Razer Phone hands-on Review | Trusted Reviews

Hands-on with Razer’s first smartphone

Razer isn’t a company that likes to be pigeon holed. Over the years it’s broken out from its traditional PC peripheral roots to create everything from full-on laptops to wearables. Some of the gambles have paid off to great effect, like Razer’s stellar series of gaming notebooks, but others have been outright stinkers – remember the Razer Nabu watch?

That’s why you may be skeptical about this latest expansion into the phone market. After all, with former heavyweights like HTC and BlackBerry struggling, what could Razer actually bring to the table that others haven’t? If you’re willing to look under the slightly old-school aesthetics, quite a lot as it turns out.

Razer claims it worked to create a common look between its phone and existing laptops. Whether this is a positive or a negative will depend largely on personal taste. Some will love the phone’s solid metal, black chassis and pristinely cut sides. But others, like me, will see the design as being slightly retro. I personally think it looks a little like the mongrel spawn of an HTC One and Sony Xperia.

Whatever side you fall, there’s one thing you can’t deny: the Razer Phone is a cutting edge handset from a hardware perspective in pretty much every way.

The metal frame features a USB-C charging port and, like many modern phones, doesn’t feature a 3.5mm headphone jack. Curse you, Apple, for making my Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 useless during the morning commute without a dongle.

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On the inside you’ll also find all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a 2017 flagship. The Razer Phone is powered by a super-fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and a quite frankly ridiculous 8GB of DDR4 RAM. It will easily blitz through everyday tasks and demanding 3D gaming, from what I’ve seen.

The rear camera setup – which pairs separate wide-angle and telephoto lenses with two Samsung 12-megapixel sensors – also follows the standard dual-sensor strategy that’s currently in vogue.

I won’t be able to sensibly comment on the cameras’ prowess until I manage to more thoroughly test the Razer Phone, but they worked well enough during my demo session and appeared to be no better or worse than those on most 2017 phones. Images looked fine on the small screen and appeared to be more than good enough for sharing on social media.

So far, so so-so, right? Well that’s what I thought until I delved a little deeper and realised Razer’s pulled a few clever tricks to bring PC gaming innovations to the mobile space. The coolest of these relate to the Razer Phone’s screen, cooling and speakers.

At first glance the screen was pretty bog standard. The 5.72-inch panel’s 1440 x 2560 resolution is sharp and clear, but no better than on competing handsets like the Galaxy S8. Colours appeared reasonably well balanced, albeit a little overcooked to the naked eye and blacks and whites were what I’d expect from an LCD, not AMOLED, panel.

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But after a few minutes using the phone I noticed a few subtle differences. For starters, the phone felt smoother and was pleasingly free of the screen tearing issues I often experience on Android while gaming. This is because Razer’s actually loaded the handset with a variable refresh rate and new custom ‘Ultramotion’ tech.

To non-techies, refresh rate refers to how many times a display renders an image per second. Most phones have a locked refresh rate that’s capped at 60Hz (60 frames per second).

A variable refresh rate means the screen can change how many images it renders per second on the fly, depending on what it’s doing. In the case of the Razer, this means the phone can optimise itself to run anywhere between 20-120Hz at any given moment. To non-PC gamers this won’t mean much, but trust me it’s actually a pretty cool feature with a variety of benefits.

The 120Hz max is a seriously impressive feature that, outside of the iPad Pro, is yet to appear in mobile devices. The higher refresh rate means the screen is significantly more responsive and smoother to use – by rendering more frames per second there are fewer gaps between each new animation and image. The difference is particularly noticeable in reaction-focused games, like MOBAs, where the Razer felt more responsive than the HTC U11 I had in my pocket.

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The fact that it can lower its refresh rate for less demanding and slower tasks, like basic browsing, should also help conserve battery, as the screen won’t be rendering new images quite so often.

Ultramotion is a nifty bit of tech that’s pretty similar to Nvidia’s G-Sync and AMD’s FreeSync. The tech syncs the screen’s dynamic refresh rate with the GPU to stop it jumping ahead and pre-rendering images early, thus causing screen tears and anomalies appearing when playing games.

This feature may not sound that sexy, but after an hour with the Razer Phone I’ve found every other handset I’ve tested since feels a little chuggy, particularly when gaming.

The same is true of the phone’s audio. During the demo, the Razer’s dual speakers managed to give the HTC U11 – until now was the loudest phone I’ve ever tested – a run for its money. This is another boon that could make the Razer a great handset for gaming.

The clever cooling system is a final perk that feels tailor made for mobile gamers. Within the phone’s metal frame, you’ll find cleverly optimised thermals that attach a heat pipe and two layers of thermal protection to the frame, creating a heatsink setup.

I didn’t get long enough to see how well it worked under a load of different conditions, but I was amazed how cool the phone ran after over 15 minutes of playing Riptide GP2. If the Razer Phone can keep this up for prolonged periods it should be one of a select few handsets capable of avoiding CPU and GPU throttling during prolonged gaming sessions.

Opening impressions

 

The Razer Phone’s unique hardware is impressive and means, on paper at least, that the handset should be a solid choice for mobile gamers. My only concern is that Razer’s not got a whole lot of experience in mobile software – an area that can make or break any phone.

The use of Android Nougat – Android Oreo update confirmed for the new year – overlaid with Nova Launcher Premium, means the phone should be stable and generally great for everyday stuff. But I can’t help but think Razer may struggle with key things like camera optimisation, an area largely defined by software. I’m also slightly sad the company didn’t push its games offering a little more and pair with a big-name company to offer exclusive titles or services, like Nvidia and its Shield services, for example.

Hopefully my concerns won’t amount to anything. Either way I can’t help but feel the Razer Phone will be one of the most interesting phones to arrive this year and I can’t wait to more thoroughly test it.

Monster Hunter World Preview | Trusted Reviews

Available January 26 on PS4, Xbox One and PC

Monster Hunter’s dedicated following will be well versed on its intricate systems and the hours of homework required to take down its myriad beasts. However, those new to the series have always found it tough going. Monster Hunter has struggled in the past to welcome new players, but Capcom is hoping to refresh its recipe with Monster Hunter: World, with the series returning to console in the hope of attracting both old stalwarts and brand new players alike. Certainly, after 10 hours it’s definitely worked its charms on me. Not a Monster Hunter fan? World could be the game to change that.

Pre-order Monster Hunter World from Amazon UK | Amazon.com

From the very start Monster Hunter: World isn’t what I expected, mainly because it opens by presenting a solid story. From afar I always assumed Monster Hunter was purely about going into the forest, killing beasts, gaining rewards – and then rinse and repeat. Muchio like Dark Souls, where a story loosely ties together hours of solid gameplay. However, World immediately puts forward a compelling story in spectacular fashion.

I didn’t expect to become so quickly hooked into a game built solely around killing giant monsters, but thanks to some beautiful cut-scenes inter-spliced with hand-held gameplay segments, I was all in and ready to slice and dice in honour of the group. On playing a brief snippet of World at a previous event, I wasn’t captured by its visuals. But it looks significantly better on the PS4 Pro; in particular, thanks to HDR. Colours pop and there’s plenty of detail on display in the terrain.

Related: PS4 Pro vs Xbox One X

The game’s opening crash course eventually leads to Research Commission HQ, which acts as a hub where players return between hunts to stock up on items, eat food, forge or upgrade weapons and armour, and receive new quests. It’s a beautiful multi-level complex, which very clearly takes its design inspiration from pirate ships and vikings. It reminded me of the movie Hook, only missing Rufio’s douchey hairstyle flying around.

As mentioned before, previous Monster Hunters have been pretty unwelcoming, but here the Research Commission is set up to explain some of the nuances of the game to newbies. Everything you can do within this space is presented in a concise tutorial, but it’s in no way overly handholding – nor will have you hammering the ‘skip’ button in a raging fit. Players are led to each of the bays in which they can interact in a brief guide (this is the canteen, this is the smithy, and so on), before being free to explore on their own.

Interacting with each room and its various sub-menus will lead to smaller, text-based tutorials, but it’s kept to a minimum. I felt clued up within a very short space of time, while also being able to experiment to figure out what each could do to learn the capabilities.

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World manages to navigate some of the pitfalls of action RPGs by disguising some of its number-heavy systems and keeping things on a need-to-know basis. Forging new equipment, for example, is simple – what you need to either improve current or build new items, and the benefits each will bring, is clear. I was impressed by the simplicity of the user interface, even though there was still plenty of information on-screen.

I often hear from Monster Hunter fans how great the series is “after you’ve played it for about 10 hours”, and it seems that Capcom has managed to cut out that learning curve with World’s excellent opening. This is perfect, as you’re now able to get stuck into the best part of the game: the hunting.

Your handler will dish out new quests for you; speaking to her will reveal the beast you need to take down next. Speaking to other people within the Research Commission will also unlock ‘optional’ quests, such as collecting a certain amount of fauna, or killing a dozen low-level creatures – but the main hunt is where the real action lies.

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Monster Hunter World

Heading out on the first hunt for the Great Jagras, once again Capcom shows how it’s trying to capture new members by making it much easier to get straight into battle. Finding the trail of the beast is now much easier thanks to your trusty Scout flies. This fluorescent fliers will float ahead of you and pick up any tracks, mucus or scratches left by targets in the environment. If they’re yet to discover animal markings, they’ll find other useful items such as herbs and other healing items that you can pick up.

In time-limited missions this makes the battle much better, and it’s also helped by the clear map that’s divided into numbered zones to help find the way.

It isn’t long before the Great Jagras is found, and it all kicks off. Combat is excellent and fast-paced, and massively dictated by your choice of weapon. Throughout play I tried dual-swords, sword and shield, greatsword and other arms, and each time the battles felt drastically different. Your character’s speed, attack time, damage output – everything is affected by this choice. It keeps things interesting in every encounter.

Eventually, after much effort and plenty of healing items, the Jagras finally went down. Much like Souls games, Monster Hunter captures the thrill of a hard-fought victory. The relief that washes over you when a beast finally hits the deck is excellent. Sometimes, the battle is all your own; at other times you’ll have other people, or monsters, to thank.

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Monster Hunter World

World looks to build a living, breathing ecosystem into the game, meaning there will be times you’re chasing one monster, only for it to begin fighting another. In a fight against a Tobi-Kadachi, I was outmatched and on my last legs. Only my trusty Palico – your feline companion, who accompanies you on every hunt – kept me in the game by dosing me up on healing items. Suddenly, the T-Rex-like Anjanath stomped in and battered the Tobi-Kadachi, flipping the odds hugely in my favour.

It’s a great system that works even better once you learn to manipulate it. Leading monsters into each others’ paths in order to make a fight a little more interesting is great. The only downside is that there’s only a limited number of each monster within each terrain, meaning although you never know exactly what’s about to happen, there’s only so much that can.

Then, of course, there’s multiplayer, where you and up to three friends can jump in online and battle against the enemies together. Joining up with people is simple, too: posting missions to the job boards will allow anybody to join your task, or you can restrict it so that only your friends can hop in.

Multiplayer battles against monsters are as chaotic as you’d imagine, and while at first it may seem easier to take on monsters as a group – they only get increased health, with no new attacks or increased damage – completing missions can soon become tricky if the plan goes awry.

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Monster Hunter World

Missions are failed in multiplayer if you get three ‘faints’ across the whole group, so you better hope you work well as a team and communicate to avoid AOE attacks – or it could be curtains before you know it. Myself and three others desperately tried to take down the Anjanath, but were always swatted away. I became the weakest point of my group, and felt embarrassed by my efforts. I ran straight up to the Anjanath, naively thinking I stood a chance, but was quickly killed. Blast. I then respawned at base camp, ran back to the Anjanath, only to die with a one-hit kill again. Double blast. But it was still immense fun.

Latest Impressions

It seems that Monster Hunter: World has managed to walk both paths, appealing to hardcore fans by continuing to offer the depth of both its addictive hunting and crafting systems as well as new players by presenting all this depth in a very simple way.

Pre-order Monster Hunter World from Amazon UK | Amazon.com

I never thought I’d become a Monster Hunter fan, but I’m now a convert. Yes, there remain minor quirks that I find odd or frustrating, but overall I had much fun running around its stunning spaces and killing multiple bizarre creatures.

Samsung DV90M8204AW Review | Trusted Reviews

What is the Samsung DV90M8204AW?

We were blown away by Samsung’s stupendously good DV90M5000IW. At just under £800, it wasn’t cheap, but it justified its ticket well. Here we have the more upmarket M8000, bringing Wi-Fi smart app control to the series’ 9kg capacity and A+++ heat pump energy efficiency.

It’s good too. With class-leading, super-low running costs, intuitive controls and handy features aplenty, it’s a real winner. The smarts do add to the price, though, so equally efficient models further down the Samsung range look like better value. If you want all that tech and full smart app control, however, the DV90M8204AW is going to be a hard act to beat.

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Samsung DV90M8204AW Design and features

Increased airflow, optimised drying cycles and reduced heat loss are all part of Samsung’s ever-improving heat pump tumble dryer strategy. It certainly worked well in the DV5000 series we reviewed in August, earning it a whopping 5-star score. Can the even more feature-rich DV8000 series achieve a Spinal Tap-esque 11?

In terms of core specifications, there isn’t much in it. This model comes to the table boasting an A+++ energy rating, a monster drum, genuinely capable of holding 9kg, and an equally large door opening. No problems stuffing in your queen-size duvet here.

The cosmetic design is thoroughly contemporary, with a classic twist. The central knob is old-school logical, while options are selected via buttons on the comprehensive display. We really love the simple but effective water-level indicator on the condenser tank too.

Behind that huge, sophisticated, black-tinted door is a cavernous drum with LED lighting. The main filter just inside the door is Samsung’s dual system, utilising finer mesh within a coarser outer mesh. The upshot is that there is only one filter to clean between dries. Most of the competition have one filter at the door and another lower down, at the condenser.

The display is crisp and bright, in an electric blue colour. There are touch controls for wrinkle prevention and dryness level, as well as time and smart controls, and numerous icons to indicate where you are in the cycle. There is even a button to turn off the cycle-end jingle. That’s just as well, as its 15-second melody gets wearing quicker than an X Factor winner.

This machine offers comprehensive smart control from the Samsung Smart Home app. It replicates most of the main features, allows you to create macros, save custom programs and even monitor energy usage over time. Samsung’s Smart Home app has been mentioned before but, like any good app, continues to evolve. We particularly like the new energy monitor addition.

14 programs are on offer, split into manual cycles and ‘Optimal Dry’. The latter uses moisture, heat and heat-exchanger sensors to continually adjust the drying time on the fly, reducing energy and preventing over-drying.

Further nice touches include a plumbing-in kit, shoe-drying rack, reversible door, three drying levels, and plenty of load options.

Samsung DV90M8204AW What’s it like to use?

You’ve got to love this tumbler’s super-logical mix of old- and new-style programming. The big central programme selector knob could not be any more straightforward, and the programme names speak for themselves.

Simple buttons for dryness level, delay end and wrinkle prevention at the end of the drying cycle are equally clear. The machine works out everything else, stating the absolute maximum time the load is likely to take. It was always much quicker. Despite its high-tech underpinnings, this Samsung dryer is a breeze for day-to-day use.

Very few tumble dryers can genuinely dry their maximum load weight in real-world clothes. Shirts, T-shirts and jeans tend to fluff up with daily wear, creating a huge volume of laundry that simply won’t fit in the drum. Not so this Samsung, with its inner drum only centimetres narrower than the full width of machine.

Combined with the huge porthole door, we managed to get 9kg of cotton clothing into this dryer. In the real world, you are unlikely to load your tumble dryer to this extent. We usually use 80% of the maximum stated load for that reason. the DV90M82048W had no problem with 7-8kg dry weight of wet washing.

You get to select one of three arbitrary dryness levels. While not labelled in the traditional ‘iron dry’, ‘cupboard dry’ and ‘extra-dry’ way, they should amount to the same thing.

Only the ‘Air Wash’ and ‘Mixed Load Bell’ features are not exactly self-explanatory. Air Wash is simply a freshen-up cycle for dry clothes. The Mixed Load Bell is much smarter.

This feature allows you to dry mixed fabrics, removing quicker-drying items earlier in the cycles, so as not to over-dry them. During the wash, a bell pings to let you know some of the materials are dry. You pause the load, remove the dry clothes, and let the still-damp materials continue to tumble.

As load completion time is variable, you won’t really know when the load will end. Thankfully, the Wrinkle Prevention feature is handy for keeping clothes from creasing too badly. Alternatively, the Smart Home app will ping your phone a message to let you know when the load is finished.

We messaged it back, requesting the load was folded and put away in the cupboard. That didn’t seem to work…

Samsung DV90M8204AW  How noisy is it?

Just like its junior sibling, the DV90M8204W is much quieter than the energy label would suggest. That is unusual, as most dryers are nosier than their claimed sound rating. We’re not complaining, though, as this Samsung is very quiet indeed.

It produced a very consistent 57-58dB, measured at 1m away from the door in open space. That is precisely the same as the DV5000M series machine, suggesting some pretty similar internal workings.

Again, the sound is very smooth and consistent. There’s very little harsh stop-start noise, and the sound is a gentle drone. There are quieter machines out there, but few are as consistent throughout the cycle. If you are trying to have a kitchen power-nap, this tumbler is ideal.

Samsung DV90M8204AW  What programmes does it have?

The core material specific programmes are all present and correct. We give top marks to the comedy sheep icon next to the Wool wash. Not sure how we missed that masterpiece on the last Samsung dryer we tested, as it was there too!

Cottons, Delicates, Synthetics, Wool, Towels, Outdoor Wear and Bedding are all catered for under the fully automatic Optimal Dry programme selection. The catch-all ‘Mixed Load’ programme benefits from Samsung’s clever Mixed Load Bell.

We haven’t the faintest idea how the machine senses different levels of material dryness in the same load, but it certainly worked. The only downside is having to rummage around in your semi-dry washing mid-cycle to ensure your silk undies are removed while your heavyweight denim carries on drying.

You get four completely manual drying options, covering warm air drying, cool air drying, a timed dry and ‘Quick Dry 35’. This aims to dry a small load of synthetics and light cottons in just 35 minutes. That sort of weight equates to a couple of outfits, or four shirts.

As touched on earlier, Samsung’s Air Wash program is a ‘freshen-up’ style program for dry clothing that could simply do with a livener to remove odours. You get three levels of Air Wash intensity to choose from, depending on level of odour. If you need any more than level three, it’s probably best heading towards the washing machine.

As an aside, in other countries, Samsung calls this feature ‘Air Fluff’, which sounds much more fun.

Pretty much every option and display parameter on the front of the machine is replicated within the Smart Home app. You can create a favourite programme for regular use and monitor energy usage on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. It’s all very smart, but given that you still have to load and unload the dryer, it still falls shy of being a true killer application.

Samsung DV90M8204AW How well does it dry?

Starting with a huge challenge, we loaded up the DV90M8204W with a whopping 8kg (dry) of mixed cotton clothing. That is close to 1kg more than we would typically load a 9kg machine with. Fresh out of a 1400-spin washing machine the load weighed 10.5kg wet. That is a really big load probably an entire week’s washing for a small family.

We set the dryness to Level 2 on the Cotton programme. The display indicated a maximum run time of three hours and eight minutes. Just two and a half hours later, the ‘load end’ message popped up.

Our energy meter suggested a stupendously low 0.86kWh of electricity had been consumed – that would be 30-40% lower than even its supremely efficient sibling, the DV500M series. Wowser!

All was not roses, however. While we expected ‘Level 2’ to deliver a cupboard-dry moisture level, the load was too damp. With over 250g of moisture (>3% of dry load weight) left in the load, we would call that ‘iron dry’.

We put the load back into the dryer as-is and set the programmer to Cottons on Level 3. This ran for nearly an hour, using a further 0.33kWh of electricity. While the result was not what we would call extra dry (0-0.3% moisture), it was a very dry ‘cupboard dry’ standard… Sort of what we would expect from Level 2.

The upshot was that the DV90M8204AW used almost the same amount of electricity to bring a large 8kg load to cupboard dry as the DV5000M model, but it took two trips in the dryer. We re-washed the same load and tried again on Level 3 from the outset, achieving the same result (cupboard dry) in a single, quicker 1.2kWh run.

With slightly quirky and inconsistent results mucking up our tests, we ran a total of 10 full loads on the DV90M8204AW to draw some firm conclusions. The main take-home message is that Level 3 equates to ‘cupboard dry’ on a full load, not ‘extra dry’ as we’d anticipated.

So what if you want your clothes 100% dry? If you pop them back in the machine for another trip on an automatic programme, it quickly detects very low moisture and turns off. That leaves you with the manual timed cycles to get clothes extra-dry if required. Not ideal.

On half loads, the moisture level was more in keeping with what we would expect, and Level 3 does indeed deliver perfect dryness with loads under about 5kg. Energy is stupendously low at around 0.65kWh, which is near identical to the DV5000M model. Throughout all our tests, creasing was very low, making clothes easy to iron straight out of the drum.

The DV90M8204AW is a spectacularly efficient machine, very flexible and genuinely capable of taking a huge washing load in one go. The slight inconsistencies in drying level depending on load size seem odd. We didn’t notice that anomaly with the equally efficient and less expensive model further down the range.

While the DV90M8204AW is an excellent performer in almost every area, if you don’t need the smart controls or sexy black door, the less expensive DV5000M looks like the real star of the range.

Samsung DV90M8204AW How much will it cost to run?

Samsung’s heat pump tumble dryers are among the most energy-efficient we have ever tested. Their performance across the heat pump range is simply breathtaking, so you can’t go wrong. The running costs with of this machine are near-identical to the lower-spec DV5000M, and both are as frugal and green as tumble dryers get.

If you used this machine 150 times per year at 100 full loads (80% or 7.2kg to replicate real-world use) and 50 small loads up to 3.4kg, on the Cottons programme, it would use just 155kWh of electricity per year. We remain amazed at that result, as it is comfortably below every other tumble dryer we have tested – regardless of capacity! Factor in the genuine 9kg load capacity, and these tumble dryers are way ahead of the competition in delivering super-low costs per kg of clothing dried.

At 15p/kWh on average, that will cost you just over £23 per year, according to my tests. That is bonkers low. Every other tumble dryer manufacturer on the planet has some catching up to do.

Why buy the Samsung DV90M8204AW?

Taken on its own merits, the DV90M8204AW is a resounding success, despite its four-figure price tag. The massive capacity, easy controls and ridiculously low running costs tick all the right boxes. Wi-Fi smart controls just ice the cake. Big loads came in a little damper than we’d prefer, but as the level is adjustable, this can be tweaked to suit.

The only rock on the DV90M8204AW’s smooth tumble to Trusted Reviews stardom is its little brother, the DV90M5000W. That is just as big, just as efficient, slightly more consistent, and comes in over £200 cheaper if you are happy to forgo the smart controls. Mind you, if you have a fully connected home, that Mixed Load Bell programme and the ‘cycle end’ messages were handy…

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Verdict

The DV90M8204AW is a pricey but staggeringly good heat pump tumbler, with large capacity, smart connectivity, and super-low running costs.

Google Daydream View (2017) Review

What is the Google Daydream View (2017)?

Google’s new Daydream View VR headset got a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it unveiling at the Pixel 2 event in October.

This isn’t much of a surprise, as mobile VR hasn’t had a massive year. Samsung sort of updated its Gear VR and a few mobile-free headsets are coming out before the end of the year, but it seems like the bubble may have already burst.

Having used the new Daydream View for a few weeks, it’s not hard to see why. This is a perfectly decent headset for a few throwaway VR experiences, but the higher starting price and minimal upgrades make it far from vital.

Google Daydream View (2017) – Design

Google’s changes for the second-generation Daydream are minimal – so much so that’s it hard to tell what’s different until you pick the new version up.

The slouchy, jogging-bottom material that covered the first headset has been replaced by a tougher, harsher fabric. It’s probably a good move, considering how easily the original soaked up sweat during long periods of playing.

Another addition is an extra strap that goes across the top of your head. This helps spread out the weight of the headset, but I didn’t really find it heavy in the first place. Having the extra option there is nice, though.

Related: Best VR headsets

The minimal use of plastic and emphasis on fabrics makes this a comfy headset to wear, but you will have to fiddle around with the straps unless you want it to feel really, really tight.

A big design shift from the original models is in the visor. This used to have a small divot inside to hold the remote – a handy touch – but that’s been ditched here. Instead, the visor now has some vents to disperse heat. One of my biggest annoyances with the first Daydream View was how often phones would get super-hot when inside, but that’s not so much of an issue anymore. Phones still get warm to the touch after lengthy play sessions, but not as much.

Google Daydream View (2017) – Setup and compatibility

Setup for Daydream View is ridiculously simple, with no fiddly plugs to connect, or slots into which you need to precisely place your phone. Simply unclip the front portion of the headset and drop in a supported phone.

The headset connects via NFC, and it proved a smooth process that worked consistently. You’ll need to make sure you have the Daydream app, and have all the necessary updates installed.

When the Daydream platform was first unveiled in 2016, its biggest downside was the lack of compatible phones. Initially, it only really worked with the first duo of Pixel devices and not much else. 12 months later, the story is very different, with plenty of phones supporting the headset. You’ve got the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and S8 along with flagships from Asus, ZTE, Motorola and more.

There’s still no support for iOS devices, although that’s hardly a surprise.

Google’s official documentation details the required specs for a ‘Daydream Ready’ phone, and they’re still the same as before. It will require Bluetooth 4.2 LE and a screen size of between 4.7 and 6 inches that boasts at least 1080p resolution at 60Hz, plus a <3ms latency and <5ms persistence. It will need to decode two instances of 60fps video simultaneously and be capable of 60fps rendering.

The biggest required spec, though, is an OLED display, meaning any phone with an IPS LCD panel – LG G6, HTC U11 – is off the list.

When the phone is connected, both the 3.5mm jack and USB Type-C port will still be exposed, so you can plug in some headphones and keep the phone charged. However, you’ll need a very long USB-C cable for this to actually be a viable option.

Google Daydream View (2017) – Apps and games

A VR headset lives and dies by its content. Thankfully, Google has attracted a number of high-profile apps and devs to the platform, so there’s plenty of stuff to do with your Daydream View.

Videos apps like Netflix and YouTube are here, plus Hulu and a load of American sports services.

The game selection hasn’t grown too much over the past year, but it still has some decent experiences. Need for Speed: No Limits VR is kind of ugly, but fun, and GunJack 2 is fast-paced. You probably won’t be playing these for hours, but do you with any VR content?

The Daydream UI adopts the cartoony style that looks at home in VR, with a sleek-looking landscape covered in apps and options. You navigate with the remote and there’s direct access to the Play Store for downloading further apps without removing the phone.

Google Daydream View (2017) – The virtual-reality experience

If you’re coming to the Daydream View expecting a VR experience comparable to the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or even PSVR, then you’re likely to be disappointed. Those headsets cost hundreds of pounds, being powered by pricey hardware. The Daydream View, on the other hand, is a £99 headset that will be powered by a range of phones with slightly differing specs.

My experience so far – using Pixel 2 XL, Samsung Galaxy S8 and Moto Z2 Force, all with quad-HD displays – has been very positive. However, it continues to suffer from the same issues as other mobile headsets.

Google Daydream 2

While we’ve come to expect our phone screens to be crisp and pixel-free, this isn’t the case with VR. Pixels are easy to spot and details can be jagged, which leads to content sporting a very cartoony look in an attempt to combat such issues. You’ll notice this even more if you’re using it with a 1080p screen.

This is especially noticeable in video content – it’s jarring watching a YouTube video – and the problem is only alleviated when the content is really good.

It’s less noticeable in apps. Wonderglade is a cartoonish game, centered around classic theme park titles, and Hunters Gate is a monster-hunting RPG; both feel less limited by the resolution.

Aside from the small design tweaks, the biggest upgrade for this version is the lenses. They’re now Fresnel lenses with wider viewing angles, just about matching the latest Gear VR, but they’re not quite as crisp as before. This does make things look a bit fuzzier, but personally I would accept the trade-off and take the wider-lenses.


Latency isn’t an issue either, and movements you make with your head or the controller are almost immediately replicated on the screen. The low latency, combined with a smooth frame rate (in the games currently available; this could, of course, change further down the line) help make the Daydream View comfortable to use. I haven’t felt sick or nauseous while playing so far.

The controller was one of the best things about the original Daydream View, and it’s exactly the same here. It pairs via Bluetooth and slips into the back of the head-strap when not in use. It’s used for everything from navigating the menus to controlling your character in-game. It’s responsive too – and can be mirrored virtually in the headset.

There’s a small responsive touchpad on the top, volume buttons on the side, and a button for ‘select’ and ‘menu’ functions on the face. A USB-C port on the bottom is used for charging, and you can use the same cable that comes with your USB-C phone.

Slightly wider, fuzzier lenses aside, the VR experience here isn’t much improved. That’s fine, but it means that this headset is best used for short, throwaway experiences. I handed the headset to a few family members to try, and while they enjoyed it as a first experience of VR, I doubt they’ll be picking it up again in a hurry.

Should I buy Google Daydream View (2017)?

If you have a compatible phone, a spare £99/$99, and a yearning to get a first taste of VR, then the Daydream View is a decent buy. If you have the version from last year, I wouldn’t really recommend upgrading.

It’s a comfortable headset that looks good and has a developing library of content. It also has a great remote that makes playing games and navigation easy.

The Daydream View isn’t for someone intent of full-on VR – it’s more for those who will pass it round the table at family gatherings. It’s bite-sized VR, and it’s best to know this before jumping in.

Verdict

A comfortable, easy-to-use headset – but not a huge leap forward.

God of War PS4

Preview: Kratos is back

god of war

God of War returns to PS4 with Kratos once again the star of the show, only this time he’s a daddy. His son will also play a large part in the game, accompanying our bearded hero as you hunt monsters throughout a range of varied environments. The game has ditched its focus on Greek mythology, now turning its eye to the weird and wonderful world of Norse Mythology.

God of War release date – When is it coming out?

Sony confirmed during its PlayStation conference at Paris Games Week that the game will arrive in “early 2018”. It will also utilise PS4 Pro.

Pre-order God of War from Amazon UK | Amazon.com

God of War Trailer – How does it look?

Here’s the latest gameplay trailer for God of War:

God of War PS4 preview

How many of you expected the next God of War game to be a heart-wrenching tale about a fallen god and his son? When the earlier leaks showed Kratos knee-deep in Norse mythology, how many presumed we’d be playing God of The Last of Us?

Well, Santa Monica has taken a brave step, essentially stripping back everything that God of War has become – a series of giant, jaw-dropping set-piece battles rendered in gorgeous detail – to offer up a slower, more considered narrative. And early signs indicate that it could be all the better for it.

Listening to game director Cory Barlog talk through an extended version of the E3 demo in a behind-closed-doors presentation, it’s clear that the changes aren’t a result of half-hearted decision-making; the entire game was overhauled.

“This is kind of a re-imagining of God of War, this idea of taking all the pieces that make up the game, pulling them apart and putting them on the floor and really evaluating everything.”

Related: Last of Us Part 2 news and rumours
god of war

This new path for God of War is set in Norse mythology, but it was very close to being set in an entirely different universe altogether, according to Barlog.

“Every mythology was on the table. Very quickly as we started to discuss ideas and hone in on the central theme; two mythologies became the leading contenders.”

Alongside Norse, Egyptian mythology was a frontrunner. According to Barlog, at least half of the team of 12 supported it and put forward superb reasons for going down that road. “For me, as I looked at both of those, Egyptian mythology was about the Pharaohs as representatives, as embodiments of the gods on earth, and is far more about civilisation and is less bearing. At this time, we really wanted to focus on Kratos and his son,” Barlog adds.

As the demo boots up, the first big change that you’ll have noticed from the trailer is Kratos himself, who’s much older and more rugged, sporting a beard – something that’s become as fashionable in games as it has among hipster white “dudes”. But Balrog confirms this is a continuation of the God of War narrative, with the Greek mythology seen as “chapter one”, and while this isn’t strictly God of War 4, Kratos still has “a long way to go”.

Surprisingly, he also has a son, with the relationship between the two forming the crux of the narrative. Watching Kratos be as harsh and ruthless in fatherhood as he was in life is tough to swallow. Seeing him refer to this sweet child as nothing but “boy” reminds you of this merciless killer’s past.

We follow the two on a hunt, another opportunity for Kratos to teach his son how to live in this harsh world full of countless creatures ready to pounce and kill at any moment. Once control is in the hands of the player, another notable change is the camera.

Related: Best PS4 games

God of War 7

The God of War series has always used a fixed camera position to bring greater scope to the gorgeous set-pieces, but doing so increased the draw distance and dragged the player away from the action and, more importantly, Kratos. To tell a more connected story, Barlog notes this had to change.

“There was a huge discussion about the inclusion of the player-controlled camera during the early phases of this project. The cinematic camera was a big part of God of War.” The decision to change wasn’t taken lightly: “We want to tell Kratos’ personal story, we want to dig in deeper into Kratos as a character; if Kratos is a tiny character on-screen, we’re not experiencing things from his perspective,” says Barlog.

Naturally, the new camera led to other changes as well, most notably how Kratos moves through the environment. In the behind-closed-doors demo, we’re given a snippet of some of the branching paths Kratos can take in the forest, which include routes to secrets and collectibles.

Barlog and his team also highlight things that occur in the environment, which could easily go unnoticed – such as birds fleeing from an area you’re about to explore, warning the player of a disturbance, which we later discover to be the giant troll.

Related: PS4 Pro vs Xbox Scorpio
God of War 5

Getting the opportunity to explore more of this demo allowed me to see just how stunningly detailed it is, but Barlog was asked and confirmed this is running on a PS4, not the much-rumoured PS4 Neo. To achieve visuals such as this is quite an achievement, and makes the mind boggle about what could be achieved on the more powerful machine – but the Santa Monica director wouldn’t go into details on that.

Watching the interactions between Kratos and his son presents an incredibly interesting dynamic. Some may prefer to see the god-killer ripping the bottom jaws off every enemy he comes across, but seeing this paternal side adds a new dimension to a character I’ve grown up with – and makes him interesting once again.

He continues to be angry, of course, demanding his son be better rather than sorry when letting a deer escape the hunt, and even having a new “God Rage” ability that boosts all his attributes to take on enemies.

The relationship between father and child in a harsh and unforgiving world feels as if it’s taken straight from The Last of Us, but with Kratos we have a character who has already undergone a tremendous journey that we’ve witnessed.

Barlog remarks that this is where the similarities between the two end, with the kid a controllable character in God of War, able to perform contextual actions at the push of a button following an order from Kratos, firing weapons at targets during combat. He’ll also help to solve puzzles, too.

We then see Kratos in battle for the first time, against a group of lava-blooded woodland beasts. It’s here we see his new weapon: an ice-imbued axe. In the demo, there appears to be a notable pause between each of Kratos’ strikes, giving battles a slower pace and less of a button-mashing feel. Kratos can also throw his axe and pin enemies against walls, recalling the axe to his palm at will.

There was a distinctly Thor-like feel to the way Kratos wielded the axe, leading me to dream wildly about the potential for a Kratos vs Thor, hammer vs axe set-piece that I just know Santa Monica could realise better than my own imagination ever could.

We get a brief glimpse of some of the set-pieces God of War will bring on PS4 with Kratos’ encounter against the troll on the ice-covered lake, but Cory Barlog tells us this isn’t even a boss fight in the main game.

Related: Middle Earth: Shadow of War latest news

 God of War

First Impressions

Some may wish to simply see more of the same God of War, but with pretty PS4 graphics, but I for one am delighted with the new direction the series is taking. To still get all the same incredible set-pieces anchored by a decent narrative and a better connection to Kratos can only be a good thing.

Santa Monica always delivers some of the generation’s best-looking games, and looks set to continue to do so, with the footage we saw at both E3 2016 and E3 2017 blowing everything that’s come before out of the water.

Buy Now: God of War at Amazon.co.uk from £46 | Amazon.com from $59

As long as the “boy” doesn’t prove a hindrance to gameplay, I’m all in for Dad of War.

The post God of War PS4 appeared first on Trusted Reviews.

JVC Everio GZ-RX645BE Review | Trusted Reviews

What is the JVC Everio GZ-RX645BE?

The Everio GZ-RX645BE is the latest flagship of JVC’s Quad Proof range of camcorders. The market for traditional camcorders has been under threat for some years, as more people make do with the increasingly reasonable capabilities of their smartphones instead. But action cameras have continued to thrive, with JVC making the decision a few years ago to focus its camcorder attention on devices that could be used in the same sort of environments as those models.

Related: Best action cameras

As such, the GZ-RX645BE can handle four different types of threat to its physical wellbeing. It can resist depths of up to 5m underwater. You can drop it from a height of up to 1.5m. It won’t let any dust or sand inside its workings. Finally, it can be used in temperatures as low as -10ºC.

All these capabilities are backed by a bevy of standards. The waterproofing meets IEC Standard publications 529 IPX6 and IPX8, the shock-proofing conforms to MIL-STD 810F Method 516.5-Shock, and the dust-proofing to IEC Standard publication 529 IP5X. Only the freeze-proofing has no standard attached, so you’ll just have to take JVC’s word for it.

JVC Everio GZ-RX645BE – specification and features

Compared to the core specification of previous flagships, such as the GZ-RX515BE, not a huge amount has changed here. There’s still a 1/5.8-inch back-side illuminated CMOS inside, with 2.5 megapixels, which has remained JVC’s sensor of choice for some years now. This allows Full HD video recording. However, a bit of interpolation is thrown in to provide stills of up to 3680 x 2760.

The now venerable AVCHD format is used for video, but JVC now offers up to 50p at 27Mbits/sec, at Full HD resolution, whilst 50i video uses a slightly lower 24Mbits/sec. There’s 8GB of memory on-board, although some of that is taken up by the Pixela Everio MediaBrowser 4 software installers. You can install this onto your Windows PC straight from the camcorder memory. The remaining 6.53GB of built-in memory will be sufficient for 33 minutes of footage, but you can also install an SDXC memory card of up to 128GB.

The GZ-RX645BE offers a robust construction. There aren’t any open ports on the body of this camcorder, with the micro-USB, AV mini-jack and mini-HDMI connections all located behind a double-locked panel. This slides into place to create a watertight seal, after which a second button locks it in place.

The panel also protects the full-sized SD card slot, but there’s no access to the battery at all; this is fully enclosed and non-removable. As a result, you won’t be able to carry a spare with you to prolong battery life, although this model is rated to last five hours, so this is less of a problem.

There’s no lens cap or built-in cover for the lens. Instead, it is protected by toughened glass, so you’ll need to keep this clean.

Some previous JVC Quad Proof cameras didn’t offer a filter screw thread, but this one can accept 37mm add-ons. The lens itself is Konica-Minolta sourced, and offers f/1.8 to f/6.3, which is decent.

One reason you may still wish to buy a standalone camcorder in this era of increasingly capable smartphones is the optical zoom. In the case of the GZ-RX645BE, there’s a sizeable 40x optical zoom, and this is boosted to 60x in dynamic mode, which cuts into the sensor to provide a little more magnification.

Another feature usually lacking in smartphones but present in dedicated camcorders is image stabilisation. Unfortunately, with the GZ-RX645BE, this isn’t of the more capable optical variety, but an enhanced electronic version that JVC calls ‘Enhanced Advanced Image Stabilisation’. This uses a few spare pixels on the CMOS, and so can’t be enabled at the same time as the dynamic zoom. It’s a reasonably capable system, but not in the same league as Panasonic’s top optical stabilisation.

JVC Everio GZ-RX645BE – Controls and usability

The GZ-RX645BE uses the typical ‘Palmcorder’ format, with the record button on the back and zoom rocker on top. In this respect, it’s more ergonomic than a smartphone. Configuration is performed via the 3-inch LCD. There are two shooting modes: ‘Intelligent Auto’ and ‘Manual’. With the former, the main configuration option is how the touch priority auto-exposure/auto-focus works, using face tracking, colour tracking, or area selection.

Switch to manual and the options broaden a little. Manual focusing becomes available, and a manual brightness control is enabled, with options from -2 to +2 EV in 13 steps. Backlight compensation can be turned on, and there are white balance presets for sun, shade, artificial lighting, and both blue and green underwater activity, as well as fully manual mode. There’s a tele macro option too.

This isn’t a particularly extensive range of manual options; there’s no direct control over shutter and aperture. In both manual and auto modes, however, you also get the ability to overlay some rather cheesy animation effects – including things like floating hearts.

In a separate recording effects section, there’s a slightly strange selection of a grainy monochrome filter, baby, and food options. JVC has clearly made a few assumptions about what its customers use their camcorders for.

This being a top-of-the-range model, it has built-in Wi-Fi. You can access the camera by connecting to it directly as an access point, or you can connect it to your existing Wi-Fi. The Everio sync. app can then be used to control zoom and toggle recording, although this only works in 50i mode, not 50p. You also can’t change any of the camcorder’s settings, but you can review your recordings.

JVC Everio GZ-RX645BE – Image quality

Although traditional camcorders can still beat smartphones when it comes to features – in particular, the optical zoom – they don’t necessarily offer better image quality anymore. Unless they shoot 4K and have a large sensor, that is.

The GZ-RX645BE isn’t in either of these categories, but it does produce good colour fidelity in bright light, even if it lacks a little detail. I also found that if you’re shooting in very bright sunlight, glare on the protective glass over the lens can soften the image.

Here are two samples of footage taken with the JVC Everio GZ-RX645BE. The first one is of a pigeon in a tree, and the second one a frisky squirrel frolicking through the grassy woodland. You’ll notice that there’s a little tearing as the camera zooms in on the shot of the pigeon.

These are reasonable examples of the footage otherwise, but also note how the footage softens when the dynamic zoom kicks in at the maximum magnification.

Should I buy the JVC Everio GZ-RX645BE?

The JVC Everio GZ-RX645BE is an incremental step up for JVC, and as such it doesn’t offer a huge improvement over the previous generation. Video quality is essentially the same.

The big question with this level of camcorder is always whether you should just make do with your smartphone. But the GZ-RX645BE has a powerful optical zoom and is resilient enough for capturing moments in inclement conditions, so if you need a camcorder for any weather, it makes a decent choice.

Verdict

The JVC Everio GZ-RX645BE is reasonably capable for shooting in unfavourable weather conditions.

Drayton Wiser Review | Trusted Reviews

What is the Drayton Wiser?

Room-by-room heating systems, which give you control via smart radiator thermostats, are usually very expensive to get started with, as you can see from the Honeywell Evohome. Not so with the Drayton Wiser, where a starter kit that includes a smart Room Thermostat and two Radiator Thermostats controls costs less than a Nest Learning Thermostat.

Fortunately, as well as being cheap, Wiser’s easy controls and apps make it one of the simplest systems to use.

Drayton Wiser Design and build

Wiser controls your heating via a wireless relay that has to be wired into your boiler. As this uses mains voltage, you’ll most likely need professional installation.

It’s important to choose the right relay for your system. The cheapest option is the single-channel kit, which is designed for a combi boiler. If you want hot water control, there’s a two-channel kit that can do this and your heating (£200). If you’ve got two heating zones and you want hot water, you’ll need the three-channel kit (£200), which ships with two thermostats, but no Radiator Thermostats.

As we have a combi boiler, we went with the single-channel kit. This ships with the neat relay, plus a wireless thermostat and two radiator valves. The Room Thermostat is a small square box with an LCD panel, decked out in white plastic. It’s fairly unobtrusive, so you can place it anywhere without it dominating a room.

Wiser’s simple Radiator Thermostats are similarly unobtrusive and look like smart, regular TRVs.

Related: Best smart thermostat

Drayton Wiser Features

Once the relay is connected to your boiler, you have to use the simple app to connect it up to your Wi-Fi network. Once joined, you can start to add your devices to the system. Wiser works by creating rooms, each of which can hold multiple heating devices. For example, you may want to have two radiator valves in one room.

If you’re sticking with the starter kit, it makes sense to place the Room Thermostat where your old one lived for whole-home control. It’s battery powered, so there’s no need for external power, and you can have it either free-standing or wall-mounted.

The two radiator valves can then be placed in the most-used rooms to give you individual control, such as for the living room and bedroom. There’s nothing to stop you buying additional radiator valves if you want to control more rooms. Priced at a reasonable £35 each, they’re around £20 cheaper than similar controls from rival systems.

Fixing the Radiator Thermostat onto a TRV is easy enough, and Drayton provides plenty of adaptors in the box. I had no problems connecting the Radiator Thermostats to my radiators.

Wiser doesn’t support geolocation to automatically turn your heating on and off when you go out. There is an ‘Away’ mode that you can set manually, with all rooms dropping to a pre-set temperature when it is activated. However, having to remember to turn this mode on and off means that you’re likely to forget and could miss out on potential savings on your fuel bill.

Schedules can be set room by room, with each one having its own heating settings. That’s great, as you can make your house work the way you want it to  say, having the bathroom and bedroom warm up first thing in the morning, with the lounge not set to warm up until you get home in the evening. This level of control provides greater fuel bill savings than using a single thermostat by itself would. Hot water can be similarly scheduled if you have the two- or three-channel system.

Schedules are set on a day-by-day basis, but you can copy one day’s settings to another to speed up the job. It’s a shame that you can’t copy settings from room to room, though; this is something that Evohome lets you do.

An Eco mode can be turned on. With this, Wiser takes into account the external temperature and also learns how long your house takes to warm up. That way, it can adjust when your boiler fires and turns off so that your home doesn’t warm up past the set temperature. It takes a week or so for Wiser to learn.

Where Wiser misses out compared to Evohome is in advanced features. With Honeywell’s system, there are a few advanced profiles that you can apply, such as ‘Economy’ mode which reduces the temperature of every zone by 3°C. Honeywell also has a custom mode, which lets you apply a temporary schedule to the zones you choose. I use it as a guest mode, warming up the spare bedroom and bathroom when people come to stay; when there’s no one staying, these rooms are kept cooler to save energy.

Drayton Wiser Performance

Simplicity is the name of the game, and nothing demonstrates that as well as the Radiator Thermostat’s control. With no screen, you can’t choose a room’s temperature. Instead, you twiddle the control the to the ‘+’ icon, and your heating is boosted by 2°C above the current temperature for an hour. Similarly, the ‘-‘ position drops the heating by 2°C for an hour.

While other heating systems give you more control, Wiser’s simple operation is quite pleasing, as you don’t have to worry about which setting to use: you just make the room warmer or cooler.

Using the Room Thermostat, you get a higher level of control, as you can pick a temperature set point and choose how long you want the temperature boost to last for (30 minutes, one hour, two hours or three hours).

A similar level of control exists within the app, letting you boost each room to a set temperature, with the same timer intervals that the thermostat uses. It’s a shame that there’s no a permanent option, or an option to keep the temperature until the next scheduled change.

I like the simple app, which provides an at-a-glance view of every room in your home. The temperature readings from the thermostat and radiator valves were accurate, but be prepared to spend a bit of time getting the schedules and temperature set points to your liking. Each room has its own thermal properties, so getting the exact temperature right room-by-room requires a bit of tweaking.

Drayton Wiser IFTTT, Echo

This is just about the only smart heating system I’ve reviewed that doesn’t have IFTTT support. That’s not a problem if you just want to use the system’s basic features, but it would be nice to see an IFTTT channel added in the future. This way, you’d be able to do things like add your own geolocation option, or control your heating based on the outside temperature.

Amazon Alexa support is available through the Wiser skill. As Alexa recognises each room, you can control your heating on a room-by-room basis. I found that the skill worked perfectly and is on a par with the voice control that other room-by-room heating systems offer. It’s a shame that there’s no Google Assistant or Apple Siri support available, although Alexa is the most popular smart home voice assistant.

Should I buy the Drayton Wiser?

The main competition for Wiser is the Honeywell Evohome. Although more expensive, Evohome has a dedicated touchscreen controller and more powerful zone controls. As such, it’s the best multi-room heating system currently available. That said, Wiser’s simple controls and low price mean that we can forgive the lack of certain features. If you want multi-room heating on a reasonable budget, there’s nothing that comes close.

Verdict

A simple and wallet-friendly way of adding multi-room heating control to your home.

Denon D-M41DAB Review | Trusted Reviews

What is the Denon D-M41DAB?

I’ve been listening to the same thing for 12 years: the Denon D-M31 micro system that was my gateway drug into the world of hi-fi audio.

So as far as I’m concerned, Denon needn’t have bothered making any adjustments over the years. But they have done so anyway, improving the sound here, adding connections there –  until we have today’s Denon D-M41DAB, which is so good it steps on the toes of ‘proper’ hi-fi systems with separate components.

This is an example of a good product refined to the point of near-perfection.

Related: Best turntables

Denon DM41

Denon D-M41DAB – Design and features

Hi-fi equipment is hardly ever sexy, especially at the affordable end, but Denon has made the most of what it’s got. The overall aesthetic hasn’t changed hugely over the years – it’s still a rectangular metal box with grilles on the top and sides for ventilation. The front has a brushed aluminium fascia though, and the buttons and volume knob are lightly textured.

The entire point of micro hi-fi systems is to save space, and the Denon D-M41 does just that. Its footprint is a little smaller than a piece of A4 paper, so it shouldn’t have a problem fitting into your bedroom, kitchen or home office.

Build quality remains impeccable. The buttons have a satisfying click; the volume knob turns with just the right amount of resistance; the disc tray slides out without so much as a rattle. It feels as solid and reassuringly weighty as my old Denon D-M31.

Related: Best multi-room speakers

Denon DM41

Connections at the back are… focused. Denon didn’t set out to make a multitool  just a micro hi-fi system with the terminals most likely to be used. There’s an analogue input and two digital optical ones. No doubt Denon expects people will use the micro system to power TV sound, instead of a soundbar. There’s also a subwoofer output, an aerial connection for FM and DAB radio, plus two pairs of binding posts. The latter accepts bare wire or banana plugs.

In case the disc tray didn’t already give it away, this thing plays CDs – remember those?

The big addition here is Bluetooth. That might sound minor, but it’s a big deal for a product line that has always focused on quality physical connections, which can be disrupted by wireless signals. Denon hasn’t gone so far as to add Wi-Fi and built-in streaming services, but the Bluetooth element will let you stream Spotify or Tidal from your phone. Best think of this as the opposite of networked audio devices such as the Sonos One, which has multiroom skills and streaming services built in, but no physical inputs.

The system might look simple on the outside, but things are a lot more complicated on the inside. Basically, Denon has gone over all the circuitry to eliminate as many potential sources of distortion as it could. It’s simplified circuitry, shortened signal paths and separated analogue and digital circuits. It’s suppressed distortion from the input selector, volume control and power amp  all with a view to producing the cleanest, purest sound.

Related: Best Headphones

Denon DM41

Denon D-M41DAB – Performance

As I write this, it is a little past 1.30am. That’s because I made the mistake of starting a listening session at around midnight, and the Denon D-M41 is so entertaining that I sort of just carried on.

Good hi-fi has the tendency to make you want to rediscover your music collection, and this does just that. This micro hi-fi system proves you don’t need to go for separate components to get great sound.

12 years on and Denon’s basic sonic signature hasn’t changed one bit. It’s a fine balance between smooth and dramatic; between easy-listening and entertaining.

The first thing that struck me was how big the sound is. It’s not just that the soundstage is spacious – it’s impeccably organised and you’re left in no doubt about where instruments are located.

Complementing that spaciousness is a hugely impressive clarity. This is a really insightful listen, full of subtle texture.

Related: Denon HEOS bar

Denon DM41

Separation is impressive. It’s easy to pick out all the individual components of even the most chaotic performance. Push too far in this department and you risk sounding a bit clinical, but Denon has the good sense not to do that. Timing is tight enough that disparate elements come together as a cohesive whole.

This is a hugely versatile player, thanks in no small part to its dynamism. The D-M41 is entirely at ease shifting from high-energy and loud pieces like Ruben Gonzales’ Pueblo Nuevo, to more sedate and melancholy ones like Nick Cave’s Into My Arms. Denon knows a thing or two about capturing the mood.

Tonal balance is spot on. You can adjust the EQ settings, but not once did I feel that was necessary. Denon has managed a sound that’s smooth without ever risking sounding too warm or rich, perhaps because the low end is never less than taut. The midrange is direct, without ever overpowering the rest of the frequency range. The treble is crisp and light, like sprinkles on a sundae.

Denon DM41

Why buy the Denon D-M41DAB?

This machine puts to bed the notion that a good audio setup requires a lot of space and money. The Denon D-M41 offers a level of musical engagement you’d expect from a large, expensive separates system. That Denon has managed to achieve this in an all-in-one box is simply extraordinary. If I were compelled to downsize or make space, I would happily replace my separates with one of these.

The Denon D-M41 is available in two configurations. You can get a bundle that includes the system plus Denon’s SC-M41 speakers for £380, or go without speakers for £280.

I tested the D-M41 with my Dynaudio Contour 1.3 SE and Mordaunt-Short MS10 and they got on beautifully, but I felt that the Denon SC-M41 also did a very good job for £100. If you don’t have existing speakers, the £380 package is excellent value.

Verdict

A micro hi-fi system as good as bigger and more expensive ones.

Elephone S8 Review | Trusted Reviews

What is the Elephone S8?

The Elephone S8 may share its moniker with Samsung’s latest flagship, but Chinese manufacturer Elephone isn’t a household name yet, at least in this part of the world.

Famed for its low-cost devices – which often bear more than a passing resemblance to rival phones – Elephone has traditionally focused on offering impressive specs and power for a budget price. The S8 is no exception; it boasts a fantastic quad-HD resolution display which is almost entirely bezel-free.

Retailing at around £180, the S8 certainly packs a punch when compared to the Android budget competition.

Elephone S8 – Design

While the use of glossy, fingerprint-attracting plastic on the back of the device is disappointing, the chassis is aluminum and gives the phone a reassuring heft. The volume and power buttons are both metal too, and can be found on the right-hand edge of the handset.

The SIM card tray (which can accept two different Nano SIMs at once) is on the left edge, while on the bottom you’ll find the USB Type-C port and the single speaker. There’s no 3.5mm headphone socket, but Elephone has included a USB Type-C to 3.5mm port adapter so you can still use your old cans.

Related: Best budget phones 

The home button hides a surprisingly swift fingerprint scanner, which performed flawlessly during our review. There are no ‘multitasking’ or ‘back’ buttons; instead, all of these commands are accessible via the home button. A single tap takes you one step back in the UI, while a double tap returns you to the main home screen.

Holding your finger on the scanner opens the multitasking app menu. How you’ll feel about this change is all down to personal taste – I quite liked the fact that I didn’t need to keep moving a finger to the sides to access these commands – but if you simply can’t live with it then there’s the option to enable on-screen commands (like you’d get on a Pixel phone) in the settings menu.

Elephone S8 – Screen

The first thing that hits you when you pick up the Elephone S8 is that massive 6-inch, 2K resolution screen, which fills almost the entirety of the phone’s front.

True to form, Elephone has been a bit cheeky here and copied the design of the Xiaomi Mi Mix, so while it’s almost bezel-free for the most part, at the bottom there’s a space for the home button and the 8-megapixel front-facing camera (the recent Maze Alpha opts for a largely similar design). Because the selfie cam is on the bottom edge of the handset, you have to turn it upside down to take a shot, which takes some getting used to.

With its 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution, the screen on the S8 is undoubtedly the star of the show. Not only is it pin-sharp, colours look vibrant and contrast is excellent. Viewing angles are rock-solid, too.

When you consider the low price of the phone, the fact that it comes with such a respectable display is remarkable. Even when set to quite a low brightness, the screen remains punchy and impressive.

On a £800 phone, we’d be heaping praise on this panel, but on a sub-£200 device it’s nothing short of incredible, and shows just how far these Far Eastern budget brands have come in a relatively short space of time.

Elephone S8 – Software

As is the case with so many Chinese Android phones, the Elephone S8 comes with a mostly stock version of Google’s mobile OS. It’s running 7.1.1, so it’s not quite on the cutting edge, but it will be up-to-date enough for most users.

While there’s no custom UI to speak of, the S8 is lacking some key Android apps – such as Google Drive – out of the box, so expect to download these on day one if you’re a heavy user of Google’s app ecosystem. The default home launcher is a bit of an odd one, as it lacks Google Now functionality. Thankfully, you can install the Google Now launcher – which is available free of charge from the Google Play Store – and turn your right-most home screen into a cascade of information.

Related: Best smartphones

In terms of unique features and apps, the S8 does have a few to offer. App Locker allows you to restrict access to certain applications via a password or pin, while the Elephone Service app is a quick and easy way to give feedback about your device to the manufacturer. In the settings menu, you’ll find new features such as DuraSpeed – which boosts performance by restricting background application activity – and gesture commands that enable quick access to core functions, such tracing three fingers down the screen to take a screenshot.

Outside of these oddities, what we have here is a pretty vanilla Android experience, which is definitely a good thing. Elephone also seems to be pretty aggressive with OTA firmware updates – we got two during the review period – which bodes well for the future of the handset.

Elephone S8 – Performance

A MediaTek Helio X25 deca-core CPU is running the show here, and while this isn’t a setup which is likely to trouble flagships handsets from Sony, HTC or Samsung, it’s more than adequate for most users. With 4GB of RAM keeping things ticking over, I didn’t notice any sluggishness or awkward pauses during typical day-to-day usage and the S8 was capable of toggling between applications easily, even quite demanding processes like playing back HD video on YouTube.

The one area where the phone’s power was perhaps called into question was mobile gaming; when it came to playing some intense 3D titles the phone didn’t deliver a particularly smooth experience. For less demanding titles, this isn’t a problem, but if you’re a fan of the likes of Real Racing 3 or Dead Trigger 2 then you might find the jerky frame rate disconcerting.

The S8’s single speaker is another mild disappointment; it showcases a lot of distortion at high volumes, so if you’re going to watch movies or listen to music on it, you’ll almost certainly want to use a pair of headphones, be they wireless Bluetooth or connected via the aforementioned USB Type-C to 3.5mm dongle.

Related: Samsung Galaxy S8 review

During calls, I found the tiny earpiece – situated at the top-most ‘bezel-less’ edge – to be lacking in power, and this made it difficult to hear what the other person was saying, especially when making a call outside in a busy environment. This is sadly one of the consequences of having those tiny bezels all around the screen. During calls, reception was decent enough and call quality was acceptable.

Frustratingly, the Elephone S8 lacks NFC, which means it can’t be used to make mobile payments in shops and stores. This is rather puzzling, as Elephone included the tech in the Vowney, one of its more recent flagship handsets. It’s understandable from a business perspective, as NFC hasn’t taken off in China as much as it has in the west, but we’re increasingly finding it something we can’t live without, so the omission here is disappointing.

Elephone S8 – Camera

Surprisingly for a Chinese-made phone, the Elephone S8 doesn’t jump on the dual-camera bandwagon and instead chooses to focus on a single snapper.

The 21-megapixel sensor is, according to the marketing material, designed to maximise detail in low-light environments. While the quality of the captured images is decent enough, with minimal compression and good colour replication, it takes so long to focus and capture a shot that most of the time it’s almost impossible to get the snap you want.

Video recording goes all the way up to 3840 x 2160 resolution, but it’s quite fuzzy in low-light and the sound of the camera focusing is often picked up on the audio track. The front-facing 8 megapixel camera takes average-looking selfies but is limited to 480p video.

While the S8 isn’t a total write-off when it comes to its photographic and video capture capabilities, it’s perhaps wise not expect a market-leading proposition in this area.

Elephone S8 – Battery life

Elephone has wisely included big battery to go along with that big screen. The 4000mAh power cell is larger than that found on other market-leading devices, and while low-cost Chinese phones are rarely as well optimised when it comes to power consumption, we were able to make it through a whole 24 hours without any major issues.

Fast-charging is supported, so topping up that roomy battery isn’t too much of a headache – it takes around an hour-and-a-half to fully charge, which isn’t bad when you consider the size of the cell.

With 64GB of storage included as standard, the Elephone S8 has plenty of room for downloads and apps. Sadly, there’s no way to expand the available storage via MicroSD cards – another puzzling omission, given that most Android phones offer this kind of expandability.

Why buy the Elephone S8?

If you’re interested in the whole bezel-free revolution but don’t fancy dropping a grand on the iPhone X then you’ll be pleased to know there is a cheaper way into the market.

Phones like the Elephone S8 may lack the brand recognition of Apple devices but what you get for your money is incredible; a pin-sharp screen which fills the front of the handset (almost) completely, and all for less than £200. You’ll have to make some compromises – there’s no NFC, the camera could be better and the speaker is weak – but if you’re shopping on a budget, then this is a really solid option, and perhaps one of the best devices Elephone has produced so far.

Verdict

Blessed with a fantastic screen and a very reasonable price point, the Elephone S8 comes highly recommended in the realm of budget blowers, even if it does lack some creature comforts.

Sphero Mini Review | Trusted Reviews

What is the Sphero Mini?

Sphero’s balls of robotic fun have been around for a few years now, delivering the likes of the original Sphero, Sphero Sprk+, and even app-controlled Sphero R2-D2 and Sphero BB-8 (of Star Wars fame) models. It’s since diversified somewhat, with non-spherical bundles of fun like its excellent Sphero Lightning McQueen and Sphero Spider-Man toys.

The company hasn’t forgotten what made its name, however. The new Sphero Mini takes a lot of the same fun and shrinks it down to a more pocket- and wallet-friendly package – all designed to once again work with a smartphone app (and your imagination).

Related: Best Star Wars toys

Sphero Mini – Design and setup

The original Sphero and Sprk+ came in at around the size of a boules ball, but now the diddly little Mini is only the size of a snooker ball. It has a hard plastic outer shell that comes in a range of fun, vibrant colours: pink, green, blue, orange, and an all-white option.

The shell separates into two halves, a bit like a Kinder Surprise egg, revealing the inner robotics, which include a gyroscope and accelerometer. The removable outer layer also means you can buy separate shells if you want to change colours.

Sphero Mini

The hardened plastic withstood some serious bangs during the testing period, constantly bashing into the skirting and table legs but living to tell the tale.

You get some accessories thrown in the box as well, which you can use to devise your own fun and games. These include a set of traffic cones – perfect for slalom courses – and some pins for bowling hijinks. The only problem is, there’s not much weight to the accessories. The pins in particular have a tendency to fall over with just a slight brush of your hand, before you’ve even got your Mini in position.

Sphero Mini

You’ll need to strip down the Mini to charge it up. There’s a micro USB port hidden away, and it’ll take about an hour to charge. That’s a little slow for my liking. The Mini will glow blue while it’s charging, changing to green when it’s done. A full charge will net you about 45 minutes of continuous play time.

As the Sphero Mini pairs with your phone over Bluetooth Low Energy, you can leave it in a low-powered state. This lets your phone remotely turn it on when you’re ready to play, but it does mean the battery slowly depletes over the course of a week. There’s a chance you might return to it to find the battery dead.

You can manually power the Mini off in the app, but to then turn it back on you’ll need to plug it into a power source, so keep that in mind to avoid disappointment while away from home.

As with other Sphero robots, the Mini pairs with a Sphero Mini app for iOS or Android. The design of the app is just as fun and approachable as the little robot itself, with bright graphics and an easy-to-navigate layout that’ll appeal to younger users.

Sphero Mini

There’s a little bit of work before you can get the ball rolling. First, you pair your phone with the Sphero Mini over Bluetooth. You’ll then need to calibrate the Mini so the controls make sense, as they are all relative to your current position.

To do this, you rotate the on-screen Sphero Mini, which, in turn, will rotate an LED on the actual robot. You’ll want to rotate it so that the LED is pointed at your current physical position. It’s a pretty painless experience, but you’ll need to do this again if you decide to move position.

The app also lets you customise the colour of the internal LEDs, with a vast array of options.

Sphero Mini – How fun is it to use?

Once you’re in the app, you can toggle between various different control methods. There’s the standard virtual joystick, tilt controls, slingshot and, finally, face driving. The latter uses the front-facing camera on your phone, with different expressions and head tilts resulting in different directional inputs.

At least in theory. In practice, I struggled to get the ball rolling with any degree of consistency, and I can scowl with the best of them. Still, it’s something that’ll keep younger players amused for a while until they realise how frustrating it is. Those sad faces that are supposed to make the ball go backwards will soon be very real.

Sphero Mini

The slingshot mode is perfect for the aforementioned tenpin bowling fun, and the tilt controls feel a bit like playing real-life Super Monkey Ball. Oddly, the tilt controls generally feel more accurate than the joystick.

Using the joystick controls, it’s hard to ever really feel like you’re in control of the Sphero Mini. It’ll often career off at breakneck speed and any course correction takes a split second to kick in, resulting in some impressive crashes. Occasionally, the Sphero Mini would seemingly get stuck in place, too. Any attempt to get it to change direction would just see it spin in place. This was on hardwood flooring too, so it wasn’t getting stuck due to the surface.

The Sphero Mini does much better on laminate flooring, but will still run fine on most short pile carpets – although it might not be quite as nippy (this might be for the best). You never really feel like you’ve got full mastery of the Sphero Mini though, but that can be part of the fun.

Sphero Mini

As a side note, for anyone thinking the Sphero Mini might be a fun pet toy to keep your furry friends amused, my two cats were generally nonplussed by the skittish ball rolling around their feet. This was despite the fact they love a similar flashing ball that’s designed to be batted around a helter skelter-like course. Cats being cats; your mileage may vary.

Tucked away in the Sphero Mini app are some basic arcade games that let you use the Sphero Mini as a controller. These include a top-down vertical shooter that sees you rotate the Mini to move side to side. They’re fun as a momentary distraction, but not really much else.

Sphero Mini – Coding

Alongside the Sphero Mini app, there’s also Sphero Edu. This is the same app that’s designed to work with other Sphero toys like the Sprk+. The app is a fantastic introduction to the basics of programming, allowing you to take your first steps in coding.

Sphero Mini

The Sphero Edu makes everything super approachable by simply letting you drag and drop blocks of code, which the little Mini can then run. You don’t have to worry about the deeper complexities of syntax, as long as the blocks are put in a logical order. You can either start your own programs from scratch, or tinker with pre-made options.

You have far greater control over things like speed, so with some time and patience you can do some seriously impressive manoeuvres that are really only limited by your imagination. You can even graduate to using Javascript.

Sphero Mini

It all reminds me a bit of the programmable moving robots from my primary school back in the 90s. Except now it’s in the comfort of your living room, using a smartphone with infinitely more processing power than the big RM desktop tucked away in my classroom. What a time to be alive!

Why should I buy the Sphero Mini?

Sphero Mini

Following in the footsteps (rolling path?) of the full-fat Sphero robot balls, the Sphero Mini can be a bundle of fun if you get a little imaginative. While the controls aren’t exactly the most precise – and some are just plain gimmicky – it’s still entertaining to get it hurtling around the room. I just wish the included accessories were a little better quality.

Things really open up with the coding element though. With some patience, younger players can really can have fun while learning a useful skill and importantly it should hold their attention.

Related: Best toys

Verdict

Lots of fun in a small package, with educational applications hidden behind the entertainment.