The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match, like The King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match that came before it, is a celebration of one of the best fighting games ever released. Developer SNK revisited the game in 2009 and added gallery and color edit modes, as well as new menu artwork, polygonal stages, music, characters, and gameplay tweaks for a PlayStation 2 release. This Steam version is a slightly downgraded take on the PS2 game, but it features beautiful 2D stages and online play. Though this version lacks some of the PS2 title’s features, KOF 2002 UM reigns as one of the best PC fighting games.
Another Dream Match
Like The King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match Final Edition, KOF 2002 UM is a dream match that eschews a storyline so that SNK could include as many characters as possible—even some that are canonically dead, like crime boss Geese Howard. As a result, Unlimited Match boasts one of the largest fighting game rosters of all time, with a 66-character strong lineup. For comparison’s sake, KOF ’98 UMFE’s roster has 64 combatants and the upcoming Street Fighter V: Champion Edition will boast 40 fighters. There are many characters and playstyles to suit all types of fighting game fans.
The King of Fighters series features 3-on-3, non-tag fighting, so Unlimited Match runs deep with themed teams. They include Japan Team, Fatal Fury Team, Art of Fighting Team, Ikari Team, Psycho Soldier Team, Women Fighters Team, Korea Team, Orochi Team, Yagami Team (from KOF ’96), Outlaw Team (from KOF ’97), New Faces Team (from KOF ’98), K’ Team (from KOF ’99), Agent Team (from KOF 2000), and NESTS Team (from KOF 2001). In addition, there are numerous characters exclusive to Unlimited Match that weren’t in the vanilla The King of Fighters 2002 title, such as King, Shingo, Geese Howard, Goenitz, and Orochi Iori.
The game looks like a dream, too. With this PC release, SNK removed the 3D backgrounds featured in the PS2’s Unlimited Match and replaced them with 2D backgrounds. The result is a more visually consistent game. The detailed backgrounds are alive with cheering characters from across the SNK universe who watch the fights from the sidelines and give the happenings an air of importance.
The Beautiful Fight
KOF 2002 UM continues the series tradition of excellent combat. Although it lacks KOF ’98 UMFE’s three radically different fight mechanics (Advanced, Extra, and Ultimate), Unlimited Match has a lone system that resembles Advanced Mode. This fighting style gives you plenty of offensive (Dash, Run, Hops, Super Jumps) and defensive (Guard Cancel Strike, Guard Cancel Roll Throw) options for setting up or evading traps. If you’re coming to KOF 2002 UM from contemporary games like Mortal Kombat 11 or Street Fighter V, you may be surprised at the number of combat options packed into this old title.
Besides the expected punches, kicks, specials, and supers, KOF 2002 UM hangs its hat on Max Mode. Activated by pressing Light Kick and Strong Punch when you have a power stock available, Max Mode lets you cancel normal attack into other attacks that you typically cannot link. Likewise, Max mode lets you cancel specials into other specials. These Max Mode attacks are only available during the time when the Max Meter drains after activation, but they let you combo in ways you cannot when your character isn’t in Max Mode. In addition, Max Mode opens the door to new desperation moves (supers that only become available when your health meter is nearly depleted), further expanding your strategic options.
Ignoring the mechanical technicalities, KOF 2002 UM simply feels good, whether you’re playing with a gamepad or fight stick. When Gogo Daimon grabs you with a judo throw, you can feel the impact as he slams your character into the ground multiple times. Likewise, when Takuma Sakazaki lands his Ryuko Ranbu super move, his lightning-fast flurry of fist and feet feels like the ultimate punishment.
Besides the standard game mode, KOF 2002 UM includes a Practice Mode for training purposes, as well as Endless Mode. The latter mode is a gauntlet run versus the CPU that lets you play for as long as your skills allow. There’s also a Challenge Mode that tests your execution skills. You’ll need to excel at execution to do well, as The King of Fighters is a notoriously technical 2D fighting series.
A Few Omissions
Unfortunately, this version of Unlimited Match lacks elements featured in the game’s PlayStation 2 version. There’s no character color edit mode, art gallery, or original Neo Geo version. It’s understandable that SNK removed the original Neo Geo game, as it featured K9999, a character that was removed due to its similarities to Akira‘s Tetsuo. The losses aren’t significant, but they’re worth noting, especially if you are a fan of the PS2 KOF 2002 UM.
Spec-tacular Steam Action
KOF 2002 UM sports sprite-based, 2D graphics, so it doesn’t require a high-end gaming desktop or gaming laptop. According to the game’s Steam page, your PC needs at least a dual-core 1.8GHz Intel Pentium 4 CPU, integrated graphics with at least 256MB of video RAM, 1GB of system RAM, 1GB of storage, and the Windows XP operating system. In other words, you can run the game on a machine that’s not gaming focused, like a business laptop.
My gaming desktop, a machine that boasts a 3.2-GHz Intel Core i5-4460 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080Ti graphics card, ran Unlimited Match at 60 frames per second (at 1080p resultion) without hiccups. The game gives you a handful of graphics options, including applying a sprite filter to soften the pixels’ razor sharp edges, utilizing border art, and playing in either the full screen or windowed modes. Unlimited Match supports Steam Trading Cards, Steam Leaderboards, a dozen Steam Achievements, and Remote Play Together.
Online play is available, too, but the scene is mostly dead. On top of that, the delay-based netcode isn’t the best. Matches can run incredibly smooth or badly stutter based on your opponent’s connection. A rollback netcode solution like GGPO would’ve been a far better online play solution.
One of the Best
Despite dodgy netcode and missing modes that featured in its PlayStation 2 counterpart, The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match is an excellent PC game that showcases SNK’s chops during its creative height. It looks good and sounds good, but more importantly, it plays incredibly well. If you’re looking for a deep, strategy-filled fighting game in the King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match Final Edition mold, KOF 2002 UM is one you should not miss.
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The Sony RX100 series represents the top tier of the point-and-shoot market. The seventh-generation model, the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII ($1,299.99), sports the 8x lens introduced in its predecessor, along with an autofocus system that puts the camera on the same footing as the company’s high-end interchangeable lens models. It’s a premium camera, with a price match, but backs it up with top-notch speed and optics. That earns it our Editors’ Choice.
Smartphone cameras continue to get better thanks to advancements in image processing—computational photography—but there are some who simply prefer the feel of a dedicated camera in their hands, or want a bit more zoom power than you get from a multi-lens iPhone.
The RX100 VII offers plenty of zoom power, with a lens that matches a full-frame 24-200mm in terms of coverage. It’s longer than the 24-70mm design used in some others in the series, including the RX100 VA, but only captures about half the light. If you want a similar camera with a bit of zoom and a brighter lens, consider the Canon G5 X Mark II, which has a 24-120mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom.
At 2.3 by 4.0 by 1.7 inches (HWD) and 10.7 ounces, the RX100 VII isn’t the lightest, slimmest compact out there. But it slides into jacket pockets easily, and its weight comes from complex optics and construction that’s more metal than plastic. It doesn’t have any sort of protruding handgrip, but there are first- and third-party add-on grips available for photographers who prefer one.
You’ll still want to take care when using it—the camera isn’t rugged or waterproof. Sony’s larger bridge-style RX10 series offers dust and splash protection, but true rugged options are few and far between if you want one with an image sensor that’s bigger than your smartphone. Sealife sells a 1-inch waterproof model, the DC2000, but it doesn’t have a zoom lens and its functions are downright primitive in comparison.
Ergonomics and Controls
Sony may churn out RX100 after RX100, year after year, but it hasn’t done a lot to change the basic design and layout of controls since it launched the series. For more on the differences between each model, refer to our RX100 buying guide.
There’s a freely turning control ring around the lens—you can configure it for various functions, but I like using it for EV compensation. It’s joined by the typical zoom rocker switch, shutter release, Mode dial, and On/Off button on the top, with the remainder of the controls on the rear, to the right of the tilting display.
There are rear buttons to start and stop videos, access the on-screen Fn menu and more extensive text-based menu system, and to play and delete photos. They’re joined by a flat command dial with directional presses that adjust the flash output, drive mode, and EV compensation.
EVF and LCD
The camera sports a tilting LCD, 3 inches in size with a crisp 921k-dot resolution and support for touch control. It’s mounted on a hinge, so you can tilt it up or down to get shots from more interesting angles, or point the LCD forward to shoot selfies and vlogs.
Touch input works well—you can tap the screen to select a focus point or subject for tracking when capturing images or video. But there are limitations—you can’t navigate menus via touch, nor can you use the screen as a touch control for focus when using the EVF. Some of Sony’s competitors, including rival Canon with its G5 and G7 compact camera series, include this feature, often referred to as touchpad autofocus.
The RX100 feels a bit more pro thanks to the inclusion of an eye-level viewfinder. Hidden in the body, it pops out via a mechanical release, and unlike some older designs, is ready to use without having to lock its eyecup in place. The OLED finder isn’t as large as you’ll get on a mirrorless camera, but its 0.59x magnification rating still gives you a good view of your frame.
My complaint with the one-touch design is the same as with the RX100 VI—if you’re not careful, it’s easy to push the eyecup in when using it, especially if you wear eyeglasses. You just have to be careful not to put pressure on it, because as the eyecup is pushed in, the finder’s optics lose focus. Even with this grip, I prefer it to the older design, which required you to pull the eyecup back before using it, and to push it back in before collapsing the EVF back into the body.
Connectivity and Power
Sony includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in the camera, and supports it using the free Sony Imaging Edge Mobile app for Android and iOS. The app works as a remote control for the camera, and also lets you copy photos from its memory card to your phone.
The included battery is rather small, and is rated by CIPA for about 260 shots per charge, which can be extended to 310 by enabling an automatic sleep mode. You’ll easily exceed those numbers if you utilize the 20fps burst capture liberally.
But for more normal use—a few shots here and there, a few video clips, and some Wi-Fi transfers—the estimates are a bit generous. I definitely recommend carrying an extra charged battery or an external USB battery—the RX100 VII charges via micro USB—if you plan on making images all day.
There is a single memory card slot with support for UHS-I SDXC media, as well as Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Duo. I’d like to see Sony drop Memory Stick support in favor of faster UHS-II SD media, but it has been slow to do so, even in its full-frame a7 line.
The big change from the RX100 VI comes with autofocus. Sony redesigned the camera’s sensor so it polls its autofocus points more frequently, and covered it from nearly edge to edge with phase-detection pixels. There are two practical benefits. With the Real Time Tracking interface, the RX100 VII does a seemingly perfect job of tracking moving subjects, and is able to automatically detect faces and eyes, with settings for both humans and pets. (Officially cats and dogs are supported, but it’s worth turning on if you’re at the zoo.)
The second is that you never lose track of the frame when shooting in burst mode. At 20fps the camera uses an electronic shutter, and instead of the screen going black for an instant each time an image is made, the display simply lights up an outline. By default there is a faux shutter sound too, made by the camera’s speaker, but you can turn that off for silent imaging.
Real Time Tracking isn’t on by default, but I recommend trying it out. You’ll need to set focus to AF-C and select it from the focus mode option—in the camera menu, it’s simply called Tracking. Once enabled, it identifies subjects and moves the focus area to keep up with their motion for as long as you half-press the shutter button, and continues to track your subject when firing off shots in burst mode.
The focus system keeps up, even at 20fps. The RX100 VII also has a sizable buffer—enough for 77 Raw+JPG pairs, 80 Raw, or 170 JPG shots. But there is a delay to write long bursts to memory—65 seconds for Raw+JPG, 42 seconds for Raw, and 60 seconds for JPG. Annoyingly, you can’t start a video as the buffer clears to memory. This is one area where support for UHS-II would come in handy, as it’s a much faster card format than UHS-I.
In addition to the standard burst mode, the RX100 VII also has a 90fps burst mode. It shoots 7 Raw shots, with fixed exposure and focus, all within a tenth of a second. It’s useful for shots where you’re trying to capture fleeting moments of action—a baseball bat hitting a pitched ball or a balloon popping, for example.
Imaging and Video
The RX100 VII uses the same 24-200mm f/2.8-4.5 zoom lens as the VI version of the camera, and while its sensor reads out a bit faster, there’s no change in image quality. It shoots Raw or JPG images at 20MP resolution.
The lens is an excellent performer. Imatest tells us that it delivers sharp results, at its widest f-stop, from 24mm all the way through 200mm. The only concern is some loss of resolution at the edges of the frame when working at 24mm. You can improve image quality by setting the aperture to f/5.6 or f/8—but even at f/2.8, it’s not something you’ll notice without zooming in close on a picture in Photoshop or printing very large.
Low-light image quality is in line with other 1-inch sensor cameras—even rivals Canon and Panasonic use Sony-made sensors in their competing models like the G5 X Mark II and ZS200.
The JPG output offers good detail and little visible noise through ISO 800, and isn’t that far behind at ISO 1600. There’s a bit more loss of clarity, due to the smudging effect of noise reduction, starting at ISO 3200, and getting worse at the highest settings—the sensor can be made as sensitive to light as ISO 12800.
If you use Raw capture you can eke a bit more detail out of high ISO shots. Noise control in processing software, including Adobe Lightroom, does a better job than the camera’s JPG engine. You’ll get images with more detail, and some visible grain, at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400. You should still expect very rough, grainy shots at ISO 12800.
The big limiting factor for working in very dim light (without the aid of flash) is the lens’ f-stop. Sony has opted for a longer 24-200mm zoom here, a departure from the short 24-70mm used by earlier models like the RX100 VA. The VA’s lens opens up to f/1.8 at its wide angle, capturing more than twice as much light as the VII’s f/2.8 zoom.
The Canon G5 X Mark II is a good compromise, with a 24-120mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom, but with the latest night shooting modes in Google Pixel and Apple iPhones, you may find that you prefer using them for casual, low-light snaps.
Video Updates for Vloggers
There are a few upgrades on the video front, specifically aimed at vloggers. The camera has a standard 3.5mm mic input jack, so you can now add an external mic for better audio quality. You will have to add an accessory bracket to mount a shotgun mic.
There’s some additional digital stabilization applied to video, which is especially useful for walk-and-talk vlogs. You also get face and eye detection during video, so focus won’t drift to the background when recording interviews or selfie video.
You can opt for 60Mbps or 100Mbps 4K video at your choice of 24 or 30fps, or drop the resolution down to 1080p to record at 120fps for slow motion, with active autofocus.
There’s also a slower slow-motion option, accessed by changing the mode dial to the HFR position. It gives you up to 960fps recording for extreme slow-motion capture. At the top frame rate the quality isn’t great, but 480fps delivers good results. Just remember that focus is locked when using HFR, and this type of slow motion is written to memory in real time; if your finished movie is a minute long, it will take the camera a minute to create it.
In for a Penny…
Sony continues to push compact camera technology forward, but it’s pushing the pricing envelope at the same time. At $1,300, the RX100 VII is the most expensive model yet—$100 more than the VI’s retail price.
Despite the uptick in cost, we’re awarding the RX100 VII the same rating and Editors’ Choice award as the previous entry in the series. Its features are a little better, and if you’re thinking about spending $1,200 on a point-and-shoot, chances are you’re open to a $1,300 model as well.
Sale prices, and the used market, may change your mind. If you’re a more budget-minded buyer, think about the Canon G5 X Mark II instead. Its zoom lens isn’t as long, and it doesn’t have the same autofocus performance or quite as many video options, but it’s more affordable at $900. If you’re shopping at the top of the market, you might as well go all the way with the RX100 VII.
Even the smallest of leaks in your home’s plumbing system can have devastating effects, as they tend to go unnoticed until the damage becomes obvious and you find yourself spending a good chunk of money repairing damaged ceilings, flooring, or walls. With the Flo by Moen ($499.99), you can test for leaks on a regular basis, view daily and weekly water usage reports, and manually shut off your water supply, all using your phone. It also has an automatic shutoff feature that kicks in when it detects an abnormally high flow rate or rise in water pressure, and it works with other smart devices via IFTTT apps. While it isn’t cheap, the cost is a drop in the bucket compared with what you can spend on water damage repairs and high water bills, and that earns the Flo our Editors’ Choice.
Design and Features
The Flo measures 5.9 by 5.7 by 2.6 inches (HWD) and has a dark blue enclosure. It can be ordered for 3/4-inch or 1-1/4-inch water pipes. The meter has a threaded input connector on one end and a threaded output connector on the other. There’s a green manual shutoff valve on top that requires a hex key (included) to turn the water on or off if you’ve lost connectivity with the app, and there are two status LEDS (system and valve) and a power jack. The system status LED glows green when the Flo is connected to your network, and the valve LED is green when the valve is open (water flowing), red when it is closed (shutoff mode), and white when it is in transition.
Inside is a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi radio and sensors that measure your home’s water pressure, temperature, and flow rate. The meter comes with two brass threaded connectors, two O-rings, an installation spacer, a manual shutoff hex key, and a power adapter. It also comes with an installation guide and a welcome guide. Despite supplying an installation guide, the company recommends using a professional plumber to install this device.
Here’s how it works: The Flo meter is installed on a section of your main water pipe that comes after your water meter and pressure reducing valve. It monitors water pressure in pounds per square inch (psi), water temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit, and the flow rate in gallons per minute. As with the Pani Water Meter, the Flo meter requires a 7-10 day learning period while it tracks your household water usage and creates a water footprint. If you want to monitor usage at the fixture level (showers, toilets, etc.), you’ll have to subscribe to Flo Protect, a $5 monthly service that also gives you an extra two years of warranty (you get one year without the plan), up to $2,500 in water damage protection, access to the Water Concierge live support system, and a verification letter that may save you some money on your homeowner’s insurance policy.
If you have Flo Protect, the device will require an additional 7-14 days after the initial learning period for it to collect enough data to identify usage by each fixture, which means you can be waiting up to 21 days or more from the initial installation before you can realize the full benefits of the device. However, once the Flo has identified each fixture, it provides up-to-the-minute usage reports and lets you create goals to help conserve water.
One of the Flo’s most important features is its ability to automatically shut off water to your entire home if it detects unusually high water usage due to leaks or burst pipes or abnormally high water pressure. You’ll receive an app alert and an automated phone call before the device shuts off your water. However, there are no user settings that let you create your own thresholds that will trigger a shutdown. You can temporarily disable auto-shutoff and notifications by putting the device into Sleep mode if you’ll be using a lot of water for things like filling a pool, but it would be nice to be able to customize pressure and usage settings to avoid accidental shutoffs.
In addition to Sleep mode, there’s a Home mode designed for normal day-to-day use with auto-shutoff protection and alerts enabled, and an Away mode for when you’re away from home for an extended period of time. In Away mode the system knows no one is home and will take quicker action if it detects any abnormal events.
You can use Alexa and Google voice commands to ask the Flo if everything is OK at home, how much water you’ve used that day, week, or month, and if you have any pending alerts. Moreover, the Flo supports IFTTT applets, which means you can have it do things like trigger a Nest thermostat when the water temperature drops to a specific level, or have Philips Hue lights blink when an alert is issued. It also works with Control4-enabled devices.
The Flo can be controlled with a user-friendly mobile app (for Android or iOS) or via a web console. The app opens to a home screen that displays the name of your home(s) and has a tab for alerts and a tab for installed Flo devices (you can control multiple devices from the same app). Tap the Flo device tab to view pressure, flow rate, and water temperature gauges and to run a health test to check for things like leaks, freeze warnings, high/low pressure, and abnormally hot water. There’s also an on/off button to stop and start the flow of water throughout your house.
Back at the home screen, you can swipe down to view a Water Usage tab that shows how many gallons of water you’ve used for the day or for the week and how that affects your daily and weekly goals. Below that is a Fixture tab with colorful graphs that show how much water each fixture has used. Tap the View More Details button to open a Usage History screen that shows minute-by-minute water usage for each fixture.
In the upper right corner of the home screen is a small drop-down button that lets you choose between Home, Away, and Sleep modes, and on the bottom edge of the screen are Home, Alerts, Help, and Settings buttons. The Home button takes you back to the home screen and Alerts button opens a screen with an activity log of events including the results of health tests, drip detections, auto-shutoff incidents, valve openings and closings, and high water usage. Use the Help button to access the Water Concierge and view help tutorials, and tap the Settings button edit your location and house name and select units of measure (Imperial or Metric).
Installation and Performance
As mentioned above, Flo recommends having the meter professionally installed by a licensed plumber and will even help you find one in your area. Expect to pay anywhere from $250 and up depending on your plumbing configuration. I used a plumber recommended by Flo and they arrived on time, were very professional, and did a fantastic job that took just over one hour.
While the Flo meter was being installed, I download the app and created an account. Once my email was verified I opened the app and tapped the plus button to add my home. Here you’ll spend a good amount of time answering questions such as the type of dwelling (single family house, condo, apartment, other) and how it is used (primary residence, vacation home, rental, other). You’ll also have to give the home a name, fill in the address and time zone information, enter the approximate size of your home and the number of floors, and how many bathrooms you have.
The app will also want to know what type of plumbing you have (copper, galvanized, CPVC, PEX, other), if you know where the shutoff valve is, and where you get your water from (city, well). Next, you’ll be asked to select which appliances and amenities you use from a list that includes things like bathtub, dishwasher, hot tub, swimming pool, tank-less water heater, and more. You’ll also be asked how many people live in your home and to set up water consumption goals for each person along with a total household consumption goal (the app suggests between 80-100 gallons per person per day). You can then enter your homeowner’s insurance info (you might be eligible for a discount for having a smart meter) and your water utility supplier, or you can leave them blank.
Once the account was created, it was time to pair the Flo meter with the app. I tapped Add Device, selected the 3/4-inch meter, and verified that the meter was plugged in. I pressed the Reset button until the Status LED began blinking and used my phone’s Wi-Fi settings to connect to the Flo SSID. I returned to the app and selected my home Wi-Fi from the list, entered my Wi-Fi password, and the meter was connected to my network within seconds.
It’s important to note that once the meter goes online, it enters a sleep mode while it learns your water usage habits. During this time you can still turn water on and off using the app and view statistics such as usage, flow rate, and water pressure, but you won’t receive alerts and the automatic shutoff feature will be disabled.
The Flo meter performed well in testing. It immediately began monitoring my water system and reporting my daily usage, and it detected a small drip during the first health check. It turns out I had a faulty toilet fill valve that was due to be replaced. It also reported a drop in water pressure when I turned off my main valve and purged the system of water while having a new water heater installed. The dashboard screen displayed my water usage chart in hourly increments and took my daily, weekly, and monthly usage numbers and calculated how close I was to the usage goals that I entered during setup.
The app-controlled shutoff button functioned without issue, and whenever I asked Alexa to tell me how much water I used on a daily and weekly basis, the response was quick and accurate. I created an IFTTT applet to have a Philips Hue light turn on when the Flo successfully completed a health check, and it too worked without a hitch.
I had to wait close to a month for the individual fixture readings to kick in, but once they did I was able to see exactly how much water each fixture was using and when.
While its $500 price and installation costs may seem exorbitant, the Flo by Moen water monitor is worth every penny compared with the costs of repairing damage from long-term leaks and busted pipes, not to mention the cost of wasted water over an extended period of time. This smart water meter will perform daily system health tests and alert you to any leaks, and it’ll let you know how much water the fixtures in your home are using to help you manage and conserve usage. Most importantly, it will track your home’s water pressure, temperature, and flow rate and automatically shutoff the water if it determines that any of these readings have reached levels that may result in serious damage. It’d be nice if the advanced water usage data that you get with Flo Protect was free, and I’d love to have more control over the high usage and high pressure thresholds that initiate an automatic shutoff, but neither gripe prevents the Flo from earning an Editors’ Choice award.
All-in-one desktop PCs aren’t too common compared to their traditional tower counterparts, but we’ve seen plenty of strong entries over the years. The Apple iMac set the bar in this category ages ago, while Microsoft’s Surface Studio 2 has its own touch-screen advantages. HP is bridging the gap between these two icons with the new Envy 32 All-in-One (starts at $1,799.99; $2,499.99 as tested). It’s a premium Windows machine like the Surface Studio, but like the iMac bears no touch screen and boasts a high-power desktop rather than mobile processor for better performance than most Windows AIOs. Best of all, it’s much less expensive than the iMac, while still offering features such as 4K (3,840 by 2,160) screen resolution, superior graphics, and a super sound bar. The Envy 32 can do everything well (even gaming) and delivers some nice extras at a reasonable price, making it our Editors’ Choice in the category.
We’ve Got Screen Envy
The Envy 32 AIO is a nice-looking desktop. While unpacking it, it struck me just how big it is, even though the 32-inch display should more than clue you in. Though the base and stand are relatively small, the big screen will be a very noticeable part of your room’s décor. The display’s bezels are visible but neither too thick nor especially thin.
Except for the base’s faux-woodgrain finish, the stand isn’t too remarkable visually, though the prominent sound bar beneath the display is covered in gray fabric. The fabric and woodgrain make the PC feel a little more at home in a living room or a home office than a workplace—it’s too big to reside in a kitchen like some smaller AIOs, and too powerful for use as a simple web browsing kiosk.
Since the screen is the focus, let’s dive into the details. It measures 31.5 inches diagonally and boasts an alluring 4K resolution. The display qualifies as HDR600 (its max brightness is 600 nits, with a 6,000:1 contrast ratio), making it the first all-in-one desktop to meet that mark, and HP says it covers 98 percent of the DCI-P3 color gamut. It’s an IPS panel, with wide viewing angles and a glass cover that looks nice and won’t get covered in fingerprints given the lack of touch technology.
The overall quality is strong without being much to write home about; it’s an above-average screen for its feature set, if not necessarily for its picture quality. Colors and detail are fine and the display does indeed get plenty bright, but it doesn’t blow me away.
You can tilt the display up or down via the rear stand, but it doesn’t rotate between landscape and portrait modes. Nor can you turn it without turning the whole PC if you’re looking from the side.
Stronger Than the Average AIO
With a decent design and good display, the Envy 32 could have just been a straightforward AIO with a large, high-res screen, but HP was interested in adding more to the “all” in “all-in-one”. These systems have usually not had the most powerful components compared to tower desktops, but that’s not the case here: In a nice turn of events, there’s a genuine desktop CPU under the hood, rather than a mobile chip adopted due to thermal constraints. My test unit also has a (mobile) GPU rather than humble integrated graphics, letting it tackle multimedia content creation and 3D visuals.
In the case of my $2,499.99 review system, that CPU and GPU are an eight-core, 3GHz Intel Core i7-9700 and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060, respectively. The processor is a more-than-capable performer for all tasks, as you’ll see in the benchmark tests below. The graphics card is no slouch, either, capable of enjoyable gaming (albeit not quite at 4K resolution). Joining those parts are 32GB of memory and a 1TB solid-state drive bolstered by 32GB of Intel Optane Memory, making for a strong system all around.
If you’re on a budget, there are two less expensive versions of the Envy 32 as well. Spending $1,799.99 gets you a Core i5-9400 processor, GeForce GTX 1650 graphics, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD plus a 1TB hard drive. A $2,099.99 model comes with the Core i7-9700, the GTX 1650, 16GB of memory, and a 1TB solid-state drive. All three models use the same display and physical build.
With these high-end components, HP believes the Envy 32 can be a true one-stop shop for home entertainment, regular or demanding office work, and content creation. The company goes so far as to call it a creative studio, and I’d consider it at least as qualified for the label as the Apple iMac, although the Surface Studio 2 or Lenovo IdeaCentre Yoga A940 are better suited to artists who need to draw or use a pen thanks to their reclining touch screens.
One disadvantage compared to the iMac is that the Envy uses a rather sizable external power brick rather than an internal power supply. Depending on your desk setup, that could be only a slight annoyance or not even a consideration, but the brick is bigger than your average laptop adapter. The HP also comes with a wireless mouse and keyboard. The first is unremarkable (though I found it missed a few of my left-clicks due to its shape), but the latter has some interesting features I’ll get to in a moment.
The system’s claim to being a do-everything desktop isn’t just reliant on the components but the extras and other features, of which the Envy 32 has plenty. That starts with the sound bar, the key feature after the display. With two tweeters, two medium drivers, and a woofer, both volume and sound quality are much better than you’d expect—this system gets loud, while still sounding great at high volume. The sound can easily fill a room, blasting your favorite tunes or a streaming-video soundtrack. It blows away the usual puny built-in speakers on an AIO PC, ranking up there with the unforgettable 10-speaker array of the discontinued Dell XPS 27.
Then there’s the wide selection of ports. The flanks of the display hold only a couple connections, with most located around back. The right side holds a USB 3.1 Type-A port and the power button, while the left side is home to an SD card slot and the headphone jack.
In the rear, you’ll find two more USB Type-A ports, one USB 3.1 Type-C port, a Thunderbolt 3 port, two HDMI connections (one output and one input for using the screen with a game console or other video source), an Ethernet port, and the AC adapter connector. The webcam above the display pops up when needed and can be fully retracted into the system when not, making for a more streamlined look and added privacy.
Other features are less obvious. One is called Advanced Audio Stream, which allows you to use the sound bar as you would any Bluetooth speaker and control it from your phone. You can do this with apps like Spotify, of course, but this is baked into the speaker itself, giving you wider options than being restricted to one app. Even if the PC is off, the speaker still draws power and is ready for syncing and playback at any time.
Additionally, the bundled wireless keyboard offers two direct Bluetooth channels for pairing devices. This lets you type responses on your smartphone or tablet using the keyboard. To make this synergy work even better, the keyboard has a built-in stand in the form of a groove above the keys. This lets you prop up your handheld device to see notifications easily.
The phone-related features don’t end there, as the PC’s base has a Qi wireless charger built in. This isn’t unique (the Yoga A940, for instance, has one), but it is useful nonetheless. If you have a compatible phone, just placing it on the base will begin charging regardless of the device’s operating system.
A small symbol in the center of the base indicates roughly where you should place your phone. (In some of the photos here you’ll see a larger symbol with a battery icon, but that’s just a sticker HP placed there on a demo unit we shot. The actual Envy has only the smaller, more subtle square symbol seen in other photos.)
Getting such high-end parts into an all-in-one chassis requires a fairly advanced thermal solution. A few recent-model AIOs, notably the Surface Studio 2, have all their components located in the base rather than behind the display. This permits a more compact screen, but only works with parts that need relatively little cooling. In the Envy 32, dual fans blow warm air out the top of the case (there’s a vent on the top edge of the panel), while cool air is pulled through the bottom. That’s the general idea for a lot of towers and some AIOs, but the HP needs to pull it off efficiently to keep things running smoothly and quietly in a fairly slim chassis.
Let’s move on to the performance testing section to see just how effective that cooling is.
Now Testing: A Potent Performer for All Apps
For our benchmark comparisons, I chose a group of AIOs that offer similar features, prices, or both. Here’s a cheat sheet of their names and general specifications…
The Dell Inspiron 27 7000 is a recent competitor with a similar shape and design, though it’s cheaper and less powerful than the Envy 32. It serves as an example of a more casual home desktop, if you don’t need the grunt of the Envy’s more serious hardware. The previously mentioned Lenovo Yoga A940 and Microsoft Surface Studio 2 are AIOs that court creative pros with their touch displays and reclining designs, but also lack the muscle of the Envy 32.
Finally, the elephant in the room is the main non-Windows option, the 27-inch Apple iMac. HP targets this AIO directly, and while the two have plenty of differences, they have similar audiences and capabilities. I could also have chosen among some more business-focused AIOs, including HP’s own EliteOne series, but these are more appropriate competitors.
Productivity and Storage Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of each AIO’s storage subsystem. This also yields a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better. Note that the iMac is excluded from these Windows-based tests.
The results are roughly even in PCMark 10, which makes sense; routine home and office productivity apps don’t stress systems too much, so the more highly configured contenders don’t have an opportunity to stretch their legs. All these AIOs are more than capable of meeting these demands with no slowdown, and their snappy boot SSDs sail through PCMark 8’s storage measurement.
Media Processing and Creation Tests
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. Lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
By and large, these results make great viewing for HP. Only the potent and pricey iMac, with its Core i9 chip, challenges the Envy’s performance. The Envy 32 posted the second-best Handbrake and Cinebench scores and the fastest Photoshop time. That points to a highly capable multimedia machine, even if it’s a bit short of a CAD- or VR-worthy workstation. The iMac provides slightly better performance, but it’s not leaps and bounds ahead considering the price differential. The HP is arguably the better value.
Synthetic Graphics Tests
UL’s 3DMark test suite measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores. Again, the iMac is excluded from this (and the following) Windows benchmark.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario for a second opinion on the system’s graphical prowess.
As one of the few systems in this group with a gaming GPU, the Envy 32 excels at these gaming simulations. It’s easy to see how its GeForce RTX 2060 and the Surface Studio 2’s GeForce GTX 1070 pull away from the pack. Hardcore gamers may want to look at an even more powerful PC with an RTX 2070 or 2080 card, but the HP has plenty to offer as a do-it-all desktop for image and video editing. Now, for those who do want to play games on their Envy 32…
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world gameplay at various settings. In this case, we used the maximum graphics-quality presets (Ultra for Far Cry 5, Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions to determine the sweet spot of eye candy and smooth performance. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do. Note that these tests were only run on the Envy 32 and the Surface Studio 2, as they were the only systems realistically up to the task.
If you don’t mind dialing down the resolution to 1080p, the Envy 32 will easily push 60 frames per second. For a machine that has multiple priorities before gaming, those are pretty good results. As you can see, gaming at 1440p or 4K becomes increasingly demanding, though hitting 60fps at 1440p is achievable if you reduce a few visual quality settings or just play less strenuous games. You’ll be lucky to pull 30fps at the infamously challenging 4K resolution, but the Envy 32 proves itself to be a very competent occasional gaming system on top of everything else.
Today’s Best Windows AIO
All-in-one desktops are often either moderately powered jacks of all trades or more specialized machines. The HP Envy 32 is more of the former in terms of its role, but it’s also more powerful in each area than most do-it-all AIOs. It has a bigger high-res screen than many alternatives, and extra features that let it slip seamlessly into both your lifestyle and your workflow. Its audio is genuinely great, and its additional features are useful to most consumers. The price is pretty good for what you’re getting, too, especially considering the added cost of a good monitor and speaker setup for a traditional desktop tower.
There’s something to be said for having everything you need rolled into one, and HP has executed it well without charging over the top. Not everyone needs the power of this configuration, but there are less potent models available at lower price points. There isn’t a huge range of premium-grade all-in-one desktops out there, but the Envy 32 is tops among Windows systems we’ve sampled recently. It easily earns an Editors’ Choice.
You can’t argue with the success of a car that’s been satisfying drivers since 1966. So when Toyota decided to introduce a hybrid version of its perennially popular Corolla—now in its 12th generation—it tapped into its experience with the Prius to create an economical and attractive hybrid trim that creates some stiff competition in its class. Add in abundant standard driver assists and exceptional fuel efficiency, and you have a shoo-in for our Editors’ Choice.
Features, Pricing and Design
The 2020 Corolla Hybrid is available in a single LE trim that starts at $23,880—cheaper than a 2019 Prius, which starts at $24,700. Standard features include 15-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, automatic high beams, heated exterior mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, three drive modes, adaptive cruise control, a virtual instrument panel, automatic climate control, a rearview camera, four-way manually adjustable front seats, and 60/40 split-folding rear seats. The redesign includes a 7-inch display under the speedometer arch replacing the gauge cluster.
Toyota’s new Global Architecture mimics the revamped styling of the 12th-gen standard Corolla, revealing its hybrid underpinnings with a badge display on the exterior. Built on the Prius hybrid powertrain, the Corolla produces 121 horsepower and 105lb-ft of torque. The rest of the engineering mirrors the non-hybrid Corolla, except for the 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four engine and a pair of electric motors also cribbed from the Prius. There’s a 1.3kWh battery stored beneath the rear seats.
Toyota tweaked its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) to take some of the elasticity out of its response. Next to the CVT’s gear lever are two buttons to switch vehicle mode, allowing for EV-only operation. An extra cubby is tucked in front of the shifter with a USB port directly next to it.
The Corolla Hybrid comes with the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of advanced safety features, including adaptive cruise control, pre-collision mitigation with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure assistance with road edge detection, automatic high beams, road sign recognition, and lane tracing assistance.
The sedan steals its looks from its awkward cousin, the Prius, which has a loyal fanbase that has embraced its unique design. While its entry-level heritage is apparent in the exterior design, the front fascia, identical to the gas-powered Corolla, adds a touch of elegance. The interior is clean and contemporary, but with a mostly plastic interior, it still reflects a focus on frugality over frivolity.
Infotainment and Connectivity
The center dash has an infotainment system with an 8-inch touch screen that includes a Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth for hands-free phone and wireless audio, and a six-speaker stereo. Apple CarPlay is included, as well as Amazon Alexa, but not Android Auto. Plugging into CarPlay requires using a USB port under the dashboard on the passenger side.
There is no embedded navigation system, but Toyota’s Scout GPS link is available with a three-year trial and you can download Toyota’s Entune 3.0 App Suite Connect that provides directions as well as iHeart Radio, Yelp, LiveXLive, NPR One, Fuel, Sports, Stocks, Traffic, Weather, and Wi-Fi access through Verizon with a six-month trial. A USB port for charging devices is located under the center armrest. Unfortunately, Toyota didn’t add rear seat USB ports for occupants, which will lead to competition for that single armrest charger.
Our week of climbing local hills as well as highway runs along the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon fetched an exceptional fuel economy of 50mpg, just shy of the EPA-estimated 52mpg combined (53 city and 52 highway). This isn’t bad considering the steep ascents required to get anywhere in the Gorge.
The 2019 Corolla Hybrid has three driving mode: Normal, Power, and Eco. While remaining in the Eco mode can save fuel, the Normal mode provides more reliable handling when accelerating into traffic. A Power mode is included, but provides no noticeable bump in performance. A 2.0-liter, 169-hp gas-only Corolla can get from zero to 60mph in 8.0 seconds. By comparison, the Corolla Hybrid we drove in Eco mode took 14 seconds to get to the same cruising speed.
The switch between battery and gas engine is undetectable, although the powertrain exudes a faint noise occasionally when stopped. We relied on the gas engine to propel us into traffic from the highway on-ramp. The Yokohama Avid GT tires effectively absorbed most of the noise on the freeway, churned up by weather and trucks and the exterior ergonomics glided through the Gorge wind, an environment where gusts can exceed 45mph.
The Corolla’s lane-keep assist is subtle, unlike some test cars that jolted us steering near a lane line. We also appreciate the single-beep lane-departure warning after recently driving a Maserati SUV that was so nagging it took all the fun out of the drive.
Combining the best features of a traditional Corolla with the fuel efficiency of the Prius engine makes the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid a strong contender to Honda’s Accord and Insight hybrids. Providing only a single trim level with no options and sluggish acceleration are drawbacks, but not nearly enough to overshadow the excellent value you’re getting here. The reliable and respected Corolla Hybrid is terrific option in its class, as well as our Editors’ Choice.
Two things set the $349.99 Asus ZenScreen Touch (MB16AMT) apart from most every general-purpose mobile monitor we have reviewed. First, it has a touch screen, a feature that it shares with some interactive pen monitors like the Wacom Cintiq 16. Second, it has a built-in battery that recharges, which can be a godsend if you’re viewing content from your phone, or if your laptop’s battery is low on juice. This 15.6-inch display, which is best for use with Windows computers and Android phones, is feature-rich and a joy to use, and it’s our new Editors’ Choice for mobile monitors in its size range. It’s not cheap, but it’s very capable.
Zen at Your Fingertips
The ZenScreen Touch measures 9 by 14.2 by 0.4 inches, and is housed in a handsome, silver-gray case. At its heart is its 15.6-inch, touch-sensitive 1080p (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) IPS panel. The screen is the same size as those of the Asus ZenScreen MB16ACE, Asus ZenScreen Go (MB16AC), AOC I1601FWUX, and Lepow 15.6-Inch USB-C Portable Monitor, all of which we have tested or are in the process of testing.
As was the case with all these panels, the ZenScreen Touch worked with my late-model Dell XPS 13, with no apparent compatibility issues despite the laptop’s and ZenScreen’s difference in screen size and native resolution. (My XPS 13 has a 13.3-inch, 4K UHD screen, with twice the vertical and horizontal pixels as a 1080p screen while retaining the same 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio.) The ZenScreen Touch should also be a good fit for a 15.6-inch or larger laptop, provided that it has DisplayPort-over-USB-C video-out connectivity.
The screen supports 10-point capacitive multi-touch input, meaning that you can control it using standard finger-based touch gestures such as pinching, stretching, or scrolling. Asus also provides a stylus pen with the panel. You can use its soft “eraser” end for scrolling, tapping on links, and other touch functions. At the other end, it’s an actual pen that writes—on paper, with ink. (It can also serve a third function, which I’ll get to in a moment.)
It was a joy to navigate with the ZenScreen Touch using just my fingers (and occasionally the stylus). But whether I used my hands or the stylus, the screen was very responsive to my touch. I tested it mostly with my touch-screen Dell XPS 13, but the ZenScreen Touch can be used with a Mac, as well, albeit with predictably limited touch functionality.
Also, although the monitor can connect to an Apple iPad with a USB-C port, you’ll have to use the tablet for touch control, as the ZenScreen doesn’t support touch input on iOS devices. It does better with Android devices, if they run Android 6.0 and support Host Storage mode and the HID multi-touch function with the Asus ZenScreen Touch App installed. (Asus has a list of supported phones, but it doesn’t seem to be updated regularly, so check with the company if you have questions about compatibility with recent devices.)
Note that the ZenScreen Touch’s touch control, though fine for general-purpose use, lacks the precision of a touch-screen display designed for artists. If you are looking for an interactive, touch-based monitor for creative work, you will want to go with a pen display such as the Wacom Cintiq 16 I mentioned earlier. It has a very sensitive stylus for artistic work, though that model doesn’t support finger-based touch. (For that, you would need to upgrade to the Cintiq Pro line.)
A Built-In Power Boost
Generally, mobile monitors draw their power from the computer or device to which they are connected. This is not practical for a smartphone, which has a limited battery capacity, connects to a power source only when charging, and would have to provide power to both itself and the monitor. Asus solves this by equipping the ZenScreen Touch with a built-in 7,800mAh battery that it can run off, eliminating the need to draw power from the phone. According to Asus, the monitor can run up to 4 hours at full brightness on a charge. The only other similarly equipped portable monitor I have tested is the Asus ZenScreen Go. If you’re going to use the Touch with a phone, be sure to keep the monitor’s internal battery charged.
Common among mobile monitors is a case/stand combination, and Asus provides an origami-style cover that doubles as a stand. As a case, it wraps around both the front and back of the monitor and magnetically adheres to it. A magnetic strip on the case running the width of the ZenScreen Touch affixes to the monitor in back to provide the prop-up support. You can adjust the monitor’s tilt by placing its bottom edge in one of two grooves. There are several ways of folding the stand, including one to support the screen when placed in portrait orientation.
Asus also designed in a quick-and-easy way to prop up the monitor that doesn’t require the stand. Just push the pen/stylus that Asus provides—or any pen or pencil of similar diameter, for that matter—point-first through the hole in the ZenScreen Touch’s bottom bezel, from the back, until about an inch of the pen protrudes in front. The pen acts as a stand leg; the monitor rests on its bottom edge with the pen keeping it upright, tilted slightly back. It’s surprisingly stable. A pen will also support the ZenScreen Touch when it is placed in portrait orientation. This is not a makeshift solution; Asus shows this configuration in its promotional photos for the Touch and describes it in text. Points for originality!
A Joyride Through the OSD
Two other mobile monitors in Asus’ ZenScreen line, the ZenScreen (MB16ACE) and the ZenScreen Go, feature two control buttons in their lower left corners for navigating the onscreen display (OSD) settings. The ZenScreen Touch, though, has only one.
In fact, the ZenScreen Touch has just two buttons, period: a power button in the lower right corner, and the control button. But while at a glance you might mistake the latter for an ordinary button, it’s actually a five-way controller, similar to the miniature joystick controls you find on many desktop gaming monitors. You can press the button in, usually to enter a command, or you can push it up, down, or to either side to navigate.
On the left side of the monitor are two ports, a USB Type-C and a micro-HDMI; the ZenScreen Touch comes with a USB-C cable that supports DisplayPort over USB-C (enabling the monitor to receive video or data, as well as power), as well as a USB-A-to-USB-C adapter, and a micro-HDMI-to-HDMI cable.
Pressing the controller once launches a menu of its functions. Pressing it in again takes you to the main menu; toggling it to the right closes the menu; toggling it to the left lets you control the speaker volume; pressing it upward lets you control the input source; and pressing it downward lets you choose whether your input device is a phone or PC.
Functions accessible through the OSD are surprisingly comprehensive, rivaling those you might find on an Asus desktop monitor. The main menu has eight items, identified by icons. The first one, called Splendid, actually opens a submenu showing eight picture modes: Standard, sRGB, Scenery, Theater, Game, Night View, Reading, and Darkroom. The second, Blue Light Filter, lets you choose among four levels of blue-light reduction for reducing eyestrain, particularly at night—or you can leave it off. The third, Color, lets you control color temperature and saturation but also brightness and contrast. Next is Image, which controls sharpness, aspect ratio, and more. The fifth item, System Setup, lets you control settings like Auto Rotation (so the text or image on the screen will remain right-side-up whether you’re in landscape or portrait orientation), Eco Mode, and Language. The sixth, Shortcut, lets you go to widely used settings like Brightness. Next is MyFavorite, which lets you set, save, and access favorite settings. The final item is the menu exit selection.
The ZenScreen Touch’s OSD is among the best I’ve seen on a portable monitor, rich with options and a cinch to navigate using its mini-joystick control. In addition, many of the monitor’s functions can be controlled from a PC through a Windows desktop app known as Asus DisplayWidget.
Brightness and Color Testing
I did our luminance, color, and contrast testing using a Klein K10-A colorimeter, a Murideo Six-G signal generator, and Portrait Displays’ CalMAN 5 software. A lot of mobile monitors claim luminance (brightness per unit area) ratings in excess of 200 nits (candelas per meter squared), but only a handful have achieved that in our testing. The ZenScreen Touch is one of the happy few, testing at 240 nits, just short of its 250-nit rating. Its 1,260:1 contrast ratio is well in excess of its 700:1 rating, thanks to its ability to render dark shadow areas.
In our color testing in Standard mode, the ZenScreen Touch covered 69.1 percent of the sRGB color space (see the chromaticity chart below). The triangle represents the colors that comprise sRGB—essentially, all the colors that can be made by mixing different percentages of red, green, and blue. The white boxes show where the data points would be for a monitor that covers the full sRGB space. Several of our test points—the black circles—are well within the triangle, indicating limited color coverage toward the red and purple part of the spectrum, while the blue point at lower left indicates slightly expanded coverage toward the blue/green.
This color chart shows a pattern very similar to those of nearly all the mobile monitors we have tested since late 2018. As far as its color coverage, the ZenScreen Touch did similarly to the Asus ZenScreen Go (72.7 percent of sRGB) and the ZenScreen MB16ACE (69.8 percent), better than the AOC I1601FWUX (only 61.4 percent of the sRGB space), and slightly better than the Lepow 15.6-Inch Portable USB-C Monitor (65.4 percent of sRGB). The only portable monitor we’ve tested lately that did substantially better is the Lenovo ThinkVision M14, which covered 97 percent of sRGB. (We generally look for at least 95 percent sRGB coverage in desktop monitors.)
This limited color coverage revealed itself in reds and purples looking dull in videos and photos that we viewed from our standard test suite. These results are similar to what we’ve seen on many other mobile monitors we have recently tested (with the notable exception of that Lenovo).
The ZenScreen Touch has a pair of internal speakers, which can come in handy if you’re viewing, say, content from your phone. Volume and audio quality are decent, though not good enough to warrant switching to these speakers from my laptop’s speakers.
Asus provides a three-year warranty for the ZenScreen Touch, which is typical of monitor warranties.
Touch Control, and Extra Juice Too
Be sure to check out the Asus ZenScreen Touch (MB16AMT) you have a need for a portable monitor with a touch screen—this model supports both gesture-based multi-touch using your fingers and touch control using the included pen/stylus eraser. It also—like the ZenScreen Go—has a built-in battery to let you use the Touch with an Android phone or to provide enough juice to run the monitor should your laptop’s battery run low. These two features set it apart from other general-purpose mobile monitors, and, combined with a good feature set (including that comprehensive OSD and its mini-joystick), make the ZenScreen Touch our Editors’ Choice for a portable monitor in its size range (15.6 inches or larger).
Our only caveat: The ZenScreen Touch is on the pricey side for a general-purpose mobile monitor. But it is well worth the premium if you have need for its touch control and the extra juice that its battery provides. Its one operational drawback is the tendency for some colors (chiefly red and purple) to look dull, an artifact of its relatively limited color coverage, but many recent portable displays exhibit the same shortfall. The only general-purpose mobile monitor with appreciably better color that we have reviewed lately is the Lenovo ThinkVision 14, our Editors’ Choice for mobile monitors with 14-inch or smaller screens.
Designed with professionals in mind—from filmmakers to photographers to musicians—the $529.99 LaCie Rugged RAID Shuttle is aimed at anyone who works in the field and produces large amounts of data they can’t afford to lose. And it does that job well enough to be our new Editors’ Choice for rugged external hard drives. The crush-resistant gray brushed-aluminum case actually houses two physical drives, with RAID settings allowing either an 8TB capacity and fast performance, or a safer 4TB with a copy of each file on each drive. The unit also meets the IP54 spec for dust and water resistance, and it is rated to survive a 4-foot fall. As a final touch, it fits easily in a gear bag or in a padded overnight express envelope to let pros send files to the office or studio when data connections are slow or non-existent.
It’s All in the Name: RAID, Plus Rugged
The Rugged RAID Shuttle fits right in with LaCie’s line of Rugged drives, which has a well-earned reputation for reliability. Available in an 8TB capacity only, the unit looks like a single hard drive to your OS. But the combination of form factor, gray case, and silicone protective bumper around the edge—the same orange color as a weatherproof outdoor extension cord—makes it look like nothing so much as a small tablet for children, waiting to be powered on. Roughly the size and shape of a 5.25-inch internal drive, at 1.1 by 6.8 by 6 inches, it weighs 2.1 pounds. Inside the case are two platter-based 5,400rpm Seagate Barracuda drives, a matched set of 2.5-inch 4TB drives side by side.
As shipped, the unit is set to RAID 0. In addition to giving you access to 8TB of storage, this setting also gives you a performance boost compared with using either drive by itself. When writing to disk, for example, RAID 0 can write concurrently to the second drive when a disk write would otherwise have to queue up and wait for a single drive to be ready to accept more data. The RAID 1 setting offers only half as much storage as well as slower performance, but the second drive automatically mirrors the first. If either drive gets damaged, you’ll have a second copy of every file.
Which brings us to the “Rugged” part of the name. Quite simply, the Rugged RAID Shuttle is designed to survive conditions that could trash your data. In addition to meeting IP54 standards for dust and water resistance (see our explainer on ruggedization ratings for a discussion of what the numbers mean) and being shock-resistant to drops up to 4 feet, it’s also rated as crush-resistant enough to stand up to being run over by a 2,205-pound vehicle.
The shock resistance comes courtesy of the silicone bumper, combined with the solid case and internal shock mounts. Of course, no platter-based drive can be as shock-resistant as an SSD, which not only lacks platters and delicate drive heads to damage, but has lower mass to generate less kinetic energy during a fall. But the Rugged RAID Shuttle scores well by hard drive standards. For example, both it and the G-Tech ArmorATD are rated to survive a 4-foot drop, but the ArmorATD’s rating is for carpeted concrete rather than simply concrete, and its case is pressure-resistant up to only 1,000 pounds. Keep in mind, too, that setting the LaCie drive to RAID 1 effectively increases ruggedness, by ensuring that you can destroy one drive completely and still have all your data on the other.
The orange bumper on the Rugged RAID Shuttle includes a tab to cover the power connector, and the uncovered USB-C connector is rated at IP54 itself, so the drive should easily survive a small splash of water or being carried in the rain. However, the IP54 spec doesn’t cover immersion. If you’re working where you might drop the drive into a lake or even a puddle, you might want to consider an external hard drive with a higher rating, like the IP68-rated ADATA HD830, or one of LaCie’s external SSDs, like the IP67-rated Rugged SSD Pro.
A Talented Toolkit, and Other Features
The drive comes formatted in the exFAT style by default, so it will work with both PCs and Macs. If you won’t be moving it between different kinds of computers, you can format it in your OS’s native format (say, NTFS for Windows, or HFS+ for Macs).
LaCie ships the unit with two cables. One has a USB Type-C connector at each end, the other a USB Type-C-to-Type-A. Also in the box is a power block with interchangeable plug modules for a variety of domestic and foreign power outlets. The power block is needed only when connected to ports of the USB 3.0 variety or lower, which can’t supply adequate juice over the USB bus to run the drives. Connect to such a port, and a status light comes on to tell you to plug the power adapter into an outlet. A second LED indicates disk activity.
Also included with the drive is the downloadable LaCie RAID Manager and LaCie Toolkit, a three-year warranty, and three years of Rescue Data Recovery Services. The RAID Manager lets you switch the drive between RAID 0 and RAID 1 modes as well as update firmware. Changing the setting requires little more than loading the program, choosing Modify, and choosing the RAID setting you want. The change will format the drives, so you need to back up any data first, but the app warns you before it does anything and makes you poke a recessed button with a paper clip to confirm you mean it.
The ToolKit offers several welcome utilities. Seagate Encryption lets you create a password to encrypt all data on the LaCie drive. The Mirror option lets you create Mirror folders on the LaCie drive and your computer’s drive, then automatically syncs each folder to the other when you move files to or delete them from either one. The Backup and Restore tools, available for Windows only, let you define full or partial backups to run continuously, hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, or one time only.
Testing: RAID 0 Means Fast (Mostly)
We compared the Rugged RAID Shuttle to several platter-based portable hard drives, including the budget-minded WD Elements, the Editors’ Choice Seagate Backup Ultra Touch, the equally rugged G-Tech ArmorATD mentioned earlier, and the even more rugged ADATA HD830. Note that we tested all of those drives in 2TB versions, although other capacities are available for each. However, the key difference for performance between any of them and the LaCie drive is that none of the others supports RAID, and we tested the LaCie drive using its default RAID 0 setting. On our benchmark tests, which simulate typical operations on both PCs and Macs, the Rugged RAID Shuttle outpaced the field more often than not, in some cases leaving the competition in the dust.
For PC tests, we used our standard Intel X299-based storage testbed, which is equipped with a motherboard-hosted USB 3.1 Gen 2 USB-C port. For Mac tests, we used a 2016 MacBook Pro and tested the drive over one of the combined USB Type-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports using the bundled USB Type-C cable.
PCMark 7 Secondary Storage Test
The PCMark7 Secondary Storage subtest evaluates drive speed with a proprietary score. The test uses a mix of simulated workloads that include a Windows Defender scan, video editing tasks, and application launches.
This is one of only two scores where the Rugged RAID Shuttle didn’t shine. It came in basically tied for last place with the Seagate drive, with a score that was only about 70 percent of the ADATA HD830 and WD Elements drive’s scores and only about 60 percent of the G-Tech ArmorATD score.
Crystal DiskMark tests sequential read and write speeds (straight-line transfers of contiguous data), which is a best-case scenario for platter units, and theoretically an even better-case scenario for a RAID 0 drive.
The Sequential Read results are exactly what we expected, with the RAID 0-equipped Rugged RAID Shuttle delivering more than twice the performance of the next fastest drive. But on the sequential write test, it turned in such a low score that we’re not reporting it because we don’t believe it’s valid, particularly since the drive scored well on other tests that involve writing to disk. The problem could well have something to do with Crystal DiskMark specifically and how it interacts with a RAID 0 drive. All four of the comparison drives were closely matched on both the Read and Write tests, delivering speeds that varied by only a few megabytes per second.
PCMag Folder Transfer Test
We run our drag-and-drop Folder Transfer Test on our MacBook Pro laptop. The test consists of copying our standard 1.2GB folder from testbed to drive, and is one of the disk write tests where the Rugged RAID Shuttle delivered the best performance in the group.
The LaCie drive was only 3 seconds faster than the two drives that tied for second, and only 5 seconds faster than the slowest in the group, which is enough to notice, but not enough to matter much. On the other hand, the results imply that if you’re copying folders with multiple gigabytes of data, you will see a larger, and more significant, difference for real-world use.
BlackMagic 3.1 Disk Speed Test
The LaCie drive turned in impressive performance on the MacBook Pro with the BlackMagic Disk Speed Test utility, which measures a drive’s throughput for playback of various video formats.
On both Disk Read and Disk Write tests, the Rugged RAID Shuttle’s measured result was more than double the score for the next fastest drive. The ArmorATD and the Seagate Backup Plus Ultra essentially tied for a distant second place, and they were only a few megabytes per second faster than the WD Elements and the ADATA HD830.
High Capacity, Rugged, Fast, and Encrypted
In addition to offering the highest capacity of any drive in LaCie’s Rugged line, the LaCie Rugged RAID Shuttle delivers a balance of performance, capacity, and data protection—both in the form of physical ruggedness and the optional RAID 1 setting for data redundancy—that is simply unmatched at this writing in a portable drive. You can find both external hard drives (such as the ADATA HD830) and external SSDs (example: LaCie’s own Rugged SSD Pro) with higher ratings for dust and water resistance, and SSDs will deliver faster performance. But note that both of those drives have far lower capacities, neither supports RAID, and the 2TB version of the Rugged SSD Pro costs more than the 8TB Rugged RAID Shuttle.
If you simply must have a higher level of ruggedness or are shopping under stringent budget constraints, you’ll want to look at other models in our ruggedized drive roundup. But if you can make good use of an 8TB capacity combined with the Rugged RAID Shuttle’s other features (RAID support, encryption, easy shippability), it’s easier to justify the price per gigabyte. At this writing, at least, you won’t find this constellation of features elsewhere.
For more than a decade, Photoshop Elements has made the imaging magic pioneered by Adobe Photoshop easier for nonprofessional users to master. New for the 2019 version are a (quite helpful) home screen, automatic AI-generated creations, and additional Guided Edits. This update is, however, short on truly new photo editing tools. Adobe’s consumer photo editing software nevertheless continues to make splashy Photoshop effects possible for novices to accomplish. For those who don’t want to perpetually pay for Photoshop subscription, it also provides a good many of that program’s tools. Photoshop Elements continues to be our Editors’ Choice for enthusiast-level photo editing software.
Getting and Setting Up Photoshop Elements
You can either purchase Photoshop Elements together with its enthusiast-level video-editing companion, Premiere Elements, for $149.99, or buy it alone for $99.99. A 30-day trial version is available for download, too. Speaking of downloading, the app’s installer is not small, at 2GB, and the installed program takes up 2.5GB, so make sure your PC (or Mac, for which Elements is also available) has enough free disk space. The software runs on Windows 10, 8, and 7 SP1, and on Apple macOS versions 10.11 through 10.13. Note that Elements no longer requires Apple QuickTime. I installed Elements on my test PC, a 4K touch-screen Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC all-in-one PC.
To get started, you must enter your Adobe login. For the longtime Photoshop Elements users, here’s a quick rundown of the major new features in the 2019 version:
New Start Screen. This shows editing ideas, recent files, and Auto Creations (see the next item in this list).
Auto Creations. Slideshows and collages are automatically generated by Adobe’s Sensei AI technology.
New Guided Edits. This time, new tools help you create memes, multi-photo text, and part-image sketches, as well as adding borders.
HEIF Support (Mac-only). This new format is used by the latest iPhones.
Redesigned Collage Tool. The renovated tool requires fewer steps and offers attractive new templates.
Improved Performance. Adobe claims a faster installation process and improved performance on common photo-editing tasks.
Some cool features added in the previous update include:
Auto Curate. This Organizer option uses AI to find the best shots in your collection.
Open Closed Eyes. This feature can fix a shot where one person has closed eyes.
Auto Selection. This tool makes selecting a person or object easier than ever.
More Guided Edits. These include Watercolor, Replace Background, Shape Overlay, and Double Exposure.
In past reviews of Photoshop Elements, I’ve complained that you have to go through Organizer to get to the actual photo editor. You’ve long since been able to bypass it, but with the 2019 version, there’s another starting point before you get to the editor. The new Start screen is not only your portal to both Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements, but it also presents some very useful features. On it you see tips for how to use new editing tools, links to most recent files you worked on, and Auto Creations—slideshows and collages the program automatically generates from your content.
The Organizer application, as its name makes clear, is where you import, group, tag, and output your photos. You don’t have to use it, but it offers a lot of capabilities that would otherwise clutter the main editing application. Its powerful search, auto curation, and sharing tools can be very useful additions to the standard organization tools. Competitors like Corel PaintShop Pro and ACDSee dispense with the extra application and do everything in one interface. Five main mode choices appear at the top of the Organizer’s window: eLive (tips and creative ideas), Media, People, Places, and Events.
The Organizer search bar lets you filter content by people, place, keyword tags, media type, date, and folder. You can combine search criteria to narrow down the results, too. Smart Tags automatically identify what’s in the photo—an animal, a face, a landscape, a flower. It’s part of the trend of using artificial intelligence and machine learning that we’ve seen in Flickr, Google Photos, and OneDrive. This cutting-edge technology saves you from having to explicit apply tags to photos, though you can still do this if you want the control it affords.
Organizer’s Places mode showed my iPhone photos’ location based on their embedded GPS data, but the Places section on the Search page told me there were no Places tags to search by—you have to enter location tags manually for anything to show up here. It’s a little annoying when one part of a program has information that’s not accessible in another feature. Also, I prefer the way Windows 10’s and macOS’s Photos apps let you see a small map in the Info panel while viewing an individual photo.
To search based on faces, you understandably need to supply names in the People module. The program detects all faces and tries to match them to any you’ve already identified, but it’s not 100 percent accurate, and sometimes is fooled by profiles or weird angles. It’s easy to add photos to a face tag by confirming the program’s proposed images. Once you do this, though, you can search for all photos that have Jordan and Max in them, or for all photos with Jordan or Max, which is nifty.
Below the search bar is the Auto Curate check box. The first time I tried to check this, it said Auto Curation was in progress—understandable, since it analyzes the entire photo library. A few minutes later I could see the chosen images, with a slider to increase or decrease the number of photos shown. The fewer you choose, the higher the quality of the photos that appear. So, for example, you can see what the program thinks are your 50 best photos or your 100 best (10 is the minimum). The app looks for things like lighting, composition, focus, and even emotional impact. Most of my results understandably included humans, and the tool did turn up a bunch of good shots I’d forgotten about. You can even apply Auto Curate to a search, so you could find, for example, your best shots of mountains or cats.
A couple of quibbles are that you can’t double-click on a photo in Organizer’s search results to launch it in the editor, and you don’t get smart albums, such as Last Import as you do in Apple Photos and Adobe Lightroom.
After I had it import about a couple hundred photos and video clips, the home screen showed me more than a dozen Auto Creations it had produced from my content. From photos shot around the same area and time, it produced pleasant collages, which benefited from a bit of editing and photo swapping. The feature also produced several slideshows of varying interest from my test media, with effective transitions and backgrounds. The background music was usually well chosen to fit the image subjects, but if often stopped abruptly, rather than fading out. Some were so short as to be pointless. In any case, the project can provide starting points for your own creativity.
Elements still lacks one feature that’s offered by Apple Photos, Google Photos, and Windows Photos—automatic album creation. Those products group photos from locations and time periods and automatically suggest albums. Though these don’t always hit the mark, they can be a good way to get you started with albums.
Photoshop Elements really comes into its own when you move from the Organizer to its full editor app. The program makes many of Photoshop proper’s high-end image manipulation capabilities but without the same degree of difficulty. Many of the tools, particularly content-aware ones that let you do things like removing areas or objects without disrupting the background, are unique to Adobe software.
Elements Effects feel like Instagram squared, with control that the mobile app simply can’t match. The Smart Looks tool chooses an effect based on image analysis, with four variations. These indeed matched the image types of my test shots well. And Quick mode’s FX options offer four variations on the standard Vintage, Cross Process, and Toy Camera options, among seven others. I like how this tool shows your actual image under the influence of the effect, rather than just a sample image, as some programs do.
When you choose the crop tool, you see four proposed crops in the bottom panel, based on faces found and other criteria. It works impressively, framing group photos and suggesting creative looks for landscapes. The crop tool, too, is suitable for many professional use cases, letting you specify standard aspect ratios and even a target size in pixels.
Expert mode offers near-Photoshop levels of control, complete with filters, layers, actions (the ability to run preset Actions like resizing and effects, not to create them), histograms, and tons of artistic and graphic effects. As with Photoshop, you get an array of tool buttons along the left, and edited files are saved in Photoshop PSD format. For web producers, there’s the Save for Web option, which optimizes (that is, reduces the file size) of images for online display.
Comic, Graphic Novel, and Pen & Ink are among some of the more noteworthy filters you can apply to your images. These don’t appear in the Filter Gallery, but must be chosen from the Filter menu directly, which may be an oversight. That said, they can produce some pretty amazing effects.
Expert Mode also has a generous selection of content, such as backgrounds, frames, and shapes to spruce up a photograph. The Text tool lets you wrap text around a shape so it doesn’t overlap important parts of an image. Character-styling options are far less extensive than those in Photoshop, however.
The Recompose tool is one of the program’s most impressive: It lets you change the aspect ratio of an image without stretching or squashing faces and the like. You can even remove selected objects and mark others for preserving. Recompose did a good job letting me move my big head closer to a friend without distorting a test picture, though I did have to crop the photo to remove a duplicate head.
You can also do standard Photoshop things, such as blur, sharpen, and add imagery. There’s a good selection of clipart, too. The spot-healing brush does an excellent job at removing blemishes. I also removed a sign in the background of a photo by brushing in the texture from a forest in the image with the healing brush.
When you open a raw file from a DSLR, the program starts out in a separate Adobe Camera Raw window, where you have access to color, exposure, and detail, controls. It does include the new raw Profiles like Color, Portrait, and Vivid, along with noise reduction, but Elements has no chromatic aberration correction. There are also lens distortion corrections, but they don’t use profiles to base automatic corrections on your equipment the way Lightroom and DxO PhotoLab do. The raw importer actually has red-eye reduction and cropping, which seems like an unnecessary duplication of what’s in the editor app.
The Adjust Facial Features tool is accessible from the Enhance menu. Open this, and a window pops up with all the faces circled. A right-side panel offers adjusters for Lips (with Smile and related sub-choices), Eyes, Nose, and Face. The last lets you change the forehead height, jawbone shape, and chin height. Just as with the similar tool introduced in the latest version of Photoshop CC, you can have a lot of fun with this. It does a great job identifying the facial features and convincingly modifying them. It’s probably best to use these tools sparingly unless you want your friends looking like strangers.
Open Closed Eyes is a cool tool that debuted in the 2018 version. You find it under the Enhance menu in either Quick or Expert mode. When you open a photo in Open Closed Eyes, you see circles around any faces in the image, with the closed-eye faces highlighted. Then you have to choose an eye source—the fixed open eyes needn’t come from the same person’s face as the one with closed eyes! Believe me, if you do this with the glamor model sample eye source photos Adobe provides, you’ll likely be in for some laughs.
When using the same person’s eyes, the results are decent; the closer the shot of the source eyes to the shot you want to open eyes on the better. I still wish Adobe included some type of refinement tools, to get the lighting and detail closer to the original’s. If nothing else, Open Closed Eyes is a fun trick.
Guided Edits are one way that Elements helps novices create advanced, pro-level Photoshop Effects. They’re basically wizards that use tools within the app. If you knew what you were doing, you wouldn’t need the Guided Edits to create these effects, but we don’t all have MFAs. With the 2019 version, new effects include Meme-Maker, Partial Sketch, Text and Border Overlay, and Multi-Photo Text. A gallery of Guided Edits shows sample images of what they do, and swiping the cursor over these reveals the before and after. There are also tabs for different effect types, like Basics, Color, and Fun. There are now over 50 Guided Edits in all (enough that it would be nice if you could search for them). Below I take you through a few of the newer and cooler Guided Edits.
Meme-Maker. Not everyone is a fan of memes, and I realize that this definition of the term—to mean a photo with big text—is a dumbing-down of what the word actually means. But those images with the big text can be effective. Element’s Meme-Maker tool puts a colorful radiating background to your photo along with adding that big block-letter text. You can change the background and optionally apply a few different filters, including newsprint and one similar to the famous Obama Hope poster designed by Shepard Fairey using a photo by Mannie Garcia.
Multi-Photo Text. A while back the video editing programs were all adding features that could create text using your video content. The twist with this new image tool is that you can use multiple photos for the letters in your text. You can either add a photo for each letter, or preload the Photo Bin and have them flow automatically into the text. You can then choose a solid background color. I could see this being an effective tool for organizations’ flyers and posters.
Partial Sketch. I must say that when I first saw this Guided Edit I thought, “Why?” After opening a photo, you have four choices to start the wizard: Pencil Sketch, Colored Pencil Sketch, Old Photo, and Old Paper. As you brush the effect onto an area of your photo, similar textures are selected. You can subtract painted areas to taste. You can flip the painted and nonpainted areas for a different look, and soften the effect’s edges. I suppose some users might have fun with this one, but to be honest it doesn’t do much for me.
Text and Border Overlay. This Guided Edit merely takes two editing tools and puts them into a wizard. You don’t get a large selection of border styles or text fonts, but if you need guidance in applying these two edits and don’t want to mess with layers, you may find it useful.
Replace Background. This Guided Edit takes advantage of the classic Photoshop technology allowing you to select an object, create a mask, and drop in a background layer. Of course, the wizard saves you from having to know how to do this with standard Photoshop tools. You start by using any of the selection tools (see Advanced Tools, below) to select the person you want in the foreground.
Next, you import a photo for the background, or choose a texture or preset included in the tool. After your new background is in place, the final step in the wizard is to save or share your creation. Alternatively, the wizard lets you open the image in the editor for further tinkering.
Painterly.I’m far from being an artist, so if this tool can make me look like one, it will have accomplished quite a feat. In fact, Painterly doesn’t require any artistic ability at all. What it does is to use your existing photo for brush strokes. You get five brush styles, and after applying one (and removing unwanted areas), you can choose a background canvas texture and optionally apply a painterly filter, such as watercolor. Again, this is a fun, easy way to create a more compelling image than your typical snapshot.
Speed Pan. With this one, you use the Quick Selection tool to quickly select the subject that will be speeding, then tap the Add Motion Blur button, choosing angle and intensity.
Many Photoshop effects involve selecting objects precisely, and either adding or removing them to or from an image. With the Auto Selection tool, you draw a rectangle or shape over the object you want to select, and the tool determines your object’s edges. The earlier Quick Selection tool has you scribble on the object you want to select. I still prefer Quick over Auto, since getting the right shape size and placement is a tad trickier than simply scribbling over the object.
All the selection tools offer a Refine Edge option, which uses a circle with inner and outer selection circumferences. The brilliance of the tool is that it switches between adding and subtracting from your selection depending on whether you’re inside or outside the original selection. You can also hover the tool right over the edge to have Photoshop Elements refine the selection for you—that usually means adding those stray hairs to it. The tool worked impressively on a photo of my niece’s Shih Tzu puppy.
The Photomerge Group Shot tool lets you get the best expression on each person from a series of group shots. You can, for example, give one person’s face their eyes from another shot. Scene Cleaner lets you remove passers-by from a landscape or famous site. Exposure, also called high dynamic range (HDR), fixes by using two or more shots to combine the best version of, say, the clouds in the sky from one picture, and a forest below from a second shot.
The Photomerge Panorama tool offers lots of control, creating a full panorama rather than one with twisted edges. It even fills in empty areas left by the photos and stitching—to impressive effect in my testing—but it can take a long time to do its work. You won’t find that filling option in other software.
Another photo-enhancing tool, Smart Brushes, let you paint effects and adjustments onto specific areas of a photo, including B&W, color, lighting, special effects, and artistic treatments like drawing. These offer a really cool and easy way to make a sky bluer or darken areas of an image.
One trick missing is CyberLink PhotoDirector’s Multiple Exposure, which can automatically build impressive action images with multiple instances of your protagonist.
Finally, one tool that has come down from Photoshop is Shake Reduction. This can automatically sharpen shots in which you shook the camera slightly. It gives you the same control as the Photoshop tool, letting you select the area you want to correct.
Adobe claims faster performance for this year’s version of Photoshop Elements. In testing, it responded quickly for most typical editing tasks, and on my timed import test, it was well within the acceptable range. I tested it by importing 157 24MP raw files in CR2 format from a Canon EOS 6D. Each file weighed in at about 25-30MB. I tested on an Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC running 64-bit Windows 10 Home and sporting a 4K display, 16GB RAM, a quad-core Intel Core i7-6700T CPU, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M discrete graphics card. I imported from a Class 4 SD card to a fast SSD on the PC.
Elements posted a 2:03 (minutes:seconds) time on the test—in the middle of all the photo apps I’ve tested. It beats ACDSee, Lightroom, and Capture One. But PhotoDirector led with 1:03 and ON1 Photo RAW took just 1:49 (minutes:seconds) for the import to complete. AfterShot Pro took 1:04, but that was just for adding photos to its database and creating previews, without actually moving the image file data.
Sharing and Output
Elements offers the most output options of any consumer photo editor—whether you’re into creating slideshows, sending picture emails, printing via Shutterfly, burning discs, or uploading to web galleries. You can directly upload to online photo sites, including Flickr and Twitter. I would like to see more social outlets here, such as Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. One minor disappointment is that Elements’ own keyword tags don’t carry over into Flickr, though you can add tags at the time of uploading. Others include the lack of direct sharing to Facebook Messenger, Skype, or WhatsApp. If Adobe had produced a UWP app, all this sharing could be built-in via Windows’ standard Share button.
Elements’ photo slideshows are actually videos. You can start creating one from either the Organizer or by selecting images in the editor and choosing the Create drop-down. You get six templates, including WaterColor, Woods, Pan and Zoom, and Classic. You can change the background music and add or remove images to taste, but the slideshow is generated automatically and starts playing right away, so your layout choices are limited. The tools in Apple Photos and Microsoft Photos actually offer more customization at this point, with more canned music choices and control over slide duration.
A final quick word about help: I’m not a big fan of Adobe’s Web-only help system. I’d love to be able to search within the application for help on tools and techniques. At least a user-guide-type offline help document would be an improvement.
All the Elements You Need for Your Photos
For amateurs who want to get creative with their photos, Adobe Photoshop Elements is still the best game in town. Professionals, of course, can do all it can do and more with Photoshop CC, but that comes with a high learning curve and recurring price tag. Elements makes doing a lot of the coolest Photoshop effects accessible to laypeople. It offers a generous subset of the pro editor’s features in a simpler package.
Competitors can’t match Elements’ array of photo effects, organizational tools, and sharing and output options. With best-in-class tools for getting creative with your digital images, Adobe Photoshop Elements remains our Editors’ Choice for enthusiast photo editing software. Those who are only interested in photography without the extra creativity tools should look to our photo workflow software Editors’ Choice, Lightroom, and pros will certainly want Photoshop CC, our Editors’ Choice for pro photo editing software.
HubSpot has been making a name for itself as a mar-tech vendor for the last several years, focusing on tasks like marketing automation and social media campaign management. HubSpot CRM, which starts at $50 per user per month, is a relatively new offering for the company, but given its orientation towards sales software, it makes sense for HubSpot to get into the customer relationship management (CRM) market. It’s also good news for small to midsize business (SMB) customers because HubSpot’s starting price tag is free; it’s got a decently designed user interface (UI); and it integrates well with other HubSpot products. However, it trails our Editors’ Choice winners Apptivo CRM and Zoho CRM, mainly due to a lack of feature depth and a few other rough spots. Still, for SMBs that need a reliable, well-maintained platform without a lot of training overhead and a freemium pricing model to boot, HubSpot CRM is a good choice.
It’s worth noting that HubSpot CRM is separate from the company’s namesake product, HubSpot, a long-time leader in the digital marketing automation space. HubSpot CRM includes free versions of the Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, and Service Hub products. Features include lead generation tools, web forms, live chat and bots, advertising tools, and helpdesk tools. The company also has email marketing tools starting at $50 per month.
In November, 2019, HubSpot azquired PieSync. This could be very beneficial to HubSpot users since PieSync delivers a combination of live and historical data synchronization that runs both ways between apps, but in the background. That means the combination will let HubSpot users sync data in real-time, which means much more accurate information delivered just when sales reps need it even during a live call.
HubSpot CRM Pricing
HubSpot CRM uses a freemium model, which means that while core CRM features are free, there are many paid extras available to add on as needed. There are also three paid Sales Hub plans with premium features: Sales Hub Starter ($50 per month and up), Professional ($500 per month and up), and Enterprise ($1,200 per month and up).
The free plan includes 15 minutes of calling per user per month. With this feature, users can make calls directly from a web browser with the option to record them. The software automatically tracks calls and adds them to a CRM record. Also included are five templates per user per month, 200 notifications per user per month, five Snippets, five Documents, and one booking page for each user.
Sales Hub Starter includes eight hours per month of calling along with unlimited templates, Snippets, Documents, booking pages, and notifications. Like the free plan, it comes with one deal pipeline and one team per account. It adds Prospects, Messages, and Sequences (requires G Suite or Office 365) as well as phone and email support.
With Prospects, HubSpot CRM can show you the companies that are visiting your website and which pages they are engaging with most. Messages let you chat with visitors as they browse your site; Sequences automate follow-up emails.
The Professional plan includes 33 hours per user per month of calling, in addition to everything in the starter package. It also adds automated workflows, predictive lead scoring, smart notifications, unlimited deal pipelines, unlimited teams, shared filters, products, a custom report builder, a custom dashboard for each account, and Salesforce integration. With smart notifications, HubSpot CRM will analyze your sales activities from the last 24 hours and make recommendations related to leads and activities.
Finally, Sales Hub Enterprise, launched in 2018, includes everything in the professional package, plus a range of other features. These include single sign-on, e-signature, quote approvals, call transcription and recording, sales playbooks, and more.
Contacts, Leads, Deals, and Reports
The software opens up to a concise sales dashboard, which has a basic design similar to Pipedrive CRM. By default, it shows your team activity, sales performance, deal forecast, deals closed versus goal report, and productivity. You can add as many modules to the dashboard as you want and remove elements that you don’t need.
HubSpot CRM integrates with Google Gmail and Microsoft Outlook. When you connect it to your email account, a HubSpot CRM window appears to the right of your inbox, showing contextual information from the software. From your inbox, you can opt to log emails, which attaches them to a CRM record, as well as track opens and clicks.
The software will add new contacts as needed and scrape company information from its website automatically. This feature is part of HubSpot CRM’s goal of reducing repetitive tasks for users. You can also send emails directly from a HubSpot CRM record, so you don’t have to toggle between the CRM software and email client. From your email, you can also access templates, Sequences (email campaigns), documents, and embed a link to your calendar. Email integration is a nice feature, as you can get a lot of CRM-related work done right from your inbox.
When you add a person to HubSpot CRM, they are called a contact. HubSpot CRM doesn’t use the term “lead”; to differentiate contacts, you can update their status to unqualified, open deal, in progress, and the like. With all its email integration, it was a little surprising to see that HubSpot only allows one email address per contact.
HubSpot CRM can also integrate with Twilio, which enables you to make phone calls directly from the software. HubSpot CRM automatically logs these calls, and you can optionally record them. As outlined above, free and paid accounts get a certain amount of free calling each month.
Next to the Contacts tab is the Companies tab, followed by Deals. Each tab shares a consistent design, with a list of contacts, companies, or deals underneath a search box, Customize button, Import button, and a Create button to add an entry. You can customize the rows and columns of the list view, choosing from in-software options or creating new properties. If you want a quick look at an entry, you can click preview and see a snapshot of it on the right side of your dashboard. You can make edits to the preview panel as well, which is convenient.
You can add contacts (and companies and deals) one at a time using the Create button or by importing files. HubSpot CRM walks you through the import process, ensuring that everything is formatted properly and helping you map fields.
On the Deals tab, there’s a pipeline view along the top, where you can see how many deals are in each stage. Hit the Customize button to edit deal stages to fit with your company’s processes.
You can access your calendar by clicking on the Sales Tools drop-down menu. HubSpot CRM doesn’t have a native calendar; you’ll need to connect your Google or Office 365 account. One convenient feature is that you can share a link to your calendar with your availability so you can book meetings without a sequence of back-and-forth emails. You can also embed the link on your website so that prospective customers can schedule demos with your sales team.
HubSpot CRM offers an array of reports related to activity, such as contacts created per day, and performance. Paid accounts can generate custom reports as well.
HubSpot CRM Is Intuitive and Affordable
If you’re new to CRM and already use HubSpot’s marketing or sales software, then HubSpot CRM is a fine choice. It’s straightforward to set up and use, with plans to fit every budget. Its email and calendar integration is top-notch and removes a lot of the tedious data entry and management that some CRMs require.
As your company grows and changes, you can upgrade to HubSpot CRM’s premium products, but the free version works for first-timers. HubSpot CRM serves as a suitable entry point into using CRM products such as Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional.
We live in a world of temptation, cheap pleasures, stress, and convenience, all of which can affect our diets and health. Managing weight, whether you want to lose, gain, or maintain it, takes diligence as well as a bit of math. You need to know how many calories you consume and how many you burn. MyFitnessPal is the best calorie-counting app on the market. It has a mobile app and website that connect you to the largest database of foods so that you can easily look up what you eat and record it in the app. At the end of each day, MyFitnessPal gives you insightful feedback that you can actually use to help reach your weight goal. While it’s not a diet program, it can help you make changes you make to your diet by providing nutritional information. MyFitnessPal is an Editors’ Choice among apps for health and fitness.
MyFitnessPal Price: Free vs Premium
MyFitnessPal has a free tier of service, plus a Premium membership. Premium costs $9.99 per month or $49.99 per year.
With a free account, you can track food and calories, activity, weight, and a few other metrics. You don’t get macronutrient information, meaning the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that you consume. You also don’t get other nutritional content. In my estimation, the free version of MyFitnessPal is ideally suited to helping someone maintain their weight after a weight loss program. It’s also perfectly suited to helping people lose weight through calorie counting when they don’t need the help of a program to be successful.
MyFitnessPal Premium eliminates advertisements and adds macronutrient and other nutritional information. It also lets you further customize the app. For example, you can choose to keep your calorie goal fixed despite how many calories you burn during activity. You can set different goals based on the day of the week and have customized calorie intake goals for each meal of the day. With a Premium account, you can export CSV files of your data. You also get exclusive content, like short motivational videos and workout examples.
Price for Other Weight Loss Apps
Compared with other apps for weight loss and calorie counting, MyFitnessPal’s price seems high for the monthly subscription and reasonable for the annual subscription.
Noom has a high list price—$59 per month plus a $20 starter fee—although the amount you pay could be significantly less. When I tested the app, my actual cost for the first six weeks ended up being only $20, and the renewal rate for the following monthwas $20, as well. The listed annual price is $199.
With Noom, you get food logging, as well as daily readings about the psychology of weight loss. After the first few weeks, you also get put into a group chat with other Noom users who are in a similar place in the program as you. Noom is a dedicated weight loss program whereas MyFitnessPal has more flexible uses.
WeightWatchers Digital costs about $20 per month when you pay monthly. This program comes with an active community and online groups you can join based on topic, such as nurses, veterans, people more than 60 years old, postpartum mothers, vegans, and so forth. WeightWatchers has other programs that include one-on-one coaching or in-person meetings, and those cost more. There are some hidden fees with WW, like a $20 signup fee that’s often (but not always) waived and a $40 fee if you cancel more than one month before your program ends.
The MayoClinic Diet costs $59 per quarter. With the MayoClinic Diet, the only option is to pay quarterly; there’s no month-to-month. It’s a good option if you want detailed meal plans chosen for you. There’s no community or coaching, and it’s web only, no mobile app. The MayoClinic Diet is tough to do if you have specific food requirements, such as vegetarian or kosher, because figuring out substitutions is time consuming.
The Jillian Michaels App is the app to try if your primary goal is to become stronger and more fit, rather than focus on your weight. For $14.99 per month, you get guided workouts alongside calorie counting tools. Another app I like that’s similar to Jillian Michaels is called 8fit, and while it’s pretty good, it’s comparatively expensive at $24.99 per month.
Getting Started With MyFitnessPal
When you first get started with MyFitnessPal, you enter a few pieces of data about yourself: birthdate (for your age), height, weight, whether you’re a sedentary person, and so forth. That’s standard with any weight-management app. It’s goes quickly, though, which is not the case with complete weight-loss programs, like Noom and WeightWatchers. Those types of services can take half an hour to set up, asking about your dietary requirements and bad eating habits you want to break.
Based on the number you enter, MyFitnessPal guesses how many calories your body burns on a typical day with no additional exercise. Next, you tell MyFitnessPal whether you’re trying to lose, maintain, or gain weight, and the app asks how aggressively you want to pursue your goal. You can gain up to one pound per week, or lose up to two pounds per week, but that’s the maximum. You then get a recommended daily calorie goal.
Once you get going with tracking your calories, MyFitnessPal does something unique that’s really helpful. At the end of the day, when you indicate you’re done logging food and activity, it tells you what weight you would be if “every day were like today.” For example, “If every day were like today, you’d weigh 135 pounds by January 1.” In that moment, you know exactly how difficult or easy it was to get through the day. Do you have the wherewithal to make every day like today? Do you even need to based on your goal? This feedback is extremely insightful.
If you skimp too much on calories on any day, you see a warning message instead of this feedback, essentially explaining that if every day were like today, it would be unsustainable and dangerous.
How Does MyFitnessPal Work?
To use MyFitnessPal, you do log everything you eat and drink each day. You can also log activities either manually or by connecting the app to supported fitness app or fitness tracker. The list of options is long and includes all the top players, like Fitbit, Garmin, Polar, Strava, Misfit, Nokia Health Mate, and so on.
When you look for and log the foods you eat, you can adjust the portion size to a fine degree. If you only put one-third of a banana on your plate, it’s simple enough to record that. You can also adjust the serving size to begin with, so half of a large banana doesn’t count the same as half a small one. Often, you can choose grams, cups, ounces. MyFitnessPal makes it easy to find the right measurement estimations for you.
What I like most about MyFitnessPal is its food database. If you search for any food, even in different languages, MyFitnessPal will have something, and in most cases, multiple entries. Every packaged food I’ve ever scanned has turned up, and this includes unusual, small-brand foods made in far flung parts of the world.
Having multiple options means I can decide whether the burrito I ate was closer to a 250-calorie burrito or one with 700 calories. With some other food-logging apps, you don’t have as many options, and that forces you to either live with a bad estimate or manually enter the item or recipe.
Speaking of recipes, MyFitnessPal does have options for entering your own recipes. For example, if you want the most accurate representation of the scones you made, you enter all the ingredients and the number of portions you made, and MyFitnessPal does the rest. You can keep your recipe private or add to the public database. You can also import recipes from websites by dropping a URL into a field on the recipe page. I haven’t seen any other calorie-counting app offer that feature to date.
My Experience With MyFitnessPal
Since 2011, I’ve used MyFitnessPal on and off multiple times. In this most recent run, I tracked my weight and calorie intake for five weeks, although I didn’t record every day perfectly. Every time I’ve picked up MyFitnessPal, a few digits fall off the scale. Restricting intake and counting calories has been shown to lead to weight loss, at least temporarily, with a regaining of the weight just as predictable.
This time around, I used MyFitnessPal to log and watch my eating habits while I simultaneously followed a weight-loss program, Noom. I lost about four pounds. The nice thing was I got added value from MyFitnessPal in the form of nutritional information. Noom doesn’t calculate your macronutrient balance or the quantity of other nutrients you consume, but MyFitnessPal Premium does. So I was able to follow the Noom program while also keeping an eye on my protein intake using MyFitnessPal.
While I was testing the app, a big refresh of the mobile app design debuted, which was a welcome change. The MyFitnessPal website still has a dated look to it, although that shouldn’t stand in your way of using it. It’s easier and faster to log calories with the web app than the mobile app. Plus, if you suddenly remember you need to log a meal while you’re working on a laptop, you can pop on over to the website and tap it in quickly, rather than distract yourself with a second device.
Within the app, you can join challenges and programs, but they aren’t anything like the dieting programs you get with WeightWatchers, Noom, or the MayoClinic Diet. All those programs work to help you change your relationship to food and manage not only how many calories you eat, but what kinds of foods, too. With MyFitnessPal, you get tools for measuring those things, but there is no overarching program to guide you to do it in a certain way.
Recipes, Blog Content, and Community
MyFitnessPal does have more to explore, though none of it is central to the calorie-counting experience. For example, when you upgrade to Premium, you start to see featured videos with short workout summaries (two or three minutes long) or that contain inspirational interviews. You can also find articles about healthy living and video recipes. It’s pretty run-of-the-mill. After poking around at a few articles and videos, I saw little reason to return to this content.
There’s also a community of MyFitnessPal members who chat on forums. You can chat with people about success stories, swap recipes, and what not. In my opinion, the interaction here isn’t as engaging as what you might find on WeightWatchers, which has an active community of people from all walks of life sharing their stories. Noom has a community element, too, although in that case, you’re assigned to a support group of people based on having started the program at a similar time. Your Noom group could be hit or miss. The WeightWatchers groups function on an opt-in basis, so you get to choose.
Canceling or Changing Your Plan
With MyFitnessPal, everything pertaining to the Premium account is self-service. You can get a free trial to the Premium account, and I recommend doing it through the Apple App Store or Google Play if you want the easiest way to manage the subscription.
Best Free Calorie Counting App
MyFitnessPal isn’t a weight loss program, but you can use it to help with weight loss if that’s your goal. It’s one of the easiest calorie-counting apps to use, and the Premium version gives you useful information about nutrition. Because it has both a website and mobile apps (not all calorie-counting apps do), you can log your intake easily when it crosses your mind. Activity-logging is just as easy, too, with so many compatible apps and devices.
For its ease of use and flexibility in letting you customize your weight goal, MyFitnessPal is an Editors’ Choice. If you’re looking for a more traditional dieting program, you’re better off with Noom, WeightWatchers Digital, or a service that offers more in the way of guidance and coaching.