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Fri, 12 Jan 2018 17:03:34 +0000

Vincent Teoh
1 day 20 hours ago
Price when reviewed 

Sony had a tremendously successful 2017 in terms of TVs, offering great products at every price point, ranging from the midrange XE90 and step-up XE93 to the full-array local-dimming XE94 and Bravia A1 OLED. The XE85 (full product name: Sony Bravia KD-55XE8596) we have here sits one rung below the XE90, has native 4K LCD screen with edge LED lighting, HDR support for both HDR10 and HLG formats, as well as the Android Smart TV. Our review sample was the 55-inch version.

READ NEXT: Best TV 2017/2018 - The best TVs to buy from 40in to 100in

Sony Bravia XE85 (KD-55XE8596) review: Design & Connections

The design is no-frills but the TV is still reasonably handsome. The bezel is finished in matte black and suitably slim with a Bravia inscription in the top left corner with a narrow band of silver trim splitting the, adding a welcome touch of sophistication.

The whole lot sits on a central rectangular stand with a faux-metallic finish but is actually plastic. During assembly, I was quite concerned about how much it flexed and wobbled but with the everything put together it felt more robust.

Buy the Sony Bravia KD-55XE8596 from John Lewis

All the connections on the TV are situated on the left side at the rear and the selection is par for the course with TVs in this price bracket. You get four HDMI ports, which looks plenty, but as is the case with all Sony 4K HDR TVs we've tested this year, only HDMI input 2 and 3 support HDMI 2.0b at higher chroma and frame rates and you'll need to go into the user menu to enable them. The power cable is affixed to the right side of the television.

As with most flat-screen TVs, sound quality is merely passable and would benefit from being supplemented with a half-decent soundbar. The TV’s Android Smart TV platform is reasonably responsive, although I’ve found that it can get bogged down after some use.

READ NEXT: The best soundbars of 2017/2018 - the best TV speakers you can buy

Sony Bravia XE85 (KD-55XE8596) review: Picture Quality & Gaming Responsiveness

The Sony KD-55XE8596 uses a VA-type LCD panel with a true RGB subpixel configuration, which delivers the sort of deep black that only OLED sets can beat, but a narrower viewing angle than traditional LED sets. A thermal scan confirmed that the Sony XE85 is an edge-lit LED LCD with only one strip of LEDs along the bottom border of the panel illuminating the entire screen.

The TV doesn't have local dimming or even pseudo-local dimming. Instead, it dims the whole screen when needed – a technique known as frame dimming or global dimming. It’s a technique that’s effective in deepening the black level or letterbox bars in dark scenes and worked well with our review sample to reduce several spots of backlight clouding, too. Unlike TVs with full-array local dimming, however, there's little to no increase in simultaneous contrast.

One positive aspect about frame dimming is that you don’t get haloing or blooming artefacts, and on our review unit, there was little-to-no banding or dirty screen effect on brighter scenes either. Colour fidelity is fantastic, and I found the upscaling quality of the TV’s X1 processor to be very good indeed, but there is some slight darkening around the edges, which is common on Sony LED LCDs.

As far as motion is concerned, performance is also pretty good. Slow-panning shots in 24 frames per second movies are free of telecinic judder and without needing interpolation and, if you do want to use interpolation either to improve motion clarity or smooth out judder even further, Sony's Motionflow technology tends to introduce fewer artefacts than other brands' implementations.

I measured DCI-P3 coverage at 95% and for HDR, peak brightness with an accurate white point came in at 380cd/m2 on a 10% window. Because the Bravia XE85 is not equipped with local dimming, full-screen peak brightness was the same. What this boils down to is rather disappointing HDR performance when watching 4K Blu-rays, but at least the overall HDR picture is suitably bright. This is entirely in keeping with Sony's HDR tone-mapping philosophy, which aims to preserve APL or Average Picture Level.

Buy the Sony Bravia KD-55XE8596 from John Lewis

Otherwise, panning shots appeared buttery smooth and Sony’s “Smooth Gradation” technology worked effectively to reduce posterisation and banding artefacts. Last but not least, I measured input lag at 31ms in 1080p SDR (standard dynamic range) and 34ms in 4K HDR mode, which should be fast enough for all but the most demanding of hardcore competitive gamers.

Sony Bravia XE85 (KD-55XE8596) review: Verdict

The Sony Bravia KD-55XE8596 is an excellent SDR TV with deep black level response, accurate colours, good video processing and superb motion handling. It isn’t great at HDR, but that's the case with any edge-lit LED LCD with only one strip of LED modules lighting up the whole screen. For impactful HDR, you'll need to buy a full-array local dimming LED LCD, an OLED set, or a dual-stacked edge-lit LED LCD like the Sony XE93.

That wouldn’t be a huge problem if the Sony Bravia XE85 was cheaper, but at the time of writing this TV will set you back £1,000 and that puts it in an awkward place. For only £200 more you can get the Sony Bravia 55XE90 which has a full-array local-dimming and double the peak brightness at 800 nits, both of which will result in a better HDR viewing experience.

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Fri, 12 Jan 2018 15:03:06 +0000

Nathan Spendelow
1 day 23 hours ago

This year’s annual CES tech conference was filled with smart home announcements – including a lamp with LED lights that double as a WiFi transmitter – but the most interesting of the bunch was what the folks at Nest and Yale have been up to these last couple of years.

READ NEXT: The biggest CES announcements

A smart door lock? I hear you cry. Yes, the awkward-to-pronounce Nest x Yale Lock replaces your front door key with a memorable passcode, and offers peace of mind when you’re off on your two-week stint in the Cayman Islands and can’t remember if you locked the door.

Nest x Yale Lock: Everything you need to know

Nest x Yale Lock: UK price and release date

Alas, the Nest x Yale Lock isn’t available in the UK quite yet, with the smart door lock expected to appear on Blighty’s shores sometime in March 2018. Pre-orders go live in February, although there’s no word yet on which UK retailers are stocking them.

Sadly, we don’t know how much we can expect to pay when the device arrives either, but I will update this article as soon as I hear more details.

Nest x Yale Lock: Design, features and security

As you might have guessed, the Nest x Yale Lock (which is available in three finishes: polished brass, satin nickel and oil rubbed bronze) completely does away with physical keys in favour of a digital numpad for your home’s security. It’s powered by four AA batteries, and sends you an alert whenever battery power is running low, to avoid it running out of juice and locking you out of your home.

If you were worried about security – and rightly so – both Nest and Yale say that the x Yale Lock is encrypted, and made of a tough exterior to provide any potential ne’er-do-wells from breaking it and accessing your home.

On the device, which can be operated remotely via the Nest app, you can store up to 250 memorable passcodes and even assign them to different family members or friends. Likewise, you can also assign codes to different tasks.

You’ll receive a notification alert whenever the device is used too and can check the status at any time through the Nest app. A handy feature if, say, you’re in the middle of a two-week holiday. And it has the ability to lock automatically behind you; no more digging your keys out of your pocket when you’re rushed in the morning.

Nest x Yale Lock: Early verdict

The Nest x Yale Lock offers a – admittedly tentative – first proper step into smart home security. Yes, we’ve had both indoor and outdoor security cameras for a good while, but this is the first time we’ve seen a proper preventative smart device, with the ability to actively stop any burglars from entering your home.

You may be wary of picking up this WiFI-enabled door lock when it releases – and I expect there will be plenty of Nest-bashing opinion pieces when it does launch – but the Nest x Yale Lock is the final piece of the inter-connected smart home puzzle.

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Fri, 12 Jan 2018 11:14:26 +0000

Nathan Spendelow
2 days 2 hours ago
Price when reviewed 

Shockingly, Garmin has steered clear of a smartwatch with music playback capabilities. It’s certainly a strange revelation, given the firm is one of the big players in the fitness wearables market, and it seems like an obvious – and straightforward – step to success.

READ NEXT: The best announcements at CES 2018

And crucially, its competition already boasts such a much-needed feature. Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, Polar and TomTom have all let loose devices with music storage, so it’s high time Garmin threw its metaphorical hat into the ring. It’s a good job then, that the firm’s appropriately titled Forerunner 645 Music, announced at CES 2018, does just that.

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music: Everything you need to know

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music: UK price and release date

Alas, Garmin’s latest isn’t available in the UK quite yet, but is due to launch this quarter for £400. If you aren’t at all fussed about the music option, you can pick up a regular Forerunner 645 for £350.

For comparison that certainly seems like quite a lot, considering you can pick up an Apple Watch Series 3 for £329, and Polar’s V800 will set you back £389. Still, it’s not even close to the Garmin Fenix 5’s £500 price tag

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music: Specs and first impressions

Let’s get to that music functionality first. I certainly wouldn’t get too excited, because the feature is somewhat limited, as you can only transfer up to 500 songs directly from your PC, or store offline playlists with Deezer+. Sadly, there’s no Spotify or Apple Music integration at launch. Still, this is a feature the more limited Deezer+ subscriber base can take advantage of, at the very least.

Elsewhere, Garmin’s latest fitness wearable supports contactless payments via Garmin pay, so you can grab a quick coffee on the way to the gym, without having to take your cards with you. But, Garmin pay is yet to support UK banks or credit cards.

Fitness feature-wise, the Forerunner 645 comes with what Garmin calls “connected features” essentially, you can send texts and have the ability to invite your friends to follow you while you run, with a service called LiveTrack. You can also view social media updates and emails, although there is no cellular option, so you’ll have to be in range of your phone.

Still, that’s not to stop the Forerunner 645 being a thumping good runners’ watch. Built-in GLONASS and GPS allows you track how far, fast and where you’ve run and the watch also accommodates swimming, cycling and walking tracking.

You also have the option to view completed courses, or even re-race a previous activity. Additionally, when used in tandem with Garmin’s Running Dynamics Pod (£60) you can track extra metrics such as stride length, cadence and ground contact time.

Garmin Forerunner 645 music: Early verdict

Garmin may be a few years’ late to the party, but a sorely-needed music playback function in its latest Forerunner 645 fitness watch is a welcome and useful addition. It may be a tad limited, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

And as for fitness features, Garmin's efforts – just like with GoPro and action cameras – are the definitive fitness wearable and thus, there’s little doubt that the Forerunner 645 won’t underperform. In fact, I can safely say this is shaping up to be the fitness wearable to beat in 2018.

Let’s see how Garmin’s Forerunner 645 Music performs in my review in the near future.

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Fri, 12 Jan 2018 10:27:14 +0000

James Archer
1 day 22 hours ago
Best mini PC_Asus Tinker Board

As great as beefy desktop PCs are, there’s one problem: their size. Compared to other computing devices such as smartphones and laptops, PCs take up an awful lot of room. Even many compact designs can struggle to fit beneath a monitor or TV, and portability isn’t even considered.

Luckily, there's an alternative, and we don’t mean spending a premium on a laptop. Mini PCs replicate the full-sized desktop experience in truly tiny form factors. Some actually use laptop components such as low-power processors – but because you’re not paying for an attached display or keyboard, the mini PC as a whole is generally considerably cheaper.

If you’re looking for a space-saving little computer, you’ve come to the right place. Here are the best mini PCs on the market – some running Windows, others running lightweight Linux operating systems. Best of all, the prices are tiny, too.

How to pick the right mini PC for you

“Mini PCs” is something of an umbrella term and it covers a few distinctive types of product. One such sub-species is the board-only PC – or microcomputer, or maker board. Whatever you want to call it, it’s essentially a petite motherboard with attached system-on-a-chip (SoC). With various connectors and ports, and potentially a spot of soldering, these can be transformed into almost anything you want: from a home media computer running Android to the brains of a remote-controlled robot. Their versatility and very low cost make these boards understandably popular with the maker community.

For those who want more of a replacement for their desktop PC, there’s a large selection of mini PCs designed to run Windows. These are much closer to the desktops and laptops we’re familiar with, and support proper SSDs and hard disks, upgradable RAM and a wide range of external ports. There are options here too, though: you can buy a ready-made system, or opt for a so-called “barebones box”, where you buy and install the RAM, storage drives and operating system yourself. It’s a little extra inconvenience in exchange for more choice and control.

How much power?

Whichever flavour of mini PC you go for, you’ll need enough processing power to do what needs doing. Maker boards tend to feature lightweight ARM-based processors, which are fine for browsing the web but might struggle with more demanding jobs.

Windows-based mini PCs often feature more powerful processors – sometimes the same ones you’ll find in laptops, which means they can accommodate some very powerful chips indeed. Of course, you’ll end up paying a lot more for this sort of hardware.

What about graphics?

Most mini PCs only have room for the integrated graphics on their existing processor, rather than a separate GPU, so it’s rare to find one with serious gaming capability. Options do exist with discrete graphics, though – such as the Asus VivoMini below – which can help with certain productivity tasks, such as image and video-editing. It's something to keep in mind if you’re looking for a tiny workstation.

How much storage do I need?

Solid-state storage is a natural fit for mini PCs, as it’s lighter and far more compact than traditional hard disk technology. On tiny maker boards, this might be in the form of a microSD card – shop around for a fast card as a cheap, slow one will drag down performance.

As you move upmarket, you might see mini PCs with small eMMC flash drives built in – spend a bit more and you can potentially have a large, capacious system drive. It’s normally a good idea to aim for as much storage as your budget allows because it’s a pain to replace a drive once you’ve installed your operating system and apps on it.

READ NEXT: The 10 best laptops you can buy

The best mini PCs you can buy in 2018

1. Raspberry Pi 3: The best mini PC for hobbyists

Price: £30

Best mini PC_Raspberry Pi 3

You must have heard of the Raspberry Pi – and this latest version is the best yet. It’s faster than previous models (the Foundation claims a 50% speed boost) and features built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, yet it still costs an amazingly cheap £30.

You also get four USB ports and Ethernet on the rear, plus HDMI and a 3.5mm audio and composite video port. The 40 general-purpose input/output pins allow tinkerers to hook up all sorts of peripherals and devices, and there are interfaces for the optional camera and LCD display modules, too.

One great strength of the Pi is the choice of operating systems, which includes the easy-to-use Linux distro Raspbian, the OpenELEC media centre and even RISC OS. It all goes to cement the Pi 3’s position as the ultimate hobbyist computer. If you really need something even cheaper and more compact, look below to the Pi Zero W – but where real computing power is required, the Pi 3 is the best option available.

Read our full review of the Raspberry Pi 3 for more details

Key specs – Operating system: Raspbian (recommended); Processor: Quad-core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A53; RAM: 1GB (max 1GB); Supplied storage: None; Data connectors: 4 x USB 2, 40-pin GPIO; Video ports: 1 x HDMI; Networking: 802.11n Wi-Fi, 10/100Mbit/s Ethernet; Dimensions: 19 x 86 x 57mm (WDH); Warranty: One-year RTB

2. Asus VivoMini: Best mini PC on Windows

Price: £665

Best mini PC_Asus VivoMini

The VivoMini is a lot more expensive than the Raspberry Pi – but that’s because it’s a complete Windows powerhouse in miniature form. There are several models available: the VM65N-G072Z model we tried has a dual-core Intel Core i5-7200U and 8GB of RAM, as well as a 128GB SSD and a 1TB hard disk. It even has a dedicated graphics chip, Nvidia’s GeForce 930M.

Before you get too excited, these are relatively low-power laptop components, but this is a system that can handle some low-end media editing, as well as browsing and word processing. It’ll even handle light gaming: we enjoyed playing Dirt: Showdown at 720p at 43fps with High detail settings.

There’s also a great set of ports – including USB 3 and 3.1 connectors – and if you want to upgrade the internals then it’s as easy as flipping a switch and sliding off the cover. At 52 x 190 x 190mm (WDH), it’s on the large side of mini, but if you’re looking for a fully capable PC you can’t go wrong.

Buy now from Ebuyer

Key specs – Operating system: Windows 10 Home; Processor: Dual-core 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; RAM: 8GB (max 32GB); Supplied storage: 128GB SSD, 1TB hard disk; Data connectors: 4 x USB 3, 2 x USB 3.1; Video ports: 1 x HDMI, 1 x DisplayPort; Networking: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet; Dimensions: 52 x 190 x 190mm (WDH); Warranty: Three-year RTB

3. Zotac Magnus ER51060: Best barebones mini PC

Price: £713

Best mini PC_Zotac Magnus ER51060

The imposing Magnus R51060 isn’t a complete functioning PC: you’ll need to buy a separate M.2 SSD and some SO-DIMM RAM to get it working – plus you’ll need to obtain a copy of Windows (or whatever other OS you would like to run).

Once you do, though, you have a great little mid-range desktop on your hands. Combining a quad-core AMD Ryzen 5 1400 CPU with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, it trounces most mini PCs for performance – although, to be fair, it is larger than most of them, a necessary consequence of the need to keep these powerful components cool.

On that note, the only real problem with the Magnus is fan noise, which is particularly noticeable during games. Other than that, it’s a winner with great upgrade and connectivity options. The price is steep, once you’ve added on the necessary extras, but if you’re looking for a compact system that punches well above its weight, the Magnus ER51060 is a huge success.

Key specs – Operating system: None included; Processor: Quad-core 3.2GHz AMD Ryzen 5 1400; RAM: None included (max 32GB); Supplied storage: None; Data connectors: 4 x USB 3, 1 x USB 3.1, 1 x USB Type-C; Video ports: 1 x HDMI, 3 x DisplayPort; Networking: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 2 x Gigabit Ethernet; Dimensions: 128 x 225 x 203mm (WDH); Warranty: Two-year RTB

4. Asus Tinker Board: A tempting step up from the Raspberry Pi

Price: £47

Best mini PC_Asus Tinker Board

The Tinker Board is Asus’ rival to the Raspberry Pi 3: the physical dimensions and connectors are identical, meaning you can fit it into most Raspberry Pi cases, but it has several advantages, including Gigabit Ethernet and an upgradable IPEX antenna header to boost wireless performance.

Perhaps more importantly, the Tinker Board’s 2GB of RAM is double that of the Pi 3, and a more powerful Rockchip Quad-Core RK3288 processor provides almost double the Pi’s performance. Graphics performance is also better: while we wouldn’t suggest you try to play games on the Tinker Board, it has integrated H.265 decoding so it can play 4K video.

The Linux-based TinkerOS is open-ended enough to let you use the Tinker as a desktop computer, but it’s really designed for projects – and most Pi code can be translated to run with only minor modifications. If you’re feeling held back by the hardware limitations of the Raspberry Pi 3, it’s a superb little upgrade – and still very cheap.


Key specs – Operating system: TinkerOS/Android 6.0; Processor: Quad-core 1.8GHz Rockchip RK3288; RAM: 2GB (max 2GB); Supplied storage: None; Data connectors: 4 x USB 2, 40-pin GPIO; Video ports: 1 x HDMI; Networking: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet; Dimensions: 19 x 85 x 53mm (WDH); Warranty: Three-year RTB

5. Raspberry Pi Zero W: The smallest, cheapest mini PC there is – yet surprisingly capable

Price: £10

Best mini PC_Raspberry Pi Zero W

The Pi Zero W is a tiny thing, measuring just 5 x 65 x 30mm. Yet, it’s a fully working computer with integrated Bluetooth and 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi.

The small size means there’s no room for full-sized ports, but there’s a micro-USB On-The-Go (OTG) port for connecting devices, and a mini-HDMI output – and the Pi’s trademark 40-pin general input/output (GPIO) connector is here too, although you’ll need to solder the pins on yourself if you want to use it.

Getting up and running is a piece of cake, as the Pi Zero W runs the same Raspbian OS as its (slightly) bigger brother. It’s slower, though: there’s enough power here for experiments or basic network services, but browsing the web feels like a slog. Still, it’s a beautifully designed and well-thought-out computer – and, for a tenner, an incredible bargain.

Read our full review of the Raspberry Pi Zero W for more details

Key specs – Operating system: Raspbian (recommended); Processor: Single-core 1GHz ARM1176JZF-S; RAM: 512MB (max 512MB); Supplied storage: None; Data connectors: 1x micro-USB (power), 1 x micro-USB OTG, 40-pin GPIO; Video ports: 1 x mini-HDMI; Networking: 802.11n Wi-Fi; Dimensions: 5 x 65 x 30mm (WDH); Warranty: One-year RTB

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