Posts Tagged

Review

The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match (for PC) Review & Rating

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 possibleeven 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 King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match (for PC)

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.

The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match (for PC)

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.

If you liked this review and would like to see more, please join the PCMag Steam Curator page. There you’ll find reviews every Steam game we’ve reviewed, as well as in-depth previews of upcoming Steam titles.



Source link

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII Review & Rating

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.

Pocket-Sized Powerhouse

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.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII : Sample Image

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.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII

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.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII

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.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII : Sample Image

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.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII

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.

Advanced Autofocus

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.)

Related Story See How We Test Digital Cameras

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.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII : Sample Image

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.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII : Sample Image

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.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII : Sample Image

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.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII

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.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII : Sample Image

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.



Source link

Flo by Moen Review & Rating

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.

Flo by Moen Water Meter design

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.

Flo by Moen Water Meter drip detection

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.

Flo by Moen Water Meter app dashboard

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.

Flo by Moen Water Meter fixture usage

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.

Conclusions

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.



Source link

HP Envy 32 All-in-One Review & Rating

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One -1

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One -11

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One -13

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One -2

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One -9

HP Envy 32 All-in-One -10

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One -12

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One -5

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One -6

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One -7

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.)

HP Envy 32 All-in-One -8

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…

HP Envy 32 All-in-One

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One

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.

HP Envy 32 All-in-One

HP Envy 32 All-in-One

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.



Source link

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE Review & Rating

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 Corollanow in its 12th generationit 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 $23,880cheaper 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.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE interior

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.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE Apple CarPlay

Performance

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.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE front design

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.

Conclusions

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.



Source link