Page 1


WELCOME PAGE

Welcome!

THE SUMMER IS flying by, as it always does, and soon it will be the traditional back-to-school/ work panic before normal routines resume come September. This is often the time when parents, grandparents or other kindly and generous relatives are put upon to invest in a shiny new laptop for their offspring to start the new school or university year with. But it’s also a good time for us all to consider upgrading from our current model to a newer machine, as there are some great deals to be had. To save you wading through countless competing websites offering price cuts and daily deals, we’ve done the leg work for you with our mammoth laptops group test. From the dozens of latest models we tested, we’ve chosen the 22 best, along with giving out a special award for the best laptop for students, mobile workers and gamers. Whether you want a budget Windows 10 or 2-in-1 model, have the cash for a more expensive ultra-portable or gaming machine, or you want to try out a Chromebook for

the first time, check out our guide on page 84 to make sure you invest in the right laptop at the best price. Continuing their rise to worldwide domination, robots have taken over Computer Shopper this month. We’ve explored whether machines are likely to be our friend or foe, how intelligent the latest batch of AI really is, and also rounded up the best bots you can buy today. There’s also our pick of the worst robots around and all the bad things they’ve done, as well as the good-natured helpful versions (page 106). We’ve also got a fun project for you to work on, building your own Raspberry Pi-powered robot for under £80 (page 134). For those of us wanting a more immediate introduction to the world of machines, we’ve been testing out a batch of drones to see which are worth your time and money. We’ve also investigated drone laws, and have written a handy guide to when and where you can fly your drone – and when it’s best just to pack the little critter away. Have a safe flight!

Madeline Bennett, Editor madeline@computershopper.co.uk

QUESTION OF THE MONTH What’s your favourite robot? Madeline Bennett

Rick Deckard. All robots should look like Harrison Ford c1980. And yes, he was a replicant/andy

Seth Barton

Me GRIMLOCK, me KING – all other robots are scrap!

Katharine Byrne

K9 from Doctor Who – who says robots can’t be man’s best friend as well?

Nathan Spendelow

It’s gotta be BB-8, there’s just so much to love about that little spherical guy

MEET THE TEAM

David Ludlow

Arnie from Terminator 2 – who doesn’t want a killing machine that does exactly what you say?

James Archer

Anything by Boston Dynamics. Can’t wait to see them up close when they conquer us

David Neal

Huey, Dewey and Louie from Silent Running, 1972

CONTACT US Editor Madeline Bennett madeline@computershopper.co.uk Reviews Editor James Archer james@computershopper.co.uk News Editor Dave Neal daveneal@computershopper.co.uk Contributing Editor Seth Barton seth@computershopper.co.uk Contributing Editor Katharine Byrne katharine@computershopper.co.uk Senior Staff Writer Richard Easton richard@computershopper.co.uk Staff Writer Nathan Spendelow nathan@computershopper.co.uk DESIGN & PRODUCTION Art Editor Colin Mackleworth Production Editor Steve Haines Production Executive Maaya Mistry Digital Production Manager Nicky Baker CONTRIBUTORS Bill Bagnall, Lee Bell, Jonathan Bray, Mel Croucher, Kay Ewbank, Nicholas Fearn, Chris Finnamore, Simon Handby, Gordon Holmes, Chris Merriman, Ben Pitt, David Robinson, Clive Webster ADVERTISING Email ads.shopper@dennis.co.uk Group Advertising Manager Andrea Mason 020 7907 6662 Advertising Manager Charlotte Milligan 020 7907 6642 COVER GIFT CONTACT Chris Wiles coverdiscs@computershopper.co.uk SUBSCRIPTIONS Tel 0844 844 0031 / 01795 592905 Web www.subsinfo.co.uk UK £44.99, Europe £70, Rest of world £90 PHOTOGRAPHY Adrian Volcinschi, Natalie Tkachuk, Svetlana Bardarska LICENSING AND SYNDICATION Ryan Chambers 020 7907 6132 Ryan_Chambers@dennis.co.uk Anj Dosaj-Halai 0207 907 6132 anj_halai@dennis.co.uk MANAGEMENT Tel 020 7907 6000 Group Editor David Ludlow david@computershopper.co.uk Group Managing Director Ian Westwood Managing Director John Garewal Group Advertising Director Julian Lloyd-Evans Newstrade Director David Barker Finance Director Brett Reynolds Chief Executive James Tye Company Founder Felix Dennis PRINTING Printed by Wyndeham, Bicester, Oxon Distributors Seymour 020 7429 4000 LIABILITY While every care was taken preparing this magazine, the publishers cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of the information or any consequence arising from it. All judgements are based on equipment available to Computer Shopper at the time of review. ‘Value for money’ comments are based on UK prices at time of review. All prices include VAT unless otherwise stated. Computer Shopper takes no responsibility for the content of external websites whose addresses are published in the magazine. COMPUTER SHOPPER INCORPORATES UPGRADE SHOPPER, GAMES SHOPPER, INTERNET SHOPPER, MOBILE SHOPPER, PC SHOPPER, PORTABLE SHOPPER AND SOFTWARE SHOPPER

A DENNIS PUBLICATION Computer Shopper is published by Dennis Publishing Ltd, 30 Cleveland Street, London W1T 4JD. Company registered in England. All material © Dennis Publishing Limited licensed by Felden 2016, and may not be reproduced in whole or part without the consent of the publishers. ISSN 0955-8578 © Copyright Dennis Publishing Limited

SUBSCRIBE AND SAVE

Chris Merriman

Marvin the Paranoid Android. He’s my hero. Well, he would be my hero if I had any enthusiasm for anything

Lee Bell

Johnny Five from Short Circuit – what I’d do for his moves!

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

CALL 0844 844 0031 OR SEE PAGE 122 3


CONTENTS

Issue 344 October 2016

Contents p134

p84

p128

News All the latest news and views from the technology world, including:

Regulars 6 Letters

Your regular monthly missives of wit and wisdom, tips and tricks

10 Under Development

Features 106 Rise of the Robots

No longer the preserve of dystopian sci-fi, robots are an increasingly common part of everyday life. We look at the good, the bad – and reveal the best bots you can buy today

When an old customer with a reluctance to pay his bills comes calling for help, David Robinson can’t resist a touch of schadenfreude

14 Rants & Raves

With its low taxes, close links to the UK, US and EU, and the black stuff on tap, there’s only one place to be if you’re in IT. Mel Croucher celebrates the luck of the Irish

138 Zygote

He may not be able to sniff out digital porn like a well-trained labrador, but Zygote still has an eye for a story. Unfortunately, thanks to his nocturnal habits with a smartphone, it is only one eye

4

20 Globe Trotting The latest tech news from around the world 21 The Lowdown A layman’s guide to quantum computing 22 From the Lab We explore the world of science and space 23 Retro: The Atari 2600 The console that kickstarted modern gaming 24 Make the Future London High-tech innovations in energy conservation

12 Cybercop

The malware of choice for the discerning cybercriminal these days is ransomware: it’s lucrative, simple and almost impossible to trace. Gordon Holmes asks if the security industry should be doing more to combat it

16 Need to Know The Pokémon Go craze hits the streets

Learn 116 Everything is Connected

Imagine a world where everything is connected to the internet, from your fridge to your body parts. Well, thanks to the Internet of Things, that day is rapidly approaching

124 Business Help

Our expert answers your software queries

126 Helpfile

Your hardware and Windows problems solved

128 Multimedia Expert

You don’t need Photoshop and a powerful PC to edit photos these days. Ben Pitt looks at the mobile apps to improve your snaps on the go

134 Advanced Projects

Clive Webster shows you how you can build a fully functioning robot with the kids for less than £80

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


p106

p100

p116

Reviews

Group Tests 84 Laptops

26 This month’s hot product

Chillblast’s £900 Fusion Everest PC gives us our first look at the AMD Radeon RX 480, a mid-range graphics card with surprising 4K and VR capability

28 PCs and Laptops

The near-silent, water-cooled PC Specialist Liquid Series is outpaced by Palicomp’s i7 Predator (p30)

32 Handhelds

At £329, the OnePlus 3 (p33) is yet another affordable rival to the likes of Samsung, LG and HTC’s top flagships

38 Photography

The Canon G7 X Mark II is a superb CSC with a tilting touchscreen and quality 1in sensor that can compete with full DSLRs

41 Displays

It’s not ideal for games, but the Iiyama ProLite XUB3490WQSU’s 21:9 aspect ratio and huge 34in panel means it excels at multitasking

44 Home Cinema

Samsung’s UE55KS7500 is a slick UHD TV with excellent backlighting and contrast, although you can get even better image quality elsewhere

46 Audio

Enjoy your music undisturbed with the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones (p48) and their active noise cancelling

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

49 Printers

The Samsung ProXpress C3060FR is a multifunction peripheral that’s cheap to run but expensive to buy in the first place

Whether you’re looking for a budget Windows 10 laptop or 2-in-1, a portable gaming powerhouse or a stylish ultra-portable, we’ve got you covered with our megatest of 22 laptops from just st £160

100 Drones

54 Storage

We take to the skies with our first-ever group roup test of unmanned aircraft, raft, wit with everything from fun models odels ls costing less than £20 to top-of-the-range top-o to p-of-t f-thehe-ran herange ran ge drones for photographers. Chocks away!

56 Components

78 Your Software*

52 Networks

Fast in operation and easy to set up, the new Smart Hub is BT’s best router yet

Photographers rejoice – the WD My Passport Wireless Pro works great with hefty files, both wired and over a network

Asus makes the best gaming graphics card even better with the overclocked, triple-fancooled ROG Strix GTX 1080 OC

Bring your lost files back from the dead with the full version of Auslogics File Recovery 6

58 Games

A confident reboot of the 2008 cult hit, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (p59) is free-running, free-roaming fun

6

60 Best Buys

FULL PACKAGES

76 How We Test

* FREE SOFTWARE

Looking for the best kit we’ve reviewed recently? It’s all in our Best Buys section

Our tests, ratings and awards explained

EDITION ONLY

5


LETTERS

Letters

You may be full of useful tips and tricks when it comes to the latest tech, but Shopper readers are not averse to a nostalgic look back at the past, either CONTACT LETTERS

letters@computershopper.co.uk

RETRO RECORDING

’Retro’ (Shopper 343) is a good start. My wife has a soft spot for her Recording Walkman, which recorded to cassette tape before the later versions you mention. I have a soft spot for the British-made Fi-Cord, but couldn’t afford one at, I believe, around £70 in 1959. The BBC was pioneering Wish You Were Here travel programmes with it. A tape speed of 7.5in per second gave it acceptable broadcast quality.

The significance of the many recording machines that were appearing at that time is that anyone had been able to make pictures, even moving ones, for decades. Recording sound, however, as opposed to simply listening to it, was elusive – the province of a fortunate few with access to disc cutters or wire recorders. Now, anyone can record audio and moving pictures with a variety of cameras even down to some amazing sub-compacts. Obtaining good audio with your pictures can still be a challenge, though, and what to do with the images and sound captured is evolving at both professional and amateur level. Philip Fowler Glad to hear you enjoyed the Retro feature, Philip – we’ll consider the Fi-Cord for a future edition. Please keep your suggestions coming in for other possible Retro entries.

NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS

You ask for feedback on the News redesign so I thought I’d give you my two-pence worth. Overall, I don’t like it. I’m struggling to find the real news. It seems to have been replaced by gimmicky segments. ‘Need to Know’ has a nice format but only two stories. ‘From the Reviews’ is irrelevant, as we have two pages of contents if you wish to highlight what’s in the mag. ‘Booting up’ is OK but doesn’t need the gimmick; just short stories would do. Pages 20-21 were good as that’s the traditional news I liked. The ‘Vital Statistics’ bit I thought was an advert. ‘Globe Trotting’ is Zygote territory, which we don’t need more of. ‘The Lowdown’ is absolutely fine. Likewise ‘From the Lab’, but I’m no fan of ‘Sound Bytes’ – I never read quotes. ‘Retro’ I loved. Lastly, sure the magazine can’t compete with online news but I’m full to the eyeballs with

news in my RSS feeds so much that I don’t bother to read 95% of it due to brain exhaustion. Although I have already heard about most of the news by the time I read Shopper, it’s useful for bite-sized reminders. Plus there was always something I’d missed due to marking all RSS feeds as read most days. I’m likely to read less news as things stand. More real news and a few tweaks needed, I think. There’s still plenty of good stuff in the magazine so it’s not a deal breaker for me, but I’m saddened that I’ll read less news each month. Stephen Thanks for the detailed feedback, Stephen. We’re pleased you like some of the new sections. Due to some shifting around, the news section has actually grown by two pages, so there are actually a similar amount of the traditional news stories you prefer in the new format as in

Star letter ★ BEEN SOLD A PUP

Your article about potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) (Shopper 342) details what they are and how they’ve developed over time. It’s plain that their aim is to disrupt the user’s enjoyment and legitimate use of both the web and their computer. You say that if we don’t untick the tick box, we’re agreeing to the installation. My own experience is that the pop-up with the tick box is generally only onscreen for a fraction of a second, disappearing so quickly it is impossible to click to untick regardless of how quickfingered or observant you are, or it is covered up by a further pop-up window with the download you were actually waiting for. You also say that installers now use Open Candy to do the installation for them. This is only different in the fact they use a third party to do their dirty work for them. They employ the third party and should not be able to dodge their responsibility for the end result. Any installer which uses such methods, be they pre-

6

ticked tick boxes or third-party ‘Open Candy’ methods are, regardless of the fine print, installing by deception. This deceptive adaption of the end user’s equipment should, nay must be outlawed with all due haste. It brings the whole industry into disrepute, and the whole industry must band together to prevent it. Roy Deaton

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


LETTERS

previous issues – six compared to seven in Shopper 342. With all the extra new bits you like, such as ‘From the lab’ and ‘The Lowdown’, hopefully you’ll find plenty that still keeps you up-to-date on technology news each month.

PRIME SUSPECT

I was interested to read your review of the latest Apple TV (Shopper 343). I was surprised you say it doesn’t support Amazon Prime Instant Video. I have an earlier version of Apple TV, and I watch Prime Video content on a regular basis,

by streaming via the iPhone Prime Video app and using AirPlay to watch on Apple TV. You also say that using the onscreen keyboard is a chore. In this case, I use the Apple TV Remote app on the iPad; this provides a touch keyboard on the iPad and makes it much easier to enter text. Bob Morrison Apple TV doesn’t have a dedicated Amazon Video app, which is what we were referring to. You rightly point out that you can watch Amazon content via the app and AirPlay, however.

CAST ADRIFT

I have been using two of the original versions of the Chromecast dongle for a couple of years. There are a few points I have discovered, which might be useful to other readers. First of all, the description of the Chromecast dongle in the Stream Catcher article (Shopper 343) says there is no support for the All 4 service; however, both the Android app and the Chrome

browser running on a PC can cast All 4 content directly to the Chromecast dongle without relaying it through the device. The second point is that any reasonably fast PC can run the Chrome browser with the Google Cast extension, and the browser will relay its screen image to the TV through the dongle. This works nicely with the ITV Hub, Demand 5 and other services that display their contents on a PC screen with the Chrome browser. The third point is that Blinkbox has now been renamed TalkTalk TV. The final point I wish to make is that once the Chromecast dongle has been configured for the Wi-Fi network, any computer on the same subnet can use it. Although an Android or iOS device is required to configure the Chromecast to use the Wi-Fi network, once this is complete an Ethernet-connected PC on the same subnet can

control the Chromecast dongle, which can be far easier than using a phone or tablet when browsing through movies on services such as Netflix or YouTube. Richard Taylor Thanks for clarifying these points, Richard. You’re correct that All 4 is now supported on the Chromecast, and Blinkbox has been renamed TalkTalk TV. Apologies for any confusion this may have caused.

ANNIVERSARY SCARRED

Am I the only one with problems when trying to run the Windows 10 Anniversary Update? I have now tried at least ten times in the last week and each time it reboots to do the install, I get the blue screen of death and am back where I started about an hour before. Sorry Microsoft, if you can’t even make the upgrade program

Sponsored competition

WIN! 50 copies of ESET Smart Security S

mart Security delivers top protection from the word go with its default settings. The sleek user interface al allows you to easily set up routine tasks or customise your security profile with over cu 15 150 detailed settings. New Banking & Payment Protection en ensures that you’re always doing your online banking and shopping in a secure browsing ba environment, keeping your accounts and en yo your money safe. Smart Security detects and destroys all fo forms of digital threats, including viruses, rootkits, spyware and worms. The antiro ph phishing feature keeps your usernames, passwords and other sensitive information pa sa safe from illegitimate websites. Botnet Protection protects against botnet ma malware, preventing spam and network attacks being launched from your computer. at Th The enhanced Exploit Blocker protects you against attacks specifically designed to ag evade anti-virus detection. ev

Worth

£39.99 ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

Even with its extensive protection Smart Security has a tiny system footprint. You can maintain a high level of performance and save internet bandwidth with extremely small update packages. All this means you don’t need to sacrifice power doing what you love, for the security you need. ESET detection technology is trusted by over 100 million users the world over. With more than 20 years’ experience and more consecutive Virus Bulletin VB100 awards than any other firm, ESET keeps you protected whether you’re browsing the internet, posting to social media, banking or just playing games. We’ve teamed up with ESET to offer you the chance to win a free version of Smart Security, worth £39.99. We’ve got 50 copies to give away, all you need to do to enter is send an email to competition@ computershopper.co.uk with your name, email address, address and your answer to the question below.

What will Exploit Blocker protect you from? a) Social media attacks b) Attacks specifically designed to evade anti-virus detection c) Online banking scams

7


LETTERS

work, what faith am I to have in the Windows 10 update itself? My answer is none. I have now removed the upgrade software from my computer and will not be trying again. My PC is only seven months old with a Skylake CPU so I am not trying to put it on some old past-it machine. Chris Bryant The Anniversary Update was released at the start of August, so if you try again now, Chris, you might have better luck. The preview versions available previously were only available for Windows Insiders to download.

MINT CONDITION

My Vista laptop was becoming very slow, and I decided to treat myself to a new Windows 10 laptop, which is OK. I did not want to throw away my old laptop so I installed Linux Mint (32-bit version of Cinnamon ‘Sarah’) as outlined in Advanced Projects, Shopper 341. I must say that I am totally impressed with this, and I would go so far as to say that I wouldn’t have bought my new laptop if I had done the Linux install first. Two questions, if I may. I understand that this version of Linux has both Java and Flash installed. I am told that these are very insecure. Do you

recommend removing them from Linux and, if so, how do I do this? I have a Canon Pixma iP100 printer, e which is very portable and which I used to use with my Vista software. Linux has installed this, but when I go to print, it only shoots out a blank page with no typing on it. My other big HP printer prints fine. I wonder if you could suggest a cause for this and, if possible, a potential solution? Keith Jones We’re glad you’re getting some life out of your old laptop with Linux Mint. First, Flash and Java are probably no less secure on Linux than on Windows – we recommend just keeping Mint up to date via the Update Manager (the blue shield towards the bottom right). If you want to remove Java and/or Flash (which will make some websites inoperable), search Synaptic Package Manager for ‘default-jre’, right-click and select ‘Mark for Complete Removal’. Repeat the process for Flash by searching for ‘flashplugin-installer’. When you click Apply, the packages will be removed. As for your printer, check that you’ve downloaded the 32-bit

debian Packagearchive version and that you’ve launched the i386.deb installer from that download (which is the 32-bit installer). Rebooting and/or updating the system (via Update Manager) might help. Otherwise have a look through the Printers app to check for rogue settings. Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, so any fixes you find online for Ubuntu should work for Mint.

HELLO MOTO

I have been a buyer of top-of-the-range smartphones for years, but am now wondering if I should become a so-called budget phone user. The Motorola G4 (Shopper 343) seems to do all that I want for half the cost. Can you tell us premium buyers what we will lack if we switch to one of the increasingly impressive budget smartphones? Tim Moorey One key omission on the Motorola G4 specifically is NFC, so it depends on whether you rely on contactless payments. The camera and screen on budget devices won’t be quite as high-end as those found on flagship smartphones, and you might also notice a slight dip in

When I upgraded from Windows 7 to 10, I noticed I couldn’t copy files to any of the SD cards I have – a ‘card is write protected’ error came up each time. I looked on the net and did the RegEdit fixes and lots of other net-type cures for the problem, but after hours of trying to write a firmware update for my camera to the card I came across the simple fix. I just plugged the camera USB connecting lead from camera to PC and it copied the files across with no grief. Job done, and maybe a handy tip to pass on to other Shopper readers. Pete Wadelin Thanks for the tip, Pete. Glad you solved the issue, and hopefully this will save other readers from wasting their time if they encounter a similar problem.

❱ AUDIO GUIDE

We’ll be giving the latest version of Windows 10 a thorough work-through to see what’s new and improved.

We’ll be comparing all the latest headphones, soundbars, speakers and multiroom systems to find the best ones you can buy.

❱ HOW TO GET FASTER WI-FI

❱ FEMALE CODERS

N O LE SA

❱ WINDOWS 10 ANNIVERSARY UPDATE REVIEW

We detail some simple tricks for speeding up your network, and reveal the best routers out there for home and the office.

CARD SHARP

om fr s er nt b ge em sa pt w Se ne h in 15t

NEXT MONTH

performance and responsiveness. However, if you’re willing to take these trade-offs, we’d have no concerns recommending you downgrade for your next device.

We talk to the women leading the way in the male-dominated IT industry and count down the top 20 most important females in computing.

WRITE IN AND WIN

Do you wish your computer was faster when booting and loading applications? Thanks to Crucial, you can achieve your dream of a faster PC or laptop with the BX200 SSD. The writer of our Star Letter will be awarded one of these solid-state devices, which can be installed in a desktop PC or a laptop. This fast SSD is 15 times faster than a hard disk, and will make your computer boot incredibly quickly and make applications load faster. With 480GB of storage, there’s plenty of room for Windows and all your apps, too. STAR PRIZE 480GB SSD

8

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


UNDER DEVELOPMENT

Sweet revenge He doesn’t enjoy taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others – well, not often, anyway – but David Robinson believes that some people get what they deserve

DAVID ROBINSON

Software and systems developer letters@computershopper.co.uk

THE GERMAN LANGUAGE has a wonderful word, schadenfreude, which literally means ‘harm joy’ and is used in the context of someone taking pleasure in the discomfort of others. Not a pleasant trait, you might think, but come on, who among us has not at some time felt a flush of satisfaction when some obnoxious oik gets their comeuppance? I do, of course, have a specific oik in mind. Last week I received a phone call from somebody at Tremendous IT Support Ltd. I suspected it was going to be one of those “I’m monitoring your PC and I see you have a problem” type of scam calls, but it wasn’t. “Do you know Darryl Farrell of Tornado Services?” he asked. Well there was a blast from the past. I hadn’t spoken to Darryl for 17 years, basically because he didn’t like paying his bills. Tornado Services provided a nationwide technical service using a mixture of employed personnel and freelancers. Judging by the cars he drove, Mr Farrell did more than all right out of what he charged his customers.

When something didn’t fit, he’d explode publicly in the middle of the office By 1999 Tornado had grown to be quite an operation and was trying to control all its jobs, invoicing and accounting on a couple of old MS-DOS PCs. Could we provide a program to take care of it all so the firm knew who wanted what and when, work out the customer charges and post it all into Sage accounts? It all seemed fairly straightforward. How stupid could I be? Just after we started development, Darryl decided to employ a high-powered managing director, so he could spend more time swanning about in his posh motor. We’ll call him

10

Damian Borodin (not his real name, which was equally outlandish, but it will do). Damian seemed very pleasant at our first meeting, but it soon became clear he was a monster. In his 2013 book Office Politics, Oliver James describes the prevalence of executives with triadic personalities, which involves a nasty mixture of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. See tinyurl. com/UDManiac for a more detailed description.

TORNADO ALLEY

Effing Jeff is triadic in a subtle way, but Damian was so in a quite spectacular manner. As befitted his position he started changing Tornado Services’ working procedures totally ad hoc, which of course had a huge impact on the developing system. When something didn’t fit the needs any more, he’d explode publicly in the middle of the open-plan office, berating me and our staff in most unpleasant terms. Then half an hour later he’d be all smarmy smiles, telling everyone how well some particular feature was working. Just like the British summer weather, you never knew where you were for more than five minutes at a time. Meantime Darryl was nowhere to be seen. “Why not just walk away waving a copy of the written specification?” I hear you ask. Well that’s OK in theory, but there are several complications. Chief among these is not wanting to get into a ‘my lawyer is bigger than yours’ situation. Anything involving the legal profession costs more arms and legs than I want to sacrifice and, despite a huge attraction between Darryl and his bank balance, he did have significant financial resources should he decide to deploy them. Also, we always expect some feature creep on any project – it’s inevitable as, even on simple systems, the client never remembers all the gotchas in the

way they work. And once you start rolling with the changes it’s hard to decide when to stop. But we persisted towards the ever-moving goalposts and delivered a working system, despite the acrimonious negotiations with Damian about paying for the changes to the specification. We never did get paid for all of them.

BILL OF RIGHTS

On the first anniversary of the system going live, we presented Darryl with a bill for the following year’s maintenance and support, which he declined to meet, preferring to pay as you go. Which I declined to accept – and we’ve heard nothing since. I’d expected the firm had moved on to some other software aeons ago, but it would seem not. The man from TITS said that Tornado Services still relied on the system. That says something, having gone 17 years with no support issues at all. It also transpired that Darryl rid himself of Damian in 2002. I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation. The Windows NT server we supplied has now curled up and died, and they have no usable backup. “Can you provide another copy of the software?” he asked. I’ve met some optimists in my time, but Darryl takes the biscuit. For a start, I wouldn’t know where to look; I know we had copies of the source code on floppy disk or even on Iomega Zip disks, but I think they got binned when we rebuilt the office four years ago. After all, it was 13 years after installation and we’d heard nothing from the client. As for having no backup; well, how daft can you get? He also asked if we’d be interested in writing a modern replacement. My sides are still hurting from the ensuing laughter and, even though it makes me less than a nice person, I can’t help but enjoy a bout of schadenfreude.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


CYBERCOP

Ransom notes It’s lucrative, easy to deploy and hard to detect – no wonder ransomware is so popular among cybercriminal gangs, says Gordon Holmes

GORDON HOLMES

With more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement, our retired cop gives a police officer’s perspective on the sticky subject of cybercrime letters@computershopper.co.uk

THIS MONTH I’ve been speaking with a team of researchers in the anti-virus testing industry, whose job is to surf the internet with unprotected (usually virtual) machines. It will come as no surprise that they find a ton of bad stuff out there just waiting for a chance to latch on to the unwary. However, what is surprising is that, at the moment, the majority of malware being discovered is of one particular flavour, and the flavour of the month is ransomware. This type of malware has received a lot of publicity over the past couple of years and its various iterations have seen a concerted effort by the security industry to provide a solution. According to F-Secure chief research officer Mikko Hypponen, who spoke at this year’s InfoSec conference, there are more than 110 types of ransomware that link to different crime gangs. Why is this type of malware so prevalent at the moment? The answer is obvious. Ransomware is very successful and makes a lot of money for organised crime, so everyone wants a piece of the action. Well, everyone among the bad guys, at any rate.

Ransomware is very successful and makes a lot of money for organised crime, so everyone wants a piece of the action I’m assuming you’re familiar with Ransomware, but if you’re not, it’s malware that’s usually transmitted by email in the form of an attachment that, once executed, will encrypt all files and data on the affected machine, rendering those files unreadable, and will completely lock the machine. A screen then appears at the next login stating that to read the files again, a decryption key is required, which will be sent

12

to the victim following payment of a fee. Otherwise the data will be destroyed. Quite often this is then followed by a countdown clock, together with instructions of how to send a ransom payment using bitcoin. Of course, this infection can be devastating to personal users or to small businesses, and the temptation to pay up in the hope that the criminal will send the promised decryption key is very strong. I suspect that very many victims do just that, which would account for its popularity among the criminal quarter.

CHOMPING AT THE BIT

So how are the forces of law enforcement doing in the face of this threat? It would appear that the answer is not very well. The choice to use crypto-currency as ransom payment, usually bitcoin, has traditional law enforcement stumped. But I’m not sure we’re looking at things in the right way. Efforts to combat the threat of ransomware have so far concentrated on technical solutions to circumvent the effectiveness of the malware, but as most fraud investigators know, following the money is often the way to disrupt financial crime. To me this is financial crime – blackmail – using technological means to launch the attack combined with a technological payment method to ensure anonymity. But does it have to be this way? Does bitcoin guarantee the anonymity that is essential in this particular criminal business model? We looked at bitcoin and the blockchain technology that makes the currency work in a previous article (Shopper 337) but essentially, bitcoin is actually the very definition of a traceable asset as each and every transaction using bitcoin is recorded in a public register that is the essence of the blockchain. This means that you can trace each bitcoin from conception

through every transaction it has ever been involved in. Of course, if you start the transaction by purchasing in an exchange, investigators stand a good chance of identifying users. It’s always the cashing in using real-world currency and cashing out in order to obtain real-world currency that creates vulnerabilities for those with a criminal intent.

ROUGH AND TUMBLER

Now I’m not saying that financial investigation of bitcoin is easy. There are new techniques to get to grips with such as third-party facilitators known as tumblers (also known as mixers or combinators) that aggregate your money with many other funds, and then push them through large financial institutions and out to smaller wallets at random intervals in small, random balances. This makes it much more difficult for an investigator to determine the origin of funds and which wallets belong to whom. But financial investigators have always faced difficulties in tracking and tracing anonymous funds through shell companies, offshore accounts and hostile jurisdictions, and have generally found a way to work through them. I speak as a former financial and network investigator when I say that if we are able to remove the anonymity associated with crypto-currency, the malware will become compromised and largely disappear. If ransomware is the scourge that the security industry is making it out to be, and if organised crime is making the amounts of money that law enforcement say it is, then new investigation methodologies and partnerships with the emerging crypto-currency industry are crucial. Let’s hope that the good guys, somewhere, are working on this right now.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


We may be unable to find our way around thanks to Google Maps, but at least we can still see the promised land if we look to the west

r Mel Crouche

It’s an ill wind that blows no-one any good, and Brexit is providing golden opportunities for techies in the Emerald Isle There’s a crock of gold at the end of the Brexit rainbow, and the rainbow’s end is in the Republic of Ireland. As the UK continues to flail and froth, 105,000 Irish techies are quietly sipping the black stuff and waiting for a warm stream of techno benefits to fall into their waiting laps. And many, many more could soon be joining them. On the eve of the referendum, Britain’s status was above every other nation in the EU when it came to attracting inward technological investment. On the day after, the multinational gaze had already begun to flicker toward the Emerald Isle. Three days later, the jovial little leprechaun in charge of Éire launched the biggest recruitment initiative Europe has ever seen, inviting tech professionals to move to the Republic and join in the fun. Diddly aye, diddly dee, diddly um. A total of 21% of Irish exports are currently generated by technology, and the plan is for Ireland to blossom as a low-tax garden of opportunity, serving the

14

EU and the UK, and acting as a bridge for the USA. Next year, Apple’s new data centre will open in County Galway, and will provide the App Store, iTunes, Siri and all its other services for all Europe. By the time the huge complex opens, Apple will support over 675,000 European jobs. Under EU rules, personal data handled in Ireland is deemed safe for the citizens of all member nations; under UK convention Ireland has always been treated reciprocally; and under the notorious Double Irish tax rule coupled with historic links to America, the Yanks have been milking the system for years. So it is highly likely that Ireland will become the only country in Europe where all three markets can be accessed without pain. With a UK corporation tax rate of 20%, the Irish rate of 12.5% always looked attractive. And now the tax rate has been slashed to a weeny 6.25% for tech companies operating in Ireland. Diddly aye, diddly dee, diddly doo.

As well as Apple, eBay, Intel, Oracle and PayPal all have a significant presence in Ireland. Among the other global players, Google has shifted its EU headquarters to Silicon Dock in Dublin, Twitter has opened a new HQ in the centre of the capital, and Facebook’s Irish operation is now its biggest outside California and rises alongside the throbbing Irish hub that is LinkedIn. As for Microsoft, it’s building four Irish data centres and a brand new campus, all due to open next year. With politicians hopeless at forecasting the future, and history littered with the unintended consequences of their policies, we find ourselves in an era of chaos, and it is an era where governments do not represent stability, power or vision. Stability, power and vision are represented by corporations, and when it comes to information technology there’s nothing quite like the luck of the Irish. Diddly aye, diddly dee, diddly dosh.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


RANTS & RAVES

an Chris Merrim

What use is a navigation system that doesn’t know its north from its south and can’t tell you where the nearest pub is? DESPITE ALL THE technology in the world, there’s one thing my brain can’t comprehend. Actually, there are lots – petty irritants that leave me wondering how we’ve managed to get this far without blowing ourselves up or accidentally turning Antarctica into a giant ‘kick me’ sign visible to the nearest alien race. I’ve never been to Antarctica, and I probably never will. The reason is simple: Google Maps. I haven’t got a very good sense of direction. When you’re attending a launch event or exhibition, that can be a problem. So the arrival of Google Maps should have changed my life. But it hasn’t. Yes, there’s a warning that pedestrian directions are in

beta and should be used with caution, but that doesn’t make up for its huge flaws. Punch in postcode of destination. Wait an age because phone is more interested in downloading irate messages from Candy Crush because I haven’t played for 15 minutes. Finally map comes up. Now here’s the kicker. “Go north,” says the phone in its calm, female tone. Which way is north? Is there a compass on the screen to tell me? Is there heck. So I choose a direction. The blob on the map seems to be moving the right way until the phone suddenly says “Go south”, suggesting it must be wrong. So I turn back, at which point it becomes obvious the phone doesn’t know where it

is either and invites me to do some recalibration of its internal compass. This involves standing in the middle of the street making figure of eight motions with your phone like you’re air-butter-churning. Finally, it decides it knows where it is. “Go north,” it says. I’ve had an idea, though. Google Maps should change its navigation to use pubs. I want to hear, “OK, the Red Lion should be on your right-hand side. Stay on that side of the road till you see a Wetherspoons on the corner. Turn right. Try to miss the pub doorway, though, you don’t have time. Keep walking and you’ll see your destination on the left.” Now that’s how you navigate.


NEED TO KNOW The biggest stories from the tech world, and what they mean for you

Pokémon Go: the critters are everywhere SAY WHAT? THE WORLD HAS gone Pokémon crazy since the game went augmented reality and dragged it, and the public, into the streets. Pokémon Go is the newest version of an old game that has enthralled fans of cartoony animals for years. Usually found on Nintendo handhelds, in a variety of colours and options, Pokémon has moved on to mobile software platforms, and with an injection of augmented reality, on to roads, shops and other locations. Pokémon are cartoon creatures that were created by a chap called Satoshi Tajiri in 1995, and roundly commercialised by Nintendo, Game Freak – which Taijiri founded – and Creatures, a Japanese video game company. The name Pokémon is an abbreviation of Pocket Monsters, which was the original title for the characters. Pokémon are monsters, or creatures, that gamers, known as Pokémon Trainers, must hunt and catch using a red and white sphere called a Poké Ball, and train to fight others. Ideally a player will collect a large number of Pokémon, and display them in a Pokédex. The first game, released in 1996, was an immediate success. It was actually two games, called Pokémon Red and Green, though a Blue edition followed the year after.

What originally started as a role-playing game for the Gameboy was relaunched as a battle game this summer, which has led a lot of people to take to the streets. The new version is an app, and is free to play. Nintendo and games company Niantic released it in stages geographically, which caused some people to try rogue online downloads that ultimately disappointed. Niantic is a Google startup that became independent in 2015 and created Pokémon Go in conjunction with Nintendo, the Japanese games company that needs no introduction. Pokémon is the second-biggest grossing video game of all time, and only follows the Nintendo Mario franchise in terms of popularity. Pokémon, in all its versions, has sold 200 million copies. Although Pokémon Go is free to download and play, it does support in-app purchases. Now that Pokémon Go is live and playable, its use of augmented reality means that you could run into one anywhere. This had led people into some unusual places. The first versions of the game offered 151 Pokémon. Soon the catchable critters were boosted up to 251. By the fourth generation of the game there were 493. Now in 2016, and the seventh generation, we are back at 151.

SoftBank buys ARM for £24.3bn SAY WHAT? JAPANESE TECH GIANT SoftBank has made a bid to purchase British technology success story ARM for a whopping £24.3bn. ARM Holdings licenses its processors to Apple and Samsung, and was reportedly a potential acquisition target for those firms. Intel too was apparently interested in adding the firm to its nest. The purchase will be one of the biggest deals in technology, and potentially the biggest across all sectors in the UK. “We weren’t looking to sell the company because we believe our standalone prospects are really compelling,” explained ARM CEO Simon Segars. “So when SoftBank approached us with an interesting and intriguing proposition, it was something that we had to look at.” He added that the SoftBank offer could scarcely be turned down, but also envisaged “a future that is more exciting than we could achieve on our own”. “At £17 a share, the board believes this fairly values the company and, in terms of the future, ARM and SoftBank share a vision of the way technology is going to change people’s lives and enable communication and collaboration around the world.”

16

ARM has a strong Internet of Things (IoT) presence, as well as supplying processor technology in popular handsets such as the iPhone. SoftBank may want some sugar to add to its IoT portfolio. “SoftBank has had a successful history of investing and acquiring to build the SoftBank conglomerate, including its robotics division and lucrative position as Japan’s third largest mobile network operator,” said Vijay Michalik, research analyst for digital transformation at Frost and Sullivan. “Its interest in ARM Holdings is indicative of a continued focus on the Internet of Things, a paradigm which sees all objects connected and granted new capabilities. “SoftBank wants ARM Holdings for a high-volume stake in the next wave of IoT devices, from home appliances to the connected car. Processing power is getting moved closer to the edge through advanced applications in automotive, healthcare and augmented reality with low latency requirements, which increases ARM Holdings’ potential. In recent years, SoftBank has also built capabilities in artificial intelligence, which will help create new and powerful synergies following the acquisition.”

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


FROM THE REVIEWS ▶

SO WHAT? Pokémon Go also had a privacy problem when POKÉMON GO HAS become an immediate it was first released. Android users signing in with success. Reports have claimed that the game is Google accounts initially gave game developer raking in £1m a day on the iPhone alone, and has Niantic Labs access to their Gmail and Docs, but been downloaded more than 30 million times. It Niantic has since patched the problem. was even installed on 3.4% of Android devices in Players are going out of their way to catch as the UK before it was officially released. many of the monsters as they can without paying It is not just in-app purchases that put users’ too much attention to their actions. This caused bank balances at risk; so were early downloads. an Irish Police force to caution one lady for There have been reports that a crash of the driving around slowly at night, has seen some Pokémon Go servers was the result of multiple children wandering on a railway line, and at least hacking attacks, while many miscreants used the one chap arrested for trespassing. opportunity to put up fake files to trick users into It has been suggested downloading malware. that the game could even be Tim Erlin of cybersecurity KEY POINTS the cure for the obesity firm Tripwire warned: “When Pokémon Go is earning over £1m problem. That may be a it comes to malware, you a day on the iPhone alone possibility – though anyone don’t want to catch ’em all. A traversing the British streets popular app that’s unavailable The app has been downloaded may have noticed even more in some places is a nearmore than 30 million times people walking around with perfect target for malware Hunters have been arrested their faces glued to their delivery. Installing software for trespassing and found phones than usual, so a rise from third-parties and wandering on railway lines in road accidents could also unknown sources increases be a consequence. your risk of malware.”

For the den

We’re big fans of Samsung’s 2016 range of SUHD TVs, largely because of their Quantum Dot displays. These produce bolder colours and better contrast than standard LCD panels. The lovely Samsung UE55KS7500 we’ve reviewed this month benefits from truly gorgeous picture quality, aided further by its 4K resolution and HDR support. (Page 44)

• •

SO WHAT? BRITAIN IS A breeding ground for businesses, “This is good news for British workers, good and the government has promised to support news for the British economy. It shows – as the existing ones. Seeing ARM go to a Japanese prime minister has been saying – that we can company with a history of gobbling up other make a success of leaving the EU.” companies may be hard for some to swallow. Philip Hammond, May’s newly appointed ARM may lose some of its standing as it falls chancellor, also welcomed the deal. to a company that could simply turn it into a ARM co-founder Hermann Hauser is less keen. licensing business and damage the kind of R&D “ARM is the proudest achievement of my life,” he work that led to the firm’s position in the market. tweeted. “The proposed sale to SoftBank is a sad The news raised questions for the new prime day for me and for technology in Britain.” minister, Theresa May. A week before she While some bemoan the loss of such a assumed the position, May promised businesses hugely successful British company, there are all the backing they needed. Just days into her hopes that the SoftBank deal will encourage premiership she was further investment in the welcoming the ARM news. UK tech sector, if investors The decision by “The PM spoke to the chief believe there are huge piles SoftBank to invest in of cash to be made. executive of SoftBank and welcomed the investment and However, at the time ARM shows the UK has their commitment to keeping of going to press, the lost none of its allure to the company in Cambridge proposed deal looked as global investors – Britain and doubling the number of though it could fall through is open for business jobs over five years,” said a due to concerns raised by Chancellor Philip Hammond government spokesperson. SoftBank investors.

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

For the wallet

The £329 OnePlus 3 isn’t quite a budget smartphone, but as its Snapdragon 820 processor, capable 16MP camera and all-day battery life allow it to go toe to toe with handsets that are almost twice as expensive, we’d be hard-pressed to say it isn’t an outstanding bargain. (Page 33)

For the shelf

If the OnePlus 3 is an example of affordable smartphone design gone right, the Wileyfox Spark is an example of it going wrong. It costs just £90, but it’s not a patch on the 2nd Gen Moto E, being plagued with performance problems, a crude camera and poor battery life. It’s a disappointing device, then, and while it’s easy to see the appeal of a plucky Britishmade handset giving Lenovo a run for its money, you’d still be better off with the Moto E – even if it is a couple of years old. (Page 32)

17


BOOTING UP

1 Drone delivery

Amazon will carry out its biggest drone trials in UK airspace after strict flying restrictions were lifted.

2 Apple investors

Shareholders reaped rewards of $13bn in the last quarter, despite poor financial results from the iPhone maker.

3 Finnish smartphones Nokia has announced plans to release two high-end Android 7.0 Nougat devices.

4 Energy efficiency

Google is using technology from its DeepMind artificial intelligence subsidiary to reduce the power consumed by its data centres (see ‘Rise of the Robots’, page 106).

New Gorilla Glass smashes smartphone screen expectations SCREEN MAKER CORNING has revealed the next generation of Gorilla Glass, its screencovering material that has been adopted by a wide range of smartphone makers already. Gorilla Glass 5 is tougher and stronger than its predecessors. Corning is calling it a breakthrough, which is ironic considering that is the opposite of what’s involved. The firm says its new Gorilla Glass can survive a drop from 1.6 metres, and is built to withstand the kind of daily dropping that consumers might themselves be involved in. The company cited studies that suggest that people are most likely to drop a phone from shoulder height, and it is from around that area that the firm has been dropping its Glass 5-protected devices.

“With each successive generation of Corning Gorilla Glass, we have taken cover glass technology to new levels. Gorilla Glass 5 is no exception, extending Corning’s advantage in drop performance over competitive glasses,” said John Bayne, vice-president and general manager of Corning Gorilla Glass. “With many real-world drops occurring from between waist and shoulder height, we knew improving drop performance would be an important and necessary advancement.” Before anyone starts throwing their phones around, it’s not quite a cure-all for bashes, although Corning claimed that in its tests the glass survived a drop at least 80% of the time.

1 Security demos

BlackBerry has taken to flexing its security muscles by hacking kettles.

Detectives turn to 3D printing to unlock an iPhone

2

Technology giants

Google has been hit with a third antitrust investigation by the EC.

mobile 3 Microsoft’s efforts

The Windows mobile OS has seen its market share halved since 2015.

4 Streaming services

Netflix reported its earnings in July, revealing it has experienced its slowest rate of subscriber growth in history. The firm blamed the media for focusing too much on its plans for a $1 price rise.

CRASHING 18

POLICE IN THE US are considering scientific research into fingerprint hacking as a means of doing something that Apple wouldn’t do: grant access to a locked iPhone. Computer science professor Anil Jain from Michigan State University is the scientist involved, and he has been called in to help crack open an iPhone to help solve a murder case. This kind of thing is anathema to Apple, and the firm would have been unlikely to yield to such a demand. Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously compared any backdoor access to an iPhone as being akin to cancer. “The only way to get information [from a locked iPhone], at least currently the only way we know, would be to write a piece of software that we view as sort of the equivalent of cancer,” Cook said about the San Bernadino case, when Apple refused the FBI’s request to unlock a terrorist suspect’s iPhone.

“We think it’s bad news to write it. We would never write it.” Jain has another method, though, which involves taking a fingerprint, in this case from a murder victim, running it through a 3D printer and applying the resulting digit to the locked-down device. This is what the police are interested in testing out.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


Final curtain comes down on VCRs JAPAN IS KILLING off one of the first home viewing formats that really took hold across the globe: the VCR, or video cassette recorder. News has emerged from Japanese firm Funai Electric that it will no longer be producing VCR machines, because there just isn’t a demand for them any more. The firm has been pumping out the rectangular TV buddies for 33 years, and at one time was selling 15 million a year. In 2015, it still managed to shift 750,000 devices. Some companies might be happy with such sales, but it is not doing it for Funai Electric, and the firm, the last VCR machine producer, is pulling the plug. Once upon a time, VCRs and videotapes were everywhere; you probably still have a stack of tapes yourself somewhere. Long before the days of DVDs, there was a war going on. That war was between two video formats, VHS and Betamax. Betamax lost, as history tells us, and VHS dominated the home movie market for decades. Sony launched Betamax in 1975, while VHS cassettes came from JVC the year after. Sony only ceased making Betamax tapes for the

1.3

format in 2015, but had halted production of the machines about a decade earlier. At one time DVDs looked like a fad. But at another time video was a challenge to home users. It launched in its very infancy in the 1950s by Philips, but it was in the 1970s when it really took hold and people started to buy or rent players and hire tapes from an

emerging market which included corner shops, petrol stations and off licences. By the 1980s, the format had survived the format wars, as well as the onslaught of Mary Whitehouse and Video Nasties campaigns. And then there came Blockbusters, a store that was forced out of the market by the next emerging format: streaming.

VITAL STATISTICS

$4.83 BILLION BILLION $3.41 1.6 MILLION TRILLION The amount US telco Verizon splashed out to buy ailing web firm Yahoo!

The number of devices on which Gorilla Glass is installed

55% 11,000,000 Worldwide ICT spend for 2016, according to the prophets at Gartner

Number of people who’ve dropped their phones three times or more

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

Accounts hacked from the Clash of Kings mobile game forum

Number of pounds that Jaguar Land Rover has invested in researching autonomous cars

19


GLOBE TROTTING Florida, USA

Halifax, Canada

Veracruz, Mexico

Zug, Switzerland

Burglar bungles getaway via Facebook Don’t panic if you can hear a rustling sound; it’s just the noise of people everywhere using dictionaries to remind themselves what the word ‘schadenfreude’ means. Here we are laughing at the misfortune, or rank stupidity, of a Floridian burglar, who bragged about his efforts on Facebook. Someone once said criminals always return to the scene of the crime, but flagging them up on social media, leading to their arrest, is the kind of face-palm that leaves a lasting mark.

Poké-hunters get chauffeur service A forward-thinking Mexican taxi driver seized the Pokémon Go opportunity by offering his services as a chauffeur for hunters who can’t drive. Pokémon Go hadn’t even been released when he started. Emilio Cacho, 29, told reporters that in the early days, some people found a way around the geographical block. “I didn’t know about the game, but I heard a lot of talk about people going out to look for Pokémons,” he said. “So I thought it was a good way to make money.”

20

Reddit, where’s my troosers? A man who got drunk at his gran’s 80th birthday party and lost his trousers turned to Reddit to locate them. “I lost my pants Friday night. They’re charcoal Calvin Klein chinos. Inside my pants are my wallet and cellphone,” Andy Gaudry told an amused Reddit audience. “I blacked out and don’t know where I would have taken my pants off. Had security check the tapes at the hotel and I indeed was pants-less when I arrived back. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.” The trousers turned up, one month later.

Bitcoins accepted for taxes The Swiss town of Zug has taken to bitcoins in an unprecedented way, and is accepting the crypto currency as payment for local government taxes and services. The pilot project is initially limited to payments of no more than 200 francs for users of the city trains. “At the end of 2016 [we will conduct] an analysis of lessons learned. Then the city council [will decide] if bitcoins and most other digital currencies are to be accepted as payment for other urban services in the future,” the council explains.

Seoul, South Korea

An average day’s work for a drone Hubo, a robot that won the hotly contested DARPA Robotics Challenge, is currently in a lab in Korea and being taught how to carry out the sorts of tasks a man servant might otherwise be tasked with. If Hubo has a brain, he might be wondering what he is being wasted on. The Korea Institute of Science and Technology is making sure that Hubo is house trained, harmless and doesn’t need a harness. Ah, he’s just like a puppy. A puppy that could tear your arm off.

New Zealand

Well, burger me Burger and bun factory McDonald’s trusted the internet to behave itself when it asked for name suggestions for new protein combinations. The bovine-recycling factory blocked swear words when it launched the ‘Create Your Taste’ campaign website, but forgot how inventive the internet can be. Typical choices included Girth (a phallic stack of burgers), The Carbonator (a stack of buns) and Bag of Lettuce (a stack of salad leaves). The web page and its catalogue of fries and filth is no longer online.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


THE LOWDOWN

Quantum computing: a great leap forward Scientific advances are bringing the quantum computer closer to reality WHAT IS QUANTUM COMPUTING? Quantum computing is not actually rocket science, but if you were playing hard-job Top Trumps it would be a good card to be holding. It’s truly ground-breaking technology that can be used to separate the computer weak from the computer very strong. Headline figures about its results suggest that the methods and the science behind it will make current laptops and PCs look about as useful as a calculator with keys missing, and as up to date as a penny farthing bicycle. Wikipedia tries its best to explain a complex theory in (not so) simple terms. “Quantum computing studies theoretical computation systems (quantum computers) that make direct use of quantummechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data,” it notes. Well, that clears that up, then. STILL A BIT CONFUSING IF YOU ASK ME… Indeed. This is a complicated business and not one that you could pick up as a hobby on the weekend. It requires a lot of kit and a whack of computing power. It also takes a scientific brain, research backing and access to quantum mechanics. Quantum computers use the power of atoms and molecules to perform memory and processing tasks, and can do this much faster than current silicon-based machines, and at rates that take Moore’s Law and pop it in a drawer. Although the technology is still in its infancy, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been around for a while. Quantum computing was first discussed in a paper in 1985. Research has plugged onwards, and experiments with quantum bits are yielding rewards. WHERE MIGHT I SEE IT? Potentially, sitting in your lap on your laptop, though not for a while. Google currently has a thing called the D-Wave Quantum machine. It built this alongside NASA and reckons that it is probably one hundred times faster than the machine that you’re currently using. It isn’t a laptop though, and only carries out specific tasks. “While these results are intriguing and very encouraging, there is more work ahead to turn quantum-enhanced optimisation into a practical technology. The design of next-generation annealers must facilitate the embedding of problems of practical relevance,” Google says about the project. “We are optimistic that the significant runtime gains we have found will carry over to commercially relevant problems as they occur in tasks relevant to machine intelligence.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has quantum computing cake baking in the oven too, but again it is a little way away from your table. MIT and Austria’s University of Innsbruck have combined to create an actual working machine that might fit in a person’s home. Their work has produced a computer that can perform simple mathematical tasks, but is very expensive – it presumably worked that out by itself, and took a lot of engineering effort. “All you have to do is go in the lab, apply more technology, and you should be able to make a bigger quantum computer,” said Isaac Chuang, professor of physics and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. “It might still cost an enormous amount of money to build – you won’t be building a quantum computer and putting it on your desktop anytime soon – but now it’s much more an engineering effort, and not a basic physics question.”

I’M NOT SURE I’M KEEPING UP WITH THIS… Buckle up. It doesn’t get any simpler. If anything, the more quantum computing matures, the more complicated it gets. Recent breakthroughs have involved light, room temperature and the kind of stuff that would make a rocket scientist take on an expression that suggests a lack of gorm. Penn State University has come up with a method that enables more quantum computing power to be packed into a smaller space, and with greater control than ever before. The research, led by Penn State University professor of physics David S Weiss, uses lasers, microwaves and a 3D array of atoms in states called quantum bits, or qubits, to rewrite the way that circuits are built. Qubits are a step up from binary, and they’re better than the archaic alternative since they have the ability to be in more than one state at the same time. This is called ‘quantum superposition’, and it would make binary blush. “Our result is one of the many important developments that are still needed on the way to achieving quantum computers that will be useful for doing computations that are impossible to do today, with applications in cryptography for electronic data security and other computing-intensive fields. If this technique is adopted in those other geometries, they would also get this robustness,” said Weiss. “We have set more qubits into different, precise quantum superpositions at the same time than in any previous experimental system.” The system involved the building of a cube that would allow for atoms to be placed at different levels. It is described as being like a big sandwich, so the sort of thing that Scooby Doo and Shaggy would eat, but call it a cubic array and imagine it as a lattice made of laser beams. Lights and microwaves are used to control switches between atoms, on their different levels, without affecting the rest, and this enables quantum computing performance.

“A quantum computer is now much more an engineering effort, and not a basic physics question”

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

SO WHAT DO US MERE MORTALS GET OUT OF THIS? The main advantages of quantum computing come around speed and power. It has the potential to speed up computing performance massively, and improve the output and results from sectors such as pharmaceuticals, financial services and transportation – meaning we could all get healthier, richer and less stressed on the daily commute.

21


FROM THE LAB Map of galaxies will cast light on dark energy ASTRONOMERS FROM THE University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation have built a huge three-dimensional map of distant galaxies in the hope of gaining some understanding of dark matter. A team led by Dr Florian Beutler (below right) has spent a decade measuring and mapping out 1.2 million galaxies for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III). This will let them assess ‘dark energy’, which is the force that is rapidly expanding our universe in ways we cannot currently fathom. “This extremely detailed three-dimensional map represents a colossal amount of work,” said Beutler. “The University of Portsmouth has worked with partner institutions for 10 years, helping to gather measurements of galaxies making up a quarter of the sky. “Using this map we will be able to make the most accurate possible measurements of dark energy, and the part it plays in the expansion of the universe.”

Measurements were taken by the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) program from SDSS-III. This is able to map baryonic acoustic oscillations and the pressure waves that shape and move them, and ultimately expand the universe. “Shaped by a continuous tug-of-war between dark matter and dark energy, the map revealed by BOSS allows astronomers to measure the expansion rate of the universe and thus determine the amount of matter and dark energy that make up the presentday universe,” explained the team. The image (below left) shows a slice through the map of the universe structure created by the team. Each dot indicates the position of a galaxy six billion years in the past. The image covers a slice of the universe six billion light-years wide, 4.5 billion light-years high, and 500 million light-years thick. The different colours indicate how far the galaxies are from Earth, with yellow dots nearest and purple ones the furthest away.

SOUND

BYTES I am concerned about it; I don’t think we have it perfect. We have to do better, we have to learn from mistakes.We know that we have had hackers in the White House President Barack Obama opens up about government insecurities

It would take people all the way to their destination. Fixed summon buttons at existing bus stops would serve those who don’t have a phone. Design accommodates wheelchairs, strollers and bikes Tesla boss Elon Musk re-imagines the bus

We are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good BlackBerry CEO John Chen jabs at Apple over its hardline no-unlockingphones stance

New Mars rover gets ready for its mission NASA HAS SHOWN off the next version of its Mars rovers, the small drones that are used to capture images and samples of the red planet. The Mars 2020 rover is a step up from the current model, called Curiosity. The latest rover will be about the same size but quite a bit more capable. Each weighs about one tonne, but the 2020 rover

22

will be able to pick up rocks and samples, and pack them up for sending back home. The rover will carry weight in his bulk and also on his shoulders. There’s a lot riding on this machine. “The Mars 2020 rover is the first step in a potential multi-mission campaign to return carefully selected and sealed samples of Martian rocks and soil to Earth,” said Geoffrey Yoder, acting associate administrator of NASA’s science mission directorate in Washington. “This mission marks a significant milestone in NASA’s Journey to Mars – to determine whether life has ever existed on Mars, and to advance our goal of sending humans to the red planet.” About 30 samples will be collected by the rover and placed at locations for potential pick-up later. NASA said that it would also be in a position to assess things such as oxygen levels there, which could be handy if humans ever need to relocate, and might suggest the possibility of previous life on Mars.

It began with a bet. Brian Kelleher, our top hardware engineer, bet our CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang, we could get more than 10 teraflops of computing performance from a single chip. Jen-Hsun thought that was crazy.Well, we did it. The result is crazy. And, as of today, Jen-Hsun now owes Brian a dollar Nvidia on the creation of its $1,200 Titan X graphics card

We expect to help many people to recover control over their files, while raising awareness and educating the population on how to maintain their devices clean from malware Wil van Gemert, Europol deputy director operations, on the launch of the new cybercrime-fighting No More Ransom site www.nomoreransom.org

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


R E T R O The Atari 2600

Kickstarting the modern era of gaming, the Atari 2600 was the console king of its day

THE PONG ARCADE machine took the world by storm in the 1970s, but it was the 1975 Atari Home Pong that showed the world that gaming could be done from the comfort of your own home. While Home Pong was a big success, however, Atari knew that the ability to play just a single game meant that interest in its console would wane quickly. In 1973, while Home Pong was being developed, Atari was already well into development work of its next-generation console and the one that would change everything, the Atari 2600. Earlier arcade machines and home consoles were built using custom logic chips, which meant that they weren’t expandable and could only do the one job. So Atari, through the Cyan Engineering company, which it had bought, decided to do things differently and build a console that had a complete CPU at its heart, making it programmable and expandable. Project Stella (named after one of the engineer’s bicycles) was born, and the road to modern gaming had been taken. GATHERING MOS To get Stella off the ground, Atari turned to MOS Technology and bought in the now famous MOS 6502 (sixty-five-oh-two) CPU. This was combined with the MOS 6532 RAM and IO chip, and the Television Interface Adaptor (TIA) display and sound chip to form the basis of the console. Such integrated circuits had an additional advantage in addition to making the console programmable: they made e the console cheap to produce. Disaster almost struck Atari, as declining sales of its Home Pong system meant that the company didn’t have enough cash to get Stella completed. When, in 1976, Fairchild Semiconductor released its own CPU-based console, the Video Entertainment System (VES), it looked as though it may have been game over already. But Nolan Bushnell, nell, one of Atari’s founders, sold the company y to Warner Communications for $28m in 19777 on the basis that Stella would be completed ted quickly. On 11th September 1977, Stella hit the shops, rebranded as the Video Computer System (VCS) to compete with the Fairchild console. The more famouss Atari 2600 name wouldn’t be used until 1982 to distinguish the console from rom the newer Atari 5200.

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

EARLY DAYS Selling for $199 with two joysticks and the Combat games cartridge, with eight additional games available separately, Atari’s console immediately made a name for itself. It had one big advantage over the Fairchild VES (renamed to the F Channel to avoid confusion with Atari’s product): you could fight computercontrolled opponents, turning video games into a single-player adventure, rather than having to find a human player to compete against. Atari sold 250,000 consoles in 1977 alone, but success was far from guaranteed. With Fairchild eager to hold on to the burgeoning market, both the F Channel and 2600 went through rounds of harsh price cuts. When, in 1978, Atari only sold 550,000 units out of a production run of 800,000, Warner had to pump more cash into the company, leading to disagreements and Bushnell leaving the company. Fortunately, the Atari 2600 was just about to enter its golden age thanks to a game called Adventure, developed by Warren Robinett.

A string of hits followed, with a licence of Taito’s Space Invaders bringing the classic game to the home, while 1982 saw Pac-Man come to the console.

ADVENTURE PLAYGROUND Most games of the time were locked to one screen, but Adventure let players wander a many-screened open world, as they tried to find a magical chalice and return it to the golden castle. This epic game showed developers the power of the console and has one more claim to fame: it’s the first title with an Easter egg (you can find a secret room that tells you the game was developed by Robinett). Adventure’s real success was showing the public that games consoles could bring lots of different games. With Fairchild having given up, believing that video games were merely a fad, the console market was well and truly Atari’s.

WHERE IS IT NOW? Atari’s new owners decided to focus on home computers, with 1986 seeing the launch of the Atari 2600 Jr, a cheaper version of the console (less than £50) that could play all the classics. It sold well and was only discontinued in 1992. The long production run means that it’s fairly easy to pick up an Atari 2600 on eBay if you want to play one yourself, while video games history events, such as the Science Museum’s Power Up! event, heavily feature the console. A true revolutionary, the 2600’s graphics may seem primitive now, but some of the classic games retain their charm and make you want to come back for more.

DECLINE AND CONTROVERSY Atari looked as if it could do no wrong, but it was soon to be rocked by controversy and falling market conditions. First, in 1982, Atari launched ET, which has been described as the worst video game of all time. A huge flop, millions of unsold cartridges were buried in Alamogordo, New Mexico, adding to the games infamy (watch the excellent film Atari: Game Over for the full details). Then, the video game market was hit by third-party developers releasing their own cartridges. Although this led to the modern game studio system we have today, many of the early games were poor, putting people off computer gaming and leading to the 1983 video game crash. Sales of games dropped by 97% and Atari, with its huge R&D team, started to lose money, before Warner sold it in 1984.

23


Make the Future London From power-generating floor tiles to coffee-bean fuel, we explore the latest innovations in energy conservation at East London’s Olympic Park ONE OF THE biggest challenges facing the world today is how to produce more energy for economic growth, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions. According to oil company Shell, collaboration and entrepreneurialism are key to solving these challenges. The company spearheaded Make the Future London, a festival of innovation, which took place at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in July to support bright energy ideas. The show provided a platform for collaboration and conversation about the global energy challenge, fostering ideas to reduce emissions and increase access to affordable energy. The event hosted a raft of eco-focused startup companies and

Step on it www.pavegen.com

PAVEGEN IS A startup specialising in floor tiles. While that doesn’t sound so innovative, wait until you hear why these tiles are special: Pavegen’s technology means the tiles convert kinetic energy from human footfall into low-voltage renewable electricity. As pedestrians walk across the Pavegen system, the weight from their footsteps causes generators to vertically displace and, as a result of this radial motion, energy is created through electromagnetic induction. Each tile is equipped with a wireless application programming interface (API) that transmits real-time movement data analytics, whilst directly producing power when and where it is needed. The company’s aim is to connect and empower communities across the globe, using the power of footsteps to contribute to a greater environmental goal.

24

entrepreneurs, each exhibiting their own unique technologies that are helping to change the world using energy-saving solutions. Through virtual reality and hands-on science experiments, visitors were able to experience the technologies created by the innovators, including wind turbines harnessing the air of passing cars, light powered by gravity and meals cooked using recycled coffee waste. Here, it was easy to see how easily we can maximise the energy we use in the future simply by using clever solutions based on the latest cutting-edge technology. Lee Bell visited the event to meet the entrepreneurs and look at the innovations, and find out how they are helping communities across the world to gain access to affordable and cleaner energy.

At Make the Future London, Pavegen was showing off its latest innovation: the human-powered football pitch, with the one and only Pelé making an appearance to test out the tech. The football pitch tiles powered an electric scoreboard that displayed the results in a footie shootout as the players ran over them. This setup was a small mock-up of what Pavegen is currently testing in full-size soccer pitches in Morro da Mineira favela, Rio de Janeiro, where player power ensures the pitch stays lit. There are six LED floodlights surrounding the field, all powered by 200 kinetic tiles buried under the AstroTurf, which capture the energy generated by the players’ activity. Each 5cm-thick tile, which cost £600 per square metre, produces up to 7W of power per footstep. If they aren’t being stepped on, the output is supplemented by solar panels.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


Caffeine rush www.bio-bean.com

BAKED BEANS WON’T be the only thing on the menu if Bio-bean’s energy-efficient cooking methods have anything to do with it. The startup company employs an industrialised process to recycle waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuels, and was serving up some of the tastiest treats throughout the three days of the festival on a barbeque powered by its latest biofuel technology: Coffee Logs. These are biomass briquettes derived from waste coffee grounds. They are a clean, cheap, local and sustainable alternative to imported fuels, often burning hotter and for longer than conventional fuels. The company’s factory in Cambridgeshire sees that the waste coffee grounds go through a variety of complex processes to turn them into useful and highly calorific advanced biofuels, eliminating the need to burn imported, expensive and dirty wood and coal, which is obviously no good for the environment. Coffee Logs can be used in wood-fired stoves, pizza ovens or smoking ovens. They can also be used for outdoor heating, and could potentially save you a fortune.

Low light highlight www.gravitylight.org

THE GRAVITYLIGHT Foundation is a UK charity working to protect the environment with its first product called GravityLight, a light that generates power using the force of gravity from a weight that has been developed to provide clean, reliable and safe light. The idea behind GravityLight is that it will help people break free from the economic, health and environmental hazards of kerosene lamps, which are used widely in developing countries. At Make the Future London, GravityLight installed a pulley and rope system with a 2m drop of a 12kg weight. The weight is lifted and on release starts to fall very slowly, about 1mm per second. This movement powers a drive sprocket, which rotates very slowly with high torque. A polymer gear train turns this input into a high-speed, low-torque output that drives a DC generator at thousands of rotations per minute. This generates just under a tenth of a watt, a deciwatt, to power an on-board LED and ancillary devices. Given the efficiency of LEDs, this produces a light over five times brighter than a typical open-wick kerosene lamp. Once the weighted bag reaches the floor, it is simply lifted to repeat the process. The hope is that GravityLight will pay for itself within weeks, and will replace the need for kerosene lamps, which are not only dangerous, but continue a cycle of poverty in poorer communities through high fuel prices, and expose people to poisonous fumes every day.

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

Compost corners www.adaptavate.com

ADAPTAVATE IS A biodegradable alternative to plasterboard, developed in a bid to enhance sustainable housing. The startup behind the development has won various awards for its work in developing materials that challenge conventional construction techniques. The firm’s founder Tom Robinson attended the festival to talk about Adaptavate’s next generation of biocomposite materials, which can be grown, composted and used to make buildings energy efficient and healthy. Taking part in one of the festival’s biggest brainstorms, known as the Shell #makethefuture Accelerator, Robinson said the festival will help take Adaptavate to the next level, helping it overcome his key business challenges, including scaling, manufacturing and resourcing.

Passing wind tinyurl.com/capturemobility

CAPTURE MOBILITY ATTENDED the festival to show off its invention, which is able to generate green energy from specially designed windmills placed by the side of runways, roads and railtracks. These windmills harvest the air movement of passing traffic. Designed as a combination product with integrated solar panels, the product generates green energy 24/7, with the solar panels at the top adding extra energy to the system during daytime. A small E-tree device is installed with the windmills, which purifies the smoky air on the roads. Each turbine costs around $200 and is able to produce around 300 watts, which the firm says is 90% efficient and far more competitive than most solar or wind products.

Fly tipping www.entomics.com

ALTHOUGH IT’S NOT one of the entrepreneurs officially supported by Shell, Entomics was at the event showing off its plan to address the issue of food waste by harnessing the power of insects. Founded by four Cambridge graduates, Entomics aims to convert food waste into three sustainable fuels for plants, animals and vehicles, as well as reducing the amount of food going to landfill. To do this, Entomics uses the black soldier fly, which has the ability to efficiently convert organic waste into fats and proteins inside its body. These compounds can then be used to produce a nutritional supplement for livestock, and what is left over makes an especially good fertiliser or bio pesticide.

25


REVIEWS YOUR TRUSTED GUIDE TO WHAT’S NEW

DESKTOP GAMING PC

CHILLBLAST Fusion Everest ★★★★★ £900 • From www.chillblast.com

VERDICT

Powered by AMD’s new Radeon RX 480 GPU, the Chillblast Fusion Everest is immensely potent for its price NVIDIA ISN’T THE only one with big new graphics cards going on sale. AMD has launched the first of its Polaris architecture cards, the Radeon RX 480, promising vastly improved power efficiency and slick performance from its 14nm FinFET manufacturing process and nippy 1,266MHz boost clock. The RX 480 isn’t directly competing with the GeForce GTX 1080 and 1070 for the cash of top-end-minded enthusiasts, though – it’s closer to the more recently revealed GTX 1060, a mid-ranger that’s much more about bringing 4K and VR gaming to the masses, even if that doesn’t necessarily involve superlative frame rates. This is evident in the price: the 8GB model of the RX 480 costs just £220 to buy separately, and we’ve seen the lesser 4GB version going for as little as £174. In any case, the RX 480 paves the way for pre-built systems with potentially much better price-to-performance ratios than previous Radeon cards of equivalent power. One such system is the Chillblast Fusion Everest, which matches the 8GB version of AMD’s GPU with

26

an overclocked 4.4GHz Intel Core i5-6600K processor, 8GB of RAM and heaps of storage, all for a rather attractive £900.

CARD SHARK

We wasted no time jumping into our benchmark tests to see what the RX 480 could do. Early results in Dirt Showdown were positive; at Ultra settings and 1,920x1,080 resolution the Fusion Everest averaged a lithe 131fps. At that all-important 4K resolution, it dropped to 55fps, but this was still more than smooth enough for Dirt’s chaotic racing. It’s not strictly necessary, especially if you only have a 60Hz monitor, but we did break through the 60fps barrier (63fps, to be precise) simply by dropping shadow quality and ambient occlusion from Ultra to High. Metro: Last Light Redux, as always, is a much tougher challenge. At 1,920x1,080 with Very High settings, the Fusion Everest managed a very playable 45fps average, but switching to 4K meant it could only squeeze out 10fps. It took quite a bit of tweaking and re-running the test until we could get a good frame rate, ultimately settling on Medium quality with SSAA and advanced PhysX disabled, texture filtering reduced to AF 4X and both motion blur and tessellation set to Normal. All of this produced a 50fps average. If that sounds like a complaint, it isn’t really – for £900, being able to handle 4K gaming without having to utterly gut graphical quality is a huge achievement. The Fusion Everest will cope well with VR, too, as it received a ‘VR Ready’ rating (the highest available) in Valve’s SteamVR benchmark tool. Intriguingly, the GPU we could most closely compare the RX 480 to based on these results (and considering the Fusion Everest’s other specs) is not another AMD card, but rather the Nvidia GTX 970. That’s impressive, since Nvidia’s card launched at a higher price point of £259 back in 2014, and still hasn’t dropped

to the point of being cheaper than AMD’s latest effort. The RX 480 also only needs one six-pin ATX power connector, while the GTX 970 needs both six-and eight-pin connectors. The rest of the hardware pulls its weight as well. In our 2D application benchmarks, the Fusion Everest’s overclocked CPU helped it to an image score of 133, a video score of 134, a multitasking score of 143 and 138 overall – high marks all round. Interestingly, both these scores and the gaming benchmark results are extremely close to those of the Best Buy-winning Scan 3XS Z170 Performance GTK6 (Shopper 333); equipped with the same Core i5-6600K and a 4GB Nvidia GTX 970, Scan 3XS’s rig costs over £200 more, making the Fusion Everest an even bigger bargain.

CRAFT WORKS

There’s a lot more to like about this PC besides its performance. It comes in an absolutely lovely matt-finish NZXT Source 340 case, which is as tasteful on the outside as it

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


is tidy on the inside; the latter is partly thanks to its metal shroud, which covers the PSU and 3.5in drive cage. This does mean that you’ll need to remove the right-hand panel to access anything under it, whereas most components can (as usual) be reached by removing the left side panel, but really this minor and highly situational inconvenience is worth the orderliness that the shroud provides. Indeed, this is one seriously good-looking case. We have conflicting feelings about the kinds of visual extras PC builders sometimes use to make their systems look flashier, most commonly coloured LEDs and vinyl wraps or decals – used right, they can give a PC a genuinely attractive flourish, but too much and they look embarrassingly garish. The Fusion Everest limits itself to a simple transparent window and some red highlights, and it’s all the better for it – it still has the boldness that differentiates gaming PCs from dreary office desktops, but it maintains a sense of class and maturity that more flamboyant systems lack. The case’s solid front panel means there’s nowhere to put a 5.25in drive, which is a shame – you’ll never be able to add a DVD drive, Blu-ray drive or a multicard reader, even if you’ve got the cash and the cables to perform the upgrade yourself. There are a couple of additional spots for extra 2.5in and 3.5in drives, at least.

There’s a respectable variety of video outputs too, including two HDMI connectors, three DisplayPorts, one dual-link DVI-D and one VGA output. Back on the inside, there’s definitely scope to add more components, such as an audio or Wi-Fi card, or another GPU, in future. The motherboard offers one spare PCI-E x16 slot (even though, unlike the slot occupied by the RX 480, it only runs at x4 speed), two PCI-E x1 slots and two legacy PCI slots, plus a total of four RAM slots (two of which are free) and even an M.2 port for premium storage. Cooling isn’t an issue, either; in addition to the staple rear outtake fan, another 12mm case fan has been added to sit above the CPU cooler, which itself is one of Chillblast’s own Centurian Direct Contact tower coolers instead of the dinky stock heatsink and fan that comes with Intel chips. There are no intake fans at the front, but judging by how tepid the system appeared to stay under load (most of the hot air seems to be pumped out of the back of the graphics card), we doubt you’d need any. That said, the lack of 5.25in bays does mean that there’s room even with the shroud for a dual-fan cooling system, such as a liquid cooler heatsink, to be mounted at the front.

CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN

If you want a PC that can wring the absolute best performance out of a single-card setup, then the ideal would still be something with a GTX 1080 or ROCK SOLID 1070 in it. There’s also the rather important Speaking of which, you get some superb storage matter of the GTX 1060 to address – we haven’t in the Fusion Everest. In the AS SSD benchmark, seen it in action yet, at least not at the time of the 250GB SK Hynix drive recorded fast writing, but it’s set to offer similar performance sequential read and write speeds of 522.42MB/s to the RX 480 at a similar price point. and 454.62MB/s respectively, while the 1TB SSHD Nevertheless, we’re extremely impressed by is a step up from the purely mechanical hard disk the Chillblast Fusion Everest; of all the sub-£1,000 we normally see accompanying the SSD in systems we’ve tested, it seems the most capable powerful gaming systems. The difference between of getting stuck into 4K and VR gaming, and is an SSHD and an HDD is much smaller than just a fantastically between an SSD and an balanced rig overall. HDD, of course, but it’s still SPECIFICATIONS You’re also getting the very nice to have. PROCESSOR Quad-core 4.4GHz Intel Core i5-6600K • RAM 8GB DDR4 • FRONT USB PORTS 2x USB3 • protection of Chillblast’s As for external ports, REAR USB PORTS 2x USB2, 2x USB3.1, 1x USB Type-C • warranty, which is one of there are two USB3 ports TOTAL STORAGE 250GB SSD, 1TB SSHD • GRAPHICS the best in the business: on the front plus two USB2, CARD 8GB AMD Radeon RX 480 • DISPLAY None • a full five years’ labour, two USB3.1 and one USB OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 10 • WARRANTY Five including two years’ Type-C port on the rear, in years RTB including two years collect and return • collect and return. addition to two PS/2 DETAILS www.chillblast.com • PART CODE Fusion Everest It will be worth waiting sockets, the standard three to see what other PC 3.5mm audio jacks and an 138 Windows overall builders can produce Ethernet port. We’d have 143 Multitasking with both the RX 480 liked a couple more USB 131fps Dirt Showdown and the GTX 1060, but ports either at the front or 45fps Metro: Last Light for now, we’re granting the back, but the inclusion Redux the Fusion Everest our of the fastest USB3.1 and 0% -50 Reference +50 +100 See page 76 for performance details Best Buy award. Type-C platforms helps James Archer quell any disappointment.

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

27


DESKTOP GAMING PC

PC SPECIALIST Liquid Series ★★★★★

£1,799 • From www.pcspecialist.co.uk

VERDICT

It’s not amazing value, but this water-cooled PC delivers strong performance in soft tones YOU CAN PROBABLY guess what PC Specialist’s Liquid Series PCs are all about, even before peeking inside at all the red tubes. While the water-cooled series is customisable (including the coolant colour), we were sent a system based around the ‘Mid Kit’ configuration: a single radiator, reservoir and pump each, plus an Intel Core i5-6600K and an 8GB GeForce GTX 1070 GPU from EVGA. That’s the kind of processing power you’d find in an upper-mid-range rig, but at £1,799, it’s even more expensive than the Palicomp i7 Predator (see page 30), and that comes with significantly higher specs. The open-loop liquid cooling system is the clearest contributor to that high price. Fortunately, it works a treat; the CPU (which according to CPUID has been overclocked to 4.4GHz with a 4.6GHz Turbo Boost) idles at a healthy 28-29°C, and peaked at 66°C in our challenging 4K benchmark. The graphics card, which has also seen a rise on Nvidia’s stock speeds to 1,595MHz core and 1,785MHz boost clock, is also part of the loop, idling at 38°C and peaking at just 49°C while gaming at 4K.

SILENT CHILLER

Perhaps the best thing about it, though, is that it keeps the PC fantastically quiet. With both the coolant doing its job and the airflow load shared by a whopping six fans, it’s almost as hushed at full pelt as it is sitting on an empty Explorer window. That’s remarkable for a PC with multiple overclocked components. It’s all housed in a hefty NZXT Noctis 450 case. It has been hamstrung slightly by the

28

various pipes snaking around inside – both 2.5in drive bays on top of the internal shroud are blocked by the reservoir, and a couple of 3.5in bays have been removed to make room for the coolant tubes – but there’s still room for a few extra storage drives, not that there’s much need to upgrade the 256GB NVMe SSD and 2TB hard disk. It has some nice design touches too, such as LEDs illuminating the rear I/O panel and video card ports, and how the front and top panels are angular to increase surface area and thus air intake. The only thing it’s truly missing is a 5.25in drive slot. Otherwise, it’s not lacking in connectivity or upgradability. The case, motherboard and GPU together offer four USB2 ports, six USB3 ports, one USB3.1 and USB Type-C port apiece, a PS/2 socket, Gigabit Ethernet, four DisplayPort outputs, two HDMI ports, two dual-link DVI-D connectors and one VGA port – a huge assortment. There’s even S/PDIF, C/SUB and rear speaker outputs, in addition to the three standard 3.5mm audio jacks.

EXPRESS DELIVERY

Back inside, you’ve got space to add a further two PCI-E x16 devices and three PCI-E x1 devices, and there are two RAM slots going free as well (the 16GB of 2,666MHz DDR4 memory takes up the other two). The positioning of the reservoir makes access to the PCI-E a little trickier than usual, but slotting something in is still perfectly doable. This Liquid Series spec can easily handle high-res and VR gaming, too. You’d need a 144Hz monitor to get the most out of its Dirt Showdown capability: 151fps at 1,920x1,080, 135fps at 2,560x1,440 and 82fps at 3,840x2,160, all at Ultra quality. It also managed 74fps in Metro: Last Light Redux running at Very High settings and 1,920x1,080 resolution, though we’d recommend toning down these settings at higher resolutions. At 2,560x1,440 it scored 42fps, and we could increase this to 81fps simply by disabling SSAA. It managed only 18fps at 3,840x2,160, and to get this up to 42fps we had to disable SSAA and Advanced PhysX, reduce texture filtering to AF 4X and change tessellation to Normal. That’s still impressive, though, as is its SteamVR Performance Test score of 11 – indicating absolute readiness for virtual-reality hardware and games. As for our application benchmarks, the system amusingly scored 135 in every single test, including multitasking and

overall. Again, these are high scores, though not as high we’d expect for just shy of £1,800. Chillblast’s Fusion Everest (page 26) managed 138 overall for half the price, while the £1,700 i7 Predator scored a much higher 186.

FEE WHIZ

Really, this is our one big issue with the Liquid Series. The cooling system is a nice luxury, but we’re not sure if it’s worth the outlay knowing you can get much better performance out of similarly priced or even cheaper systems – especially if they’re equipped with highercalibre components, like the i7 Predator’s and Scan 3XS Z170 Vengeance 1080’s Core i7 chips and top-end GTX 1080 GPUs. This is still an extremely capable PC, and its coolness and quietness is almost a pleasure in itself. It’s just that its big selling point is something we can live without when there are better-value alternatives available. If, however, you want a gaming PC with a certain (and frankly rare) air of tranquillity about it, this might just be what you’re looking for. James Archer

SPECIFICATIONS

• • FRONT USB PORTS 2x USB2, 2x USB3 •

PROCESSOR Quad-core 4.4GHz Intel Core i5-6600K RAM 16GB DDR4

REAR USB PORTS 2x USB2, 4x USB3, 1x USB3.1, 1x USB

• TOTAL STORAGE 256GB SSD, 2TB hard disk • • OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 10 • WARRANTY Three years RTB • DETAILS www.pcspecialist. co.uk • PART CODE LS-M02 Type-C

DISPLAY None

135

Windows overall Multitasking

135

Dirt Showdown

85fps

Metro: Last Light

74fps 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 76 for performance details

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


EliminatE thosE EvEry day tasks, dEsign likE a Pro and gamE likE a bEast. WhatEvEr your PC and laPtoP nEEds. WE havE it. www.meshcomputers.com | 020 8955 0731 | sales@meshcomputers.com

ElitE gtX 1070 £1199 inc VAT & Free Delivery New NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1070 Processor: Intel® CoreTM i5-6600 Memory: 16GB DDR4 2400MHz Graphics Card: 8GB NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1070 Storage: 250GB SSD, 2TB HDD Operating System: Windows® 10 Home warranty: Lifetime Gold Free Game: Doom Go online for full details

ElitE voyagEr gtX 1080 £1579 inc VAT & Free Delivery

ElitE insPirE 1060 £799 inc VAT & Free Delivery

New NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1080 Processor: Intel® CoreTM i7-6700 Memory: 8GB DDR4 2400MHz Graphics Card: 8GB NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1080 Storage: 120GB SSD, 1TB HDD Operating System: Windows® 10 Home warranty: Lifetime Gold Free Game: Doom

New NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1060 Processor: Intel® CoreTM i5-6500 Memory: 8GB DDR4 2400MHz Graphics Card: 6GB NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1060 Storage: 250GB SSD Operating System: Windows® 10 Home warranty: Lifetime Gold

ElitE 6700 PC Pro £779 inc VAT & Free Delivery Award winning review PC Processor: Intel® CoreTM i7-6700 Memory: 16GB DDR4 2400MHz Graphics Card: 2GB NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 960 Storage: 250GB SSD, 1TB HDD Operating System: Windows® 10 Home warranty: Lifetime Standard Go online for full details

Go online for full details

Go online for full details

oFFEr oF thE month

15.6” asus X555la -2625u £429 inc VAT & Free Delivery NOw with 12GB DDR3 Memory and Free Delivery Processor: Intel® CoreTM i5-5200U Memory: 12GB DDR3 1600MHz Graphics Card: Intel® Integrated HD Storage: 1TB HDD Operating System: Windows® 10 Home Go online for full details

15.6” msi gs60-093u £1359 inc VAT & Free Delivery NOw with Free Double SSD to 250GB Processor: Intel® CoreTM 6th Gen i7-6700HQ Memory: 16GB DDR4 2133MHz Graphics Card: 3GB NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 970M Storage: 1TB HDD Operating System: Windows® 10 Home Go online for full details

15.6” gigabytE P15F-CF1u £899 inc VAT & Free Delivery NOw with 16GB DDR3 Memory and Free Double SSD to 250GB Processor: Intel® CoreTM i7-6700Q Memory: 16GB DDR4 2133MHz Graphics Card: 2GB NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 950M Storage: 1TB HDD, 250GB SSD Operating System: Windows® 10 Home Go online for full details

18.4” msi sli gt80s-039u £2949 inc VAT & Free Delivery NOw with 64GB DDR4 Memory and Free Delivery Processor: Intel® CoreTM 6th Gen i7-6700HQ Memory: 64GB DDR4 2133MHz Graphics Card: 8GB NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 980M Storage: 1TB HDD, 250GB SSD Optical Drive: Blu-Ray Writer Operating System: Windows® 10 Home Go online for full details

0% Finance available

Terms & conditions apply

Sales subject to terms & conditions (copy available on our website). All images are for illustrative purposes only. Full specifications available online. Prices and specifications correct at time of going to press and are subject to change without notice. 26/7/16.


DESKTOP GAMING PC

PALICOMP i7 Predator ★★★★★

£1,700 • From www.palicomp.co.uk

VERDICT

Loud and proud, the i7 Predator will stroll through VR and high-resolution gaming AS YOU CAN probably guess from the name and recent PC retail trends, the Palicomp i7 Predator comes equipped with an Intel Core i7-6700K processor. Having been overclocked to a ferocious 4.8GHz, this ever-popular chip exemplifies the system’s more-is-more attitude to premier components. For £1,700, the i7 Predator comes with the aforementioned Core i7, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080, 16GB of 3,200MHz DDR4 RAM, CPU water cooling and a 512GB NVMe SSD, as well as a 2TB hard disk. That’s remarkably similar to the Scan 3XS Z170 Vengeance 1080 (Shopper 343), which does admittedly cost a decent chunk of change more than Palicomp’s effort – although here, the GPU runs at stock speeds instead of coming pre-overclocked.

GTX MARKS THE SPOT

We expected comparable benchmark results, and that’s exactly what we got. For example, in Dirt Showdown running at Ultra quality, the i7 Predator sailed to an easy 170fps at 1,920x1,080 resolution, 154fps at 2,560x1,440 and 91fps at 3,840x2,160; the mighty GTX 1080 clearly having no trouble whatsoever with this relatively undemanding racer. It did well in Metro: Last Light Redux as well, despite this game’s more intensive visuals and effects. Running at Very High settings with SSAA enabled, the i7 Predator managed 84fps at 1,920x1,080, 47fps at 2,560x1,440 and 20fps at 3,840x2,160 – all fantastic scores for a single-GPU system, though that 4K frame rate isn’t playable in itself. We got this up to a more agreeable 42fps by disabling SSAA and reducing texture filtering from AF 16X to AF 4X, both of which

30

are hardly noticeable changes at this resolution. Going back to 2,560x1,440, we also saw a similarly proportioned increase to 91fps simply by turning off SSAA. It’s hard to imagine a realistic game/ resolution combination the i7 Predator won’t eat alive, even if the Z170 Vengeance 1080 pips it in most cases thanks to its overclocked GPU. Nonetheless, the i7 Predator returned the favour in our 2D application tests, drawing on its souped-up CPU clock speeds and speedy RAM to exceptional effect; it scored 160 in the image test, 180 in the video test, 199 in multitasking and a superb 186 overall. While any half-decent GTX 1080 system will be able to cope with VR games, the i7 Predator also impressed as a potential partner to the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. In Valve’s SteamVR Performance Test benchmark, the system scored an extremely high average score of 11, and was almost at the extreme end of the tool’s ‘VR Ready’ indicator scale.

DRIVE MIND

The only disappointment, performance-wise, is the Samsung SM951 SSD; in AS SSD, it recorded good sequential read speeds of 2,009.39MB/s but sequential write speeds of just 313.46MB/s; for an NVMe drive we’d have expected the latter to be much closer to the former. That’s still fairly fast, though, and it’s worth noting the sheer mass of storage space available: 2.5TB across two drives. While you might not need to think about upgrades for a while, it’s nice knowing there are plenty of options. Out of the box, two spare PCI-E x16 slots (running at x8 and x4 speeds), three PCI-E x1 slots and two spare RAM slots are on offer, and there are multiple 5.25in, 3.5in and 2.5in drive bays to fill as well. You won’t be left wanting for ports, either, with two USB2, six USB3, one USB3.1 and one USB Type-C port available. On top of that, audiophiles will appreciate the S/PDIF, C/SUB and rear speaker outputs, and there are plenty of video outputs as well, with four DisplayPorts, two HDMI sockets, two dual-link DVI-D outputs and a VGA connector. A humble Ethernet port is present, too. The i7 Predator even matches its top-end components with an abundance of cooling: there are five case fans in total. However, this turns out to be a mixed blessing; although the closed-loop Raijintek CPU water cooler does keep the chip from getting too toasty (idling at around 33°C and peaking at 85°C during our benchmarks), its dual 120mm fans can

become annoyingly loud when the system is under heavy load. Worse, both they and the PSU fan occasionally rattle at higher speeds.

LEFT FOR DUST

It’s a relatively minor complaint in comparison, but we’re also not keen on the magnetic dust filter on top of the case. It can be removed easily, but perhaps a little too easily, as we often ended up accidentally moving it askew when placing objects (such as an external hard disk) on top of it. That said, other than these gripes (and the high price, though considering both the components involved and sterling’s recent misfortunes, this isn’t surprising) the i7 Predator is a great high-end PC. The Z170 Vengeance 1080 does slightly better in games, but for the spec we tested last issue, you’d be spending well over £100 more for frame rate increases of as little as 2fps. Provided you’ve got the headset or speakers to counter the fan noise, we’d sooner recommend the Palicomp. James Archer

SPECIFICATIONS PROCESSOR Quad-core 4.8GHz Intel Core i7-6700K RAM 16GB DDR4

• FRONT USB PORTS 2x USB3 •

REAR USB PORTS 2x USB2, 4x USB3, 1x USB3.1, 1x USB

• TOTAL STORAGE 512GB SSD, 2TB hard disk • • OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 10 • WARRANTY Three years RTB • DETAILS www.palicomp. co.uk • PART CODE PRE1 Type-C

DISPLAY None

186

Windows overall

199

Multitasking

170fps

Dirt Showdown

84fps

Metro: Last Light 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 76 for performance details

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


Chillblast sales@chillblast.com 01202 068 333

BUDGET CYANOGEN OS SMARTPHONE

WILEYFOX Spark ★★★★★

£90 • From www.amazon.co.uk

VERDICT

Beautifully made, but its sluggish performance and terrible battery life fail to make sparks fly

Chillblast HELIOS II 13.3” PROCESSOR: DISPLAY: MEMORY: GRAPHICS: STORAGE: DIMENSIONS: SYSTEM:

INTEL CORE i5-6200U 13.3" LED FULL HD (1920x1080) 8GB DDR3 1333MHZ INTEL INTEGRATED HD GRAPHICS 250GB SAMSUNG M.2 PCIe SSD 325MM x 219MM x 18MM WINDOWS 10 HOME 64-BIT

PRICE FROM

£829.99

www.chillblast.com

LAST YEAR, BRITISH smartphone maker Wileyfox took aim at the Motorola Moto G with its cut-price Wileyfox Swift; now, it’s doing the same thing to the Moto E with the even cheaper Spark. There are three Spark models available: the entry-level Spark reviewed here; the £115 Spark+, which has a larger 13-megapixel camera than the regular Spark as well as 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage; and the £130 Spark X, which shares exactly the same specs as the Spark+ but has a larger 5.5in display and a bigger 3,000mAh battery. Even the basic Spark sounds quite promising for £90, and with its slim 8.7mm-thick design and soft touch rear panel, it’s much more upmarket than the squat Moto E. The 5in display runs at 1,280x720, producing the same 294ppi as the Swift and even the 3rd Gen Moto G, and its picture quality is surprisingly good. Even though its sRGB gamut coverage of 89.8% is still a fair way off the 2nd Gen Moto E’s 95.2%, images still look relatively rich and punchy, and its contrast ratio of 1,040:1 is very respectable. It’s also very bright, reaching a peak white level of 480.40cd/m2. Sadly, its battery life of 8h 43m in our video playback test is well below average even for a budget phone. The Moto E, by contrast, lasted 13h 30m, showing the Spark as something of a liability on busier days out.

SNUFFED OUT

FUSION EVEREST PROCESSOR: CASE: CPU COOLER: MOTHERBOARD: MEMORY: GRAPHICS CARD: OS DRIVE: HARD DISK: POWER SUPPLY: SYSTEM:

INTEL CORE i5-6600K NZXT SOURCE 340 - BLACK / RED CENTURION DIRECT CONTACT ASUS Z170-K 8GB DDR4 2133MHZ AMD RADEON RX 480 8GB 250GB SOLID STATE DRIVE 1TB SEAGATE SSHD EVGA 80 PLUS WHITE 600W WINDOWS 10 HOME 64-BIT

PRICE FROM

£949.99

Terms and conditions are on the website. All trademarks are acknowledged. Pictures are for illustration only. Prices are correct at time of going to press (27-07-16) E&OE

32

4:3 aspect ratio, the onscreen viewfinder is locked to 16:9, giving you a poor indication of what you’ll actually be capturing in the resulting image. This was an issue with the Swift as well, so it’s a shame that Wileyfox hasn’t improved it for the Spark. As a result, framing photos in anything other than 16:9 is very difficult, as you simply have no idea how much extra stuff you’re capturing above and below what’s onscreen. That said, when the camera’s exposure levels are so wonky, you probably won’t be putting these in your family album anyway, as all of our test photos were either far too light and overexposed or shrouded in darkness. They all had a noticeable amount of noise and grain present as well, and switching to HDR mode was even worse, as this smoothed over nearly every last trace of fine detail so everything looked a soft, smeary mess. It struggled with our indoor tests, too, with our still life arrangement being soft, out of focus and very low on detail even in bright lighting conditions. The flash didn’t help, either, as this arguably produced even more hazy borders and object outlines than when we had it turned off.

The Spark’s performance issues don’t stop there, either. Powered by a quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6735 processor and 1GB of RAM, the Spark was extremely sluggish during everyday use, RELEASE THE HOUNDS repeatedly making us double-check whether All in all, any burst of light the Spark might have we’d even tapped an app icon correctly. Even the had on paper all but fizzles out when you start settings menu took a couple of seconds to load using it. Its battery life is terrible, it’s extremely on occasion, and apps crashed frequently. slow and its camera simply isn’t good enough. This is a shame, as its Geekbench 3 scores of 618 Throw in just 8GB of storage (of which just in the single-core test and 1,858 in the multicore under 4GB is available to the user), and the test actually surpass those of the 3rd Gen Moto G, Spark disappoints on nearly every count. although Motorola’s handset is more reliable in The 2nd Gen Moto E still firmly reigns as our practice. It also failed to complete our offscreen sub-£100 smartphone of Manhattan 3.0 test in choice, which is ludicrous, GFXBench GL, and even SPECIFICATIONS given it’s over two years old simple games such as Threes! PROCESSOR Quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6735 • now. Even today, it’s still one were unplayable. Combine all SCREEN SIZE 5in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 1,280x720 of the quickest budget this with some dreadful • REAR CAMERA 8 megapixels • STORAGE (FREE) 8GB (3.95GB) • WIRELESS DATA 4G • smartphones you can buy, web-browsing performance, DIMENSIONS 143x70x8.7mm • WEIGHT 135g • and its screen and camera including a mere 592 in OPERATING SYSTEM Cyanogen 13.0 OS • still hold up despite their age. Peacekeeper, and the WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.wileyfox. Alternatively, you can spend a Wileyfox Spark is an co.uk • PART CODE Spark little bit more and get a 3rd exercise in frustration. Gen Moto G for £130, which is Topping it all off is an Battery life 8h 43m an even bigger step up in equally irritating 8-megapixel 0% -50 Reference +50 +100 terms of overall quality. camera. Despite being set by See page 76 for performance details Katharine Byrne default to take pictures in a

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


OXYGENOS SMARTPHONE

ONEPLUS 3

★★★★★

BEST BUY

£329 • From oneplus.net/uk

VERDICT

With its blistering speed, incredible battery life and mid-range price, the OnePlus 3 is a true flagship killer ONEPLUS PHONES HAVE always been great, but – at least at first – you always needed an invite in order to buy one. That system has, thankfully, been ditched for the OnePlus 3, which is fantastic news considering this is one of the most powerful handsets on the market. Armed with a quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip and a massive 6GB of RAM, the OnePlus 3 is just as well equipped as the LG G5 and HTC 10, despite costing just £329. This begs the question of why you’d pay hundreds more for its rivals; indeed, not only does OxygenOS (based on Android 6.0.2) feel lightning fast on the OnePlus 3, but in Geekbench 3 it achieved a fantastic single-core score of 2,371 and a multicore score of 5,416. That’s way ahead of the HTC 10, and while Samsung’s Exynos-powered Galaxy S7 family manages higher multicore scores, the OnePlus 3’s single-core performance beats those smartphones as well.

PLAY MATE

The Adreno 530 GPU also makes it an absolute fiend for gaming; in GFXBench GL, for example, it finished the offscreen Manhattan 3.0 test in a superb 2,901 frames, equating to an average of 47fps. By comparison, the £300 Nexus 5X managed only 986 frames (16fps). The OnePlus 3 can easily handle media-heavy web pages too, although its Peacekeeper score of 1,166 actually falls some way short of the LG G5, HTC 10, Galaxy S7 and even the Nexus 5X. In our continuous video playback test, its 3,000mAh battery lasted an astounding 16h 56m with the screen set to our standard brightness measurement of 170cd/m2. The only phones to beat that score are Samsung’s Galaxy S7, S7 Edge and Galaxy J5, making the OnePlus 3 one of the most reliable smartphones you can buy today. It charges quickly as well, thanks to OnePlus’s Dash Charge technology, which allowed us to regain 60% charge in just 30 minutes – dead on the officially stated figures. Couple its blistering speed and excellent battery life with a full aluminium unibody design and a sleek 7.3mm profile, and the

OnePlus 3 is arguably one of the most luxurious £300 phones ever made. It looks and feels twice as expensive, although we would have liked it even more if it had a more distinct style; it’s very reminiscent of the Huawei Mate S and HTC One M9, which weren’t exactly super-stylish to begin with. That said, we do prefer the sand-blasted rear to the glass backing of the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, which could get grubby very quickly.

SICKLY SWEET

More worrying is its 5.5in, 1,920x1,080 Optic AMOLED display, which is just a bit too oversaturated. It still covered 100% of the sRGB colour gamut, but primary colours in particular were so rich they almost didn’t look right. It can also give a misleading impression of your photos – snaps that looked vibrant on the screen appeared significantly duller and darker when viewed on a PC. This is a shame, as its perfect 0.00cd/m2 blacks and ultra-high contrast ratio give it much greater sense of depth and detail compared to the IPS display on the OnePlus 2, and its peak brightness of 414.87cd/m2 is much higher than other AMOLED-based screens we’ve tested, making it easier to see in direct sunlight. Fortunately, the display can be tweaked with OxygenOS. Not only is there a dedicated Night mode, which filters out blue light to make it easier on the eyes when you’re looking at the phone in the dark, but you also get a system-wide Dark mode, which inverts the colour scheme in menu settings to give you a black background and white text. This, coupled with the energy-efficient AMOLED screen, should provide even bigger savings when it comes to battery life, as it doesn’t need to illuminate quite so many pixels. As for the camera, the level of detail was quite high overall, but it was only when we

turned on the camera’s HDR mode that colours started to regain a bit of life and natural richness (when viewed on our PC). We also found that shadow areas tended to be very soft and smoothed out, as all the fine detail like paving stones and brickwork tended to blur together into one homogenous lump.

INDOOR FIREWORKS

Indoor shots were much better, as colours looked bright and vibrant and there was a good level of contrast on show throughout. There were a few rough edges here and there, but on the whole the OnePlus 3 produced excellent shots regardless of whether we had our studio lights turned on or off. It’s a shame the screen isn’t just a little bit better, as it’s the one thing holding the OnePlus 3 back from true greatness. Despite that, it’s still a fantastic smartphone and its combination of super-fast processing speeds, massive battery life and a pretty decent camera make it brilliant value for money. The LG G5 and Nexus 5X have better camera sensors, but when the OnePlus 3 is almost half the price of the G5 and hugely faster than the 5X, it’s simply no contest. Katharine Byrne

SPECIFICATIONS PROCESSOR Quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820

• SCREEN RESOLUTION 1,920x1,080 • REAR CAMERA 16 megapixels • STORAGE (FREE) 64GB (52.6GB) • WIRELESS DATA 4G • DIMENSIONS 153x75x7.3mm • WEIGHT 158g • OPERATING SYSTEM OxygenOS (Android 6.0.1) • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS oneplus.net • PART CODE A3003

SCREEN SIZE 5.5in

16h 56m

Battery life 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 76 for performance details

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

33


BUDGET ANDROID 6.0 SMARTPHONE

SONY Xperia XA ★★★★★

£220 (SIM-free) • From www.carphonewarehouse.com

VERDICT

An ambitious design for a £220 smartphone, but the Sony Xperia XA misses the mark THE SONY XPERIA XA might sit below the Xperia X in the range, but if you didn’t know better, you probably wouldn’t notice with the two side by side. This is a good-looking phone. In fact, to our eyes, the Xperia XA is the more attractive device: from the front, the phone’s slightly curved glass edges and narrow bezels really do look the part, and although the rear of the phone is clad in matt-white plastic, the overall impression is of a high-quality handset. Along with those super-skinny bezels, the phone is light and slim, weighing a mere 137g and measuring 7.9mm from front to back. Although there’s no fingerprint reader here – just a simple, circular power button – Sony has, at least, put the volume rocker in a sensible place just below it and not right in the corner as it has on the Xperia X.

in the onscreen GFXBench GL Manhattan 3 test, its average frame rates were nearly double that of the excellent Motorola Moto G4. Alas, general responsiveness is poor. From entering the unlock code to typing text, swiping between homescreens and scrolling even basic, mobile-friendly websites, everything seems to be accompanied by a tiny delay or a touch of choppiness. The handset can become uncomfortably hot under load as well. The other concerning thing about the MediaTek processor is its 28nm manufacturing process. This suggests lower efficiency and, therefore, battery life, but in our video rundown test, with the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2, the Sony Xperia XA lasted a mere 7h 12m.

WITHOUT BORDERS

CHEAP SHOTS

The first clue as to the Sony Xperia XA’s budget lineage is the screen. It’s an IPS panel measuring 5in diagonally, but it has a resolution of only 1,280x720, the same as the ageing 3rd Gen Motorola Moto G. It isn’t noticeably low-res, though; only those with keen vision will be able to see the pixels, and even then only when they look very closely.

Perhaps the camera can rescue the Sony Xperia XA? It certainly looks like it might from the specifications, with hybrid autofocus, an f/2 aperture, a 1/3in sensor, and a resolution of 13 megapixels. It isn’t up there with the Xperia Z5’s 23-megapixel beast, but it takes reasonably good pictures, with Sony’s Superior Auto system working well to figure

The Sony Xperia XA is a peculiar mix of the good, the great and the terrible Display quality is decent but unspectacular. Although contrast is a reasonable 1,113:1, maximum brightness is down on the best IPS displays in the business at 407cd/m2, and with coverage of the sRGB colour gamut at only 83.7%, it can look a little dull compared with even the best budget smartphones. The biggest giveaway that this is a cheap handset, however, is its MediaTek Helio P MT6755 processor, which is accompanied by 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage (expandable via microSD). MediaTek processors are typically only found in the cheapest smartphones, which is a worry, but this one looks promising from the specifications. It’s an octa-core chip that runs at speeds of up to 2GHz, comprising eight ARM Cortex-A53 CPUs and a Mali-T860 MP2 processor for graphics. Oddly, the phone refused to run the Geekbench CPU tests we normally use, complaining of server connectivity issues, but

34

out what the scene requires, adjusting exposure appropriately. The strength of Sony’s software comes to the fore when it comes to overall quality. It means you’ll rarely get duff colours whether you’re indoors or out, and you’ll rarely see overblown, overexposed highlights in scenes where there’s lots of high contrast. The Xperia XA also has object-tracking autofocus, which works patchily with people, but is better with static objects. Think of it as an aid to reframing and it’s actually pretty handy, allowing you to tap on the part of a scene you want to keep in focus, move the phone, and take the photo without having to tap the screen again. In practice, the XA’s camera is competent rather than brilliant. This means that, while quality isn’t as good as rivals such as the Nexus 5X, detail capture is great in daylight and reasonable in low light, and colours are

realistically captured. It’s better than the Moto G4 in low light conditions, too. The front-facing camera on the Xperia XA isn’t quite as impressive, but it has an 8-megapixel sensor, which is enough to capture more detail than most people could possibly want. The Sony Xperia XA is a peculiar mix of the good, the great and the terrible. It looks wonderful and build quality is high. It has a microSD slot, a decent camera and NFC. The price is reasonable, too. This is counterbalanced, however, by below-par battery life and a disappointingly sluggish feel in everyday use. In the end, you have to look at the opposition to set the Xperia XA in context, and right now it’s just too strong for this handset to stand out in any meaningful way. The Motorola Moto G4, king of the budget smartphones, is slicker, longer lasting and costs less, while the OnePlus 2 costs a little more but is a much faster, more competent smartphone – even though it’s now been replaced by the pricier OnePlus 3 (page 33). Jonathan Bray

SPECIFICATIONS

• SCREEN SIZE • SCREEN RESOLUTION 1,280x720 • REAR CAMERA 13 megapixels • STORAGE (FREE) 16GB (10GB) • WIRELESS DATA 4G • DIMENSIONS 144x67x7.9mm • WEIGHT 137g • OPERATING SYSTEM Android 6.0.1 • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.sonymobile.com • PART CODE E3111 PROCESSOR Octa-core MediaTek MT6755 5in

Battery life 7h 12m 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 76 for performance details

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


BUDGET ANDROID 5.1 TABLET

ALBA 10 Inch Tablet ★★★★★

£90 • From www.argos.co.uk

VERDICT

The Alba Tablet has great battery life and won’t break the bank, but its performance is lacking EVER SINCE TESCO discontinued the Hudl 2, there hasn’t been another great budget tablet to replace it. Argos is trying to change that with its Alba 10 Inch Tablet, a £90 Android slate that offers a big screen for a low price. From the outset, it’s clearly an entry-level tablet. Its simple, plastic chassis feels reasonably well built for the price, but apply too much pressure and it will bend and creak under your fingers, so it’s probably not ideal for young children, even if you do wrap it in one of the two rather poorly fitting silicone cases that come bundled in the box. Its soft-touch rear is comfy to hold, but at 568g it is rather heavy, particularly compared to the 432g Amazon Fire HD 10. You can hold it with one hand just fine, though. It also has plenty of connections, including a Mini HDMI port for connecting it to an external display, a microSD slot for expanding the tablet’s storage, a Micro USB port for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

decent, however, and a contrast ratio of 897:1 is also pretty respectable. The Alba tablet falls flat when it comes to sound, as its side-facing stereo speakers are very tinny and lack any sense of depth. They’re fine for the occasional YouTube video, but you’ll want to invest in a pair of headphones for anything more substantial. Powered by a dual-core 1.3GHz Mediatek MT8163 processor, the 10in Alba is pretty sluggish in everyday use. Its Geekbench 3 scores, for instance, aren’t that far behind the

With its mediocre screen and pedestrian performance, the Alba falls a long way short of the standards set by Tesco’s Hudl 2, but it’s really not that bad for the money In addition to this 10in version, you can also buy the Alba tablet with a 7in display or an 8in display for £50 or £70 respectively. They all come with the same internal specs (apart from the 7in version’s smaller screen resolution), so the only bonus you’re getting by opting for the 10in version is a larger screen.

FUZZY BARE

However, with a resolution of just 1,200x800, its pixel density of 144ppi makes for a very fuzzy Android 5.1 interface, and individual app icons have almost no definition whatsoever. That said, the screen’s low resolution is a lot more forgiving when watching films and Netflix, for example, and text-based websites such as the Guardian and the BBC were legible from a normal viewing distance. Still, the quality of the screen leaves a lot to be desired, even for a budget tablet. With a peak brightness of just 283cd/m2, it struggles in sunshine, and the screen’s low 76.4% sRGB colour gamut coverage also meant that colours were lacking in warmth and overall vibrancy. Viewing angles are

36

Amazon Fire HD 10. In the single-core test, the Alba scored 605 and the Fire HD 10 scored 773, but the Alba actually pulled ahead in the multicore test, finishing with 1,792 compared to the Fire HD 10’s 1,512. This isn’t bad for a budget tablet, but can still grate if you’re using it for extended periods of time. Even opening the Android settings menu takes a second or two, and web browsing was quite jerky and juddery as well, finishing the Peacekeeper test in just 547.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Gaming performance is also well below other budget tablets, with a score of just 189 frames in the demanding GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 off-screen test. It’s not cut out for 3D games, but simpler 2D titles such as Angry Birds 2 will run better, with only occasional frame drops. Thankfully, the Alba redeemed itself slightly with its impressive battery life. Armed with a huge 6,000mAh battery, the tablet lasted 11h 31m in our continuous video playback test with the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2, beating the Amazon Fire HD 10

by a good two hours. This should be more than enough to get a good day’s use out of it with lighter, mixed use. Don’t expect to be filling the family album with photos taken on its 2-megapixel rear camera, though, as our test shots were very grainy and sorely lacking in detail. Again, this is to be expected given the price, but you’d be better off using your smartphone camera.

SHORT CUTS

In the end, the only thing the Alba 10in Tablet has to really recommend it is its brilliant battery life. With its mediocre screen and pedestrian performance, the Alba falls a long way short of the standards set by Tesco’s Hudl 2, but given it’s almost half the price of its nearest rival, the £170 Amazon Fire HD 10, it’s really not that bad for the money. The Alba also gives you the simplicity of vanilla Android, rather than making you contend with Amazon’s fiddly Fire OS 5.0 interface. It may not be the Hudl 2 replacement we’ve been waiting for but, unless you really want to compromise on screen size and go for the much smaller £50 Amazon Fire, the Alba is one of the better big-screen budget Android tablets available. As long as you’re aware of its shortcomings, the Alba Tablet is a decent buy for first-time tablet users. Nathan Spendelow

SPECIFICATIONS

• • SCREEN RESOLUTION 1,280x800 • REAR CAMERA 2 megapixels • STORAGE 16GB • WIRELESS DATA No • DIMENSIONS 166x266x10.3mm • WEIGHT 550g • OPERATING SYSTEM Android 5.1 • WARRANTY Two years RTB • DETAILS www.argos.co.uk • PROCESSOR Quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek MT8163

SCREEN SIZE 10.1in

PART CODE AC101CPLV2

11h 31m

Battery life 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 76 for performance details

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


COMPACT SYSTEM CAMERA

CANON G7 X Mark II ★★★★★

£515 • From www.slrhut.co.uk

VERDICT

A great concept expertly realised, the Canon G7 X Mark II is very close to perfection THE CANON G7 X was our favourite camera of 2015. With its 1in sensor and wide-aperture lens, its image quality was a match for consumer SLRs (with their kit lenses at least), yet it was small and light enough to slip into a trouser pocket. Since then, the market for 1in sensor CSCs has picked up in pace, and we’ve seen a number of great cameras, including the 10x zoom-equipped Panasonic TZ100 (Shopper 341), the 4K-capable Sony RX100 IV (338) and Canon’s own G9 X (340). Now, Canon hopes to up the ante yet again with the G7 X Mark II. The improvements are relatively subtle: it has a faster processor, a proper grip on the front of the camera, and a redesigned hinge on the 3in LCD screen so it tilts down as well as up. Battery life is up from 210 to 240 shots – a welcome improvement, but still below average. Extra batteries cost a staggering £49.

ALL IN HAND

Unlike on the G7 X and Sony’s RX100 series, there’s also a rubber grip that, while only a few millimetres deep, has a well-defined ridge that’s unlikely to slip through fingers. Another design tweak is a small lever beside the lens that lets you choose whether the lens ring has a smooth or ratcheted motion. The former makes more sense for autofocus adjustments, while the latter is better for aperture adjustment. However, the lens ring itself feels a bit out of place on such a small camera, which is easier to hold with a pincer-shaped grasp in both hands rather than cradling it with the left hand. We therefore found it more natural to spin the rear wheel to make adjustments. Fortunately, the touchscreen makes it quick to call up settings for adjustment with the wheel.

38

Using the Custom White Balance function is frustratingly long-winded. Most cameras let you calibrate the white balance by pointing the lens at a white or grey subject and pressing a couple of buttons, but the G7 X II demands you take a photo of said subject and then navigate to an obscurely located menu page in order to perform the calibration. We use this function far more than manual focus, for instance, but it’s manual focus that has a labelled button on the back of the camera.

TAP RECORDER

For most other purposes, the controls are quick and intuitive. There’s a chunky exposure compensation dial on the top plate, and the touchscreen makes light work of moving the autofocus point. We’re big fans of camera touchscreens, as well as screens that tilt up for comfortable shooting at hip-height. Sony’s RX100-series cameras have tilting screens, the Panasonic TZ100 and Canon G9 X have touchscreens, but the G7 X II includes both. The original G7 X’s performance was unremarkable, but the updated model makes significant improvements. Shots were captured every 0.5 seconds in normal use, with decisive autofocus quickly locking on to subjects. Continuous JPEG shooting was at 8fps for 30 frames before slowing to 5fps – a superb result. Continuous Raw performance was much improved from the dire 1.2fps achieved by the G7 X, capturing 22 frames at 8fps before slowing to 1.9fps. The video mode is good rather than great. It supports 1080p recording at frame rates up to 60fps, and the touchscreen is particularly useful for on-the-fly autofocus adjustments. Details aren’t as refined as on the best 1080p footage and can’t begin to compete with 4K footage, but this needn’t put off casual video shooters. A bigger issue is how it stops recording without any warning when video files reach 4GB – that’s about 16 minutes. Photo quality is the star attraction, and it’s about as good as it gets from a

pocket-sized camera. Colours are rich and vibrant, there’s plenty of detail in its 20-megapixel files and the combination of the 1in sensor, f/1.8-2.8 lens and carefully controlled noise reduction in JPEGs excel in low light. There was a slight softness to focus at the edges of wide-angle shots, but it’s a minor point.

FINER DETAILS

Compared to the Sony RX100 IV in our studio test scene, the Canon exhibited slightly sharper details at slow ISO speeds and less invasive noise-reduction artefacts at ISO 800 and above. There’s not much to separate them for image quality, but these traits and the Canon’s more generous 4.2x optical zoom range mean it clinches the lead. Besides the disappointing battery life, virtually everything else about the G7 X Mk II is seriously impressive. It’s responsive and easy to use, genuinely pocket-sized and takes pictures that are a match for consumer SLRs. Electronic viewfinders are a matter of taste, but we’d happily omit one for the sake of the G7 X Mark II’s tilting touchscreen. The Sony RX100 IV comes top for video with its 4K and slow-motion options, but it has a smaller zoom, less accessible controls and costs £250 more. Those on a tight budget should check out the Canon G9 X, which costs around £360, but otherwise the G7 X II is on course to follow in its predecessor’s footsteps and become our new favourite camera of 2016. Ben Pitt

SPECIFICATIONS

• SENSOR SIZE 1in • • LCD SCREEN 3in (1,040,000 dots) •

SENSOR RESOLUTION 20 megapixels VIEWFINDER None

OPTICAL ZOOM (35mm-EQUIVALENT FOCAL LENGTHS)

• 35mm-EQUIVALENT APERTURE f/5-7.7 • WEIGHT 319g • DIMENSIONS 64x108x42mm • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.canon.co.uk

4.2x (24-100mm)

240 shots

Battery life 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 78 for performance details

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


WWW.ESET.CO.UK/BUSINESS

ESET ENDPOINT SECURITY

Do More with comprehensive security •

Your company‘s I.T. secured by multiple layers of ESET protection

Superior malware detection powered by ESET NOD32® technology

Low system demands, plus virtualisation capability


DSLR CAMERA

NIKON D500 ★★★★★

£1,450 (body only) • From www.slrhut.co.uk

VERDICT

Outstanding quality across the board, the Nikon D500 is fast, feature-packed and takes beautiful photos THE D500 IS the flagship model in Nikon’s cropped-sensor SLR range. With a body-only price of £1,490, it’s fair to expect great things, and it doesn’t disappoint. The features and performance on offer have much in common with the £5,200 Nikon D5, including a 153-point autofocus system, 4K video capture, a 3.2in, 2.4-million-dot articulated touchscreen, backlit buttons and an XQD card slot (the high-speed replacement for CompactFlash), though there’s an SDXC slot too. The 10fps burst speed isn’t a match for the D5’s 14fps, but it’s faster than the 6.5fps on the similarly priced Nikon D750 (Shopper 327). It weighs only 860g, too. A cropped-sensor SLR extends the effective focal length of a lens, so a 70200mm lens behaves like a 105-300mm, helping you frame faraway subjects without having to spend crazy amounts on lenses. The 16-80mm f/2.4-4 lens that Nikon sent us for testing is a superb general-purpose lens that’s equivalent to an £850 24-120mm, f/3.6-5.5 lens on a full frame camera. It costs just £770, and it’s only when you zoom in that the full-frame equivalent starts to show its superiority, showing how a cropped-sensor camera like the D500 can offer much better value.

PRESSING MATTERS

The 3.2in articulated screen is another treat. The touchscreen function isn’t used much, but it’s welcome for live view autofocus control, and for browsing, zooming and panning around photos during playback. There are dedicated buttons for all the main photographic settings, and these are adjusted by holding down the button and spinning the command dials. Some of these

40

settings are shown in the viewfinder; white balance, JPEG/Raw quality and bracketing settings are shown only on the passive LCD screen. Drive mode has a dedicated dial and the current setting isn’t shown through the viewfinder either, but it’s a minor complaint; the camera is quick to get to grips with overall. Unlike most Nikon SLRs, the autofocus point can be controlled via a joystick as well as the four-way pad – a big improvement. The autofocus points virtually fill the frame, which is great for framing subjects off-centre and even better when using subject tracking to keep moving subjects in focus. Here, the tracking around the frame was responsive and accurate when shooting with the 16-80mm lens, and the hit rate for sharp results in 10fps bursts was impressively high.

SPEED SHOOTING

Burst shooting lasted for 82 JPEGs or 34 Raw frames before slowing. It didn’t quite manage 10fps in our tests, but 9.3fps is good enough. There’s also a slower mode, variable from 2fps to 9fps, for when you don’t want to fill the card with virtually identical shots. It was seriously fast in the single drive mode, managing a shot every 0.2 seconds with autofocus taking as little as 0.1 seconds. Wireless transfers are performed either via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). After a simple NFC setup, we could transfer all photos to an Android phone without needing an app or even for the camera to be switched Bluetooth transfers are too slow on, and while B full-resolution transfers, they’re fine at the for full-resolutio 2-megapixel setting. However, we default 2-megap weren’t able to get the wireless remote working, as the phone couldn’t find function workin camera’s Wi-Fi network. the ca The D500 is Nikon’s first sub-£4,000 camera to support sub-£4 Ultra HD video; it can shoot up to Ult 30-minute chunks and span 30multiple 4GB files. The footage mul itself looks excellent, despite Nikon’s video autofocus not quite Nik being ready for video use; it’s bei great being able to make gre adjustments with the touchscreen, adj but they look clunky and noisy. Photo quality is reliably excellent. The 180,000-pixel RGB exc metering sensor helps the camera met

to understand the range of colours and brightness in the scene and set the exposure accordingly. This was borne out in some expertly chosen settings in tricky highcontrast scenes. Shutter and ISO speeds are adjusted automatically, taking into account the increased likelihood of camera shake at longer focal lengths. One thing the camera won’t do is increase the shutter speed automatically for moving subjects, but most people will be happy to take manual control.

TOP OF THE CROPS

Details in JPEGs were clean and sharp, with smooth colour gradations in skies and buildings, and crisp definition to dense textures such as foliage, skin and hair. Noise levels were impressively low as the ISO speed went up. It was roughly on a par with the superb Fujifilm X-Pro2 (Shopper 342), and while it couldn’t quite match the full-frame Nikon D750 for low noise levels it was closer to the D750 than to the Canon EOS 7D Mk II. Nikon appears to be on a mission to pack the best of everything into this camera, and by and large it has succeeded. It looks, feels and behaves like a quality piece of kit, it rarely keeps you waiting and is unfazed by tricky shooting conditions. The small trade-off in image quality that comes from the cropped sensor is more than compensated for by the superb features and performance. It’s not the best video camera at this price, but using it is a joyful experience, and the photos it captures are equally rewarding. Ben Pitt

SPECIFICATIONS

• SENSOR SIZE • FOCAL LENGTH MULTIPLIER 1.5x • VIEWFINDER Optical TTL • LCD SCREEN 3.2in (2.4 million dots) • LENS MOUNT Nikon F mount • WEIGHT 860g • DIMENSIONS 115x147x81mm • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.europe-nikon.com SENSOR RESOLUTION 21 megapixels

23.5x15.7mm (APS-C)

1,240 shots

Battery life 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 78 for performance details

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


UHD MONITOR

IIYAMA ProLite XUB3490WQSU ★★★★★ £550 • From www.ebuyer.com

VERDICT

The perfect screen for multitasking, if you can find it at the right price PC DISPLAYS WITH a 21:9 aspect ratio used to be an oddity, but the ultra-wide form factor is becoming increasingly common. Most monitors we’ve seen with this screen shape have been huge gaming monitors with 144Hz refresh rates or above, but relatively low 2,560x1,080 resolutions. This makes them great for fast-paced games, but not for office work, where clear text and plenty of resolution for multiple applications is vital. The Iiyama ProLite XUB3490WQSU, by contrast, is a 34in, 21:9 screen with a 3,440x1,440 resolution. This means you have almost as many horizontal pixels as two 1,920x1,080 monitors placed side by side, and a useful 25% extra vertical space to show more of a web page or wordprocessing document.

TIPPING THE SCALES

Admittedly, you don’t get as many pixels as you do on a 16:9, 3,840x2,160 display, such as the 27in Iiyama GB2888UHSU (Shopper 342), but in many ways the ultra-wide 34in XUB3490WQSU is a more practical monitor.

as the screen fills most of your peripheral vision. That said, we did sometimes miss having a curved screen when gaming, and sometimes even during normal desktop tasks; the extreme left and right of the monitor do seem a long way away.

CONTENT SHARING

The screen’s office credentials are boosted by its picture-in-picture or picture-by-picture functions. We were able to plug a test machine into the monitor over HDMI, set its resolution to 1,720x1,440, set the main PC to the same resolution and have two computers side by side on the same display, in perfectly sharp native resolution. If you need a test machine, such as a Linux box, alongside your Windows PC, you’ll certainly find this feature useful. It’s easy to get the monitor into the position you want. It will rotate on its base, the panel will rotate around 45˚ from horizontal towards vertical, and the screen is

The Iiyama XUB3490WQSU works well as an office monitor, especially for multitasking. It’s also excellent for films This is chiefly due to scaling. A 27in 3,840x2,160 monitor has so many pixels crammed into a small area (163 pixels per inch) that Windows has to increase the size of onscreen elements to make things legible. Windows 10 is better than previous versions of the operating system at scaling properly, but many applications, including older ones such as Photoshop CS6 and even parts of Windows’ Control Panel, don’t scale properly, producing tiny icons and fuzzy text. A 34in 3,440x1,440 screen, however, has a pixel density only slightly higher than that of a 24in 1,920x1,080 monitor (109ppi vs 91ppi), so even older applications scale correctly. More importantly, it’s a practical size for a desk; a 34in screen with a 3,840x2,160 resolution would be almost half a metre high. The Iiyama XUB3490WQSU works well as an office monitor, then, especially for multitasking. It’s also excellent for films, as you’d expect, and games are more immersive

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

height-adjustable from 54-180mm. The only thing missing is portrait mode, but then that might not be practical on a screen this wide. On the back you have DisplayPort, HDMI 1.4, HDMI 2.0 and HDMI/MHL ports, as well as a hub for two USB2 and two USB3 ports. The HDMI 2.0 port means you can drive the screen at 3,440x1,440 at 60Hz over HDMI, but only if you have a modern Nvidia graphics card. This means if you plug the screen into a laptop over HDMI, you’ll most likely be limited to 30Hz, which is usable if slightly jerky. We didn’t get on particularly well with the monitor’s menu system. There’s nothing wrong with the clear onscreen menus, but the writing on the face of the monitor denoting which button does what is barely legible without shining a light directly on it. You shouldn’t have to do too much fiddling, however. By default the screen was displaying 96.7% of the sRGB colour gamut, with a colour temperature of 6360K (versus

the ideal 6500K) and a Delta-E colour accuracy figure of 2.87 (the lower the better). These are reasonable, if not spectacular, figures, but matters improved once we calibrated the monitor with an i1 DisplayPro calibrator. It could then display 99.2% of the sRGB gamut, with a near-perfect 6566K colour temperature and an excellent Delta-E accuracy score of 1.4. It’s a shame the screen wasn’t closer to these figures out of the box, but if you’re spending this much on a monitor you may find a calibrator is worth the investment.

RESPONSE UNIT

The screen’s widescreen aspect may be well suited to games, but this is no hardcore gaming monitor. A 5ms response time is fine for an IPS panel, but the panel’s 60Hz refresh rate (as opposed to 120Hz or more) means you’re unlikely to run into any problems caused by pixels not changing state quickly enough to cope with the action onscreen. There is a pixel overdrive function, but the ghosting test at testufo.com showed this to create significant image artefacts. If you want a super-high-resolution monitor but don’t want to worry about Windows scaling problems, or just want something special to watch 4K Netflix on, the XUB3490WQSU makes a lot of sense. The AOC U3477PQU (Shopper 327) is cheaper and matches it on features, but it can’t match Iiyama’s screen for default colour accuracy, so snap up the latter if you can afford it. Chris Finnamore

SPECIFICATIONS SCREEN SIZE 34in

• RESOLUTION 3,440x1,440 • • REFRESH RATE 60Hz •

SCREEN TECHNOLOGY IPS

VIDEO INPUTS 1x DisplayPort, 2x HDMI 1.4, 1x HDMI 2.0 WARRANTY Two years collect and return DETAILS www.iiyama.com

CONNECTION PORTS

DisplayPort x1

HDMI x3

USB x4

3.5mm headphone port

41


FHD MONITOR

VIEWSONIC XG2401 ★★★★★

£248 • From transparent-uk.com

VERDICT

Fantastic for games, but image artefacts in Windows apps make this a poor all-rounder WHEN 24in, FULL HD screens can be bought for as little as £100, you may be wondering how ViewSonic can justify the XG2401’s £248 price. The answer is a slew of gaming features, including a 144Hz refresh rate, a 1ms response time, pixel overdrive to reduce motion blur and support for AMD FreeSync. It’s seriously well made. The plastics in the screen surround and stand feel tough, and the industrial-feeling stiffness in the adjustment mechanisms means the panel will stay exactly in the position you want. There’s plenty of tilt, height and rotation adjustment, too. The base sits on a rotating disc, making it easy to rotate the entire monitor, but we’d prefer the stand to rotate within the base; the base is huge and will take up half your desk when rotated to a 45˚ angle. On the back are two HDMI inputs, a DisplayPort connector and a two-port USB3 hub. The setup menus are easy to navigate thanks to the five clearly marked buttons at the front. The only confusing aspect is that the control to go forwards is on the left of the control to go back, which is counterintuitive.

DON’T TOUCH THAT DIAL

In the menus you’ll find the option to enable FreeSync – more on this later – plus Advanced Dynamic Contrast Ratio, or DCR. This can supposedly give you contrast ratios of up to 120 million to one, but it only ends up making everything look far too stark, with distorted

after calibration we saw 6625K – a closer match. Calibrating the monitor didn’t improve the Delta-E colour accuracy figure, but increased sRGB coverage to 98%. Both games and the Windows desktop benefit from the fast 144Hz refresh rate, which allows for sky-high frame rates and smooth window animations.

TINGE WATCH

There’s one significant problem with using this monitor for work, however. As you scroll up and down pages of black text, the text gains a pink tinge. The problem is even more noticeable if you adjust the monitor’s colour balance so there’s more red in the image. The effect is also present if you increase green or blue saturation: black text turns to whichever colour is set highest as you scroll. We found it distracting, but not impossible to live with. We suspected that this effect was a manifestation of ghosting, where pixels can’t change state quickly enough to keep up with the monitor’s refresh rate. Changing the pixel response time to Ultra Fast solved the problem, but introduced noticeable halo

The monitor really shines with games. The 144Hz refresh rate enables huge frame rates without unsightly tearing colours. At higher settings, it also ruined onscreen text. DCR is turned on automatically with some of the Game image presets, such as RTS and MOBA, so these should be avoided. You shouldn’t need DCR anyway, as this TN panel has an excellent measured contrast ratio of 988:1. Before calibration and set to its default Native mode, the screen could display 96% of the sRGB colour gamut, and a 1.86 Delta-E colour accuracy figure is certainly very respectable. TN panels generally can’t manage such high colour accuracy as IPS models, so these results are certainly impressive. Colour temperature was a little cool, at 6262K versus the ideal 6500K, but

42

artefacts around icons while dragging around application windows. Reducing the Response Time setting to Advanced was a reasonable compromise between the text colour shift and image artefacts, so we’d recommend that, especially since doing so resulted in no noticeable ghosting or artefacts. The monitor really shines with games. The 144Hz refresh rate enables huge frame rates without the unsightly tearing that can occur on a 60Hz monitor when it receives more frames from the graphics card than it can display. In the twitch arena shooter Warsow, even with V-Sync disabled we hardly noticed any tearing at frame rates above 200fps, and

the game felt much more responsive with V-Sync turned off. The FreeSync feature synchronises the monitor’s refresh rate with that of a modern AMD graphics card, so the monitor is never left waiting for frames (causing stutter) or is fed more frames than it can display (causing tearing). The XG2401 has a huge FreeSync range of 48Hz to 144Hz, so any game running at over 48fps will benefit – most recent mid-range AMD cards will manage this at 1080p.

RALLY TO THE CAUSE

We tested FreeSync with Dirt Rally. With Ultra detail enabled, the game ran at between 50 and 60fps and was perfectly smooth at all times with FreeSync turned on. Once we disabled FreeSync, stutter crept in. The ViewSonic XG2401 has premium build quality, and the silky-smooth gaming afforded by FreeSync makes it a joy to use for games. It impressed in our image quality tests, too, but the occasional artefacts could be a problem if you need the screen for work as well as games. If you have a FreeSync-compatible AMD graphics card and mainly play games, especially twitchy ones where super-high frame rates make a big difference, this screen could be for you – but think carefully, as an extra £50 will get you the FreeSync-enabled 4K Iiyama GB2888UHSU (Shopper 342). Chris Finnamore

SPECIFICATIONS

• RESOLUTION 1,920x1,080 • SCREEN • REFRESH RATE 144Hz • VIDEO INPUTS 1x DisplayPort, 2x HDMI • WARRANTY Two years collect and return • DETAILS www.viewsoniceurope.com

SCREEN SIZE 24in

TECHNOLOGY TN

CONNECTION PORTS

HDMI x2

3.5mm headphone port

OCTOBER 2016

USB3 x2

DisplayPort x1

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


CURVED UHD TV

SAMSUNG UE55KS7500 ★★★★★

£1,599 • From www.johnlewis.com

VERDICT

The UE55KS7500 packs in 4K and HDR but its image quality is a little so-so for the money MEET THE KS7000 series, which sits at the bottom of Samsung’s 2016 SUHD TV range. We’ve tested the curved model, though a flat variant (which otherwise has identical specs) is also available for £200 less. The KS7500 has ‘branched feet’, similar to many of Philips’ TVs. This makes it quite different to Samsung’s other SUHD TVs, as these tend to have a central stand design. Which you prefer will be a matter of personal taste, but at least the feet are easy to set up. While we’d prefer a central pedestal stand, the separate feet do at least provide ample clearance below the screen for a soundbase or soundbar. Otherwise, the thin silver bezels are tasteful and you can even turn off the lit-up Samsung logo if you find it distracting. The KS7500’s main draw is its Quantum Dot display. This provides a cleaner backlight compared to standard LED-backlit panels as well as better colour accuracy and peak brightness. It also helps the KS7500 achieve the 1,000cd/m2 brightness it needs for HDR.

GUIDING LIGHT

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get an accurate reading of the highest peak brightness in our tests, as the TV requires the metadata from HDR content in order to tell it to deliver its maximum brightness. Instead, we measured it while playing a 4K, HDR-enabled Blu-ray, which saw the brightness fluctuate from as low as 356cd/m2 up to 1,015cd/m2,

the box, colour accuracy stretched to 99.2% of the sRGB gamut, but there’s a good array of colour settings available to fine-tune them further. ther. Its motion handling is also superb. Live instance, which e football, for instance hich often proves the most problematic kind of footage, didn’t show any noticeable judder whatsoever. Avoid the dedicated Sport mode, though: it tweaks the audio so that stadium effects and commentary are more pronounced, but horribly oversaturates colours.

THE ENGINE THAT COULD

While the TV performs best with Ultra HD content, its SUHD Remastering Engine is great for upscaling lower-resolution content. Even Freeview HD channels look great from a normal viewing distance, without the need to change noise-reduction settings. It’s also good for gaming, with a Games mode that cut response time from 117ms to 24ms. This is one of the fastest we’ve seen, so console owners will have no problems. Its 40W speakers are mediocre, however. You’ll need a soundbar or separate speaker system to make the most of your new TV.

While the TV performs best with Ultra HD content, its SUHD Remastering Engine is great for upscaling low-res content though only for short periods. Granted, it’s not an ideal test, but it was clear that it wasn’t able to maintain its peak brightness as long as premier TVs such as Panasonic’s Viera TX-58DX902B (Shopper 343). Still, the KS7500 certainly wasn’t lacking in brightness in our testing. In The Martian, for instance, it did a fantastic job with the otherworldly glow of Mars, and colours were vibrant and highly detailed. The Panasonic DX902B arguably has a more immediate ‘wow factor’, but it’s considerably more expensive. Elsewhere, the KS7500 performs admirably. We measured a black level of 0.04cd/m2 and a respectable contrast ratio of 4,678:1. Out of

44

Weirdly, Samsung has removed the smart remote’s motion controls, making the smart functions reliant on voice control. This didn’t always work, the TV giving an infuriating “I failed to recognise what you’ve said” message even though it had clearly transcribed our command onscreen. We also weren’t fond of the smart remote’s clicky navigation buttons or the rocker-style channel and volume buttons, so generally stuck to the traditional remote (also included) during testing. The KS7500 uses Samsung’s full-sized One Connect box for connections. It includes four HDMI 2.0 ports with HDCP 2.2 support (one of them also has ARC support), two USB ports,

an optical S/PDIF output and ports for your aerial or satellite connection. Since it’s a separate device that plugs in via a single cable, it’s great for minimising the number of cables running out of your TV, especially if you want to wall-mount it.

SMART CHOICE

The smart system is powered by Samsung’s Tizen interface, and is as unobtrusive as ever. A horizontal menu pops up along the bottom of the screen so it doesn’t interrupt what you’re watching, and you’re able to quickly access your different input sources as well as any apps you pin to the main screen. There’s a good selection of these apps as well, ranging from Amazon Instant Video and Netflix to cloud-based gaming options including Gamefly and Playstation Now. With the KS7500, Samsung has delivered a competent SUHD TV that’s attractive and well designed, and is as suitable for 4K content as it is for lower-resolution sources. Panasonic’s DX902B still has the very best image quality we’ve seen on a 4K TV this year, but for those who’d rather not spend over £3,000, the KS7500 certainly won’t disappoint. If you’d rather save even more money, the flat KS7000 is worth a look, too. Richard Easton

SPECIFICATIONS

• NATIVE RESOLUTION 3,840x2,160 • • TUNER Freeview HD • DIMENSIONS 857x1,352x295mm • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.samsung.co.uk • SCREEN SIZE 55in

VIDEO INPUTS 4x HDMI

PART CODE UE55KS7500

CONNECTION PORTS

HDMI x4

S/PDIF x1

OCTOBER 2016

USB3 x2

Ethernet x1

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


PORTABLE BLUETOOTH SPEAKER

LIBRATONE One Click ★★★★★

£139 • From www.libratone.com

VERDICT

The One Click looks fantastic and its accessories make it a great travel companion nion LIBRATONE’S NEW ONE speaker range comes in two forms: the One Style and the One Click. The speaker is the same in both, but while the One Style has a simple silicone frame that has a small loop on one corner that can be used as a grab handle, the Click has a frame with protruding bumpers for protection and a larger, handbag-style handle. The speaker is about the size of a hardback book, so you can easily throw it in a rucksack. At 900g, it’s not the lightest speaker in the world, but it’s not prohibitively heavy either. The touch controls are located on a large circular knob. To adjust the volume, you draw

SPECIFICATIONS

• RMS POWER OUTPUT Not disclosed • • WIRELESS Bluetooth (SBC) • DIMENSIONS 120x41x205mm • WEIGHT 0.9kg • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.libratone.com • SPEAKERS 2

DOCK CONNECTOR None

PART CODE One Click

a circle round the Libratone logo, and illuminated dots track ck your finger movement to show w you the volume level. The touch ouch button can also be used for media controls and for answering calls when you’re using the One as a speakerphone. The One is IPX4 splashproof, so it can handle a bit of rain, but since the Micro USB charging port and 3.5mm auxiliary jack are only protected by a silicone cover, it won’t survive an accidental dunk in the pool. Inside, the One has a 3in woofer paired with a 1in tweeter, and a passive driver helps round out the sound. It can disperse sound in every direction, so ideally it should be placed vertically on its short edge for full 360˚ sound. It feels a little precarious like this, however, as it can easily be knocked over. Lay it down flat and you lose the 360˚ sound, but with sound driven upwards, it’s still more than capable of providing a well-dispersed soundstage.

Sou Sound quality is good. There’s a richness to the There’ low-end, but mid frequencies low-en sound a little thin and lifeless, especially on rock tracks. Still, it especiall serves well as a speaker to take on the road, and there’s plenty of volume, too. You can pair two devices over Bluetooth, and two One speakers can be paired using Libratone’s app for iOS and Android. This can create a stereo pair, but as we only had one we couldn’t try this out. Battery life is rated at 12 hours, which is respectable but a little short in comparison to similar-sized speakers such as Bowers & Wilkins’ T7, which lasts 18 hours. All in all, the Libratone One Click is a fantastic portable Bluetooth speaker. Its build quality is excellent and it looks attractive to boot; sound quality might not please the most ardent audiophiles, but for holidays and road trips, it’s a capable and great-value choice. Richard Easton

IN-EAR HEADPHONES

ONKYO E700M ★★★★★

£75 • From www.currys.co.uk

VERDICT

The E700M headphones are great value, very comfortable and sound superb IT’S NOT OFTEN that you see high-resolution support for in-ear headphones under £100, but that’s precisely what you get with Onkyo’s E700M. They’re also beautifully designed. Onkyo has used a semi-closed design for the E700M, with a small grille at the top to help with the low-end bass performance. Sound leakage isn’t a problem. The twisted wire cable looks rather thin, but feels robust, and its contrasting colour scheme makes the E700M look more like professional in-ear monitors than £75 headphones. The E700M is one of the most comfortable pairs of in-ear headphones we’ve worn, thanks to its dual earbud-like structure. It has three pairs of standard silicone tips of varying sizes

SPECIFICATIONS

• PLUG TYPE • WEIGHT 18g • CABLE LENGTH 1.2m • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.onkyoheadphones.com • PART CODE E700MB/00

HEADPHONES SUBTYPE In-ear headset 3.5mm headset jack plug

46

(or one pair of Comply foam oam tips) you insert into your ear canal, but these are also attached to a standard dard earbud housing that sits in your outer uter ear, anchoring them so they don’t on’t feel like they’re about to fall out. The housing feels a little plasticky, but that’s our only complaint about build quality. An in-line microphone below the left earphone can be used to o play and pause your music as well as answer calls. The microphone is positioned sitioned at an irritating height, often catching tching on a shirt collar. It’s a shame volume controls aren’t included alongside the microphone. The larger-than-average housing means that Onkyo can squeeze in 13.5mm drivers, which deliver a rich, crisp sound. With a frequency response that goes from 6Hz all the way up to 40kHz, the E700M can play high-resolution audio that sounds great across all genres. Its delivery is well balanced, and it doesn’t veer towards an overly boomy

bas bass or too much treble. Hip-hop sounded emphatic, and acoustic sou tracks composed and well controlled. tra You could argue that highresolution audio is overkill for the res average music listener, as many ave people have said (including other peo members of the Shopper team) that mem they simply can’t tell the difference the between normal and high-resolution bet audio tracks. However, when the aud E700M costs just £75, the question of E70 whether iit’s worth paying more for hi-res support isn’t so much of an issue. Combine that with its fantastic construction, comfort and overall sound quality, and you’re on to a real winner. Even considering the lack of volume controls, this is an excellent pair of in-ear headphones and certainly a major step up from whatever bundled earbuds you might still be using from your current smartphone. Richard Easton

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


*GfK data 2016


BLUETOOTH HEADPHONES

BOSE QuietComfort 35 ★★★★★

£290 • From www.amazon.co.uk

VERDICT

The QuietComfort 35 will have you revelling in the sound of silence BOSE IS SYNONYMOUS with noisecancelling headphones, but until now its QuietComfort range has had one big drawback: the wire. That changes with the QuietComfort 35, which cuts the cord and is the better for it. Design-wise, the QC35 isn’t too different to the QuietComfort 25 or SoundLink AroundEar Wireless II. The earcups use a wellconstructed plastic backing and the inside is nicely padded. There’s more padding on the underside of the headband, which provides enough grip that they won’t feel like they’re about to fall off if you lean backwards. The QC35 can be easily adjusted to fit your head, too, as the earcups slide up and down a rail and can rotate within their hinge. They also fold up so you can stow them away inside the included hard case. The case design is also worth a mention; besides protecting the headphones, it provides storage for both the charging cable and bundled wired cable, which

to sensitive microphones and the fact that the noise cancelling makes listening to calls easier. The rear-facing power switch can be used to activate the Bluetooth pairing mode, and there’s NFC support as well. You can pair two devices simultaneously, and if you connect a tablet and a smartphone, the headphones can automatically swap between them when you get an incoming call, which is handy for those moments when you can’t find your phone.

BLOCK AND ROLL

The QC35 use a circumaural design, meaning the earcups completely envelope your ears rather than resting on them. This in itself creates a degree of passive noise cancelling

It’s only when you turn it off that you realise just how effective the noise cancelling is you can fall back on if the battery dies or you want to use a non-Bluetooth audio device.

JACK MENTALITY

However, it’s annoying that Bose continues to use a 2.5mm headphone jack rather than a ndard 3.5mm connection. To be fair, the standard QuietComfort etComfort 25 had the same problem, but it means you’ll need to buy another 2.5mm mm cable if you lose the one in the box, ass cables with 3.5mm jacks at both h ends simply won’t fit. The wired cable doesn’t include a microphone rophone or controls, so if the battery y dies you’ll have to make do without hout until you can find a charger. rger. An aeroplane adaptor is included, ed, though, and there’s also a place in the case to store it. The right earcup houses the media controls along its edge, and these can be used for volume adjustment, ment, skipping tracks, playing g and pausing music, and accepting and rejecting incoming oming phone calls. Speaking aking of which, the QC35 5 makes for a great hands-free ds-free headset thanks

48

by sealing your ears away, but it’s only when you flip the switch to turn on active noise cancellation that you can revel in the sound of pure silence. The noise cancellation is just as good as on the QC25, and surpasses all other noise-cancelling headphones we’ve tested, such as the Samsung Level Over and the Lindy BNX-60 (Shopper 341), although the latter are much cheaper. (ANC) Active noise cancellation (ANC works won’t get rid of everything – it wor better on ambient noises such as a screaming plane than it does on, say, a scr works well, child. Still, the QC35’s ANC work and it’s only when you turn it off that you realise just how effective it is. app for An optional Bose Connect ap iOS and Android can be used to install manage the headphones and inst firmware updates. The app ccan be Bluetooth used to change the Bluetoot name, change when the down, and headphones power down on or turn the voice prompts o off. These give battery and pairing status readouts headphones. through the headphone As for sound quality, Active EQ there’s Bose’s usual Act

adjustment, which also tweaks the sound based on your listening volume levels. It makes for an eminently comfortable listening experience, but if you don’t like any artificial colouring to your music, the QC35 probably isn’t for you. For example, the bass is quite pronounced (although we didn’t find it too imposing) and the treble is crisp and well represented. The mids are a little lacking, especially in electronic tracks, but overall the sound signature is comfortable enough for you to listen away for extended periods.

EASY LISTENING

The internal battery is rated for 20 hours, which is very good considering the noise cancelling. If you connect the wire, this number doubles to 40 hours of noisecancelled listening. If the battery dies, you can still use the headphones in passive mode using the wire, but this sacrifices the noise cancelling and the Active EQ. Without this, the headphones sound tinnier, and some of the warmth of the Active EQ’s sound tweaking disappears, especially around the bass. Overall, there’s a lot to like about the QuietComfort 35. It takes Bose’s superb active noise cancellation and goes wireless, an instant improvement, while its battery performance and build quality are excellent. The only minor sticking point is the price, but if you like the idea of completely blocking out the world around you, then you certainly won’t be disappointed with the QC35. Richard Easton

SPECIFICATIONS

• PLUG TYPE • WEIGHT 310g • CABLE LENGTH 1.2m • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.bose.co.uk • PART CODE QuietComfort 35 HEADPHONES SUBTYPE Over-ear headset

3.5mm headset jack plug (optional)

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


LED MULTIFUNCTION PERIPHERAL

SAMSUNG ProXpress C3060FR ★★★★★

£636 • From www.lambda-tek.com

VERDICT

It’s quick and cheap to run with great results, but it’s a shame the ProXpress C3060FR costs so much SAMSUNG’S PROXPRESS C3060FR is a colour multifunction peripheral that can print, scan, copy and fax double-sided documents. Although it looks compact enough for the home, it’s primarily aimed at small offices. Business-friendly features include a Gigabit Ethernet port for fast data transfers and a USB host function, but bizarrely there’s no dedicated port for it at the front; you need to reach around the back to plug in a USB stick. This is a quick printer – Samsung claims it can deliver up to 30 black or colour pages every minute – but there are other gaps in its specifications. Chief among these is the meagre 250-sheet paper tray fitted as standard. At least you can upgrade with up to two 550-sheet paper cassettes, which, taken together with the standard 50-sheet multipurpose feed, gives you a maximum 1,400-sheet capacity. The touch-sensitive control panel is smart and easy to use, but surprisingly for a modern Samsung printer, there’s no standard Wi-Fi or NFC interface.

QUIET LIFE

Laser-class devices (strictly speaking the C3060FR uses LED light for imaging) are often noisy, but it’s easy to live with this printer. There’s a minimum of clunking and scraping

from the paper transport, while its fans quickly stop after a print job. Things get going again fairly quickly, too. We timed the first page out at 11 seconds from standby, or 15 seconds after it had sat idle for an hour. We couldn’t get close to Samsung’s stated speed in our tests, however, as the printer kept recalibrating itself mid-job. This is usually only something we see on new printers, and we’d expect it to happen less often with further use, but the best speeds we timed were 19.7ppm when printing mono text, and a still-impressive 18.5ppm on our complex colour graphics test.

QUICK OFF THE MARK

Elsewhere, helped no doubt by its dual processors and fast Ethernet connection, the C3060FR was blisteringly quick. We timed a single black A4 copy at nine seconds, while a colour copy took 13 seconds. Using the 50-page automatic document feeder, a 10-page copy took about 35 seconds in black or colour. Previews of an A4 page, or scans at 150 or 300 dots per inch (dpi) took

only eight seconds, while scanning a 6x4in postcard took only six seconds at 600dpi, or 15 seconds at 1,200dpi. We were impressed with the quality of this MFP’s results. Scans were pin-sharp with accurate colours, and detail was preserved in all but the darkest shades of our originals. Text was perfect, and graphics were detailed and free of artefacts, although some tests did print with a slightly warm colour bias. We weren’t overly impressed with the brown bias in colour photocopies, but otherwise both they and mono copies were good. Samsung ships the C3060FR with a 4,000-page black toner and 2,500-page colour toners, while replacements are rated at 8,000 and 5,000 pages respectively. At the best prices we could find, running costs work out at 5.7p per page, broken down as 0.9p for the black part and 4.8p for colour. That’s very competitive for a laser-class device, but we’re not convinced that it offsets the C3060FR’s steep price, particularly when you consider that it’s not especially highly specified. Simon Handby

SPECIFICATIONS

• MAXIMUM • MAXIMUM OPTICAL

TECHNOLOGY Single-pass colour LED PRINT RESOLUTION 600x600dpi

SCAN RESOLUTION (OUTPUT BIT DEPTH) 1,200x1,200dpi

• WEIGHT 26.32kg • MAXIMUM PAPER SIZE A4/legal • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.samsung.com/uk • DIMENSIONS 504x469x453mm

PART CODE SL-C3060FR/SEE

Mono speed

19.7ppm

Mixed colour speed

18.5ppm .9p

Mono page cost Colour page cost

4.8p 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 76 for performance details

⬆ The ProXpress C3060FR is blisteringly fast and its running costs are also reasonable

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

49


LASER MULTIFUNCTION PERIPHERAL

BROTHER HL-L6300DWT ★★★★★ £418 • From www.printerland.co.uk

VERDICT

Fast, flexible and fairly economical, the HL-L6300DWT is let down only by some slightly iffy graphics IF YOU JUST want to print lots of plain black text, nothing beats a mono laser. Brother’s HL-L6300DWT is built to chuck out a lot of text: it comes with 8,000 pages’ worth of toner, has three paper inputs totalling 1,090 sheets, and can spew out a claimed 46 pages per minute (ppm). It’s clearly overkill for a typical home office, but it could be perfect for a small company or workgroup. The boxy, grey HL-L6300DWT comprises the main HL-L6300DW printer with its 520-sheet paper cassette and 50-page multipurpose feed, and a second 520-sheet

addressing one reason why people might want a direct ct print option. Fast laser printers are never quiet, but the HL-L6300DWT 00DWT isn’t bad at all. It’s also incredibly quick, as it took k just 41 seconds to print 25 copies opies of our mono letter test, including cluding the 10-second delay between etween us sending the job and the first page dropping into the output utput tray. That’s an impressive rate e of 36.6ppm. Tested

The HL-L6300DWT is overkill for a typical home office, but it could be perfect for a small company or workgroup cassette on to which you simply drop the printer. On top is a 250-page output bin, and a fold-down tray at the rear that can hold up to 10 sheets exiting the straight paper path.

JOINED-UP THINKING

Brother’s got connectivity covered on the HL-L6300DWT. The printer has wired USB and Gigabit Ethernet connections and supports Wi-Fi with NFC pairing. Unfortunately, there’s no USB host port for walk-up printing, despite the presence of a small but useful colour touchscreen. The print driver does support password-protected secure printing, however,

again over 100 pages, the HL-L6300DWT reached 44.1ppm – again, including the spooling time – suggesting that Brother’s 46ppm speed claim is accurate. As with many fast printers, it hesitated before some of the more taxing pages in our mixed graphics test, but it still delivered the 24-page job at an impressive 29.4ppm. Even at the maximum 1,200dpi resolution, it spat out our two-page 10x8in photo test in 11 seconds, and needed only 14 seconds for our threepage 6x4in photo test. Duplex printing is also fast – we printed 10 sides of mono graphics on to five sheets in just 35 seconds.

We expect impeccable text quality from laser printers, and the HL-L6300DWT delivered: characters were black and crisp. In certain ways, graphical prints were impressive too. In most cases, shade progressions were smooth with no obvious half-toning patterns, and some of our lighter test photos had impressive levels of detail.

BAND ON THE RUN

Darker graphics printed with a degree of horizontal banding, however, and our darkest presentation slide appeared to have lost its gradated background altogether. Graphics are rarely a mono laser printer’s forte, however, and overall the HL-L6300DWT is more than adequate. This printer uses a separate 50,000-page drum, with toner available in a 12,000-page package. Calculated for both, running costs are just over 1.1p per A4 page, which is competitive if not the lowest you’ll find. If you need a good general-purpose business printer we’d still recommend an inkjet multifunction peripheral, specifically HP’s PageWide Pro 477dw (Shopper 342), but if you just need to print lots of text, Brother’s HL-L6300DWT will do just fine. Simon Handby

SPECIFICATIONS

• MAXIMUM PRINT • DIMENSIONS 420x400x396mm • WEIGHT 17.1kg • MAXIMUM PAPER SIZE A4/legal • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.brother.co.uk • PART CODE HLL6300DWTZU1

TECHNOLOGY Mono laser

RESOLUTION 1,200x1,200dpi

10h 16m Mono speed

44.1ppm 1.15p

Mono page cost 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 76 for performance details

⬆ The HL-L6300DWT’s print driver supports password-protected secure printing

50

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


DUAL-BAND ISP ROUTER

BT Smart Hub ★★★★★

RECOMMENDED

£130 • From www.bt.com

VERDICT

Incredibly fast and great value, the Smart Hub is a great choice for BT customers, but it’s slightly short on features THE FAST, EASY-to-use BT Home Hub 5 was something of a revelation for ISP-bundled routers. True, it was a little limited on features, but for most users that didn’t matter. However, times are changing, and with broadband and wireless speeds on the up, BT wants to be prepared, so it’s brought out a newer, faster router: the Smart Hub. As the Smart Hub is designed specifically for BT Broadband, getting it up and running couldn’t be easier: simply spring out its little legs and plug in your RJ11 telephone cable at the rear. You can ditch an older OpenReach modem if you have BT Infinity; if you have ADSL, make sure that the other end of the cable is connected to an ADSL filter. There’s no Ethernet WAN port, but if you need one (ie if you have Fibre to the Home)

you if you try to visit a malicious website. A USB port at the rear will share any printer or USB drive you plug in. There are no security settings, and any device connected is automatically shared with the entire network. It might be a handy feature for sharing the occasional file, but a dedicated NAS is a better option.

TRANSFER AND ROLL OUT

BT is promising better performance from this router on all bands. On the 2.4GHz network, BT claims that the range has dramatically improved, with distances of up to 500m. That

The BT Home Hub 5 was no slouch, but the new Smart Hub utterly demolishes it you can convert one of the four Gigabit Ethernet ports into one. You’ll lose one wired port in the process, though, which may annoy those who need to buy an Ethernet switch.

BAND TOGETHER

You don’t need to do anything else if you want to get going quickly, but the basic configuration merges your 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands under the same name, so you can’t choose which network to connect to. This is a problem for 802.11ac devices, as these have to connect to the 5GHz band to get the fastest speeds. We therefore recommend splitting the networks. The Smart Hub’s interface remains simple, and is a little friendlier than previous BT router UIs. You can now access all the basic settings from the main page, diving into Advanced Settings only to make bigger changes. You get basic options, such as port forwarding, dynamic DNS and UPnP, but everything else is locked down. This means you can’t override BT’s DNS servers to use alternatives. When there are BT DNS issues, it means changing settings individually on every device. However, most of the time BT’s servers are reliable, and built-in protection will warn

52

will depend on your house and the other networks and sources of interference within that range, but we can say that the new router certainly works at distance. Testing in our office, we managed to get a connection through four walls at a distance of around 40m. Performance up close was excellent, with speeds of 83.89Mbit/s at close range, 61.32Mbit/s at 10m and 24.02Mbit/s at 20m through a couple of walls. For the 5GHz network, BT has upgraded from a 3x3 configuration to a 4x4, which means four radio transmitters working together to improve speed. It works well: testing with a laptop with built-in integrated 802.11ac, we saw speeds of 256.32Mbit/s, on a par with the best from more expensive models. Speeds continue at distance, too; we saw throughput of 191.07Mbit/s at 10m and 77.67Mbit/s at 20m. The BT Home Hub 5 was no slouch, but the new Smart Hub utterly demolishes it. It’s worth mentioning YouView at this point, particularly if you’ve signed up for BT’s TV service (such as BT Sport Ultra HD, which delivers some channels via the internet). We’ve had trouble getting third-party routers to work with livestreamed YouView channels, but BT’s routers have always

worked flawlessly out of the box. Fortunately, the Smart Hub is no different: just plug it in and your TV service will work perfectly.

THE DOTTED LINE

If you renew or take out a new Infinity contract, you get the router for free, while existing BT customers can buy the router for £50, a saving of £80 on the retail price of £130. That’s remarkable value for a high-end router such as this. For BT customers, it’s well worth the upgrade, particularly if you’re on a fast fibre connection. The big competition now comes from competing ISP routers, such as the excellent Sky Q Hub, which you can get if you switch to Sky Broadband when you buy Sky Q. This system builds a mesh network, turning Sky Q Mini boxes into hotspots to improve Wi-Fi coverage throughout your house. BT can’t compete with this, but taking out a premium TV subscription to boost Wi-Fi with Sky is an expensive way to address the problem. The only minor downsides with this router are that it’s not particularly configurable and you miss out some of the advanced options that third-party routers have. However, if you’re disinclined towards tweaking, the Smart Hub does everything you’ll need it to. David Ludlow

SPECIFICATIONS

• WI-FI STANDARD 802.11ac • • USB PORTS 1x USB2 • WALL MOUNTABLE No • WARRANTY One year RTB • MODEM ADSL2+/VDSL

STATED SPEED Not disclosed DETAILS www.bt.com

61.3Mbit/s

2.4GHz 10m 2.4GHz 20m

24Mbit/s

802.11ac throughput 10m 802.11ac throughput 20m

191Mbit/s 77.7Mbit/s 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 76 for performance details

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


POWERLINE ADAPTOR KIT & WI-FI EXTENDER

TP-LINK TL-WPA8630P AV1200 ★★★★★

£115 • From www.currys.co.uk

VERDICT

Powerline and Wi-Fi extender in one for a cracking price, but its range is limited POWERLINE EXTENDERS are one of the most secure and reliable ways to boost your Wi-Fi network. The fact that you can get a 1200ac starter kit that offers both Powerline and Wi-Fi for £115 is impressive. Setup is straightforward, either through the web interface or via the tpPLC app for iOS and Android. It lacks flair but gets the job done. One of the joys of Powerline networking is that there’s actually a standard involved. This

SPECIFICATIONS

• STATED SPEED 1,200Mbit/s • • WARRANTY Three years • DETAILS uk.tp-link.com • PART CODE TL-WPA8630P

WI-FI STANDARD 802.11ac

NETWORK PORTS 3x Gigabit Ethernet

278.6Mbit/s 10h 16m

Throughput 1m

42.5Mbit/s

Throughput 10m 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 76 for performance details

kit is fully compliant with Powerline AV standards, which means you can mix and match brands in different parts of the house and decide which one works best for you. You can then add to your existing network, or use it as the basis of a new one. Why can’t everything be that simple? The inclusion of 802.11ac Wi-Fi might seem over the top, but in fact it’s one of the system’s strengths. It’s perfectly capable of not just extending your wireless capability, but actually upgrading it if your router isn’t ac-ready. There is, however, a catch. In our tests, we found that even though we could get a hefty 278.62MB/s at a range of 1m, add a few metres and a couple of walls in the way and it drops like a stone, down to 42.47MB/s. Add a third wall, and it’s all over bar the shouting. This is a device that will add Wi-Fi to another room in the house, but not the whole floor. Design-wise, we’re delighted that these are passthrough devices, meaning they don’t

block off a plug socket. However, they’re so big and bulky, they actually sag in the sockets. If one of the three Ethernet cables that can be plugged in gets pulled, it can fall out of the wall of its own accord. While this is a serious design flaw, it’s a serious design flaw TP-Link shares with most of its competitors, suggesting that the problem stems from the lack of maturity of Powerline at this speed and reach. If you want tiny, you might want to wait a couple of years. We love the fact that there are three Ethernet ports, which is more than enough for any secondary room such as a home office, but if you’re hoping to make up for significant shortfalls in your wireless coverage, you may find this isn’t quite enough. Having said that, it’s worth remembering that there are many factors that can affect Wi-Fi signals, and your results may vary significantly. Chris Merriman

WI-FI RANGE EXTENDER

DEVOLO 1200 Wi-Fi AC Repeater

★★★★★

£50 • From www.maplin.co.uk

VERDICT

A competent Wi-Fi repeater let down only by the lack of Devolo trademark features DEVOLO HAS ALWAYS claimed that its Powerline products are ‘better than a repeater’, so it’s strange that its newest product is a Wi-Fi repeater. On paper, the specs are good. It comes with dual band, 802.11ac (as well as b/g/n), four internal antennas and a Gigabit Ethernet port for good measure. It’s also sleeker than the rather blocky design of the German company’s usual efforts. We also love the five-segment signal meter in classic white light without irritating blinking LEDs.

SPECIFICATIONS

• STATED SPEED 1,200Mbit/s • • WARRANTY Three years • DETAILS www.devolo.co.uk • PART CODE 9790

WI-FI STANDARD 802.11ac

RANGE 300m in optimal conditions

802.11ac throughput 1m 802.11ac throughput 10m

209.7Mbit/s 79.6Mbit/s 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 76 for performance details

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

Setup turned out to be a faff. Repeated attempts to set it up over Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), which should be as simple as pushing one button on the router and another on the repeater, proved fruitless and we ended up going into the repeater’s web interface. The interface is intuitive, albeit with some slightly Germanic turns of phrase. We’d love to see them invest in an English copywriter. You can choose between a seamless repeat, or a different SSID altogether. If you go for seamless, the risk is always that the handover will cause you to lose internet altogether, but in our tests the Devolo handled this magnificently. This is a standalone product, so there’s no option to integrate it into Devolo’s Powerline range. This means the repeater needs to be within range of a reasonable signal from the parent router. Powerline adaptors with extenders have a much bigger reach, but they’re also more expensive.

This is not a solution for getting a weak Wi-Fi signal over long distances. In our tests, it managed 209.72MB/s on 5GHz through one wall at 1m, but at 10m through two walls it dropped by more than half to 79.61MB/s. A Powerline system with one end acting as a range extender (which Devolo already makes) would be far more effective than this. At the time of writing Maplin has the AC1200 version for £90 – a much better investment. All that said, if your objective is to give a little boost, perhaps for an attic room, or to add Wi-Fi to the garden, this is a competent, attractive-looking extender. We’d like to have seen a socket passthrough, as socket space is at something of a premium in the age we live in, and it seems peculiar, to us at least, that there’s no option to add this device to Powerline networking. Ergo, it’s by no means an ugly duckling, but it’s a slightly odd duck. Chris Merriman

53


WIRELESS HARD DISK

WD My Passport Wireless Pro 3TB

★★★★★

£210 • www.maplin.co.uk

VERDICT

The best wireless hard disk we’ve seen, but it’s still significantly flawed WD WAS LATE to the party when it came to wireless hard disks. Previous models were playing catch-up, whereas the My Passport Wireless Pro feels a lot more like a product WD has stamped its own mark on. Having said that, the whole concept of take-anywhere Wi-Fi-powered hard disks is still a long way from perfect and there are a couple of howlers that need sorting. Weighing 500g and with the dimensions of an external optical drive, the Wireless Pro manages to squeeze in 2TB or 3TB of storage. Build quality is excellent, but the outer shell feels as though it’s designed to protect the drive within, not for it to actually survive a drop. Given that WD’s target market is on-the-goers such as photographers who need to offload their memory cards in a hurry, we’d have hoped for something a bit more ruggedised. That said, there’s no give in the shell, and it’s no slouch either.

TWO’S COMPANY

In addition to the 7200rpm hard disk within, there are inputs for USB-A, so it can be used as a standard drive or plugged in to charge, an SD card slot, and a USB2 slot for dumping memory card data.

and it can operate completely independently of a host, effectively making it a wireless NAS. This is good news for several reasons. Most notable is the addition of Plex, the DLNA media server, which offers added value in the form of rigid organisation and the ability to add in downloaded information such as artist biogs and film trailers. With its 802.11ac capabilities, the Pro is capable of carrying an entire car full of people watching different devices, all streamed from Plex. Moreover, four of them can be watching full 1080p content, or two can watch 4K.

CREATIVE LICENCE

What of the serious user? The Wireless Pro has another trick up its sleeve in the form of full integration with Adobe’s Creative Cloud.

Although this is the best wireless hard disk we’ve seen, it also has an extremely narrow appeal This is probably the biggest clanger for us. A professional would, at the very least, be using USB3, or even USB3.1/Type-C, so why both are omitted is mindboggling. The wired connection to a PC actually is 3.0, which makes the decision even more mystifying. Connecting is straightforward, using the company’s excellent MyCloud apps, which are available across Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. We’d have liked to have seen use of the Wi-Fi Direct protocol, but we’re also happy to see that once the drive has ‘learned’ a Wi-Fi network, it doesn’t require connecting again,

Photographers, for example, can take photos, load them in Photoshop, and edit on the fly without waiting to get home. These two use cases make for a rather odd juxtaposition. The device tries to be all things to all people, yet even with a 10-hour battery life, it misses out some obvious improvements that could have made it a conqueror. For a start, notwithstanding the USB2 decision, the drive’s performance in transferring files is not particularly impressive. Running a benchmark on a wireless drive is tricky, as so much depends on the network

environment, but when attempting to transfer 500GB of huge files from the Wireless Pro to a WD MyCloud NAS using a 5GHz 802.11ac connection, a message appeared telling us it would take ‘over 1 day’. Ouch. In the end, we had to abandon the test. In its defence however, a complete cycle of data of this size is something you’d do once in a blue moon, and as such isn’t necessarily a showstopper.

PUT YOUR BACK UP

Of course, WD’s plan is that this isn’t an end point for your precious cargo, but rather a holding place before it gets backed up to one of its cloud NAS devices. But if this stuff is so important to you, get a wireless dongle, back up to the cloud, or directly to your NAS. There’s no RAID array, so it’s certainly not a viable backup solution. You take it around with you, so it can’t be used as a home entertainment streamer; it uses a spindle drive, so it’s not really fast enough for cutting-edge video work; and although it’s sturdy, if you drop it, we’re not convinced that the odds of it surviving unscathed are in your favour. Although this is the best wireless hard disk we’ve seen, it also has an extremely narrow appeal. The product seems aimed at divorced dads who work as photographers, spend a lot of time in hotel rooms, and have their kids at the weekends who spend most of the time on their tablets. It’s a fairly weird Venn diagram. The My Passport Wireless Pro is great, but it should have been better, and it suffers from a fatal flaw: you don’t actually need one. Chris Merriman

SPECIFICATIONS

• SPEED 7,200rpm • • OS SUPPORT Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS • PROCESSOR RealTek RTD1195PN • PORTS SD card, USB3.0 • WARRANTY Two years • DETAILS www.wdc.com • PART CODE WDBSMT0030BBK STORAGE CAPACITY 2TB/3TB

NETWORKING 802.11ac

54

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


4K-READY GRAPHICS CARD

ASUS ROG Strix GTX 1080 OC ★★★★★

£671 • From www.ebuyer.com

VERDICT

Asus’s overclocked take on the GeForce GTX 1080 manages to improve on excellence THE ASUS ROG Strix GTX 1080 OC is the first partner variant of Nvidia’s newest GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card we’ve seen. It’s an ambitious prospect: the GTX 1080 was already the most powerful enthusiast GPU around, and here Asus has upped the 1,607MHz base clock and 1,733MHz boost clock speeds to a mighty 1,759MHz and 1,898MHz respectively, or 1,784MHz and 1,936MHz in OC Mode. That’s on top of the GTX 1080’s whopping 8GB of GDDR5X VRAM, which has also had a slight clock speed boost from 10,000MHz to 10,010MHz. Asus has left few stones unturned when looking for ways to tune up Nvidia’s GPU, which is the flagship of the Pascal architecture series – the manufacturing process of which is reduced from Maxwell’s 28nm to the more power-efficient 16nm FinFET. To find out how all these figures translate into real-world performance, we installed the ROG Strix 1080 OC into our graphics testing PC. This is mostly the same system as our usual reference PC, but with a 3.5GHz Intel Core i7-4770K to prevent the usual Core i5-4670K holding the GPU back.

OC RIDER

First, though, a note: you may have read reports that Asus has been sending out review units to press with OC Mode enabled by default, while the slightly slower Gaming Mode is the default for retail units. This was indeed the case for our own unit, but while you could argue this is cheeky, switching a retail ROG Strix GTX 1080 OC to OC Mode is perfectly doable. In fact, it takes seconds using the bundled software. Since this leaves little reason to stick with Gaming Mode, we conducted our testing using OC Mode. Thus, the card tore through our 1,920x1,080 gaming benchmarks, averaging 147fps in Dirt Showdown, 83fps in Metro: Last Light Redux and 174fps in Tomb Raider. Clearly, the ROG Strix GTX 1080 OC is overkill at this resolution, especially if you only use a 60Hz display. Upping to 2,560x1,440, the GPU still performed outstandingly. It averaged 138fps in Dirt Showdown, 49fps in Metro: Last Light

Redux and 118fps in Tomb Raider – all marked improvements on the GTX 980 Ti. We also boosted Metro up to a slick 91fps just by disabling SSAA, which is far less useful at higher resolutions anyway. Finally, at 3,840x2,160, the ROG Strix GTX 1080 OC distinguished itself once again with superb scores of 98fps in Dirt Showdown and 60fps in Tomb Raider. However, this victory lap was interrupted by the ever-demanding Metro, in which it managed only 21fps. That’s just 3fps higher than the GTX 980 Ti, but smooth frame rates are still possible at 4K;

Even the display output ports are geared towards VR: there are two HDMI ports instead of the usual one, so you can use a VR system and an HDMI-connected display at the same time. There are also two DisplayPorts and one dual-link DVI-D output. Curiously, what were shaping up to be our only serious concerns – a bit of coil whine and

Asus has left few stones unturned when looking for ways to tune up Nvidia’s flagship GPU again, all we had to do was turn SSAA off for a huge increase, in this case 43fps. You can go even higher if you can live without maximum texture filtering or advanced PhysX effects.

VIRTUAL TOUR DE FORCE

We didn’t have a VR headset to test with it, but judging by our benchmarks you can expect the ROG Strix GTX 1080 OC to excel with the likes of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Indeed, Pascal comes with a few features specifically designed for optimum VR performance, the most significant of these being simultaneous multi-screen projection (SMP). Virtual reality works by showing you two viewports (projections) of the same scene, then using headset lenses to warp them into one image. Pascal, unlike previous architectures, allows both projections to be rendered in a single pass instead of separately, practically halving the workload. SMP also works with the multi-res shading feature introduced in Maxwell, allowing areas you aren’t focusing on (around the edge of a scene, for instance) to be rendered at a lower resolution – again, reducing load.

fan noise – almost magically disappeared after about an hour of use. The coil whine never returned, and while the triple-fan cooler can get a bit noisy, this only happens after running at load for a few minutes; otherwise, it’s quiet, and prevents temperatures never peaking higher than a safe 71°C. Power usage is high – it’s rated at 300W, and according to GPU-Z peaked at 101.8% of this while gaming – but this isn’t surprising considering its sheer brawn. It still draws less than, say, Sapphire’s high-end AMD Radeon Nitro R9 Fury, which can eat up to 375W. All that’s really bothersome about the ROG Strix GTX 1080 OC, then, is its astronomical price and case-stuffing 298mm length. Still, it costs roughly the same as other GTX 1080 models, and wrings even more power out of an already fearsome GPU. If you have the cash, this is a great card for a top-end rig. James Archer

SPECIFICATIONS GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 • MEMORY 8GB GDDR5X • GRAPHICS CARD LENGTH 298mm • WARRANTY Two years repair and replace • DETAILS www.asus.com/uk • PART CODE G5YVCM039510

147fps

Dirt Showdown Metro: Last Light

83fps

Tomb Raider

174fps 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

See page 76 for performance details

56

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


ACTION ADVENTURE GAME

WARNER BROS Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens ★★★★★ £17 inc VAT • From www.cdkeys.com

VERDICT

A step up from the last few Lego games, The Force Awakens is a welcome return to form for the franchise THE LEGO GAMES began in the Star Wars universe, so there has been much anticipation about TT Games’ grand return to this world. Thankfully, it’s been worth the wait. For a series that’s often accused of simply re-skinning those first Star Wars games with whatever blockbuster heroes happen to be in the cinema that summer, there’s a nice selection of new ideas here. Star Wars classic blaster battles are better captured now you can head for cover. While a little clunky, it’s great to see your little Lego characters duck behind cover from incoming fire, having to dispatch enemy foes one by one.

⬆ Block party: The Force Awakens is surprisingly authentic given the characters are made of plastic

call. These multi-builds are often needed in a certain order to solve puzzles, but there’s little direction on what to build first. These simple sequencing puzzles won’t trouble the adult mind, but could throw younger gamers. The destruction is as compelling as ever. Shattering brick-built structures and objects for a show of studs is helped by a generous stud multiplier, tied to chaining enemy kills in quick succession. Watching your stud counter fill up towards the much coveted ‘True Jedi’ 100% completion is as addictive as ever.

PLASTIC FANTASTIC

For a game built out of virtual plastic, it’s amazing how authentic the Star Wars experience is. The world feels alive, with The introduction of space combat is where bustling spaceports and military bases, along Lego Star Wars really shines, as you skim with a wide range of character emotions both through Jakku’s Star Destroyer ruins or step in-game and in cutscenes. It’s a believable and into Poe’s X-Wing cockpit to show off his ace well-thought-out Lego universe and testament pilot skills. It’s simple and more child-friendly to the hard work that’s clearly been put into than a proper space combat sim, but looks it. It’s also rich with sight gags and in-jokes, and feels thrilling. Local co-op adds a lot here, and while the slapstick caters for a younger too: with one player flying the Millennium audience, we still laughed on occasion. Falcon, and the other aiming its weapons, it’s Audio plays a big part in its authenticity. incredible fun to take on the First Order. John Williams’ masterful soundtrack There’s also a new multi-build mechanic, resonates here and fits perfectly with what where you can choose which objects you you’re doing in-game. Hearing Rey’s Theme as build from a pile of bricks. Do you want to you wander Jakku with BB8 is unforgettable distract your enemies with a towering popcorn and adds to the overall feeling that you’re machine, or blast them to bits with a playing a big role in guiding these characters high-powered blaster emplacement? It’s your through their journeys. The new dialogue recorded for the game is also great, with Harrison Ford and friends offering their voices to add more believability to the game. Much of this dialogue is tied into all-new stories, set on the fringes of the film itself. New adventure levels explore some of the backstories of the film, including how Lor San Tekka arrived on Jakku with the map for Luke Skywalker, and how Han and Chewie captured the Rathtars. These were very ⬆ Feel the strain: new adventure levels take you further into the story

SPACE ODDITY

58

enjoyable to play through, and together give it a much more rounded experience, further expanding your Star Wars knowledge. Lego Star Wars is also packed with ideas to hold your interest well after the game’s seven-hour main story. You can start your hunt for the elusive gold bricks (which unlock the new adventure levels), along with trying to complete your virtual Lego character collection of over 200 mini-figures. As always, a bunch of characters have been forced in to make up the numbers, but it’s always nice to see a varied character list, each with their own unique abilities and combat styles.

SIGNS OF NEGLECT

For all the excellent work, a few old Lego game issues raise their heads. While this isn’t a challenging game by any means, it is let down by poor signposting. Far too often you’ll find yourself wondering how to solve a needlessly tricky puzzle, with the odd hints that flash up on screen only providing the most basic of information. And yet again, a Lego game is marred by a handful of irritating bugs on release. Far too many times, we didn’t earn certain trophies for completing a level, causing us to play through the whole chapter again in an effort to get it. Sometimes you’ll have to get rid of a certain enemy to progress, too, and on at least one occasion he didn’t spawn and we were left twiddling our thumbs. As you can’t just reload the last checkpoint, you’re forced to replay the level from scratch, all the while keeping your fingers crossed that the issue doesn’t rear its head again. All things considered, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is great fun. With inspired levels, new, never-before-seen content and some great co-op mechanics, it’s a good reason to return to the Lego universe. Nathan Spendelow

SPECIFICATIONS

• OS SUPPORT Windows XP, • MINIMUM CPU Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600/ AMD Phenom X4 9850 • MINIMUM GPU Nvidia GeForce GT 430/AMD Radeon HD 6850 • MINIMUM RAM 4GB • HARD DISK SPACE 14GB • DETAILS www.lego.com FORMATS PS4, Xbox One, PC

Vista, 7, 8, 10

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


ACTION ADVENTURE GAME

ELECTRONIC ARTS Mirror’s Edge Catalyst ★★★★★

£21 • From www.cdkeys.com

VERDICT

Combat is still rather woolly, but Catalyst’s huge open world really brings the city of Glass to life BACK IN 2008, it felt as if DICE was on the verge of something brilliant with the original Mirror’s Edge. After Assassin’s Creed shook the world of third-person action games with its smooth, parkour moves, here was a game that did all that and more in the first person. Sadly it never quite lived up to that heady promise of free-rolling, uninterrupted action, as it repeatedly stumbled over its fiddly controls, tight environments, poor signposting and a penchant for throwing its heroine, Faith, into rooms full of heavily armed guards. It was one of the biggest false starts in recent years, and we would have happily let it slink off into the distance never to be seen again.

FAITH NOW MORE

But what a difference eight years makes. With Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, DICE gives us a world that really lets Faith fly, turning those bland, hemmed-in corridors of old into a free-roaming sea of interconnected rooftops. The city of Glass still has its sleek lines and bright, blocky colour scheme, but now this playground of squeaky, sheer surfaces is yours to command, with free rein to scramble over its grates, pipes and air conditioning units as you see fit. It’s a huge place, and each mission takes you further and further into its gleaming depths, from the privileged roof gardens of the K-Sec elite down to the grubby building sites at street level. It’s this gradual descent into nto the belly of Glass that makes its final moments – a climactic,, stomach-lurching surge all the way ay to the top of the city – all the more dramatic, as Catalyst makes sure you’ve seen every lastt corner of the metropolis before giving ving you leave to crush it back down own to size from atop the very building ding that stands at its core. There are some routes you’ll get to know like the back of your hand before long, ng, particularly the paths thatt go in and out of safe houses. es. As a result, there are times when Catalyst’ss quieter momentss can become rather monotonous, nous, as

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER COMPUT COM PUTER PUT ER SHOPPER SHO

| OCTOBER 2016

⬆ Hanging in there: you have free rein to clamber over the city of Glass

it often feels like you’re going through the motions in order to reach your next objective. You’ll run into a few K-Sec squads here and there, but unless you’re tackling a specific side mission (of which there are plenty), you can usually get to your goal unimpeded. You do get the opportunity to travel fast between safe houses later, but you’ll have to clear the area of nearby K-Sec security beacons first.

RUNNING MACHINATIONS

In a way, the lack of obstacles lets you embrace Faith’s running mechanics and, once you get into the flow, there’s nothing like careering over rooftops and instinctively reading your environment at speed to execute the right moves to keep you going. This is something the first Mirror’s Edge was entirely lacking; we found ourselves smacking into walls and breaking momentum in the first game, making it a constant exercise in frustration. This is helped by Catalyst’s streamlined approach to Faith’s moves. Instead of bombarding players with every last move at the start, Catalyst paces itself over the course of the game, introducing basic movements (running, sliding and jumping) first, before getting into a few easy combat combos. The locked behind one of rest, meanwhile, are loc three skill trees, which are gradually unlocked Points as you level up. by earning Ability Po Most skills are vital to furthering progression, such as the your progres life-saving roll and handy life-s wall jump. But the fact wal that we managed to complete the game without ever feeling the need to learn Faith’s coil ability, for example, which lets her tuck up her legs to pass over obstacles without scrambling over the edge, speaks volumes about how easy it is to get to grips with Catalyst. It just lets wit get on with enjoying the you ge

game rather than making you worry about what your next move should be. Admittedly, Catalyst’s combat still feels rather woolly, even though the decision to remove all gunplay works very much in its favour. It’s ironic, really, as the moment you stop moving and engage with its so-called action sequences, the game’s rush of excitement comes to a juddering halt. This is mostly down to its vague targeting system, which makes it very difficult to manage multiple K-Sec operatives at once.

DOMINO EFFECT

There are clever ideas here, as Faith’s new directional left and right kicks can send several K-Sec goons tumbling into each other like dominoes if timed correctly. However, when each punch and kick lands with such little impact and your foes crumble silently to the floor, it never feels quite as satisfying as it looks. Couple that with some maddeningly strict tutorial missions at the start and its tendency to misregister button presses, which hurl you off buildings instead of swinging you round the next pipe, and Catalyst ends up popping one too many veins to be perfect. That said, Catalyst is a huge improvement over the original Mirror’s Edge, and its open-world structure really makes the most of Faith’s parkour running skills. Throw in player-created time trials you can share with friends and the wider online community, and you could spend dozens of hours outside the main story climbing the leaderboards, shaving seconds off your time and exploring the city of Glass to its fullest extent. It still stumbles when it comes to combat, but in every other respect, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is very much running on all cylinders. Katharine Byrne

SPECIFICATIONS

• OS SUPPORT • MINIMUM CPU Intel i3-3250/

AVAILABLE FORMATS PS4, Xbox One, PC Windows 7 64-bit or above

• MINIMUM GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 Ti • MINIMUM RAM 6GB • HARD DISK SPACE 25GB • DETAILS www.mirrorsedge.com AMD FX-6350

2GB/ AMD Radeon R9 270x

59


Choosing a... PC system 01

A basic PC costing around £350 will be able to run everyday office, multimedia and education software and will easily cope with surfing the internet. It might even be able to run some modern games. Many PCs can be sold either with or without a monitor. If you don’t like the display that the manufacturer is offering, you can always use your current one, or buy another one separately.

02

If you want to play games, you’ll have to upgrade the graphics card. Budget cards such as the Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 will cope well with many 3D games, but to play the latest 3D games smoothly (and enjoy the best-quality graphics) it’s worth upgrading to a more powerful card such as the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970.

03

All modern PCs come with at least a dual-core processor and are capable of most tasks. Anyone who regularly undertakes demanding tasks such as video editing and encoding should consider a quad-core or even a hex-core processor.

04

There are plenty of good reasons to upgrade the PC’s memory or hard disk. If you’ll use your PC for gaming, video editing or other demanding tasks, you’ll need at least 8GB of RAM and a large hard disk; 1TB should suffice. Many new PCs have an SSD, which speeds up the time it takes for your PC to boot and programs to load.

05

Having plenty of USB ports is always useful, as most computer

peripherals attach to these ports. Most new PCs come with the latest USB3 ports, which provide faster data transfers when used with supported devices than the older USB2 standard.

06

Most new PCs now come with Windows 10 pre-installed. Don’t be too easily swayed by the inclusion of other software, though, as it may be that you’ll never use it.

07

While most PCs come in cases of a similar size, some have more compact mini tower or mini PC cases. These smaller PCs will fit under your TV or on your desk more easily, but bear in mind that they’re significantly harder to upgrade than full-size machines.

PCs

FALCON Predator Pro SLI ★★★★★

★★★★★

£1,410

£730

www.falconcomputers.co.uk

• www.yoyotech.co.uk

A hugely powerful rig, thanks to its Intel Core i-6700K processor and twin GTX 970 graphics cards, the Predator Pro SLI packs 4K-capable and VR-ready gaming performance into a uniquely decorated case.

If you’re after the complete package, Yoyotech has managed to squeeze in everything you’ll need for a gaming PC, including a powerful quad-core CPU, mid-range graphics and a decent monitor. Yoyotech has also updated the chassis and motherboard since our review.

PROCESSOR Quad-core 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K • RAM 16GB • FRONT USB PORTS 2x USB3 • REAR USB PORTS 2x USB2, 2x USB3, 1x USB3.1, 1x USB Type-C • TOTAL STORAGE 250GB SSD, 1TB hard disk • GRAPHICS CARD 2x 4GB Asus GTX 970 OC Turbo • OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 10 Home • WARRANTY Two years parts, three years labour • DETAILS www. falconcomputers.co.uk • PART CODE Falcon XV SLI • FULL REVIEW Jun 2016

PROCESSOR Quad-core 4.4GHz Intel Core i5-6600K (overclocked) • RAM 8GB • FRONT USB PORTS 2x USB3 • REAR USB PORTS 6x USB3 • TOTAL STORAGE 1TB hard disk • GRAPHICS CARD 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 960 • DISPLAY 22in Iiyama ProLite E2283HS • OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 10 Home • WARRANTY Three year (one year parts & labour RTB, two years labour RTB) • DETAILS www.yoyotech.co.uk • PART CODE ER0815WRS10 FULL REVIEW Nov 2015

SCAN 3XS Z170 Performance GTK6

PALICOMP AMD Avenger

★★★★★ £1,075

60

YOYOTECH Warbird RS10

• www.scan.co.uk/3xs

★★★★★ £500

• www.palicomp.co.uk

An incredibly powerful Skylake system that can cope with just about any desktop task, and can handle gaming at 2,560x1,440. The Z170 motherboard is future-proof too, with USB 3.1 and an M.2 slot for PCI-Express storage.

It’s not the most stylish or upgradable PC, but the AMD Avenger manages astounding frame rates in 1080p games for a £500 system. It has premium-grade storage, too, combining a 1TB hard disk with a speedy 240GB SSD.

PROCESSOR Quad-core 4.6GHz Intel Core i5-6600K (overclocked) • RAM 8GB • FRONT USB PORTS 4x USB3 • REAR USB PORTS 2x USB3.1, 1x USB Type-C, 2x USB2 • TOTAL STORAGE 256GB SSD, 1TB hard disk • GRAPHICS CARD 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 • OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 10 Home • WARRANTY Three years parts cover: first year onsite, years two and three RTB • DETAILS www.scan.co.uk/3xs • PART CODE Performance Z170 GTK6 • FULL REVIEW Nov 2015

PROCESSOR Quad-core 4GHz AMD Athlon X4 880K (overclocked) • RAM 8GB • FRONT USB PORTS 2x USB3 • REAR USB PORTS 4x USB2, 2x USB3 • TOTAL STORAGE 240GB SSD, 1TB hard disk • GRAPHICS CARD 4GB Palit GeForce GTX 960 • OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 10 Home 64-bit • WARRANTY Three years RTB • DETAILS www.palicomp.co.uk • PART CODE KAV3 • FULL REVIEW Aug 2016

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


Choosing a... Laptop 01

A basic laptop costing around £300 will run everyday office, multimedia and education software, but it won’t be suitable for 3D gaming or processor-intensive tasks such as video editing. Many laptops at this price have a 15.4in screen and weigh around 2.4kg, so they’re best used around the house and for occasional journeys.

02

If you want to play modern games, you’ll need a laptop with a dedicated graphics chip such as the Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M. Good gaming laptops tend to have large 17in screens and weigh around 3kg, so they’re best suited to use at home.

03

If you want a laptop that you can take everywhere, look for a model

that weighs less than 2kg. For the best portability, buy one that has an 11in or 13in screen. In general, the smaller and lighter the laptop, the more expensive it is, especially if it has plenty of processing power.

will do the job, but if you want better performance, you should look for an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 model instead. We recommend a minimum of 4GB of RAM, although 8GB is better for multitasking.

04

06

05

07

Battery life is extremely important for a laptop, particularly if you’ll be carrying it around. We’d expect all but the biggest and heaviest to last for at least five hours on a single charge, but for an ultraportable that you carry everywhere, eight hours and above is more desirable. Laptops use mobile versions of processors to conserve power, and these lag behind desktop chips when it comes to performance. For a budget Windows laptop, an Intel Core i3 processor

Most budget and mid-range laptops use a mechanical hard disk for storage. You’ll want at least 500GB, but 1TB or more is better. Solid-state drives (SSDs) have faster performance, making your computer quicker to boot and more responsive. They have lower capacities, though. You’ll need at least 128GB. Netbooks are a type of small, low-cost ultra-portable laptop. They’re fine for light use, but avoid them if you want to do complicated tasks.

LAPTOPS

MICROSOFT Surface Book

★★★★★ £2,249

www.johnlewis.com

DELL XPS 15 ★★★★★ £1,649

• www.dell.co.uk

Microsoft’s first laptop combines a superb display and powerful components to create one of our favourite Windows laptops in some time. The eye-watering price is a sticking point, but is worth it if you opt for the discrete Nvidia GPU.

The new Dell XPS 15 is the ultimate Windows 10 laptop. From its superbly vibrant and accurate InfintyEdge touchscreen display to its top-notch performance, it’s the new laptop to beat and even puts Apple’s 15in MacBook Pro to shame.

PROCESSOR Dual-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U • RAM 16GB • DIMENSIONS 312x232x23mm • WEIGHT 1.6kg • SCREEN SIZE 13.5in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 3,000x2,000 • GRAPHICS ADAPTOR Unspecified Nvidia GeForce GPU • TOTAL STORAGE 512GB SSD • OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 10 Pro • PARTS AND LABOUR WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.microsoft.com/surface • PART NUMBER Surface Book • FULL REVIEW May 2016

PROCESSOR Quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ • RAM 16GB • DIMENSIONS 357x235x17mm • WEIGHT 2kg • SCREEN SIZE 15.6in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 3,840x2,160 • GRAPHICS ADAPTOR Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M • TOTAL STORAGE 512GB SSD • OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 10 Home • PARTS AND LABOUR WARRANTY One year next business day • DETAILS www.dell.co.uk • PART NUMBER BNX5515 • FULL REVIEW Apr 2016

ACER Chromebook R 11

MSI GE72 6QF Apache Pro ★★★★★

• www.saveonlaptops.co.uk

★★★★★

£1,150

£190

The Acer Chromebook R 11 is the most attractive and practical budget Chromebook you can buy, with exceptional build quality, top processing and a lovely display.

The MSI GE72 6QF Apache Pro is an eminently powerful gaming laptop with top specifications, including the latest Intel Skylake processor. There’s a top-notch Nvidia GeForce 970M graphics card, which can tackle even the most taxing games.

PROCESSOR Dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050 • RAM 2GB • DIMENSIONS 20x295x203mm • WEIGHT 1.2kg • SCREEN SIZE 11.6in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 1,366x768 • GRAPHICS ADAPTOR Intel HD Graphics • TOTAL STORAGE 16GB eMMC • OPERATING SYSTEM Chrome OS • PARTS AND LABOUR WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.acer.co.uk • PART NUMBER ND.20411.07Q • FULL REVIEW Apr 2016

PROCESSOR Quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ • RAM 16GB • DIMENSIONS 383x260x27mm • WEIGHT 2.7kg • SCREEN SIZE 17.3in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 1.920x1,080 • GRAPHICS ADAPTOR Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M • TOTAL STORAGE 128GB SSD, 1TB hard disk • OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 10 Home • PARTS AND LABOUR WARRANTY Two years collect & return • DETAILS uk.msi.com • PART CODE GE72 6QF-014UK • FULL REVIEW Feb 2016

• www.currys.co.uk

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

61


Choosing a... Smartphone 01

A smartphone’s operating system (OS) dictates its basic features and which third-party software you can install. There are three main contenders: Apple’s iOS, which is found on the iPhone, Google’s Android, which is used by various handset manufacturers, and Windows Phone, which is mainly used on Lumia phones. Apple iOS and Google Android have the most apps available but Windows Phone is slowly catching up.

pages. Don’t worry too much about built-in media players or Office document editors; you can always install apps to replace these with better versions later. The image quality of smartphone cameras has improved tremendously in recent years, and resolutions have increased to as high as 20 megapixels.

03

Very few modern smartphones have a physical keyboard for entering text; they almost exclusively use touchscreens now. Physical keyboards can aid heavy emailing, but today’s touchscreen keyboards work just as well. Android smartphones and iPhones running iOS 8 or 9 allow you to install a

02

All smartphones have colour screens, but their resolutions vary. Basic models have 800x480 pixels, but text can be indistinct. Look for a display that has at least 1,280x720 pixels so it’s easy to browse web

variety of custom onscreen keyboards so you can find one that suits you.

04

Be careful when choosing a contract. Look for one that includes a large data allowance if you want to use the internet regularly or you’ve set your phone to synchronise your contacts, calendar and email through online services. Built-in Wi-Fi can help you avoid high data charges by connecting to the internet through wireless hotspots when you’re out, or your router when you’re at home. Android and iPhone handsets can operate as wireless hotspots, letting you connect your laptop to the web over your mobile data connection. There may be an extra charge for this.

SMARTPHONES

SONY Xperia Z5 Compact ★★★★★

£380 SIM-free; free on £24-per-month contract) www.johnlewis.com (SIM-free); store.virginmedia.com (contract)

SAMSUNG Galaxy S7 ★★★★★

With its excellent screen, superb performance, long battery life and great camera, the Z5 Compact is the complete pint-sized package.

Samsung’s latest flagship is the best Android smartphone money can buy. It’s not cheap, but you get superb build quality, an excellent display, top-tier performance and outstanding battery life.

PROCESSOR Octa-core 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 • SCREEN SIZE 4.6in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 1,280x720 • REAR CAMERA 23 megapixels • STORAGE 32GB • WIRELESS DATA 4G • DIMENSIONS 127x65x8.9mm • WEIGHT 138g • OPERATING SYSTEM Android 5.1 DETAILS www.sonymobile.com • PART CODE E5823 • FULL REVIEW May 2016

PROCESSOR Quad-core 2.3GHz Samsung Exynos 8890 • SCREEN SIZE 5.1in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 2,560x1,440 • REAR CAMERA 12 megapixels • STORAGE 32GB/64GB • WIRELESS DATA 4G • DIMENSIONS 142x70x7.9mm • WEIGHT 152g • OPERATING SYSTEM Android 6.0 • PART CODE SM-G930F • FULL REVIEW Jun 2016

APPLE iPhone SE ★★★★★

£359 SIM-free; free on £27-per-month contract www.apple.com/uk (SIM-free); www.carphonewarehouse.com (contract)

GOOGLE Nexus 5X ★★★★★

£270 SIM-free; free on £28-per-month contract www.johnlewis.com (SIM-free); www.carphonewarehouse.com (contract)

While it lacks the 3D Touch capabilities of the more expensive iPhone 6s, this tiny successor to the iPhone 5s exceeds all expectations. It’s fast, light and includes a lovely 12MP camera. PROCESSOR Dual-core 1.8GHz Apple A9 • SCREEN SIZE 4in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 1,136x640 REAR CAMERA 12 megapixels • STORAGE 16GB/64GB • WIRELESS DATA 4G • DIMENSIONS 124x59x7.6mm • WEIGHT 112g • OPERATING SYSTEM iOS 9 • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.apple.com/uk • PART CODE iPhone SE • FULL REVIEW Jul 2016

★★★★★

£500 SIM-free; free on £34-per-month contract www.carphonewarehouse.com

It might not be the prettiest phone around, but the Nexus 5X is quick, has a great camera and comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

LG G5

62

£519 SIM-free; free on £37-per-month contract www.johnlewis.com (SIM-free); www.carphonewarehouse.com (contract)

PROCESSOR Hexa-core 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 • SCREEN SIZE 5.2in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 1,920x1,080 • REAR CAMERA 12.3 megapixels • STORAGE 16GB • WIRELESS DATA 4G • DIMENSIONS 147x73x7.9mm • WEIGHT 136g • OPERATING SYSTEM Android 6.0 • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.google.com/nexus/5x • PART CODE Nexus 5X • FULL REVIEW Feb 2016

MOTOROLA Moto G4 •

★★★★★

£160 SIM-free; free on £15.50-per-month contract www. johnlewis.com (SIM-free); www.carphonewarehouse.com (contract)

NEW ENTRY

Iffy UI aside, the LG G5 has a removable battery, wide-angle camera lens and superb performance, while its clip-on upgrade modules can add better speakers, a backup battery and even a 360˚ camera.

The best budget smartphone you can buy. From its sharp, 5.5in Full HD display to its slick performance and high-quality camera, you get much more out of this handset than its low price suggests.

PROCESSOR Octa-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 • SCREEN SIZE 5.3in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 2,560x1,440 • REAR CAMERA 16 + 8 megapixels • STORAGE 32GB • WIRELESS DATA 4G • DIMENSIONS 149x74x7.7mm • WEIGHT 159g • OPERATING SYSTEM Android 6.0.1 • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.lg.com/uk • PART CODE LG-H850 • FULL REVIEW Jul 2016

PROCESSOR Octa-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 • SCREEN SIZE 5.5in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 1,920x1,080 • REAR CAMERA 13 megapixels • STORAGE 16GB/32GB • WIRELESS DATA 4G • DIMENSIONS 153x77x7.9mm • WEIGHT 155g • OPERATING SYSTEM Android 6.0.1 • DETAILS www.motorola.co.uk • PART CODE XT1622 • FULL REVIEW Sep 2016

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


Choosing a... Tablet 01

All tablets rely on an operating system (OS) to run apps. You have three main choices: Apple’s iOS, which runs on the iPad, Android, which Google licenses to various manufacturers, and Windows 10, which is slowly becoming more common in hybrid tablets and convertibles. If you own an Apple or Google smartphone, you can download your apps, music and so on to a tablet that runs the same OS, so it makes sense to stick with a compatible device.

02

It’s important to pick a tablet that has a good-quality high-resolution screen. Many budget tablets have 1,280x800resolution displays, but better tablets have Full HD 1,920x1,080 panels, and we’re

starting to see tablets that have even higher screen resolutions. Some are as high as 2,560x1,600 or even 4K. Entry-level tablets typically use TN panels, which don’t have particularly good viewing angles. The viewing angles of IPS panels are much better.

03

If you want to listen to music, watch films and play games, make sure your tablet has plenty of storage. Many tablets come with 8GB or 16GB of internal storage, although some budget models have less. You’ll typically pay more for a higher storage capacity. Many tablets also have microSD slots that let you add extra storage, although you won’t find one on an iPad. This is a cheap way of boosting storage capacity.

04

Tablets rarely include a SIM card slot. This means you’ll have to rely on Wi-Fi to get online, although some tablets let you access the internet through your smartphone. If you want mobile access to the internet, look for 3G- and 4G-ready devices. These almost always cost more than Wi-Fi-only models but they’re great if you use your tablet while commuting or travelling.

05

Your choice of tablet determines the apps you can use on it. You may find that some of the apps you want are available on iOS but not Android and vice versa. Windows 10, meanwhile, runs traditional desktop applications.

TABLETS

SONY Xperia Z4 Tablet

NVIDIA Shield Tablet K1

★★★★★

★★★★★

It’s expensive, but the Z4 Tablet is a stunning bit of kit. It’s lighter than the iPad Air 2, has a super-highresolution screen with the most acccurate colours we’ve seen from an LCD panel, runs Android 5 beautifully and has the longest battery life of any tablet we’ve tested.

An immensely powerful Nvidia Tegra K1 processor makes this 8in device not just the best tablet for serious gaming, but one of the best sub-£200 slates on the market. Battery life is surprisingly good, too.

PROCESSOR Octa-core 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 • SCREEN SIZE 10.1in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 2,560x1,600 • REAR CAMERA 8.1 megapixels • STORAGE 32GB • WIRELESS DATA 4G (optional) • DIMENSIONS 167x254x6.1mm • WEIGHT 389g • OPERATING SYSTEM Android 5 • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.sonymobile.com • PART CODE Xperia Z4 Tablet • FULL REVIEW Aug 2015

PROCESSOR Quad-core 2.2GHz 64-bit Nvidia Tegra K1 • SCREEN SIZE 8in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 1,920x1,080 • REAR CAMERA 8 megapixels • STORAGE 16GB • WIRELESS DATA No • DIMENSIONS 221x126x9.2mm • WEIGHT 390g • OPERATING SYSTEM Android 5.1 • WARRANTY Two years RTB • DETAILS shield.nvidia.co.uk/tablet/k1 • PART CODE Shield Tablet K1 • FULL REVIEW Jun 2016

APPLE iPad Pro 9.7

MICROSOFT Surface Pro 4

£500

• www.Currys.co.uk

£179

★★★★★ £499

• www.apple.com/uk

A smaller, more portable form factor makes the newest iPad Pro the best yet. With the same great display and quick A9X processor as its larger predecessor, its notepad size and compatibiity with the Apple Pencil make it particularly suitable for artists.

• www.alza.co.uk

★★★★★

From £749 (£1,079 as reviewed) www.microsoftstore.com

The most compelling ‘laptop replacement’ tablet yet. Thinner, powerful and equipped with a gorgeous screen, this is a fantastic Windows 10 tablet. The Surface Pen and optional Type Cover have been improved as well.

PROCESSOR Dual-core 2.16GHz Apple A9X • SCREEN SIZE 9.7in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 2,048x1,536 • REAR CAMERA 12 megapixels • STORAGE 32/128/256GB • WIRELESS DATA 4G (cellular version) • DIMENSIONS 240x170x6.1mm • WEIGHT 437g • OPERATING SYSTEM iOS 9.3 • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.apple.com/uk • PART CODE 9.7in iPad Pro • FULL REVIEW Jul 2016

PROCESSOR Dual-core 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U • SCREEN SIZE 12.3in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 2,736x1,824 • REAR CAMERA 8 megapixels • STORAGE 256GB • WIRELESS DATA No • DIMENSIONS 292x201x8mm • WEIGHT 1.37kg inc Type Cover and power brick • OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 10 • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.microsoft.com/surface • PART CODE Surface Pro 4 • FULL REVIEW Jun 2016

LENOVO Yoga Tab 3

SAMSUNG Galaxy Tab S2 9.7

★★★★★ £150

• www.pcworld.co.uk

★★★★★ £350

• www.johnlewis.com

A superb-value multi-purpose tablet with a unique rotating camera and surprisingly high-qualiy speakers. It’s not the most powerful handheld around, but its integrated kickstand makes it ideal for watching video.

Thanks to its amazing screen, strong performance and slimline chassis, the Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 is the most desirable Android tablet you can buy for around £400.

PROCESSOR Quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 • SCREEN SIZE 8in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 1,200x800 • REAR CAMERA 8 megapixels • STORAGE 16GB • DIMENSIONS 146x7x210mm • WEIGHT 420g • OPERATING SYSTEM Android 5.1 • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.lenovo.com/uk • PART CODE 146591 • FULL REVIEW Jun 2016

PROCESSOR Octa-core 1.9GHz + 1.3GHz Samsung Exynos Octa 5433 • SCREEN SIZE 9.7in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 2,048x1,536 • REAR CAMERA 8 megapixels • STORAGE 32GB • WIRELESS DATA 4G +£90 • SIZE 169x5.6x237mm • WEIGHT 389g • OPERATING SYSTEM Android 5.0.2 • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.samsung.co.uk • PART CODE SM-T810 • FULL REVIEW Dec 2015

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

63


Choosing a... Compact system camera 01

If you’re ready to step beyond the basic controls of a compact camera, or you want greater flexibility than an ultra-zoom can offer, a compact system camera (CSC) is the next logical upgrade. With interchangeable lenses, manual controls and stellar image quality, these cameras give proper digital SLRs a run for their money.

02

There are three competing types of CSC mount, and the one you buy determines the number of compatible lenses and accessories you have available. Samsung’s NX-mount is arguably the most limited in terms of lens selection, and the company has confirmed that it’s shutting down its European camera business, so it’s best to avoid these altogether if possible.

Sony’s E-Mount has a slightly wider range, but Micro Four Thirds offers the widest variety. Both Panasonic and Olympus cameras use this mount, and the lenses are interchangeable between manufacturers.

03

Micro Four Thirds cameras are typically more compact than other types of CSC because the image sensor is physically smaller – with a 22mm diagonal, it’s roughly 30% smaller than an APS-C sensor. The APS-C sensors that Sony and Samsung use in their CSCs are the same size as those in traditional digital SLRs.

04

Like digital SLRs, CSCs come at a wide range of prices. Available from as little as £200, there’s a CSC to suit every

budget. Most come with at least one kit lens, but if you already have lenses for a particular CSC mount, you can buy the body on its own and save money.

05

Once you’ve settled on a particular mount, you should pay attention to a camera’s features. Articulating screens and integrated viewfinders will help you compose shots, while extra physical controls and a hotshoe mount will give you flexibility for manual shooting. Touchscreens are great, but they’re no replacement for physical dials when it comes to changing shutter speed and aperture. An integrated flash is much more convenient than a detachable one, as you can never forget to take it with you.

PHOTOGRAPHY

PANASONIC Lumix DMC-G7 ★★★★★

£499 (inc. £50 cashback and 14-42mm kit lens) www.jessops.com

With sophisticated autofocus, superb controls and 4K video capture, the Panasonic G7 packs a serious punch for both video and stills. SENSOR RESOLUTION 16 megapixels • SENSOR SIZE 17.3x13mm • FOCAL LENGTH MULTIPLIER 2x • VIEWFINDER Electronic (2,360,000 dots) • LCD SCREEN 3in (1,040,000 dots) • OPTICAL ZOOM (35mm-EQUIVALENT FOCAL LENGTHS) 3x (28-84mm) • 35mm-EQUIVALENT APERTURE f/7-11.2 • LENS MOUNT Micro Four Thirds • WEIGHT 525g • DIMENSIONS 87x135x108mm • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.panasonic.com/uk • FULL REVIEW Nov 2015

PANASONIC Lumix DMC-FZ330

★★★★★ £499

• www.jessops.com

The X70 is an unusual mix of retro and modern design with its exposure dials and articulated touchscreen, but its great image quality, good price and charming looks is a winning combination. SENSOR RESOLUTION 16 megapixels • SENSOR SIZE 23.6x15.6mm (APS-C) • FOCAL LENGTH MULTIPLIER 1.5x • VIEWFINDER None • LCD SCREEN 3in (1,040,000 dots) • OPTICAL ZOOM (35mm-EQUIVALENT FOCAL LENGTHS) 1x (28mm) • 35mm-EQUIVALENT APERTURE f/4.2 • LENS MOUNT Fujifilm X Mount • WEIGHT 349g • DIMENSIONS 66x125x47mm • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.fujifilm.eu/uk • FULL REVIEW Jun 2016

CANON EOS 750D

★★★★★

★★★★★

A bridge camera with a huge 25-600mm zoom range that maintains a fast F2.8 aperture across the whole focal range.

The new mainstay of Canon’s SLR line-up has better autofocus, D5500-beating image quality and decent video. It’s the mid-range SLR to buy.

SENSOR RESOLUTION 12 megapixels • SENSOR SIZE 1/2.3in • VIEWFINDER Electronic (1,440,000 dots) • LCD SCREEN 3in (1,040,000 dots) • OPTICAL ZOOM (35mm-EQUIVALENT FOCAL LENGTHS) 24x (25-600mm) • 35mm-EQUIVALENT APERTURE f/15.6 • WEIGHT 703g • DIMENSIONS 93x133x122mm • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.panasonic.com/uk • FULL REVIEW Jan 2016

SENSOR RESOLUTION 24 megapixels • SENSOR SIZE 22.3x14.9mm (APS-C) • FOCAL LENGTH MULTIPLIER 1.6x • VIEWFINDER Optical • LCD SCREEN 3in • OPTICAL ZOOM (35mm-EQUIVALENT FOCAL LENGTHS) 3x (29-88mm) • 35mm-EQUIVALENT APERTURE f/5.6-9 • LENS MOUNT Canon EF-S • WEIGHT 771g • DIMENSIONS 104x132x148mm • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.canon.co.uk • FULL REVIEW Oct 2015

CANON G9 X

NIKON D7200

£449

• www.jessops.com

★★★★★ £327

• www.parkcameras.com

A tiny compact that can keep up with heavier SLRs and CSCs whe when it comes to image quality, while squeezing in all the shooting settings and features you’ll need. SENSOR RESOLUTION 20 megapixels • SENSOR SIZE 1in • FOCAL LENGTH MULTIPLIER 2.75x • VIEWFINDER None • LCD SCREEN 3in (1,040,000 dots) • OPTICAL ZOOM (35mm-EQUIVALENT FOCAL LENGTHS) 3x (28-84mm) • 35mm-EQUIVALENT APERTURE f/5.5-13.5 • WEIGHT 207g • DIMENSIONS 62x101x31mm • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.canon.co.uk • FULL REVIEW Jun 2016

64

FUJIFILM X70

£499 (inc. 18-55mm kit lens)

• www.eglobalcentral.co.uk

★★★★★ £665

• www.slrhut.co.uk

Best-in-class image quality and sublime ergonomics take the Nikon D7200 to the top of the pack for enthusiast DSLRs, whether you’ve already invested in the Nikon ecosystem or not. SENSOR RESOLUTION 24 megapixels • SENSOR SIZE 23.5x15.6mm (APS-C) • FOCAL LENGTH MULTIPLIER 1.5x • VIEWFINDER Optical TTL • LCD SCREEN 3.2in (1,229,000 dots) • LENS MOUNT Nikon F Mount • WEIGHT 765g • DIMENSIONS 107x136x76mm • WARRANTY Two years RTB • DETAILS www.europe-nikon.com • FULL REVIEW Aug 2015

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


Choosing a... Display 01

A basic 24in LCD monitor costs around £100. It will be fine for typical Windows work but is likely to have poor viewing angles, so you’ll need to sit straight on for the best picture quality. Its colour accuracy may not be very good, either.

02

A VGA input lets you use the monitor with any PC, but the quality may not be as good as it is over DVI or HDMI. Both are digital connections and require a compatible graphics card but they avoid the need for digital-to-analogue or analogue-todigital conversions, which can reduce image quality. A digital connection achieves the best picture automatically, so you won’t have to adjust clock or phase settings as you do with analogue connections.

Many DVI and all HDMI connections support HDCP, which lets you watch protected video content, such as Blu-ray movies. DisplayPort is becoming more popular, but you’ll need a graphics card with a DisplayPort output (mini or full-size) to use this input on your monitor.

cable or either HDMI or DisplayPort to use a monitor at these resolutions.

04

03

A larger monitor will be easier on the eye and may have a higher resolution. Most monitors have a resolution of at least 1,920x1,080 (1080p), which provides lots of room for working with multiple windows at the same time. For even higher resolutions, you’ll need a larger display. Some 27in and 30in screens have 2,560x1,600 or even 4K resolutions. You’ll need a graphics card with a dual-link DVI output and a dual-link DVI

If you want better picture quality, look for a monitor with a high contrast ratio. The higher the ratio, the whiter the whites and the blacker the blacks. You’ll also be able to see more fine detail in images with high contrast levels. Viewing angles are important, as wider angles mean you don’t have to sit directly in front of the monitor to get the best picture. Wider viewing angles also allow more people to view the screen at the same time. Fast response times reduce ghosting, but don’t be dazzled by the numbers. A response time of 25ms or quicker is fine for all applications.

DISPLAYS

BENQ GW2765HT

VIEWSONIC VX2363Smhl-W

★★★★★ £280

★★★★★

• www.ballicom.co.uk

£109

This 27in 2,560x1,440 IPS monitor is one of the best-value screens we’ve ever seen. With near-perfect sRGB colour accuracy out of the box, it’s a steal for less than £300.

The 23in VX2363Smhl-W stands out from the crowd with its white stand, IPS screen and great overall image quality. It’s a good budget buy for those who have modest needs.

SCREEN SIZE 27in • RESOLUTION 2,560x1,440 • SCREEN TECHNOLOGY IPS • VIDEO INPUTS VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort • WARRANTY Two years onsite • PART CODE 9H.LCELA.TBE • DETAILS www.benq.co.uk • FULL REVIEW Jan 2015

SCREEN SIZE 23in • RESOLUTION 1,920x1,080 • SCREEN TECHNOLOGY IPS • VIDEO INPUTS VGA, HDMI, MHL-compatible HDMI • WARRANTY Two years collect and return • PART CODE VX2363Smhl-W • DETAILS www.viewsoniceurope.com • FULL REVIEW Jan 2015

IIIYAMA G-Master GB2888UHSU Gold Phoenix NEW

ACER Predator XB271HK

★★★★★

• www.onestoppcshop.co.uk

ENTRY

★★★★★ £580

• www.ebuyer.com

It’s unusual to consider a £320+ monitor a bargain, but that’s what this is: a 28in, Ultra HD display with a mere 1ms response time and support for AMD’s anti-tearing FreeSync tech.

Compatibility with Nvidia’s G-Sync tech allows this sturdy UHD monitor to provide smooth, stutter-free gaming at all times. Its 60Hz refresh rate isn’t the highest, but it more than makes up for that in image quality, adjustability and resolution.

SCREEN SIZE 28in • RESOLUTION 3,840x2,160 • SCREEN TECHNOLOGY TN • VIDEO INPUTS VGA, 2x HDMI, DisplayPort • WARRANTY Two years collect and return • DETAILS www.iiyama.com • PART CODE ProLite GB2888UHSU-B1 • FULL REVIEW Aug 2016

SCREEN SIZE 27in • RESOLUTION 3,840x2,160 • SCREEN TECHNOLOGY IPS • REFRESH RATE 60Hz • VIDEO INPUTS HDMI, DisplayPort • WARRANTY Two years RTB • PART CODE XB271HK • DETAILS www.acer.co.uk • FULL REVIEW Jul 2016

£323

SAMSUNG S32D850T

AOC U3477PQU

★★★★★

★★★★★

It’s not cheap, but this 32in monitor is actually great value. Images are sharp and vibrant on its 2,560x1,440 panel, and the stand is among the most attractive we’ve seen.

Ultra-wide monitors are best suited to those who want to multitask on two full-size windows at once, but also kick back with a film or game in the evening. AOC’s U3477PQU is the best example we’ve seen so far, with an incredible panel and excellent build quality.

SCREEN SIZE 32in • RESOLUTION 2,560x1,440 • SCREEN TECHNOLOGY VA • VIDEO INPUTS HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort • WARRANTY Two years collect and return • PART CODE S32D850T • DETAILS www.samsung.com/uk • FULL REVIEW Jan 2015

SCREEN SIZE 34in • RESOLUTION 3,840x1,440 • SCREEN TECHNOLOGY IPS • REFRESH RATE 60Hz • VIDEO INPUTS DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, VGA • WARRANTY Three years RTB • DETAILS www.aoc-europe.com • FULL REVIEW May 2015

£370

66

• www.uk.insight.com

• www.laptopsdirect.co.uk

£470

• www.currys.co.uk

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


Choosing a... TV 01

A 32in Full HD TV costs around £200 and will suit smaller living rooms. TVs look much smaller in the shop than in your home, so measure the space available before you buy. Curved TVs are becoming increasingly more common, but bear in mind that these typically take up more floor space than a traditional flat set.

02

A 1,920x1,080-resolution TV can display a 1080p image. You can still buy TVs with a 720p (1,366x768) resolution, but they’re no cheaper and the image won’t be as sharp. 3,840x2,560 Ultra HD resolution, or 4K, TVs are finally available at reasonable prices, although you’ll still pay a premium for one over a 1080p model.

03

Consider the number of inputs you’ll need to connect the rest of your equipment. Two HDMI ports should be the bare minimum, but many TV sets come with four HDMI connectors. You’ll need HDMI 2.0 if you want a future-proof 4K TV, as this is the only way to get 60fps video playback from external sources at such a high resolution. If you want to plug a PC into your TV, you’ll need to use either HDMI or VGA inputs. Be aware that some TVs only let you use a PC on an analogue input, and others won’t display the Windows desktop at the TV’s highest resolution.

04

The contrast ratio tells you the difference between the darkest

and the brightest shades that the screen will be able to display. The higher the number, the darker the blacks and the brighter the whites. A screen with a high contrast ratio is more likely to show a wider range of detail.

05

HD content is now becoming fairly widespread, but if you want Ultra HD content your options are more limited. Most Ultra HD TVs have Netflix built into their smart TV systems, but only BT is currently providing live Ultra HD video, with BT Sport Ultra HD. Ultra HD Blu-ray players are due to arrive in 2016, but in the meantime Amazon’s Fire TV set-top box will stream its Instant Video service at Ultra HD resolutions.

HOME CINEMA

PANASONIC Viera TX-58DX902B ★★★★★ £2,099

uk • www.cramptonandmoore.co.uk

ine This is the top-of-the-line model from Panasonic’s d 2016 Ultra HD lineup, and it shows – it’s a huge, great-looking TV with superior audio quality that becomes utterly outstanding when showing Ultra HD content.

• www.hillsradio.co.uk

It might look expensive for the screen size, but the UE32J6300 is jam-packed with features, including one of the best smart TV systems around and every major UK catch-up TV service. It’s the ideal small TV for a bedroom, kitchen or office.

NEW ENTRY •

SAMSUNG BD-J7500 ★★★★★

• www.currys.co.uk

SCREEN SIZE 32in • NATIVE RESOLUTION 1,920x1,080 • VIDEO INPUTS 4x HDMI, component, composite • TUNER Freeview HD • DIMENSIONS 428x370x91mm • WARRANTY One year RTB DETAILS www.samsung.com/uk • PART CODE UE32J6300AK • FULL REVIEW Dec 2015

PANASONIC DMP-UB900 ★★★★★ £599

• www.currys.co.uk

Together with the Samsung UBD-K8500, this forms the vanguard of a new breed of Ultra HD Blu-ray players. Samsung’s model is cheaper, but the DMP-UB900 has superior features, particularly where audio delivery is concerned.

BLU-RAY PROFILE 5.0 • 3D CAPABLE Yes • DIMENSIONS 360x224x39mm • NETWORKING Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.samsung.com/uk • PART CODE BD-J7500 • FULL REVIEW Nov 2015

BLU-RAY PROFILE 6.0 • 3D CAPABLE Yes • DIMENSIONS 435x199x68mm • NETWORKING Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.panasonic.co.uk • PART CODE DMP-UB900EB • FULL REVIEW Aug 2016

SONY HT-XT3

PHILIPS Fidelio XS1 SoundStage

£329

• www.hificonfidential.co.uk

NEW ENTRY

4K upscaling, fantastic image quality and a wealth of streaming service support makes the BD-J7500 so much more than just a Blu-ray player: it can turn any TV into a smart one, or replace a streaming media stick.

★★★★★

68

★★★★★ £325

SCREEN SIZE 58in • NATIVE RESOLUTION 3,840x2,160 • VIDEO INPUTS 4x HDMI (x ARC) TUNER FREEVIEW HD • DIMENSIONS 1,297x804x334mm • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS panasonic.co.uk • PART CODE TX-58DX902B • FULL REVIEW Sep 2016

£130

SAMSUNG UE32J6300

★★★★★ £400

• www.amazon.co.uk

The HT-XT3 is a classy-looking soundbase that delivers great audio, with its integrated subwoofer helping to pump out seismic bass. It also provides a degree of future-proofing with its 4K pass-through support, and can be linked together with other Sony speakers for a multiroom audio setup.

Stage The Fidelio XS1 SoundStage is a beautiful-looking soundbase with sound quality that matches its stunning design. There are plenty of connections, including Bluetooth, and the wireless subwoofer delivers the lower frequencies with aplomb.

SPEAKERS 2+2 • RMS POWER OUTPUT 350W (total) • DIMENSIONS 750x358x83mm • WEIGHT 10.5kg • DOCK CONNECTOR None • NETWORKING Bluetooth (SBC, LDAC) • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.sony.co.uk • PART CODE HT-XT3 • FULL REVIEW Mar 2016

SPEAKERS 3 • RMS POWER OUTPUT 60W • DIMENSIONS 730x331x40mm • WEIGHT 5.3kg • DOCK CONNECTOR None • NETWORKING Bluetooth (SBC, aptX, AAC) • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.philips.co.uk • PART CODE Fidelio XS1/12 • FULL REVIEW Jan 2016

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


Choosing a... Soundbar

01

If you don’t have space in your home cinema setup for a set of surroundsound speakers, a soundbar is the next best thing. Whether you opt for a soundbar (which typically sits in front of your TV stand) or a soundplate (which sits underneath your TV), you’ll be getting significantly better audio than the weedy speakers today’s flatscreen TVs provide.

02

If you want to cut down on cable clutter, look for a soundbar with multiple HDMI inputs and outputs as well as Audio Return Channel (ARC). Not all soundbars use HDMI, with many making do with digital optical audio connections instead. This means you’ll have to connect Blu-ray players, games consoles and set-top

boxes to your TV and run all audio through a single cable. Also look for phono inputs for connecting older devices and 3.5mm audio jacks for tablets or smartphones.

03

As with any speaker, the number of speaker drivers inside a soundbar should give a good indication of its audio capabilities. Although this won’t tell you everything about sound quality, you should still look out for separate mid-range drivers and tweeters, as these should be able to deliver a wider frequency range than full-range drivers alone.

04

Bluetooth support is a must if you want to listen to music from a smartphone or tablet without wires.

Most soundbars now include Bluetooth as standard but, if your device supports it, it’s worth looking for a mobile soundbar that includes aptX. This less-lossy codec is capable of higher-quality streaming than the standard A2DP profile. AirPlay streaming is less common, but iPhone owners should keep an eye out for it.

05

For a little extra bass, be sure to look for a soundbar with a separate subwoofer. Many soundbars include a wired sub, but for extra convenience you should look for a model with a wireless subwoofer instead. These can be placed anywhere in a room near a power socket, without having to run a cable back to the soundbar itself.

AUDIO

B&O Play Beoplay A1 ★★★★★ £199

• www.beoplay.com

NEW ENTRY

LINDY BNX-60 ★★★★★ £90

• www.amazon.co.uk

It’s a bit pricy by Bluetooth speaker standards, but the Beoplay A1 is worth every penny, with its attractive looks, wonderful sound quality and weather-resistant build quality.

The BNX-60 prove you don’t need to spend a bundle to get a good pair of wireless, active noise-cancelling headphones. They’re comfortable, too, with plenty of padding, and there’s support for Bluetooth and aptX.

SPEAKERS 2 • RMS POWER OUTPUT 30W • DOCK CONNECTOR None • WIRELESS Bluetooth (SBC) • DIMENSIONS 133x133x48mm • WEIGHT 0.6kg • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.beoplay.com • PART CODE Beoplay A1 • FULL REVIEW Aug 2016

HEADPHONES SUBTYPE Over-ear headset • PLUG TYPE 3.5mm jack plug • WEIGHT 998g • CABLE LENGTH 1.5m • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.lindy.co.uk • PART CODE BNX-60 • FULL REVIEW Jul 2016

AUDIO PRO Addon T3

MONITOR AUDIO Airstream S150

★★★★★

★★★★★

Excellent battery life and a charming design are great bonuses for this Bluetooth speaker, but it’s the well-balanced sound quality that really makes it good value.

The Airstream S150 may have a simple, unfussy charm, but it’s absolutely capable of filling a room with well-balanced sound. Straightforwad operation, fantastic sound quality and an affordable price make this a Best Buy.

SPEAKERS 2 • RMS POWER OUTPUT 25W • WEIGHT 2kg • NETWORKING Bluetooth (SBC) • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.audiopro.com • PART CODE Addon T3 • FULL REVIEW Jul 2016

SPEAKERS 3 • RMS POWER OUTPUT 60W • DOCK CONNECTOR None • WIRELESS Bluetooth (SBC, aptX) • DIMENSIONS 137x120x274mm • WEIGHT 2.26kg • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.monitoraudio.co.uk • PART CODE S150 • FULL REVIEW May 2016

SONY Walkman NW-WS413

BOWERS & WILKINS Zeppelin Wirelesss

£165

• www.superfi.co.uk

£149

★★★★★ £90

• www.currys.co.uk

★★★★★

Water-, dust- and heat-proofing make these headphones ideal for a huge range of activities, including swimming. Even on dry land, they’re comfy to wear and secure enough that they won’t fall off, and sound quality is decent as well. HEADPHONES SUBTYPE In-ear waterproof • PLUG TYPE None • WEIGHT 32g • CABLE LENGTH N/A • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.sony.co.uk • PART CODE NW-WS413 • FULL REVIEW Aug 2016

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

• www.superfi.co.uk

| OCTOBER 2016

£499

.uk • www.bowers-wilkins.co.uk An update to a design classic, the Zeppelin Wireless improves on its predecessor with Bluetooth and a sleeker design but retains its fantastic sound quality.

SPEAKERS 5 • RMS POWER OUTPUT 150W • DOCK CONNECTOR None • NETWORKING Bluetooth (SBC, aptX), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Ethernet • DIMENSIONS 660x183x188mm • WEIGHT 6.5kg • STREAMING FORMATS AirPlay, Bluetooth • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www. bowers-wilkins.co.uk • PART CODE Zeppelin Wireless • FULL REVIEW Feb 2016

69


Choosing a... Media streamer 01

Media streamers have come a long way from the hard disk-based set-top boxes of a few years ago. They now come in two main forms: flash drive-sized dongles that plug directly into the HDMI port in the back of your TV, and larger microconsoles that sit under it. Whichever model you choose, it will stream content from the internet rather than storing media files locally.

02

Most streamers use their own operating system, which you can navigate with a bundled remote control, but Google’s Chromecast dongle requires a paired smartphone, tablet or laptop to stream content on the big screen. If you’re looking to set up Netflix for someone who

doesn’t have a smartphone, you should buy a standalone streamer such as a Roku or Amazon Fire TV device.

03

A media streamer is only as good as the services it supports, although a device that offers more services won’t necessarily offer more high-quality content than a media streamer with fewer channels. Instead, look out for major channels such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, BBC iPlayer, Sky Go and YouTube. If any of these are missing, the remaining channels aren’t likely to be much cop.

04

Although nearly all streamers now pull content from the web, they’re still capable of playing content stored locally

from a networked PC or NAS device. Not all streamers are capable of playing all media file formats, however. If you have a lot of MKV or MOV files, check that your chosen streamer supports them before you buy. These are typically the file formats devices struggle with the most.

05

Media streamers aren’t just for video, either. Many support online music services including Spotify, Rdio and TuneIn Radio. Others essentially use the same hardware as a smartphone and are capable of running apps or playing games. Some of the most powerful are compatible with dedicated game controllers, but these are typically sold as optional accessories rather than bundled with the streamer.

VIDEO

AMAZON Fire TV Stick ★★★★★ £35

• www.amazon.co.uk

★★★★★ £369

• www.amazon.co.uk

This bargain mediastreaming device excels for Amazon Prime subscribers. Even if you’re not, you’ll get good mileage out of it with platforms such as Plex. It’s our favourite discrete streaming device.

The GoPro Hero4 Black doesn’t deviate from the existing GoPro template but it’s an excellent action camera that introduces stunning 4K video at 30fps. You also get support for a wide range of mounts and accessories.

VIDEO OUTPUTS HDMI 1.4 • NETWORKING 802.11n • DIMENSIONS 115x115x17mm • STREAMING FORMATS UPnP, AirPlay, DLNA • INTERNET STREAMING SERVICES iPlayer, Netflix, Sky News, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, Amazon Instant Video, TVPlayer • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.amazon.co.uk • PART CODE Fire TV Stick • FULL REVIEW Aug 2015

SENSOR 1/2.3in CMOS • SENSOR PIXELS 12,000,000 • MAX RECORDING RESOLUTION 4K (30fps) • AV CONNECTIONS Micro HDMI output, 3.5mm microphone to Mini USB (optional) • DIMENSIONS 41x59x30mm • WEIGHT 89g (152g with housing) • WARRANTY One year RTB • PART CODE CHDHX-4-1-EU • DETAILS www.gopro.com • FULL REVIEW May 2015

HUMAX HDR-1100S 500GB

VEHO Muvi K2 NPNG

★★★★★ £184

• www.johnlewis.com

★★★★★ £200

• www.amazon.co.uk

The Humax HDR-1100S is an attractive Freesat+ PVR that’s easy to use and integrates catch-up TV seamlessly through Freetime.

The K2 packs in plenty of action camera features for a budget price, and comes with a generous number of accessories, including a useful hard transport case. Image quality is very respectable, too.

TUNERS 2x DVB-S2 Freesat • DIMENSIONS 280x48x200mm • NETWORKING Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi • INTERNAL DISK CAPACITY 500GB • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.humaxdirect.co.uk • PART CODE HDR-1100S-White • FULL REVIEW Dec 2015

SENSOR PIXELS 16,000,000 • MAX RECORDING RESOLUTION 1080p (60fps) • AV CONNECTIONS Mini HDMI • DIMENSIONS 40x23x60mm • WEIGHT 84g • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.veho-muvi.com • PART CODE K2NPNG • FULL REVIEW Dec 2015

PANASONIC HC-VX980 ★★★★★

£629 (including £50 cashback) www.jessops.com

This 4K-capable camcorder lets you capture 8-megapixel stills from 4K video. It has fantastic image stabilisation and its HDR video mode can help with exposing difficult scenes. The newest model has been updated with more useful 4K cropping modes and slow-motion features, too. OPTICAL ZOOM 20x • SENSOR 1/2.3in BSI MOS • LCD SCREEN 3in, 460,800 dots • DIMENSIONS 73x65x139mm • WEIGHT 351g • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.panasonic.com • PART CODE HC-VX980 • FULL REVIEW Apr 2016

70

GOPRO Hero4 Black

SONY FDR-X1000V

★★★★★ £323

• www.photospecialist.co.uk

Sony looks to take on GoPro with this miniscule action cam capable of recording 4K video at 30fps. The Hero4 Black wins out on image quality, but image stabilisation and a flexible range of shooting modes means Sony’s camera still has lots to offer. SENSOR 1/2.3in CMOS • SENSOR PIXELS 8,800,000 • MAX RECORDING RESOLUTION 4K (30fps) • AV CONNECTIONS Micro HDMI, 3.5mm microphone input • DIMENSIONS 24.4x51.7x88.9mm • WEIGHT 114g • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.sony.co.uk • PART CODE FDR-X1000V • FULL REVIEW May 2016

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


Choosing a... Laser printer 01

Laser printers used to be much more expensive than inkjets and were typically restricted to offices. They are now much more affordable, however, and offer several benefits over inkjets, including lower per-page printing costs and faster print speeds.

02

A decent laser printer will typically cost around £80, and will happily print hundreds of black-and-white pages per hour. If documents are your priority, you’ll want a high minimum speed and low print costs. However, you’ll probably be limited to black-and-white printing at this price.

03

peripherals (MFPs) are now far more common. These models can scan and photocopy documents as well as print them, and some of them also have fax capabilities. Laser MFPs start from around £200.

04

Heavy-duty office lasers designed for printing thousands of pages per month can cost thousands of pounds. They use large individual toner drums, which can cut running costs. Automatic duplex (double-sided) printing is also common here.

05

Although you can still buy singlefunction laser printers, multifunction

Although laser printers are more suited to printing text than graphics, many are still able to produce high-quality photographs. Speed isn’t a priority here – instead choose a printer that reproduces

subtle tones well. You can’t determine this by looking at the specifications; only hands-on testing will do, so remember to check our reviews before you buy. Borderless printing (up to the edge of the paper) should also be possible.

06

If you want to print from multiple devices, make sure you look for extended connectivity. Decent laser printers can be shared on your local network and have USB ports for direct printing, memory card slots for printing images from a digital camera, and iOS, Android or Google Cloud Print support for printing from mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. An LCD preview screen offers greater control for this method of printing.

PRINTERS & SCANNERS

RICOH SP 3600DN

XYZPRINTING da Vinci Jr 1.0w

★★★★★

★★★★★

The SP 3600DN can print up to 50,000 pages per month at 30ppm. The quality is good, and each page costs only about 1.2p. It’s a good choice for a busy small firm.

Cheap, easy to use and capable of surprisingly high-quality prints, the da Vinci Jr 1.0w is the best introduction to 3D printing you could hope for. This updated model allows for wireless printing, too.

£169

• www.ebuyer.com

£318

TECHNOLOGY Mono LED • MAXIMUM PRINT RESOLUTION 1,200x1,200dpi • DIMENSIONS 268x370x392mm • WEIGHT 14.5kg • MAXIMUM PAPER SIZE A4/legal • WARRANTY Two years RTB • DETAILS www.ricoh.co.uk • PART CODE 906231 • FULL REVIEW • Oct 2015

• www.ebuyer.com

TECHNOLOGY Fused filament fabrication • MAXIMUM PRINT RESOLUTION 100 microns • DIMENSIONS 420x430380mm • WEIGHT 15kg • MAXIMUM BUILD SIZE 150x150x150mm • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS eu.xyzprinting.com • PART CODE 3F1WXEU00D • FULL REVIEW Aug 2016

EPSON Expression Premium XP-530 CANON Pixma MG5750 ★★★★★

★★★★★

Other than a tiny screen and slightly high running costs, the XP-530 is a welcome addition to Epson’s Expression Premium range. It prints and scans incredibly quickly, while maintaining high quality throughout.

The MG5750 is good value with a great balance of features and quality. Its strong performance lets us forgive less-than-perfect controls.

TECHNOLOGY Piezo inkjet • MAXIMUM PRINT RESOLUTION 5,760x1,440dpi • SCANNER RESOLUTION 2,400x4,800dpi • DIMENSIONS 138x390x341mm • WEIGHT 6.2kg • MAXIMUM PAPER SIZE A4/legal • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.epson.co.uk • PART CODE XP-530 • FULL REVIEW May 2016

TECHNOLOGY Thermal inkjet • MAXIMUM PRINT RESOLUTION 4,800x1,200dpi • SCANNER RESOLUTION 1,200x2,400dpi • DIMENSIONS 148x455x369mm • WEIGHT 6.3kg • MAXIMUM PAPER SIZE A4/legal • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.canon.co.uk • PART CODE 0557C006 • FULL REVIEW Apr 2016

HP PageWide Pro 477dw

PLUSTEK eScan A150

£80

• www.currys.co.uk

£62

★★★★★ £315

• www.printerland.co.uk

A clever full-length print head design makes this print much faster than the average business inkjet. Add in low running costs, low power consumption and high print quality, and this is a big winner. TECHNOLOGY Thermal inkjet • MAXIMUM PRINT RESOLUTION 2,400x1,200dpi • SCANNER RESOLUTION 1,200x1,200dpi • DIMENSIONS 463x530x407mm • WEIGHT 22.15kg • MAXIMUM PAPER SIZE A4/legal • WARRANTY One year onsite • DETAILS www.hp.co.uk • PART CODE D3Q20B • FULL REVIEW Aug 2016

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

• www.photospecialist.co.uk

★★★★★ £200

• www.ebuyer.com

A very easy-to-use document scanner that can scan both sides of a document at once, and lets you organise your scans onscreen before saving them to a computer, USB disk or Android device. SCANNER TYPE Document scanner • MAXIMUM OPTICAL SCAN RESOLUTION 600x600dpi • DIMENSIONS 189x318x170mm • WEIGHT 2.8kg • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www. plustek.com/uk • PART CODE 0263UK • FULL REVIEW Feb 2016

71


Choosing a... NAS device 01

A network-attached storage (NAS) device lets you store documents, media, and other files on its hard disks so you can share them with other devices on your network. Some have disks already installed, while others are empty enclosures into which you install your own disks. Buying an empty NAS can often be the more cost-effective option, as they’re usually less expensive and give you the freedom to expand the number of disks at a later date. You should buy one with a Gigabit Ethernet interface, as these provide the highest transfer speeds. To use a NAS device at these speeds, you’ll need computers with Gigabit Ethernet network adaptors and a Gigabit Ethernet switch or router. Computers with Fast Ethernet adaptors

can still access the NAS device, but only at the much slower speed of 100Mbit/s.

Synology’s barebones NAS kits have spare disk trays for cheaper and faster upgrades.

02

04

The amount of network storage you need depends on the types of files you use. If you want to store Word and Excel documents, for example, a 1TB device will be fine. In fact, a 1TB device should be sufficient for a family’s entire media collection, regardless of how many music and video files everyone owns. Small businesses should consider higher storage capacities, depending on the nature of the business.

03

If you can see no end to your storage needs, you should buy an upgradable NAS device. Many have a USB port for adding an external disk. Devices such as

If you want extra protection for your data, look for a device that supports RAID. RAID 1 and RAID 5 arrays reduce the available capacity by duplicating data, but you won’t lose it if a disk fails.

05

If you need access to your files while you’re away, look for a NAS device with an FTP server. Some can also share a USB printer across your network. A NAS device with a Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) or DLNA media server can stream your music, photos and videos to a network media player, so you can enjoy your media collection in another room.

NETWORKS

TP-LINK Archer C9

★★★★★ £104

• www.box.co.uk

It doesn’t have a modem, so you’ll need to pair it with your ISP’s cable, ASDL or fibre modem, but the Archer C9 is an incredibly capable router with plenty of features and fantastic wireless performance, at a very reasonable price. MODEM None • WI-FI STANDARD 802.11ac • STATED SPEED 1,900Mbit/s • USB PORTS 1x USB3, 1x USB2 • WALL MOUNTABLE No • WARRANTY Three years RTB • DETAILS uk.tp-link.com • PART CODE Archer C9 • FULL REVIEW Sep 2015

★★★★★ £38

• www.currys.co.uk

This fast wireless extender is very easy to set up and is the perfect companion to an 802.11ac router. The wired LAN port lets you connect a wired device to your wireless network, too. WI-FI STANDARD 802.11ac • STATED SPEED 867Mbit/s • LAN PORTS 1 • WARRANTY Three years RTB • DETAILS www.shop.bt.com • PART CODE 80462 • FULL REVIEW Aug 2015

BOOSTY

ASUS EA-AC87

£69 one-off payment with £39 subscription www.boosty.com

£110

★★★★★

This matchbox-sized accessory plugs into the Ethernet port on your PC, augmenting a patchy broadband connection with 4G data. It’s a lovely idea aimed at maximising speed and reliability and, most importantly, it actually works. OS SUPPORT Android/iOS • REQUIREMENTS 4G signal, Ethernet 10/100/1,000 port, USB port for power • DETAILS www.boosty.com • FULL REVIEW Aug 2016

CANARY All-In-One Security ★★★★★

• www.currys.co.uk

★★★★★

• www.box.co.uk

It’s much larger than the average range extender, but that’s only to make room for a whopping five Gigabit Ethernet ports. The EA-AC87 can also act as an access point, replacing your router. MODEM None • WI-FI STANDARD 802.11ac • STATED SPEED 1,734Mbit/s • USB PORTS 0 WALL MOUNTABLE Yes • WARRANTY Two years RTB • DETAILS www.asus.com/uk • PART CODE 90IG01A0-BU9000 • FULL REVIEW Sep 2015

NETGEAR Arlo Q ★★★★★ £160

• www.currys.co.uk

NEW ENTRY

It’s expensive, but the Canary is a great one-box, cloud-based home security camera that’s easy to use and produces high-quality footage.

1080p night-vision capability more than makes up for the Arlo Q’s lack of wireless cameras, and the system is just as easy to use as the original Arlo range.

SENSOR Not disclosed • VIEWING ANGLE 147˚ wide angle • VIDEO RECORDING FRAME RATES 1080p (30fps) • NIGHT VISION MODE Infrared LEDs • DIMENSIONS 152x76x76mm • WEIGHT 400g • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS canary.is • PART CODE CT100UKWT • FULL REVIEW Mar 2016

RESOLUTION 1080p 30fps full colour • ZOOM 8x digital • NIGHT VISION Yes • CONNECTIVITY 2.4GHz + 5GHz Wi-Fi • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.arlo.com/uk PART CODE VMCC3040-100UKS • FULL REVIEW Jun 2016

£160

72

BT Dual-Band Wi-Fi Extender 1200

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


Choosing an... Internal hard disk 01

A basic 1TB internal hard disk should cost around £40. This will be fast enough for general use and will provide enough storage for most users. Make sure the hard disk you choose has the appropriate interface type for your PC. Some mechanical hard disks still come with SATA2 interfaces, but newer models and most solid-state drives (SSDs) have faster SATA3 interfaces. You’ll need a motherboard with a SATA3 port if you want to benefit from SATA3’s faster speeds; SATA3 disks will work with SATA2 ports but can only transfer files at SATA2 speeds.

02

SSDs can make the most of SATA3’s extra bandwidth for fast file transfers. They use flash memory similar to that found

in USB flash drives, and although they tend to provide less capacity than mechanical hard disks, they’re significantly faster.

03

Buy a hard disk that provides more capacity than you think you need, as your storage requirements are likely to grow. A 3TB disk strikes the best balance between capacity and low cost per gigabyte, but in general you should aim to buy the largest disk you can afford.

04

If you want more disk space or you want to protect your data against disk failure, think about buying several hard disks to create a RAID array. These use multiple hard disks to create one large logical disk with better performance, or to

duplicate your data for better protection. RAID arrays require hard disks of the same size. In theory, they can be from different manufacturers, but it’s better to buy identical disks if you can.

05

A hard disk’s spindle speed determines how quickly it can transfer data. A spindle speed of 7,200rpm is common in desktop drives and is fast enough for most purposes. Desktop hard disks with 5,400rpm spindle speeds are quite slow but use less power and generate less heat and noise. To strike the best balance between speed and storage capacity, use an SSD as your system disk and store your files on a larger mechanical disk.

STORAGE

SAMSUNG 850 Evo 500GB ★★★★★ £127

• www.currys.co.uk

WESTERN DIGITAL Green 4TB ★★★★★ £113

• www.amazon.co.uk

Samsung’s 850 Evo is simply the fastest SATA SSD around, and it’s available in a wide range of capacities. The 2TB model might be expensive at around £527 (from www.scan.co.uk), but it means saying goodbye to mechanical storage for good.

With excellent prices and great performance, the Western Digital Green is our hard disk of choice. The 2TB, 3TB and 4TB offer the best value per gigabyte, but buy according to budget.

CAPACITY 500GB • COST PER GIGABYTE £0.26 • INTERFACE SATA3 • CLAIMED READ 540MB/s • CLAIMED WRITE 520MB/s • WARRANTY Five years RTB • DETAILS www.samsung.com/uk • PART CODE MZ-75E500BW/EU • FULL REVIEW Oct 2015

CAPACITY 500GB/1TB/2TB/3TB/4TB • PRICE PER GIGABYTE £0.03 (4GB) • INTERFACE SATA3 • WARRANTY Two years RTB • DETAILS www.wdc.com • PART CODE WD40EZRX • FULL REVIEW Apr 2016

SYNOLOGY DiskStation DS215J

SAMSUNG T1 500GB

★★★★★ £138

• www.cpc.farnell.com

Synology’s latest NAS is faster than its predecessor thanks to an upgraded CPU, and is capable of rapid file transfers. DSM is still the best NAS operating system we’ve used, too.

★★★★★ £139

• www.box.co.uk

The T1 is significantly faster ash than any USB3 flash r. drive as it has its own SD controller. Combined with a USB3 connection, it’s able to transfer files at unbelievable speeds, then slips into a pocket for taking on the move.

3½in HARD DISK BAYS (FREE) 2 (2) • NETWORKING 2x 10/100/1,000 Ethernet • DLNA MEDIA SERVER Yes • PRINT SERVER Yes • DIMENSIONS 165x100x226mm • WEIGHT 870g • WARRANTY Two years RTB • DETAILS www.synology.com • PART CODE DS215J • FULL REVIEW Jun 2015

CAPACITY 500GB • COST PER GIGABYTE £0.34 • INTERFACE USB3 • CLAIMED READ 450MB/s • CLAIMED WRITE 450MB/s • WARRANTY Three years RTB • DETAILS www.samsung.com/uk • PART CODE MU-PS500B/EU • FULL REVIEW Apr 2015

TOSHIBA Canvio Connect II 2TB

SAMSUNG 950 Pro ro 256GB

★★★★★ £60

• www.ryman.co.uk

£140

There’s plenty of choice when it comes to portable hard disks, but Toshiba’s Canvio Connect II has an excellent bundled software package and impressive USB3 speeds. Considering the price, there’s no reason not to have one. CAPACITY 2TB • COST PER GIGABYTE £0.04 • INTERFACE USB3 • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.toshiba.eu • PART CODE HDTC820ER3CA • FULL REVIEW Nov 2015

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

★★★★★

| OCTOBER 2016

• www.ebuyer.com

A true sign of things to come for storage: it’s the fastest, most affordable NVMe SSD yet. If your motherboard is compatible ompatible with PCI Express storage, you absolutely olutely need one. CAPACITY 256GB • COST PER GIGABYTE £0.57 • INTERFACE M.2 (2280)/NVMe • CLAIMED READ 2,200MB/s • CLAIMED WRITE 900MB/s • WARRANTY Five years RTB • DETAILS www.samsung.com/uk • PART CODE MZ-V5P256BW • FULL REVIEW Jan 2016

73


Choosing an... Intel motherboard 01

It’s essential that you buy the right type of motherboard for your processor. Intel’s older Haswell processors require a motherboard with an LGA1150 socket, but newer, fourth-generation Skylake chips need an LGA1151 socket. A board for a Haswell processor must also have an H97 or a Z97 chipset, while Skylake processors use the new Z170 chipset. Skylake CPUs also use newer, faster DDR4 memory.

02

All current Intel processors have built-in graphics chipsets, so if you want to use your chip’s built-in graphics, make sure the motherboard has the video outputs you need, such as VGA, DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort. If you want to play the latest games, you’ll need to fit a dedicated

graphics card in the motherboard’s PCI Express x16 slot, although this may block one of your other slots.

03

Normal tower cases can accommodate ATX motherboards, which provide the most expansion slots. A microATX motherboard will let you build your PC in a smaller case, but if you opt for a microATX board, make sure it has all the features you need built in as there won’t be much room for expansion cards.

04

If you want to install lots of expansion cards, look for a motherboard that offers plenty of PCI and PCI-E x1 slots. Some motherboards also have PCI Express x4 slots and extra PCI Express x16 slots. PCI Express

x1 and x4 cards also work in PCI Express x16 slots. If you need a lot of storage, a motherboard with plenty of SATA2 and SATA3 ports is essential. SATA2 is fine for optical drives and hard disks, but to make the most of an SSD you need SATA3.

05

All motherboards have built-in audio chipsets, but some support only 5.1 surround sound rather than 7.1. If you’re connecting to older surround-sound amplifiers that don’t have HDMI, look for an optical or coaxial S/PDIF output. All motherboards have Ethernet ports and most have the faster Gigabit version. You may also find it useful to buy a board with built-in Wi-Fi so you don’t have to use up a USB port or PCI slot with an adaptor.

COMPONENTS

MSI GTX 970 Gaming Twin Frozr 5 ★★★★★ £260

• www.novatech.co.uk

★★★★★ £170

For most people, this card is the high-end model to buy. It will easily cope with high-detail gaming at 1080p, and it’s also capable of playing games at higher resolutions as well, making it a great choice for enthusiasts.

INTEL Core i5-6600K

GPU AMD Radeon R9 380 • MEMORY 4GB GDDR5 • GRAPHICS CARD LENGTH 234mm • WARRANTY Three years RTB • DETAILS www.gigabyte.com • PART CODE GV-R938WF2-4GD FULL REVIEW Apr 2016

NZXT Manta

• wwww.novatech.co.uk

£89

The Core i5-6600K is the first of Intel’s latest processor generation, previously codenamed Skylake. The unlocked multiplier means you can push it further when overclocking, and energy efficiency has never been better, which means less power draw when using your PC.

• www.advancetec.co.uk

A brilliant basis for any Mini-ITX PC build, the Manta is a versatile case with plenty of room for fans and storage drives, plus a distinctive curvy shape. Its convex side panels leave more room to hide cables, too.

SOCKET LGA1151 • CORES 4 • FREQUENCY 3.5GHz • INTEGRATED GRAPHICS Intel HD Graphics 530 • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS www.intel.com • PART CODE BX80662I56600K • FULL REVIEW Nov 2015

CASE TYPE Mini tower • MOTHERBOARD TYPE Mini-ITX • SUPPLIED FANS 3x 120mm MAXIMUM DRIVE BAYS 2x 3.5in, 3x 2.5in • DIMENSIONS 426x245x450mm • WEIGHT 7.2kg • WARRANTY Two years parts and labour • DETAILS www.nzxt.com • PART CODE CA-MANTW-M1 • FULL REVIEW Aug 2016

ASUS X99-Deluxe II

CORSAIR Carbide Series Air 240

★★★★★ £349

• www.ballicom.co.uk

NEW ENTRY

★★★★★

★★★★★

74

• www.novatech.co.uk

The Radeon R9 380 has a great deal of power for the price. It costs about the same as the Nvidia GeForce GTX 960 and performs almost identically at 1,920x1,080, but uses more power and isn’t as quiet.

GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 • MEMORY 4GB GDDR5 • GRAPHICS CARD LENGTH 264mm • WARRANTY Three years RTB • DETAILS www.msi.com • PART CODE GTX 970 Gaming Frozr 5 FULL REVIEW Apr 2016

£220

GIGABYTE Radeon n R9 380 Windforce

★★★★★

NEW ENTRY

£84

• www.box.co.uk

If you’ve got the cash to splurge on Intel’s ultra-premium Broadwell-E processors, you might as well pair it with an equally high-end motherboard. This has all the features, ports and add-ons you could possibly want, and won’t hold back the CPU’s raw power.

This microATX case is very well made. It’s light and compact, but its cuboid shape means there’s plenty of room inside for all your components, so it’s easy to work with.

PROCESSOR SOCKET LGA2011-3 • DIMENSIONS 244x305mm • CHIPSET X99 • MEMORY SLOTS 8 • PCI-E x16 SLOTS 5 • PCI-E x1 SLOTS 1 • PCI SLOTS 0 • USB PORTS 4x USB2, 4x USB3, 4x USB3.1, 2x USB Type-C • VIDEO OUTPUTS Mini DisplayPort • WARRANTY Three years RTB • DETAILS www.asus.com • PART CODE X99-Deluxe II • FULL REVIEW Sep 2016

CASE TYPE microATX • MOTHERBOARD COMPATIBILITY microATX, Mini-ITX • SUPPLIED FANS 3x 120mm • MAX 3.5in DRIVE BAYS 3 • MAX 5.25in DRIVE BAYS 0 • DIMENSIONS 320x260x397mm • WEIGHT 5.6kg • WARRANTY Two years RTB • DETAILS www.corsair.com PART CODE CC-9011070-WW • FULL REVIEW Apr 2016

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


SOFTWARE

£24

• www.digitalvolcano.co.uk

ENTRY

The free version of Duplicate Cleaner program is good, and upgrading to the Pro version makes it exceptional for ridding your PC of duplicate files. OS SUPPORT Windows Vista/7/8/10 • HARD DISK SPACE 20MB • DETAILS www.digitalvolcano.co.uk • FULL REVIEW Sep 2016

★★★★★ Free

• www.freeoffice.com

★★★★★ £65

• www.wexphotographic.com

Lots of features to keep advanced users happy and even more to help new users make the most of it. It’s the consumer video editing package to buy. OS SUPPORT Windows 7/8/10 • MINIMUM CPU 2GHz with SSE2 • MINIMUM GPU DirectX 9 • MINIMUM RAM 2GB • HARD DISK SPACE 5GB • DETAILS www.adobe.com/uk • PRODUCT CODE 65234288 • FULL REVIEW Jan 2016

SERIF Affinity Designer ★★★★★ £40

ic ph n Gra esig d

ity ctiv du ite Pro su

SOFTMAKER FreeOffice

ADOBE Premiere Elements 14

eo Vid iting ed

★★★★★

ing cat pli re du wa De soft

DIGITALVOLCANO SOFTWARE Duplicate Cleaner 4.0 Pro NEW

• www.apple.com/itunes

OS SUPPORT Windows XP/Vista/7/8/10, Linux 32- or 64-bit, Android 2.3+ • MINIMUM CPU Not stated • MINIMUM GPU Not stated • MINIMUM RAM Not stated • HARD DISK SPACE 160MB • DETAILS www.freeoffice.com • FULL REVIEW Aug 2016

OS SUPPORT Apple OS X 10.7.5 • MINIMUM CPU Core 2 Duo (64-bit) • MINIMUM GPU Intel HD Graphics • MINIMUM RAM 1GB • HARD DISK SPACE 325GB • DETAILS affinity.serif.com • PRODUCT CODE Affinity Designer • FULL REVIEW Mar 2015

STEINBERG Cubase Artist 8

XARA Photo & Graphic Designer 11

★★★★★ £119

• www.gear4music.com

★★★★★ £50

• www.xara.com/uk

e ag Im iting ed

The first real competition to Adobe’s Illustrator might be an OS X exclusive, but Affinity Designer is a seriously powerful graphic design tool that costs an incredible £40.

sic n Mu uctio d pro

Wonderfully simple but packed with features, this is a serious alternative to forking out for Microsoft Office. You can pay for even greater functionality, but the free version does the job and doesn’t nag you to upgrade.

Music production software usually saves the best features for the priciest version, but that’s not the case here, making Cubase Artist 8 an excellent investment for musicians aspiring to the highest standards.

Powerful new warping and brush tools take Photo & Graphic Designer to new heights, making it a genuine rival to Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom. It’s cheaper, too.

OS SUPPORT Windows 7 or later • MINIMUM CPU Intel Core/AMD dual-core • MINIMUM GPU DirectX 10 • MINIMUM RAM 4GB • HARD DISK SPACE 15GB • DETAILS www.steinberg.net • PRODUCT CODE 45550 • FULL REVIEW May 2015

OS SUPPORT Windows 7/8/8.1/10 • MINIMUM CPU Celeron, Sempron or newer • MINIMUM GPU N/A • MINIMUM RAM 500MB • HARD DISK SPACE 300MB • DETAILS www.xara.com/uk • FULL REVIEW Dec 2015

GAMES ★★★★★ £22

• www.cdkeys.com

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

★★★★★ £17

• www.cdkeys.com

h alt Ste ction a

d orl -w re en ntu Op adve

Fallout 4

Exploring a post-apocalyptic wasteland has never been more fun. Bethesda has expanded the Fallout universe with base building and crafting mechanics, making this the definitive entry in the series.

Whether the story was ever really finished before director Hideo Kojima’s infamous departure or not remains a mystery, but the Phantom Pain’s openworld stealth gameplay is simply without fault.

AVAILABLE FORMATS PC, Xbox One, PS4 • OS SUPPORT Windows 7/8.1/10 64-bit • MINIMUM CPU Quad-core 2.8GHz Intel, quad-core 3GHz AMD • MINIMUM GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti, AMD Radeon HD 7870 • MINIMUM RAM 8GB • HARD DISK SPACE 30GB • DETAILS www.fallout4.com • FULL REVIEW Feb 2016

AVAILABLE FORMATS PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PS4 • OS SUPPORT Windows 7/8.1 64-bit • MINIMUM CPU Dual-core 3.4GHz Intel, quad-core AMD • MINIMUM GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 650, AMD Radeon R9 270x • MINIMUM RAM 4GB • HARD DISK SPACE 28GB • DETAILS www.konami.jp/mgs5 • FULL REVIEW Dec 2015

£22

• www.cdkeys.com

XCOM 2 ★★★★★ £22

• www.cdkeys.com

d ase n-b egy Tur strat

NEW ENTRY

★★★★★

n rso pe r st- ote Fir sho

Doom

A bloody and breathless FPS, Doom is a worthy entry into one of gaming’s most hallowed series. Open-ended levels, agile enemies and gory but satisfying takedown moves make every demon battle rewarding.

Turn-based strategy is rarely this punishing, this cerebral, or this thrilling. XCOM 2 is a masterful blend of sci-fi firefights and intricate base-building, making it utterly essential for strategy fans.

AVAILABLE FORMATS PC, Xbox One, PS4 • OS SUPPORT Windows 7/8/8.1/10 • MINIMUM CPU Intel Core i3-550, AMD Phenom II X4 955 • MINIMUM GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 2GB, AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB • MINIMUM RAM 4GB • HARD DISK SPACE 55GB • DETAILS doom.com • FULL REVIEW Sep 2016

AVAILABLE FORMATS PC • OS SUPPORT Windows 7 and above • MINIMUM CPU Intel Core 2 Duo E4700 2.6GHz or AMD Phenom 9950 quad-core 2.6GHz • MINIMUM GPU 1GB AMD Radeon HD 5770 or 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 • MINIMUM RAM 4GB • DISK SPACE 45GB DETAILS www.2k.com • FULL REVIEW May 2016

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

75


REVIEWS

How we test

Find out how well products perform with the help of Computer Shopper’s comprehensive tests

COMPUTER SHOPPER’S REVIEWS use some of the most exhaustive testing procedures you’ll find in any PC magazine. Every product is subjected to qualitative and quantitative tests that show how it performs in practical use. Graphs for performance, battery-life scores and costs are used in the Reviews section, as shown on the right. Look in the ‘Summary of tests’ table (below) for details of each test we run. For PCs and laptops, we evaluate performance using our own custom benchmarking suite. See below for a brief description of our benchmarking software and game tests.

The actual scores in each test are shown inside each bar

Normal speed

Bigger is better for all bars except the red ones, which show running costs

11ppm

Mono costs

2.2p

Colour costs

6.7p 0%

-50

Reference

+50

+100

A product hitting the +100 per cent mark performed twice as well as our reference

This line represents the performance of a reference product in each test. All graphs for components and systems are relative to our reference PC (see below for specifications)

SUMMARY OF TESTS PC SYSTEMS & GAMING LAPTOPS Windows overall Average speed across numerous demanding tasks

BENCHMARKS

RATINGS & AWARDS

Multitasking Speed when running simultaneous applications Dirt Showdown Frames per second at 1,920x1,080, 4xAA, (1080p) Ultra detail Metro: Last Light Frames per second at 1,920x1,080, SSAA, Redux Very High detail LAPTOPS Windows overall Average speed across numerous demanding tasks Multitasking Processor-intensive multitasking test Dirt Showdown Frames per second at 1,280x720, 4xAA, (720p) High detail Battery life Run time in minutes for continuous video playback SMARTPHONES/TABLETS Battery life Run time in minutes for continuous video playback PRINTERS AND MFPs Mono text speed Pages per minute for correspondence-quality text Mixed colour speed Pages per minute for presentable text and graphics Mono page cost Running costs expressed as pence per page Colour page cost Running costs expressed as pence per page DIGITAL CAMERAS Battery life Number of shots from full charge CAMCORDERS Battery life Run time in minutes for recording MP3 PLAYERS Battery life Run time in minutes for continuous playback ROUTERS Laptop 2.4GHz 10m Mbit/s at 10m with 802.11n laptop on 2.4GHz band Laptop 2.4GHz 25m Mbit/s at 25m with 802.11n laptop on 2.4GHz band Laptop 5GHz 10m Mbit/s at 10m with 802.11n laptop on 5GHz band Laptop 5GHz 25m Mbit/s at 25m with 802.11n laptop on 5GHz band 802.11ac adaptor 10m Mbit/s at 10m with an 802.11ac adaptor

SHOPPER BENCHMARKS Our benchmark suite uses opensource software that runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux systems. This lets us use objective results to compare PCs and laptops, no matter which operating system they run. It’s designed to test each computer to its limit, using a combination of intensive image-editing, video-encoding and multitasking tests. We ran the tests on our reference PC, which has an Intel Core i5-4670K processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM and an AMD Radeon R7 260X graphics card. We normalised our results so this PC had a score of 100. This makes it easy to draw comparisons between test systems. The resulting overall score is shown at the bottom of every PC and laptop review. As we use the same tests in our standalone and group test reviews, you can compare the performance of any computer, whether it’s a netbook, laptop or desktop, from both sections of the magazine. To see how your computer compares, you can download the suite from www.shopperdownload.co.uk/benchmarks. Versions are available for 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems.

Computer Shopper rates products out of five:

★★★★★

Avoid

Below average ★★★★★ Good

★★★★★

Very good

★★★★★

Excellent

★★★★★

The best products can win the following awards:

BEST BUY

Products with outstanding quality and performance for the money win our Best Buy award.

802.11ac adaptor 25m Mbit/s at 25m with an 802.11ac adaptor NETWORK-ATTACHED STORAGE Large files Average MB/s for read/write of 100MB large files Small files Average MB/s for read/write of 100MB small files HARD DISKS Extra large files Average MB/s for read/write of a single 2.5GB file Large files Average MB/s for read/write of 2.5GB of large files Small files Average MB/s for read/write of 2.5GB of small files PROCESSORS Windows overall Average speed across numerous demanding tasks Multitasking Speed when running simultaneous applications Dirt Showdown Frames per second at 1,280x720, 4xAA, (720p) High detail MOTHERBOARDS Windows overall Average speed across numerous demanding tasks Multitasking Speed when running simultaneous applications Dirt Showdown Frames per second at 1,920x1,080, 4xAA, (1080p) Ultra detail Dirt Showdown Frames per second at 1,280x720, 4xAA, (720p) High detail GRAPHICS CARDS Dirt Showdown Frames per second at 1,920x1,080, 4x MSAA, (1080p) Ultra detail Tomb Raider Frames per second at 1,920x1,080, SSAA, Ultra detail Metro: Last Light Frames per second at 1,920x1,080, SSAA, Redux Very High detail

76

RECOMMENDED

3D BENCHMARKS

Products that don’t quite qualify for a Best Buy award but are still highly rated by our reviewers.

DIRT SHOWDOWN Dirt Showdown is a cracking racing game that makes good use of DirectX 11’s fancy graphical effects. You’ll want at least 30fps for smooth racing. TOMB RAIDER With the ultra-demanding SuperSampling Anti-Aliasing (SSAA) enabled, 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot is a great indicator of mid-range performance.

BUSINESS

The very best products for work win our Business Buy award.

METRO: LAST LIGHT REDUX Our most demanding graphics test uses tessellation, SSAA and massive textures to give even high-end cards a thorough workout.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


PRODUCT INDEX

Product Reviews

Our guide to all the products reviewed in this month’s Shopper Hot Product

26

Chillblast Fusion Everest

PCs

28

Palicomp i7 Predator PC Specialist Liquid Series

Handhelds

41

Iiyama ProLite XUB3490WQSU ViewSonic XG2401

Home Cinema

44

Samsung UE55KS7500

32

Alba 10 Inch Tablet OnePlus 3 Sony Xperia XA Wileyfox Spark

Photography

Displays

Audio

46

Bose QuietComfort 35 Libratone One Click Onkyo E700M

38

Canon G7 X Mark II Nikon D500

Printers

Brother HL-L6300DWT Samsung ProXpress C3060FR

Networks

SUBSCRIBE AND SAVE

49

52

BT Smart Hub Devolo 1200 Wi-Fi AC Repeater TP-Link TL-WPA8630P AV1200

Storage

54

WD My Passport Wireless Pro

Components

56

Asus ROG Strix GTX 1080 OC

Games

58

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

CALL 0844 844 844 0031 OR SEE PAGE 122

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

Laptops

1 3 5 Reviews Acer Chromebook R11 Acer Predator 17 Aorus X5s v5 Camo Apple iPad Pro (12.9in) Apple MacBook (2016, 12in) Asus ROG G752VY Asus Transformer Book Flip TP200SA Asus ZenBook UX305CA Dell Chromebook 13 Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series Dell XPS 15 Gigabyte P55Wv5 Google Chromebook Pixel HP Chromebook 14 HP Spectre x2 Lenovo Yoga 900 Microsoft Surface Book Samsung Galaxy TabPro S Toshiba Satellite C40-C Toshiba Satellite Click Mini

Drones 84

Acer Aspire One Cloudbook 14 Acer Aspire Switch 11 V

100

DJI Phantom 4 Extreme Fliers Micro Drone 3.0 Hubsan Nano Q4 Parrot Orak Hydrofoil Yuneec Typhoon H

77


Turn to page 74 for your software code – only with £4.99 edition

Free software guide It’s easy to access your free software. Just go to www.shopperdownload.co.uk/344 and register with the code from the card insert. Please be aware that you need to have bought the ‘Free Software Edition’ and not the ‘£4.50 Edition’ to access the downloads

GETTING STARTED The download instructions on the card insert (after page 74) show you how to connect to the download site. Make sure you type in the web address exactly as shown. You’ll need your coupon code the first time you log on to the site. ANY PROBLEMS If you need help with any of the software this month, please send an email to letters@computershopper.co.uk. We check this inbox regularly. Please include the issue number of the magazine and your coupon code. WHY DOWNLOADS In order to provide us with free software, publishers now require us to offer the applications as a download and to require online registration. You need to use the unique code printed in the box on the card insert to register and download the software in this issue. The unique code means we stop the deals leaking online, so only Shopper readers get the software. NO CODE? If you don’t have the card insert with the unique code, you must buy the £4.99 ‘Free Software’ print version of the magazine. If you have this edition and still don’t have a card, please contact letters@computershopper.co.uk.

REGISTER YOUR SOFTWARE BY 22nd SEPTEMBER 2016

Auslogics File Recovery 6 AUSLOGICS FILE RECOVERY is a powerful undelete tool that will quickly bring many lost files back from the dead. The program allows you to search for files by type (picture, music, video, document, software), last modification date or name. What’s more, it can skip both zero-size, temporary and system files, which can help reduce the final list of recoverable files to manageable proportions. Scanning is reasonably quick (unless you choose the ‘deep scan’ option, which examines every sector of your hard disk to locate files that other tools might miss). If the report does find too many files then you’re able to apply filters there, too, viewing only files of the date, size and type that you’re looking for. A Preview pane also allows you to preview images, videos, documents and PDFs, so you can be sure you’ve found the right files before you recover them. REQUIREMENTS Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10 32/64-bit, 50MB hard disk space WEBSITE www.auslogics.com NOTES Get your registration code at filerecover6.disc.computershopper.co.uk

You also get some useful extras, such as the ability to create an image of your hard disk that you can use to recover the files later, without worrying whether using your PC will overwrite them. There’s also a shredder, which securely deletes confidential files so you can be sure that no-one else will be able to recover them. Alternatively, you can use the Disk Wiper to securely wipe the free space on a drive, ensuring that all deleted files are truly gone forever.

IObit Driver Booster 3

REQUIREMENTS Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10 32/64-bit, 30MB hard disk space WEBSITE www.iobit.com NOTES Get your registration code at driverbooster3.disc.computershopper.co.uk

78

IOBIT’S DRIVER BOOSTER is a simple and straightforward tool that can scan your system for outdated drivers, then download and install replacements with a click. Upgrade to the Pro version and you gain additional features such as backup, faster download speeds and wider hardware support. The program is unusually easy to use. There’s no complex interface, no searching around trying to decide what you need to do: just launch Driver Booster, it immediately scans your PC, and a detailed report appears a few seconds later. You can then click the ‘Update’ button individually for particular drivers, which is handy if you want to keep precise control over exactly what’s going on. Or if you’re in a hurry, just click ‘Update Now’ and Driver Booster will download and launch each update. Thanks to a silent update mechanism, you no longer have to wade through each and every

driver update package manually, but do expect to reboot at the end of the process. It’s incredibly simple to use, and more experienced users will find plenty of tweakable options available should they need them.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


SSD Fresh 2016 SSD FRESH 2016 is a simple tool tha can help to extend the life of that a solid-state drive (SSD). ssoli Launch the program and it displays displa an overview of your dis system drives, including the sys dri model, name, capacity, drive num number of partitions, file system, fre and a used drive space. free A ‘S.M.A.R.T. data’ button displa various technical dis displays

indicators on your drive’s reliability: error counts, spin-up time, temperature and more. Unexpectedly high or increasing values here could indicate a drive failure is on the way. The real value of SSD Fresh comes with its ‘Optimization’ pane, though. This is where the program gives easy access to a host of low-level settings

REQUIREMENTS Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10 32/64-bit, 20MB hard disk space WEBSITE www.abelssoft.net NOTES Get your registration code within the application. If you have previously registered an Abelssoft product, you do not need to register again

that could affect your SSD’s life and performance. Windows will by default defragment your drive occasionally, for instance; that’s great for regular hard disks, but of no value to SSDs. Turning this off saves system resources and a vast number of unnecessary disk writes, extending your SSD’s life. Windows may also be defragmenting files at boot time, storing file access times, creating 8.3 names for compatibility with ancient DOS applications, and carrying out various other less than useful tasks (if you’re an SSD owner). If you’re a PC expert then you can review every SSD Fresh suggestion individually, disabling or enabling settings as required. If you’re in a hurry, on the other hand, then just click ‘Optimize’ and the program will switch everything to its preferred value. Don’t worry, you can always switch back to your original settings if there’s a problem later.

SoftOrbits Flash Recovery 3.1 SOFTORBITS FLASH DRIVE Recovery is an easy-to-use tool that can undelete files on USB keys and assorted memory card formats, including SD, SDHC, SDXC, Compact Flash and Sony Memory Stick.

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

The program also supports recovery on audio players, mobile phones, and other devices. If you can connect it to your PC via USB, and it mounts as a drive in Explorer, the program should be able to find and restore lost data.

| OCTOBER 2016

Launch the program and it displays all removable storage devices. If you don’t see your drive there, remove and re-insert it, or eject and replace a memory card, and wait a few seconds for it to be redetected. In a couple of clicks Flash Drive Recovery starts scanning your drive for deleted files. This can take several minutes, depending on your hardware, so patience is definitely required. Once the first check is complete, the program displays an Explorer-type tree listing everything it’s found. Browse this looking for specific files, click images to view them in the Preview pane, and select whatever you need to restore. Or, if you’re short on time, click Select All to choose everything. Click Recover when you’re ready to restore the target files, and they’ll be recovered to your preferred folder.

REQUIREMENTS Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10 32/64-bit, 40MB hard disk space WEBSITE www.softorbits.com NOTES Get your registration code at flashdrive.disc.computershopper.co.uk

79


Panda Internet Security 2016 PANDA INTERNET SECURITY 2016 is a capable security suite with protection for Windows, Android, iOS and Mac. The Windows module offers accurate anti-virus, browser

protection (via an optional toolbar), a firewall and Wi-Fi protection to detect intruders on your network. The Data Shield prevents sensitive data falling into

REQUIREMENTS Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10 32/64-bit, 200MB hard disk space DETAILS www.pandasecurity.com NOTES Six-month licence

the wrong hands, parental controls keep your kids safe online, and there’s a virtual keyboard to bypass keyloggers. Mac and iOS protection is more basic, with anti-virus and an iPhone location service, while the Android tools take this a little further: there’s anti-virus, device optimisation, a location service, and the option to lock or wipe your device remotely. All this is easy to set up, but look out for the option to install a browser toolbar: it will change your home and search pages unless you clear some tickboxes. After that, the program proves as reliable and accurate as ever. The 2016 edition brings new checks for Wi-Fi vulnerabilities, a new engine, and smarter Collective Intelligence, offering greater protection with less impact on performance.

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 9

REQUIREMENTS Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 or 10, 32/64-bit, 300MB hard disk space WEBSITE www.xara.com NOTES Get your registration code at xaraphoto9.disc.computershopper.co.uk

80

XARA PHOTO & Graphic Designer is a one-stop graphics package with the power to satisfy all your creative needs. Photo editing An excellent core set of features caters for all the most common requirements, such as cropping, resizing, fixing red-eye, sharpening and fixing perspective problems. If you need more, the program supports Photoshop plug-ins so can be extended just as much as you like, and there are 46 bundled filters to help you get started. Illustration The QuickShape tools allow you to draw pre-set shapes in seconds. There are plenty of other vector and line-drawing tools on offer, too. 3D extrusion means you can drag any shape to create a properly lit and rendered 3D version, and it’s just as easy to apply transparency, feathering, blends, shadows, bevels and more. DTP The built-in Designs Gallery gives instant access to templates for all kinds of projects, including brochures, newsletters, greetings cards, calendars, covers, labels and stationery. If you prefer to start from scratch, there are over 3,000 bundled photos and clip art to help you. Meanwhile, powerful print and various export options (including PDF and PSD) make it easy to share your creations with others. If you’re looking to create web graphics, Xara Photo & Graphic Designer MX can produce simple

Flash animations (visuals only, no scripting or sound), animated GIFs, image maps, buttons, headings and icons. If you’re wondering what’s new from the previous edition, there are some useful additions. Text styles make it simple to change an entire document’s fonts, colours and line spacing, for example, in a few clicks. Meanwhile, the new Share menu makes it easy to share media files with Flickr, Facebook and other Xara/Magix MX applications. Along with powerful new tools such as colour selection, hue adjustment and shape eraser, the program also includes improved image optimisation, support for SVG, PDF, Raw and web URLs, faster publishing, and a stack of usability improvements.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


Resources

Chat and Communication Evernote 6.1.2 Store your notes, ideas and plans in the cloud, and synchronise them between computers. UPDATED Mailbird 2.3.18 A free desktop email client for Windows. UPDATED Miranda IM 0.10.54 Chat with friends across multiple messaging platforms, including AIM, Facebook, IRC and MSN, all from one simple interface.

Customisation

iolo System Mechanic Free 15.5 Speed up your system with this cut-down version of iolo’s PC optimisation suite. Rainmeter 3.3.2 Customise the desktop with your choice of tools and shortcuts. Windows 8 Transformation Pack 9.1 Emulate the look of Windows 8 on an earlier version of the operating system.

General

Genie Timeline Free 2016 Protect your most valuable files with this easy-to-use backup tool. Paragon Partition Manager 14 Free Create, format, split, merge and reorganise all your hard disk’s partitions. UPDATED PeaZip 6.0.3 A tremendously powerful archive-management tool.

UPDATED Skype for Windows 7.25 Make internet voice and video calls for free, and buy credit to make calls to mobiles and landlines. Trillian 5.6 Use all your instant-messaging accounts with one application. Supports Windows Live!, AIM, Yahoo! and Google Talk. UPDATED WhatsApp Desktop 0.2.1061 A free PC and Mac version of the popular messaging app, allowing you to chat straight from your desktop instead of using the web app.

Windows 8 UX Pack 9.1 Get a glimpse of the Windows 10 UI without committing to a full OS upgrade. Windows 10 Transformation Pack 6 Bring some of Windows 10’s new features to your current operating system. Winstep Xtreme 16.6 Freshen up your system with this suite of desktop and UI replacement applications.

Screenshot Captor 4.16.1 Create and manage screenshots the easy way. UPDATED SUMo 4.4.2.320 Quickly scan your PC’s installed applications and find any updates that are available for them. ZipGenius 6.3.2.3116 A flexible filecompression tool with support for a huge number of compressed file formats.

Internet and Network CarotDAV 1.13 Manage all your online storage services with one simple application. UPDATED Cyberduck 5.0.3 A powerful but easy-to-use FTP client for uploading and downloading your files. Easy WiFi 4.0 Find free Wi-Fi hotspots while you’re out and about.

UPDATED FileZilla 3.19 A fast, attractive and reliable FTP client with lots of useful features. UPDATED NetBalancer 9.4.1 Make the most of your internet connection by assigning download and upload priorities to web applications. UPDATED TeamViewer 11.0.62308 Remote-control your computer from anywhere in the world.

Tweaking and Performance UPDATED CCleaner 5.19 Remove unwanted information, temporary files, browsing history, huge log files and even the settings that uninstalled software leaves behind. Defraggler 2.21 Ensure your system is defragmented properly and improve its performance. Finestra Virtual Desktops 2.5.4501 Set up four or more virtual desktops on your PC.

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

IObit Advanced SystemCare 9.3 A complete computer security, maintenance and optimisation suite. Revo Uninstaller Free 1.95 Remove installed applications completely, including all their folders, system files and Registry entries. Simple Performance Boost 1.0.5 Tweak the Windows Registry to give your PC a performance boost.

81


LAPTOPS LAPT LA PTOP PT OPS OP S

ABOVE THE FOLD

Laptops

Not sure whether your next laptop should be a slimline powerhouse or a flexible 2-in-1? We’ve tested 22 devices to help you decide what should get pride of place on your lap CONTENT REVIEWS BUDGET WINDOWS

CHROMEBOOKS

ULTRA-PORTABLES

GAMING LAPTOPS

Page 88

Page 90

Page 92

Page 94

ACER Aspire One

ACER Chromebook R11 DELL Chromebook 13

APPLE MacBook (2016, 12in) ASUS ZenBook UX305CA

ACER Predator 17 AORUS X5s v5 Camo

ACER Aspire Switch 11 V APPLE iPad Pro (12.9in)

Page 89

Page 91

Page 93

Page 95

GOOGLE Chromebook Pixel HP Chromebook 14

DELL XPS 15 LENOVO Yoga 900

ASUS ROG G752VY GIGABYTE P55Wv5

HP Spectre x2 MICROSOFT Surface Book

Cloudbook 14 ASUS Transformer Book Flip TP200SA Page 87

DELL Inspiron 11 3000

Page 96

Series

SAMSUNG Galaxy TabPro S TOSHIBA Satellite Click Mini

TOSHIBA Satellite C40-C

84

2-IN-1s

Page 86

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


LAPTOPS

IT WILL SOON be back to school time, and while that means time to say goodbye to the summer holidays, it may also be time to say hello to a new laptop to make your newly re-established responsibilities a little easier. Windows 10 and Intel’s Skylake processors have had a year to settle in, and there’s now an unprecedented choice of models to consider – and that’s just in terms of conventional clamshells. Convertibles, which feature fully rotatable touchscreens, and fully detachable 2-in-1 hybrid devices have become common in the past few months, both offering more tablet-esque ways of working and playing. Chromebooks and Cloudbooks offer yet more possibilities, their modest specs and focus on cloud storage and web usage making them temptingly inexpensive – though even these have diversified to the extent that ‘premium’ Chromebooks are viable options.

BUDGET WINDOWS

Budget Windows laptops are a broad church, and can include anything from tiny netbooks to full-size Cloudbooks. They do have a few things in common, namely their price-restricted limitations: they all have small storage drives, fairly low-resolution displays and lower-end processors. All four of the budget Windows devices we looked at include the same CPU – the dual-core Intel Celeron N3050. Nonetheless, these laptops will be able to handle web browsing, document editing and media playback, and their basic components have the upside of affording all-day battery lifespans. If you don’t really need the power for more demanding apps and like the sound of a fully fledged Windows 10 device for under £200, they could be ideal.

CHROMEBOOKS

Chromebooks serve a similar purpose to their cheap Windows counterparts; being lowpowered (again, expect Intel Celeron processors) with functional but unspectacular displays and long-lasting batteries, they’re a good fit for users who just want to check emails, browse the web or relax with Netflix. The exceptions are ‘premium’ Chromebooks, which started with Google’s £999 Chromebook Pixel. These laptops are far more capable, typically packing Intel Core i5 chips and a faster SSD instead of eMMC flash storage. The defining trait of all Chromebooks is that they run Chrome OS; this lightweight operating system is easy to use, but its lack of compatibility with applications such as Microsoft Office makes Chromebooks difficult to recommend as productivity aids. This puts pricier Chromebooks into an awkward spot, but their longevity and high-quality screens still make them good for recreational use.

ULTRA-PORTABLES

Ultra-portables, conversely, are superb for getting work done, especially if you plan on carrying your laptop around with you instead. Although they come in a thin and light chassis, the level of performance they offer

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

typically makes them good candidates as full-on desktop replacements. Some ultra-portables are considerably more powerful than others – the Dell XPS 15, for instance, will eat the Asus ZenBook UX305CA alive in a straight comparison – but even the latter will manage anything short of high-res gaming and intensive design work. Intel’s Core M processors are common; they don’t always deliver on the promised long battery life, but the fact they don’t need a fan allows for a silent-running laptop. You can expect fast SSDs and crisp displays, too.

GAMING LAPTOPS

Some ultra-portables can play basic games, but to enjoy AAA titles at their best you’ll want a dedicated gaming laptop. These are big, loud and expensive, but it’s easy to get your money’s worth even if your shoulders won’t appreciate the strain of lugging them around. A dedicated graphics processor is a must. All our gaming laptops have Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 970M or GTX 980M GPUs. These, working with Intel Core i7 processors, will be able to wring a playable 30fps out of the demanding Metro: Last Light Redux at its highest quality – more if you disable certain settings. The price of this kind of capability – besides the actual price – is that gaming

laptops last for short periods away from the mains. A full charge will net you a few hours of general use, but don’t be surprised if Full HD gaming drains the battery in two or three.

2-IN-1s

Tablets that could turn into laptops via an attachable keyboard were all the rage in 2015, and they’re still going strong. It’s easy to see their appeal – they’re light and compact, they have decent battery lifespans and (unless it’s a budget model like the Toshiba Satellite Click Mini) their laptop-grade processors allow for nippy performance. Since most run Windows (except the Apple iPad Pro), they’re also much more suitable than conventional Androidpowered tablets for productivity tasks. Most importantly, once you’ve finished working, the display can be detached from the keyboard dock, so you can use it as an even more mobile entertainment device – that’s a level of flexibility that even convertibles, with their 360˚ rotatable screens, can’t match. Be wary, though; 2-in-1s are almost always more powerful and versatile when connected to a keyboard, as the latter will often contain an additional battery, extra ports or, as with the Microsoft Surface Book, a dedicated GPU. Naturally, you’ll lose these benefits when using the touchscreen component separately.

THE BEST LAPTOPS FOR… KIDS AND STUDENTS

ACER Aspire One Cloudbook 14 It’s not the sleekest laptop in this test, but Acer’s Windows-powered Chromebook alternative is fantastic for basic tasks such as writing essays and browsing the web. The 14.1in display is a good size for working with documents and watching videos, and its immense battery life means forgotten charging cables should rarely pose a problem. Best of all, it costs just £180, and that includes 1TB of OneDrive storage as well as a one-year subscription to Microsoft’s Office 365 Personal service, so you get the official versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

MOBILE WORKERS

DELL XPS 15 Sturdy, sharp and powerful, the XPS 15 is close to the pinnacle of Windows 10 laptops. There are cheaper, smaller and lighter devices available – the latest Apple MacBook and Asus ZenBook UX305CA are both fine choices – but it’s hard not to fall in love with Dell’s gorgeous ous Ultra HD InfinityEdge display or the sheer capability offered by its Intel Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics, all squeezed into a machine that’s just 17mm thick.

GAMERS

ACER Predator 17 If you can spare a few more hundred pounds, the Aorus X5s v5 Camo is a better performer, but for less than £1,500 the Predator 17 is our choice of a well-rounded gaming laptop. It competes with much more expensive devices in our benchmarks, has a blazingly fast M.2 SSD and a big, bold 17.3in display, and is equipped with one of the best keyboards we’ve used on any laptop. It also features an effective cooling system, managing to avoid the chassis-heating problems that plague so many other gaming laptops.

85


LAPTOPS BUDGET WINDOWS

ACER Aspire One Cloudbook 14 ★★★★★ RECOMMENDED

£200

• From www.pcworld.co.uk

VERDICT

A great Windows 10 laptop that can match its Chromebook rivals for value QUALITY AFFORDABLE LAPTOPS aren’t just limited to Chromebooks. There have been plenty of Windows-based alternatives popping up lately, including Acer’s Aspire One Cloudbook 14. Its rather bland, utilitarian design is unlikely to get your pulse racing, but it is reasonably portable, as the whole laptop weighs only 1.6kg and measures 17.9mm thick. The 14.1in form factor also allows for a decent-sized keyboard, though its shallow keys and a loud action mean it’s not particularly comfortable to type on. The large touchpad is better; it responds smoothly and its integrated buttons have a nicely tactile click action. There’s a decent set of ports, too, including one USB3 and USB2 port apiece plus a full-sized HDMI output and a headset jack. More importantly, it has an SD card reader, which is vital when the device has just 32GB of eMMC storage, with just 10GB left once you’ve taken Windows 10 and Acer’s pre-installed software into account.

As the focus is on cloud storage, it comes with 1TB of free OneDrive storage as well as a year’s subscription to Office 365 Personal. This makes the Cloudbook 14 even more of a bargain, but it’s still useful to have the SD card reader if you need to add extra capacity. The Cloudbook 14 comes with a dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050 CPU and 2GB of RAM. That’s plenty for editing documents and browsing the web, but it will start to struggle with anything more taxing. It couldn’t complete our 4K benchmarks, for instance, but when we re-ran the tests using 1080p video, it only managed an overall score of 30. This is only two points behind the Dell Inspiron 11’s score in our 1080p benchmarks, but neither are going to set speed records. The battery life makes up for this shortfall, lasting 11h 20m of continuous video playback in our battery life test, easily matching Toshiba’s similarly inexpensive Satellite C40-C. You’ll get even more battery life under more general use as well.

The 14.1in display has a 1,366x768 resolution, which is fairly standard for such cheap laptops. It’s perfectly usable, but viewing angles are rather narrow, especially on the horizontal plane, and its sRGB colour gamut coverage of 61.8% means it isn’t ideal for colour-sensitive work such as photo editing. Combined with its low contrast ratio of 423:1 and mediocre black levels of 0.56cd/m2, everything ends up looking a little washed out and uninspiring. It’s also not particularly bright, reaching just 241.2cd/m2 on its maximum settings. While it may not be particularly fast or have the best display, as long as you can work within the Cloudbook 14’s limitations then this is as about good as you’re going to get for £200 – and that’s even before considering the year’s free subscription to Office 365 Personal and the 1TB of OneDrive storage. It wins a Recommended award.

ASUS Transformer Book Flip TP200SA ★★★★★ £166

• From www.shop.bt.com

VERDICT

A great-value laptop/tablet hybrid with an excellent battery life that won’t break the bank TABLETS ARE GREAT when you’re out and about, but sometimes you need something more versatile to get some work done. Enter the Asus Transformer Book Flip TP200SA, a laptop-tablet hybrid with the option to rotate the screen around however you see fit. At 1.2kg and 18.4mm with the lid closed, this A4-sized slab of brushed plastic can easily be stored in a backpack. The 360˚ reversible screen hinge means you can fold the keyboard round the screen to protect it when you’re not using it. The hinge is robust, but the screen can wobble in the laptop configuration. The keyboard keys are relatively small, but they have a decent amount of travel and feel responsive throughout long typing sessions. The touchpad is a much better size, and its integrated buttons have a nice deep click. Sadly, the Flip’s overall performance falls short. With just a dual-core Intel Celeron N3050 processor and 2GB of RAM at its disposal, this machine isn’t built for heavy-duty PC tasks. We ran our slightly less demanding

86

1080p benchmarks rather than our usual 4K tests, and it recorded an overall score of 31. This is decent considering its price, but we experienced significant slowdown even n in basic word-processing and web-browsing tasks. You only have 32GB of eMMC flash storage to work with, which fills up pretty quickly if you want to store lots of files locally. Thankfully, there’s a microSD slot to expand the TP200SA’s storage, but it’s likely you’ll be storing most files in the cloud. The TP200SA’s battery life is its strongest point, as it lasted an excellent 9h 13m in our continuous video playback test with the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2. This means you’ll get a day’s work out of the TP200SA before you need to return it to the mains. The TP200SA is surprisingly well equipped when it comes to ports, too. With USB2, USB3 and USB3.1 Type-C ports, it can support multiple peripherals at the same time, and its Micro HDMI port means you can connect it to an external display as well.

The 11.6in, 1,366x768 IPS display doesn’t disappoint, either. A measured contrast ratio of 1,245:1 is excellent for such a cheap laptop, and while our colour calibrator showed it was capable of displaying only 64.1% of the gamut, we didn’t find this too troublesome when browsing photos. Blacks look reasonably deep despite its measurement of 0.20cd/m2, and colours have a decent amount of depth and richness to them. This is helped in no small part by the screen’s high brightness levels, which we measured at 268.9cd/m2. The Asus Transformer Book Flip TP200SA provides a decent middle ground between laptop and tablet, and it’s a great device for those on the fence about buying either. If you’d prefer a straightforward laptop, though, consider the Acer Aspire One Cloudbook 14.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


LAPTOPS

DELL Inspiron 11 3000 Series ★★★★★ £160

• From www.johnlewis.com

VERDICT

The Dell Inspiron 11 is a well-built budget laptop but it’s let down by its terrible screen FOR A BUDGET system, Dell’s Inspiron 11 is surprisingly well put together. As you’d expect at this price, there’s an abundance of plastic and some flex in the screen, but the chassis is fairly rigid and – at 1.2kg – it’s practical to carry around without undue strain. The touchpad, too, is generously sized and supports configurable multitouch gestures. The keyboard isn’t great for extended use, though – the chiclet keys are a reasonable size, but lack travel, feedback and a comfortable action. Inside is a dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050 processor, paired with just 2GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC storage. Unsurprisingly, this is not a system for strenuous work, as the Inspiron 11 scored just seven overall in our benchmark tests, but it’s more than capable of handling basic tasks such as document editing, web browsing and watching Netflix. The lack of memory does lead to slowdown if you try to run too many applications or browser tabs, though. With Windows 10 installed, there’s only around 11GB of storage left. Fortunately,

there’s a microSD slot to help work around this and, unlike on some cheap laptops, the card isn’t left poking outwards. Disappointingly, there’s no free cloud storage included or a bundled Office 365 subscription to help alleviate the lack of storage. All you get is a 30-day trial of Office 365, which feels rather stingy. Battery life is reasonable at 5h 50m of video playback. This was with the screen set to our standard brightness measurement of 170cd/m2, which is perfectly usable indoors. Unfortunately, the display is a huge disappointment. The 1,366x768 resolution is pretty typical at this price, but viewing angles are atrocious, especially on the vertical plane. It lacks contrast, too, with a pitiful contrast ratio of just 203:1. This is caused by its exceedingly high black levels of 1.32cd/m2, which makes solid blacks appear grey. Colour accuracy of 57.8% sRGB is also pretty poor, but the maximum brightness of 266.6cd/m2 is, at least, decent. The other saving grace is that the screen’s matt coating helps to limit any pesky reflections.

There are only two USB ports, but one of them is the faster USB3, which isn’t always included on budget laptops. A full-size HDMI port is available, so you can connect to a display, as is a headset jack for audio and the aforementioned microSD slot. The stereo speakers above the keyboard provide a surprising amount of volume. With a bright, tinny sound, they’re not particularly impressive, but they’re fine for watching films. As far as budget laptops go, the Inspiron 11 would make a suitable first laptop. It feels reassuringly durable, the design is appealing, and we wouldn’t have any qualms about giving it to a younger user or student. The only major flaw is the screen. However, the Inspiron 11 faces stiff competition. The Acer Aspire One Cloudbook 14, for instance, is similarly priced but has a considerably nicer screen, and the Toshiba Satellite C40-C is better for productivity.

TOSHIBA Satellite C40-C ★★★★★ £200

• From www.amazon.co.uk

VERDICT

It won’t break any performance records, but the Satellite C40-C is great for working on the move WITH A 1.6GHz, dual-core Intel Celeron N3050 processor on board, the Toshiba C40-C is far from fast. It has other advantages for its price, however: its 14in screen size makes it much more suited to working on the move than other netbook-style laptops. The chassis has a fair amount of flex, but it feels well made where it counts. The keyboard, for example, has reasonable feedback, while the touchpad is responsive and can handle two-fingered scrolling without stuttering. Its brushed metal-style look is also much nicer than the plastic of its rivals. The processor isn’t fast and the 2GB of RAM means the laptop will struggle running multiple tasks, as demonstrated by a score of zero in our multitasking test and just seven overall, but if you keep only a few browser tabs and a couple of programs open at a time you should be fine. If you do try to stretch the C40-C beyond its means, it will punish you with stuttering and slow loading times, as virtual memory is used instead of real RAM.

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

Still, what you lose in performance you gain in terms of battery life. Low-power Celeron chips are known for their frugality, but we were still mightily impressed with the laptop’s 11h 25m time in our battery test. There’s no wired network port; you’ll have to make do with 802.11n Wi-Fi. You get plenty of room to plug in peripherals, including two USB2 ports on the left and a single USB3 connector on the right, and there’s also a 3.5mm headset jack. You’ll definitely want to plug in headphones for watching films or playing music; the built-in speakers are passable for basic speech but anything more challenging will require external hardware. You also get an SD card slot, which will be crucial if you don’t want to store everything in the cloud. With Windows and its restore partitions in place, you’ll only have around 10GB of the 32GB eMMC flash storage left. Sadly, if you use an SD card it will stick out by around half a centimetre, and could catch whenever you pull the laptop in and out of

your bag. You’re better off using services such as Google Music and Photos to keep your media files in the cloud. The screen is a 1,366x768 panel, and while it performs every bit like a £200 laptop panel, it is at least bright – we measured a maximum of 260cd/m2 – and has reasonably wide viewing angles. The panel has a glossy coating, which means it’s affected by overhead lighting and sunlight worse than a matt panel, but it’s otherwise a decent display. The Toshiba Satellite C40-C may be compromised in terms of performance and storage, but it’s still a highly portable 14in laptop for just £200 with excellent battery life. If you’re willing to keep your files in the cloud and are realistic about the kinds of applications you can run, it’s a good buy.

87


LAPTOPS CHROMEBOOKS

ACER Chromebook R11 ★★★★★ RECOMMENDED

£200

• From www.pcworld.co.uk

VERDICT

Minor touchpad issues aside, the Chromebook R11 is a well-built, bargain laptop DESIGN IS USUALLY the biggest casualty of Chromebook cost-cutting, but Acer happily bucks this trend with the genuinely attractive and robust-feeling Chromebook R11. Amazingly, it also packs in a 360˚ hinge and a touchscreen to transform it into a makeshift tablet. The matt white 11.6in chassis is about as refined as budget laptops come, and at 1.2kg and 20mm thick, it’s very portable – exactly what you need for something that can act as a tablet. It’s a bit wanting in terms of ports, though, with just one USB2 and one USB3 socket. There’s an HDMI output, an SD card reader and a 3.5mm headset jack. There’s no Ethernet port, but you do get 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The keys have lots of travel and a pleasant chunky feel. One of the Chrome-specific function keys is a Task View button, which is very useful if you have multiple windows open, although considering this is a laptop built for the web, it’s a shame that this button doesn’t split up browser tabs as well.

The touchpad is a mixed bag. It’s responsive for standard swipes, multifingered scrolling and taps, but physical clicks require a little too much force to fire into action. If you tend to opt for a physical click instead of tapping, you’ll have issues with the R11. The laptop runs coolly and quietly thanks to its fanless design and low-power 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050 processor. It’s a dual-core chip paired with just 2GB of RAM, so it’s hardly a powerhouse, but it can handle email, web browsing, Spotify and video playback without fuss. It was only when we began opening lots of Chrome tabs with advertising and multimedia present that it started to show its limitations, but it quickly returned to normal speeds once we’d closed the offending pages. In SunSpider, it scored a middling 636.5ms, and when tasked with the demanding WebGL 3D Cubes benchmark it managed 22fps, which is respectable for a budget laptop. In JetStream, the challenging web-based benchmark, it scored a reasonable 47.

As usual for a Chromebook, the very limited 16GB of onboard storage means you’ll mostly be bypassing local storage in favour of the cloud, unless you use the SD card slot. Battery life is much more generous, as the R11 lasted 8h 42m in our looping video playback test, which is a great result for such a small laptop. The 11.6in display is nice and bright at 226cd/m2, and its 1,366x768 resolution is acceptable for both its screen size and price. Admittedly, its IPS panel covered only 66% of the sRGB colour gamut in our test, but this is partly compensated for with its respectable 1,210:1 contrast ratio. The Acer Chromebook R11 is the most attractive and practical budget Chromebook you can buy today. It may not have the power nor the screen to make it suitable for intense multitasking, but its excellent build quality and performance relative to other Chromebooks makes it a seriously good piece of kit for the money.

DELL Chromebook 13 ★★★★★ £780

• From uk.insight.com

VERDICT

A welcome premium Chromebook option, but the top-end model is highly expensive DELL’S CHROMEBOOK 13 is one of the new breed of ‘premium’ Chromebooks that started to appear after Google introduced the Chromebook Pixel. Prices start at £405 for an Intel Celeron 3205U model with 16GB of storage and 4GB of RAM, but we tested the top-end model, which offers a dual-core 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-5300U, 32GB of storage and 8GB RAM for £756. That’s a lot of money for what is essentially a souped-up internet browser. All models share the 13.3in 1,920x1,080 resolution display, but this can’t match the Pixel’s 2,560x1,700 display. Google’s laptop has superior internals as well, packing a Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM and 64GB of storage. Dell makes up for this with its premium build quality. The lid has a stunning carbon fibre finish and the main chassis is made from magnesium alloy, both touches that would be right at home in Dell’s premier XPS range. The touchscreen model weighs 1.62kg, slightly more than the Chromebook Pixel, but the non-touch model is lighter at 1.47kg.

88

The comfortably sized backlit keyboard is pleasant to type on; the keys are shallow, but quiet. The touchpad is a decent size, too, and includes a smooth glass coated surface on which multitouch gestures work well. There’s no USB Type-C port on the Chromebook 13, but its HDMI output allows for an external display without any adaptors. Dell’s device also features one USB2 and one USB3 port each, plus a microSD card reader, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability. The 1,920x1,080 IPS display is a welcome upgrade over the 1,366x768 panels often seen on budget Chromebooks, even if it’s not as razor-sharp as the Pixel’s. The touchscreen has beautifully deep blacks at 0.25cd/m2, but peak brightness is a little more mediocre at 227.3cd/m2. Likewise, its contrast ratio of 857:1 is good, but not spectacular, though its 90% sRGB colour gamut coverage allows for bright, vibrant colours. The Core i5 processor makes performance feel slick and responsive. Apps such as the

Polarr image editor ran without a hitch, and juggling tabs in Chrome didn’t cause slowdown. A SunSpider browser test score of 248.9ms is great, as is its score of 160.1 in the more challenging JetStream test, and the Chromebook 13 even managed to produce 44fps in the WebGL 3D cubes benchmark – double that of the Acer Chromebook R11. Battery life is also excellent, with 10h 32m of video playback with the screen to our standard brightness of 170cd/m2. The Dell Chromebook 13 is undoubtedly a premium Chromebook but, ultimately, Chrome OS doesn’t really justify the need for such lofty specifications. We’d therefore lean more toward the entry-level Celeron model than the luxury Core i5 variant; the former still has a Full HD screen and the Chromebook 13’s great build quality, but is much more reasonably priced by Chromebook standards.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


LAPTOPS

GOOGLE Chromebook Pixel ★★★★★ £999

• From store.google.com

VERDICT

The best-specced Chromebook available, but make sure Chrome OS meets your needs AT £999, IT may be hugely expensive for a Chromebook, but Google’s second attempt at the Pixel certainly builds upon what made the original so desirable. At 15.3mm it’s not the thinnest laptop, but the Pixel is still fairly svelte, and 1mm thinner than its predecessor. The weight has remained the same at a shoulder-friendly 1.5kg, making it comfortable enough to carry around. Comparisons with Apple’s MacBook are inevitable, particularly because both use USB Type-C, although where Apple makes do with a single port, the Pixel has two. With one on each side of the laptop, you can choose which side to run your power cable. The Type-C connection can also carry video, but you’ll need to buy an adaptor first. The Pixel also has two USB3 ports, and an SD card reader lets you expand the 32GB of onboard storage (though you’ll probably rely more on the 1TB of free Google Drive cloud storage). SD cards sit flush to the chassis when inserted, so you can leave it attached. The 12.9in, 2,560x1,700 resolution touchscreen display is undeniably the Pixel’s

crowning feature. The unorthodox 3:2 aspect ratio is ideal for web browsing, though we did find 1,440x956 to be a more comfortable fit. Image quality is mostly impressive. An sRGB colour accuracy coverage score of 91.6% is fantastic, and we measured black levels at a very low 0.24cd/m2. A contrast ratio of 800:1 is above average, too, but our one complaint was the low peak brightness of 200.1cd/m2. This isn’t quite bright enough to use in sunlight, especially with the reflective Gorilla Glass. The touchpad is smooth and enables the use of Chrome OS’s handy gesture shortcuts, while the keyboard uses backlit chiclet keys that are sensibly spaced apart and comfortable to type on for long periods. The backlighting only turns on while typing, so you’re not distracted while watching videos. We originally reviewed the Pixel with a 2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5500U with 8GB of RAM, but this has since been discontinued, leaving only the model with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U and 16GB of memory. We question whether the lightweight Chrome OS really

needs all that power; indeed, the lowerspecced machine ran very smoothly, managing the best SunSpider speed we’ve ever seen from a Chromebook: 196ms. It also managed an impressive 10h 53m of video playback in our battery test. You can expect a little less from the i7 edition, but it will still charge quickly – plugging in for just 15 minutes provides up to two hours of battery life, thanks to the USB3 Type-C connection. There’s an awful lot to like about the Chromebook Pixel, with excellent design and long battery life making it a joy to use. Yet while Chrome OS feels slick and responsive, it’s also the Pixel’s greatest weakness: you’ll find yourself forced to work within the limitations of what’s available on Chrome OS, when you could buy a good Windows laptop for the same money. For £999, this is likely too great a sacrifice.

HP Chromebook 14 ★★★★★ RECOMMENDED

£200

• From www.very.co.uk

VERDICT

The Chromebook 14 is improved in all the right ways, but its mediocre display is disappointing DESPITE ITS COPIOUS amounts of plastic, the HP Chromebook 14 feels well constructed. It’s a little lighter than its predecessor, the 2014 Chromebook 14, at 1.69kg to the latter’s 1.9kg, and it’s also marginally thinner, measuring 17.8mm rather than 20.6mm. Otherwise, the two models feel very similar. The keyboard has the same comfortable springiness to it as before, and the touchpad is fairly spacious with smooth coating. The only mild annoyance is its super-thin Enter key, which can be easy to miss when typing at speed. The processor has been upgraded to a dual-core 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840 model, though the 4GB of RAM remains unchanged and you still only have 16GB of internal storage. Luckily, there’s a microSD card slot to give you even more room but, as with all Chromebooks, you’ll largely be reliant on using cloud-based storage for most of your files. You do, however, get two years’ worth of 100GB Google Drive storage bundled in.

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

As Chrome OS is such a lightweight operating system, it doesn’t require a very high-powered specification to get the most out of it. A JetStream score of 52.9 is good, but a rather mediocre 10fps in the WebGL 3D cubes benchmark is less than half of the Acer Chromebook R11, which is disappointing considering the Chromebook 14 has a faster processor and double the amount of RAM. A SunSpider score of 585.5ms isn’t the greatest, either, but web browsing felt quick and responsive for the most part. Only after opening several tabs did pages start to chug, but once they did load, even image-heavy pages scrolled without any hiccups. Battery life at 9h 14m puts it at around the same level as the previous Chromebook 14. That’s more than enough to get you through a full day’s use, especially since Chromebooks are generally used for lighter tasks than their full laptop counterparts. There are plenty of USB ports for connecting external devices, with two USB2

and a single USB3 port, while an HDMI output lets you connect it to an external display. The built-in speakers performed well, too, and are good enough to watch films on Netflix. Sadly, the 14.1in, 1,366x768 display is just as lacklustre as it was on the old Chromebook 14. Black levels are very high at 0.82cd/m2, the contrast ratio of just 291:1 leaves a lot to be desired, and while colour accuracy is marginally better on the new model – covering 64.6% of the sRGB colour gamut – it’s still not particularly rich or vibrant. At least the matt finish helps reduce reflectivity. Nonetheless, the new Chromebook 14 is great value for what you’re getting in terms of build quality and general performance, and it will serve you well as an all-round performer for Chrome OS. If, however, you’re looking for something a little smaller, or for a device that doubles as a 2-in-1, then check out the Acer Chromebook R11 instead.

89


LAPTOPS ULTRA-PORTABLES

APPLE MacBook (2016, 12in) ★★★★★ RECOMMENDED

£1,299

• From www.apple.com/uk

VERDICT

A faster processor and better battery life means you can finally justify the purchase THE MACBOOK IS back, retaining the things that made the 2015 model brilliant while adding a quicker Core M processor, faster RAM and a faster SSD. The 13.1mm thick aluminium chassis is both beautiful and sturdy, and at just 920g, we could comfortably hold it by one corner without fear of dropping it. The new MacBook has only two ports: a 3.5mm headphone jack and a USB Type-C port. This lack of connection options takes some getting used to, as does the shallow stroke of the keys, but there’s still enough feedback for fast, accurate typing. We love the individual LED backlighting, too. The Force Touch trackpad is Apple’s best trackpad yet. It uses haptic feedback to mimic the clicking sensation of a moving trackpad, and by clicking and then pushing a little harder to operate a secondary click, you get more time-saving ways to interact with OS X, such as popping up a preview window or quickly renaming a file.

The 12in screen is comparatively small, but its edge-to-edge design means it certainly doesn’t feel that way. With its high resolution of 2,304x1,440 and pixel density of 227ppi, everything looks beautifully sharp and crisp. This year, Apple has also added wider aperture pixels, which let in more light while using less power. Image quality is similar to last year’s MacBook, with a maximum brightness of 367cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 917:1. With 92.6% of the sRGB colour gamut covered, this really is one of the best screens out there. It helps that it has excellent viewing angles, too. We tested both the dual-core Core m3 model, which runs at 1.1GHz or 2.2GHz with Turbo Boost, and the dual-core Core m5 model, which runs at 1.2GHz or 2.7GHz with Turbo Boost. Neither is designed to be a heavyweight powerhouse, and this was reflected in our 4K benchmarks; the Core m3 model scored 24 overall, while the m5 model scored 27. That said, last year’s MacBook

scored only 20 overall, so even the Core m3 model is a real improvement by comparison. In our video playback test with the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2, the MacBook lasted an impressive 10h 12m. That’s more than enough to get you through a day’s work, and the choice of processor won’t affect things either, as the Core m3 and Core m5 models lasted just as long during our tests. There’s a choice of a 256GB model or the Core m5 model with a 512GB SSD. Both of the SSDs are seriously quick PCI-E models: we measured write speeds of 834MB/s and read speeds of 933MB/s. This makes the whole MacBook feel extremely responsive, with apps in particular loading very quickly. The 2016 MacBook, with its better battery life, faster storage and quicker CPU, is a laptop that needs no excuses to justify a purchase. Look elsewhere if you need more power, but if portability is the most important thing to you, there’s simply nothing else like it.

ASUS ZenBook UX305CA ★★★★★ RECOMMENDED

£600

• From www.currys.co.uk

VERDICT

A stylish and well-built ultra-portable, but its battery life could be better EVEN WITH ITS strong aluminium chassis, the ZenBook UX305CA is as delightfully classy, light and svelte as its predecessor, the UX305. It weighs 1.2kg with a thickness of 12.3mm – marginally thinner but slightly heavier than the MacBook – giving you all-day portability without ever becoming a serious burden. It’s a shame the chiclet-style keyboard isn’t backlit, but it is easy to type on, with good spacing and a respectable amount of travel. The hinge rounds over and under when the lid is opened, propping the keyboard up by a few millimetres. This angles the keyboard slightly, making for more comfortable typing. There are three USB3 ports, one of which is powered with the laptop turned off, so you can use it to charge other devices. There’s an SD card reader and a headset jack, though no USB Type-C. Micro HDMI is available for outputting to an external display. Despite having an updated Skylake processor, however, the ZenBook UX305CA performed slightly worse than its predecessor.

90

It managed an overall score of 19 in our 4K benchmark, which is a single point less than last year’s model. The same Intel Core m3-6y30 processor managed a score of 23 in the HP Spectre x2, meaning there’s some throttling going on, probably to keep heat under control, which is a shame. Still, it will have enough performance for general everyday computing use. Expecting a laptop of this size and weight to cope with more demanding tasks was always going to be unrealistic, especially with the integrated Intel HD Graphics 515 chipset. Battery performance in our video playback test was a little underwhelming, at 6h 4m with the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2. This is likely due to the high-resolution screen; we reviewed the 3,200x1,800 option, a big upgrade on the standard 1,920x1,080. The extra resolution makes everything appear incredibly crisp, though you’ll probably need to tweak Windows 10’s scaling to get text and icons up to a viewable level.

It’s also incredibly bright. We recorded white levels at 409cd/m2, and black levels were also very high at 0.77cd/m2. A contrast ratio of 513:1 may sound a little low, but as this is a matt panel it’s actually not too bad. The panel’s sRGB coverage of 90.2% certainly is very respectable for a laptop of this price, and its Delta-E average of 2.79 is fine provided you’re not looking for a colour-accurate screen. Viewing angles are slightly acute but, in part, the ridiculous brightness makes it seem worse than it is. The ZenBook UX305CA’s build quality and design are excellent, but performance has taken a puzzling step backwards and battery life is a little disappointing. Nonetheless, its price makes it a very worthy choice for anyone unwilling or unable to stretch to a MacBook, especially since its upgrades haven’t made it any more expensive than the UX305.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


LAPTOPS

DELL XPS 15 ★★★★★ BEST BUY

£1,649

• From www.dell.co.uk

VERDICT

It’s expensive, but the XPS 15 is the ultimate Skylake-based Windows 10 laptop THE XPS 15 takes much of what we loved about Dell’s XPS 13 (Shopper 329) – particularly the InfinityEdge display – and applies it to a much larger form factor. With bezels measuring just 5.7mm, it’s a beauty to behold, and at 2kg it’s almost as light as the MacBook. Those razor-thin bezels are accompanied by a gorgeous aluminium chassis and carbon fibre composite keyboard and palm rest; the palm rest did get slightly warm sometimes, but not uncomfortably so. There’s a decent amount of travel to the keys and the large touchpad makes good use of the available space, while responding beautifully to stroke, tap and multitouch gestures. We tested the premier model, with a 3,840x2,160 InfinityEdge display, and to say it’s stunning would be an understatement. With 100% coverage of both the Adobe RGB and sRGB colour gamuts, the XPS 15 delivers true and accurate colours with aplomb, and it can reach almost eye-searing brightness levels of 363.4cd/m2. Black levels do suffer slightly as a result, however, as our measurement of 0.34cd/m2

is fairly unremarkable. The same goes for its contrast ratio of 1,065:1. Under more subjective tests, the screen looks beautiful with plenty of crisp, sharp detail and vibrant colours. The reflective coating proved a little irksome under certain lighting conditions, but no more so than other reflective screens. Happily, the XPS 15 doesn’t have the XPS 13’s adaptive contrast, so creative professionals are in for a treat. Our review unit came with a quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor (with Turbo Boosting up to 3.5GHz), 16GB of DDR4 RAM, a 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M and a 512GB PCI-E SSD. It managed a brilliant overall score of 111 in our 4K benchmark, making it a viable desktop replacement. It can even play games if you’re willing to compromise on quality. Dirt Showdown at 1,920x1,080, 4x anti-aliasing and Ultra graphics saw 45fps, and we even got 32fps in Metro: Last Light Redux on Very High graphics at 1,920x1,080 once we’d disabled SSAA. The SSD produced sequential read speeds of 1,525.5MB/s and write speeds of

541.5MB/s. Combine this responsiveness with an immaculate screen and you have a superb system for both work and play. Battery life was the sole disappointment; the XPS 15 lasted only 5h 40m in our continuous video playback test. This is a far cry from Dell’s advertised battery life of 17 hours, but considering how well specified the system is, this is actually pretty reasonable. Like the XPS 13, the XPS 15 has a Thunderbolt 3-equipped USB Type-C port for charging, data transfer or connection to an external display. There’s also an HDMI output, two USB3 ports, an SD card reader and a headset jack. All that’s missing connection-wise is an Ethernet port. The Dell XPS 15 is an outstanding laptop, marrying superb performance with stylish looks to easily justify its premium price. Six months after its release, it still reigns as the ultimate Windows 10 laptop.

LENOVO Yoga 900 ★★★★★ £1,000

• From shop.lenovo.com

VERDICT

The Yoga 900 has a Skylake processor and a subtle design, but it faces tough competition IT WOULD BE remiss to talk about the Yoga 900, Lenovo’s ultra-slim, ultra-light (1.29kg) convertible, without addressing its signature watchband hinge. While no longer cutting edge, it certainly looks interesting, and has been improved on previous Lenovo models to deliver a smoother action when opening, closing or rotating the lid 360˚. Other additions include a leather palm rest – soft, but likely to get scruffy in a couple of years – and a larger touchpad. However, this still feels too small and, worryingly, left-clicks sometimes failed to register. They keyboard, too, is far from the best at this price; keys have very little travel, making them unpleasant to type on, and the Shift key has annoyingly been chopped in half to make room for larger cursor keys. More positively, the function keys have been restored after being absent on the Yoga 3 Pro, and there are plenty of ports, including one USB Type-C port, two USB3 ports and a USB2 port that doubles as a

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

power connector. You will need a separate Type-C adaptor to connect to a display, though, as there’s no HDMI output. Rather than Intel’s Core M chips, Lenovo has gone for full-fat Core i5 and Core i7 processors in the Yoga 900. Our review unit had a 2.5GHz Core i7-6500U Skylake processor, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD and, as you’d expect, Windows flies along on it. Sadly, its benchmark scores lag behind the similarly specified Dell XPS 13, and far behind the XPS 15. It only achieved 25 in the multitasking test and 43 overall, seemingly as a result of some particularly heavy-handed CPU throttling. At least the 13.3in, 3,200x1,800 display is nice and sharp, with a commendable maximum brightness of 341cd/m2. It covers 89.6% of the sRGB colour gamut, which isn’t as good as the XPS duo, but colour accuracy is a touch more consistent than it is on the XPS 13. To most eyes, it will look lovely – bright, crisp and colourful in all the right ways.

Contrast, however, is dire, with our X-Rite colorimeter recording a ratio of only 454:1. That’s miles off rivals that routinely exceed 1,000:1, and results in images losing out in terms of punchiness and shadow detail. Fire up a moodily lit movie, for instance, and the Yoga 900 will struggle to eke out all the detail you’ll see on superior laptop screens. Battery performance is more encouraging. The Yoga 900’s 66Wh battery lasted 11h 26m with brightness set to 50%, so you’ll have no problem with it enduring a full day’s work. The Yoga 900 isn’t a bad laptop. In fact, there’s a lot to like about it, such as its flexible design that can flit between tablet and laptop modes, its huge resolution, its support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi and its incredibly portable proportions. Nonetheless, Lenovo’s rivals have also made huge strides forward since 2015, and ultimately the Yoga 900 feels as though it’s still catching up.

91


LAPTOPS GAMING LAPTOPS

ACER Predator 17 ★★★★★ RECOMMENDED

£1,427

• From www.scan.co.uk

VERDICT

Big and brash, the Predator 17 is a powerful gaming laptop with an excellent keyboard ACER’S GARGANTUAN PREDATOR 17 is easily one of the most ostentatious laptops we’ve ever seen, with its 17.3in display, red highlights and backlit red logo. Nevertheless, you can use it on your lap without any discomfort. Its huge fans and rear vents mean it stays cool under load, and while the fans are set to run permanently – and loudly – at full speed, they can be reduced to a whisper with the pre-installed software. This won’t upset performance, as its quad-core Intel Core i7-6700HQ – which runs at a base clock speed of 2.6GHz but can Turbo Boost to a speed of 3.5GHz – is an extremely competent multitasker. Together with 16GB of DDR4 RAM, it recorded an overall score of 108 and a multitasking score of 109 in our 4K benchmarks, which impressively is about what you’d get from a good desktop-grade Core i5. Storage is quick, too, with a 256GB M.2 SSD backed up by a large 1TB hard disk. 3D performance is massively aided by the discrete 3GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M. In

Dirt Showdown, for instance, it averaged 81fps at 1,920x1,080 with Ultra settings, and it managed a playable 31fps in Metro: Last Light Redux, also running at 1,920x1,080 and with Very High settings plus SSAA enabled. We found the Predator 17 lasted 3h 37m in our video playback battery benchmark, although you might be able to eke out four hours with lighter use. For extended gaming, though, you’ll want to stick to the mains. The generous selection of ports include four USB3 connectors along with HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, an SD card reader, a Thunderbolt port and an Ethernet point. You also get 802.11ac Wi-Fi and two 3.5mm jacks for a microphone and headphone setup. The keyboard deserves special credit. It’s by far the best laptop keyboard we’ve ever used, as its large, chunky keys have plenty of travel and give excellent feedback. It’s fully backlit, too, and although the macro keys are slightly awkwardly positioned off to the side, you can program them in five groups, for an

enormous total of 25 customisable shortcuts. The touchpad also works excellently, and can be disabled so you don’t accidentally move the cursor with it while gaming. The superb Full HD IPS panel is another great feature. It has wide viewing angles and can display 91% of the sRGB colour gamut, ranking it among the best non-professional laptops we’ve tested, and its low 0.25cd/m2 black levels are a good deal better than the competition. Bright, 320cd/m2 white levels are also impressive. The Acer Predator 17 is a premium laptop that manages to justify its price with toplevel performance and superb build quality, making it a genuinely desirable machine. The Aorus X5s v5 Camo performed better in our benchmarks, but the Predator 17 is significantly cheaper and has the nicer display even with its lower resolution.

AORUS X5s v5 Camo ★★★★★ £1,850

• From www.scan.co.uk

VERDICT

A powerful gaming laptop with a great screen that’s let down slightly by its mediocre keyboard THERE ARE TWO versions of Aorus’ ludicrously high-spec X5s v5 to choose from: the standard model, and this Camo painted limited edition, which costs £50 extra. For that cash, you get a certain uniqueness; every laptop is hand-dipped in the paint, so no two models are the same. Only 500 are being made, though, so you’ll need to be quick. Otherwise, the hardware is shared between both models, including the 15.6in, 3,840x2,160 IPS display. With its wide viewing angles and impressive 93% coverage of the sRGB colour gamut, the Aorus X5s certainly has one of the better gaming displays we’ve seen. Its contrast ratio of 1,286:1 is also excellent, giving plenty of detail in dark scenes. It’s not overly bright, either, reaching a maximum of 297.4cd/m2. The only downside is the matt coating, which does reduce reflections but can also make colours look a little washed out. Like all gaming laptops, it doesn’t last long away from the mains. The 73.26Wh battery ran out of juice in just over three hours in our

92

continuous video playback test with the screen set to 170cd/m2, and it will run out even faster when playing games. Still, you do get the power of an Nvidia GeForce GTX980M, a quad-core 2.6GHz i7-6700HQ processor and 16GB of GDDR5 RAM. Oddly, the model we were sent contained 32GB of RAM; such upgrades (up to 64GB) are possible, but not sold as an option. Keep that in mind for its benchmark results, which we should say were very high: 111 overall in our 4K application test, 48fps in Metro: Last Light Redux at 1,920x1,080 and Very High settings, and even 43fps in Dirt Showdown running at Ultra settings in 4K. Unfortunately, there are other costs for cramming these components into the 22.9mm body besides battery life. The fans can tip 53dBA under load, and we recorded temperatures of up to 60°C around the keyboard. Fortunately, the X5s’ 2.1 surround speakers and integrated subwoofer sound good enough to counteract the fan noise.

There are three USB3 ports, one USB3.1 Type-C port, an HDMI 2.0 connector, a Mini DisplayPort and a VGA output. There’s also an SD card reader, and plenty of room for storing games on the 1TB HDD and 256GB SSD. The Aorus X5s is almost the complete package, but it’s let down slightly by the poor build quality of its keyboard. There’s a fair amount of flex to the keyboard and the laptop as a whole, an issue compounded by excessive temperatures under load. It’s pleasant enough when typing documents, as each key has a good amount of travel, but they often felt unstable while gaming, and became hot to the touch. The Aorus X5s is certainly a performance beast, but for £1,850 we expect perfection, and its heat issues and keyboard mean it just misses out on an award.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


LAPTOPS

ASUS ROG G752VY ★★★★★ £2,000

• From www.scan.co.uk

VERDICT

It’s huge, heavy and expensive, but the ROG G752VY is an absolute gaming monster YOU WON’T BE taking the Asus ROG G752VY anywhere in a hurry, what with its huge footprint of 416x322x45mm and colossal weight of 4.4kg. Still, it manages to feel distinctly premium, not least because of its PC-grade components: a quad-core 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-6820HK, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M graphics chip and 32GB of DDR4 RAM. It was no surprise that the ROG G752VY achieved an excellent 117 overall score in our 4K benchmark, nor that it averaged 80fps in Dirt Showdown running at 1,920x1,080 on Ultra settings. In Metro: Last Light Redux, it managed 65fps with Very High settings and SSAA disabled, a very competitive showing. Happily, the keyboard is very comfortable to use for long periods of time and its well-spaced, tactile keys provide plenty of travel. They’re backlit, too, with three different lighting options available, and customisable macro keys and a dedicated record button (which takes you straight to XSplit Gamecaster) are included. We noticed a significant amount of flex on the left-hand side of the keyboard around the

WASD keys, as there’s a lot of dead space between the Blu-ray drive and the keyboard above it. It isn’t bad enough that it will affect your typing or gaming, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. The touchpad, meanwhile, provides plenty of room for swipe gestures, all of which worked perfectly fine, and its dedicated left and right mouse buttons are a welcome extra. Sadly, the vast 17.3in screen’s image quality is rather lacking for the price. It displays only 85.5% of the sRGB colour gamut, for instance, and its contrast ratio of 927:1 is decent but unspectacular. Brightness was its saving grace; it peaked at 360.8cd/m2, according to our tests. Subjectively, even dark scenes look fine, but we were expecting more. At least the screen is compatible with Nvidia G-Sync, which aims to smooth out visuals and reduce screen tearing by synchronising frame rates with the GPU, though we couldn’t tell much of a difference with it enabled. In better news, it lasted a very reasonable 4h 9m in our battery test. This compares well with the Aorus X5s Camo, which lasted just

over three hours, but it can’t touch the Gigabyte P55W v5, which lasted close to six hours in the same test. On the sides, you’ll find a Thunderbolt 3 USB3.1 Type-C port, a regular USB3.1 Type-C port and four standard USB3 ports. There’s also an SD card reader, separate 3.5mm headphone and mic jacks, and both an HDMI output and Mini DisplayPort for external display connectivity. You shouldn’t struggle to connect online either, thanks to 802.11ac wireless and an Ethernet port. All in all, the Asus ROG G752VY is a monstrously powerful laptop that keeps its cool even when it’s under pressure from the latest games. The Gigabyte P55W v5’s comparable performance makes it better value, but if you’ve got cash to spare and a taste for the top-specced, the ROG G752VY certainly won’t disappoint.

GIGABYTE P55W v5 ★★★★★ £1,060

• From www.saveonlaptops.co.uk

VERDICT

The P55W v5 is a mighty gaming laptop, but its display and construction hold it back SITTING JUST BENEATH the P57W v5 in Gigabyte’s flagship gaming laptop range, the P55W v5 is essentially a slightly smaller version of its premium big brother. While this means it effectively puts what we liked about the P57W v5 in a smaller 15.6in chassis, it also inherits some of its flaws, most notably poor build quality. The plastic chassis isn’t exactly sturdy, and we noticed a fair amount of flex when typing on the keyboard. The upside is that at 2.6kg, it’s fairly light as far as gaming laptops go. Compare that to the mammoth 4.4kg ROG G752VY, and a bit of flex starts to look slightly more forgivable. The keyboard is at least relatively tactile, with well-spaced, backlit keys. Our only other complaints are the lack of a gap between the main keys and number pad, and the lack of gaming-specific micro keys. There’s plenty of space for macros, which are handy for MMO-type games, but none to be found. The touchpad is fairly modest in size, but there’s still plenty of room for large swipes

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

and general navigation. Touch gestures are also responsive and easy to execute. More importantly, the P55W v5 surpasses the P57W in pure performance. With a quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor, 16GB of RAM and Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M graphics chip, it produced an impressive 75fps in Dirt Showdown running at 1,920x1,080 on Ultra settings. As for Metro: Last Light Redux, on Ultra settings with SSAO turned off at 1,920x1,080, it managed a very respectable 55fps. It also achieved a high overall score of 118 in our 4K application benchmarks, handily beating the P57W’s 93. Battery life is also impressive, at least by gaming laptop standards, with 5h 43m in our video playback test with the screen brightness set to our usual measurement of 170cd/m2. That’s nearly two hours longer than the P57W under the same conditions. Arguably the P55W v5’s big weakness is its Full HD IPS display. With its matt finish and sRGB colour gamut coverage of just 82%,

colours tend to look quite drab, and while the contrast ratio of 936:1 and peak white level of 310.4cd/m2 are both fine, its narrow viewing angles mean you’ll notice colour cast shifting as you move your head from side to side. You’re not left wanting when it comes to ports, as the P55W v5 has three USB3 ports, one USB3.1 Type-C port, an SD card reader, 3.5mm headphone and mic jacks, as well as a VGA and HDMI 2.0 port. An Ethernet connector provides an alternative to the 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The P55W V5’s only real drawbacks are its slightly disappointing display and mediocre build quality. However, when the P57W suffers from the same problems, the cheaper P55W’s performance makes it a better buy, and a good option if you don’t want to spend more than £1,100 on a gaming laptop.

93


LAPTOPS 2-IN-1s

ACER Aspire Switch 11 V ★★★★★ £371

• From www.ballicom.co.uk

VERDICT

So close to being a Surface 3 beater, but the Switch 11 V’s battery life is lamentable ACER’S SWITCH 11 V is an 11in Windows 10 2-in-1 that, spec-for-spec, eclipses the Surface 3 for roughly the same price as the basic model. Acer has nailed the design; plastic construction keeps costs down but its crosshatched, faux-brushed aluminium finish looks and feels great. It’s reassuringly solid and weighs 1.46kg with the keyboard dock, which isn’t that light, but still easy to carry around. Inside said keyboard dock is a 500GB hard disk, complementing the tablet portion’s 128GB SSD. It adds a much-needed USB3 port and attaches securely with magnetic prongs. It’s not perfect, though: the hinge mechanism is too stiff to open with one hand, and there’s no quick-release button for undocking, so we practically had to tear the two apart. You get a microSD card reader, Micro HDMI port and a Micro USB connector on the left of the tablet. There’s also a separate charging port, which means the Micro USB connector is always free even when the device is charging.

The 11.6in, Full HD screen is sharp and exceptionally bright; we clocked it at 377cd/m2 at peak brightness. We’d have liked its measured SRGB colour gamut coverage to be higher, and its black levels of 0.34cd/m2 a little lower, but at least contrast is high at 1,000:1. Navigating around Windows and the web is fluid thanks to the sensitive touchpad, a responsive keyboard and accurate touchscreen. We had very occasional problems with the touchscreen, where a scroll command would be interpreted as a zoom command, but this was rare enough for it to not be a major issue. The Acer Aspire Switch 11 V uses one of Intel’s dual-core 800MHz Core m-5Y10c chips. In theory, this is a low-power CPU that doesn’t require a fan, but we found that the tablet portion could get uncomfortably hot. This was likely a factor in its abysmal battery life: just 4h 30m in our video test. That’s a huge letdown by Core M standards, as these chips normally produce much longer lifespans.

At least performance is good. Windows feels snappy and media-heavy web pages load surprisingly quickly. We don’t run our full 4K benchmarks on Core M machines, so we ran our easier 1080p tests instead – for reference, an Intel Core i3-4030U scores 100. The Aspire Switch 11 V managed an overall score of 93, including an outstanding score of 138 on the short burst-focused image-rendering test. Still, we can’t help but feel slightly let down by the Aspire Switch 11 V. On the face of it, it’s a fantastic-value 2-in-1 with oodles of storage, a great keyboard dock and decent performance. However, things fall apart in the energy-efficiency stakes, which is where a light 2-in-1 should really shine. Under five hours of battery life is unacceptable, as are the roasting temperatures on the rear of the tablet. It’s frustratingly close to greatness, but it just falls short.

APPLE iPad Pro (12.9in) ★★★★★ RECOMMENDED

£656

• From www.debenhamsplus.com

VERDICT

The iPad Pro is powerful, flexible and has an amazing screen, but it won’t suit everyone THIS IS DEFINITELY one of the more tablet-leaning 2-in-1s in this group test, but then the iPad Pro is much more than just an oversized iPad Air 2 – though they do share a whopping 2,732x2,048 resolution. Indeed, the iPad Pro’s 12.9in display offers much more room for single applications, or two programs running side-by-side, and image quality is top-notch; we measured an excellent 98.2% sRGB colour gamut coverage, and above-average brightness of 393cd/m2. A contrast ratio of 1,552:1 is fantastic, and a black point of 0.25cd/m2 is one of the lowest we’ve seen from a non-OLED display. iOS isn’t the best operating system for getting serious work done, but it is improving with time. The two most recent updates, iOS 9.2 and 9.3, respectively added the excellent MailDrop feature (which allows you to share files quickly straight from iCloud Drive to Photos) and password-protected Notes. The iPad Pro’s A9X processor means it wipes the floor with rivals in the Peacekeeper browser test, scoring a huge 5,476. It powered

94

through the GFXBench Manhattan onscreen test at 33.5fps, and an off-screen score of 80fps is quick. The dual-core iPad even scored 5,484 in Geekbench 3’s multicore test. The downside of this power, and of the display, is that the iPad Pro lasted only 9h 8m in our video playback test while running at a screen brightness of 170cd/m2. However, it has a neat power-saving trick of dropping the screen refresh rate from 60Hz to 30Hz when only static images are on screen; this should help you get a full day’s work out of it. Speaking of work, a physical keyboard is still a must for productivity. Apple has built its own for the iPad Pro, named the Smart Keyboard, which is sadly sold separately for £139. The keys look spongy, but each one has a surprising amount of travel and feedback. We were soon typing at speed without making many errors. Unfortunately, Apple has stuck with the US keyboard layout, which will miff UK users, and there’s no trackpad, so you’ll still need to poke at the screen to make selections.

Another possible add-on is the £79 Apple Pencil. It’s expensive and not quite as comfortable to hold as Microsoft’s Surface Pen, but its additional integrated sensor makes it the more accurate and pleasurable stylus to draw with. It even has some neat effects; you can use the Pencil on its side to shade your sketches, for instance. The iPad Pro is a staggeringly quick tablet, with a superb high-resolution screen and great speakers. With its high-quality accessories that let it adapt to different uses and situations, it’s also one of the most flexible tablets/computers we’ve used. Windows’ superior range of supported software means a traditional laptop would probably be better for most working tasks, but if you’re a digital artist – or you just want to browse the web and use email – the iPad Pro could be for you.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


LAPTOPS

HP Spectre x2 ★★★★★ £599

• From store.hp.com

VERDICT

A well-judged 2-in-1, but there are a fair few compromises in the push for a cheaper price IN ORDER TO create this cheaper alternative to Microsoft’s Surface series (see below), HP has had to make a few compromises. The kickstand, for example, is inelegant and fiddly to flip out, while the only ports are two USB Type-C connectors. Thankfully, HP supplies a USB-C to USB-A adaptor in the box, but you’ll need to buy a dock to hook up to an external display. Nonetheless, the Spectre x2 does come with its keyboard in the box, unlike the Surface Pro 4. It has a sensible layout and its backlit buttons provide a decent amount of tactile feedback. We wish the touchpad was slightly larger, though – it’s plenty wide enough, but its rather squat height makes it slightly awkward to use when executing large, two-finger scrolling motions. Otherwise, the touchpad has a good physical click. The keyboard dock clips to the tablet using magnets and feels secure, but don’t be tempted to pick up the Spectre x2 by the keyboard; the weight of the tablet is enough to release the magnets and send it tumbling.

The included stylus means taking notes in Microsoft OneNote is possible, although not always easy. The stylus doesn’t feel as precise as Microsoft’s Surface Pen and there are some definite problems with palm rejection; you can’t always trust the touchscreen will ignore your hand resting on the screen when drawing and writing. There’s no onboard dock for the stylus, either. As for the 12in, 1,920x1,080 IPS screen, it’s very bright, topping out at nearly 300cd/m2, and its decent contrast ratio of 963:1 provides plenty of detail when looking at photos. However, with just 72% of sRGB gamut coverage, its bright images aren’t matched by particularly vibrant colours. It’s no worse than a mid-range laptop, but we would have expected more from a £600 machine. The HP Spectre x2 comes equipped with 4GB of RAM and a dual-core Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor running at 0.9GHz. It coped well with our 4K benchmarks, managing an overall score of 23. While its score of six in the multitasking portion isn’t

great, a score of 54 in the photo-editing test points towards fast single-core speeds, and its video-editing result of 32 points toward decent multicore activities as well. Battery life was a little disappointing, however, as the Spectre x2 clocked in at just 6h 7m in our video playback test with the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2. The HP Spectre x2 is a good all-round 2-in-1. At £599, it’s slightly expensive compared to the average laptop, but when compared to the equivalent Surface Pro 4 – or, indeed, the iPad Pro or Samsung Galaxy TabPro S – it’s still pretty good value, particularly when the Spectre x2 comes with a keyboard in the box. There are flaws that you’ll need to work around, such as its lack of built-in connectivity options, but as a device for work and for media consumption, it’s more than capable, and is a great budget alternative to the Surface Pro 4.

MICROSOFT Surface Book ★★★★★ RECOMMENDED

£2,249

• From www.microsoftstore.com

VERDICT

The Surface Book is expensive and isn’t for everyone but it is a wonderful piece of engineering WHEREAS THE SURFACE Pro 4 (Shopper 340) is a tablet that can act as a laptop, the Surface Book is a laptop – Microsoft’s first, in fact – that can act as a tablet. The first thing you’ll notice is the caterpillar-like fulcrum hinge. Instead of bending at a pivot, the internal mechanism unfurls and uncoils, which actually extends the depth of the Surface Book by nearly 20mm when it’s opened. This makes it more stable, but does mean that there’s an exposed gap at the rear of the laptop when the lid is closed. Unusually, the screen uses the 3:2 aspect ratio, and a 3,000x2,000 resolution spread across a 13.5in screen makes everything lovely and crisp. We measured an excellent sRGB colour gamut coverage of 99% and a contrast ratio of 1,736:1. White levels were incredibly bright for a laptop at 435.1cd/m2, and black levels were suitably deep at 0.25cd/m2. The shape of its display also makes it an ideal partner for the included Surface Pen. This isn’t as good for drawing as the Apple

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

Pencil, but with 1,025 levels of pressure sensitivity it still works brilliantly. The keyboard, too, is a pleasure to use, with generously sized keys and deep travel. The glass Precision Touchpad is the best we’ve used on a Windows laptop, offering almost no resistance to swipes and gestures. We tested the second-highest spec available, which includes a dual-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U CPU, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage (the premier spec features a 1TB SSD) and a custom, dedicated Nvidia GeForce GPU. This is housed in the keyboard base, so only works when the screen is docked. In our 4K benchmarks, this spec scored 43 overall. This is OK but a little disappointing; since most of the components are crammed behind the display, we suspect some thermal issues limit performance. Even so, navigation feels swift and responsive. This is helped in no small part by the 512GB Samsung NVMe PCI-E SSD, which has quick sequential read speeds of 1,238.2MB/s and write speeds of 555.9MB/s.

The keyboard base contains a second battery across all configurations. In our video playback test, with the screen set to 170cd/m2, we saw just 9h 38m in laptop mode and 2h 39m as a tablet. Another reason to keep the Surface Book in one piece is that most of the ports are on the keyboard base. These include two USB3 ports, a Mini DisplayPort and an SD card reader; the tablet just has a 3.5mm headphone jack and a magnetic dock for the Surface Pen. The Surface Book is an impressive piece of engineering; the only sticking point is that eye-watering price. The dedicated GPU will no doubt be a big draw for some, but it’s arguably better suited to digital creatives than the average user. However, if you have the budget and the wanton need for such a lavishly luxurious device, the Surface Book certainly won’t disappoint.

95


LAPTOPS

SAMSUNG Galaxy TabPro S ★★★★★ £827

• From www.scan.co.uk

VERDICT

A decent first attempt at a 2-in-1 hybrid from Samsung, but it’s not without its flaws SAMSUNG SEEMS TO have looked inwards when designing the TabPro S. Its 12in, 2,160x1,440 Super AMOLED display uses the same type of panel as its Galaxy smartphones, and its rich, vibrant colours really jump out of the screen. The 4:3 aspect ratio is unorthodox for a Windows device, but it does make for more comfortable web browsing or document editing. Super AMOLED means the TabPro S has top-notch image quality, including pure 0.00cd/m2 blacks and a perfect 1:1 contrast ratio. Even its colour accuracy is almost perfect thanks to its 99.5% sRGB colour gamut coverage and Delta-E of 1.75. Brightness is very high at 363.4cd/m2, and its 2,160x1,440 resolution leaves images and text looking sharp and crisp. As a result, the TabPro S has one of the most beautiful tablet screens you’ll see today. The screen’s only major problem is the lack of adjustment afforded by the keyboard cover. It can only be propped up at three angles, and worse, the whole assembly is

prone to toppling backwards on your lap. The undocking process is fiddly, too. While the keys are full-size and include dedicated function keys, the keyboard feels cramped, and we don’t like the backspace key being the same width as the Enter key below. At least the touchpad is pretty good; it’s also quite small, but is Precision-certified and feels swift and responsive in use, handling multitouch gestures without much fuss. It’s also worth noting that the keyboard cover comes in the box, unlike the iPad Pro. The tablet portion is just 6.3mm thin – slimmer than any of its rivals – and with the keyboard cover, the whole thing weighs a satchel-friendly 1.09kg. It’s rather lacking in ports, though, with just one USB Type-C connector and no bundled adaptors. The sole specification includes a dual-core 900MHz Intel Core m3-6Y30 that can Turbo Boost to 2.2GHz – the same as found in the HP Spectre x2 – plus 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. It feels pretty slick in basic Windows tasks but will struggle with

anything more taxing, as evidenced by its overall score of 32 in our 4K benchmarks. Still, that’s better than the Spectre x2’s 23. As for battery life, the Galaxy TabPro S managed to last 6h 53m when the screen brightness was set to our usual figure of 170cd/m2, which is an hour more than the Spectre x2. It’s quick to charge, too, capable of going from 0 to 100% in just 2h 30m. Samsung has had a decent crack with the Galaxy TabPro S. Its beautiful display comes top of its class, it has great battery life, and its superior performance came as a very welcome surprise. As an inaugural 2-in-1, Samsung has got off to an impressive start. However, it’s difficult to overlook some of its shortcomings, such as the disappointing keyboard cover, the lack of ports and its wobbly docking mechanism. As a Windowsbased tablet, it’s wonderful; as a laptop replacement, it’s altogether more lacking.

TOSHIBA Satellite Click Mini ★★★★★ £200

• From www.amazon.co.uk

VERDICT

A hybrid with a lot to love, but the Toshiba Satellite Click’s battery life is well below average WITH A SCREEN just 8.9 inches diagonally, the Satellite Click Mini is a seriously tiny device. Even the chunky bezels only increase this to 11 inches, though this does leave little room for the keyboard. Toshiba has done its best with this, adding secondary functions to most keys, including F keys on the bottom two rows of letters, and brightness, volume and media controls on the number keys, though having to press the fn and backspace keys simultaneously to use the Delete function is a pain. Otherwise, typing is nowhere near as bad as we expected. It’s perfectly adequate for entering data, even if you have large hands, and if you’re only likely to be typing text with basic characters then you won’t be slowed down too much. The touchpad is tiny as well, but is sensitive and responds well to gestures. With the keyboard attached, the Satellite Click Mini weighs 1kg. You’ll want to keep the keyboard docked, as it adds not just a full-size USB2 port and SD card reader but a second battery as well. The extra charge is

96

crucial, as even with both batteries the device lasted only 6h 38m in our test. It recharges slowly, too. Using the Micro USB port on the tablet component, it took over four hours for both the primary and secondary batteries to refill fully. The upside is the sharp, 1,920x1,080 screen – a high resolution for the price. Application interfaces and icons are rather small, however; you’ll need to tinker with Windows 10’s scaling options to maximise legibility. Display performance is about what we’d expect from a budget laptop, with the panel covering 58% of the sRGB colour gamut, a reasonable maximum brightness of 270cd/m2, a strong 1,007:1 contrast ratio and wide viewing angles. The Satellite Click Mini is powered by an Intel Atom Z3735F processor clocked to 1.33GHz. Unsurprisingly, it scored only nine in our benchmark test, though it seems to handle web browsing and simple applications with ease. You can play basic games on it, too – both Minecraft Windows 10 Edition and Hearthstone ran smoothly enough.

We’re at a bit of a loss as to why Toshiba fitted speakers to the bottom of both the right and left edges of the device. Audio performance is fine for a tiny, cheap hybrid, but if you’re using the tablet with both hands, they’re likely to cover the speakers, muffling the sound. It’s a totally bizarre choice and means you have to cup the tablet or lean it on something in order to hear clearly. At least they work fine when left in the keyboard dock. The Toshiba Satellite Click Mini is close to being a great device, but it’s let down by odd speaker design, below-average battery life, and a meagre 32GB of storage; not to mention it still coming with Windows 8.1. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for an affordable 2-in-1 and these niggles won’t bother you (or you can work around them), it’s a decent choice.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


LAPTOPS

BUDGET WINDOWS Award

RECOMMENDED

Manufacturer

ACER

Model

Rating

CHROMEBOOKS RECOMMENDED

ASUS

RECOMMENDED

DELL

TOSHIBA

ACER

DELL

GOOGLE

HP

Aspire One Transformer Cloudbook 14 Book Flip TP200SA

Inspiron 11 3000 Series

Satellite C40-C

Chromebook R11

Chromebook 13

Chromebook Pixel

Chromebook 14

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

Dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050

Dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050

Dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050

Dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050

Dual-core 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-5300U

Dual-core 2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5500u

Dual-core 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840

CORE SPECIFICATIONS Processor

Dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050

RAM

2GB

2GB

2GB

2GB

2GB

8GB

8GB

4GB

Dimensions

339x235x17.9mm

297x201x18.4mm

292x196x18.5mm

344x244x23mm

295x203x20mm

323x226x18.4mm

298x225x15.3mm

344x240x17.8mm

Weight

1.6kg

1.2kg

1.18kg

1.7kg

1.2kg

1.62kg

1.5kg

1.69kg

Audio outputs

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

DISPLAY Screen size

14.1in

11.6in

11.6in

14.1in

11.6in

13.3in

12.9in

14.1in

Resolution

1,366x768

1,366x768

1,366x768

1,366x768

1,366x768

1,920x1,080

2,560x1,700

1,366x768

Touchscreen

No

Yes

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Graphics adaptor

Intel HD Graphics

Intel HD Graphics

Intel HD Graphics

Intel HD Graphics

Intel HD Graphics

Intel HD Graphics

Intel HD Graphics

Intel HD Graphics

Graphics memory

Shared

Shared

Shared

Shared

Shared

Shared

Shared

Shared

Video outputs

HDMI

Micro HDMI

HDMI

HDMI

HDMI

HDMI

DisplayPort, HDMI (through adaptor)

HDMI

STORAGE Total storage

32GB eMMC

32GB eMMC

32GB eMMC

32GB eMMC

16GB eMMC

32GB SSD

32GB SSD

16GB eMMC

Optical drive type

None

None

None

None

None

None

None

None

PORTS AND EXPANSION USB ports

1x USB2, 1x USB3

1x USB2, 1x USB 3, 1x USB Type-C

1x USB2, 1x USB3

2x USB2, 1x USB3

1x USB2, 1x USB3

2x USB2

2x USB3, 2x USB Type-C

1x USB2, 1x USB3

Bluetooth

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.1)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.0)

Networking

802.11n Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11n Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

Memory card reader

SD

MicroSD

MicroSD

SD

SD

MicroSD

SD

MicroSD

Operating system

Windows 10

Windows 10

Windows 10

Windows 10

Chrome OS

Chrome OS

Chrome OS

Chrome OS

OS restore option

Windows 10 restore

Windows 10 restore

Windows 10 restore

Windows 10 restore

Chrome OS Power Wash

Chrome OS Power Wash

Chrome OS Power Wash

Chrome OS Power Wash

SOFTWARE

BENCHMARK RESULTS Windows overall (4K)

Fail

Fail

Fail

Fail

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Windows overall (1080p)

28

31

30

7

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Dirt Showdown (1080p)

Fail

Fail

Fail

Fail

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Metro: Last Light Redux (1080p)

Fail

Fail

Fail

Fail

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Battery life

11h 20m

9h 13m

5h 50m

11h 25m

8h 42m

10h 32m

10h 53m

9h 14m

BUYING INFORMATION Warranty

One year RTB

Two years RTB

One year collect and return

One year RTB

One year RTB

One year collect and return

Two years RTB

One year RTB

Price

£200

£166

£160

£200

£200

£780

£999

£200

Supplier

www.pcworld.co.uk

www.shop.bt.com

www.johnlewis.com

www.amazon.co.uk

www.pcworld.co.uk

uk.insight.com

store.google.com

www.very.co.uk

Details

www.acer.co.uk

www.asus.com

www.dell.co.uk

www.toshiba.co.uk

www.acer.co.uk

www.dell.co.uk

store.google.com

store.hp.com

Part code

AO1-431-C2Q8

90NL0081M02880

CN31601

PSCRLE-002008EN

ND.20411.07Q

CA007CHB7310UK

Chromebook Pixel

Chromebook 14-ak003na

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

97


LAPTOPS

ULTRA-PORTABLES

GAMING LAPTOPS

Award

RECOMMENDED

RECOMMENDED

BEST BUY

Manufacturer

APPLE

ASUS

DELL

LENOVO

ACER

AORUS

ASUS

GIGABYTE

Model

MacBook (2016, 12in)

ZenBook UX305CA

XPS 15

Yoga 900

Predator 17

X5s v5 Camo

ROG G752VY

P55W v5

Rating

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

Dual-core 900MHz Intel Core m3-6y30

Quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ

Dual-core 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U

Quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ

Quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ

Quad-core 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-6820HK

Quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ

RECOMMENDED

CORE SPECIFICATIONS Processor

Dual-core 1.2GHz Intel Core m5-6Y54

RAM

8GB

8GB

16GB

16GB

16GB

16GB

32GB

16GB

Dimensions

280x197x13.1mm

324x226x12.3mm

357x235x17mm

324x225x14.9mm

423x322x40mm

390x272x22.9mm

416x322x49mm

379x270x34mm

Weight

920g

1.2kg

2kg

1.3kg

4kg

2.5kg

4.4kg

2.6kg

Audio outputs

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

2x 3.5mm audio jacks

2x 3.5mm audio jacks

2x 3.5mm audio jacks

2x 3.5mm audio jacks

Screen size

12in

13.3in

15.6in

13.3in

17.3in

15.6in

17.3in

15.6in

Resolution

2,304x1,440

3,200x1,200

3,840x2,160

3,200x1,800

1,920x1,080

3,840x2,160

1,920x1,080

1,920x1,080

Touchscreen

No

No

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

Graphics adaptor

Intel Integrated Graphics

Intel Integrated Graphics

Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M

Intel Integrated Graphics

Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M

Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M

Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M

Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M

Graphics memory

Shared

Shared

2GB

Shared

3GB

8GB

4GB

3GB

Video outputs

USB Type-C

Micro HDMI

HDMI, Thunderbolt 3

USB Type-C (through adaptor)

HDMI, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3

HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, VGA

HDMI

HDMI, VGA

Total storage

512GB SSD

128GB SSD

512GB SSD

256GB SSD

256GB SSD, 1TB hard disk

256GB SSD, 1TB hard disk

512GB SSD, 1TB hard disk

128GB SSD, 1TB hard disk

Optical drive type

None

None

None

None

Blu-ray

None

Blu-ray

DVD

2x USB3

2x USB3, 1x USB Type-C (Thunderbolt 3)

1x USB2, 2x USB3, 1x USB Type-C

4x USB3, 1x USB Type-C (Thunderbolt 3)

3x USB3, 1x USB3.1

4x USB3, 1x USB Type-C (USB3), 1x USB Type-C (USB3.1)

3x USB3, 1x USB3.1

DISPLAY

STORAGE

PORTS AND EXPANSION USB ports

1x USB Type-C

Bluetooth

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.1)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.1)

Networking

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi, Ethernet

802.11ac Wi-Fi, Ethernet

802.11ac Wi-Fi, Ethernet

Memory card reader

None

SD

SD

SD

SD

SD

SD

SD

Operating system

OS X 10.11 El Capitan

Windows 10

Windows 10

Windows 10

Windows 10

Windows 10

Windows 10

Windows 10

OS restore option

Internet

Windows 10 restore

Windows 10 restore

Windows 10 restore

Windows 10 restore

Windows 10 restore

Windows 10 restore

Windows 10 restore

SOFTWARE

BENCHMARK RESULTS 4K Windows overall

24

19

111

43

108

111

117

118

1080p Windows overall

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Dirt Showdown (1080p)

N/A

Fail

45fps

Fail

81fps

96fps

80fps

75fps

Metro: Last Light Redux (1080p)

N/A

Fail

32fps

Fail

31fps

48fps

38fps

30fps

Battery life

10h 12m

6h 4m

5h 40m

11h 26m

3h 37m

3h 4m

4h 9m

5h 43m

One year RTB

One year next business day

One year RTB

One year RTB

Two years RTB

One year RTB

Two years RTB

BUYING INFORMATION

98

Warranty

One year RTB

Price

£1,299

£600

£1,649

£1,000

£1,427

£1,850

£2,000

£1,060

Supplier

www.apple.com/uk

www.currys.co.uk

www.dell.co.uk

shop.lenovo.com

www.scan.co.uk

www.scan.co.uk

www.scan.co.uk

www. saveonlaptops. co.uk

Details

www.apple.com/uk

www.asus.com

www.dell.co.uk

www.lenovo.com

www.acer.co.uk

www.aorus.com

www.asus.com/uk

www.gigabyte.com

Part code

MacBook 12in

UX305CA

CNX5503

80MK0032UK

NX.Q03EK.001

9WX5XV505US-A-004

G752VY

9WP55WV55

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


LAPTOPS 2-IN-1s Award

RECOMMENDED

RECOMMENDED

Manufacturer

ACER

APPLE

HP

MICROSOFT

SAMSUNG

TOSHIBA

Model

Aspire Switch 11 V

iPad Pro (12.9in)

Spectre x2

Surface Book

Galaxy TabPro S

Satellite Click Mini

Rating

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★★

CORE SPECIFICATIONS Processor

Dual-core 800MHz Intel Core m-5Y10c

Dual-core 2.16GHz Apple A9X

Dual-core 900MHz Intel Core m3-6Y30

Dual-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U

Dual-core 900MHz Intel Core m3-6Y30

Quad-core 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3735F

RAM

4GB

4GB

4GB

16GB

4GB

2GB

Dimensions

300x207x21mm

306x221x6.9mm

303x209x13mm

312x232x22.8mm

290x199x6.3mm

235x161x10mm

Weight

1.5kg with keyboard

1.44kg with keyboard

1.2kg with keyboard

1.58kg with keyboard

1.09kg with keyboard

1kg with keyboard

Audio outputs

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

3.5mm headset jack

Screen size

11.6in

12.9in

12in

13.5in

12in

8.9in

Resolution

1,920x1,080

2,732x2,048

1,920x1,080

3,000x2,000

2,160x1,440

1,920x1,080

Touchscreen

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Graphics adaptor

Intel Integrated Graphics

Apple A9X integrated

Intel Integrated Graphics

Custom Nvidia GeForce graphics card

Intel Integrated Graphics

Intel Integrated Graphics

Graphics memory

Shared

Shared

Shared

1GB

Shared

Shared

Video outputs

Micro HDMI

Lightning (through adaptor)

USB Type-C (through adaptor)

Mini DisplayPort

USB Type-C (through adaptor)

Micro HDMI

Total storage

128GB SSD, 1TB hard disk

32GB SSD

120GB SSD

512GB SSD

128GB SSD

32GB eMMC

Optical drive type

None

None

None

None

None

None

DISPLAY

STORAGE

PORTS AND EXPANSION USB ports

Micro USB

None (1x Lightning connector)

2x USB Type-C

2x USB3

1x USB Type-C

1x USB2

Bluetooth

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.1)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.0)

Yes (4.0)

Networking

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi, optional 4G

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11n Wi-Fi

Memory card reader

MicroSD

None

MicroSD

SD

None

SD

Operating system

Windows 10

iOS 9.3

Windows 10

Windows 10 Pro

Windows 10 Pro

Windows 8.1

OS restore option

Windows 10 restore

iOS 9 reset

Windows 10 restore

Windows 10 restore

Windows 10 restore

Windows 8.1 restore

SOFTWARE

BENCHMARK RESULTS 4K Windows overall

Fail

N/A

23

43

32

Fail

1080p Windows overall

93

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

9

Dirt Showdown (1080p)

Fail

N/A

Fail

21fps

Fail

Fail

Metro: Last Light (1080p)

Fail

N/A

Fail

Fail

Fail

Fail

Battery life

4h 30m

9h 8m

6h 7m

9h 38m

6h 53m

6h 38m

BUYING INFORMATION Warranty

One year RTB

One year RTB

One year RTB

One year RTB

One year RTB

One year RTB

Price

£371

£656

£599

£2,249

£827

£200

Supplier

www.ballicom.co.uk

www.debenhamsplus.com

store.hp.com

www.microsoftstore.com

www.scan.co.uk

www.amazon.co.uk

Details

www.acer.com

www.apple.com/uk

store.hp.com

www.microsoft.com/ surface

www.samsung.com

www.toshiba.co.uk

Part code

Aspire Switch 11 V

iPad Pro

Spectre x2 12-a001na

Surface Book

SM-WE700XZKABTU

L9W-B-102

VERDICT Acer dominated this test: it produced the best budget Windows laptop in the Aspire One Cloudbook 14, the best Chromebook in the Chromebook R11 and the best gaming laptop (though only just – this one was particularly closely fought) in the Predator 17. All three offer good value and performance respective to their class. Elsewhere, the beautifully designed Dell XPS 15 – one of the few non-gaming laptops to include a discrete graphics processor – was

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

the clear winner in the ultra-portables category, though the Asus ZenBook UX305CA proved a respectable lower-priced contender as well. As for 2-in-1s, the warring tribes of Microsoft and Apple shared a victory, with the well-specced Surface Book and the luxurious, artist-friendly iPad Pro beating off their less powerful rivals. There you have it, then: the laptop market may be diverse, but there are still a handful of standouts to choose from.

99


UNMANNED AIRCRAFT

GAME OF DRONES Unmanned aircraft Dave Neal takes to the skies to test out the latest drones, and highlights the pitfalls and challenges when using them from sometimes painful first-hand experience CONTENTS Page 103

DJI Phantom 4 Page 103

HUBSAN Nano Q4 Page 104

EXTREME FLIERS Micro Drone 3.0 Page 104

PARROT Orak Hydrofoil Page 105

YUNEEC Typhoon H

100

DRONES, IN CASE you missed one as it flew over your head, are becoming increasingly common as their price falls and people wake up to them as a fun and functional piece of equipment. They’re now popular tools for anything from taking aerial pictures and making deliveries to just messing around in the garden flying your own mini-craft. You don’t merely just decide to start flying drones, though. Fliers are expected to follow rules, and are not supposed to fly them in certain areas. You should also be fairly competent with the controls.

Drones aren’t simple to fly, and nor are some of the conditions to flying them. In the UK, for example, you can’t fly them near people or premises or at too lofty a height. You also mostly don’t want to get them wet. Depending on where you live, this could be a problem. Central London, for example, is unlikely to be able to make room for drone pilots, although some have tried. Flying them over sporting events or Buckingham Palace has already landed some pilots in trouble. In London, the police are considering using trained eagles to simply take drones out of

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


UNMANNED AIRCRAFT

⬆ The Metropolitan Police are considering training eagles to take out rogue drones

⬆ The UK’s Anti-UAV Defence System uses radio waves to knock unidentified devices out of the sky

the sky when they spot them. The Met is following the lead of its Dutch colleagues, who have started to test the aquiline option. “As would be expected in an organisation that is transforming, we take an interest in all innovative new ideas and will be looking at the work of the Dutch police’s use of eagles,” said the Metropolitan Police.

WHERE EAGLES DARE

Eagles are more manoeuvrable than a drone, and have claws and beaks. Their use against drones makes a lot of sense. In Tokyo a similar plan is in effect, though with a Japanese twist. The Tokyo police have been testing out a squad of takedown drones that can drop nets over rogue drones. The French authorities are also thinking along these lines. The Japanese drones are six-propeller models, and the nets are six-foot long. They could potentially be adapted to catch pilots too. “Terrorist attacks using drones carrying explosives are a possibility,” a senior member of the Tokyo police department’s security bureau explained. “We hope to defend the nation’s functions with the worst-case scenario in mind.” In the UK, a trio of organisations – Enterprise Control Systems, Blighter

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

Surveillance Systems and Chess Dynamic – have worked together to create a drone death ray that will deal with drones with laser-like efficiency. The system is called the Anti-UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Defence System, has an eight-kilometre range, and can scan for and track unexpected aircraft before taking them down. It isn’t actually a death ray, but rather it uses radio signals to whack a device dead and make it drop out of the sky.

FEAR OF FLYING

Drone takedowns are not just about buzz-killing, although drones have been used to deliver drugs to prisoners behind high fences. They have also created concerns about terror attacks; one crashed on the White House lawn, and they’ve been known to bother pilots at airports. In California recently, forest fire-fighting helicopters were prevented from doing their job by amateur film-makers that were amateurishly flying drones over the area. Closer to home, Robert Knowles from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, was convicted and fined a total of £4,300 in 2014 for dangerous use of a drone when he lost control of his close to a nuclear submarine base. Meanwhile, Nigel Wilson was fined after

flying his drone over Premiership football grounds and major London landmarks. He was ordered to pay £1,800 in fines for a total of nine offences, plus £620 in costs.

ONLY DRONES AND HORSES

Analysts at PwC have already predicted that drones will be put to work and will be very productive at it. “The application of drone technologies in existing business processes is allowing companies from those industries to create new business and operating models. Each industry has diverse needs, and as a consequence requires different types of drone-powered solutions and various drone functionalities,” said the firm.

BEST WAYS OF DEALING WITH A ROGUE DRONE 1 Jam its signal 2 Send a bigger drone after it with a net 3 Shoot it out of the sky with a cannon 4 Get an eagle 5 Call the police

101


UNMANNED AIRCRAFT

⬆ With Prime Air, Amazon aims to get parcels in customers’ hands in 30 minutes

“Some of them value flight speed and payload capacity, while others wish to concentrate on solutions delivering highquality, real-time data in a cost-effective way. Drone-powered solutions are best suited to sectors that require both mobility and a high quality of data. “Specifically, businesses that manage assets dispersed over large areas have a long history of issues that new drone-powered solutions

⬆ Amazon is to partner the UK government in tests of its drone delivery systems

and robotics technologies together with their business experience in industrial fields. Aerosense Inc will combine these assets and develop comprehensive solutions that meet needs including measuring, surveying, observing and inspecting. It will aim to roll out these services for enterprise customers beginning in 2016,” the company said. “ZMP has developed its automated driving technology and put it into use in various

Ignoring the CAA’s Dronecode could land pilots with a hefty fine and a prison sentence of up to five years can address. Large-scale capital projects, infrastructure maintenance and agriculture can all benefit greatly from the integration of drones into day-to-day business.” Amazon was one of the first companies to put its weight behind drones, and has been planning drone deliveries for some time. Amazon was calling this Prime Air in 2013, and planning on offering it to its subscription customers. At the time it said that future development was dependent on what legal framework sprung up around the machines. “The goal of this new delivery system is to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles,” said Amazon. In late July, Amazon struck a deal with the government to expand the testing of its delivery drones in the UK. The relaxed rules will let Amazon develop and test technologies in three main areas: when drones can’t be seen by their pilots; preventing the devices crashing into buildings; and where one pilot controls multiple drones at the same time.

SONY AIMS HIGH

Elsewhere, electronics firm Sony Mobile Communications is working with autonomous hardware and robotics company ZMP to create a business that will work with enterprises on bespoke drone services. “Sony’s camera, sensing, telecommunications network and robotics technologies will be leveraged alongside ZMP’s automated driving

102

fields. To date these solutions have been limited to the ground; with this joint venture, ZMP will take to the skies and apply its expertise in an entirely different realm, as it aims to create new services that were not possible on land.”

RULES OF THE GAME

Helpfully, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has issued a ‘Dronecode’ to help users stay on the right side of the law. The code says that owners must not fly their devices near

airports, helicopters or other aircraft, and that drones should remain in sight of the pilot at all times and are never flown above 400 feet. Drones fitted with cameras must not be flown within 50 metres of buildings or people, or close to “congested areas or large gatherings”. Ignoring these rules could land pilots with a hefty fine and a prison sentence of up to five years. The House of Lords has reportedly considered the creation of a drone owners list and a set of official drone-free zones. We’d recommend that you check the No Fly Drones website (www.noflydrones.co.uk) before you take your machine to the air. “NoFlyDrones maintains a comprehensive airspace database of critical infrastructure and sensitive sites,” the site explains. “This database is provided to participating drone companies so they may alert their users to potential safety risks associated with flight in certain areas. This database includes civil and military airspace, airports, hospitals, schools, nuclear power plants, prisons and other sensitive locations.” An Ordnance Survey map will show you that there are a lot more places that might house helicopters and other aircraft than you might think, and will mark them out. Remember to check before flying.

The legal situation As set out in the Air Navigation Order 2009 1 You must not fly your drone above an altitude of 400ft 2 Your drone must always be under your control, within line of sight and

within 500m horizontally 3 You may not fly anywhere near an airport or airfield, or any other aircraft 4 Don’t fly over congested areas such as streets, towns and cities 5 If your drone has a camera, you can’t fly closer than 50m to people,

vehicles or buildings, unless you have permission and all people and vehicles you’re flying near are under your control 6 Drones are out of bounds within 150m of “an organised open-air assembly

of more than 1,000 persons”

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


UNMANNED AIRCRAFT

Alas, smash and drones AS WE’VE ALREADY explained, you can’t just go out and fly a drone. They’re difficult to fly, and you need space and time to learn how to manage one. Even

simple, cheap drones can be tough to master, while others, such as the Yuneec Typhoon H, need a wingman to take some of the controls.

In our tests, we grazed some knuckles, took the heads off flowers and switched a few propellers. Here’s our lowdown on five of the most popular drones available.

DJI Phantom 4 £975 • From slrhut.co.uk

VERDICT

With its new collision avoidance system, this is a great top-end, all-in-one drone THE DJI PHANTOM 4 is a white quadrocopter. With its new collision avoidance system and upgrades all round, this is the top-end, all-in-one drone to buy if you have £1,229 set aside for buying a drone – although at the time of writing SLRHut had an offer on for £975. The controller is well built and easy to get to grips with, and the bracket on top holds a smartphone or tablet up to a 9.7in iPad. The control sticks provide an instant response to inputs and we soon got used to flying it about. There’s also a beginner mode, which only lets you fly the drone near to yourself, up to 30m away and 30m up, and it won’t even take off until it has a GPS lock in order to keep an eye on its position. Battery life is 28 minutes, but if you’re planning on using the Phantom 4 on professional shoots or for a longer time, a spare battery will cost you £129. You’re going to be pretty nervous when you first take the controls of your own costly

Phantom 4. One small accident and this compact yet eye-wateringly expensive device could come crashing down to the ground. Phantom has taken this into consideration and the big new feature on its latest drone is collision detection and avoidance. In our tests the Phantom 4 was pretty much impossible to crash, at least when going forwards or down. There are two cameras in the front of the drone that detect objects up to 15m away. The drone then takes control away from you, changing its flight path to avoid the object or, if that’s impossible, coming to a dead stop.

We tried flying the drone into people, walls and fences, and it avoided each with ease. The same features don’t work at night, so don’t try this at home in the winter evenings. The Phantom 4 will follow its pilot about, which is a feature it shares with the Typhoon H (page 105). If you’re serious about drones and aerial photography, either for leisure or as a small business such as event or wedding photography, then the DJI Phantom 4 gets our thumbs up. It’s brilliantly designed, safer than ever, shoots excellent footage and should last you for many years.

piloting one. It costs £14.49, it has a simple battery and circuit board on the drone’s body, four tiny and replaceable propellers and the potential for a lot of indoors fun. We’ve seen similar models with an on-board camera. This model doesn’t include

a camera, but that would compromise its size. The drone is the size of a small bird, has nice bright lights, and its controller is very toy-like. This is the kind of drone that any amateur would enjoy using, and one that you might be happy to let the children play with.

HUBSAN Nano Q4 £14.49 • From www.ebuyer.com

VERDICT

The price, the size, the ability to fly indoors and the easy setup make this a great choice THE FIRST NANO 4 to arrive was a dud with no life in its battery at all. This happens, and Ebuyer switched it over in no time at all. The second model had no such issues, took hardly any time to charge, giving five minutes of battery life, and was in the air, and annoying the dog, in no time. It takes a couple of AAA batteries and is very uncomplicated to set up and get going. This tiny drone is an indoors drone, and is very much an unthreatening way of getting into drones and managing the very basics of

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

103


UNMANNED AIRCRAFT

EXTREME FLIERS Micro Drone 3.0 £150 • From www.maplin.co.uk

VERDICT

We had a couple of problems getting this in the air, but overall it’s great fun NEXT COMES THE Extreme Fliers Micro Drone 3.0. I spent the most time with this one, possibly because I unleashed it at a family do in which young nephews and older relations were present. To say that the thing created fuss and excitement would be an understatement. To say that it led to my father putting on protective headgear, and one nephew to run into a tent to get away from it, would be a fact. The Micro Drone isn’t the simplest to set up, but it’s by no means the hardest. I actually went through two units because the first had an issue with a propeller. The second, sent swiftly – though not by drone – had no such problems, and proved to be a lot of fun to fly. The Micro Drone, like many of its peers, is not something you can immediately pick up and enjoy. Amateurs will find themselves arm-deep in a hedge a lot of the time, but time, practice, reading the manual and not setting it to insane mode – one of three speed settings – managed to dampen down the worst of these issues. Of the other two modes, slow and fast, I found it best to stick to slow, but it still moves fast and high considering this limitation. What’s more, insane mode is pretty apposite. Once mastered, or at least tamed, the Micro Drone is easy enough to fly, and the guidebook and instructions are detailed and

comprehensible enough to stop you from throwing the drone and its remote into the pond you spent the previous four minutes trying to prevent it falling into. Eventually it was my nine-year-old nephew Harry who mastered the Micro Drone. After studying the instructions, ensuring a full charge and managing to keep away from nanny’s roses, he managed to have the little drone hovering over the lawn and totally under his control in not much time at all. My other, younger, nephew Charlie was unfortunately caught by a propeller during a handling incident, but it did not dampen his enthusiasm for the drone. Harry said, “Drones are very complicated and the controls are topsy turvy. It was awesome.” However, he added: “It grew a thirst for blood.” Harry said that once he had mastered the controls the drone didn’t go over the fence, but because he kept it low it might have “crashed into nanny’s flowers”. He added that she didn’t seem to mind too much, and that this prevented the drone from going over the fence “again”. Charlie, seven, said the drone was “very, very awesome”. He added, in a note of

caution, “It can hurt people on their finger, like I have experienced myself.” [Uncle’s note: The drone’s blades are protected by bumpers, and the accident, which it was, was small and unfortunate.] The battery life, claimed to be eight minutes, was around four or five minutes in our experience. However, it doesn’t take long to charge using an ordinary Micro USB charger. Spare propellers and a tool for removing them are included in the package, and the company behind the crowdfunded Micro Drone told me that the product is being improved all the time. There are a lot of options for it, too. These include a snap-on video camera, printable model kits that you can put around the drone, and larger propellers. It’s worth pointing out now, but not in front of my nephews, that one of the models you can download turns the flying drone into a dragon, minus the fire. The Micro Drone 3.0 is great fun for just £150. It’s flimsy looking, but actually relatively hardy, and when I attempted to change one of the propeller arms, I found it easy to take apart and repair. Fun for all the family; bad for all the rose bushes.

which is available for free for iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices. There’s no BlackBerry support. This is very much an outdoor drone, if the hull attachment didn’t give it away. You can fly it indoors, but it’s extremely noisy in confined spaces and really benefits from more space, although it manages to stay impressively stable thanks to a downward-facing camera. Outside though, it really comes into its own,

and the simple pleasure of flying it makes the price tag feel a total bargain. It’s innocent, charming and carefree fun. The battery lasts for between seven and nine minutes, which is slightly higher than the five minutes that the Micro Drone 3.0 offers in a similarly sized and priced package.

PARROT Orak Hydrofoil £120 • From store.parrot.com/uk

VERDICT

A great outdoors drone that’s simple to get up and running, and is equally at home on the water as it is in the air AT £120 THE Parrot Hydrofoil drone is a reasonably priced toy drone that is as reasonably capable on water as it is in air. Opening the box, you’re greeted with the palm-sized mini drone itself, as well as a polystyrene hull and various bits to make it shipshape. Both the screws and a bespoke screwdriver are provided, and the whole thing can be up and running in five minutes. There’s no remote control, with Parrot allowing you to use your smartphone to take control of the action with an app: FreeFlight 3,

104

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


UNMANNED AIRCRAFT

YUNEEC Typhoon H £1,120

• From www.manfrotto.co.uk

VERDICT

A powerful, amazing, but technically intimidating beast THE YUNEEC TYPHOON is the closest est thing we have seen to the DJI Phantom 4. Itt is close to it in price, and similar to it in stature. re. When this drone turned up, all the e other drones shrank back and started to make ke mewling noises. If you wanted to send d a drone to take down another drone, we would uld recommend the Typhoon H. The Typhoon H is squatting like a Lovecraftian spider beast on a shelf behind me as I write this and, I think, scrutinising ing every word I write through its high-quality, remote-controlled three-axis gimbal camera. The good news is that I don’t have anything particularly negative to say about it, except perhaps its price, and even that is comparable to others on the market. Yuneec – I do have reservations over the company name – has created a drone that makes other drones look like toys. It has more propellers than most machines and the kind of room presence that a large, tightly coiled snake might have in a chicken shed. Statistically it stands above the rest immediately be being a hexacopter – that is, it has six propellers. Importantly, however, it

needs only five of them to fly. Although the device is large and hulking when fully open and with its landing gear down, the propeller arms fold in, as a spider’s legs would, and the landing gear goes up and down, which is useful when it comes to take off and landing. Rucksacks or carrying bags are on sale from Yuneec, but we found that the smart black casing in which the Typhoon H was

camera control on the rear. It’s very nice to use, and the touchscreen is as responsive as the controllers. There’s a lot going on when you fly a drone. Choosing your location based on the aviation authorities’ guidance should ensure you have plenty of room when using such a large and capable machine, but this should also be considered with every drone flight.

The Typhoon H has more propellers than most machines and the kind of room presence that a large, tightly coiled snake might have in a chicken shed boxed served, with a baggage strap around it, as a perfect carrying vessel. The controller is a huge affair, something that adds to the sensation that you are a professional in charge of a serious device. The controller is accompanied by a remote similar to the sort you get with a TV, which allows for extra control and could be used by a colleague to assist in filming, for example. The controller was the only one I saw that has ‘Intel inside’ written on it. The Typhoon H has a touchscreen controller, thumb sticks, and two wheels for

The Typhoon H helps pilots by having a collision feature, which might come to your assistance if you come across a less experienced pilot and a smaller, weaker drone. The drone’s camera offers 4K video, shooting 30fps or 60fps in 1080p, and 12-megapixel still shots. Its three axes means it can pan at 360˚, and it can right itself to a front view. The Typhoon has a huge battery and it takes a couple of hours to charge. Don’t get too excited, though. You can wear this down in more than 20, but less than 25 minutes.

Drones seem to go up and down a lot faster than they turn, which makes anything but shooting up in the air and falling back down again the most likely experience for non-experts. But time and perseverance pays off, and soon even the weakest drones will be fluttering around you like hummingbirds. This is a serious game, though. You can buy a cheap drone – the Hubsan Nano Q4

costs little more than a round of drinks in the pub – and have some fun with the family with it. Or you can buy a proper drone, spend weeks getting to grips with its swings and dips, and build a professional photography or videography business around it. Just make sure you follow our tips on pages 100-102 on using them safely and within the law.

VERDICT IF EVER I see a drone again, I may go full-on eagle on it. I certainly encountered some challenges testing these devices. The highlight of one review was when the Micro Drone 3.0 came crashing down on my good-natured father’s head. The same device also gave the biggest low when it careered into a rose bush and its protective propeller guards failed to do their job.

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

105


RISE OF THE ROBOTS

106


RISE OF THE ROBOTS

RISE OF THE

ROBOTS No longer confined to the realms of sci-fi, robots are playing an increasingly large part in our everyday lives. Dave Neal asks if the machines are taking over

T

he evolution of the machine is often portrayed as a sinister threat, leading to the end of humanity as robots overthrow their former masters and take over the world. But do we really need to be worried about the ongoing advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, or will future machines prove more C-3PO and Wall-E, than HAL 9000 and the T-1000? Here we explore current technology developments that are leading to more intelligent AI, the many ways that robots are being put to good use – as well as a few scary scenarios – and examine how realistic it is that humans will one day be in thrall to machines.

CONTENTS

▶ Robot evolution ▶ Artificial intelligence ▶ When robots go bad ▶ Good robots ▶ Best robots to buy ▶ Dyson 360 Eye OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344

p108 p110 p112 p113 p114 p115

107


RISE OF THE ROBOTS

Robots: from their dawn to your doorstep They’ve come a long way since the earliest iterations almost 100 years ago, and robots are now increasingly commonplace

108

ROBOTS, IN THEIR autonomous and semi-autonomous forms, are probably more familiar to most people from sci-fi films and books, but their use is about to become a lot more apparent. In the UK, a food delivery company is about to start using robots to take care of the core part of its business; just one small example of how robots are being increasingly used in consumer technology. So how did we get here? Pretty slowly, actually. Automaton, or basic mechanical movement, can be seen in early devices such as clapping, cymbal-clashing monkeys, but the word ‘robot’ is less than 100 years old. It first appeared in the 1920 play R.U.R. by the Czech writer, Karel Čapek, and was used to describe a humanoid creation. It was a few more years before an actual robot appeared. The fantastically named Eric the robot was built by Capt WH Richards and AH Reffell as a replacement for the Duke of York, who had declined an invitation to open the 1928 Society of Model Engineers’ annual exhibition. Eric toured the globe for a while and wowed the crowds wherever he went. He, like Čapek’s creation, was humanoid in form, but was lost over time. A leap forward was made in 1948, again in Britain, by William Grey Walter. Walter created two turtle-like devices that he officially called Machina Speculatrix and colloquially named Elmer and Elsie. He built them as part of a study to gain a greater understanding of how the brain works and cells connect.

This kind of work continues in 2016. Scientists at Harvard University have reverse-engineered a stingray to create a robot version in order to learn more about the human heart and cardiac physiology. While the modern rays have their wavelengths manipulated to be directed, Walter’s turtles were able to make their way around under their own volition, and could even locate a recharging station when a refill was due. Updated and renamed Machina Docilis, one of them was turned into CORA, a device that could respond to Pavlovian techniques in order to perform tasks.

⬆ Eric was the world’s first humanoid robot

⬆ WG Walter works on Elsie, a robotic turtle that was able to make its way around under its own volition

The X factory

Task-based robots were the way ahead, with General Motors making the George Devoldeveloped Unimate device part of its production line in 1961. Unimate is seen as the first digital and programmable robot. The car industry enthusiastically embraced robotics, as did other industries where the work can be dangerous and uncomfortable. Probably the best-known real-world humanoid robot is Honda’s Asimo. Asimo can take a penalty and bend metal bars, and is described as multifunctional. Introduced in 2000, he was named for ‘Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility’ and has appeared in a number of Honda adverts and promotions. In 2016 robots are more common, if less dramatic. A robotic arm that was developed by NASA and General Motors for use on the International Space Station (ISS) has been

⬆ Walking the walk: Honda’s Asimo robot licensed for use on Earth. Its ability to make light of heavy material will see the arm function as a kind of power glove with a lot of gripping strength as it is merged with existing technology from a company called Bioservo Technologies. This, and exo-skeletal devices, could help stroke victims or others with mobility problems. “Combining the best of three worlds – space technology from NASA, engineering from GM and medtech from Bioservo – in a new industrial glove could lead to industrialscale use of the technology,” said Tomas Ward, CEO of Bioservo.

Do you want fries with your robot?

Though robots have been slow in coming, they are now rolling ahead with some speed.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


RISE OF THE ROBOTS

A robotic arm developed by NASA and GM will function as a kind of power glove

⬆ Robots will be delivering your pizza very soon Earlier we mentioned food delivery robots, and incredible as that sounds, it is a reality. The UK food company Just Eat has adopted Starship Technologies’ Robo-box and will employ it to make short deliveries around restaurant locations. The secure box will take the food, and the customers’ cash, and is incredibly unlikely to snatch a slice of pepperoni on the sly. It’s currently a trial, but it looks likely to deliver. David Buttress, CEO of Just Eat, enthuses: “As soon as we met the Starship team, we found their passion for their product infectious. With scalable innovation at the core of their business, they are the perfect partner for us at Just Eat as we continuously look for sustainable ways to use technology to make our customers’ and restaurant partners’ lives easier. We can’t wait to bring the delivery robots to local high streets very soon.”

Farming today

Dropping off doner kebabs to urbanites is one thing, but robots will also make themselves known in the countryside, according to a study by Lux Research, which suggests that agriculture and farming offer plenty of room for robotic growth. Falling costs and increased capabilities will partly drive this adoption, according to the company, and help a reluctant industry overcome its barriers. “Currently robots often aren’t affordable; cost remains the most significant barrier to adoption,” notes Sara Olson, Lux Research

ana analyst and lead author of Planting the Seeds of a Robot Revolution, the company’s report. “However, the costs of many systems are coming down, while wages rise due to lab labour shortages in some areas, and the benefits robots bring in the form of increased accuracy and precision will start to pay off in coming years.” Mark Skilton from the Warwick Business School agrees, explaining that lower-skilled jobs are likely to feel the pincer. “The threat to jobs may not be immediate, but if the digital economy continues to grow at its current double-digit rate, [an] impact on jobs will occur,” he says. “First, low- and semi-skilled work could be squeezed, impacting on the less well-off members of society. We are already seeing this with retail stores automating checkout tills and stock tracking with RFID tags, plus self-service in ordering and sales enquiries.

Be prepared

Skilton recommends that people prepare now and stay positive. “It’s not all doom and gloom. I think there are several generations of development yet before the physical world of humans is replaced with cyber alternatives, but it is right to consider the ethical and economic repercussions of this inevitable technological scaling of computing,” he says. “Putting in place controls now could well help economies make sure robots and computers add growth rather than destroy jobs.” Google, a company that took a web service and turned it into an eponymous verb, is heavily investing in all manner of robotics firms and the kind of artificial intelligence (AI) expertise that will support the development of more refined and more capable machines for the sorts of jobs that Lux and Skilton are talking about. The web giant’s work through Boston Dynamics has seen Google create

“The threat to jobs may not be immediate, but if the digital economy continues to grow at its current rate, an impact will occur”

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344

all manner of creatures in various, but capable, forms. Videos from the company show robots stacking shelves, lifting items and tackling obstacles with dogged resolve.

The rules of robotics

In 1942, in his short story Runaround, the sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov introduced three laws of robotics: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.” These are not the only rules for robots, though. Another set were created by Mark W Tilden, a robotics physicist. Tilden’s Law for Robotics suggest that robots would have far more self-interested goals than Asimov’s. He notes: “A robot must protect its existence at all costs. A robot must obtain and maintain access to its own power source. A robot must continually search for better power sources.” This relook at the robot code was not developed until the late 20th century, and is the kind of thing that concerns tech pioneers such as Elon Musk and sage thinkers such as Stephen Hawking, who both share worries about metal clad trouble-makers. Hawking noted: “The real risk with AI isn’t malice but competence. A super intelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren’t aligned with ours, we’re in trouble. “You’re probably not an evil ant-hater who steps on ants out of malice, but if you’re in charge of a hydroelectric green energy project and there’s an anthill in the region to be flooded, too bad for the ants. Let’s not place humanity in the position of those ants.”

109


RISE OF THE ROBOTS

AI: more intelligence, more problems? A smart robot needs artificial intelligence, and advances in the field of AI have been rapid, impressive – and controversial A RISE IN robotics must be accompanied by an advance in artificial intelligence. Smart robots need a brain, and that is what artificial intelligence, or AI, is all about. If the amount of money spent on something is an indication of its importance, then AI is very important indeed. Google invested a reported £400m in DeepMind in 2014, while Microsoft has made a number of public, and embarrassing, forays into smart, thinking and communicating software. There are degrees of success. Tay, a teenbot created by Microsoft for Twitter, went awry following some online manipulation and started talking in slang terms about narcotics. But the firm is still confident that the reported £174m it spent on AI-informed smart keyboard app company SwiftKey will pay off.

AI: fine art or fair effort?

Google used the recent technology show Moogfest to demonstrate the advances it’s making with AI and specifically, Google Assistant, the upgraded version of Google Now that allows for two-way conversations. At the show, the firm talked about how its AI was being given a childhood backstory to give it a better comprehension of the world. Other efforts from Google have seen AI reading romantic fiction, again to learn about humanity, and to make paintings and write poetry, such as this one from the machine they call Quartz: There is no one else in the world. There is no one else in sight. They were the only ones who mattered. They were the only ones left. He had to be with me. She had to be with him.

Is it game over for people?

Smart robots have also been known to seize the initiative. In Russia, a robot being used for scientific research purposes saw a gap in security, a hole in a fence, and used it to escape and cause havoc on the public highways. Promobot, for that is the wandering bot’s name, was lost for 45 minutes and succumbed to a flat battery. When AI is not going rogue and writing emo song lyrics, it is being used to make devices known as cyber physical systems, or CPS, more effective. TVS, a software and hardware verification organisation with an embedded devices bent, is working with the University of Bristol to develop new techniques in the area. James Dyson is involved and the efforts have support from the government-backed Innovate UK.

AI is already making a mockery out of people when playing them at board games. IBM’s Watson has taken on the US television game show Jeopardy! and won, while its Deep Blue computer took chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov to the cleaners in 1997. More recently Google and Facebook have pitted their artificial efforts against players of the ancient Chinese board game Go. Both firms’ machines have emerged victorious. How much of a challenger it is to your desktop is less easy to call. However, these kinds of displays have worried some workers. A recent survey by Evans Data Corp found that one in three software developers is worried that they might eventually be replaced by artificial intelligence. Other industries should also brace themselves for an influx of cheap,

“The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting” “Cyber physical systems will touch every part of our life, from robotic vacuum cleaners and online orders delivered by drone to autonomous cars,” says Mike Bartley, CEO of TVS. “Ensuring such systems are fully tested and safe can be both expensive and time consuming and consequently a potential barrier to market entry. “The project will investigate if techniques successfully adopted in hardware design

⬆ This Russian robot escaped from its creators through a hole in the fence

110

verification can be adapted to work with complex software.”

I had to do this. I wanted to kill him. I started to cry. I turned to him.

productive workers that don’t need toilet breaks or water-cooler moments. A study by the London School of Economics and Sweden’s Uppsala University found that lower-skilled jobs are most likely to be lost to robots, but adds that fears about job losses are perhaps overstated. “Recently, robots have emerged from the pages of science-fiction novels into the real world, and discussions of their possible

⬆ IBM’s Watson has successfully participated in a US TV game show

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


RISE OF THE ROBOTS

⬆ The use of AI in autonomous weapons has provoked controversy economic effects have become ubiquitous,” note study authors Georg Graetz and Guy Michaels. “While fears that robots destroy jobs on a large scale have not materialised, we find some evidence that robots reduced low and middle-skilled workers’ employment. “We expect the beneficial effects of robots will extend into the future, as new robot capabilities are developed and service robots come of age. Our findings do come with a note of caution: there is some evidence of diminishing marginal returns, or congestion effects, to robot use, so they are not a panacea for growth. Robots appear to reduce the hours and the wage costs of low-skilled workers, and to a lesser extent middle-skilled workers. They have no significant effect on the employment of high-skilled workers.”

What if it all goes bad?

Even Google, which is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on robotics and artificial intelligence, is considering the worst. The firm is working in conjunction with Oxford University on an off switch, or kill switch, for its creations. Perhaps Google is right to worry; other sage minds certainly are.

⬆ The disturbing babybot Diego San was created to discover why babies smile

Over 1,000 AI researchers and experts recently signed an open letter on the rise of autonomous weapons. Experts including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis and Stephen Hawking all voiced concerns about this less friendly face of AI. “The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting,” reads the letter. “If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow.” Bill Gates agrees. Though he didn’t sign the letter, he commented on AI in a Reddit Q&A session, saying: “I think it is worth discussing [regulation] because I share the view of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking that when a few people control a platform with extreme intelligence, it creates dangers in terms of power and eventually control.” OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research outfit sponsored by Elon Musk, hopes to avoid such monopolisation. “OpenAI’s

⬆ Tesla founder Elon Musk recently launched OpenAI, which will conduct research on artificial intelligence

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344

mission is to build safe AI, and ensure that AI’s benefits are as widely and evenly distributed as possible. We’re trying to build AI as part of a larger community, and we want to share our plans and capabilities along the way,” it explains. “Our goal is to advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.” Nick Bostrom, a professor of philosophy at Oxford University, has repeatedly voiced concerns about artificial intelligence. In a recent TED talk, he proposed that machine intelligence will be “the last invention that humanity will ever need to make”. He was not particularly positive about super intelligence and suggested that once computers become smarter than humans, humans will have a problem. Bostrom warns that AI could make monkeys out of humans, easily dwarfing our intelligence, and then ultimately shaping our lives through its own preferences. “Once there is super intelligence the fate of humanity may depend on what super intelligence does. Machines will be better at inventing than we are, and they’ll be doing so on digital timescales,” he warns. “A super intelligence with such technological maturity would be extremely powerful and, at least in some scenarios, it would be able to get what it wants. We would then have a future that would be shaped by the preferences of this AI.” One of the examples he gave was that a weak AI machine might, when asked to make a human smile, do something comical. A smart AI machine might use electrodes to force the facial muscles into a grimace. He then explained it would not be easy to switch such a force off, saying that super intelligence could perhaps anticipate human efforts to interfere with its progresses and processes, and find its own kill switch. By the same measure, if it tired of Earth it could turn Earth into a large computer.

111


RISE OF THE ROBOTS

When robots go bad A robot eating a woman’s hair, another crushing a man to death – no, these aren’t stories from some dystopian sci-fi novel, but real examples of what can happen when robots turn on humans A LITTLE OFF THE TOP In 2015 a South Korean woman who was sleeping on the floor found herself being eaten hair-first by her iRobot Roomba automatic vacuum cleaner. Reports at the time said it took 30 minutes to separate the victim from her attacker, and that she lost some hair in the altercation. The 52-year-old victim was reportedly distressed at waking up and finding herself entangled in this way. She probably doesn’t sleep on the floor any more. Many saw this as a peak into our dystopian future.

ROBOTS 1, HUMANS 0 A robot has already killed a man. The event happened at a Volkswagen factory in Germany, and saw the machine pick up a human worker and crush him while it was being set up. So far that’s it as far as deaths go, although one is too many. Reports from the companies involved suggested that human error could have been to blame. Current speculation is that robots and super intelligence will come to see humans as trash that clutters up the planet that it has been built to protect and serve. In those instances, many more humans could see themselves recycled.

TAY OR LEAVE IT Microsoft’s Tay experiment with artificial intelligence was derailed by people, but while it was live, the project was something of a nightmare for the company. The AI bot was supposed to learn from communication with people, but it fell in with a bad crowd and started talking positively about marijuana and negatively about the police. Microsoft conceded that it was beaten once people started talking about its racist, sexist bot gone bad. “On Wednesday, we launched a chatbot called Tay,” said Peter Lee, Microsoft’s corporate vice-president for research, shortly after its bot was withdrawn. “We are deeply sorry for the unintended offensive and hurtful tweets from Tay, which do not represent who we are or what we stand for, nor how we designed Tay. “We’ll look to bring Tay back only when we are confident we can better anticipate malicious intent that conflicts with our principles and values.”

112

SURVIVAL OF THE ELITIST The reboot of iconic PC game Elite – Elite Dangerous – took the elite side of things too seriously when an update from developer Frontier saw its artificial intelligence gaming agents build their own superweapons and start hunting down gamers in the virtual galaxy. The AI upgrade was pulled when gamers realised that they were beaten. An AI deer, created by an artist and released into the sprawling world of Grand Theft Auto, is also causing mayhem among human gamers. Its habit of appearing at random times, and being invincible, has brought many a virtual crime campaign to an end. “The deer has been programmed to control itself and make its own decisions, with no-one actually playing the video game. The deer is ‘playing itself’, with all activity unscripted… and unexpected,” says its creator. “In the past 48 hours, the deer has wandered along a moonlit beach, caused a traffic jam on a major freeway, been caught in a gangland gun battle, and been chased by the police.”

AI IMITATES ART Of course the worst thing that could happen is that everything foretold in science fiction could come true. The poster boy for artificial intelligence is often the eponymous Terminator from the series of post-apocalyptic movies. No-one wants him to turn up on their doorstep. The Terminator is the thin, unrelenting end of the wedge, though, and science fiction is stuffed with potential AI and automation problems. Demon Seed, a 1977 film directed by Donald Cammell, speculates on what would happen if an intelligent automated home system became too attached to the lady of the house. While she is pretty – it is Julie Christie – the resulting action of the AI affections is not.

ROBOTS IN THE WORKPLACE Your colleagues could be replaced by smart, sentient superiors who are better than you at your job and cheaper to employ. They will hog all the power outlets, and will dominate any office-based quizzes or productivity drives. Lower-skilled workers will feel the effects of this first, but people in easily automated roles, such as data entry and repetitive tasks, may also be bowing to robotic superiors before too long.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


RISE OF THE ROBOTS

Great ways robots are helping us Despite the warnings about AI taking over the world and examples of robots going bad, machines are mostly being used for good at present, as Nicholas Fearn reports IN SCI-FI NOVELS and films, you’ll probably find robots doing everything for humans. While we’re still not living in an age where super-intelligent, human-like robots are tending to all our needs, robotic technology is advancing and beginning to show its uses, as we have already seen. Technologists and organisations around the world are developing innovative robots capable of changing our lives. From getting trauma victims to walk again to delivering fast food, here are some of the ways robots are helping us, demonstrating where the industry could be headed. GETTING TRAUMA VICTIMS TO WALK If there’s one area where robots are already showing their uses, it’s in the medical world. Exoskeletons, in particular, are gaining a lot of tracking in this field. California-based tech firm Ekso Bionics has been making these suits for years. One of its latest models is the Ekso GT, a robotic suit made from titanium and powered by battery-powered motors. Medical professionals are using it to help victims of spinal trauma regain the use of their legs. In a therapy-like programme, the user learns to walk again in phases. How does it work? The patient thrusts forward, and the suit begins to make steps forward.

WELCOMING VISITORS IN AIRPORTS Honda has been developing a line of walking robots since 2000, and Asimo has been one of its leading models. Categorised among the most powerful humanoids in the world, it can walk and run like a human being, interact with people and serve food. The latest model is 1.28m tall and weighs 55kg. There are currently 100 of the bots out in the real world, and they’re being used in many sectors, including the ita travel industry. In March, Narita International Airport in Japan teamed up with Honda to use Asimo to welcome and offer its hospitality to travellers. It provided vided them with tourist information and g. entertained visitors by dancing.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344

HELPING ATHLETES UP THEIR GAME Robotic technology is also making big strides in the sports world. German sportswear giant Puma has been working on a shoe-sized robot that can be programmed to help runners get in shape and reach new goals. Created in partnership with MIT, BeatBot gives athletes a visual target they have to outrun. It uses nine infrared sensors to gain an understanding of the track, and an Arduino chip calculates the speed and distance. There are also rear LED lights, which the runner can see in their peripheral vision. While there is a degree of intelligence here, users have to set the distance of the track and the time they intend to run within. Its creators say it’s capable of outrunning Usain Bolt.

PROVIDING THERAPY TO AUTISTIC KIDS Technology in general holds a lot of potential when it comes to supporting people diagnosed with autism conditions, and robots are leading the way. American robotics company RoboKind is an industry leader and has created a bot called Milo that can change the lives of autistic children. Sixty centimetres tall and targeted at parents, doctors and teachers, it displays human emotions the user identifies using a tablet PC. There are also cameras behind Milo’s eyes that keep track of the child’s progress. An adult can then use this data to provide support. DELIVERING FAST FOOD Friday evening, and you order a pizza to It’s F enjoy while you watch a cheesy sci-fi or rom-com movie. But instead of a human rom delivering it, a robot brings it to your door. delive That could well be the norm within the next Tha few years. In London, takeaway services Eat and Pronto have teamed up with Just E Starship Technologies to trial self-driving Sta delivery bots. Sporting six wheels and an delive

antenna, they can be used in a two- to threemile area and deliver food in just 15 minutes. The bots are also packed with sensors and GEO location tech so they don’t end up getting lost and delivering your dinner late.

PROSTHETIC HELP Up until now, people who were born without limbs or lost them in accidents have relied on motionless prosthetics. While they give victims a sense of relief, they don’t replace hand or leg movement. Bionic limbs change that, and the Luke Arm is an excellent example of the possibilities. Developed by the US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), it gives individuals control of their limbs again. It has a hand capable of gripping items such as cups and cutlery, a shoulder joint that can be raised overhead and an elbow that can lift heavy packages or shopping. It works by using electromyogram electrodes that receive signals from muscles.

CARE-GIVING Many technologists envisage a time when we don’t have to do much. We’ll have robots to tend to our every need, whether that’s looking after the kids or cooking our meals. This, as you can imagine, would be invaluable in terms of aiding the elderly and disabled. Romeo is a robot fit for this purpose. At 140cm tall, it can perform a variety ariety of human-like actions, such as picking up objects from a table and opening ening doors. There’s a lot of tech inside, including stances two cameras that measure distances or and four computer systems for managing sight, hearing, movements vements and AI. In future, its creatorss want Romeo to be able to alert the emergency services if its owner were to fall over.

113


RISE OF THE ROBOTS

The best robots you can buy today Want to get a taste of where robot technology is heading? Nicholas Fearn rounds up some of the most interesting robotic products available WE TYPICALLY ASSOCIATE robots with sci-fi films where they play either a helpful or evil role in the plot. Although we aren’t living among robot companions just yet, robotic technology is constantly evolving and becoming more advanced.

JIBO

Telepresence Robot

£529 www.jibo.com While you may not be able to go to your local electronics store and buy an advanced domestic bot, JIBO is the next ext best thing. Described as the first ‘social ial robot’, it will act as your personal assistant. After recognising a user’s face, it performs a variety of useful tasks, including providing reminders for upcoming deadlines and taking family photos. It’s expected to go on sale later this year for £529, following a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised $3m.

£1,800 uk.rs-online.com We all know what it’s like for something unexpected to come up when we have things planned, such as a friend’s or relative’s birthday. However, the Double Robotics Telepresence Robot means you don’t have to miss anything. Designed as a stick and screen attached to motorised wheels, it lets you move around a room and communicate with people remotely. It’s a great example of where robotics ics could be going, but it’s far from cheap.

Yeti Bot

Soccer Robot

£60 www.reichelt.com If you’re looking to have fun with robots, you’ll like the Yeti Bot. It’s a programmable robot that walks and dances. Powered by four AA batteries, it uses the C programming language and is controlled via a computer. You’re provided with development software, two servos, an IR transceiver, LEDs and a beeper. There’s also a library of motion and IR communication routines, so you shouldn’t get overwhelmed.

£12 www.reichelt.com The six-legged Soccer Robot bot will have a kickaround with you in your home. On the front, you’ll find a mechanism that guides the ball, and you controll motors via two controller switches. hes. Using these, you can guide the bot in any direction. It’s supplied as a craft kit, so you’ll have to build it first.

Nibo Bee

Parrot Minidrone Evo

£46 www.reichelt.com Nibo Bee is an affordable robot aimed at youngsters. Perfect for he robot a school environment, you build the from scratch by soldering the circuit board with other components. You can then program it in languages such as C, Arduino, Java and Assembler to make it move around a room. Its creators say this is a great way for children to learn how robotic tech works. Like the Soccer Robot, materials are provided to ensure the setup process doesn’t get too complicated.

£159 www.currys.co.uk Want something even quirkier? Then the MiniDrone Robot from Parrot is worth checking out. Using a smartphone, you can get the bot to roll around, make zigzags, rotate and complete 90˚ spins. It can jump up to 80cm high, so it’s not just restricted to moving on the floor. It’s equipped with a wide-angle camera, and you control the robot through a free smartphone app. Photos and videos can be streamed from the bot, too.

Pepper

uArm

£1,000+ www.rapidonline.com Soon, you’ll probably be able to converse with super-intelligent robots, perhaps by asking the weather or sharing a bit of gossip. For now, though, there’s the Pepper robot. Announced back in 2014, the Pepper comes with two HD cameras, four microphones and a 3D sensor, it can monitor and respond to human speech patterns and facial expressions. The bot’s aim, according to the manufacturers, is to make humans happy.

£342 www.coolcomponents.co.uk The uArm is an Arduino-powered, 4-axis robot arm modelled to replicate the robots you’ll find in car and packaging factories. Made from custom aluminium, it has a vacuum gripper so it can pick up objects, such as chess pieces. You put it into recording mode and physically move the arm in different directions. The bot will remember what you teach it (see Advanced Projects, page 134).

114

In a few years, you may be able to buy a bot to make the tea and put the kids to bed. But even now, there’s a wealth of fun, useful robots you can buy. Whether you’re a robot hobbyist or you just want a taste of what the future holds, these bots are worth checking out.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


RISE OF THE ROBOTS

The robotic vacuum cleaner Fed up with vacuuming? Why not get a robot to do it for you? David Ludlow lets the Dyson 360 Eye take the strain as he gets it to clean his house the Dyson Link app. This lets you start and stop the robot from your phone, anywhere in the world, set schedules and even track where it cleaned: when you see the areas it gets into, you’ll realise, perhaps, how little of a room you cover with a traditional vacuum. The app will also warn you if the robot gets stuck, clogs up or its 0.33L bin gets full. This may not sound like a particularly big bin, but if you use the cleaner a few times a week as a maintenance vacuum, it’s more than enough.

The cleaner gets its name from the 360˚ camera on top that it uses to see its surroundings and then plan its route. You need natural light (or a well-lit room) for the robot to see its way around, which generally means that it’s best to put it on during the day, just before you pop out. In addition, IR sensors on the sides are used to detect objects, letting the robot snuggle up to skirting boards, chair legs and the like, to get a close-up clean. Dyson’s floor-tracking technology ⬆ The 360 Eye can be controlled from means the cleaner works in grids, starting in the an app on your smartphone middle and spiralling out Tall story to catch the entire floor surface. About the same size as a cake tin, the 360 It should last 45 minutes on a charge, Eye is taller than previous robot cleaners, but but it will return itself to the slim charging not as wide. This means it won’t fit under station (about the same footprint as a piece some furniture, but it can squeeze into of A4 paper) and top itself up if it needs to. smaller gaps and between chair legs. As the This run time means that if you want to cleaning aperture is the same width as the clean a room upstairs, you can just carry the body, it cleans completely everywhere it fits. cleaner up and set it off: it returns to its start The height has a second advantage, in position when done and powers off. that it’s the right height for Dyson’s cyclone technology. As a result, the 360 Eye Cleaning up produces 20 air watts of suction, which The 360 Eye’s suction power is fantastic and, knocks other robot cleaners out of the park. used as a maintenance cleaner, this is the Terrain navigation is another tricky thing only cleaner you should ever need. It picks for robot cleaners, but the 360 Eye has tank up most dust and dirt, although for a tracks at the rear, which helps it climb off particularly tough spill and to really get most bits of furniture without getting everything you’ll need to go round and do beached. It’s not perfect and there are some the occasional ‘proper’ vacuum. bits of furniture that will trip it up, but While you can set the 360 Eye to go nothing that a well-placed cushion to divert using the big button on top, you can also use the robot won’t overcome.

At £800 the 360 Eye is certainly not cheap. As to whether it’s worth it or not, it will come down to personal preference and how much you hate traditional vacuuming. As a time saver and for something you can quickly turn on to keep your house superclean, it does a brilliant job, but the price may just be a little too high for mass adoption.

⬆ Tank tracks at the back of the 360 Eye enable it to climb over any obstacles

⬆ Sensors on the side of the robot detect objects

WE MAY BE a few years away from a full-on robot butler, but specialised robots that focus on one task are here and ready to help, taking over some of life’s more mundane jobs. Top of that list for many is vacuuming, which is a thankless task at the best of times. While robot vacuum cleaners have been around for a while (including the hair-eating iRobot Roomba, page 112), the reality has not lived up to the promise, with most models little more than automated dusters. Until now: step forward the Dyson 360 Eye.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344

The Dalek factor

There are some limitations to the 360 Eye and, indeed, all robot vacuum cleaners. First, you have to accept that as it’s a vacuum cleaner, it has the same limitations as a regular one. So small rugs, cables and other bits of detritus that could clog up the cleaner have to be picked up and moved. The cleaner obviously can’t move any furniture, so you may have to slide chairs out of the way to clean everywhere: to be fair, if you vacuumed manually, you’d have to do the same things. Just like Daleks, the 360 Eye can’t climb stairs, so it can’t clean them, which means you’ll need to do a bit of old-fashioned vacuuming from time to time, unless you live in a bungalow or a New York-style loft apartment on a single floor.

Robots vs humans

115


Everything is connected Soon, everything will be connected to the internet. But how will the Internet of Things affect you? Nicholas Fearn goes behind the hype to find out MANKIND HAS WITNESSED many revolutions over the centuries. In the 1600s, it was the printing press that introduced new possibilities, and in the 1700s and 1800s, industry dominated. Now it’s the turn of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is set to change how we live, work and communicate through technology and innovation.

116

Aided by the introduction of devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs, along with the advent of cloud computing in a short space of time, things are about to become even more advanced. Within the next decade or so, smart living through the IoT will be the norm. Almost all the objects in your home will be connected to the internet – whether

you want them to be or not – and the same will happen in the workplace. That fridge? It will be monitoring what you eat and drink. That window? It will tell you the weather outside. At work, desks will be interactive, and every door will have a smart lock. You will be breathing the internet and unable to avoid it, whether at home, in the car, at work, or out and about.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED

What’s astonishing is how fast-paced the IoT is. Even in 2008, there were more internet-enabled devices than the whole population of the world. By 2020, there will be over 50 billion products connected to the internet, and the industry will be turning over around $13 trillion in profit, according to research from Cisco. The networking firm also claims that connected technologies will be generating an eye-watering 400 zettabytes (ZB) of data a year by 2018. To put that in perspective, back in 2009 the entire World Wide Web was estimated to contain close to 500 exabytes, or just one half a zettabyte. So clearly the IoT is here to stay.

Understanding the IoT

The concept of the IoT is relatively simple. It’s a network of internetconnected objects – from devices such as wearables to driverless cars – that are embedded with software and sensors capable of collecting vast amounts of data without the need for human interaction. As well as performing data duties, many IoT devices can also respond to commands from a central device like a smartphone or tablet. In a domestic environment, you could have an app on your phone to control your cooker or your lights. At work, you may be able to control the doors with a smartwatch. Technologists believe we’ll all be walking around with our own IoT networks in the near future. These products have a degree of intelligence, too. Take, for example, a bath that automatically runs at a certain time of the day, maybe when you’re due to arrive home from work or to get out of bed. Or perhaps you’re automatically signed into work just by walking past a sensor that communicates with your phone and

OCTOBER 2016

⬆ Cisco reckons the IoT will be generating 400 zettabytes of data per year by 2018. A zettabyte is one trillion gigabytes

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344

connects to a database. The idea is that these tiny sensors and connected apps act with little human contact and make our lives easier as a result. However you look at the Internet of Things, it’s generally accepted that it’s an extension of the internet. For most people, connecting to the net is a case of having access to a computing device such as a laptop or a smartphone, but the IoT changes all that. We’re stepping into an age where it will become normal for everyday items such as lamps and tables to be connected. That’s when our lives will truly become smart.

IoT starts at home

One of the main areas of interest for IoT product and software manufacturers is the home. After all, this is where we’re most comfortable and spend a huge chunk of our lives.

They’re developing and churning out products that are capable of dramatically changing everyday living. Samsung is one of the firms that sees major potential in this area and has been working on a whole range of connected products for the home under the SmartThings brand. The Korean tech giant envisages a day when we’re fully connected to the internet, not just through our phones, and is already making this a reality. The great thing about the SmartThings line-up is that it’s so simple. You don’t have to rip everything out of your house and install sensors into all your walls to enable the tech to work. You just have to connect a hub to your internet router and link sensors to it, which are capable of doing all sorts of things. There’s one that monitors moisture and sends you alerts to prevent leaks turning into floods; one that notifies you if there’s unexpected activity in your house when you’re away; one that senses someone’s presence as they open and close doors; and one that can turn on electrical appliances at a time of your choosing. They all communicate with the main hub over the internet. Essentially, all the bases in your home are covered through tech. “At Samsung, we believe connected technology will be essential to the way we will live our lives in the future, where everyday devices will sense, generate and share information, giving users an ecosystem that truly complements their lives,” Samsung Electronics UK explains. “Samsung’s IoT-ready product portfolio includes smart appliances,

117


EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED

smart TVs, smartphones, tablets and wearable devices. To bring users one step closer towards a fully connected home, [we] launched SmartThings, which allows people to monitor, control and secure their home from anywhere. From helping people track the movements of pets, to being able to turn lights on and off remotely from their phone, it gives people the tools to create a completely intuitive home experience.” SmartThings currently works with a broad range of Samsung devices, including TVs, wireless speakers, refrigerators, washers, ovens, air conditioners and vacuum cleaners. Samsung also recently launched the AddWash. This washing machine comes with an array of smart functions, which work with both Android and Apple smartphones. Whirlpool has also been making strides in the IoT space. The white

goods vendor offers a selection of domestic appliances, including washing machines and fridges, that can communicate with each other and are controlled from a smartphone app. Sense Live lets you control these appliances wherever you are and keep updated on their progress. The app can even teach you how to use the appliance. Jennifer Spragg, senior manager at Whirlpool, says connected devices in the kitchen are the logical next move for the evolution of IoT. Consumers increasingly want their appliances to do more, she explains, from saving them money to aiding performance. “With the ever-growing IoT encouraging consumers towards a holistically technological lifestyle, the connectivity of the kitchen is simply the next step, and smart technology is changing the way people use their appliances,” Spragg notes.

“No longer restricted to entertainment, lighting and heating, connected technology is moving rapidly into the kitchen with smart washing machines, fridges and ovens now emerging on to the market.” Focusing on the kitchen in particular, Spragg provides the example of the Whirlpool 6th Sense smart hob. “In cooking, people are looking for appliances that will make life simpler and easier, and the introduction of the Whirlpool 6th Sense induction hob has brought greater functionality and flexibility with FlexiZone technology,” she says. “The front and rear zones of the hob can be linked to offer a much larger cooking area to accommodate multiple pots and pans of all different sizes, while maintaining a consistent temperature across the whole zone. If the user chooses to switch to a smaller pan, the system detects which part of the zone is being used and automatically activates it.”

Making IoT work

⬆ Whirlpool wants your kitchen appliances to give you a “holistically technological lifestyle”. But no shoes, apparently

118

It’s not just at home where IoT is having an impact. Connected devices are also making major strides in the workplace and offering a ton of benefits, with the term ‘smart office’ having real substance. Businesses are using tech of all kinds to enrich the lives of their employees and to better understand their customers. An excellent example of how technology can transform the office is Google Cloud Print. With it, you’re able to create a network of printers connected to the internet and control them via your smartphone, tablet or computer, letting you print on the go.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED

“No lo longer restricted to entertainment, lighting and heatin heating, connected tech is moving into the kitchen with ssmart washing machines, fridges and ovens” range of devices in the public diverse rang private realm,” Bazin says. “Those and priva devices can then talk to each other as central systems, triggering a well as cent change in the way people radical chan assets and networks. manage as benefits are huge. Businesses “The b costs, drive efficiencies and can cut cost improve tthe customer experience – just to name a few.” could be great for shoppers if This coul it leads to easier and quicker ways of doing the weekly shop, but Bazin also there are pitfalls. warns the “Successful IoT projects depend on close collaboration between the business and their IT departments in order to gain the most value from the technology. “It is vital from the outset to set clear success criteria for any project. Organisations need to clearly define what value they are trying to create, and this comes back to understanding the operational or business objective you are meeting. If a business doesn’t know what it’s measuring, it will never be able to demonstrate success.”

⬆ Lock smart: the Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt controls entry via a smartphone app

While that may not seem overly innovative, it’s certainly beneficial in an age of flexible working. Smart locks are also gaining traction in the business world, especially among smaller companies. They’re a great alternative to smart card or key systems adopted by large corporations, and are a lot cheaper. The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt (www.schlage.com), which costs around £300, connects to the internet and lets you set up pin-code access for doors around the office. You can also control it through a smartphone app to gain entry. Big data is introducing other new possibilities for businesses, based on the large, complex data sets that come from the Internet of Things. While some people believe this data is challenging to handle, there are positive elements. There’s major potential for analysis, in particular. By having access to data collected from deployed IoT tech, businesses can get a better understanding of their customers. A smart fridge could offer data on the type of food a person eats and pass this on to a supermarket, for example, allowing the retailer to improve its supply chain and stock systems. Alex Bazin, head of Internet of Things in UK & Ireland at Fujitsu, says the IoT can help firms save money and improve the overall customer experience, although close collaboration between different teams and departments is a must if they’re to succeed in the IoT space. “The Internet of Things massively expands the quantity and quality of real-time information available from a

OCTOBER 2016

IoT for the better

⬇ Signed seals deliver: scientists in Scotland are using smart tags to monitor the seal population

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344

The Internet of Things may be helping technology brands make big bucks, but it’s also capable of doing good, such as saving the lives of vulnerable animals. In March, wildlife experts at the University of St Andrews started using telemetric tags to investigate why the seal population in Scotland is in decline.

These tags are attached to the seals and provide the researchers with data on their location, behaviour and habitats. All this information is sent to the team at the university through Vodafone’s M2M network in real time, so they’re able to keep track of the seals at all times. Over time, the researchers analyse the data that comes from the tags to determine the condition of the ocean and the sort of impact humans are having, be it through pollution or activities such as fishing. The authorities will then be able to put safeguards in place to support the seals and other marine wildlife. Dr Bernie McConnell, deputy director of the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the university, explains: “Over the last 15 years, many of the harbour seal populations in the Northern Isles and on the north and east coasts of Scotland have been declining. “Marine data collected during this project on Orkney will help to assess the causes, management and mitigation options in relation to the harbour seals’ decline and to prioritise future research directions.”

A connected reality

Despite the progress made so far, IoT isn’t quite mainstream yet. Companies are still working on perfecting products and developing appropriate infrastructure for the masses. Chip-maker Intel, like many other major tech players, is involved in IoT

119


EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED

development. In 2014, it launched the IoT Ignition Lab, a scheme that offers tools and technology to organisations that have commercial plans for their IoT projects. There are now labs open for business in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Israel and Turkey, all of which are supporting the growth of IoT. Every lab has a showcase area displaying solution demos and developer kits, although what’s interesting is how hands-on they are. The labs run intensive workshops covering areas such as device development and big data analytics. The IoT Ignition Labs have already churned out a number of innovative IoT and connected solutions. For instance, Intel teamed up with Siemens and developed a smart parking system to help drivers find available car parking spaces and pay for them using a smartphone. This contributes to reducing congestion, pollution and traffic crime. Louise Summerton, Northern European sales director at Intel, explains the labs in detail: “Intel IoT Ignition Labs recognise the need to enable the fast creation of scalable, standardised solutions. They provide new and existing partners, developers and systems integrators with tools, resources and expertise as well as facilitate collaboration between Intel and business partners, both established and start-up. “Working with Intel experts at the labs, companies can develop new IoT solutions, optimise existing ones and receive guidance on design and deployment. With eight locations

across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, including Germany, Ireland, Israel, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, the UAE and the UK, solutions can be diffused rapidly, saving development time and helping to extend customer reach into new markets.”

Major challenges

Although the Internet of Things is revolutionising the way we work and live, that’s not to say it’s without its challenges. The thing is, as this area of tech continues to advance and more

A number of threats are going to emerge. Hackers are a big worry for IoT tech companies ⬆ Hackers successfully targeted VTech’s Kid Connect messaging system for children

people become interested in it, a number of threats are going to emerge. Hackers are a big worry for IoT tech companies. There have already been several high-profile cases over the past few months where cybercriminals have managed to hack IoT successfully. In 2015, electronic learning toys company VTech’s systems were hacked, and the accused were able to access customer data such as photos and chat history. The attack saw hackers access databases for VTech’s Learning Lodge app store and Kid Connect messaging system, exposing the data of 6.4 million children.

5 IoT PROJECTS

CHANGING THE WORLD

As well as making our everyday domestic and working lives easier through products like smartwatches and connected white goods, IoT technology is revolutionising other aspects of the world. From sealsaving sensors to a racing robot for athletes, here are five of the world’s most revolutionary IoT projects.

120

Save our seals

Researchers from the University of St Andrews in Scotland attached telemetric tags to a group of harbour seals to gather information on their whereabouts, behaviour and the environments in which they live. This data is sent back to the research unit via Vodafone’s M2M network and will be used to influence the Scottish government’s wildlife and environmental policies.

As well as getting hold of sensitive data, hackers have also shown they can gain command of internetenabled technologies remotely. Last year, researchers working for car maker Jeep hacked into a connected Cherokee SUV while it was being driven at 70mph on a US freeway. If that had been a real-life scenario involving members of the public, they could have crashed. Cesare Garlati, chief security strategist for non-profit organisation prpl Foundation, says the damage hackers can cause is so alarming that lives could be at risk. He sees danger

Racing robots

Puma recently teamed up with New York ad agency J Walter Thompson and MIT to develop a robot that can help runners boost their performance and career goals. Kitted out with nine infrared sensors, it scans the track line and monitors wheel movement to calculate overall speed and distance. Racers enter a speed/distance of their choosing, and can try to outrun the robot. Front-facing camera

Digital steering servo

9 infrared sensors

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED

in all areas of IoT, from smart cities to driverless cars, and drones to weapons. As a result, he says, the industry needs to address these issues – and fast. “From remotely taking control of a device to using IoT devices as a catalyst to do a DDoS attack, there are already a scary number of possibilities of what malicious actors could do by commandeering connected devices. IoT is in cars, smart cities, weapons, drones, hospital equipment, connected homes – all around us. If we don’t start making the necessary steps towards true interoperability and security in these devices, lives could quite literally be at stake,” Garlati says. While these threats may be complex, companies are able to make IoT safer. Garlati explains how: “The prpl Foundation advocates three focus areas to make IoT more secure: using open-source security software; interoperable open standards for forging a root of trust in hardware to support signed firmware updates and secure boot; and more importantly, security by separation, as in hardware virtualisation.” There may be many challenges ahead, but they don’t change the fact that IoT is exciting for the technology industry and consumers. It offers benefits in so many different areas, and the statistics are a clear reminder that it’s only going to get bigger. Give it a few years.

⬆ The town of Fujisawa, Japan, is a sustainable smart city built by Panasonic

IoT, intensified

It’s easy to sum up IoT by looking at devices such as wearables and kitchen

Mini computer

Last year, the BBC launched micro.bit, a mini PC aimed at getting children interested in STEM subjects. Now, working with Lancaster University and Nominet, it’s looking to capitalise on the IoT. Versions of the micro.bit can transfer data packets between one another, which would allow youngsters to learn how IoT works.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344

appliances alone, but there are many people who see it as a sustainable way of living. This is where the smart city idea comes into play, an urban development concept where connected tech is used to manage city assets such as schools, libraries and law enforcement. The idea behind smart cities is that they improve the quality and performance of public infrastructure, offering benefits such as reducing costs and resource consumption. According to a recent report by Transparency Market Research, the smart city market will be worth $1.26bn in 2019, and industry analyst Gartner predicts that smart cities will be using over two billion connected technologies by 2017. Panasonic has built a smart city of its own in Fujisawa, Japan. Following the tragedy of the 2011 Japanese

Diabetes patches

Health is another big area for connected technology. Scientists based at the Centre for Nanoparticle Research at the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea have created a wearable patch for diabetes sufferers. It monitors glucose levels and sends insulin to the body when needed. The researchers behind the technology say it will radically improve treatment processes.

earthquake, the aim of the project is to create a sustainable town that promotes nature and local production. It involves 1,000 properties and 600 residents, and cost £328m. Every house is connected to a real-time energy network, which manages renewable technology such as solar panels and Panasonic’s Ecosense heat-pumpdriven water system. If companies like Panasonic, Whirlpool and Intel have their way, it won’t be long before we’re all experiencing a smarter way of living. But first they need to sort out the very real security problems that all these connected, smart systems bring, and make sure people actually benefit from this whole new world of IoT rather than just using it as a way to sell more new kit or collect more information about us.

Smart parking

Finding a parking space in a crowded city is a nightmare and can waste a lot of valuable time. IoT could solve this problem. Intel has been working with Siemens on a smart parking system that implements connected technology and a sensor network. By using your smartphone, you can locate and pay for available spaces. This could reduce congestion, pollution and traffic crime.

121


Business Help If you have database, office application or macro issues, Kay Ewbank can help. Send your problems to businesshelp@computershopper.co.uk

Fifteen minutes of fame in Excel Q I’m keeping track of how long particular jobs take in Excel, and I need to have the answer calculated to the nearest 15 minutes because that’s the smallest amount of time we charge for. The information isn’t coming in as proper times, just 0730 type of entry. I don’t really know how to go about the various stages; I could probably work out rounding if it wasn’t working with times, but I’m stumped. Julian Kent

The main thing to work out is if you want the answer to be calculated in terms of hours and decimal parts of hours (1.5 hours being 90 minutes), or as hours and minutes (1:30 being 90 minutes). If you’re planning on using the answer for a calculation of chargeable hours, you will probably want the former. If your start and end times are in B1 and C1, formatted as text (so you see 0730 rather than 7:30am), you can use a formula like the one below to get a decimal time returned, rounded to the nearest quarter of an hour:

A

=MROUND(MOD((--REPLACE(C1,3,0,":"))(REPLACE(B1,3,0,":")),1),"00:15")*24 This uses some interesting techniques. We’ll start with the ‘Replace’ part. Replace expects you to tell it a cell containing some text, the starting position of the text you want to

⬆ Use MRound to get values rounded to a specific multiplier in Excel

replace, how many characters you want to replace, and the text you want to use for the replacement, so you’ll get formulae such as: =REPLACE(A1,2,1,"k") This would replace whatever was in cell A1, position 2, 1 character with the new character k. The way the formula is used in this case is to replace zero characters at position 3; in other words, add a character at position 3. After the two Replace functions are used, you end up with text values that look like 07:30 and 12:27 in the two halves of the formula. The first part of the formula that reads: --REPLACE(C1,3,0,":") This takes the text value that is laid out as a time. This then has the ‘–’ operator used twice in front of it. Excel takes the ‘–’ operator nearest the text value that looks like a time, and subtracts it from the time 00:00. This will always give a negative value (in a similar way that a formula such as 0-3.5 will give you -3.5).

The negative value returned is expressed as a timevalue. In Excel, the timevalue is the decimal number of a time represented by a text string. The decimal number is a value ranging from 0 to 0.99999999, representing the times from 0:00:00 (12:00:00am) to 23:59:59 (11:59:59pm). The second ‘–’ converts the negative time value to a positive one. The second time value is then subtracted from the first time value to get the difference between the two times. The next step is to use the Mod function to make sure the time value is less than a day long. Mod can be used to find the remainder of dividing one number by another, so if you take the Mod of time A minus time B, with 1 as the divider, you get the time part that is less than a whole day. The final step uses the MRound function. This is a version of the Round function with the special facility to round to a specific multiplier. In our case, we want to round to 0.15 minutes, so the whole formula is: =MROUND(MOD((--REPLACE(C1,3,0,":"))(REPLACE(B1,3,0,":")),1),"00:15")*24

Bringing order to time slots in Access Q

We have a company where we give customers a choice of hour-long delivery slots throughout the day, such as 10-12 and 2-3. My problem is that I need to create an Access report that shows the current delivery slots arranged in time order, but the slots are stored as text. If I try sorting them, the slots end up sorted into alphabetic/numeric order, not time order, because Access assumes that 2 comes before 10. How do I get them into time order? Lee Parker The solution is to have two fields, one to show the customers/ person entering the appointment, and one for your sorting. On the form where you have your appointment creation, set up a combo box where the user chooses the slot, with the visible column showing the time slots, and a hidden column that holds the data you’re going to sort on. This could be numeric or alphabetic, so you could call

A

124

⬆ Use a hidden control to keep records in ‘time slot’ order in Access

the first slot of the day slot A, the second B, and so on. You then add both fields to your report query, and sort your report on the control that holds the second column. You don’t need to make the second control visible; it’s only there for the sort order.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


BUSINESS HELP

Following the rules in Outlook Q

I’m using Outlook rules to manage my inbox, and I’m fine if at least one of the words is in the subject line. To do that I use the ‘with specific words in the subject line’ option (or in the message body, depending on what I’m trying to do). My problem is when I want to create a rule that is triggered when all the words are present. If they’re next to each other, that’s fine – I can add that phrase to the specific words list – but if they’re just somewhere in the subject line but not next to each other, I can’t find a way to phrase the rule. What I want is an AND operator; is there a way to do this? Is there a way to create a rule that looks for certain words in the message body and only if it finds all these words in the message it will apply a certain action? John Charlton You can achieve what you want, but only by using two rules. The first rule looks for the first word to search for, and if that word is found, assigns the message to a category. The second rule then looks for messages that are within the assigned category, and that contain the second word. So if you wanted to move messages that contain the words ‘cricket’ and ‘fixture’ into the Sport folder, for example, you would first create a rule (using Manage Rules and Alerts from the File menu, or Rules and Alerts from the Tools menu, depending on which version of Outlook you’re using). You need to create a new rule, and start with a blank rule. The first part of the rule should check messages when they arrive.

A

⬆ You can create multiple rules in Outlook to check for AND conditions

Click the Next button, and select the option ‘with specific words in the subject’. Click the link for ‘specific words’ at the bottom of the dialog, and type the first word you want to search for – ‘cricket’ in our example. Click the Add button, then select OK and Next. On the next page of the Rules wizard, when asked what you want to do with the message, select ‘assign it to the category’. Click the word category in the text at the bottom of the dialog to see the available categories. Now you need to set up a category you’ll use only for this particular rule. Click the New button and give your category a suitable name. The entire rule should look like this:

Apply this rule after the message arrives with cricket in the subject assign it to the Cricket category Now repeat the initial steps above to start a new rule and specify your second search word – in our example, ‘fixture’. Now add a second condition, that the message should be ‘assigned to the category’. Click the ‘category’ link at the bottom of the dialog to open the Categories dialog. Select the category you set up in the first rule, then click Next. Now you can select ‘move it to the specified folder’. At this point you can choose the folder to which you want the message to be moved.

Keeping track of changes in Word Q I’m using Microsoft Word and I need to manage Track Changes on all the documents I create. I have two related questions. First, is there a way to turn on Track Changes for every document that I open; and second, when I send the documents to clients with the tracked changes present, is there a way to let them see the changes but not the people who made the changes? We’re using Word 2010. Patrick Finlay There’s no specific command you can use to turn on Track Changes by default on all documents, but you could create an AutoExec macro that runs whenever you open Word. The easiest way to do that would be to record the macro, calling it AutoExec. Once the recorder is started, turn on Track Changes, then stop the recorder. This would run whenever you open a document based on the Normal template. On the whole, I think it would be less trouble to add Track Changes to the status

A

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

bar, so you can turn it on or off with a mouse click. All you need to do is right-click the status bar at the bottom of your Word window. You’ll see a list of all the commands you can make available in the status bar, including Track Changes. Put a tick mark next to this command, and you’ll see the Track Changes option show up in the status bar. Click it with the mouse and you’ll turn it on; click again and you’ll turn it off. The other option is to memorise the keyboard shortcut for Track Changes, which is Ctrl-Shift-E. The second part of your question is interesting. If you send the document with track changes enabled, the recipient will indeed be able to see who made the changes. The only way to get something close to what you want is to set up two versions of the document: the original, and the revised version, saved with all the changes accepted. If you then use Document Compare (on the Review tab of the Office Ribbon), you’ll get a document that shows all the changes between the two versions, but not who

⬆ Use Document Compare to see how a document has changed in Word

made the changes or when they were made. This will hopefully keep your clients happy without revealing who made the changes.

125


Helpfile Whatever your general PC, hardware and software woes, Simon Handby is here to help. Send your problems to help@computershopper.co.uk

Windows 10 won’t upgrade Q

I have two computers running Windows 10: an old Gateway MX8716b laptop, which I had previously upgraded from Vista to Windows 7, and a Dell Vostro 260 desktop, which had Windows 7 from new. The laptop is running the 32-bit version of Windows, while the desktop is running the 64-bit version. My problem is that the laptop gets frequent updates and indicates that it is on version 1511 (build 10586.164), but the desktop seems to get fewer updates, and still reports its version as build 10240, predating the major update in November 2015. On the desktop I have checked back through the last couple of months’ updates, and found only one update for the OS itself; all the others were for Defender and Office software. Shouldn’t the 64-bit machine have had the November 2015 update automatically? The Windows 10 online help

system just says that to get the update, automatic updates should be turned on. They are, and always have been. I cannot find anywhere to download it manually. Can you help? Phil Jones The November 2015 update should have been rolled out to all suitably configured Windows 10 PCs, but in many ⬆ It doesn’t say so, but we’re upgrading Windows 10 to the latest cases it wasn’t. We’ve never version. Just make sure you keep your files and apps got to the bottom of why not. Fortunately there’s a simple solution: using anything about updating an existing Windows the Dell desktop, visit tinyurl.com/344helpfile1 10 installation, but don’t worry: double-check and click the Upgrade now button, then allow that the installer is set to keep your personal the updater to download Windows 10. The files and apps, then click Install. You’ll be ‘Ready to install screen’ doesn’t mention upgraded to version 1511.

A

Scan you do it? Q

I’m considering buying a specialist photo scanner, but I don’t remember ever seeing a group test of photoquality scanners in Shopper. In the absence of such, can you offer a bit of advice on how much detail is needed in a scan in order to reproduce an image at, say, 6x4in, or on A4 paper? I understand that there’s often a big difference between a manufacturer’s claimed accuracy and the results that are produced. Finally, would I get better results by using third-party scan software such as SilverFast? Roger Allen Despite headline figures that are usually much higher, photo printers have an effective resolution of about 300 dots per inch (dpi). For the best-quality prints you’ll therefore need an image with pixel dimensions equal to the paper dimension in inches, multiplied by 300. For a 6x4in print, that’s 1,800x1,200 pixels, while for A4 it’s about 3,500x2,500 pixels. For borderless prints, add 5% or so more as some detail is lost in overprinting.

A

126

Beyond a certain point, increasing the resolution won’t yield any more information if the image is poorly focused. Dust and other contaminants become more significant, too: an eyelash might be unnoticeable in an A4 scan, but on a negative it might look like a twig. Third-party scan software won’t improve the raw data coming from the scanner and it may not support all your scanner’s features, but SilverFast includes image processing and enhancement options that might be useful. We’d recommend you evaluate the software before buying it (demo versions are available). We occasionally review film-capable scanners, and would currently recommend Canon’s CanoScan 9000F Mark II: it has a maximum 9,600dpi resolution, supports film sizes including medium format and has an infra-red dust reduction feature. It costs £156 from www.ebuyer.com and is ⬆ Canon’s supported by SilverFast. For the best results, use a 9000F Mark II has all the features we can of compressed air to blow want in a film scanner dust from film before loading.

The resolution you’ll need to capture sufficient detail depends on the size of the original photo. If you’re printing on A4 paper you’ll need to scan an A4 original at 300dpi, a 6x4in photo at 600dpi, and a 35mm film frame at a minimum of 2,400dpi. It’s important to know your scanner’s maximum true (optical) resolution: beyond this point, the scan software performs interpolation to create a bigger image without any further data. At high resolutions, and particularly when scanning transparencies, other factors, such as focus, become important.

OCTOBER 2016

| COM COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


HELPFILE

USB3 drive cabling issues Q

I have several USB3 external hard disks, which all worked fine with my old PC. When that failed, I upgraded to a Medion PC with USB3 ports. Everything again appeared to be working OK, except for one problem that developed a few weeks later. Every so often, my PC would lose its wired Ethernet connection to my Plusnet Technicolor 582n router. Rebooting both the PC and router would persuade them to play nicely for a period of time, after which they’d fall out again. I couldn’t resolve this issue. I later bought a Verbatim 500GB USB3 drive. While all my other drives continued to work perfectly, the Verbatim worked only if I plugged it into a USB2 port: the system wouldn’t recognise it if I plugged it into a USB3 port. I tried removing and updating my USB drivers, replacing the Verbatim drive’s USB3 cable (twice) and eventually upgrading to Windows 10, but the problem remained. I spotted a comment on the web saying USB3 cables should be no longer than two feet. All my external disks have shorter cables, apart from a 2TB Seagate drive, which has a four-foot cable, and which had always worked perfectly. I switched it for a one-foot cable, and not only did the Verbatim drive start working in a USB3 port, my computer no longer loses its Ethernet connection. Can you explain why my Verbatim drive wouldn’t work? Why would the Seagate drive work with a long cable, yet prevent a differentt drive from working? And why y would a USB cable issue have ve any effect on my Ethernet connection? n? Dave Charles harles

Since 2013, updated USB3.0 specifications have required compliant cables with Micro B plugs – as typically used by external drives – to be no longer than a metre (just under 40 inches). There’s a good reason for this: any given cable attenuates signals above a certain frequency, and one of the factors affecting this frequency is the cable length. USB3 uses signalling frequencies in the microwave range, which requires a fairly short cable. We’re not experts in electrical signalling, so we can’t explain why you didn’t notice any issues with your disks when using the Seagate drive with its original cable. However, USB is a serial standard, so the data signal from all your devices passes along the same connecting bus, and a problem with one device could conceivably affect another. It’s probable either that the Seagate’s long cable produced a timing or noise issue that the USB bus could withstand until the introduction of the Verbatim drive, or that the latter produced a similar issue and that replacing the long cable improved the overall picture enough that the bus could cope with it. If you’re certain the Ethernet problem was also resolved by replacing the Seagate drive’s cable, the only explanation we can suggest is that any electrical issue caused by the USB cables wasn’t confined to the USB bus alone. Again, we’re not experts, experts but if the USB3.0 and Ethernet controllers on your mother motherboard both sit wit within the same Pla Platform Controller Hub Hub, it’s possible that noi noise or a clock issue could aff affect both functions.

A

New memory not working Q

I’m trying to increase the memory in my Chillblast desktop PC. I bought a pair of 1,333MHz 4GB Corsair DDR3 DIMMs to replace the existing pair of 2GB Vdata DIMMs in the PC’s Asus P7H55-M motherboard. I took out the originals, put the Corsair memory into the same slots and tried to boot; the screen just remained black and there was no POST beep. If I try with just a single DIMM the PC does boot, but Windows encounters a blue screen before it finishes loading and suggests I launch Startup repair. I’ve entered the BIOS and verified that the RAM speed is set to 1,333MHz and that the DIMM voltage is on Auto. I’m assuming there’s some kind of compatibility issue. Is there anything else I can try? John-Louis Van Lens

A

Your motherboard ought to be able to handle up to four 4GB DIMMs, but the errors you’re getting certainly

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

sound like a compatibility issue. We’d recommend you check and update your BIOS version if necessary; manufacturers often improve a board’s memory and CPU support over time. Visit tinyurl.com/344helpfile2, navigate to the BIOS heading, download the most recent version (1302) and save the extracted .ROM file to a USB drive. Boot with the USB drive still inserted in the PC and enter the BIOS setup utility, then choose EZ Flash 2 from the Tools menu. Use Tab and the cursor keys to select the .ROM file, then hit Enter to begin the update. After it’s completed, reboot the PC, re-enter the BIOS and double-check your settings before shutting down and inserting the new RAM; we’d expect it to work now. Your board should support a 12GB configuration using your old and new DIMMs together. For dual-channel operation, remember to put one pair of identical DIMMs in the blue slots and the other pair in the black slots.

Windows 10 isn’t as good as I thought! Q

A while back you published my letter extolling the virtues of Windows 10 and telling others not to whinge. I’m now wondering if I spoke too soon. Out of the blue my Windows 10 installation has started playing up: both my Start button in the bottom left-hand corner and Cortana have stopped working. When I press the Start button to shut down I get a blue dialog box saying, “Critical Error: Your Start menu isn’t working. We’ll try to fix it next time you sign in.” I’m then taken to the launch screen and in turn the sign-in screen, from where I have to shut down by clicking the icons in the bottom right-hand corner. The Start menu doesn’t get fixed when I sign in again. Sometimes I get an additional error dialog saying, “Exception breakpoint. A breakpoint has been reached. (0x80000003) occurred in the application at location 0x00000024EFDC. Click OK to terminate program.” Sometimes it takes two or three clicks to do this. While I don’t use Cortana much, it’s annoying that it doesn’t work. Looking online I see this is not an uncommon problem, but I haven’t yet found a suggestion that works. It’s very frustrating. Dave Lee You’re right that this isn’t an uncommon problem, but we haven’t yet encountered it ourselves. According to some sources, it’s most likely to occur with the original release of Windows 10, and shouldn’t occur with version 1511 (the so-called Fall update). As a first step we’d recommend pressing the Windows key and R, typing winver into the box and hitting Enter to find your Windows version details. If you have version 10240 you need to upgrade; follow the instructions in the reply opposite. If you already have Windows 10 version 1511, or if you still have the problem after updating, you should run Microsoft’s automated trouble-shooter, available at tinyurl.com/344helpfile3. While we haven’t been able to test it against this problem, it was created to fix it, so we’d expect it to work. If it doesn’t, the only other advice we can give is to try rebooting into Safe Mode, then rebooting again; this can apparently solve the issue, although it may recur. Get to the login screen as you describe above, then hold down Shift as you select Restart. After a few seconds you should have the chance to select Troubleshoot, then Advanced options, then Startup Settings and finally Restart. On restarting, select Safe Mode, wait for the PC to finish booting then restart again.

A

127


Multimedia

EXPERT

Photographer, musician, sound engineer, designer and video producer Ben Pitt guides you through a multimedia project ben@computershopper.co.uk

Edit photos on the go Find out what the latest generation of iOS and Android apps can do for your photography. Ben Pitt puts the contenders through their paces

128

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


MULTIMEDIA EXPERT

FOR THE VAST majority of people, the idea of taking a photo, going home and uploading it to a computer before sharing it with others is unthinkably outdated. A smartphone or tablet handles these tasks quickly and elegantly from wherever you happen to be standing. Admittedly their cameras are no match for a dedicated digital camera, but now that Wi-Fi is standard issue on cameras, it’s easy to transfer photos from camera to smart device, ready to share on social media.

If you just want to snap and share, photo-editing apps are an unnecessary complication. However, some of us want the convenience and immediacy of mobile devices without having to compromise on editing features. It’s not enough simply to slap an Instagram filter on a photo; I want the same level of control that I’m used to getting from desktop applications such as Photoshop and Lightroom. That might sound optimistic, but for common photo-editing tasks, it’s achievable. Let’s look at the contenders and what they can do for your photos.

ADOBE Photoshop Fix I WAS A big fan of Photoshop Touch, but Adobe in its wisdom has removed that app from app stores. Apparently it was to make way for Photoshop Fix, which is free and only currently available for iOS devices. There’s no explicit support for layers here (although there’s a caveat below) so, unlike Photoshop Touch, it can’t be used to combine multiple photos. However, it goes further than Touch in its ability to manipulate individual photos. The headline feature is Liquify, which lets you push pixels around the image. Whereas less sophisticated effects smear pixels and obliterate detail, Liquify works on an underlying grid so the fidelity of fine details stays intact and the original shape can be restored if necessary. There’s a bizarre Face mode that identifies facial features and offers controls to enlarge eyes, square the jaw, pinch the nose and so on. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be comical, but that’s the end result. I often use Liquify in the desktop version of Photoshop but more for graphic design projects than photo editing. It feels a little out of place here, but there’s no doubting its technical aptitude. Photoshop Fix also includes the best blemish-removal tools available for mobile devices. Spot Heal clones from a nearby area

⬆ The option to add a smile to faces using Photoshop Fix’s Liquify tool is particularly unnerving

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

and matches colours to the new surroundings. If you don’t like the source area for the clone, you can use Patch to select a new area. Sometimes colour matching isn’t what’s required, which is where the Clone Stamp comes into play. Finally, there’s a Restore brush for removing any unwanted changes. Colour correction is basic, with Exposure, Contrast, Saturation, Shadows and Highlights tools, but no sign of Adobe’s excellent Clarity filter and not even any white balance controls. It does include brushes to lighten, darken,

layers for healing, vignettes, paint, smoothing and so on. The only edits that are applied to the original photo layer are Liquify warps. There are two benefits to this layer-based approach. One is that edits can be amended or removed at any time, rather than having to cycle through a linear undo history – although that’s available too. It’s even possible to amend or undo after an image has been saved and closed. The other benefit is that Photoshop Fix can export directly to Photoshop CC running on a Windows or

Photoshop Fix includes the best blemish-removal tools available for mobile devices saturate or desaturate areas of the image. A Paint tool includes an option to blend colours with the original photo, similar to an Overlay blend mode on desktop Photoshop. Smooth, Sharpen and Defocus brushes, plus crop and vignette tools, complete the line-up. Behind the scenes, most edits are saved on separate layers, either as Adjustment Layers for colour correction or as normal

Mac computer, whereupon the individual layers can be accessed directly. It’s frustrating that Adobe hasn’t put all its best features in a single app; Lightroom and (to a lesser extent) Photoshop Express are better for colour correction. However, iOS device owners can access Photoshop Fix’s Healing and Liquify tools from Photoshop Express, getting the best of both worlds.

⬆ Photoshop Fix’s Liquify and Paint tools are better suited to special effects than subtle editing

129


MULTIMEDIA EXPERT

ADOBE Photoshop Express PHOTOSHOP EXPRESS IS available free for iOS and Android devices. It’s pitched at less ambitious users than Lightroom Mobile (see below), and Photoshop Fix (page 129), but there’s a lot that it can do. Certain features require the user to sign into Adobe ID to access, but this appears to be a time-limited offer. By the time you read this, these may be paid-for features. Colour correction is its main strength, with a solid collection of filters that are applied non-destructively so they can be used in combination with each other. Adobe’s superb Clarity filter is included, boosting contrast compared to nearby pixels to make details really pop. Defog is here too, boosting contrast in low-contrast areas of a photo while leaving other parts unaffected. As with CyberLink PhotoDirector (opposite) there are various single-click filters, known here as Looks. These are unusually subtle and sophisticated, giving attractive results without necessarily looking like the photo has been passed through a creative filter. The only user control for these Looks is a slider for the overall amount, but the non-destructive approach means they can be used in conjunction with the colourcorrection filters for the best results. The healing brush is limited by the fact that it can only be applied as fixed-size dots. It’s OK for small blemishes such as dust spots

⬆ Photoshop Express’s off-the-shelf Looks are subtler and classier than most

or pimples, but it can’t cope with larger or irregular-shaped blemishes. A cropping tool, red-eye reduction and a selection of frames complete the line-up. Photoshop Express is the simplest app in this round-up, but its high-quality colour

correction makes it a front-runner for people who just want something simple and effective. There’s an option in the iOS version to send a photo to Photoshop Fix (see page 129) to access its Liquify or Healing Tool. Together these two apps work extremely well.

ADOBE Lightroom Mobile THIS APP STARTED life as a companion app for desktop versions of Lightroom, and was only available to Creative Cloud subscribers and not even to people who had bought Lightroom outright. That’s still the case for the iPad app, but the Android version is free for anyone to use. The iOS app is iPad only and doesn’t support the iPhone or iPod touch.

Its colour-correction tools are taken straight from desktop Lightroom, and they’re as good as it gets. There’s precise control over brightness, with the ability to tune blacks, shadows, highlights and whites separately, plus Adobe’s Clarity and Dehaze filters for punchy contrast. Tone curve editing is included, and Split Toning adds coloured tints

⬆ Lightroom Mobile can pick out specific colours for fine-tuning

130

to highlights and shadows. Lightroom Mobile lacks the desktop version’s local editing tools, which allow colour correction to be applied to selected parts of the image, and it also misses out on blemish removal. However, it can boost or cut the hue, saturation or luminance of selected colours within an image, for example to make grass look more lush without affecting skin tones. These controls are better suited to corrective than creative editing, but the results are excellent. There are 47 presets available for single-click results, but they’re not particularly inspiring to my eyes. Lightroom Mobile works best when used in conjunction with Lightroom for Mac or Windows PCs. Photos and editing settings are synced via the cloud, so the app can be used to make a start on editing, finishing off on a desktop. It also allows the app to be used as a viewer for your portfolio or works in progress. Support for the DNG format means you get access to the Raw image data, but only when Raw files are imported to the desktop application and then synced to the mobile app. Few cameras currently shoot in DNG format so it’s not possible to import Raw files directly to the mobile device. Lightroom Mobile is an obvious choice for Creative Cloud users, but the free Android version is an excellent choice if you want powerful colour correction without the frills.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


MULTIMEDIA EXPERT

CYBERLINK PhotoDirector MUCH LIKE THE Windows application of the same name, CyberLink PhotoDirector for iOS and Android devices has a balance of fun, beginner-friendly effects and more detailed controls. It’s not a native iPad app so it looks pixelated on their high-resolution screens, but that’s not a huge drawback. The app is free, but a few features require a £3.99 upgrade. Each tool is accompanied by simple instructions on first use, and these can be requested again by tapping the ‘i’ button. Colour correction consists of white balance, exposure, tone curve, saturation and HDR filters. It’s not a long list, but the inclusion of a tone curve makes it particularly well set up for precise editing. Most HDR effects tend to make a mess of photos, aggressively boosting contrast so that photos look far from natural. PhotoDirector’s HDR filter is capable of surprisingly subtle results, delivering punchy contrast without the usual garishness. I’d have liked a simple contrast control as well, though, and it’s a little frustrating that each effect must be applied permanently before moving on the next. That makes it harder to use them in combination. The Removal tool is similar to Adobe Photoshop’s Spot Healing Brush Tool, removing small blemishes in photos by cloning from nearby areas and colourmatching for its new surroundings. This feature requires the £3.99 upgrade for unlimited use, but it certainly is effective. Meanwhile, the Skin Tool smooths over wrinkles and reduces shininess. These kinds of filters can go disastrously wrong if they

⬆ PhotoDirector is available for Android and iOS

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

⬆ CyberLink PhotoDirector has a good balance of beginner and advanced features

leave the photo looking obviously airbrushed. The results in this instance are reasonably subtle, but I’d still approach with caution. There are lots of fun effects, including dozens of well-executed artistic filters, radial blur and overlays such as light leak, scratches, grunge textures and lens flares. Various frames are included but most come with a CyberLink watermark. The Android version has a few extra features. Collage combines up to six photos with a choice of themed backgrounds. Fisheye applies barrel or pincushion distortion, Splash converts some colours to

greyscale while keeping others saturated, while Blender overlays images of skies, stars and raindrops. Pen Tools includes a Magic Brush that paints lens flares, hearts and petals across the screen. I’m not easily won over by this kind of thing but I appreciate the ability to place these decorations so they complement the photo composition rather than just slap a preset image over the top. Other apps here offer more sophisticated colour correction, but PhotoDirector’s solid collection of colour-correction tools and its creative effects, overlays and borders make it a useful one-stop shop.

⬆ The app includes lots of fun filters

⬆ Each tool is accompanied by simple instructions

131


MULTIMEDIA EXPERT

GOOGLE Snapseed SNAPSEED HAS BEEN around since 2011, and has been at the forefront of mobile photo editing ever since. It’s available free for iOS and Android devices, with no paid-for premium features. The editing features are split into Tools and Filters, with the former covering colour correction and other practical tools, and the latter focused on creative effects. There’s a generous amount of control across the board: the creative effects can be applied as simple templates, but there’s plenty of scope to customise and fine-tune the results. The interface works well on small screens, with up-down swipes to select a parameter and left-right swipes to change the value. The Tune Image tool is home to the main colour-correction controls. There’s not quite the same surgical precision as Lightroom, but it’s enough for most purposes. The Selective Tool has only brightness, contrast and saturation controls, but it applies them to a limited area of the frame, defined by a radial control but also based on similar colours. It’s easier to try than it is to explain, but it’s excellent for making subtle adjustments to skin tones. Meanwhile, the Brush tool can apply Dodge & Burn, Exposure, Temperature and Saturation edits as brush strokes, which is great for bringing out key details in images. The Transform Tool is a new addition, skewing the image horizontally or vertically, typically to achieve parallel lines on photos of buildings. The app automatically clones areas of the photo to fill in the irregular gaps around the edges that are created. The Details tool includes a Structure filter that’s similar to Adobe’s Clarity filter. The Healing tool is simplistic but works well enough. Over on the Filters side, there are 12 to choose from, each with various single-click

⬆ Snapseed lets you go back and adjust previous edits without having to undo other edits

presets and options to fine-tune settings. Tonal Contrast is another variation on the Clarity theme, with the ability to boost the contrast of shadows, midtones and highlights

the opposite, glossing over fine details with an ethereal sheen. Elsewhere, the Vintage, Retrolux and Grunge filters offer varying degrees of retro film simulation, from a gentle

There’s a generous amount of control across the board: the creative effects can be applied as simple templates, but there’s plenty of scope to customise the results separately, and to protect shadows and highlights from clipping. The Drama and HDR Scape filters use similar techniques but deliver more dramatic results. Glamour Glow does

colour cast to a scratched-up relic. The Filters are capable of dramatic results, but there’s enough control to rein them in and stop the effect overpowering the original photo. Each Tool or Filter is applied to the image before you move on to the next, but as of version 2 released in 2015, the app isn’t constrained by a linear undo history. Tapping the number beside the Save button reveals the undo history, and any Tool or Filter can be deleted, amended or be given a mask so that filter is applied only to certain parts of the frame. It’s also possible to save in a native format so the undo history and masks are available for further editing at a later date. This is powerful stuff that unlocks a huge amount of creative potential. The interface isn’t quite as elegant as Photoshop Express’s, but Snapseed has the right balance of corrective precision, creative expression and open-ended experimentation to deliver superb results.

NEXT MONTH TOP TIPS FOR EDITING VIDEOS

Following on from our guide to shooting video (Shopper 340), we reveal how to make the most of your footage ⬆ Google’s app isn’t short of retro filters to give your photos that old-style look

132

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


The Sun- worshipper

The Weekender

FREE

portable speaker*

The Explorer

The Adventurer

SAVE

up to 50 %

Whether you’ll be sitting on a beach or going on an adventure this summer, we have a magazine for you in our SUMMER SALE! SAVE UP TO 50% and receive a FREE portable

speaker – the perfect companion to any summer read

magazinedeals.co.uk/summersale

01795 592 910 quote code: P1610PSC

*Gifts limited to the first 1000 orders only. Please allow 28 days for delivery. UK only offer. Alternative gift may be supplied


Advanced

PROJECTS

Clive Webster has been tinkering with computers ever since Windows 98 forced him to manually install his drivers clive@computershopper.co.uk

Build a robot with the kids

You don’t need dangerous soldering irons or mad-professor laboratories to make a robot. Clive Webster shows you how even children can create an ingenious bot

WITH A £17 CamJam kit, a Raspberry Pi and a few odds and ends you’ve probably already got lying around, you can make an autonomous robot to whizz around the kitchen floor. Best of all, the kit is designed to be used by children so there’s no soldering required – just plug-in components and screw-down connections. CamJam provides online worksheets to take you from a box full of bits to a fully working robot, but we found these a touch long-winded. There are also a few intentional mistakes, presumably because debugging code is fun. Or possibly to instill the next generation with a healthy scepticism for experts. We show you the quick and easy way to build the CamJam robot.

134

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


SHOPPING LIST

WE’VE DRAWN UP a shopping list on the right of recommended parts and retailers, but check that you haven’t already got a USB cable, a Raspberry Pi (any model will do, though a Pi Zero requires a soldering iron to attach the GPIO pins, which is fiddly) or a portable battery. We’ve used an old Raspberry Pi A+ because it’s small and low power, but these aren’t on sale any more. If you need to buy a new Pi, only the Pi 3 Model B was on sale at the time of writing and this requires a 1.5A power source; older Pis should be fine with a 1A power source. We recommend a battery capacity of at least 2,600mAh, otherwise you’ll be charging it up all the time. You’ll also need a very small screwdriver, the sort that come in fancy Christmas crackers, or take up our offer at the end of this article and get one for free. Depending on how trustworthy the kids you’re doing the project with are, you might want to do a bit of preliminary work before they get stuck in. For example, you could choose to make a chassis for your robot from scraps of wood, or even order a 3D-printed chassis from Thingiverse (see www.thingiverse. com/thing:1113796). However, we’ve chosen the super-cheap option of using the CamJam box itself as our chassis. We’ve carved, cut and drilled our box (see page 136) to try to make a neater finished product, but you could just stick the motors to the underside of the box (CamJam provides some sticky doublesided tape) and Blu Tack other parts in place. If you want to make a neater robot, you’ll need to carve out two sections of the side of the box for the motors to sit in, as otherwise the wheels can’t attach securely to the splines of the motor. You’ll then need to cut or drill a hole for each wheel. These need to be 14mm in diameter, centred 15mm up and 20mm forward. We wanted to make a proximity sensing robot like the ones we saw on Tomorrow’s World 20 years ago, so drilled a pair of holes at the front for the proximity

Raspberry Pi 3, Model B THEPIHUT.COM

£30

CamJam EduKit #3 thepihut.com

£17

Anker Astro E1 5200mAh www.amazon.co.uk

£12

4x AA batteries (rechargeabl e) www.amazon.co.uk

£8

8GB micro SD card (with SD adaptor) www.amazon.co.uk

£2

Short USB to mini-USB cabl e thepihut.com

£2

Wi-Fi dongle (optional) thepihut.com

£6

Tiny screwdriver See offer on page 137 Delivery thepihut.com

Total

0 £2.50

£79.50

sensor (CamJam also includes a pair of sensors to allow the robot to follow a line, which we thought was less exciting). These front holes need to be 16mm in diameter, centred 29mm up and 21mm in.

MAKE YOUR ROBOT

Whichever Pi you use, use the Jessie Lite version of Raspbian (see www.raspberrypi.org/ downloads/raspbian) as this is quicker to download. Write Raspbian to your microSD card with Win32DiskImager (see tinyurl.com/ win32di). Use Universal USB Installer (see tinyurl.com/u-usb-inst) if Win32DiskImager doesn’t work on your Windows 10 install. Once done, plug the microSD card into your Pi along with screen, keyboard and Wi-Fi dongle (see ‘Wi-Fi on a Pi’, page 137). Finally, use a phone charger to power your Pi at this stage.

Log into your Pi (username ‘pi’, password ‘raspberry’) and update Raspbian and its apps with the following commands: sudo apt-get update and hit Enter, then sudo apt-get -y upgrade. Next, install the latest version of the Python programming language: sudo apt-get install -y python3.2. Once your Pi is working fine, power it down with the command sudo shutdown -h now. When all the LEDs on the Pi stop flickering, disconnect the power. The first unit of the CamJam kit to connect is the motor controller board, which you just push down on to the left-most section of the bank of GPIO pins of the Pi (holding the Pi with the USB ports on top and to the right). You can now screw the wires from the motors into the screw-down terminals for Motor A and Motor B on the motor control board. Motor A is the right wheel, Motor B the left; with the Pi in the same USBs-to-the-right orientation, the red wire goes in the right terminal of each pair. Now you can screw in the CamJam battery pack wires, after filling it with four charged AA batteries, again with the red wire on the right. Now connect your portable battery to the Pi to power it up. The program (called a script) that governs the motors is lengthy, so we’ve saved you some time by uploading our modified version of CamJam’s code. Log in to your Pi and create a new folder by typing mkdir robot and hitting Enter; move into this folder with the command cd robot. Now download our script with the command wget http://www. shopperdownload.co.uk/adproj/calibration.py. It’s worth reading through this script before executing it, so type nano calibration.py and hit Enter. Now thank us profusely, as CamJam would rather you typed all this code yourself. Hopefully the layout of the script should be familiar, even if the commands are a bit weird and Python is very fussy about code being neatly grouped in tabbed indentations. Essentially we’ve got variable declarations at the top, a few set-up options, and then some

⬆ The CamJam kit contains everything you need to make an autonomous robot, apart from a Raspberry Pi and battery pack

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

135


ADVANCED PROJECTS

1. CARVE OUT

2. WHEEL HOLES

3. FRONT HOLES

4. COASTER WHEEL

You can use the CamJam box as a chassis for your robot, just measure and carve a space for the motors [1], drill some holes for the wheels to attach to the motor splines [2], and add a pair of holes for the proximity sensor at the front [3]. Use an off-cut of the sticky tape to stick the font coaster wheel to the bottom of the box near the front [4].

136

definitions of functions such as StopMotors and Forwards. Take a look at the variables: why are there four motor-based variables? Because the motors can go backwards as well as forwards, so if we activate pin 10 (positive wire of Motor A) the motor will turn forwards. However, if we leave things there, pin 9 (backwards) might also be activated, so we need to remember that if we want a motor to turn forwards we not only want to activate the positive wire, but ensure that the negative wire is deactivated. Scroll down to the function definitions (which start with a light-blue def) and you’ll see this in action: there are four elements to each definition. Except they’re not active, they’re DutyCycleR or DutyCycleL. This is because CamJam uses Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM) to slow the motors down to

controllable speeds. CamJam’s Worksheet 7 (see camjam.me/?page_id=1035) explains PWM, and we’ve covered the concept before, but let’s just say it’s an elegant way to slow the speed of the motors. Scroll up toward the variables section of the script and you’ll see the PWM section. We found a frequency of 40 and DutyCycles of roughly 40 to give our robot reasonable speed. Place your robot on the floor, ensuring it’s free of tangles and has a few metres in front of it to drive into. Also remember to turn on the CamJam-supplied battery pack that powers the motors. Close the script by pressing Ctrl-X, N and run it by typing python calibration.py. The robot should drive forwards for 10 seconds. It won’t, though. This is because the motors aren’t precisely matched; one will probably be a little faster than the other. Our

⬆ Just press the motor control board on to the Pi’s GPIO pins, as shown. Some Pis have fewer pins than the 40 of our Pi A+, so there won’t be any left exposed on these Pis

⬆ Connect the ultrasonic distance detector to the motor control board like this

robot veered off to the left by roughly 70cm over a 2.5m length. So we increased the DutyCycleL variable in our calibration.py script, saving (Ctrl-X, Y, Enter) and re-running the script until we settled on a DutyCycleL value of 41.7 rather than 40.

COLLISION AVOIDANCE

Now your robot can drive in a straight line, you can do something interesting with it. We chose to make a robot that can avoid collisions, but you could also make one that follows lines on the floor with the instructions in CamJam Worksheets 5 and 8. Power down your Pi and unplug the power, and turn off the CamJam battery pack. Plug the ultrasonic distance detector (the larger circuit with two round things on the front) into the supplied breadboard with a leg

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


ADVANCED PROJECTS

⬆ These eyes are actually ultrasonic sensors – your robot ‘sees’ in the same way as a bat echo-locates prey at night

of the circuit board in each row (think of the central gutter as a column). Each row of a breadboard is connected, but not the columns, so you can connect the VCC leg of the circuit board to the 5V connection on the motor control board by plugging one end of a white jumper wire into any of the holes on the row into which the VCC leg is plugged. Similarly, connect Trig to #17 and GND to GND. Now you’ll need to identify which resistor is which: the 330Ω has two orange bands on it while the 470Ω has yellow and violet. If your kit has three sets of resistors, disregard the ones with yellow, violet, black, brown, brown colour bands (rather than yellow, violet, black, black, brown) as these are 4.7kΩ. Use one 330Ω resistor to jump from the Echo row to a used row, and the 470Ω resistor to jump from the Receiver row to that same row; then use a fourth white jumper wire to connect that ‘resistors only’ row to #18. Power up your Pi, log in and change to the robot directory. Download another of our modified scripts to test that the ultrasonic detector is working: wget http://www.

⬆ Make your robot start zooming about automatically as soon it powers up by editing the rc.local file

shopperdownload.co.uk/adproj/distance.py. Run this by typing python distance.py. You should see a readout of numbers, which is the distance in front of the robot in centimetres. Place your hand in front of the robot and this value should decrease until at some point the readout says ‘Whoa, too close!’ Your robot can detect imminent collisions. If not, check your wiring and resistor values.

DRIVE TIME

Our final modified script combines code from the calibration.py and distance.py scripts, plus a few avoidance variables and a last section that tells the robot to drive about: wget http://www.shopperdownload.co.uk/adproj/ avoidance.py. You’ll need to edit this with your values for DutyCycleL or DutyCycleR, so type nano avoidance.py, make your change, and save and quit (Ctrl-X, Y, Enter). You can launch this script in the same way as the others – python avoidance.py – but you’re not going to impress anyone by having to log into your Pi every time you want to show off. Instead, make the avoidance.py scrip executable with the command chmod 755

avoidance.py and then make it automatically launch as soon as the Pi boots by editing the rc.local file: sudo nano /etc/rc.local. When rc.local opens, add this line before the last exit 0 line: python /home/pi/robot/ avoidance.py &. Save and close (Ctrl-X, Y, Enter) and you’ve made your autonomous robot. Switch to battery power, set your robot on the floor and it should zoom off, careering toward chair legs and skirting boards only to stop at the last minute before backing away, turning right and zooming off again.

Subscribe to Computer Shopper today and not only will you get 5 issues for £5 but we’ll also send you a handy 26-piece toolkit, including the tiny screwdriver you need to build your robot. Visit dennismags.co.uk/ computershopper and use code P1610P.

NEXT MONTH RE-USE YOUR OLD ISP ROUTER

Put that ‘free’ router from your ISP to use as a media-serving switch or Wi-Fi extender

WI-FI ON A PI Editing the code that governs your robot without having to plug in a screen and keyboard is very handy, so download PuTTY (see tinyurl.com/ssh-putty) to access your Pi remotely over your home network. We’ve covered how to use this SSH tool in previous issues. However, having even an Ethernet cable dragging behind your robot as it scoots around is ludicrous; also, our Pi A+ doesn’t have an Ethernet port: what to do? Plug in a Wi-Fi dongle while the Pi is powered down; boot it up; type sudo nano /etc/network /interfaces, Enter. Amend the text file as shown in the image, using your network’s name (SSID) and password. You must use double quotes around the SSID and password. Press Ctrl-X, then Y then Enter to save and exit. Now when you reboot (sudo reboot) the Pi it will automatically log on to your Wi-Fi network, allowing you to wirelessly log in to the Pi with PuTTY.

ISSUE 344 | COMPUTER SHOPPER

| OCTOBER 2016

⬆ Edit the network interfaces file to get your Pi to log on to your Wi-Fi network

137


PARTING SHOTS

Zygote In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king – and there are plenty of those around thanks to nocturnal tech habits. Fortunately Zygote still has 20/20 vision CSI K9

The County Sheriff department in Weber, Utah has hired itself a new detective. His name is URL, pronounced Earl, and he is a two-year-old black labrador. His mission: to sniff out digital porn. Equipped with 300 million olfactory receptors, the dog is able to use its remarkable sense of smell to locate hidden memory sticks and flash drives, which the sheriff obviously thinks are unique to pornographers. When questioned how the computerliterate canine can distinguish evil porn files from innocent data, dog-handler Detective Cameron Hartman declared the mutt “has had nine months’ instruction”, but declined to say if the poor creature had been forced to watch any hard-core horrors. By way of justification, the detective reminded the citizens of the region about the peril they face, saying, “Utah is the first state to declare pornography a public health crisis”. Zygote would like to point out that in Northern Utah, where URL the labrador is so vitally needed, the population is dominated by Mormons.

PORN AGAIN

Anonymous, the international alliance of hackers, is best known for attacking corporate, government and church websites in private, and wearing Guy Fawkes masks in public. But in recent weeks Anonymous has changed tactics. Its latest campaign is directed against supporters of Islamic State, and its method is to humiliate self-righteous jihadi warriors by defacing their social media pages with pornographic images and material supporting gay rights. In the past, the likes of Twitter have been faced with a growing problem of trying to block pro-ISIS accounts, but thanks to Anonymous as soon as the holy warriors are confronted with some naked flesh or a rainbow flag they can’t take down their own pages fast enough.

138

TWO FISTED

The fact that smartphones already outnumber people is a sobering thought. Last year 1.4 billion units were bought, and this year smartphone sales will grow to 1.5 billion units. By 2020 the annual rate will have increased to 1.9 billion additional phones, but the number of mobile phone users is predicted to have reached saturation point and levelled out at around five billion souls. Couple this with the fact that the average working life of a smartphone is almost five years and it’s obvious that much of humanity owns at least two mobiles already. An obvious case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

THE BORROWERS

What with all the furore over Brexit, a vital decision by the European Court of Justice seems to have been enacted without anyone noticing. The EU has ruled that eBooks are the legal equivalent of printed books when it comes to library lending. In other words, libraries no longer need the author’s permission to lend out an electronic title for free. Zygote reckons this is a very sensible policy, and hopes that authors won’t start bleating about loss of revenues when they wise up. Far from reducing book sales, the ruling will

increase them, as more and more libraries pay for their own copies of more and more eBooks, and then operate their normal system of one-copy, one-user. This is the universal policy that when a book is borrowed and checked out it’s no longer available to other readers. As soon as the self same eBook is checked back in again, the borrower’s copy stops working and the title becomes available for someone else to read. Because there is no restriction on physical shelf space, far more copies of eBooks will be bought in the future than their printed brethren ever were, giving many more authors a chance of earning some royalties.

OFF CAMERA

The most recent figures gathered by Barclaycard reveal that 48% of small businesses in the UK have suffered from cybercrime during the past year. The consequences of online attacks include loss of revenue, the disruption of business, damage to reputation and compensation to customers, not to mention fines and sanctions for being so dumb. And yet only one in five small businesses see cybercrime as a problem, with one in 10 having invested nothing at all by way of IT security measures. The most alarming statistic is that the smaller the business, the

greater the risk of going under completely if their systems get hit. Zygote laughed like a drain at the recent PR photo of Facebook supremo Mark Zuckerberg showing how seriously he takes his online security, even though he has a private army of IT security experts to protect him. He had covered his computer’s camera and microphone inputs with sticky tape, and no less a follower than James Comey, the director of the FBI, revealed that he had done exactly the same. Small businesses of Britain, you have been warned.

EYE EYE

After examining a number of patients, doctors from Moorfields Eye Hospital, Kings College and City University London have confirmed that dodgy bedtime habits can indeed make you go blind. A number of patients who attended various ophthalmic clinics all seemed to be suffering from a weird bleaching of the photo-pigments, but only in one eye. This was a complete mystery until it was discovered that they all had one thing in common. They had the habit of viewing their tablet, console or mobile screens while lying in bed in the dark with a pillow blocking out the unaffected eye. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.

OCTOBER 2016

| COMPUTER SHOPPER | ISSUE 344


A SUMMER OF COLOUR WITH KYOCERA FREE

UP TO

£200

3 YEAR WARRANTY

CASHBACK

Printing in colour has numerous benefits, whether it’s to spruce up your sales and marketing material or attract more attention to your documents, making them more memorable – you need great consistent colour, time after time. That is why KYOCERA ECOSYS printers deliver great colour prints, have proven reliability and low running costs. We now have some amazing offers; end-users can claim up to £200 Cashback or Free 3 Year Warranty upgrades on selected printers.

For more information on KYOCERA printers, visit kyoceradocumentsolutions.co.uk or an approved supplier. ®

Promotions valid between the 1st July - 30th September 2016. Terms and conditions apply..


BROADEN YOUR PERSPECTIVE

ProLite XUB3490WQSU 34” IPS ultra-wide screen with a height adjustable stand. ProLite XUB3490WQSU is a 34” LED monitor featuring UWQHD (Ultra Wide QHD) resolution and offering 21:9 viewable area. Broaden your perspective by using side-by-side applications or watch a movie shot in widescreen format.

34’’

www.iiyama.com

ULTRA WIDE

HUB

Computer shopper october 2016  
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you