CaffItaly SO5 Review | Trusted Reviews

What is the CaffItaly SO5?

If one espresso is never enough, or you need an on-demand supply of tea, coffee and hot chocolate, the SO5 is the capacious capsule machine that can deliver.

A 2-litre lidded water tank with a generous capsule drawer means it can brew a supply of delicious drinks without missing a beat. It also alternates between a low-pressure setting for black tea and filter coffee and a standard 15-bar pressure for crema-topped espresso and lungo. It’s available in two colours: carbon and white.

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CaffItaly SO5 – Design and features

There’s no denying the SO5 is substantial – in size, weight (around 6kg) and in its styling. It features a chunky chrome handle for securing and releasing capsules; large, simple buttons for brewing; and an ample capacity for water and used capsules. In contrast to the usual reversible platform to elevate espresso cups for the perfect crema, the SO5 has a retractable spout that extends down to meet whatever sized cup is used, making it great for rounds of different drinks.

On the front, you’ll find all the controls and functions you’ll need with three buttons for espresso, lungo and filter coffee. In addition, there are three lights that illuminate to indicate the machine needs descaling, has run out of water, or that the capsule drawer is full – making it ideal for those who forget to fill or maintain the machine. Each button can be reprogrammed from its preset dispensing amount from 30-250ml. After an hour of non-use, the unit will go into a low power mode.

CaffItaly SO5 – What’s it like to use?

The SO5 turns on with a flick switch that’s located on the side of the unit, and it took just under a minute to heat up. For those who want their drinks faster, it would be better to keep the SO5 in low power mode.

I started by making an espresso using a small cup and a coffee capsule with the espresso button setting. To insert a capsule, I rotated the lever back to reveal a shaped slot, before moving the lever forward to secure it. The spout extended down to just above the rim, its proximity resulting in a faultlessly even, aromatic crema on top of the drink.

Next I made a cappuccino, using the middle lungo button to dispense a milk capsule, then a coffee one. Here, the cup platform’s design proved useful, accommodating a wide-rimmed cup that can be tricky to squeeze onto the narrower-width platforms of more compact machines. The milk capsule wasn’t especially frothy on this middle setting and left the coffee tasting quite strong, so it may be that the machine’s ability to alter its dispensing settings would come in handy for this drink.

Usefully, the SO5 counts the number of drinks that have been made and can therefore indicate when the capsule drawer needs emptying. This also enables it to figure out the amount of water that has been dispensed, and so can prompt when the machine requires descaling.

I moved on to making a hot chocolate with a milk capsule then a cocoa one, again using the middle buttons for both. The drink was sweet and delicious, but the milk froth was minimal.

After making this drink, I ran it empty to clean the nozzle. While some capsule machines allow you to run water through without closing the capsule holder, the SO5 doesn’t – which is a good thing since this can result in excess water flooding the empty capsule container.

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I finished by making tea using the longer dispensing button. Even though I’d cleaned the machine, there were still some bubbles – although this may have resulted from the force of the dispensing.

CaffItaly SO5 – How good is the coffee?

The SO5 makes a great espresso, with a thick, smooth crema and an intense taste, but some of the other drinks may need a little test and adjust to find the perfect flavour.

Tea is quite strong and the milk pods may not be to everyone’s taste – I found that I preferred drinks made with fresh milk. The choice of coffee capsules is more limited than some systems, although it does include a decaf, while cocoa, tea, lemon tea, ginseng and chamomile provide some more interesting options for non-coffee drinkers.

Why buy the CaffItaly SO5 capsule machine?

For most households, the SO5 will prove too bulky in terms of the space it takes up on a worktop. If capacity is what you’re after then it’s ideal, catering happily for large families, offices and small businesses.

The range of features on offer for maintenance demonstrate its suitability for volume drink production, as does its adaptability for different cup sizes. However, a sleeker design and a greater number of dishwasher-safe parts would have been welcome.

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Verdict

A commercial machine in a consumer package, the SO5 does most things well – but it will be a space hog in a small kitchen.

Kindle Oasis (2017) Review: Bigger, but better?

What is the Kindle Oasis (2017)?

It’s been a busy time for Amazon, with the company unveiling a shed-load of Alexa-toting Echo speakers, 4K HDR TV dongles and Amazon Fire tablets. But one particular product has been missing from the ramble: a new version of the Amazon Kindle.

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Since there hasn’t been much by way of disruption to the Kindle e-reader’s dominance this year, Amazon appears content to keep its budget options as they are this time around. Instead, the company is updating its higher-end Oasis reader.

BUY Amazon Kindle Oasis (2017) 8GB for £229 here (UK)

When the Kindle Oasis first launched, it was clearly a luxury product. While it struggled to up its offering next to the cheaper Kindles in terms of functionality, even lacking in some areas, it at least looked gorgeous. Although functionality isn’t an issue anymore, the Oasis might still prove a hard sell.

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Kindle Oasis 2 (2017)

Kindle Oasis (2017) release date

The Kindle Oasis (2017) is available to order from Amazon now.

Kindle Oasis (2017) price

Prices start from £229/$249.99 for an 8GB model and £259/$279 for the 32GB version. There’s a 3G option available too, which is a 32GB model for £319/$349. It should be noted that the US version comes with adverts on the lock-screen; this doesn’t appear to be the case with the UK version.

Kindle Oasis (2017) – Design

The second-generation Kindle Oasis fixes the majority of problems seen with the first iteration. But more exciting is the fact that it offers features that we haven’t seen on any Kindle before.

Like the original Oasis, the Oasis 2 looks visibly different to the other Kindle models. The screen sits to one side, next to a duo of physical page-turning buttons. The device is somewhat bulbous beneath the display, slimming out to a very thin point. This provides something to clutch onto, and is also where the battery and other internals reside.

The design does take some getting used to, especially if you’re coming from a more traditional Kindle model. The combination of a thick and thin bezel around the display make it uncomfortable to hold with two hands, unless you invest in one of Amazon’s cases. It’s fine in one hand, although I much prefer the feel of the Kindle Voyage and Paperwhite. Nevertheless, after a few days of use I had adjusted to the new Oasis.

BUY Amazon Kindle Oasis (2017) 8GB for $249 here (US)

Kindle Oasis 2 (2017) vs first Kindle

Kindle Oasis 2 (left) and original Kindle (right(

The first iteration of the Oasis came with a small battery inside the device, and a much larger one fitted to a leather cover supplied in the box. Although it worked okay, it limited you to using that particular case. Amazon has removed the need for the case with the new model, instead fitting a much bigger battery inside the Kindle Oasis.

The lack of case has led to a few other design tweaks too. The rear of the Kindle Oasis is now aluminium, rather than soft-touch plastic, and gone are the visible pins that were previously used to charge the case. The design feels much cleaner and classier, but issues remain.

Previous Kindles have all felt soft to the touch, but the new Oasis is harsher. The aluminium sides jut out slightly above the display and the edges are sharp. It’s a colder, less welcoming product, and I’m not entirely sure everyone will like it.

Over the years, I’ve longed to have a Kindle that I can happily leave by the pool without fear of it becoming damaged by water splashes. Finally, Amazon has added water-resistance to the Oasis’ list of features. An IPX8 rating means the Kindle Oasis (2017) will happily survive being submerged in water for two hours – which is more than most phones boasting an IP67/8 rating.

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Kindle Oasis (2017) – Audible integration and software

Alongside the addition of waterproofing, the new Oasis (2017) also includes support for Audible – the Amazon-owned audiobook store that has pretty much become the main way to buy and download audiobooks.

If you’re already in the Audible ecosystem, previously purchased audiobooks will show up alongside your regular books. If you own both the Kindle book and Audible audiobook then they’ll show up as one; you can switch between the two with the tap of the button. It’s a seamless process that works as advertised. Obviously, though, buying both versions of the book will be pricey.

Those who aren’t already signed up to Audible can do so via a web browser, and the service offers both straight-up purchases and monthly subscriptions with a certain number of credits included. There’s now an Audible store on the device for downloading and buying audiobooks, but it isn’t integrated into the regular Kindle store.

Kindle Oasis 2 (2017)

Note that the Kindle Oasis 2 has no headphone jack or speaker. Instead, you’ll have to use Bluetooth headphones or a Bluetooth speaker. Pairing a Bluetooth device is straightforward, but trying to connect to a pair of AirPods resulted in failure multiple times. Once connected, however, the reception was strong even with the Kindle in my bag.

Elsewhere in terms of the software little has changed, with each of the Kindles displaying the same basic user interface. Unlike most other Amazon products, there isn’t a huge push of adverts on the Kindle devices. While it does recommend other reads, and of course it’s only possible to download books from the Kindle store (unless you want to employ some finicky workarounds), you won’t be bombarded as you are with the Fire TV.

Kindle Oasis (2017) – Screen

Another big design change with the Kindle Oasis 2 is the switch to a larger 7-inch screen, rather than the 6-inch display on the first device. Although this makes the Oasis 2 less pocketable, the bigger panel and roomier viewing area is a worthy trade-off.

Related: Kindle Voyage vs Paperwhite

The screen itself retains the 300 pixels-per-inch (PPI) of the outgoing Oasis, but it finally adds in the auto-brightness option that debuted on the Kindle Voyage. This automatically adjusts the intensity of the front light according to the environment you’re in, and it means you won’t have to go into Settings to make adjustments when moving from bright conditions outdoors to inside a more dimly lit train.

In use this feature isn’t as smooth as it is on a phone, but it’s certainly a handy addition nonetheless. The light that brightens the display for nighttime reading is also excellent; there are now extra LEDs to provide more even light.

Related: Kindle Paperwhite review | Kindle Voyage review

Kindle Oasis 2 (2017)

Kindle Oasis (2017) – Battery life

As mentioned, the battery unit in the previous edition of the Kindle Oasis was small, with much of the power supplied via the included charging case. This was great idea, but not so much in actual use. In my experience, without the case attached the Kindle would barely last a day – and the device would frequently prompt to charge, even when the device’s battery was full.

With the Kindle Oasis 2, Amazon claims about 6 weeks of use – but judging the accuracy of this figure can be difficult. During my time with the device it lost about 15% after five days, which comprised a few hours of reading per day.

As you’d expect, the battery will be consumed quicker when listening to audiobooks through a pair of Bluetooth headphones. But, it will still offer far more juice than using your phone.

There’s isn’t a charging block in the box, just the cable, which does seem a little tight for a device costing upwards of £200. Amazon has also stuck with micro-USB, rather than switching to the now more common USB Type-C. This is hardly surprising, however: Amazon hasn’t converted to USB-C yet with any of its products. Nevertheless, for a product that’s unlikely to see an update for a few years yet, it’s disappointing.

Kindle Oasis 2 (2017)

Why buy the Kindle Oasis (2017)?

Water-resistance and Audible integration have been two of the biggest features missing from previous Kindles, so their additions here instantly make the new Oasis an interesting proposition.

However, with prices starting at £229 for an 8GB model and £259 for 32GB, the Oasis remains a pricey product that’s likely to attract only the most obsessive of Kindle fans. Nevertheless, having features that actually set the Oasis apart from the £109.99 Paperwhite at least make it an easier sell than the previous model.

Verdict

It’s expensive and a few of the design changes won’t suit all, but the bigger screen and waterproofing make it the perfect choice for die-hard e-reader fans.

Shark DuoClean Lift-Away NV800UKT Review

What is the Shark NV800UKT?

Shark’s range-topping DuoClean Lift-Away NV800UKT is a multi-purpose stick and cylinder cleaner. With an 850W motor and bagless bin, its twin-brush floorhead tackles any floor covering and the Lift-Away section of this upright is ideal for stairs.

It cleans outstandingly well, is ridiculously versatile and only its small bin and weight in upright configuration count against it. It isn’t a budget option at £370, but regular special offers at around £250 make it something of a bargain all-rounder.

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Shark NV800UKT – Accessories

Shark has yet to disappoint us with its cleaners and the flagship DuoClean Lift-Away NV800UKT is no exception. This model is a full-power upright vacuum cleaner with Lift-Away section for cylinder-cleaner like versatility. The handle attaches directly to tools for detail cleaning, while the tube gives extra reach if required. You can even attach the main floorhead to the tube for stick-cleaner manoeuvrability. Brilliant!

Key to the NV800UKT’s cleaning capabilities is the new DuoClean floorhead. This features two powered brush bars. The first is a soft-flocked roller, ideal for sweeping up fine particles. The second is a traditional stiff-bristle brush for carpet beating and larger debris. The flocked roller runs through a row of cleaning teeth that free dust from the roller into the suction airflow.

The smaller front roller can be removed and washed, while the top panel comes away for access to the main brush bar. Shark even supplies a little on-board tool for detangling hairs from the bar. That’s a great little addition.

The full-tilt and pivot neck offer plenty of manoeuvrability, whether the vac is being used as an upright or in its lightweight stick mode. Two rows of four LEDs light up the path in front of the floorhead either way.

A switch on the handle swaps the head between carpet and hard floor cleaning mode. The brush bars rotate in both modes – slowly on the hard floor mode, and a whole lot quicker on the carpet setting.

A small, air-powered turbo-tool is supplied for lighter cleaning duties. This has no articulation in the neck or floor plate, so keeping it flat to the surface will be a bit of a challenge. Conversely, the upholstery tool has a unique curve to the base that stops it sticking down too much with the suction.

The tool roster is complete with a dual-purpose crevice tool and dusting brush. The crevice tool is a good length and the slide-down brush has super-soft bristles for delicate dusting.

The main cleaner body has a nicely positioned handle on the top, situated beside the main power switch and the Lift-Away release button. There are three filters, leading to a solid A rating for dust emissions. Two internal foam filters and the HEPA exhaust filter are all washable.

The NV800UKT package is topped off with a handy 8m long cable with winder hooks on the body, plus a very flexible, stretchy hose.

Shark NV800UKT – What is it like to use?

Fully assembled as an upright cleaner, the NV800UKT is quite a weighty beast at 6.6kg. If you attach any of the detail tools to its two storage clips, it’s weightier still. It’s up there with some of the heaviest upright cleaners – the Shark is clearly geared up for more robust cleaning duties and larger homes.

In use as an upright cleaner, you do feel that mass too. Having the motor weight higher up in the Lift-Away section puts a little more pressure in the hand. Moreover, the dual rollers rotating in the same direction tend to drive the machine forward. It isn’t too onerous to pull back against this driving force, but, on carpet in particular, it can feel like it wants to take itself off across the room.

No such issue in Lift-Away mode, though. The Lift-Away section is much lighter at just 2.5kg. The hose and handle add a further 1.5kg to that weight but since this is likely to be in your other hand, it creates a nice balance. Without the extra weight of the cleaner body, the driving force of the rollers isn’t as bad in its ‘stick cleaner’-style configuration either.

Unlike a true cylinder cleaner, the Lift-Away section isn’t designed to roll or follow you. It has to be carried, even if you’re using the tube and main floorhead.

Shark is very good at labelling all its switches and clips, and they fit together securely. The hose-to-body connection was rather stiff at first, but it began to ease over time. The main head clips firmly into place onto the handle or tube, while the detail tools simply push-fit into place.

Bin release and emptying worked well, but its capacity is limited. At just 0.5 litres, that’s smaller than some cordless vacs we’ve tried. The Shark’s great cleaning performance means it fills very, very quickly too.

Running noise is a little rowdier than we’re used to in these days of EU noise limits. The Shark measured around 73dB over hard floors and 78dB with the brush bars at full power over carpet. The mini turbo-tool howled like a jet engine, putting our sound pressure meter into the red at 90-91dB. Next year’s Shark models will comply with the latest noise legislation, but will they perform so well? Time and the Trusted Reviews test bench will tell.

Fit, finish and build quality of the NV800UKT is very good throughout. There are plenty of nice detail touches too. We particularly like the supplied brush bar cleaning tool, clip to keep the hose from flapping about while in upright mode, and the well-designed upholstery tool.

Shark NV800UKT – How does it clean carpets and hard floors?

Across all our cleaning tests, the NV800UKT quite literally cleaned up. Solid suction power and that double brush bar floorhead did a great job over hard floors and carpets alike. The soft front roller is adept at picking up the finest particles. It then buffs surfaces spotless, while the main brush bar agitates dirt from carpets with ease.

Our spilled oats on tiles test saw the Shark’s cleaning performance at its very best. That front roller, with its flocked surface, drew in all of the oats and then polished any dust residue from the floor. Good suction ensured everything then ended up in the bin. A perfect result.

Carpet cleaning was a little more challenging due to the dual brush bars pulling the machine forward and adding resistance to the backstroke. It won’t prove overly difficult for most, but it is noticeable. Our Octogenarian tester suggested it was too much for her, but younger users shouldn’t have a problem.

Thankfully, the Shark’s cleaning result makes that extra effort bearable. It did a very good job of cleaning our mix of carpet cleaning powder, talc and baking powder in a single forward sweep. It cleaned deeper into the pile on the backstroke. There were some carpet powder grains left after this two-pass test, but no more so than other cleaners that comply with the new 900Watt EU power limit. Edge-cleaning results were equally impressive, with a clean sweep right up to the skirting.

Good suction power delivered suitably impressive results from the detail tools too. The crevice tool is a little chunky and the dusting brush very soft for our tastes, but your mileage may vary.

The mini-turbo tool works – but not without caveats. The fixed neck and solid floor plate make it more of a challenge to keep flat on a surface. Like most air-powered tools it does slow on denser surfaces, although we didn’t manage to stop it completely – even on the depth of the shaggiest shag pile.

Shark NV800UKT – How easy is it to use on stairs?

The NV800UKT’s Lift-Away body, decent-length cable and mini-turbo tool are close to an ideal package for stairs. You get mains-power suction, lightweight manoeuvrability and good reach. That may well see you clean a complete flight of stairs in one go.

For carpeted stairs, the mini-turbo tool is our tool of choice. However, you’ll need some wrist dexterity to see this tool at its best. You need to get the angle just right to ensure the brush bar stays in contact with the surface. Get that spot on and it cleans very well, and is small enough to get into all but the tightest corners.

Conversely, the tool’s fixed neck makes it even easier to flip the head 90 degrees to clean stair uprights. With a dog that often camps out halfway up our stairs, this proved very handy indeed.

The upholstery tool’s soft pads will allow you to tackle polished wood steps without fear of scratching the surface. Perhaps a larger, stiffer brush than the supplied dust brush would be even better for hard surface steps. But this is being picky on what is, otherwise, stellar stair-cleaning versatility.

Shark NV800UKT – How does it cope with pet hair?

Competing with Dyson’s Fluffy, this Shark’s front roller is every bit as effective at cleaning pet hairs from hard floors. From the finest single pet hairs to big balls of Labrador tumble weed, the head claws in 100% of fluffy debris. Sucked in hairs seem to avoid the secondary bristle brush and end up in the bin too.

The front roller doesn’t work as well over carpet, but this isn’t an issue with the secondary brush bar. Spinning much faster on the carpet setting, it pulled up hairs wound into the pile well. Only some seriously pile-entangled hairs resisted its cleaning power.

For pet beds, the mini-turbo tool works a treat. The spinning brush keeps it from sucking in loose material while simultaneously scraping engrained dirt and hairs from the fibres.

For those with pets that prefer the sofa to their own beds – I’m looking at both our dogs across the office – the upholstery tool is pretty effective too. The red pads do claw hairs well, but that does mean you’ll need to clean the tool every so often to keep it effective.

Why buy the Shark NV800UKT?

Versatile and effective, the NV800UKT offers mains-powered vacuuming as an upright, cylinder and even a stick-style lightweight cleaner. The twin rollers, polishing action of the soft bar, great LED lighting and solid suction get the better of dirt on a wide range of surfaces. The Lift-Away core and detail tools make stair cleaning easy.

Fully assembled it’s quite heavy, the floorhead does tend to drive forward and the bin is rather bijou. But if you can live with those caveats then the Shark Lift-Away DuoClean NV800UKT is a great all-rounder.

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Verdict

Powerful and versatile, Shark’s NV800UKT is a great all-round cleaner – compromised only by its hefty weight and small bin.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Review

What is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM?

Those with some knowledge of Canon lenses will know that up until recently there have been two 85mm prime lenses in the company’s lineup. There’s the affordable EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (£325), and the bokehlicious EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM, for which you’re required to pay a hefty premium (£1765).

There are of course third-party options worthy of consideration, such as the splendid Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art DG HSM (£999) or Tamron 85mm f/1.8 SP Di VC USD (£749), but the good news for brand-loyal Canon users is that the wait for a fast telephoto prime with superior optics to the ageing EF 85mm f/1.8 USM is finally over.

The release of the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM has got Canon users across the globe very excited, but does it qualify as one of the most significant lens releases Canon has made in recent years?

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Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM – Features

Before delving into its optical construction, it should first be pointed out that being an EF lens, the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM is fully compatible with Canon full-frame DSLRs as well as those that employ an APS-C sensor and an EF-S mount.

Coupled to the latter, it becomes a highly practical and creative telephoto prime lens that’s equivalent to 136mm, however for a majority of my testing it was coupled to a Canon EOS 6D Mark II full-frame DSLR with which it was supplied for review.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

As a lens that looks set to appeal to professionals and serious enthusiasts who specialise in portrait, reportage and wedding photography, it needed a feature to make it stand out from its competition.

The distinct advantage it has over lenses such as the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art DG HSM, Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G AF-S and Canon’s existing 85mm lenses mentioned earlier is the way it offers unparalleled stability thanks to its optical image stabilisation that’s effective to 4 stops. This will allow users to capture sharp handheld shots slower than would otherwise be possible, and will be a godsend in low-light venues such as churches and in dark interiors.

The lens features an internal construction of 14 elements in 10 groups, with high-precision elements that Canon say have been implemented to correct chromatic aberration and deliver the optical performance required by the highest resolution sensors.

Furthermore, it employs Canon’s air sphere coating (ASC) technology to the front element to eliminate the affects of flare and ghosting. The USM abbreviation in its name also signifies that it’s equipped with an Ultra Sonic Motor to ensure focus performance is both hasty and quiet.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Inside the barrel, the lens is equipped with an electro magnetic diaphragm, which comprises nine aperture blades. Other important features to note include its 0.85m minimum focusing distance and 77mm filter thread at the front, which is larger than the 58mm and 72mm filter threads as found on the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM and EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM – Build and handling

Those interested in this lens will be keen to know how it shapes up to its closest relatives. Compared to the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, it’s much chunkier but isn’t quite the brute that the EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM is, weighing 75g less.

It’s not a lightweight lens by any means and as such feels best paired with full-frame DSLRs that offer a large grip and the option to attach a battery grip to improve comfort when shooting into the portrait orientation. Mounting the lens briefly to the Canon EOS 800D made the pairing feel rather nose heavy so APS-C users will want to take note of this.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

The lens is longer than the EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM by just over 20mm, giving you more barrel to cup in your left hand. Coupled to a full-frame DSLR, the feel of the lens is excellent. It rests comfortably in the palm with much better access to the AF/MF switch than you get on the EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM.

Just below the AF/MF switch on the side of the barrel is the stabilizer switch. When you’re using the lens you quickly become accustomed to which switch is which from behind the camera as both switches are subtly different in profile.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

The manual focus ring is larger than that on the EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM, offering far greater resistance with a consistently smooth motion across its focus range of 0.85cm to infinity. Towards the rear of the lens the barrel tapers in slightly and there’s a rubber gasket that compresses against the mount of the camera to create a weather-resistant seal.

With the lens you get a new ET-83E lens hood that attaches and locks through 90 degrees. A small button has to be depressed to release it and in the usual fashion it can be attached to the lens when it’s reversed to free up space in the bag. The lens is also supplied with Canon’s pinch-to-release style of lens cap.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM – Image Quality

Before studying the optical quality of the lens, I carried out a few image stabilisation tests of finely detailed static subjects in low light to find out just how slow the lens can be used handheld. The lens’s 4-stop image stabilizer makes a huge difference negating camera shake and an inspection of shots back on the computer revealed it’s possible to shoot sharp shots at as slow as 1/10sec with a steady hand and solid handheld technique.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II, 1/250sec at f/1.8, ISO 400

Next, I analysed the lab results alongside real-world images and studied comparisons with Canon’s older 85mm lenses. The lens renders gorgeous blur behind subjects when it’s used wide open and though the level of sharpness can be improved across the frame by stopping it down to f/5.6, centre sharpness at f/1.4 remains impressive, as illustrated in the sample images that support this review.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Canon EOS 6D Mark II, 1/500sec at f/1.4, ISO 100

Comparisons through the aperture range revealed its perceptibly sharper than Canon’s EF 85mm f/1.8 USM. The real beauty of this lens is that I found my hit-rate of pin-sharp shots at f/1.4 much higher than using the EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM – a lens that has a bit of a reputation for being a pig to nail focus at its maximum aperture.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Canon EOS 6D Mark II, 1/100sec at f/2.8, ISO 100

Anyone looking at the lens as a potential upgrade from the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM will approve of the way the lens handles chromatic aberration more effectively. Traces of purple fringing can’t be spotted a mile off like they can on its cheaper sibling, but that’s not to say fringes of colour aren’t completely absent. Green and purple fringes of colour were observed along some high contrast edges, which will prompt users to tick the remove chromatic aberration box in Lightroom and Camera Raw to correct it.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II, 1/250sec at f/1.4, ISO 100

As one can expect from a fast prime, vignetting is evident at f/1.4. The shading features a rather gentle fall off though so it’s rather complimentary to portraiture and other subjects where you’d like to lead the viewer’s eye towards the centre of the image. Closing the aperture from f/1.4 to f/2 sees the vignetting gradually disappear and by the time f/2.8 is reached it’s unnoticeable.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Canon EOS 6D Mark II, 1/3200sec at f/2, ISO 100

The distortion chart did flag up evidence of pincusion distortion towards the edges of the frame, but you’re unlikely to notice it in your images unless you apply a lens correction profile and then compare it back and fourth with the original.

Resolution

Centre sharpness is marginally sharper than at the edge when the lens is used wide open at f/1.4. As the aperture is stopped down, centre sharpness improves and peaks at f/5.6. The graph clearly shows there’s a noticeable increase in corner sharpness between f/2.8 and f/5.6, and for the sharpest results from corner to corner users will want to use the lens around its sweet spot of f/5.6-f/8. Good results can be achieved beyond this point, but users should beware that diffraction does have the effect of softening images from f/16 onwards.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Shading

Opting to use the lens at its maximum aperture will result in the corners of images appearing approximately 1.4EV darker than the centre. This vignetting isn’t by any means offensive to images shot wide open though and is actually very effective at helping to draw the viewers eye towards centrally positioned subjects in the frame. Stopping the lens down to f/2 sees the affect of vignetting reduce considerably and by f/2.8 there’s no sign of corner shading in real-world images.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM vignetting at f/1.4

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM vignetting at f/2

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM vignetting at f/2.8

Curvilinear distortion

As to be expected from a short telephoto prime, distortion is well controlled and isn’t anything to get too concerned about. Our distortion chart did show a small amount of pincushion distortion, but you’ll be hard pushed to notice this in real-world images and is always something you’ll be able to correct for in post-processing as soon as the lens is supported by a lens profile.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM distortion: SMIA Tv = 0.8% (pincushion-type)

Why buy the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM?

When Canon announced that they’d be making a new medium telephoto prime it caused quite a stir amongst portrait, reportage and wedding photographers who have been patiently waiting for such a lens to arrive in the L-series. The saying of good things come to those who wait is true in the case of the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM and it’s an optic that nestles in nicely between the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM and exorbitant EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM.

The optical quality is leaps and bounds ahead of Canon’s cheaper EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, while its accurate autofocus, great handling and built-in optical image stabilisation are compelling reasons to choose it ahead of the EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Some Canon photographers may protest that the incredibly shallow falloff that’s achieved with the EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM is worth paying a premium for, but others, myself included, will be quite happy to make a £180 saving and reap the reward of sharper shots at slower shutter speeds when shooting in low-light.

This is without doubt one of the finest prime lenses Canon has made in recent years. It answers exactly what many users have been asking for and I foresee it being a lens that fetches high demand from portrait and wedding photographers around the world who shoot on full frame EOS DSLRs.

Related: Best Canon lenses

Verdict

If you’re a Canon full-frame DSLR user who’d like a fast, well-built, optically stabilised medium telephoto prime lens, be prepared to fall in love with the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM. The image quality and centre sharpness it’s capable of wide-open is very impressive. While it’s not exactly cheap at £1569, it’s a price that serious photographers won’t mind splashing out on to give their shots the edge over others.

Hisense RB335N4WG1 Review | Trusted Reviews

What is the Hisense RB335N4WG1?

With a luxury steel-effect finish and chilled water from the door-front dispenser, this tall Hisense fridge freezer looks luxurious. Fitting into a narrower 55cm wide space it’s practical for smaller kitchens, and its A+ energy rating should keep running costs down too.

With solid test results, even cooling and plenty of fridge space on offer, the RB335N4WG1 is as practical as it is good-looking. Fairly low running costs, the water dispenser and that great finish make it exceptional value all round.

Related: Best fridge freezers

Hisense RB335N4WG1 – How does it look?

We don’t see too many affordable full-sized fridge freezers sporting a luxury stainless steel finish. And we haven’t today, either. Despite its stunning steely good looks, the Hisense RB335N4WG1 on test has a lacquered ‘steel effect’ finish. Not only does that keep the cost down to below £350 for this near 300-litre fridge freezer, the lacquer resists finger prints much better than true stainless too.

In fact, Hisense has done a great job of making the RB335N4WG1 look premium throughout. The door-mounted water dispenser is a nice touch on its own, and is finished with gloss black and a chrome trim. Even the Hisense badge is a rather fetching chrome affair.

The handles are inset between the two doors. You reach up to grasp the upper door and down for the freezer. Black plastic inserts act as handles on both doors, and they can be reversed if you need them to be left-hand hinged.

This fridge freezer is rather nice on the inside, too. A brushed steel-trimmed control panel offers touch adjustment and green LEDs to indicate target temperature. The Multi Air Flow cooling panel at the rear is neatly detailed, and the chrome wire bottle rack is unusual at this price point. The shelves are all glass with clear plastic salad drawers and door bins. The whole compartment is lit from above by a bright white LED lamp.

The freezer compartment consists of three plastic bins and an open, pull-out shelf. It’s basic but solidly put-together. This is a total no-frost machine, so there’s no need for any defrosting water channels.

The doors, fixtures and fittings are all nicely robust, making the whole package look and feel far more expensive than it is.

Hisense RB335N4WG1 – How much can you fit in?

With 172 litres of usable fridge space and 91 litres in the freezer, the RB335N4WG1 is a 65/35 split. You wouldn’t think that from the outside, though, since the two doors are almost equal in height. The freezer compartment capacity is reduced with a truncated bottom draw and very thick wall insulation. However, this does translate to a solid A+ rating for energy efficiency.

As delivered, our sample was set out with the bottle rack uppermost in the fridge. We realised this was the least practical place to put it as you lose a lot of space above. We moved the mid-shelf to the highest position and the bottle rack directly below it. Not only does that maximise the top shelf space, but it allows you to stand taller bottles on the shelf below too.

With only three shelves to play with, those used to storing lots of smaller items might want for another shelf. That’s a rare thing for us to say, since we often end up evicting a shelf to make space for taller items anyway. Make sure the fridge layout fits your needs, however.

The salad drawer – or Fresh Zone, as Hisense calls it – is a good-sized, basic plastic bin. The lower and upper door storage bins are nicely deep and full width, albeit with no height adjustment. The central bin is shallower, and beneath that is the 2-litre water reservoir for the door dispenser. This fills through a cap in the mid bin and seals with a dust cover.

Okay, 2 litres won’t keep a thirsty family in cold drinks on a hot day, and you’ll be filling it frequently. The door dispenser works well, with few drips. It can be locked off to keep children from flooding the place, although it could be worked out by any child tall enough to reach it anyway.

The 91-litre freezer is a little more rudimentary but, unusually, offers four storage areas. The three drawers are all different sizes to give a little more versatility. At the top is an open draw ideal for items that are accessed more frequently. You can reach in or pull out the drawer for a closer look. Hisense refers to this as the Easy Approach zone… which we thought was something you found at speed dating events.

Hisense RB335N4WG1 – How noisy is it?

The RB335N4WG1 runs a traditional motor compressor, so clearly isn’t going to be as super-silent as modern inverter motor designs. We measured around 42dB, which is just one decibel more than stated on the energy label. That’s still very quiet and barely noticeable in all but very silent kitchens.

Over the course of a couple of weeks on test, only the compressor and fan noise humming away gently could be heard. There were no major pops, clicks or gurgles thanks to the Multi Air Flow frost-free system.

Hisense RB335N4WG1 – How well does it perform?

We loaded our lush-looking Hisense with 1kg of frozen food per 10 litres of freezer space and 0.5kg of fresh food per 10 litres of chiller space. In the mid drawer of the freezer, we placed a 2-litre bowl of water to measure how quickly the machine can freeze room temperature items and how well they stay frozen in the event of a power cut.

Placing the Hisense in our environmental chamber kept at 18 – 19ºC ambient, we set the fridge thermostat to 4ºC and the freezer to -18–C. We measure the temperature of each shelf over time, with a host of probes and data-logging equipment.

For an affordable fridge freezer, this Hisense turned in a very respectable set of results. The fridge temperature ranged from average 5ºC at the top to 2–C in the salad drawer. Moreover, the temperature in the salad drawer was stable, varying just +/- 0.75 of a degree through the compressor cycle. That’s pretty much ideal and makes the salad drawer equally suitable for veggies or meat and fish.

The top shelf did suffer greater temperature swings being nearer the main outlet for the Multi Air Flow cooling. Through the ‘off’ part of the compressor cycle it crept up to nearly 7ºC and dipped to near-freezing when the motor started again. This isn’t particularly bad or unusual, but it does indicate that the top shelf is best for non-temperature-critical items such as jars and containers.

In between, the mid and lower shelves averaged around 4ºC, +/- 1 degree. We really can’t complain about that. Excellent.

The freezer proved equally competent. It chilled our water sample to -18ºC at the core in a little over 20 hours. That isn’t bad for this class of appliance. Both the lower freezer drawers settled at exactly -19ºC, with the upper drawer and top shelf around -18ºC.

Variation through the compressor cycle was only +/-2 degrees from average. The core temperature of our frozen food sample barely flickered over the week-long test. Text book stuff.

The fail test wasn’t quite so impressive. With the power switched off for three hours, the open top shelf suffered more than the closed drawers. Its air temperature rose to – 8ºC. The mid drawer air temperature crept up to -13ºC, while the frozen food sample also went up to -12ºC.

Extrapolating the warm-up on the top shelf, it would likely go above zero and start food defrosting in around nine hours with no power. That’s lower than average by modern standards. Although, when in the UK did you last have a power cut of more than an hour?

That last caveat aside, the Hisense demonstrated remarkably consistent and even cooling throughout.

Hisense RB335N4WG1 – How much will it cost to run?

Over the duration of our tests the Hisense averaged 0.77kWh of electricity use per day. That works out around 281kWh per year, or just over £42 based on an average electricity price of 15p/kWh. That’s just shy of the 284kWh figure stated on the energy label. That is rare.

Given the large capacity, the energy use equates to just about an A+ efficiency rating. There are plenty of even more efficient fridge freezers on the market, but few at the RB335N4WG1’s affordable asking price.

Why buy the Hisense RB335N4WG1?

We’ve found that Hisense fridge freezers test well, feel solidly built and offer great value. The RB335N4WG1 is no exception. It’s lush lacquered steel finish, in-door water dispenser and solid test results suggest a much higher price ticket than it has. It’s short of fancy food-storage features and could be a little more efficient – particularly in the fail test – but these are minor quibbles for what is an otherwise exceptional fridge freezer.

Related: Best washing machines

Verdict

Good looks and solid performance mark this 55cm wide Hisense fridge freezer as superb value.

iPhone X hands-on | Trusted Reviews

Hands-on with the iPhone X

The iPhone X (pronounced iPhone 10) is a hugely important device for Apple. Not only is its release coinciding with the 10th anniversary of arguably the most important tech product of the last decade, but it’s the first iPhone in four years to undergo a major redesign.

iPhone X – Price

The iPhone X starts at £999/$999 for the 64GB model and £1149/$1149 for the 256GB version

iPhone X – Design

Apple has been coasting for too long on the design it introduced with the iPhone 6, but that all changes with the iPhone X – and it’s changed in a big way. You don’t need me to tell you the iPhone X is a huge departure from the tired iPhone design – just look at the pictures – but Apple has done a fantastic job at actually making it feel really good to hold.

There’s no way around it, this phone is gorgeous. It’s slightly taller than the iPhone 8 (and 7 and 6) but a whole lot narrower and smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus. It’s kind of the perfect mix, especially as you’re getting a 5.8-inch display here.

Related: iPhone 8 vs iPhone X

The aluminium sides have been swapped for stainless steel, just like on the Apple Watch, and the front and back are glass. My unit is the Space Grey variant and it’s already started picking up fingerprints nearly everywhere. If I was buying one myself I’d go for the Silver model, which is actually more like a shiny white.

Around the front, though, is where the magic happens. The iPhone 8 has a huge bezel running around the display, but the iPhone X doesn’t. Like on the Samsung Galaxy S8, Apple has pushed the screen out and reduced the bezel. There’s still a noticeable black border, but this adds a nice contrast to the bright display.

Not having a thick bezel means there’s no room for the Home button – something that had been on every single previous iPhone. This in turn means there’s no Touch ID fingerprint scanner. Instead, Apple is turning completely to facial recognition – a bold move.

All of the components for Face ID (infrared camera, flood illuminator, dot projector) are housed in what’s being affectionately called the ‘notch’. This sits at the top of the display and disrupts that all-screen look. There’s been a lot of controversy about the notch over whether it’ll completely ruin the immersive experience, but I can’t imagine it being an issue. Yes, you can certainly notice the notch when the screen is on and it juts into video if you’re playing it in full-screen, but everywhere else it fades into the background. Maybe it’ll irritate me more over time, but we’ll see.

Having used Samsung’s face unlock and iris scanners a fair bit, I’ve never been impressed by either their speed or accuracy. So it’s important that Apple’s version, dubbed Face ID, works every single time. Even if it refused to recognise my face one in five attempts it’d be super-annoying. I haven’t had time to really test Face ID yet, but setup was as quick as Touch ID and it hasn’t failed so far.

iPhone X – Screen

The iPhone X sees Apple switch out its usual LCD screen tech for an OLED panel for the first time. Samsung, Google and loads of other Android phone makers have been using this technology for ages, but it’s great to see Apple finally joining the party.

OLEDs tend to offer better contrast, perfect blacks and a more colourful picture, but they’re not always perfect. The LG panels used by Google in the Pixel 2 XL have come in for plenty of flack for poor viewing angles and an odd blue tinge.

Apple’s OLEDs come from Samsung and on first viewing they don’t suffer with those problems. There’s a small shift to blue if you tilt the device off-axis, but it’s not noticeable if you’re looking at it straight on.

Related: Best iPhone X cases

Apple says it’s tweaked a lot about this panel, and it certainly seems different to how Samsung optimises the screens f0r its own Galaxy S8 and Note 8. Colours seem a lot more natural and the saturation isn’t quite so violent. There’s also True Tone, which alters the screen temperature depending on your environment. 3D Touch also makes a return, allowing you to perform alternative actions when you press on the screen harder than a regular tap.

This is the highest-resolution screen ever on an iPhone, with a 2436 x 1125-pixel resolution, plus there’s support for the whole P3 colour gamut and Dolby Vision HDR.

iPhone X – Software, performance and battery life

Aside from losing the Touch ID sensor, not having a Home button leads to big changes in how iOS 11 operates. You now swipe up from the bottom of the screen to go home, and swipe and hold to access the multitasking menu. I’m so used to hitting the Home button that already these gestures are requiring extra effort.

The taller screen is also causing a few problems with apps. Apps that haven’t been updated to take advantage of that extra display space have ugly black bars and act basically as iPhone 8 apps. Plenty of apps have already been updated, though, so hopefully developers will jump on board quickly.

One of the few iPhone X exclusive features is Animoji. These are, as the name suggests, emoji which you can animate thanks to the Face ID camera. It’s ridiculously addictive turning yourself into a poo or unicorn with your facial expressions, and you’re not restricted to just sending them to other iPhone X owners.

Related: Best iPhones deals]

The internals of the iPhone X are exactly the same as those in the iPhone 8 Plus. It’s powered by the A11 Bionic chip, which is ridiculously fast, plus 3GB of RAM. You can read my full iPhone 8 Plus review for how that performs, and I suspect the X will be very similar. There are the same storage options available, although considering the price it would’ve been nice to see Apple just offer this in a 256GB variety instead of the base model’s 64GB.

I haven’t had the iPhone X long enough to even make an estimate on its battery life, but Apple claims it’ll last two hours longer than the iPhone 7. This seems an odd comparison, especially as the iPhone 8 is out, but it does give the impression this won’t match the Plus models for endurance.

iPhone X – Camera

On the back of the iPhone X there are two cameras, just like on the iPhone 8 Plus. Both have 12-megapixel sensors, but one has a telephoto lens for zooming in and utilising the array of portrait modes. That telephoto camera is the one that’s been upgraded here, as it now packs optical image stabilisation and a wider f/2.4 aperture. Both upgrades should make it better in low light when compared to the 8 Plus, but I’ll have to spend more time with it to see if that’s the case.

Those fancy depth-mapping features that make Face ID possible are also utilised in the front-facing camera. It still takes 7-megapixel photos, but like the rear cameras it can use those Portrait effects to give selfies a more professional look. 

Opening impressions

The iPhone X is undoubtedly a gorgeous phone. After a few boring iPhone iterations, Apple is well and truly back at the forefront of smartphone design.

Look past the design, though, and there could be a few things that hold it back. Will Face ID be as fast and reliable as Touch ID? Will the battery make it through the day? And will developers quickly update their apps to make better use of the display?

There’s also the elephant in the room here, and that’s the price. At £1000/$1000, this is the most expensive phone I’ve ever used and will likely continue remain so until the next generation of the iPhone. This instantly means it’s not for everyone and with so many high-end options coming in much cheaper, is it worth it? That’s a question that’ll have to be answered in our full review.

What do you want to know about the iPhone X? Tweet us @trustedreviews

Xbox One X review: A little box with some big tricks

Review in progress: We’ve not yet awarded the Xbox One X a score out of ten because this console will live and die based on the quality of the games that can be played on it. In our short time with the console we haven’t yet had the opportunity to play enough games to come to a firm conclusion.

What is the Xbox One X?

The Xbox One X is the most powerful games console on the market today. It represents a major performance boost over the Xbox One S and is geared towards people who want to see their games at the best quality possible on a console.

4K is the name of the game, and this machine does a sterling job of serving up games at the fabled 3840 x 2160-pixel resolution.

But it’s not quite that simple. Game developers are still beavering away to optimise their Xbox games to take advantage of the One X’s hardware, and it leaves me with the impression that casual players are going to be rather confused come launch day. In addition, not every game you played on the original Xbox One or Xbox One S will look better, or even play better, on the One X; it’s entirely on a game-by-game basis.

Aside from muddying the waters, there’s no disputing that the Xbox One X is a seriously impressive piece of hardware that takes console performance to new heights.

But does that make it a must-buy?

Buy the Xbox One X now from Amazon UK | Amazon.com

Xbox One X – Design and connectivity

The One X is a nice, but not lovely, piece of kit. Smaller in (almost) every way than the Xbox One S, it’s practically pint-sized compared to the first version launched in 2013. However, don’t imagine it’ll slot into your media centre like a normal Xbox – instead of an exhaust fan on the top, there’s now a wide exhaust at the rear of the console.

Related: Xbox One X vs Xbox One S

This is great for those who want to stack other AV kit on top of the Xbox One X, but it does mean you’ll want to give a bit more room around back to accommodate the new cooling system.

In terms of ports, the setup is exactly the same as the Xbox One S, with most sitting around the back. Easy peasy. In fact, the only thing that’s changed is the placement of the IR receiver and front-facing USB port, which have swapped sides. There’s Wi-Fi, as always, along with a wireless receiver for controllers as well as a 4K Blu-ray player that functions identically to the one in the S.

In terms of build, it’s standard Xbox fare, with a matte black plastic housing. Even after a week of abuse (dropping controllers and power adapters onto it and constant HDMI cable swaps and power cable pulls) it looks as pristine as the day it arrived. I personally prefer the white model (at least based on Microsoft’s marketing imagery), but each to their own.

In the box you get the figure-eight power adapter, a HDMI 2.0-certified cable and a standard Xbox One controller with non-rechargeable AAA batteries.

Xbox One X – Specs and technology

Yes, I know you want to find out how this console plays and what the games look like. But in order to understand what the One X is capable of, we need to understand what’s under the bonnet. I’ll keep it brief, I promise. But if you must skip ahead, head to page two of this review where I’ll dive headlong into graphics analysis.

Related: Xbox One X Enhanced Games List

There are a fair few elements that contribute to the One X’s improved performance and graphical prowess. The first is simple, and that’s fidelity. Previous Xbox consoles have produced Full HD (1920 x 1080-pixel) images, with the Xbox One S using a technique called ‘upscaling’ to output 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2160-pixel) resolution.

The One X is different. Instead, it produces Ultra HD images from the off. This means the graphics hardware (GPU) has to work four times as hard to produce each frame – something it has to do up to 60 times every second to keep up with a TV. The expected result? A much, much sharper image that makes proper use of all those pixels in your fancy 4K telly.

That’d be impressive enough, but in order to make those super-sharp images look the bee’s knees, the Xbox has to work even harder. It’s no use having a super-sharp image if it looks a bit naff elsewhere. That’s where the second upgrade comes in, and that’s what I like to call graphical eye-candy. Eye-candy is the sort of stuff you’ll notice when playing an immersive story-driven game like Gears of War 4 or Rise of the Tomb Raider. You’ll see light rays filtering through trees, shadows that more accurately reflect what’s going on in the world, higher-quality reflections, the ability to see further and in more detail, and much more.

Related: Best Xbox One Games

Some games will even support wide colour gamut HDR, which means you’ll see more and brighter colours than ever before. Some games on the Xbox One S already supported this, but in conjunction with Ultra HD and the other graphical enhancements, it should look more spectacular here than ever before.

But it’s not as simple as firing up your favourite game and enjoying the new graphics. Each developer for every game has to go out of its way to update a game in order for it to take advantage of the One X’s new hardware. This will be less of a problem once the One X has launched, but as it stands the number of games actually out that benefit is small. Look out for the ‘One X Enhanced’ label on game marketing to see whether the title you’re most excited about will look any better.

All of this is possible because the One X is, according to Microsoft, almost four times more powerful than the Xbox One S. There’s an eight-core AMD processor running at 2.3GHz, and a much-improved AMD graphics chip with 40 Compute Units (versus 12 on the older models). There’s 12GB of high-speed memory for the console to use, with around 9GB set aside for games and graphics. The whole lot is cooled by a vapour chamber that channels heat to the rear of the console via a state-changing liquid/gas copper heat pipe, to be deposited in a heatsink and cooled by fans. This is why the One X is able to be so powerful, yet so small. That, and a load of electrical wizardry that makes each individual component substantially more efficient. This is a little box of big tricks.

Buy the Xbox One X now from Amazon UK | Amazon.com

Speaking of little boxes, the 1TB hard disk is laughably small in an age where 4K games weigh in at over 100GB. You’re going to want to invest in an external USB hard disk if you don’t want to have to keep deleting games to make space for others. Fortunately, Xbox One consoles do at least let you run games from an external disk, so you don’t have to worry about moving them back and forth.

I haven’t yet tested the PS4 Pro alongside the Xbox One X in like-for-like games, but keep an eye on an update to our PS4 Pro vs Xbox One X guide in the near future.

But for now, let’s take a look at the performance of the machine.

Nextbase 112 Dash Cam Review

What is the Nextbase 112?

The 112 is Nextbase’s entry-level dash cam. Recently, I looked at the current flagship of the range, the 512GW, although a new model is just about to slot above this. The 112 is the other end of the scale. With a £50 RRP, and available from some vendors for just a few pounds over £40, this is a bargain basement product on price. The question is whether it’s similarly lowly on features.

Related: Best dashcams

Nextbase 112 – Specification and windscreen mounting

One obvious indication that the 112 is a budget device is the video resolution it uses for recording. Where the 512GW boasts 1440p resolution, the 112 drops right down to 720p – 1280 x 720 pixels. This is basically a quarter as many pixels, so you won’t get anywhere near the detail, even under the best of conditions.

There’s no high-speed option, either, with 720p footage recorded at 30 frames/sec. Footage is recorded at around 19Mbits/sec, which means the compression isn’t that aggressive, and the 112 should be able to make the most of its quality, despite the lack of detail at 720p. If 720p isn’t low enough resolution, there are also WVGA (720 x 480) and VGA (640 x 480) modes available. It’s also possible to take photos, although only one resolution is available – 1,280 x 720.

A MicroSD card slot is used for recording, and no media is included. However, at the top quality setting a 16GB card should be enough for around 112 minutes of footage. Once the memory card is full, as with most dashcams the 112 will begin to loop recordings, deleting the oldest files and replacing them with the new ones as they are captured.

Surprisingly, considering the price of the 112, Nextbase has equipped it with a magnetic mounting system. This isn’t quite as seamless as the magnetic system we see on premium sat-navs such as the TomTom GO 520. But it still works quite well. The 112 slides into place and is held there by magnets.

The long car power cable connects to the mount rather than the dashcam itself, with contacts on the magnetic mount. When you slide the 112 into its mount, it automatically receives a power connection. However, the power cable itself uses a captive cigarette lighter adapter, so will restrict you from using the dashcam at the same time as a sat-nav, unless you have an alternative way of powering the latter.

Nextbase 112 –Menu and optional safety features

The 112 is quite small, and only has room for a 2-inch display. The power button and a mode button for toggling between video capture, stills and playback are found on the left-hand side. But the remaining five buttons for operating the menu and other functions sit below the screen.

The menu isn’t exactly packed with features, but you do get the ability to bias the auto-exposure up or down by 1 or 2 EV. You can toggle audio recording, and enter your number plate to use as an overlay. You can also choose whether to stamp your video with the time and date (this is on by default). The loop length can be set to 2, 3 or 5 minutes.

If you find you need to position the 112 pointing up from the mount at the bottom of your windscreen rather than hanging down from the top, it’s possible to rotate the display by 180 degrees. However, the buttons that were below the screen will now be on the top, which might be a little confusing.

The G Sensor also has three sensitivity settings, as well as an off mode. This comes into play to detect sharp movements, which then triggers marking the current video recording as an incident. This means it won’t be overwritten during the looping process.

This is about the only optional safety feature provided by the 112. The other capability worth mentioning is Parking Mode, where the device will use its G Sensor to detect motion and trigger recording. However, the built-in battery is only rated for 30 minutes, and although the unit isn’t recording all the time, it won’t last a very long time in this mode. It certainly won’t protect your car whilst left in airport parking for a week.

Nextbase 112 – Image quality

Thanks to its lowly 720p video resolution, the 112 doesn’t deliver video quality at anything like the level of its 512GW sibling. Not surprisingly, the detail is very noticeably less, and although you can make out large text, you can’t read number plates unless viewed at close proximity and low speed. Overall, this is some of the weakest dashcam image quality we have seen.

Low light performance isn’t particularly impressive either. Unless you are driving in very well-lit night conditions, you probably won’t be able to make out much detail. Again, there’s not a huge amount of noise or grain; the video is just very dark and you can’t see very much.

Here is a sample of footage from the Nextbase 112.

This is a photo taken in camera mode.

Again, the low resolution reduces the value of this feature, with clear evidence of artefacts including stair-stepping of diagonal lines. The image has also been stretched horizontally. This car is nowhere near as long as it looks in this picture. Virtually any recent smartphone will outperform the 112’s still image abilities.

Why buy the Nextbase 112?

The Nextbase 112 provides a low recording resolution and very limited feature set. But it’s also very cheap. In fact, with a price on Amazon at the time of writing of £43, it’s one of the cheapest dashcams we have seen. Despite the price, build quality isn’t particularly flimsy.

The video quality available is not going to pick out important distant detail or much text. Apart from the handy magnetic mount, this is very much a no-frills device in terms of features, too. If your funds are limited, or you really don’t want to spend much on a dashcam, it’s just about worth considering, but we’d recommend saving up a bit more for a higher-resolution model.

Verdict

The Nextbase 112 is a dashcam with limited video quality and features, but at least it comes at a bargain basement price.

Ruark Audio R7 Mk3 Review

What is the Ruark R7 Mk3?

The Ruark R7 Mk3 continues the aim of its forebears: to be the ultimate all-in-one audio solution. To those ends, it features a CD player, DAB/DAB+/FM radio, Bluetooth aptX HD and Wi-Fi DLNA streaming, as well as stereo speakers and a subwoofer, all standing on its own four legs. You can even add an optional TV mount to turn it into a combined soundbar and AV stand.

That’s all much the same as the Mk1 and Mk2, albeit with that step up to the Hi-Res-capable flavour of Bluetooth streaming. New for the Mk3 is a built-in phono stage for vinyl fans to connect their record player, as well as a different control setup, fresh design, and revamped amplification. Oh, and some new multiroom capabilities and Spotify Connect integration. Quite a lot, in other words.

Related: Best turntables

Ruark R7 Mk3 – Design and features

I’ve been a huge fan of Ruark’s previous R7 models. They’re a real throwback to those days when hi-fi was a piece of furniture, polished to a sheen before a fondue party and fired up for the launch of a new Donovan LP. And yet Ruark’s take on the old-school radiogram still seems so very now.

The styling change is rather striking, especially since the Ruark R7 Mk2 didn’t receive a visual refresh; it looked identical to the Mk1. This time the whole unit has been slimmed down a tad, and to me it does feel more compact, even though it stands the same 65cm tall on the natural pine legs and is 1m wide. It’s actually a tiny bit deeper at 42.5cm, thanks to the addition of a meaty heatsink at the back of the cabinet.

Rather than a pair of grilles to hide the two 140mm dual-concentric drivers, there’s now a single grille made from the same grey British fabric as used on the company’s exquisite little MR1 Mk2 Bluetooth speakers. The CD slot and display is cut into the centre of it.

Ruark’s trademark wraparound wooden cabinet again takes its cue from the MR1 Mk2, available in the same finishes of walnut or soft grey. The latter may look rather white in photos, but it’s much classier in the flesh. The screw-in legs are matte black for the walnut finish or a much paler pine for the soft grey.

It all feels rather more Scandinavian – particularly the soft grey version – than the previous models, which very much had their aesthetic roots in the radiograms of the ’60s and ’70s. However, it’s still distinctly Ruark.

Retaining this consistency – not just of aesthetic but also sonic signature – is made much simpler by the fact that, as with every Ruark product, the R7 Mk3 has been designed from the ground up by a very small, passionate team in the company’s seaside HQ. Manufacturing may be outsourced to a Chinese factory, but this is very much a British product. Ruark is even talking about bringing the assembly stage back to the UK at some point in the future.

On top of the R7 Mk3 is Ruark’s usual RotoDial control, although where it was removable on the Mk1 and Mk2 so that it could be used as a remote, the Mk3’s controls are fixed in place. I was, well, just a bit miffed about this development at first, but then discovered that the R7 Mk3 comes with a separate wireless remote.

As Ruark boss Alan O’Rourke explained, this is so you’re not left completely without control if the remote is lost behind the sofa, and it also means you don’t have that ‘ashtray’ recess you get when you take the RotoDial out of the Mk1 or Mk2.

One of the major technical headlines of the R7 Mk3 is its multiroom capability. You can link the R7 to an existing R2 Mk3 or the forthcoming MRx stereo speaker. One very interesting feature of the R7’s streaming capabilities is that it can stream from any of its sources – so you can even stream vinyl from a record player plugged into the phono input.

Talking of inputs, an extra optical socket has been added, which means you can hook up both a Chromecast Audio and an AirPort Express. Or connect just one of those streamers and feed the R7 the audio from your TV – the optional TV mount (£299) enables the R7 Mk3 to also act as a TV stand and soundbar.

The TV mount itself remains unchanged from that of the Mk2. It’s excellent, with adjustable height and rotation, and able to take TVs up to 50 inches in size. I just wish it had more than one shelf, or the option of a full-width shelf, as I had to sit my Sky Q box on top of my Blu-ray player.

The driver configuration of the R7 Mk3 remains the same as on the previous models, with a pair of 140mm dual-concentric drivers in stereo, and a 200mm active subwoofer under the left side. The 160W of class A-B amplification is all-new, though, as is a 3D DSP mode developed in-house to add extra spatiality to the sound.

Ruark R7 Mk3 – Sound quality

Ruark was kind enough to supply me with the TV stand, so I was able to give the R7 Mk3 a good run as both a music system and a soundbar. The sheer number of connections – both wired and wireless – meant I was able to try just about every audio source I had to hand. At one point I was even streaming tunes to the R7 from the Chord Poly‘s microSD card used as a DLNA server, controlled by my phone – which was basically witchcraft.

The Ruark R7 Mk3 sounds like a proper hi-fi system; like a pair of large, high-quality standmount speakers sited close together. There’s terrific treble energy and mid-range resolution, and decent bass depth without any boom.

It seems to have even more deftness of touch than the earlier models, which were already amazing considering the limitations of the one-box design. The shimmery realism of vocals on something like Joe Purdy’s ‘Canyon Joe’ is just gorgeous. Only a narrow degree of stereo separation betrays the R7’s all-in-oneness.

I was lucky enough to have to hand some likely competition in the form of the slightly more expensive Devialet Phantom Gold, and the much cheaper (but still premium-priced) Naim Mu-so. The Ruark really does stand ahead of both on nearly all counts.

Its subtlety and mid-range resolving power are a perfect foil to the Devialet’s bombastic bass and in-your-face treble presentation. Despite the Naim’s undoubted greatness, it’s unfair to compare it with the other two – you could buy a Mu-so and a pair of Mu-so Qb to make an exceptional multiroom system for just the price of the R7.

As a soundbar the R7 Mk3 is also brilliant, delivering crisp voices and a decent amount of thump from the sub when necessary. If you’re not sure where you’d fit this in your house, I’d suggest looking at the space under your TV and budgeting the extra £299 for the AV mount.

My only complaint really is that certain things shown on the display could have been made bigger. I’d really have liked, in particular, for the source selection and volume to have been displayed in a larger font, so they’re easier to see from across a room.

Why buy the Ruark R7 Mk3?

Ruark doesn’t rush into product updates – they usually come with sensible additions and the same outstanding quality of sound and design. The R7 Mk3 follows that theme. Multiroom streaming, a phono input, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth aptX HD and a separate remote are all good news. The more refined, less retro styling also feels like a step forward.

The successor to our Home Audio Product of the Year 2016 is another top-class product from Ruark. There’s nothing else quite like it.

Related: Best Bluetooth speakers

Verdict

Beautiful modern furniture married to one of the most versatile music systems around. Just sublime.

HTC U11+ hands-on: Does this reboot need to exist?

HTC U11+ hands-on: Does this rebooted U11 need to exist?

HTC U11+ price

The HTC U11 will retail for £699 in the UK, exclusively from HTC’s online store

HTC U11+ release date

You’ll be able to pre-order from November 20, with shipping soon after

It’s been a tough year for HTC. It started badly with the disappointing HTC U Ultra, got slightly better with the HTC U11, and then swerved off course again when Google bought some of the company’s top talent. Looking to end things on a high, the Taiwanese company has just launched a new phone.

The HTC U11+ is, in many ways, the phone that should have been released earlier in the year. It takes the majority of the components from the U11, but adds a wider 18:9 display and a more modern design. If I had recently purchased an U11, I’d be very annoyed about the launch of this new phone.

Related: Best Android smartphones

Like the Galaxy Note 8, LG V30 and iPhone X, the HTC U11+ has a screen that’s stretched nearly edge-to-edge. There’s still a bezel running around the display, but it’s noticeably smaller than before. Aside from giving the device a significantly more modern look, it has also served to offer up more screen without the need to increase the size of the phone.

The screen itself remains an LCD, rather than OLED, but it looks fantastic: bright, nicely saturated and with excellent viewing angles. With all the talk recently of dodgy OLEDs featuring in the Pixel 2 XL and LG V30, maybe it isn’t so bad that HTC has stuck with LCD. Switching between the U11+ and the Pixel 2 XL does highlight OLED’s obviously better black levels, though.

To match that new aspect ratio, the resolution has been bumped to quad-HD+ resolution. HTC says it will be HDR10-enabled through a software update later in the year. Why this isn’t available at launch, I’m uncertain.

Other than the screen, the most significant update for this HTC U11 reboot is the battery. It now includes a 3930mAh cell, absolutely dwarfing the 3000mAh version in the previous device – and it should make the HTC U11+ an endurance king. Considering I’ve been getting nearly 48 hours of use from the similarly sized cell in the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, I’d be hoping for something comparable here.

Everything else on the HTC U11+ is familiar territory, though. It features a Snapdragon 835  inside, a 12-megapixel UltraPixel 3 camera with OIS on the rear, and squeezy sides for quick access to apps and settings.

The camera on the U11 is great, so I’d assume this would remain the case here – but it isn’t quite in the same league as the iPhone 8, Galaxy Note 8 or Pixel 2. Considering this is a new phone that’s launching at a similar price point to those phones, it would have been nice to see a few camera upgrades.

HTC has always excelled at audio, and its BoomSound speakers are some of the best around. HTC says that same setup features in the U11+, but the larger phone means the speakers can get 30% louder. That’s welcome news, considering there’s no headphone jack. To offset the lack of a jack, HTC has added a pair of USB-C noise-cancelling headphones in the box, alongside a dongle for connecting older cans.

The design of the U11 proved a bit Marmite in the Trusted Reviews office. Some loved the shiny, fingerprint-attracting glass back, while others hated it. Luckily, those who loved it are likely to feel the same about the U11+. The only visible difference between the two devices is a new translucent colour option and fingerprint scanner that now sits below the camera in the U11+.

Android 8.0 Oreo will come installed, but with HTC’s Sense on top of it. HTC said the software wasn’t final, but it looks similar to the previous version but with Oreo enhancements. One new software tweak lets you squeeze the sides of the device to bring up an app launcher, which can be customised. There’s also a bigger focus on gestures and swipes.

First impressions

The U11+ is the phone HTC should have released in place of the U11. Unveiling it now just seems like the company admitting it got the design wrong before.

The battery upgrade is welcome and the screen is very nice, but there isn’t that much else here that wasn’t already present in the U11.