"> Rating Archives - Engr Kabir Saleh

Posts Tagged

Rating

Avast Free Antivirus Review & Rating

You might expect that a free antivirus would come with only the most basic protection, with advanced bonus features reserved for paying customers. In truth, many of the most popular free antivirus tools offer full-scale protection along with a ton of extra features. Avast Free Antivirus gives you more than many competing commercial products. On top of excellent antivirus protection, it adds a network security scanner, a password manager, browser protection, and more. It’s an amazing collection of security features, considering that this product is free.

Avast acquired rival free antivirus company AVG in 2016. Fans of both companies can rest easy; three years later, there’s still no plan to merge them into a single product. Both have many thousands of users worldwide, but each is strong in geographical areas where the other is weak. And the underlying antivirus engine is exactly the same in Avast and AVG AntiVirus Free, as demonstrated in my tests and independent lab tests.

This product is only free for personal use. If you want to use Avast in a business setting, you must upgrade to Avast Premium Security, which replaces both Avast Internet Security and the all-inclusive Avast Premier. It’s a simpler product line than most, just a free antivirus and a for-pay suite.

During installation, Avast offers to install Avast Secure Browser, noting that it’s private, secure, and fast. By default, it also makes this your default browser. The installer also presents a full page devoted to explaining how Avast uses your nonpersonal data, and how you can opt out if you wish.

The biggest part of Avast’s main window is a slate-gray rectangle with a bit of texture, decorated with a status icon and a big button titled Run Smart Scan. A left-rail menu lets you switch from the main Status page to Protection, Privacy, or Performance. Across the bottom, you find a banner offering you a welcome gift. Unwrapping the virtual gift reveals a discounted upgrade to Avast Premium Security. If you reject the upgrade, it offers a 60-day trial. Avast really wants you to experience the suite!

Avast Free Antivirus Main

One of this product’s features needs special mention, because it’s virtually invisible, and it’s disabled by default. After you reach into settings and enable Passive Mode. Avast takes pains to avoid interfering with other antivirus tools. If you install another antivirus, Passive Mode kicks in automatically. To avoid conflicts, it disables all real-time scanning and other active protection. You can still launch scans manually. There’s precedent for this behavior—Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center does something similar.

Lab Scores High and Plentiful

It may seem counterintuitive, but antivirus makers typically pay for the privilege of having products included in testing by the independent labs. The companies do benefit from testing, in two ways. A high score gives the company bragging rights. If the score is poor, the company can improve by examining what went wrong. When the antivirus doesn’t bring in any income, a company might be tempted to skip the expense of testing. Not Avast. I follow four independent testing labs that regularly release test reports, and all four of them include Avast.

The analysts at AV-Comparatives perform a variety of security tests, of which I follow four. Products that do well enough to pass the test receive a Standard rating, while those that show advanced features and capabilities can rate Advanced or Advanced+.

Out of the four tests, Avast earned three Advanced+ ratings and one Advanced. That’s quite good, though Avira and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus

AV-Test Institute reports on antivirus capabilities in three areas: protection, performance, and usability. With six points possible in each category, the maximum score is 18 points. Avast got all six points for usability, meaning it didn’t screw up by flagging valid programs or websites as malicious, and earned six more points for malware protection. It came close in performance, with 5.5 points. AVG precisely matched that score.

A total of 17.5 points is high enough for AV-Test to designate Avast a Top Product. Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and Norton AntiVirus Plus managed a perfect 18 points.

Trying to emulate real-world conditions as closely as possible, the experts at SE Labs capture drive-by downloads and other web-based attacks, relying on a replay system to hit each tested product with the exact same attack. The very best products receive AAA certification; others may be certified at the AA, A, B, or C level.

Avast managed AAA certification this time around. Quite a few other products also reached that level. Among them were Avira, Kaspersky, McAfee, and Norton. Despite having the same underlying antivirus engine, AVG only reached the AA level. Surprisingly, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security came in with just A-level certification, the lowest score in this round of testing.

MRG-Effitas reports test results a bit differently from the other labs. Products that don’t manage perfect or near-perfect protection simply fail. In the past, Avast has passed the banking Trojans test, and achieved Level 2 certification in the all-types malware protection test, meaning that it let at least one attacker install, but remediated the problem within 24 hours. That wasn’t the case in the latest reports. This time around, Avast failed both grueling tests. AVG wasn’t tested, though it scored the same as Avast the last time both were included.

Of the many antivirus products I track, 10 don’t appear in results from any of the labs. Avast is one of the magnificent seven featured in all four lab reports. I use an algorithm that normalizes all the results to a 10-point scale and produces an aggregate score from 0 to 10. The aggregate score of 9.2 points for this free antivirus product is good; only a few have done better. Looking just at those tested by all four labs, Avira Antivirus is at the top, with 9.9 points. Norton comes next, with 9.8, and then Kaspersky, with 9.7. Bitdefender and Sophos each managed a perfect 10, based on three and two labs respectively.

Avast Online Security

The Avast Online Security extension installs in Chrome and Firefox. It installed automatically when I launched those two browsers. As usual, I had to give permission before the browser enabled it.

Online Security marks up your search results in popular search portals. Green means all clear, red means stay away, and gray means the site hasn’t yet been analyzed. You can click the toolbar icon to give a simple thumbs-up or down to the current page.

If Online Security detects any advertising trackers or other trackers on the current site, it displays how many it found as a number overlaid on its toolbar icon. Clicking the icon gets you a summary of found social media, advertising, and web analytics trackers. You can dig in for details and block some or all trackers on the current site or automatically block all trackers on all sites.

You won’t easily see the SiteCorrect feature in action. It kicks in when you misspell a popular domain name, steering you away from typosquatting sites that try to capture your clicks.

Online Security also watches out for dangerous and fraudulent websites. Avast also filters out such sites before they even reach the browser, but as you’ll see below, that protection must be combined with Online Security for maximum protection.

Avast installs the SafePrice add-on alongside Online Security. Like the similar feature in AVG, this add-on helps you find the best prices when you’re shopping online. Just click its toolbar icon to see what details it found. It also offers coupons, when available.

Online Insecurity?

All is not rosy in the world of Avast Online Security. Firefox recently removed this extension from its collection. Why? Because researcher Wladimir Palant reported that the extension sent vast amounts of information to Avast, seemingly more than required to do its job, and including “two different unique user IDs.”

Avast has been in the security business for more than 30 years. I found it hard to accept that the company would jeopardize customer privacy, so I checked with Avast CEO Ondrej Vlcek. “We have already implemented some of Mozilla’s new requirements,” said Vlcek, “and we will release further updated versions that are fully compliant and transparent per the new requirements.” He also noted that the takedown occurred just 12 hours after Mozilla’s announcement of its new store policies.

SecurityWatch

But what about all that data sent by the browser extensions? Vlcek went down the laundry list of data points that Palant identified, explaining each. Many, such as the referrer field, feed into URL analysis in the cloud. Some of the fields, such as the page title, “aren’t used and will be removed.” Avast collects the country code for a general idea of location, in lieu of capturing the much more personal IP address. Browser type and version feed into aggregate statistics, though Vlcek said a future version will let you opt out of that feature.

As for the unique user IDs Palant reported, Vlcek confirmed they exist, but said they don’t connect to any personal data. They simply let the cloud-based analysis system match up multiple reports coming from the same source.

When you install Avast, it makes a point of asking permission to gather information, specifically requesting “non-identifying data” and stating the data “is fully de-identified and aggregated and will not be used to personally identify or target you.” You can click to agree or decline the sharing request. I asked if declining to share data meant that Avast wouldn’t use those unique identifiers. Vlcek said no, the only difference is that if you agree to share, Avast retains and aggregates data reported by the browser extension, while if you decline, it discards the data after use.

Just about every antivirus product includes the ability to steer your browser away from unsafe or fraudulent URLs. To do this, they must send the URLs you visit to the cloud for analysis. Yes, that means that they could construct a complete record of your browsing activity. But any actual misuse of that data by a security company would spell its destruction.

Secure Browser

Previously called SafeZone, Avast Secure Browser is a Chromium-based browser with a boatload of security features built in. Naturally it includes the same protections offered by Online Security. It also blocks ads and flash content, prevents installation of dangerous extensions, controls which sites can use your webcam, and enforces use of secure HTTPS connections wherever possible. From its security center page you can launch an antivirus scan, switch to stealth mode, install Avast SecureLine VPN bring up the password manager, or clear your browsing history.

Secure Browser’s Bank Mode opens a browser window in a separate desktop that’s isolated from processes running on the regular desktop and protected against keyloggers and other spy tactics. As with the similar SafePay feature in Bitdefender, you can switch back and forth between the regular and protected desktops. In the past, Avast automatically offered Bank Mode when it detected you were visiting a financial site. I didn’t observe that happening this time around, but you can easily flip into Bank Mode manually.

Avast Free Antivirus Bank Mode

Going beyond the anti-tracking skills of Online Security, Secure Browser offers the ability to disguise your browser fingerprint. What’s that? Well, your browser offers a huge amount of information to websites, because sites can use that information to tune the pages they serve up. They can also process this information into a browser fingerprint that uniquely identifies you, for tracking purposes. Like the standalone TrackOFF Basic, Avast can randomize what the browser reports, just enough to prevent fingerprinting.

By default, the Hack Check feature notes when you log into online accounts and checks whether there’s been any breach associated with that account. You can also enter any email address for an on-demand breach check.

If you’re a Chrome fan, consider using Secure Browser. It’s Chromium-based, so you’ll find it familiar. And it really does offer a ton of privacy and security enhancements.

Decent Malware Protection

Malicious software from the Internet must run the gauntlet of numerous defense layers before it can infect your PC. Avast could block all access to the malware-hosting URL, for example, or wipe out the malware payload before the download finishes—I’ll discuss those malware protection layers shortly. If a file is already present on your computer, as my malware samples are, Avast assumes it must have gotten past the earlier protection layers. Like AVG, Emsisoft, McAfee, and a few others, it checks those files one more time before they execute.

To test Avast’s malware-blocking skills, I opened a folder containing my current collection of malware samples and tried to launch each one. Avast blocked 80 percent of them immediately, wiping them out so fast it left Windows displaying an error message reporting that the file could not be found. It killed off some of those that managed to launch before they could fully install, but missed others, mostly low-risk types.

Avast detected 87 percent of the samples and scored 8.4 of 10 possible points, which isn’t great. Sophos, Windows Defender, and Malwarebytes all detected 98 percent and scored 9.8. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus

Kaspersky Free above and Bitdefender below. All three did very well in lab tests but not so well in my hands-on tests. When that happens, I give more weight to the labs, with their extensive staffs of research experts.

Unusual activity by a few files merited deeper examination. Avast displayed a message stating, “Hang on, this file may contain something bad,” and promising an evaluation within 15 seconds. A little animation depicts the analysis process, with a magnifier going over a document. All my hand-coded testing utilities triggered this warning; all three got a clean bill of health.

The samples I use for the malware blocking test stay the same for months. To evaluate each product’s capabilities against the very latest malware, I start with a feed of malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas. Typically these are no more than a few days old. I try to launch each one, recording whether the antivirus blocked access to the URL, vaporized the malware download, or totally failed to notice anything wrong.

Once I’ve recorded results for many dozens of malware-hosting URLs, I tally the results. Initially, I found that Avast blocked around 40 percent of the URLs and eliminated roughly 40 percent more during download, for a total of 81 percent protection.

Avast has done quite a bit better in the past, enough so that I went seeking a reason for the difference. It turned out I had to run this test again. I had used Internet Explorer as the browser, forgetting that Avast doesn’t have an extension for IE. When I re-ran the test using Chrome, the extension kicked in to help out, bringing Avast’s score up to a respectable 90 percent.

McAfee, Sophos, and Vipre Antivirus Plus hold the top score here. In their latest tests, all three managed 100 percent protection.

Avast Free Antivirus Unsafe Site

Excellent Phishing Protection

Phishing websites are significantly easier to create than websites that secretively launch malware attacks. All a phishing fraudster need do is create a convincing replica of a sensitive site. They go after banks and financial sites, but also try to scam such things as gaming and dating sites. Any user who logs in, not recognizing that the page is fake, has just given away account access to the fraudsters. If a thousand web surfers spot the fraud and just one falls for it, that’s a win for the bad guys. And when the authorities quash the fraudulent site, the fraudsters just pop up another one.

I test antiphishing using the very newest phishing sites, including plenty that haven’t yet been fully analyzed and blacklisted. I launch each probable phishing URL in four browsers. The product under test protects one of the browsers, naturally. The other three rely on protection built into Chrome, Edge, and Firefox.

Any schmoe can write a phishing protection module that blocks blacklisted sites. The best products use real-time analysis to identify frauds that are too new for the blacklists. Avast clearly has this capability; the company touts its enhanced real-time phishing detection technologies.

In my first round of testing, Avast only caught 81 percent of the fakes, way down from last year. I realized that because I used Internet Explorer for that test, I wasn’t getting full protection, as Avast doesn’t offer a browser extension for IE. I ran the whole test again using Chrome, with much better results.

Avast blocked some frauds below the browser level, displaying a popup reporting the page was “infected with URL:Phishing.” I saw this same popup when I tested with IE. However, for other URLs Avast Online Security steered the browser away from the page to a warning page stating, “This website is unsafe.” In some cases, it did both. With two layers of protection in play, Avast detected 97 percent of the frauds, the same as Webroot. It beat Edge handily, edged out Firefox, and was in turn edged out by Chrome.

Kaspersky and Trend Micro pulled a perfect 100 percent in their latest tests. Close behind them, Bitdefender, McAfee AntiVirus Plus, and Norton managed 99 percent.

Related Story

See How We Test Security Software

Scan Choices

If you just click the big button in the middle of Avast’s Status screen, it runs a Smart Scan. In addition to a quick check for active malware, this scan looks for browser threats, apps with missing security patches, and what it calls “advanced issues.” On my test system, it only found the last category.

Digging in for details, I found three efforts to upsell me to Avast Premium Security. It pointed out three sensitive folders needing protection from ransomware, noted that the system has only a basic firewall, and warned that hackers could hijack my DNS. Clicking the big Resolve All button sent me to the upgrade page.

Clicking Scan on the Protection page gets you more choices. The Full Virus Scan took 34 minutes on my standard clean test system, and a repeat scan ran eight minutes faster. That’s quite a bit speedier than my last test of this product, probably because since that time I upped the number of virtual processors in my virtual machines.

Avast Free Antivirus Scans

Avast offers a boot time scan, designed to eliminate pernicious and persistent malware that resists normal cleanup. Because the scan runs before Windows boots up, the Windows-based malware doesn’t have any chance to defend itself. You should set aside plenty of time for the scan. Two hours after I started it, the display still reported one percent complete. I checked its log in the morning, but alas, it doesn’t report scan duration. Note that Bitdefender’s Rescue Mode reboots in a non-Windows operating system for even more power against Windows-centered malware.

Wi-Fi Inspector

Avast was one of the first security products to add a network security scanner to its product line. Despite “Wi-Fi” in its name, the Wi-Fi Inspector can report on all the devices connected to any network, wired or wireless, and flag devices with security problems.

On my test system, the scan ran quickly and displayed my devices in a series of concentric rings, with the router at the center and the devices that connected most recently in the inner circles. The scan reported one problem—it warned that the HTTPS port on the main router was visible from the Internet (a necessary configuration setting for my Network Attached Storage backup device). The detailed warning included a suggestion to install Avast’s VPN, along with a link to open router settings.

Avast does its best to identify each device by name and type, but it can’t always get that information. If you have some network skills, you may be able to identify a device from its IP address and MAC address. The vendor name may also offer a clue. You can change the type of any device to any of more than five dozen choices, among them vehicle, drone, and hand-held gaming console. You can also change the name to something more recognizable than, say, Unknown70259bb1f4e. And Avast remembers your changes for future scans.

In testing, I had a tough time finding the desired device type, because those five dozen entries aren’t in alphabetic order. With Router, PC, Mobile phone, and Tablet at the top, I’m guessing they’re ordered by prevalence.

Avast Free Antivirus Inspect

Avira users can install Avira Home Guard from the main Avira launcher; it works very much like the Wi-Fi Inspector. Bitdefender Home Scanner is another similar (and free) network security scanner, one that goes into more depth about possible security problems.

Simple Password Manager

Password management is an unexpected feature for a free antivirus, though Avira offers Avira Password Manager as a companion to its free product. Avast Password Manager handles all the basic functions, and does them well, but that’s as far as it goes.

To get started, you activate the password manager as an extension in Chrome, Firefox, and Secure Browser. Alarmingly, Avast does not force you to create a master password. You absolutely should not proceed without doing so. Click the settings link, and click the big Create Master Password button.

Avast doesn’t rate your password with a strength meter, but it pops up notes pointing out any problems. For example, when I entered “Password” it said to avoid common words. Entering “d8cd8fb” got the comment “Now that’s a password with muscles.” Adding three exclamation points brought the password to excellent status.

In each supported browser, Avast offers to save the login credentials you enter for secure sites. When you revisit a website, it fills in your saved credentials right away. I do prefer password managers like Keeper Password Manager & Digital Vault that require a click from the user before filling credentials. Doing so prevents password theft using invisible forms.

If you have multiple accounts on the site, you can click a little key icon in the username field to get a menu of all your choices. And it does handle Skype and other two-page logins.

With many password managers, clicking the toolbar icon gets a menu of logins. Avast works differently. If you’ve saved one or more sets of credentials for the current site, it displays those in a popup window. If that’s not what you want, there’s a link to open the app. From the same window, you can invoke the random password generator, which creates 15-character passwords using letters and digits (but not punctuation) by default.

In the app, you can edit your saved passwords to give them a friendly name. You can also add Secure Notes and Credit Card details. When you visit a web form that asks for credit card data, you click the Avast key icon to fill in the card of your choice. In addition, you can sync password data to Avast’s iOS or Android apps.

Avast isn’t much help if you’re switching from another password manager. It can import passwords stored in Chrome or Firefox, but that’s it. There’s no import from competing products, or even from plain CSV files. In addition, the password manager doesn’t report on weak or duplicate passwords.

Some password management features hide behind a paywall, with a list price of $1.58 per month, currently discounted to $0.99 per month. Paying customers get tech support on a 24/7 basis, receive an immediate alert on detection of a password leak, and can log into the mobile apps with a fingerprint. These aren’t very impressive as premium features. Truly advanced features like two-factor authentication and secure password sharing just don’t appear. If you want more from a password manager, you’re probably better off adding a separate free password manager.

Performance Features

Software is created by humans, and hence imperfect. White hat and black hat hackers are constantly finding security holes, and security companies strive to patch them as soon as possible. If you fail to apply security updates, you leave your computer open to attacks that exploit those holes. Avast’s Software Updater scans your computer and reports any out-of-date software it finds. You can click a link to find out what changed in each product, or click a button to install the updates. If you try to turn on automatic updates, you learn that this is a feature of the paid security suite. On my test system, it found an update for Firefox and reported that Flash and Java were up to date. I was left wondering if those are the only apps it checked. No Chrome? No other extensions?

When Do Not Disturb mode is active, the antivirus postpones scheduled scans and suspends all but the most critical notifications. This kind of feature is becoming very common in antivirus products. Avast notices when you run a program full-screen and offers to add it to the list. To avoid being a disturbance itself, it only does so after you shut down the full-screen program.

Premium Features

The Protection, Privacy, and Performance pages each contain some features that are locked away from users of the free edition, indicated by a lock icon overlay. Clicking one of these displays a little animation explaining the feature, with a big Upgrade Now button. In the current Avast lineup, if you want any of these you must purchase Avast Security Premium.

Avast Free Antivirus Premium

On the Protection page, locked icons include: Firewall, to keep hackers out of your system; Sandbox, to run suspicious files without risk; Real Site, website confirmation beyond detection of phishing frauds; and Ransomware Shield. This last item deserves some explanation. Avast’s regular behavior-based detection should catch ransomware just as it does other types of malware. On the chance it might slip up, Ransomware Shield bans unauthorized modification of your documents and other sensitive files.

Most features on the Privacy page are locked for free users, all but the password manager. You must upgrade to get the secure deletion Data Shredder (AVG gives you this feature at the free level). The Sensitive Data Shield scans your documents for sensitive data that could be vulnerable to exfiltration, and helps you protect it. The Webcam Shield offers a degree of spyware protection by limiting webcam use to known, trusted programs. AntiTrack Premium supplements the Do Not Track protection found in Secure Browser.

The button for Avast SecureLine VPN displays a lock, but it isn’t precisely locked away. Clicking the button starts the installation process. Only when you’ve gone through the process, launched the program, and tried to make a VPN connection do you find out that you must pay $2.89 per month to use it beyond a seven-day trial.

On the Performance page, the locked-up Driver Updater promises to reduce crashes by updating old and broken drivers. It installs the first time you try to use it. If it finds anything, you’ll have to go fetch the update yourself, or upgrade to Premium.

Avast Cleanup Premium works in much the same way. It happily scans your system for performance problems, but if you want to do anything about those problems, you must shell out for a subscription.

An Excellent Free Antivirus

Avast Free Antivirus offers antivirus protection that earns good scores in my hands-on tests and very good scores from the independent testing labs. As for bonus features, it offers much more than many competing commercial products, including a network security scanner, a password manager, and more. Avast remains an Editors’ Choice product for free antivirus.

The base antivirus engine in AVG Antivirus Free is the same as Avast’s, but AVG just doesn’t offer the wealth of additional security features that you get with Avast. Go ahead and try it if you like, but we’re no longer calling it an Editors’ Choice.

Kaspersky Free is our other Editor’s Choice free antivirus. Where Avast gets very good ratings from the four independent labs that I follow, Kaspersky gets even higher marks. It comes with a bandwidth-limited VPN, but not many other frills. The key with Kaspersky is getting antivirus protection loved by the labs without any cost.



Source link

HP Elite Dragonfly Review & Rating

The HP Elite Dragonfly isn’t a cutting-edge 2-in-1 convertible laptop. It doesn’t have the ultra-thin screen borders of the consumer-focused Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, nor does it have that machine’s Intel “Ice Lake” 10th Generation computing components. But the 13.3-inch-screen Elite Dragonfly (starts at $1,549; $2,169 as tested) is still a superb business laptop, combining a deep feature set and solid build quality in a way we’ve rarely seen before from an HP machine. This model earns our Editors’ Choice for today’s best business 2-in-1 convertible.


Laptop, Tablet, and Easel

There’s no consensus on whether or not a premium business laptop needs a 360-degree hinge that lets it convert into a tablet or easel. Traveling, presenting salespeople might clamor for one, but many executives and successful small-business owners who will buy the Elite Dragonfly will probably use it as a conventional laptop most of the time. With a starting weight of just 2.2 pounds, however, there’s really no downside to having a 360-degree hinge, in case you need it. The added complexity and weight of such a hinge usually pushes a 13-inch or 14-inch laptop above 3 pounds, but that’s not the case here.

Easel Mode

It is the case for the current iteration of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga, which is the laptop most IT departments will likely consider to be the Elite Dragonfly’s closest alternative. The X1 Yoga has a 14-inch screen, measures 0.59 by 12 by 8.5 inches (HWD), and weighs 3.7 pounds. By giving up less than an inch of screen real estate, the Elite Dragonfly is roughly the same size (0.63 by 12 by 7.8 inches) but much lighter. In fact, IT departments should really consider the 2.4-pound, non-convertible Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 as the Elite Dragonfly’s main competitor in the market for premium business laptops.

Our Elite Dragonfly review unit has a four-cell, 56-watt-hour battery. The additional layer of cells pushes the weight to 2.5 pounds, slightly heavier than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The entry-level Elite Dragonfly’s smaller, lighter battery won’t last as long away from a power outlet, so I think the extra weight is worth the reduced battery anxiety. Other key specs on our review unit include an Intel Core i7 with vPro remote-management support, a 512GB SSD bolstered by a built-in Intel Optane H10 memory module, and 16GB of main system memory.


Display Options

HP offers three different screen options for the Elite Dragonfly. All measure 13.3 inches diagonally and have support for touch input. I tested the full-HD version, which comes with a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels and 500 nits of rated brightness. It’s the screen to which most buyers will likely gravitate, and it’s fine for basic use. The glossy finish does reflect considerable glare, and there’s little in the way of professional features like wide-color-gamut support, but it displays crisp text.

You can also configure an Elite Dragonfly with HP’s SureView integrated privacy filter, which automatically reduces the viewing angles at the touch of a button to thwart physical snooping. It might come in handy for employees dealing with sensitive information in busy or close-quarters places such as airplane cabins or coffee shops, but the tradeoffs (reduced quality and increased power consumption) aren’t worth it for most people. HP also offers a configuration with a 4K display, whose far greater pixel density I typically prefer on a 2-in-1 laptop, since I find it makes touch interaction and doodling with a stylus more fun. For a business-focused laptop, a 4K display is overkill for most users, though.

HP Elitebook Dragonfly - 01

Whichever screen you choose, rest assured that interacting with Windows 10 via touch is more satisfying than it is on most 2-in-1 hybrid and conventional laptops, thanks to the Elite Dragonfly’s sturdy hinge. There is some minor bouncing when you tap or draw, but I found it far less distracting than the reflections of ambient light in my brightly lit office, which is the opposite of my usual experience with touch-screen laptops.

All three panels use in-plane switching (IPS) technology to broaden off-axis viewing angles, and are coated in Corning Gorilla Glass 5.


Click or Type With Ease

With Microsoft continually improving the Windows 10 touch experience, you might find yourself using the touchpad less and less. On many previous HP laptops, which suffered from clumsy pads with confusing customization settings, that’s a good thing. On the Elite Dragonfly, however, I find that the touchpad is the best I’ve used on an HP laptop from the past few years. The click action is crisp, there’s no give when there shouldn’t be (i.e. when you’re tapping but not clicking), and, best of all, the sensitivity is perfectly calibrated out of the box.

Click and Type

The keyboard is equally satisfying. Its keys are supremely stable—I couldn’t get them to wobble even by striking them off center. The keys are also remarkably quiet, with presses resulting in a thud rather than a high-pitched clack. The Elite Dragonfly’s microphone has the ability to filter out even these soft thuds from the keyboard during conference calls, as well as reducing ambient noise by up to 20 decibels. The keystrokes were still clearly audible by a colleague on the other end of a Slack voice call in my testing, however. Only certain conferencing apps work currently with the noise-cancellation feature, including Zoom and Google Hangouts, though HP says it is working on expanding compatibility.


Blue Magnesium or Nothing

The Elite Dragonfly is only available with a blue magnesium finish, likely a result of HP’s effort to distinguish this new flagship laptop from the multiple other silver and gray EliteBooks that it has offered in the past. There’s a CNC milling process for the alloy, which means that it feels tough and durable, instead of taking on a soft-touch feel like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon does. HP also applies an oleophobic coating to the exterior, which could help reduce the amount of skin oil that accumulates on it and keep it from looking smudgy. Over two days of constant use, my review unit nevertheless did pick up some faint fingerprints on the display lid.

Easily Accessible Components

The dark-blue magnesium finish doesn’t look bad, but it will certainly stand out in a conference room full of black Lenovo ThinkPads and gray Apple MacBooks. It’s possible that HP will offer the Elite Dragonfly with other color options in the future, as it has added more color options to several of its high-end consumer laptops.

With a screen-to-body ratio of 86 percent, the Elite Dragonfly’s screen bezels are quite thin on the sides. The top border is a bit thicker, though, because it accommodates a 720p webcam that not only offers a physical sliding door to thwart hackers, but also features IR sensors to let you log in to your Windows 10 account with face recognition.


Full-Size Ports and Wi-Fi 6

A Windows laptop destined for corporate boardrooms and salespeoples’ briefcases needs ports, and the Elite Dragonfly does not disappoint, despite its diminutive stature. The right edge features two USB Type-C ports that each supports Thunderbolt 3 speeds, as well as a headphone jack and a full-size HDMI output. The opposite edge hosts a USB Type-A port, a power button, and a receptacle for a physical security lock. An SD card reader is unfortunately absent, though most business users won’t miss it.

There’s also a nano-SIM-card tray on the left edge, for use with the gigabit LTE modem. Other wireless connectivity options include Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.0. The two WLAN antennas are located on the top of the display lid, but they’re well-integrated and not visible from the outside.

USB Type-A

Small businesses may appreciate that HP includes a standard three-year warranty with all Elite Dragonfly configurations, even the base model. Large corporations typically negotiate their own service contracts, but it’s nice to see that lower-volume buyers can take advantage of a much longer warranty than the one year typically included with consumer laptops. On the other hand, the cost of the warranty is obviously built in, which helps contribute to the Elite Dragonfly’s rather high $1,549 starting price.

For that sum, you get a 38-watt-hour battery, an Intel Core i5-8265U CPU without vPro support, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. Our $2,169 review unit adds an Intel Core i7-8365U with vPro support, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD with a 32GB Intel Optane memory module. HP also includes a leather sleeve, a stylus (the Rechargeable Active Pen), and the upgraded battery with our unit. These are the only configurations available for sale initially, although several other configurations are planned, including one with a paltry 128GB of storage.

Many of these components are easily accessible for service and replacement. Officially, only authorized service providers can access internal components without voiding the warranty, but the process isn’t difficult. Five easily accessible screws hold the bottom cover down; remove it, and you’ve got access to remove and replace the SSD, the battery, the speaker assembly, and even the keyboard. This ease of access is to be expected on a business laptop, and it’s a key reason why IT departments might choose the Dragonfly over a consumer ultraportable such as the HP Spectre x360 13, whose components are more difficult to service or replace. The only non-accessible components in the Elite Dragonfly are the memory and CPU, which are soldered to the system board.


Basic Productivity, Extensive IT Manageability

The Elite Dragonfly is intended to perform basic productivity tasks while offering IT departments extensive manageability and security features. That’s partly why the laptop uses Intel’s 8th Generation CPUs. Even though the latest chips are from the 10th Generation (under the code names “Comet Lake” and “Ice Lake”), vPro is only available on 8th Generation models or earlier.

As a result, don’t expect the latest and greatest computing performance. The Elite Dragonfly is in good company, however, with most of its key competitors also using 8th Generation CPUs and integrated graphics processing. In the chart below, you can check out some competitors’ specs, as well as those of the HP EliteBook x360 1030 for which the Elite Dragonfly is the obvious replacement.

HP Elite Dragonfly Performance Chart

All of these systems perform with aplomb when it comes to basic tasks such as web browsing and spreadsheet editing. I never once experienced sluggishness while installing apps or using the Elite Dragonfly to browse the internet with multiple tabs open. Even Windows Timeline animations were silky smooth, something that frequently trips up other equally capable machines. The only downside I noticed in my two days of testing is that the Elite Dragonfly’s cooling fan frequently spools up even when performing basic tasks that aren’t terribly CPU-intensive. It’s not annoying in a busy office, but if you’re in a very quiet room, it’s clearly audible.

Evidence of the Elite Dragonfly’s proficient everyday performance comes from our PCMark 10 and PCMark 8 tests. We use them to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 10 provides a comprehensive look at a laptop’s aptitude for these tasks, while the PCMark 8 Storage test pays closer attention to how the laptop’s storage drive affects performance.

HP Elite Dragonfly Performance Chart

Since they all have similar specs, every system in our competitive set above performed roughly equally (barring the Apple MacBook Pro 13-Inch, which can’t run PCMark).

There were also no surprises on our 3DMark and Superposition graphics simulations. (3DMark and Superposition measure relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics.) The Elite Dragonfly is not a gaming laptop, and its single-digit frame rates on the Superposition test prove that you should stick to simple Minecraft- or Candy Crush-type games when you need a break from work.

HP Elite Dragonfly Performance Chart

HP Elite Dragonfly Performance Chart

Unlike our gaming and general productivity tests, our multimedia benchmark results show significant variation. The Elite Dragonfly is competitive with its Dell and Lenovo rivals on our Handbrake video-encoding test, and much better-performing than the EliteBook 1030.

HP Elite Dragonfly Performance Chart

It’s also very competitive on our Photoshop benchmark, which involves applying a series of filters and effects to an image and adding up the time required to complete each one.

HP Elite Dragonfly Performance Chart

But the Elite Dragonfly is slower than both the MacBook Pro and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon when it comes to rendering a detailed 3D image in Cinebench.

HP Elite Dragonfly Performance Chart

Just like with gaming, you shouldn’t plan to use the Elite Dragonfly for extensive multimedia content creation, and its results (as well as those of its competitors on the Cinebench, Handbrake, and Photoshop tests) are lower than what you’d expect from a powerhouse like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme or 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro.

Thanks partly to the upgraded battery in our Elite Dragonfly review unit and partly to the laptop’s power-sipping 1-watt display, it lasted for 13 hours and 35 minutes on our battery rundown test.

HP Elite Dragonfly Performance Chart

The test loops a locally stored 720p video file with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out. It’s an excellent result, though not nearly as good as the 21 hours that the Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1 recorded.


A Consummate Corporate Laptop

Despite its unorthodox blue color, the Elite Dragonfly is a no-nonesense business laptop that gets the basics right. There’s nothing particularly innovative about its feature set, but the fact that it manages to include all of its features in such a compact, lightweight, and well-built package is what makes it a standout.

A business laptop should be easy for IT departments to manage and equally easy for users to cart around, as well as offer proficient performance on everyday computing tasks. With a 2.2-pound starting weight, available Intel vPro support, and other similar features, the Elite Dragonfly exceeds all of these requirements. It’s our new top pick for business-focused 2-in-1 convertible laptops.



Source link

Sony FE 35mm F1.8 Review & Rating

The 35mm focal length is a popular one, and owners of Sony full-frame camera systems have no shortage of options when shopping for a lens. There are numerous first- and third-party 35mm primes available, but the Sony FE 35mm F1.8 ($749.99) may do the best job of balancing size, optical performance, and f-stop. It costs more than some budget alternatives, like Tamron’s promising 35mm F2.8 ($349), but backs it up with solid construction and optics that capture more light.

Not Quite Pancake

The FE 35mm is a small prime, but not quite a pancake lens. It measures 2.9 by 2.6 inches (HD) and weighs 9.9 ounces, so it won’t add that much bulk to your camera. There are other small 35mm lenses available for the Sony system, like the older FE 35mm F2.8 ZA—one of first lenses released with the system in 2013—and the brand new Tamron 35mm F2.8, which we’ve only just received for evaluation.

But an f/1.8 lens captures more than twice the light of an f/2.8 when shot at its maximum aperture. It’s a cost- and weight-saving choice when compared with even brighter options, like Sony’s FE 35mm F1.4 ZA (1.4 pounds) and the Sigma 35mm F1.2 DG DN Art (2.4 pounds).

Sony FE 35mm F1.8 : Sample Image

The FE 35mm isn’t a member of any of Sony’s premium lens series—it badges midrange glass with G and top-end optics as G Master (GM). But it’s still well built, with a lightweight metal barrel along with dust and splash protection. It doesn’t include fluorine protection, so you’ll need to take care to keep the front element free of smudges.

You’re less likely to fingerprint the glass if you use the included lens hood. And you have the option of adding a protective filter—the lens has a 55mm thread size. Front and rear caps are included, but no pouch or soft case.

There are a few on-lens controls. The manual focus ring occupies a good portion of the barrel, though we expect most photographers to take advantage of autofocus—the lens focuses quickly and quietly. There is a switch to quickly toggle between the two focus modes, as well as a programmable function button, both accessible using your left hand when holding the camera to your eye.

Sony FE 35mm F1.8 : Sample Image

There’s no stabilization in the lens, but that’s not a surprise—Sony puts the feature into its camera bodies, with all but the earliest full-frame models offering it. It’s quite effective; with the a7R IV, I’m regularly able to snap handheld long exposure shots relying entirely on camera’s in-body stabilization.

Focus is available to 8.7 inches, which is good enough for a 1:4.2 life-size reproduction ratio. It’s not quite macro territory, but isn’t limiting either. If you love close-up focus, the Tamron 35mm F2.8 is a promising option in this focal length thanks to 1:2 magnification, but we’re holding off recommending it until we’ve had a chance to fully evaluate it.

Good Wide Open, Excellent Stopped Down

I tested the FE 35mm F1.8 along with the 60MP a7R IV and Imatest software. At f/1.8, it delivers detail that’s near the top of our good range for the camera, about 3,880 lines (we use 3,900 lines to mark very good resolution on the 60MP sensor). Edges lag slightly behind, but are still solidly very good (3,500 lines).

Related Story See How We Test Digital Cameras

Even though it’s a modest drop in f-stop, we see a sizable increase in clarity at f/2, to about 4,200 lines, right around the middle of very good for this sensor. The lens is excellent starting at f/2.8 (4,625 lines), and continuing through f/4 (4,690 lines), f/5.6 (4,875 lines), and f/8 (4,910 lines).

Sony FE 35mm F1.8 : Sample Image

Diffraction cuts down on clarity at very narrow f-stops. It’s an academic concern at f/11 (4,445 lines), but you should be wary of using the lens at f/16 (3,630 lines) and f/22 (2,350 lines).

There’s a little visible pincushion distortion, about 1.1 percent, but it’s a very modest effect. Likewise, you’ll see a slight vignette at f/1.8 and f/2, but it’s not apparent at narrower apertures in most situations.

The Sensible 35mm Option

As SLRs have slimmed down into mirrorless form factors, it seems as if lenses have swelled. Photography enthusiasts have clamored for lenses that capture a ton of light, are sharp from edge to edge, and are within budgetary reach. The trade-off has been heft—you can get impeccable results, but expect the lens to add a pound or two to your kit.

Sony FE 35mm F1.8 : Sample Image

In that regard, the FE 35mm F1.8 is a breath of fresh air. It’s not the only one of late—I adore the Sigma 45mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary, which is designed with similar intent, but in a focal length that I’m personally more comfortable using. Hopefully we’ll see some more modestly bright, compact primes in the future.

It’s because of the balance in size, aperture, and general overall quality that we’re recommending the FE 35mm as our Editors’ Choice. I’d give it preference over the older Zeiss-branded FE 35mm F2.8 ZA, given the current wealth of 35mm options—when we reviewed it in 2013, it was one of only a few lenses available for the Sony system.

Sony FE 35mm F1.8 : Sample Image

If you’re on a tighter budget, there are some other 35mm options to consider. Rokinon sells a pair, an ultra-light 35mm F2.8 and a budget-friendly 35mm F1.4. Tamron is also starting to ship its 35mm F2.8, which has a lot of appeal as a low-cost option on paper—we’ll see how it performs in the real world and report back.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can go with a premium f/1.4 or f/1.2 option. The heavy Sigma 35mm F1.2 Art manages as much detail at f/1.2 as the FE 35mm F1.8 does at f/2.8, and puts up a few hundred more lines on a test chart when stopped down. But unless you’re viewing images from a high-resolution camera system at very high magnification, there’s little chance you’ll be able to tell the shots apart based on sharpness.



Source link

Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art Review & Rating

The Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art ($1,399) is the company’s first ultra-wide zoom lens designed for mirrorless systems. The benefits are clear—it’s smaller and lighter than the 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM Art for SLR systems, and just as well built. It’s yet another excellent lens from Sigma, at a very competitive price, and one that you shouldn’t hesitate to add to your kit when shopping for an ultra-wide zoom. It’s also an Editors’ Choice.

The Widest F2.8

We’ve seen full-frame zooms that go wider than 14mm, but none that open to f/2.8. If you use a Sony system, you can opt for the FE 12-24mm F4 G for a larger view of the world, but at the cost of a full stop of light. If you use an L-mount camera, this is the widest zoom available with autofocus support at press time.

Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art : Sample Image

But even with its big angle of view and f/2.8 design, the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art isn’t overly large. It’s designed for mirrorless system, which means its rear optics are closer to the image sensor, which vastly simplifies the design process. This 14-24mm F2.8 measures 5.2 by 3.4 inches (HW) and weighs 1.8 pounds. Compare this with the SLR version, which is about the same size, but notably heavier at 2.5 pounds.

Sigma sells this version of the 14-24mm for Leica L and Sony E mount cameras; the L mount is also supported by Panasonic and Sigma itself. The lens offers coverage for full-frame sensors, but works fine with APS-C models like the Sony a6600 and Leica CL as well, albeit with a reduced angle of view. Sigma provides a slip-on front cap, as well as a standard rear cap and a soft carrying case.

Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art : Sample Image

Construction is solid, with a mix of metal and polycarbonate for the housing. Sigma includes fluorine protection for the exposed front element, as well as dust and splash protection throughout. You can’t use front filers due to the bulbous front element, but there is a rear holder for gel filters. The front element moves as you adjust the focal length, but never extends past the confines of the hood.

Focus and zoom rings are covered with rubberized ridges to improve your grip. The zoom ring sits toward the base, with the focus control just behind the integrated petal lens hood. There’s a lone control switch, to change between manual and autofocus, as well as a customizable control button on the barrel. It locks focus by default, but you can reconfigure its function via your camera’s menu.

Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art : Sample Image

You don’t get optical stabilization with the lens—it’s something we’ve seen in ultra-wide zooms for APS-C systems, but isn’t expected when covering the bigger full-frame sensor. Most, but not all, E-mount and L-mount cameras offer in-body stabilization, which makes its omission less of an issue. In-body stabilization does a good job smoothing handheld video at wider angles, and I typically have no problem with 1/3-second or even 1/2-second handheld exposures at wider angles with the Sony a7R IV. At speeds that long subject motion is a larger concern.

Likewise, don’t expect stunning macro results from such a wide lens. You can focus close, about 11 inches measured from the sensor plane, so you can get dramatic shots with your subject prominently in frame and a wide swath of background behind it. At the 24mm position, the lens nets 1:7.3 life-size reproduction at its closest focus distance, not close to the 1:2 or 1:3 we want to see from a zoom to consider it fit for macro work.

Strong Optics for High-Resolution Cameras

I tested the 14-24mm in E-mount with the 60MP Sony a7R IV. It’s the most demanding full-frame sensor, in terms of resolution, available today, and truly needs excellent glass in front of it to shine. This zoom has little trouble keeping up.

Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art : Sample Image

At 14mm f/2.8, it nets a 4,050-line result, averaged across the frame using Imatest, a result that is in our very good range for the a7R IV sensor. Resolution is outstanding in the central area (5,040 lines), but does give way to results that are just good (3,000 lines) as you move toward the edges. Performance holds steady at f/4, but ticks up to excellent at f/5.6 (4,400 lines), f/8 (4,675 lines), and f/11 (4,528 lines), all with better edge clarity than at f/4 or wider—good information to take into account when photographing traditional landscape scenes. Diffraction reduces resolution to the good range at f/16 (3,800 lines) and f/22 (2,366 lines).

Related Story See How We Test Digital Cameras

At the midpoint of the zoom, 18mm f/2.8, we see very good resolution (4,278 lines), and it leaps into the excellent range at f/4 (4,750 lines) through f/5.6 (4,950 lines), f/8 (4,970 lines), and f/11 (4,615 lines). We see the expected dip in detail at f/16 (3,850 lines) and f/22 (2,525 lines).

Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art : Sample Image

Resolution isn’t quite as strong at 24mm, falling back to the good range (3,560 lines) through f/4 (3,770 lines) and f/5.6 (3,825 lines). It enters excellent territory at f/8 (4,550 lines) and f/11 (4,675 lines). There’s a slight drop at f/16 (4,045 lines) and a more pronounced one at f/22 (2,580 lines).

Distortion is a concern with ultra-wide lenses—it’s easy to get a wide view of the world with a fish-eye look, but that won’t do for architectural work. The 14-24mm shows some barrel distortion (3.4 percent) and a modest pincushion effect (1.3 percent) at 24mm.

Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art : Sample Image

Distortion is relatively easy to compensate for using software tools, and the effect isn’t overwhelming to start. You can see the barrel effect adding a slight bulge to the fire extinguisher and column in the uncorrected 14mm shot above.

There’s also a little bit of a vignette when shooting at f/2.8, but it’s not extreme, and is also corrected easily using Lightroom or another photo editor.

Another Sigma Stunner

Sigma’s Art lens series has earned accolade after accolade, with good reason. Its various entries have been at, at their worst, still quite good, and at their best, outstanding. The 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art is another solid entry, covering an ultra-wide angle of view and maintaining a bright f/2.8 aperture through the entirety of the range.

Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art : Sample Image

It’s also well made, with dust and splash protection throughout, along with fluorine protection on the big front element. If you’re shopping for this type of lens for your E-mount or L-mount camera, it’s hard to find a better all-around option, especially given the price, so we’re naming the lens our Editors’ Choice.

There are alternatives, of course. Sony makes the FE 12-24mm F4, which offers a bit more wide-angle coverage, and if you don’t mind a narrower angle, and want to spend less, the Tamron 17-28mm is a fantastic value. If you value that over the ability to work at f/2.8, it’s a fine lens, assuming you use a Sony system. If you’re shopping for an L-mount camera you have fewer choices, simply because the system isn’t yet built out to the extent of E-mount. Panasonic and Leica each sell a 16-35mm zoom, but if you crave a wider view, the 14-24mm is a better pick.



Source link

Dell Precision 5820 (2019) Review & Rating

The version we reviewed in August 2018 was formidable, but the new incarnation of Dell’s Precision 5820 tower workstation (starts at $969; $4,551 as tested) is downright scary. Big even by tower standards, this high-end, single-CPU system offers configuration choices for almost any budget and application. Its impressive expansion capabilities include up to six storage drives, eight memory slots, two professional-grade GPUs, and up to an 18-core processor. The primary drives even support hot swapping, much like a server’s. Well equipped for our review with an eight-core Xeon CPU and Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000 GPU, the Precision rocketed through our benchmarks. With just about every feature a workstation (or an IT department) could need, it’s our top choice for a deluxe, single-CPU workstation.


Defining the Workstation

The Precision 5820 is one of the elite members of Dell’s workstation lineup. It’s an entirely different machine than the Precision 3630 Tower, a smaller, lower-priced mid-tower that’s based on one of Dell’s OptiPlex business desktops.

The 5820 is a larger full-tower with much greater expansion capability and server-grade features that I’ll get into shortly. It shares many design elements with the even more ferocious Precision 7820 and Precision 7920, both of which offer two processors. But if one CPU is enough for your workflow, look no further than the Precision 5820, which offers up to the 18-core, 36-thread Xeon W-2195 chip. The Xeon W-2145 in our test unit has only eight cores and 16 threads, but it has higher base (3.7GHz) and turbo (4.5GHz) clock speeds that should make it more responsive for everyday tasks than higher-core-count chips with lower operating speeds.

The sky is the limit with this tier of workstation, more so than with any consumer-grade desktop. The fact that Dell offers the Precision 5820 with up to 68TB (with a T) of total storage and 256GB of RAM should be enough to tell you this is a serious machine. For this review, though, we asked the company to keep our review unit under $5,000, a reasonable price point for a mainstream workstation.

In addition to the Xeon W-2145 chip, it came with a 512GB PCIe solid-state drive containing Windows 10 Pro for Workstations; a secondary 8TB, 3.5-inch hard drive; and 32GB of quad-channel DDR4-2666 ECC memory (arranged in four 8GB DIMMs). The GPU is the midrange Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000 with 8GB of GDDR6 display memory. This kind of hardware means the Precision has no problem earning independent software vendor (ISV) certifications that guarantee proper performance with supported professional apps.

Doing a little comparison shopping, I configured a comparable Lenovo ThinkStation P520 for a nearly identical $4,524 and an HP Z4 Tower for a somewhat steeper $5,321. All told, the price of our Precision 5820 is justifiable for its as-tested build. Dell backs it with a standard three-year on-site warranty extendable to five years.

It’s ironic that the Precision 5820 struggles when it comes to value at its entry-level pricing. The $969 starting loadout’s low-clocked Xeon W-2102 processor (which doesn’t support Turbo Boost or Hyper-Threading), scanty 8GB of RAM, and slow 500GB hard drive won’t show its best colors, or even best the Precision 3630. Judging by my tinkering with Dell’s endless configuration options, you should budget closer to $2,000 for a more balanced configuration with a six-core CPU and at least 16GB of memory, and closer to $3,000 with a decent GPU pick.


Do It Like a Server

The Precision 5820’s industrious appearance will have no one mistaking it for a home or gaming PC. The grated, two-tiered front makes it look more like an enterprise server…

Meet the Dell Precision 5820

There’s a sturdy metal carry handle on the top edge and a matching one at the rear. The review unit tipped the scales at a portly 37.4 pounds, which is no surprise considering the tower is predominantly made of steel. Combined with this workstation’s overall size (16.5 by 7 by 20.4 inches), it’s no small feat to move, so the handles are a godsend. The rubber feet on the right side panel mean the workstation can be placed on its side, an orientation not many towers support.

Dell Precision 5820 Front Three Quarter Alternate

The left side panel is easily removed for access to the interior. Removing it requires pushing a thumb depression, which pops out a handle which you then pull upward to release the panel. Be sure not to do this while the system is running, or you’ll be greeted with a high-pitched warning tone that scared the daylights out of me the first (and only) time I did it.

Looking inside, the interior of the Precision 5820 is dominated by its massive server-style motherboard…

Inside the Tower

The Xeon CPU is its centerpiece, covered with a plastic shroud to channel airflow over its heatsink. Removing the shroud requires no tools. Note the stacked fans to the right of the heatsink:

CPU Cooler

Lifting the shroud also reveals the eight slots for DDR4-2666 ECC memory, four of which were populated in our review unit with 8GB modules for a 32GB total. The memory runs in quad-channel mode when the RDIMMs are properly installed in multiples of four.

Under the memory slots are five PCI Express slots, two of which are x16 slots to accommodate graphics cards. Dell offers dozens of single- and dual-GPU options for the Precision 5820. The single Quadro RTX 4000 in our review unit is a $610 upcharge over the base 2GB AMD Radeon Pro WX 2100. Closely related to the GeForce RTX 2070, it boasts 2,304 CUDA cores and 8GB of dedicated GDDR6. The card has a single-slot design and gets its power from a single 8-pin connector. A support bracket anchors the GPU to the front of the tower for support. This way, the card’s weight doesn’t put extra stress on the PCIe slot, especially during shipping.

One of our review unit’s PCI Express x8 slots was occupied by Dell’s optional Thunderbolt 3 card, which has two USB Type-C connectors and a full-size DisplayPort video-in. The company offers numerous other PCIe card options including a full-height serial port. Below the last PCI Express x8 slot is a PCI slot for legacy devices, in case you have any of those lying around.

All the slots get fresh airflow from the bottom-mounted intake fan at the front of the chassis. My only nitpick there is the 5820’s lack of removable dust filters, which will mean opening up the tower from time to time to clean out dust bunnies. The workstation’s fans were always quiet during my testing, even while running benchmarks. I occasionally heard a low humming, but it was usually drowned out by background noise.


Storage Volumes and Key Connections

As for storage, the Precision supports up to five 3.5-inch or six 2.5-inch SATA drives. Dell also offers optional Ultra-Speed Drives, not included in our review unit, which are PCIe x8 cards holding two or four M.2 slots for SSDs. The four primary drive bays (supporting 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drives or M.2 drives with caddies) face out of the tower front. Accessing them entails removing the right-side grate, easily done by pushing the release lever along the centerline.

A Quick-Change Hard Drive Bay

When used as general storage, these drives are hot-swappable: Pushing the button on a drive bay pops out a handle, making it easy to hook a finger and pull out the drive. This is much more convenient than having to open the tower to swap drives as is true of the competing Lenovo ThinkStation P520 and HP Z4 Tower. One more 3.5-inch drive can fit in the 5.25-inch bay, which was empty in our review unit.

While we’re on the front panel, you’ll notice the centerline is populated with ports. The power button at the top, followed by a full-size SD card reader, pairs of USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports, and the audio combo jack. It’s a solid selection. You’ll also notice our unit’s optional slimline DVD burner just below the ports.

Dell Precision 5820 Front

Moving to the tower’s rear, the motherboard has microphone/line-in and line-out audio jacks, a serial port, legacy PS/2 connectors, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, and six USB 3.1 Type-A ports.

Rear Ports

There’s no built-in wireless connectivity, although Wi-Fi is available as an option. For video output the Quadro RTX 4000 GPU has three full-size DisplayPort connectors plus a VirtualLink (USB-C) port.

Expansion Slots

Another server-grade feature on the Precision 5820 is its swappable power supply. The latter’s modular cables disconnect right at the unit, meaning that replacing the power supply doesn’t require recabling the tower. Once the cables are disconnected, removing the PSU is a simple matter of pushing the blue bar at the rear to unlock it, then using the clear grab handle to slide it out.

Power Supply

After a new power supply is installed, you just need to reconnect the cables, which can be done in minutes. Now that’s easy serviceability. Our review unit has a 950-watt power supply, the strongest choice and a requirement for loaded configurations. The base power supply is 460 watts.

The Precision 5820 doesn’t include peripherals in its base configuration, but ours came with a generic wired USB keyboard and mouse that get the job done for basic productivity.


Workstations on the Workbench

Now let’s put the Precision 5820’s impressive hardware to the test. I used the following workstations for performance comparisons…

Dell Precision 5820 (Configuration Chart)

These units technically aren’t in the same class of machine as the Dell, although they more or less have comparable hardware when it comes to general performance. In fact, the Precision 5820 may take a back seat to them when it comes to raw CPU power; its Xeon W-2145 has eight cores and 16 threads like the Core i9-9900K CPUs in the Asus ProArt PA90 and HP Z2 Tower G4, but less aggressive clock speeds. The Corsair’s 12-core, 24-thread Core i9-9920X is more powerful still. For 3D power, the Corsair is the only unit here to use a consumer-grade GeForce RTX 2080 Ti GPU. The Quadro-class cards in the other units help them carry ISV certifications, which the Corsair lacks.

Storage, Media, and CPU Tests

Normally I’d start with PCMark 10, a general system performance or office productivity benchmark, but our Precision 5820 wasn’t compatible with the test. (The same thing happened with last year’s model.) Let’s briefly look at PCMark 8, then, which grades the performance of the primary storage drive.

Dell Precision 5820 (PCmark)

Around 5,000 points in that benchmark is the magic number we expect for systems with solid-state storage, as is true of all these units.

Next is Maxon’s Cinebench R15 test, which measures CPU performance by taking advantage of all available cores and threads while rendering a complex image.

Dell Precision 5820 (Cinebench R15)

The Precision 5820 is on the tail end of this chart, as I predicted, but it’s far from a slouch. Something notable about the Xeon W-2145 is its 140-watt thermal design power (TDP) rating—which, combined with the Precision’s powerful CPU cooler, should allow it to sustain high clock speeds over long periods of time without running into power or thermal limitations. That said, the 95-watt Core i9-9900K chips in the Asus and HP didn’t have a problem matching its stamina in our Handbrake test, where we transcode a 12-minute 4K video to 1080p…

Dell Precision 5820 (Handbrake)

With workstations like these, we also use POV-Ray 3.7 for CPU assessment. This test uses ray tracing to render a three-dimensional image. (Note that it doesn’t use the ray tracing features of Nvidia’s RTX-class GPUs; this is purely CPU-focused.)

Dell Precision 5820 (POV-Ray)

These results confirm the Precision 5820’s standing in relation to the others. Its Xeon chip is fast, but it’s slightly behind a Core i9-9900K in overall grunt.

The final test in this section is photo editing. We use an early 2018 release of Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud to apply 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG image, timing each operation and adding up the totals. This test is not as CPU-focused as Cinebench or Handbrake, bringing the performance of the storage subsystem, memory, and GPU into play.

Dell Precision 5820 (Photoshop)

The Dell’s middle-of-the-road result here isn’t as good as I expected, but it’s still reasonable and indicative that it’s more than powerful enough for advanced Photoshop tasks.

Workstation and Graphics Tests

We use two benchmark suites to gauge the gaming performance potential of a PC. In the first, UL’s 3DMark, we run two DirectX 11-driven subtests, the mainstream Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which is more suited to gaming rigs. Our other graphics benchmark is Unigine Corp.’s Superposition, which uses a different rendering engine to produce a complex 3D scene.

Dell Precision 5820 (3Dmark)

Dell Precision 5820 (Superposition)

The Quadro RTX 4000 in the Precision 5820 predictably performs about as well as a GeForce RTX 2070 in these tests, as it shares most its hardware specifications with that card. It’s significantly slower than the HP’s Quadro RTX 5000, which is based on the RTX 2080, though of course you can order an RTX 5000 as a Precision upgrade if you like (in fact, you can get two of them).

There’s little else to take away from these results, as workstations are rarely tasked with playing games (unless you’re a game developer), so we’ll move on to Cinebench R15’s OpenGL test, which taps the hardware rendering capabilities of the GPU.

Dell Precision 5820 (Cinebench OpenGL)

I don’t have results for the Asus ProArt PA90, but the others narrate the story just fine. Power doesn’t count for everything here, as the Corsair finishes dead last with its GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. That card lacks the OpenGL-optimized drivers of the Quadros in the Dell and HP, which are far more capable for this kind of work.

Our next, and most workstation-savvy, benchmark is SPECviewperf 13, which renders and rotates wireframe models using real-world viewsets from popular ISV apps.

Dell Precision 5820 (SPECviewperf)

The Precision 5820 and its Quadro RTX 4000 GPU did very well here. The Corsair’s GeForce card handled the Maya viewset pretty well, but as with Cinebench OpenGL, the Quadro cards in the HP and Dell dominated in Creo. (I unfortunately don’t have SolidWorks numbers for the Corsair.)

Last, I informally ran an experimental version of OctaneBench that rendered a single scene to test the RTX ray tracing features of the Precision’s Quadro RTX 4000. With RTX enabled, the workstation was able to render the scene over 3.5 times faster. It’s true that not many professional apps use RTX features right now, but results like that can make RTX cards a worthwhile upgrade in the long run.


A Top-of-the-Line Workstation Pick

The Precision 5820 offers everything that’s desirable in a high-end, single-CPU workstation. Dell’s daunting array of configuration options means this big tower can fit any budget and workflow. As reviewed, it presents a reasonable value for its feature set and level of performance. The standard three-year on-site warranty across all configurations is notable, too.

What elevates the Precision 5820 above much of its competition is its extra-mile features. It’s certainly not required for a workstation like this to have hot-swappable drive bays and an easily replaceable modular power supply, but it does. It even has carrying handles on top and can be oriented both upright and on its side.

The 5820’s cheapest configurations can be outperformed by lesser mid-tower workstations like Dell’s own Precision 3630, so don’t look to the system unless you have a healthy budget and can pack it with the components it needs to stand out. But when it’s as well equipped as our test unit was, it easily earns our Editor’s Choice for a full-tower, single-CPU workstation.



Source link

MSI GL65 9SC Review & Rating

High-end gaming laptops have all the bells and whistles, but truth be told, you don’t need RGB keyboard lights to play or enjoy today’s games. MSI’s GL65 ($699 as tested) is a value-oriented gaming laptop that proves that in spades. This 15.6-inch rig’s hardware for the money is as good as it gets in late 2019, including a 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, a speedy Intel Core i5 quad-core processor, and a surprisingly roomy 512GB solid-state drive. The whole package is topped off by a bright full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) display, making the GL65 a stellar example of entry-level notebook gaming and our new Editors’ Choice among bargain gaming laptops.


A Value-Packed Cranker

The GL65 is hardly the only 15.6-inch gamer to retail for under a grand with a quad-core CPU and a 4GB GeForce GTX 1650, but it’s further under that mark than most. As a matter of fact, as I type this, the system I’m reviewing (model 9SC-004) is an unbeatable deal. A Lenovo Legion Y545 with comparable hardware rings up at $849 with only half the storage (256GB). The Dell G3 15 (3590) is in similar straits, costing $100 more than the MSI although that price buys you both a 128GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive. Another option is the Asus TUF Gaming FX505 series (a technology refresh of the TUF Gaming FX504G), but it’s also more expensive when outfitted with a comparable AMD Ryzen 7 3750H processor.

MSI GL65-01

Now, that pricing comparison focuses only on core specs, but key hardware is what matters most in the budget gaming world. (Features like RGB lighting, for instance, don’t actually do anything for gaming performance. Blasphemy, I know.) Given that we’re down to basics in this tier, saving $100 or more is nothing to sneeze at. It can buy two or more AAA-level game titles, a gaming peripheral or two, or almost a year’s subscription to Xbox GamePass.

Getting back to the GL65, its 2.4GHz Core i5-9300H processor is a quad-core, eight-thread part with a 45-watt thermal design power (TDP) rating, qualifying it as a chip worthy of a desktop-replacement notebook. Gaming laptops in the next pricing tier usually step up to the Core i7-9750H, a six-core, 12-thread chip that’s better suited to multitasking and livestreaming duties.

Graphics-wise, the MSI’s 4GB GeForce GTX 1650 is Nvidia’s bread-and-butter “Turing” offering for both laptops and desktops. More potent than the “Pascal” GTX 1050 it replaces, it’s generally comfortable playing games at 1080p resolution without compromising on image quality settings too much. (I’ll hone that statement a little further in the benchmarks section of this review.) The next step up for notebooks is a big one, to the 6GB GTX 1660 Ti, as there’s no middle-ground GTX 1660 as in the desktop world. The Ti is much faster than the GTX 1650, but you’ll almost certainly spend four figures for a laptop that has one.

The only hardware spec where the GL65 disappoints a little is its memory. The single 8GB DDR4-2666 stick in my review model is the minimum required by many AAA game titles. During my testing, I noticed some sluggishness while gaming and trying to do other tasks at the same time. It’s possible to inexpensively add a second 8GB DIMM to double the memory, or to upgrade the GL65 to 32GB via two 16GB DIMMs.

Patience and caution are required for such an operation, though. The bottom panel is held on by a dozen screws, and you’ll need a pry tool to undo all the plastic clips holding the chassis halves together. When taking the plastic halves apart, special care is needed to route the chassis port openings around the actual ports (especially the headphone and microphone jacks) to avoid damage. It’s not a process I’d care to undertake more than once.


You’ve Got That Gaming Feeling

The GL65 shares its basic design with MSI’s pricier GE65 Raider. The two even share dimensions, at 1.1 by 14.1 by 9.8 inches. Though on the thick side, this notebook is hardly chunky. Its display bezels are about as thin as you can get.

Visually, the GL65 dips into gamer cliché with its red-and-black color scheme. Most of the red comes from the keyboard backlighting, with only a few accents on the chassis. Despite the colors, the overall look of the machine is conventional, though the MSI gaming logo on the lid (which is passively backlit by the screen) means it won’t be mistaken for anything but a gaming laptop.

MSI GL65-05

Aluminum, which covers the GL65’s top and lid backing, is nice to see on a laptop at this price point. The Asus TUF Gaming FX505 and Dell G3 15 both make exclusive use of plastic. The rest of the MSI’s construction is plastic, keeping its heft in check; I weighed our review model at 4.6 pounds, although MSI’s official specifications say it’s supposed to be 5.1 pounds.


Put It in Red

The red-only keyboard backlighting is one of the ways this GL65 unit keeps costs down. (MSI sells upscale models in the GL65 line with per-key RGB backlighting.)

MSI GL65-02

The keyboard is familiar if you’ve used an MSI gaming notebook recently. The feel is rubbery but pleasant, with enough key travel for communicative feedback. Layout-wise, the left-side Windows key is missing, but the preinstalled MSI Dragon Center utility lets you swap its functionality with the Fn key to the right of the space bar. A dedicated button at the top right of the keyboard launches Dragon Center; next to it is the power button and another to engage maximum fan speed (which I never needed; see the cooling section later in this review).

MSI GL65-04

Speaking of software, note that the GL65’s keyboard, while it’s designed in conjunction with peripheral maker SteelSeries, isn’t compatible with the SteelSeries Engine app like the keyboards of some higher-end MSI notebooks. As such, it doesn’t support remapping keys or saving profiles.

Located left of center in the palm rest, the GL65’s touchpad is spacious enough. It’s marred only by its overly loud button clicks; I found myself tapping the pad to click to avoid the noise.

MSI GL65-03

Built-in biometric features are lacking on the GL65, a drawback it shares with many gaming notebooks. I point this out in reviews since non-gaming laptops that cost much less often include a fingerprint reader, face recognition webcam, or both. At least the GL65 measures up when it comes to its 720p webcam, which offers a reasonable picture in the right light. On the audible side of the spectrum, the MSI’s speakers are just so-so. While they have enough volume, their tinny sound and lack of bass will have you reaching for your headphones.


Bright and Full HD

The GL65’s display is everything a value-oriented gaming rig’s should be. Not only is its 1080p resolution just right for gameplay with the GeForce GTX 1650, but games are brought to life by its bright and colorful picture, wide viewing angles, and anti-glare surface.

The panel’s refresh rate is 60Hz, not the 144Hz (or even 240Hz) supported by deluxe gaming screens, but that’s not a biggie at this price. Outside of some less demanding esports titles, the GTX 1650 isn’t likely to push beyond 60 frames per second (fps) in modern games.


Port Locations Aren’t Ideal

The MSI’s ports are all located on its sides. This wouldn’t be a talking point if it weren’t that most them are too close to the front edge, which can be problematic if you plug in a device that sticks out and encroaches on external mouse space. The good selection almost makes up for the inconvenience, however. On the left, you’ll find an Ethernet jack; HDMI and mini DisplayPort video outputs; USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports; and separate headphone and microphone jacks…

MSI GL65-08

Meanwhile, the right edge is graced by two more USB 3.1 Type-A ports, a full-size SD card reader, and the power connector.

MSI GL65-07

The 150-watt AC adapter has a right-angle jack so it doesn’t stick out too far. For wireless communications, the GL65 offers 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.


Solid Entry-Level Performance

Now let’s see how far the GL65’s bargain hardware can carry it in our benchmark suite. I pitted the MSI against the following gaming laptops, most of which pack harder-hitting (and more expensive) components:

MSI GL65 (Config Chart)

The Acer Nitro 7, despite having the same basic hardware as the GL65, has a more premium build and features. Up the performance scale from there is the Lenovo Legion Y545, packing a 6GB GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU, followed by the Asus ROG Strix Scar III and Dell G7 15, each equipped with a 6GB GeForce RTX 2060. The MSI GL65 is, on paper, the least capable in the CPU department; its Core i5-9300H has two fewer cores than the Core i7 chips in the others.

CPU and Media Tests

We start with UL’s PCMark 10, a general productivity or system assessment benchmark. The GL65 was a little off the pace here, though still above the 4,000-point mark we expect from a high-performance machine.

MSI GL65 (PCMark)

Also included here is the PCMark 8 storage benchmark, which we use to evaluate the performance of the PC’s primary drive. The MSI and its 512GB PCIe SSD kept up just fine.

Getting back to CPU performance, the Cinebench R15 test uses all available cores and threads to render a complex image. With only four instead of six processing cores, the GL65 was at a clear disadvantage…

MSI GL65 (Cinebench)

Next comes our Adobe Photoshop test, in which we add up the total execution times while using a 2018 release of Photoshop Creative Cloud to apply 10 filters and effects to a standard JPEG image.

MSI GL65 (Photoshop)

The 8GB of RAM in our GL65 is enough to run Photoshop without slowdowns, though for serious use as an image editing system, it’d be better to have 16GB.

Graphics Tests

For the 3D-focused testing, we’ll start with UL’s 3DMark suite. The two gaming-style benchmarks we use are Fire Strike and Sky Diver, both of which are DirectX 11-based. In the more demanding Fire Strike test, the GL65 kept up with the Acer Nitro 7, using the same 4GB GTX 1650 GPU.

MSI GL65 (3DMark)

The GTX 1660 Ti in the Lenovo Legion Y545 was far ahead, however. This general pattern carried over to Unigine’s Superposition test, which we run at two resolutions. It uses a different rendering engine than 3DMark for a second opinion on a PC’s graphics performance.

MSI GL65 (Superposition)

The MSI slightly edged out the Acer. Note the GeForce RTX 2060-based Asus and Dell laptops didn’t greatly distance themselves from the Lenovo—the latter’s GTX 1660 Ti was close in performance, although it lacks the ray tracing and DLSS features inherent in Nvidia’s RTX product line. (None of our tests leverages RTX-specific features.)

Finally, we use the built-in benchmarks in two real-world AAA games, Far Cry 5 (at its Normal and Ultra 1080p presets) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (at its Medium and Very High presets). Far Cry 5 uses DirectX 11; we flip Rise of the Tomb Raider to DX12.

MSI GL65 (Far Cry 5)

MSI GL65 (ROTR)

The MSI GL65 finished neck and neck with the Acer Nitro 7, indicating that its Core i5 CPU isn’t holding it back to a meaningful degree. That said, I found the 57fps average reported by the Rise of the Tomb Raider at the Very High preset to be optimistic. While actually playing the game for an hour, the frame rate often strayed well below that level, so I ended up lowering the detail settings to make the game more playable. The GeForce GTX 1650 will be stretched to its limits at full HD resolution in the most demanding titles, so don’t expect to be able to use maximum visual quality settings in every game.

Battery Rundown Test

In our last benchmark, we measure a laptop’s unplugged runtime while playing a locally stored video with screen brightness at 50 percent and audio volume at 100 percent. We use the notebook’s energy-saving rather than balanced or other power profile, turn off Wi-Fi, and even disable keyboard backlighting to squeeze as much life as possible out of the system.

MSI GL65 (Battery Test)

The days when gaming notebooks conked out after only 90 minutes or so away from a power outlet are over. The MSI’s five and a half hours isn’t a record, but it’s not a negative, either. It’ll let you step away from a wall socket without having to constantly keep an eye on the battery percentage.


Good Cooling Performance

The GL65 has two cooling fans positioned at its back corners:

MSI GL65-06

Their air intake comes from the underside of the chassis, most of which is grated for airflow.

MSI GL65-09

While I played Rise of the Tomb Raider, the fans’ noise level was noticeable, but not pronounced above the usual household bustle. You won’t game unnoticed, but you won’t drown out nearby conversations, either.

Here’s a look through our FLIR One Pro thermal camera at the GL65 during the gaming session…

MSI GL65 (FLIR Keyboard)

The center of the keyboard is a little toasty (113 degrees F), but the temperature drops off drastically elsewhere. Under the hood, its Core i5-9300H CPU topped off in the mid-70-degree C range, which is quite acceptable. The GTX 1650 GPU reached just 65 degrees C.


An Exceptional Value

Above all else, the GL65 is notable for the gaming performance it delivers for the money. For $699 in our tested guise (and potentially even less, as I spotted it online for as little as $599 after a rebate), it can play the latest games at 1080p resolution with decent visual quality settings. A bright screen and a comfortable keyboard complete the package. There’s even some aluminum in its build, a bonus that its plastic rivals lack.

The downsides are few and relatively minor: The laptop’s speakers could be better, its touchpad buttons are noisy, and some of its ports aren’t ideally placed. Sure, it would be nice if the system had a Thunderbolt 3 port or RGB-backlit keyboard, but those are features you’d expect to find on a notebook that retails well into four figures. The GL65 manages to be inexpensive without eschewing the essentials.

Overall, this MSI has exactly what it needs to be a great buy and our newest Editors’ Choice among value gaming laptops.



Source link

Netflix Review & Rating | PCMag.com

Best of the year 2019 BugAlthough Netflix’s streaming service started as a niche offshoot of the company’s disc-mailing service, it is now the front-runner in the category, thanks to its reliable core catalog and some of the best original programming. Netflix also integrates excellent usability features across interfaces, allows offline downloads on mobile platforms, and features 4K content. However, with other high-profile services now available at cheaper prices, the expensive costs of Netflix’s comparable plans stand out. For now, Netflix remains an Editors’ Choice for on-demand video streaming services, thanks to its varied, top-notch content and capable apps.

What’s in the Catalog?

Netflix has an extremely broad catalog of video content, but it changes all the time. Shows available one day may be gone the next. It’s difficult to state authoritatively what is in Netflix’s catalog at any given moment, but that’s all part of the fun, right? Innumerable third-party websites, including PCMag, offer articles with titles like Everything Coming to Netflix This Month (as well as Everything Leaving Netflix), so that’s one way to stay in the know. Note that Netflix will lose many of its most-watched shows in the near future, including The Office (to NBC’s Peacock), Friends (to HBO Max), and several Marvel movies (to Disney+). This is potentially precarious new ground for Netflix, since it will need to rely more heavily on its original content in the coming years.

The TV shows available on Netflix are season-complete, which isn’t always the case for competitors. Hulu sometimes only has the most recent handful of episodes of a show, making it impossible to catch up if you fall too far behind. On the other hand, Netflix only adds shows a season at a time. Hulu offers at least some of its shows within a day or two of broadcast, so you can at least be within striking distance of the cultural zeitgeist if you’re a cable-cutter.

Netflix

Netflix is in a good position with its original productions though, with many titles becoming pop culture phenomenons. This impressive list includes shows like Black Mirror, Bojack Horseman, Dead to Me, Disenchantment, Mindhunter, Orange Is the New Black, Peaky Blinders, Russian Doll, Stranger Things, The Crown, The OA, The Umbrella Academy, and Unbelievable. Netflix also produces feature films, comedy specials, and documentaries, for those who are looking for something more self-contained. For example, Netflix’s recently released El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie received good reviews. Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman is another example.

However, Netflix no longers enjoy its once-untouchable status when it comes to original programming. Amazon Prime Video offers many top-tier shows and adaptations in its library including Bosch, Fleabag, Good Omens, Patriot, The Boys, The Expanse, The Man in the High Castle, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Undone. Hulu may be better known for its broadcast television lineup, but with original productions such as Castle Rock, Casual, Catch 22, Harlots, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the continuation of Veronica Mars, it too is becoming competitive. Apple TV+ and Disney+ also promise tons of upcoming original content, with respective entries such as For All Mankind and The Mandalorian. Even CBS All Access has original shows including Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, The Good Fight, The Twilight Zone (the rebooted series), and Why Women Kill.

On another front, Netflix has quietly built itself into an excellent source for streaming anime. It does a particularly good job with older series, such as Inu Yasha, Robotech, and Rurouni Kenshin. Little Witch Academia. Netflix has brought its considerable production clout to anime as well, including rebooting the venerable Voltron and She-Ra series and developing originals such as Castlevania. The trouble with Netflix’s anime collection is the same as with the rest of its content: It comes and goes unpredictably. Crunchyroll offers a much larger and industry-leading content library of anime titles. Hulu is another option for anime fans, with a collection of over 400 classic and critically acclaimed anime shows and movies such as Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, and Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Plans and Platforms

Netflix has consistently raised its prices for all three of its plans over time. The cheapest option, which costs $8.99 per month, gets you access to Netflix’s full content library, but you can only stream in SD quality and on one screen at a time. The $12.99-per-month middle-tier plan allows HD streaming on two screens simultaneously. For families or groups of friends looking to share accounts, the $15.99 four-screen plan might be a more feasible option. This highest tier also unlocks Ultra HD (4K) streaming.

Netflix presents all of its content ad-free, with the exception of its previews of in-house content across its apps. HBO Now and Amazon Prime Video advertise their original content in a similar manner. Note that even Hulu’s ad-free plan still includes limited commercials in rare instances.

Hulu charges $5.99 for its base plan (with ads) though you can pay $11.99 per month for virtually no ads. Amazon Video matches Netflix’s base plan at $8.99 per month. Apple TV+ and Disney+ are both significantly cheaper, at $4.99 per month and $6.99 per month respectively, especially when you consider that they offer more simultaneous streams and support 4K streams. HBO Now is comparatively expensive, at $14.99 per month.

Netflix’s Premium tier costs close to the price of some live TV services. For instance, entertainment-focused Philo is only $20 per month and Sling’s Orange and Blue plans are a bit more at $25 per month. Several sports streaming services are in that price ballpark too, including ESPN+ ($4.99 a month) and Dazn ($20 per month).

In addition to its web interface, Netflix offers apps for Android and iOS; media streaming devices such as the Amazon Fire Stick, Apple TV, and Roku; and game consoles such as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It even has a desktop app in the Microsoft Store for Windows 10.

DVDs on Demand

Netflix began as a DVD-by-mail service, and the company still offers physical discs, but this is now a separate subscription from the Netflix streaming service. You can subscribe directly at dvd.netflix.com (a Netflix company) or add it to your existing Netflix account.

The Standard DVD plans start at $7.99 per month for one disc out at a time and an unlimited number of DVDs per month. There are no late fees with this plan; shipping and returns are free as well. The more expensive $11.99-per-month Premier plan gives you all the same features as the Standard one, but lets you take two discs out at a time. If you want HD Blu-ray DVDs, the prices for the Standard and Premier plans respectively increase to $9.99 and $14.99 per month.

Netflix

The main reason to use Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service is that it expands Netflix’s catalog. When you can’t find a particular TV show or film to stream, you can often find it among the DVDs. That said, it’s always a good idea to check whether you can buy or rent the same content through Amazon, iTunes, or the Microsoft Store on a PC or Xbox instead. That way you won’t have to wait for an envelope in the mail.

DVD diehards on mobile must use the service’s dedicated app, called DVD Netflix (Android and iOS). Here, subscribers can browse for content and stay on top of incoming and outgoing shipments.

Netflix on the Web

Netflix’s web interface uses a dark background, white text, and large media thumbnails. It looks elegant and is easy to navigate via the top menu’s sections: Home, TV Shows, Movies, Recently Added, and My List. In the upper right-hand corner, you can use the search bar, manage your profiles, access account settings, and open Netflix’s help center. Account settings go beyond what most other video streaming services offer, with options for email communications, closed captions, parental controls, and playback settings. You can also view recent viewing (content watched) and streaming activity (devices used and when). I didn’t experience any performance issues with Netflix’s web interface.

Netflix

The Home tab highlights current noteworthy content at the top and displays a slightly overwhelming number of horizontally scrolling lists of shows and movies across categories, such as New Releases, Popular on Netflix, and Trending Now. Mousing over any content triggers a video preview with sound; I find these annoying and would like the option to turn them off. If you click on an entry, you can view more detailed information and available episodes, as well as a percentage recommendation based on your watching history. You can also give content thumbs up (or down) ratings. Finally, you can add content to My List to save shows and movies you want to watch.

Netflix allows users to broadly sort the Shows and Movies sections by genre and filter the lists of content further based on recommendations, the release year, and alphabetical order. Oddly, there is no dedicated category in the TV Shows’ or Movies’ genre lists for Netflix’s originals. Instead, you need to scroll down to one of the horizontally scrolling sections to find them all in one place. Given Netflix’s constantly changing library, information on when things are available until would be helpful, along with an option to add reminders for those expirations.

Netflix on Mobile

I had no issues installing or logging in to Netflix’s Android app on a Google Pixel 3 running Android 10 or the iOS variant on an iPhone 8 running iOS 11. The app looks and performs fine and closely resembles the web interface.

You navigate the app via a set of five menu icons at the bottom of the screen: Home, Search, Extras, Downloads, and More. Netflix’s iPhone app offers all the same features as its Android counterpart and looks nearly identical, albeit with some insignificant navigational changes. For instance, the iOS app is missing the Extras icon in the bottom menu bar.

Netflix allows you to download select titles for offline viewing, a now common feature among on-demand video streaming services. The Downloads tab shows everything you have designated for offline viewing, but there’s no search function. When I tested download speeds over PCMag’s fast Wi-Fi network, it took less than two minutes to download a 50-minute episode of Planet Earth II in high quality. Note that some titles expire after 48 hours and others can only be downloaded a certain number of times.

The Home tab lets you sort by TV Shows or Movies, as well as access My List entries. The Extras section shows previews of new and notable content based on your viewing history. The More tab hosts all the important app settings, including Netflix’s Smart Downloads feature, which is useful for binge watching. Once you finish watching a downloaded episode, Netflix deletes that episode and automatically downloads the next one. In testing, this feature worked as advertised. You can set network streaming preferences and manage profiles from this section.

Playback and Streaming

Netflix’s playback screen is among the best we’ve tested. In addition to the standard 10-second rewind and fast forward buttons, you can also browse a list of all episodes of a show by season, adjust the audio and subtitle language, and jump to the next episode. The progress bar also shows content previews as you scrub. Yet another useful feature, which several other video streaming services have since copied, is a Skip Intro button. I hope Netflix eventually implements a tool like Prime Video’s X-Ray feature, which identifies actors, actresses, and music in a scene. I would also like an option to control the playback resolution.

Netflix

I tested playback performance on the web over my home Ethernet connection (200Mbps download) by streaming an episode of Bojack Horseman. I didn’t come across any stuttering or lag. Similarly, I streamed an episode of Planet Earth II on my Android device and experienced crisp video and clear audio over PCMag’s Wi-Fi network (15 Mbps download). Sadly, Planet Earth II is leaving Netflix soon.

Accessibility and Extras

Although Netflix lets you change the audio and subtitle language from the playback screen, you need to head to the web app to customize subtitles. Netflix, along with Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, and Disney+, all offer audio descriptions for some programming. Netflix explains audio descriptions as vocal narration that “describes what is happening on-screen, including physical actions, facial expressions, costumes, settings and scene changes.”

Netflix is one of the only on-demand video streaming services we’ve reviewed that restricts simultaneous streams and streaming resolutions based on your subscription tier; others offer a single tier with all available features. For instance, Disney+’s only plan allows for four simultaneous streams, which matches Netflix’s highest tier. As mentioned, Netflix also requires you to subscribe to its Premium plan in order to stream shows in 4K, whereas Apple+, Disney+, and Prime Video don’t make users pay extra for this capability.

Netflix, along with those same three services, all support the Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos standards for select titles and on supported devices. Apple TV+ has the advantage here, since it can ensure a higher percentage of its content supports these standards going forward. To find 4K content on Netflix, you can search for 4K and UHD directly; detail pages of shows and movies also show this information.

Netflix

Netflix offers lots of family-friendly content, as well as specific content for young children. In your account settings on the web, you can block content of certain ratings behind a PIN code or do the same for individual shows and movies. Netflix is notable in that it allows you to create profiles for up to four different users. In addition to the content control benefits, profiles enable Netflix to better tune its recommendations for whoever is watching. Disney+ supports up to seven profiles.

Netflix and VPN

Netflix’s available catalog varies greatly by your locale, and you may not be able to watch some shows at all, depending on which country you live in. Likewise, if you travel abroad, you may suddenly find that you can’t continue watching certain shows. In some cases, you can rectify this with a virtual private network (VPN) service. Netflix has been working hard to block VPN access though, to maintain location-based content restrictions.

I tried to access Netflix from my phone and a PC both of which were connected to a US-based Mullvad VPN server. I was not able to stream content on either device.

If you are insistent about finding a VPN that works with Netflix, start with the entries in our roundup of VPN services that worked with Netflix as of the time of our last testing. Note that a VPN that works with Netflix today may be blocked tomorrow. We recommend choosing a VPN based on other factors such as its security practices, value, and performance.

What’s Next for Netflix?

Netflix stocks an enormous array of quirky and quality TV shows, cult hits, family favorites, and trendy original programming. It also offers offline downloads for mobile devices, ad-free streams across all tiers, and convenient features such as Smart Downloads. However, its price has crept up over the years and the launch of high-quality streaming alternatives at significantly lower monthly costs means that it is no longer as good a value. We still give it an Editors’ Choice for on-demand video streaming given its excellent original content and vast library. If you are looking for true cable replacements, try Hulu’s Live TV option or YouTube TV.



Source link

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Review & Rating

I’m a big fan of Razer’s Basilisk mouse line. This family of right-handed gaming mice, designed in the first-person-shooter (FPS) style, is known for having a button where the tip of your thumb rests. It’s one of the most comfortable fits in PC gaming. When Razer made a cheaper model, the Basilisk Essential, I sung its praises, too, for bringing the form factor to a larger audience. Now, for the power-gamer set, Razer has made a $169.99-MSRP wireless version, the Basilisk Ultimate, that updates the Basilisk design inside and out, cuts its cord, and adds wireless charging through an optional dock. In other words, one of the best gaming mice just got a bunch better.


Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Wing

The Basilisk Ultimate’s core look and feel remain mostly unchanged from the original. It’s technically an 11-button, right-handed model, though it has only nine customizable buttons.

On top, you have the usual two main clickers, a scroll wheel that clicks, and two resolution-swapping buttons. On the side, you have two macro/shortcut buttons and a detachable FPS-minded “sniper” paddle that, by default, drops your tracking resolution to low sensitivity for precise clicking.

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse Angle

Last, underneath the mouse is a button that cycles quickly among the Basilisk’s five onboard profiles without making you open Synapse, Razer’s configuration software. Also, as on the other Basilisks, a dial on the underside lets you tune the scroll wheel’s sensitivity, which keeps you out of system settings if you like to tweak that parameter often.

So where do the last two “buttons” come from? The scroll wheel on the Basilisk got a little hop-up: In addition to the usual scroll-wheel down-click, you can now tilt the scroll wheel to the left or right. The tilt function feels great in action, both for everyday use and in gaming. While browsing the web and looking at documents, I found myself tilting the wheel to scroll up and down pages instead of rolling it. (The default function is repeat scroll.) In games, it pays to reconfigure these tilt actions to your key commands, as it’s faster to tilt the wheel, where you already have a finger resting, than to reach a side button by repositioning your thumb. The Basilisk Ultimate isn’t the only mouse adding these inputs here in late ’19, but it’s the first I’ve reviewed, and I hope more companies embrace it.

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse Wheel

As I suggested up top, my favorite thing about the Basilisk is its shape, which remains mostly unchanged. With a footprint of 5.1 by 2.8 inches (including the thumb wing) and at 1.65 inches tall, the 3.8-ounce Basilisk Ultimate is nearly identical to the original. Your hand still falls perfectly into place and rests naturally on the mouse in a way that you never feel the need to grip or maneuver your hand to get comfortable. Plus, you need to make only small movements to hit any of its essential inputs.

Part of the comfort is the thumb wing, which returns and continues to stand apart, despite the fact that so many mice employ some kind of extended thumb support. This one isn’t too large or too small, and the curve is just the right shape to let you rest your thumb for long play sessions, or to support it while you grip the side of the mouse.

I did note a couple of small differences. The Basilisk Ultimate has a pair of extra lighting elements, comprising a pair of thin accent lines high on the mouse’s sides. On the thumb side, the line sits right above the macro buttons. It’s subtle, but the added lights, along with the lighting in the palm and scroll wheel, make the lighting a strong element, especially since you can actually see the side lights while you’re playing. (They won’t be covered by your hand, as mouse RGB bling tends to be.)

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse Thumb Side Close Up

The detachable sniper paddle on the Ultimate is slightly shorter than what I remember on the original Basilisk and the Basilisk Essential, so for some players (myself included), you may need to reach a bit to tap it. If you don’t use the paddle often, this may be a blessing, as you’ll be less likely to tap it by mistake when gripping the mouse in a tense moment. If you use the paddle often, that could be a slight but noticeable quibble.

Internally, the Basilisk Ultimate has had a few technical upgrades. First and foremost, the click panels in the Basilisk Ultimate now use Razer’s new optical mouse switches, which it introduced earlier this year in the esports-focused Razer Viper. Razer claims the switches cut out microseconds worth of delay on each click, allowing for faster, more accurate clicking. Having used multiple mice with these switches (and many without) the difference was not perceptible to me, but I can attest that the panels deliver a good, quick click.

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse Top Buttons

The Basilisk Ultimate also features Razer’s new Focus+ sensor, which is also in Razer’s other new high-end mouse, the Viper Ultimate. The new sensor bumps the highest tracking settings up to a whopping 20,000 dots per inch (dpi) and 650 inches per second. In more practical terms, it’s more than capable of keeping track of your movements even when you’re whipping your cursor across multiple monitors like a player possessed.

That accuracy wouldn’t mean much if the Basilisk Ultimate didn’t also have strong wireless connectivity to maintain the connection. Using Razer’s radio-frequency (RF) wireless tech (which the company dubs “Hyperspeed”) over a USB dongle, the Basilisk Ultimate achieves a stable connection with 1,000Hz polling, bringing lag down to an imperceptible level. Gaming-mouse makers have figured that dongle-based wireless connections are the way to go, so this isn’t quite as grand an achievement as it sounds, but it’s noteworthy as many serious gamers still swear they need a wired connection. It may also explain why Razer decided to forgo Bluetooth support.

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse Dock with Mouse side

Like the Viper Ultimate, the Basilisk Ultimate supports wireless charging through its proprietary, USB-connected mouse dock. The dock comes with the $169.99 version of the mouse reviewed here, but it is also sold separately. Having a wireless charging solution really makes using the Basilisk Ultimate feel like a true wireless experience. Plus, the Basilisk gets decent battery life. Razer claims “up to” 100 hours, and I found the mouse needed a recharge every four or five days, but that feels near-inconsequential if you have the charging dock. When you need to charge, you simply park it on the dock, then remove it when you need the mouse again. It requires no cables to connect or disconnect, so charging is not a hassle at all.

It helps that the dock is very well-designed. It holds the mouse in place on top of the dock magnetically at a jaunty angle, showing off the mouse. (To my eyes, it looks great.) The dock itself is also quite stylish, with a lighting element around its base that you can customize with Razer’s Chroma lighting software and incorporate into your PC’s lighting look. (It also shows the battery’s power level when you dock it.) The dock, thoughtfully, also has a USB port into which you can plug in the mouse’s USB RF dongle, so the dock and dongle together occupy just one USB port on your computer.


From Synapse to Chroma

Like all Razer mice, the Basilisk Ultimate supports the company’s suite of configuration software—namely, Razer Synapse for button-mapping, and Razer Chroma for creating custom lighting. These apps haven’t changed, which is fine, because I find them visually appealing and easy to use in most respects.

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse buttons settings

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse more settings

As I mentioned earlier, the Basilisk Ultimate can store up to five profiles in its internal, on-mouse memory, including a default profile. You can also make additional per-game profiles on your PC, which you can tie to specific games and apps or swap in for other onboard profiles. Having the ability to swap among the onboard profiles on the fly without accessing Synapse is a nice touch. While Synapse is easy to use, it’s much quicker to press a button than open an app.


Measuring a Mouse’s Worth

The Basilisk Ultimate completes the wireless fantasy, looks great, and feels comfortable. It does everything I want a gaming mouse to do. There is, of course, a catch. And that’s the price: that whopping $169.99 MSRP.

Razer Basilisk Ultimate Wireless Gaming Mouse Dock and Mouse

Even if the mouse sees some modest discounting shortly after release, that’s a lot of dough, and I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone for saying it’s simply too much for any mouse. You can find cheaper wireless mice out there, as well as several cheaper Razer Basilisks. At the same time, in light of my other favorite wireless mouse this year, the price may not be completely out of line, when you factor in that many wireless charging mice, including the Logitech G502 Lightspeed, require you to spend extra money on a proprietary charging pad to use wireless charging. If you’re looking at the Basilisk Ultimate at or close to its list price, bear in mind that it should include the dock.

Dock or no dock, the Ultimate will be a splurge for most gamers, no doubt. But it’s worth the cash for any hardcore gamer (especially a Razer-gear loyalist) who prizes quality software and shortcut-making, lots of programmable buttons, smooth wireless operation, and a slick look.



Source link

Jabra Elite 75t Review & Rating

Jabra’s latest true wireless earphones, the Elite 75t, aren’t cheap at $179.99, but they have something for just about everyone. Out of the box they deliver a bass-forward sound signature in a secure-fitting, sweat-resistant design. They also work with an excellent companion app that offers 5-band EQ to adjust the powerful bass to more normal levels, and toggle the adjustable HearThrough mode that allows you to monitor your surroundings. We applaud the customizability, and anyone seeking seriously deep lows (or willing to use the app to fine-tune audio) will be pleased with the sonics here, earning the Elite 75t our latest Editors’ Choice for true wireless in-ears under $200.

Design

Available in black or black-and-gray models, the Elite 75t’s earpieces are relatively compact and have no stems or fins. Three pairs of silicone eartips are included, and they stay in place quite well. The outer panel of each earpiece features a button that, when pressed, performs a variety of functions divided between the left and right earpieces.

The left ear’s button controls volume down when pressed and held, skips a track when pressed twice, and navigates back when pressed three times. When not on a call, a single press toggles HearThrough mode (which uses the ambient mics), or mutes the mic when on a call. The right button plays or pauses music with a single tap, or manages phone calls. A long press raises the volume, and pressing it twice summons your phone’s voice assistant (with support for Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Google Assistant).

All of these controls are easy to operate, but remembering which ear to press and how many times for any given command can be a bit difficult to remember at first. The control layout becomes easier over time, though it’s possible to commit a misfire here or there. For instance, pressing and holding the right button to raise the volume can accidentally trigger your voice assistant if you unintentionally tap it twice while trying to hold it in.

Jabra Elite 75t inline

The rounded, flip-top charging case for the Elite 75t is compact enough to fit in most pockets. On its rear panel, there’s a USB-C port for the included charging cable, and there’s also a status LED that lets you know when the case is charging or the firmware is updating.

Jabra estimates the Elite 75t’s battery life to be roughly 7.5 hours per charge, with 28 extra hours stored in the charging case. These are very solid numbers for a true wireless pair, but your results will vary with your volume levels, and HearThrough mode or EQ adjustments can play a role.

The Elite 75t’s IP55 rating may sound impressive, but keep in mind that only the last digit refers to liquid protection. In other words, the earphones are less water resistant than those with an IPX7 rating. That said, the first 5 means they can withstand limited dust exposure, and the second 5 means they’re protected against low-pressure splashes from all directions. Thus, wearing them in the rain or getting them very sweaty shouldn’t be an issue—be careful rinsing them under a high pressure faucet, though. And remember, the charging case isn’t water resistant; the rating applies only to the earpieces.

The Jabra Sound+ app for Android and iOS devices has a 5-band, customizable EQ, as well as quick user presets. There’s also access to HearThrough mode, which uses the four MEMS mics to allow you to hear your surroundings without removing the earpieces. In the app, you can switch this feature on or off, adjust its levels with a fader, and set whether you want to mute audio playback or not when it is activated. You can also choose whether you want to have auto-pause/auto-play as a feature when one earpiece is removed. (If an earpiece is out for more than 60 seconds, auto-play doesn’t kick in.)

There’s even a call EQ, where you can choose a more treble-focused or bass-focused sound for your incoming audio. You can choose to “prioritize” the Elite 75t for calls, meaning all other Bluetooth devices will be temporarily disconnected when you take or make a call, and will automatically reconnect when the call is finished. In the app, you can also customize one-touch access to Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.

The earphones use Bluetooth 5.0, allowing a more secure connection (in terms of dropouts and interference in crowded areas), and support AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs, but not AptX.

Performance

Internally, 6mm drivers deliver a frequency range of 20Hz-20kHz. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the earphones deliver what can only be called intense thump. The bass depth here is quite enhanced—boosted to the point that on a track like this, it can upset the balance a bit, though the high-mids and highs are also quite sculpted and crisp. Normally, this level of bonkers bass would be a negative, but you can use the app to dial things back to a relatively natural-sounding place.

Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Elite 75t’s general sound signature. With no EQ adjustment to help out, as you might guess, the drums sound like thunder rattling the earth. But with the lowest frequencies backed off a bit in the app’s EQ, the track sounds fantastic—bright, crisp, clear, and with a lovely bass depth that sounds natural. The point is—the drivers here can deliver insane subwoofer force, or they can be mellowed to a warm, rich bass presence that doesn’t upset the mix’s balance.

Jabra Elite 75t

On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives perhaps slightly less high-mid presence than we typically hear, so that we notice the loop’s thump more than its punchy attack, but the highs are dialed up—the vinyl crackle and hiss usually relegated to background status steps forward in the mix here. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat sound like they are coming through a club PA system—this is some of the most powerful bass depth you’ll hear in the true wireless realm. Dialing it back is a must for me, but especially on tracks like this, you can see the appeal. The vocals here are delivered cleanly with no added sibilance, though without dialing the bass back, they seem at times like they’re doing battle with the low frequencies for the spotlight.

Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound unnatural in the default setting—whoa, that’s a lot of bass depth there. Again, dialing it back in the app takes things to a lovely place—there’s still plenty of low-end in the mix when you do this, but the higher-register brass, strings, and vocals are able to play their starring roles without fighting against the lower-register instruments.

The mic array offers excellent intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 8, we could hear every word recorded cleanly and clearly. There was very little Bluetooth distortion, and the mics put out a strong signal that even picks up a little bit of bass depth. The call experience is far better than your typical true wireless in-ears.

Conclusions

Jabra’s Elite 75t earphones have excellent battery life, a secure fit, a useful HearThrough mode, some of the best mic clarity we’ve heard on a true wireless pair, and an easy-to-use EQ that allows you to sculpt the rest of the sound signature to your heart’s content. Those looking for the in-skull subwoofer experience will likely not need to adjust the EQ, but you can even boost things in the bass department if you wish.

For a hefty $250, we’re fans of the recently released Apple AirPods Pro, which deliver a similarly well-rounded experience to the Elite 75t and are our high-end Editors’ Choice for iPhone users. Under $200, both the $170 JBL UA True Wireless Flash and the $180 JayBird Vista deliver better ratings in the water-resistance department, and they deliver solid listening experiences, as well. But for $180, the Elite 75t offer a complete package that will make just about everyone happy, no matter what type of sound signature you prefer, earning our Editors’ Choice.



Source link

Steam (for PC) Review & Rating

Steam is the Adobe Photoshop of video game distribution. Both apps are the leaders in their respective categories, both massive in size and scope, and both may be intimidating to first-time users. Steam, however, is infinitely more fun to explore. Valve’s PC gaming client offers a store, cloud saves, video streaming, remote downloads, video streaming and many other gamer-friendly features. Steam app remains the best game store on Windows PC, despite lacking integrated video recording capabilities and a way for its users to speak to a customer service representative should they experience a problem.

The Steam Library

The free Steam app is a terrific way to buy new releases or pre-order upcoming releases. If there’s a major new PC game, Steam will likely have the title—provided that the game’s publisher isn’t selling it exclusively from its own store. For example, you can only buy the Forza Horizon racing series from Xbox, Overwatch from Battle.net, and Red Dead Redemption 2 from the Rockstar Games Launcher. Still, Steam currently offers thousands of titles, ranging from simple arcade-like games (Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+) to simulations (Football Manager 2020) to AAA behemoths (Monster Hunter World). Of course, as Steam is a Valve product, it has titles you won’t find in other PC game stores, such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Portal, and the upcoming Half-Life: Alyx. It has a variety that its competitors can’t match.

Steam’s library goes back several years, and it includes excellent classic games like Half-Life and Psychonauts. That said, the store isn’t a comprehensive library of legacy titles (for a wider selection of older games, try GOG.com). Like itch.io, however, Steam has a wide array of indie titles. In fact when you purchase games via itch.io, you’ll often find that what you’re buying are Steam activation keys.

Steam

Buying Steam Games

Newer games are priced similarly to retail releases, with most big titles costing $49.99 or $59.99. Indie and older games can cost anywhere from $5 to $19.99, depending on their release date and popularity. There are numerous free-to-play games, too, like Crusader Kings II and Ring of Elysium. Steam’s midweek and weekend sales reduce game prices by a great deal, but it’s Valve’s legendary, thematic Steam seasonal sales that include incredibly deep discounts on individual games, publishers’ entire libraries, or bundles of their top games. It was during Steam’s Winter Sale that I bought Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death, the platform’s best bargain-bin title, for just 99 cents.

There’s another, riskier way to buy Steam games: Early Access. This section is the petri dish in which video games grow. You buy Early Access titles in unfinished form, so they may have more bugs and fewer features than completed, polished games. Fire Pro Wrestling World started as an Early Access title, and after a series of updates, moved to the regular store as a finished game.

Exploring the Steam Catalog

Steam’s homepage pushes not only big-name titles, but also those that Valve’s recommendation engine thinks would interest you based on your wish list, past purchases, and recent gaming sessions. The last time I logged into Steam, the application suggested I take a look at One Finger Death Punch (because I had just spent a lot of time playing fighting games) and Color Symphony (due to my playing other games listed with the Action, Indie, and Singleplayer tags).

If you want even more suggestions, check the Trending Among Friends section (which displays your buddies’ favorite games, based on their hours logged), Special Offers (game sales), and Recently Updated (games that have received new patches or content).

One of our favorite recommendation tools is Steam Curators. This lets you follow a high-profile video game personality (say, Jim Sterling), a brand (PCMag), or a community (NeoGAF) for their insights. I particularly enjoy the /r/pcmasterrace group, which has a team that recommends only “the most worthy PC Games.” I’ve discovered plenty of excellent titles via Steam Creators.

Alternatively, you can find a game’s Metacritic rating on its store page if you want an at-a-glance aggregated review score from professional gaming outlets.

You can avoid the sting of buying a broken game by visiting a title’s store page and reading user reviews. Well-received games are labeled Positive or Overwhelmingly Positive, while middle-of-the-road titles are tagged as Mixed. The gum sticking to the bottom of Steam’s seat is the Negative and Overwhelmingly Negative games. From what I’ve read in the user reviews and Steam community forums, those tags are usually reserved for the most broken of broken games.

Unfortunately, all of this useful information makes for a very busy interface. You can reduce the interface clutter by opening the Preferences menu and checking the product types and platforms that are of interest to you. Steam also gives you the option to filter content by title or genre. If you’re not a RPG fan, now you’ll never see Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster or Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim in your feed again.

Subpar Customer Service

Thankfully, Steam lets you get refunds for unwanted, recently purchased games, which is something that all digital download services should offer their customers. In addition, Steam now gives users the power to delete unwanted games from their accounts. Previously, you had to contact customer service to delete games. The customer service reps aren’t rude or unfriendly; you simply can’t get anyone on the horn, and it sometimes take days for Valve to resolve a problem submitted by ticket.

Here’s another example of Valve’s frustrating customer service. I once bought a game, but couldn’t download it even though it was listed in my account. I submitted a help ticket, and it took Valve three days to resolve the issue. That’s a long time to hear absolutely nothing from a company in regards to a billing issue. Valve needs to fix this, as soon as possible.

Steam

The Steam Engine

Steam automatically handles game downloads and installation, putting local game files in its Steamapps folder and getting them organized in the background. Large games can take an hour or two to download over fast connections, so prepare to keep your computers on if you plan to download the 35GB Max Payne 3.

Steam lets you install games on multiple computers, but only one can be logged into an account at once. If you set up Steam Family Share, you can lend your games to others—an idea that Microsoft planned for Xbox One before console gamers’ anti-digital-rights-management (DRM) backlash forced the Redmond-based company to ditch the plan.

Steam, too, employs DRM, as you must log into Steam to establish a license check. That said, you can play any installed game in Offline Mode. Steam’s scheme is easily is one of the least offensive DRM implementations. GOG.com, on the other hand, doesn’t apply DRM to the games in its catalog, so you have the freedom to install your games on as many PCs as you see fit, without log-in limitations. That said, you won’t see as many high-profile new releases there. Speaking of installing games, Steam lets you remotely install games using the Steam mobile app.

There aren’t any major restrictions in regards to Steam Family Share beyond the five user-account limitation; borrowers get their own achievements and cloud saves, too. They just can’t check out the game when the owner is playing it. If you’re sick of having friends borrow your games, you can gift them games, too, or buy them digital or physical Steam gift cards.

Steam offers matchmaking inside games and social media services outside of games, thanks to a Friends list with text and voice chat and support for Clans (groups of players). Friends can jump into each other’s games, you can invite friends into your games, and Clans can organize group activities by setting up calendars and posting server IP addresses.

As you play games, you earn badges that you can keep, sell in the Steam Market for Steam Store credit, or trade for other badges. Once you get an entire badge set, you get cool rewards like user profile wallpapers and special showcase badges. This is not at all essential to the gaming experience, but it’s a nice touch that gives achievement chasers yet another thing to hunt.

Steam lets you take a screenshot by tapping your keyboard’s F12 key, but it doesn’t record video. On the other hand, the Xbox app‘s Game DVR tool lets you capture stills and up to four hours of video footage.

Steam

Chill Modes

Valve recognized gamers’ desire to play games in the living room, so it created Big Picture mode. Designed for the lean-back experience, Big Picture caters to people who want to play PC games in the same way that they play console games. The panel-driven UI is quite different from the standard Steam interface, which makes it easy to navigate on a big-screen TV. In addition, Remote Play lets you play select local co-op games with friends via the internet. It’s an excellent way to add online functionality to games that lack it, such as River City Girls. Even better, a friend can play with you without owning the game!

Valve’s living room play doesn’t end there. Steam now has a music player (I’m using it to listen to Stellar Dreams’s “Dimensions” as I type this review) and a slow-growing streaming movie catalog. Yes, movies. The selection is limited, but you can buy John Wick for $13.99 or rent the Keanu Reeves flick for $3.99. Not every movie has a rental option, though. Mad Max: Fury Road is only available as a $14.99 purchase. Unlike Netflix, Steam lacks a monthly streaming plan. You have a 48-hour window to watch your rented movie.

I rented Darren Aronofsky’s Pi to test the service. The 1080p stream opened in its own window, and smoothly played over our high-speed office connection. I was pleased with the experience, but couldn’t see myself returning to Steam for movie rentals until there are more titles in the catalog.

GOG.com has movies, too, but most of its catalog is devoted to nerd-centric topics. Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony and Indie Game: The Movie perfectly sum up GOG.com’s film offerings. Steam also sells productivity software like Camtasia Studio and GeoVox.

Steam Broadcasting lets you view friends’ playthroughs or let others watch your sessions. To view a friend’s stream, open your Friends List, select a buddy, and click Watch Game in the menu. Public streams are found in a game’s community hub. In addition, downloading the Steam Link Anywhere mobile app lets you stream games from your gaming desktop or gaming laptop to Android or Raspberry Pi devices. Naturally, the quality of the video stream varies depending on the PC broadcasting the feed; I’ve encountered both magnificant and awful streams.

Let Off Some Steam, Bennett

Valve’s Steam service is a must-have for any PC gamer. Its great selection, recommendation features, and deals make it one of the first applications to install on any gaming PC. No, Steam isn’t perfect, particularly in the customer support realm, but it’s the best all-round PC game distribution service available. And for that, Steam is PCMag’s Editors’ Choice for video game marketplaces.



Source link