCD (LED)

LCD (LED)

LCD (LED)

Native resolution

3840x2160

3840x2160

3840x2160

3840x2160

3840x2160

3D enabled

Apps

BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4, Demand 5, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon

BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and apps store

YouView with BBC iPlayer, ITV BBC iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Player, All 4 and Demand 5; Spotify Connect, Daily Motion, YouTube, Twitter, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Philips App Store, Google Play Facebook, Viewster, Flickr

Networking

Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct

Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct

Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct

Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct

Ethernet, Wi-Fi

Inputs

3x HDMI, 3x USB

4x HDMI, 3x USB

4x HDMI, 3x USB

4x HDMI, 3x USB

4x HDMI, 3x USB

Dimensions

112.1x4.6x65.2cm

108.7x6.7x63cm

123.6x6x72.2cm

90.4x8.3x52.6m

123.3x10.6x71.3cm

Weight

18kg

11.1kg

19.9kg

7.8kg

17.2kg

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

1 year

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/ZLFQ3JV

TINYURL.COM/Q2W3VZY

TINYURL.COM/ZGSP9FM

TINYURL.COM/JQVWCFU

TINYURL.COM/P934VXT

Overall rating

Best 4K flat-panel displays

1

2

3

4

5

BenQ BL3201PT

Philips BDM4065UC

Samsung UD970

Acer S277HK

ViewSonic VP2780-4K

Price

£699 inc VAT

£600 inc VAT

£1,400 inc VAT

£499 inc VAT

£699 inc VAT

Website

Benq.co.uk

Philips.co.uk

Samsung.com/uk

Acer.co.uk

Viewsoniceurope.com/uk

Screen size

32in

40in

31.5in

27in

27in

Panel type

IPS

VA

PLS

IPS

IPS

Native resolution

3840x2160

3840x2160

3840x2160

3840x2160

3840x2160

Pixel density

157ppi

110ppi

140ppi

163ppi

163ppi

Brightness

350cd/m2

120cd/m2

350cd/m2

300cd/m2

350cd/m2

Static contrast ratio

1000:1

5000:1

1000:1

530:1

1000:1

Response time

4ms

8.5ms

8ms

4ms

5ms

Ports

DVI-DL, HDMI, DP, mDP

HDMI, DP, mDP, VGA

HDMI, DVI, 4x USB 3.0

DVI, HDMI, DP, mDP, 4x USB 3.0 HDMI, DP, 4x USB 3.0

Dimensions

490.2x740.3x213.4mm

904x512x88mm

728x427x62mm

614x406x113mm

642.7x469.7x347.8mm

Weight

12.5kg

8.5kg

10.3kg

4.9kg

11.7kg

Warranty

3 years

2 years

Not specified

Not specified

3 years

FULL REVIEW

TINYURL.COM/NPA62QL

TINYURL.COM/Q2W3VZY

TINYURL.COM/OBWBBYN

TINYURL.COM/NTV4EVD

TINYURL.COM/O69CMTB

Overall rating

HEAD TO TINYURL.COM/LNLDBJX FOR OUR DIGITAL HOME BUYING ADVICE TEST CENTRE

117_145 New Top 5 Charts 260.indd 141

March 2017 www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews 141

06/12/2016 16:48


Top 5 charts

Best e-book readers

1

2

3

4

5

Amazon Kindle Voyage

Amazon Kindle Oasis

Amazon Kindle (8th gen)

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Amazon Kindle (7th gen)

Price

£169 inc VAT

£269 inc VAT

£59 inc VAT

£109 inc VAT

£59 inc VAT

Website