A Split-Design Gaming Keyboard: The Freestyle Edge

Although not exactly novel, split-design keyboards are relatively rare, which is why it’s notable that there’s a new contender raising Kickstarter funds to produce one focused on gaming. Kinesis Gaming is looking to drum up $50,000 to finish funding production on a keyboard it’s calling the Freestyle Edge (which kind of sounds like a 1990s skater kid clothing line, but who are we to judge).

Reformatting The Layout

The company’s big idea is that most gamers don’t really use the entire keyboard; primarily, they’re making use of the WASD cluster, several of the keys around them (depending on the type of game), the spacebar, and dedicated left-side macro keys. For many, the numpad is just in the way and takes up valuable desk space–some keyboard makers, including Asus and Tesoro, developed removable numpad modules to address this very issue–and so as part of its design plan, Kinesis Gaming nixed it. Therefore, the Freestyle Edge is technically a TKL keyboard, but Kinesis Gaming saw fit to add ten additional keys on the left side. Eight of those are programmable, but the two on the bottom have dedicated functions (toggle layers on/off, toggle LEDs on/off).

This makes sense, although the company’s implementation results in a rather odd key layout. For instance, note that the Esc key is double wide and positioned above the macro keys instead of above the main key area, and the F keys are shifted to the left of where they would normally be.  Further, on the right side, Kinesis Gaming added a vertical row of  a few of the keys you’d normally find on the numpad, such as Scroll Lock, Print Screen, Home, End, Pg Up, and Pg Dn.

The arrow keys are there as well, but instead of being set off by themselves, they’re sort of crammed in there with a bunch of other keys. For example, the up arrow key is right underneath the Enter key. This cuts off the right Shift key, making it narrower than normal.

It’s hard to disagree with the decision to include some of those keys, although because they’re in a non-traditional spot, some users will likely have trouble finding them intuitively.  

Kinesis Gaming’s split design implementation keeps the two halves of the keyboard connected by a 20-inch cable that connects to the top/back of the two parts. This lets you squish the two halves together, position them at whatever angle(s) are most convenient for you, keep them wide enough that you can place a joystick between them, or move the right-side one out of the way and use just the left-side one for gaming.

They also each have a removable palm rest.

The Lift Kit

The Freestyle Edge also has a Lift Kit. Like ergonomic keyboards, part of the allure of the split design is that you can position the pieces in a way most comfortable for you, and propping them up in the middle gives you a nice ergonomic slant. Kinesis Gaming did not overlook this feature.

The Lift Kit consists of two risers that let you “tent” either or both of the keyboard halves at 5, 10, or 15 degrees. You’ll need to employ the palm wrests if you use the Freestyle Edge in this configuration.

The Lift Kit is not a standard feature of the Freestyle Edge, though; you’ll have to pay extra to get them. However, that’s not an unwise decision on Kinesis Gaming’s part; some users won’t be interested in the Lift Kits, so keeping them as an optional accessory reduces the cost of the keyboard itself.

Key Caps, Switches, And Lighting

Kinesis Gaming is in the tank for Cherry. Its Kickstarter reads in part, “Some keyboard manufacturers are moving away from Cherry to ‘clone’ switches to save money, but they aren’t always passing those savings on to you, the customer. In gaming, every key stroke counts, which is why we insist on using only authentic Cherry switches.

The Freestyle Edge features Cherry MX switches, mostly; the four keys in the “Programming Cluster” actually have Cherry ML switches. For now, you have the option of choosing Cherry MX Red, Brown, or Blue switches. The Kickstarter noted, “Down the road we hope to be able to offer the Edge in the full-array of Cherry switches, but for our first manufacturing run we had to make some tough choices.” Thus, for now, there will be no Cherry MX Blacks, Greens, Clears, Silent, Speed, etc.

One capitulation Kinesis Gaming made was on lighting. The Freestyle Edge has blue LEDs only, although there are nine brightness levels and a breathing effect you can switch on.

The key caps are ABS plastic, and the company boasted that its key cap legends will show up in the dark with the LEDs off better than other key caps thanks to its three-step “paint-and-laser” process:

Here’s how it works: 1) each keycap gets a base-layer of translucent white paint, then 2) a top-coat of black paint is applied, then 3) the keycaps are laser engraved to remove just the black layer of paint to create the bright white key legend (not gray plastic).

Kinesis Gaming also noted that although the Freestyle Edge’s layout is unorthodox, (almost) all of the keys are standard sizes. A notable exception is the split spacebar, which has two separate 3.5x lengths. Although the right-side Ctrl and Shift keys are not standard sizes for normal Ctrl and Shift keys, they are 1.75x width. To replace them, you’ll have to find 1.75x with custom legends.

Configuration: On Keyboard Or “On Keyboard”

You can configure the Freestyle Edge via either onboard controls or a GUI. It’s worth noting that the GUI, which is called the SmartSet App, is not software that runs on your PC; instead, it’s a 1MB application that runs on the keyboard itself. Thus, you get thoroughly portable configuration software. The keyboard is plug-and-play, too, so ostensibly you should be able to bring the Freestyle Edge to any PC, plug it on, and pull up the GUI. No installation required.

You can see it in action here:

For on-keyboard programmability, Kinesis Gaming focused on four additional hardware buttons that are located at the top of the right half of the Freestyle Edge: Layout, Macro, Remap, and the “SmartSet” key.

Because the Freestyle Edge has 4MB of onboard memory, you can create and save up to 10 key layouts and “hundreds of additional layouts”, and you can remap any of the 95 keys. You can also record and bind macros on the fly, and the SmartSet key gives you control over the lighting brightness, and lets you toggle NKRO mode and Game mode, get the Status Report, and update the firmware.

Note that within layouts, there are actually two programmable layers. For example, the “top” layer in a given layout may be a WYSIWYG situation, but the second layer could map media controls onto the F keys. The bottom left key in the extra bank of keys toggles these layers on and off.

Specs And Pricing

The Freestyle Edge is not cheap. The basic model–sans Lift Kits but with the palm rests–will run you $219. If you add the Lift Kit, you’ll add $30 to the total, bringing the cost to $249. There are deals if you back the Kickstarter, though.

The “First Edition” round of the Freestyle Edge–a small initial run of 210 of the devices–will be in buyers’ hands in the July-August timeframe. The mass production run will start in September and be distributed to buyers thereafter.

However, the Kickstarter campaign has less than half of that $50,000 raised so far at press time, and if it’s not fully funded, Kinesis Gaming won’t move forward with the project. There are 29 days left in the campaign.

Product Kinesis Gaming Freestyle Edge
Type Ergonomic, split, TKL
Switch Cherry MX Red, Brown, or Blue
Microcontroller 32-bit Atmel microcontroller
Onboard Storage 4MB
Lighting Blue LEDs only
Key Rollover NKRO
Interface USB
Cable Braided
Additional Ports No
Key Caps ABS plastic, three-step “paint-and-laser” process for legends
Weight Approx. 2.5lbs
Software SmartSet App (runs on keyboard, not PC, compatible only with Windows)
Misc. -Plug-and-play
-Windows, Mac, Linux, Chrome
-Plate-mounted switch design
-2-year warranty
-Lift Kit (detachable, sold separately) and Palm Pads
-Onboard macro, layout, remapping, and lighting controls
-Halves connected by 20-inch cable
Price $219 for the basic model, $249 with Lift Kits

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Bethesda Releases 'The Elder Scrolls: Legends', Reveals Future Expansions

Bethesda announced that The Elder Scrolls: Legends digital card game is now officially available on PC. The company also revealed its first PvE expansion, “The Fall of The Dark Brotherhood,” and offered information about future updates expected to debut between now and this Summer.

The Elder Scrolls: Legends is a strategy card game set in the Elder Scrolls franchise’s home continent of Tamriel. It’s free to download, but you can also purchase more packs of cards if you don’t feel like waiting for the game to give them out at semi-regular intervals. In that sense it’s much like Hearthstone, the digital card game based on Blizzard’s Warcraft series, which debuted in 2014 and has received several expansions in the time since.

Bethesda’s hoping to make up for lost time with an aggressive release schedule. Even though the game just came out on PC, the company plans to release The Fall of The Dark Brotherhood on April 5. The expansion will task players with infiltrating and bringing down the league of assassins. Bethesda said that players will be able “to make key choices that both impact which missions you’ll play and decide the story’s ending” in the add-on’s missions.

The Fall of The Dark Brotherhood is broken up into three maps that can be purchased individually, as a $20 bundle, or with in-game currency. (Bethesda didn’t say how much each map will cost on its own.) The expansion features more than 25 missions, 40 new cards, and three “Legendary” cards. You’ll also receive a special Doom Wolf mount in The Elder Scrolls Online–an MMORPG based in the same universe–if you purchase this expansion.

The Elder Scrolls: Legends won’t stop there. Bethesda described several new modes and expansions in its press release:

  • Twitch Integration and Spectator Mode – May will bring a major update that introduces Twitch integration and Spectator Mode, allowing players to more easily showcase their skills and watch live matches online to learn new strategies from the masters of the game.
  • New Gauntlet Mode – Also in May, a Gauntlet mode will be introduced in which players will compete in mini-tournaments with their own decks. In addition to the current Ranked ladder, Gauntlets can be of different sizes and lengths and will give players new opportunities to join in-game competitions they can play at their own pace.
  • Major Expansion This Summer – The Fall of the Dark Brotherhood is just the first of a number of new Stories and Sets coming to Legends in 2017, with the first new, large set scheduled for release this summer. More information on this set will be revealed at E3 2017 in June.

Nor will The Elder Scrolls: Legends be exclusive to PC. The game will jump from PC to iPad on March 23, debut on Android tablets in April, head to macOS this Spring, and finally reach Android smartphones and the iPhone this Summer. (This also mimics Hearthstone, which is already available on all of those platforms.) Bethesda said that it plans to reveal more information about these additional platforms and other expansions at E3 2017 in June.

You can learn more about The Elder Scrolls: Legends and The Fall of The Dark Brotherhood expansion on Bethesda’s website.

Name The Elder Scrolls: Legends
Type Digital Strategy Card Game
Publisher Bethesda
Developer Dire Wolf Digital
Platforms
  • PC
  • iPad (March 23)
  • Android tablets (April 2017)
  • macOS (Spring 2017)
  • Smartphones (Summer 2017)
Where To Buy
  • Bethesda
  • App Store (TBD)
    Play Store (TBD)
Release Date March 9, 2017 (PC)

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ThunderNews

ThunderNews may not be the most well-known Usenet service on the market, but it’s vying for your attention as a premium newsgroup offering that works with thousands of third-party servers across the world to provide a plethora of options.

What it does

The service offers a tempting combination of solid connection speeds, lengthy article retention and high completion rates. What sets ThunderNews apart from other services out there is that it provides Usenet capabilities that are uncensored, unfiltered and without logs.

It has servers based across the US and Europe which are accessible to users worldwide. ThunderNews works in a similar way to other Usenet services, requiring you to connect to servers using ports for either standard or SSL connections. As is always the case, the type of connection you choose depends on how secure you want your usage to be.

Performance

When it comes to retention, ThunderNews certainly doesn’t disappoint. The platform offers users more than 3,000 days of binary retention and 1,265 days of text retention. You’ll find that these retention rates are pretty much the same as other providers. 

There’s a major focus on flexibility here. Using ThunderNews, you can access a wide range of popular binary and text newsgroups. In total, the service covers over 107,000 newsgroups across the globe. They should all be active, and the company is constantly updating its content library. Overall, this is generally a reliable network, sporting a 99% completion rate.

Speed is one of the most important considerations when it comes to choosing the ideal Usenet service. In the case of ThunderNews, it certainly doesn’t lag. You’re able to access American and European server farms through up to 50 concurrent connections. Wherever you happen to be based, the process of connecting is the same – there are a range of standard, SSL and alternate ports available.

Data options

You get plenty of options in terms of which newsreader application you use, too. Every member can use a free copy of NewsRover, which is updated regularly. While there aren’t major issues with NewsRover, you have the option to use a third-party client. You shouldn’t have any problems with popular applications such as NewsLeecher and Newsbin.

Security-wise, ThunderNews isn’t all that different from other providers. As already mentioned, you can use SSL encryption, and it doesn’t log member usage. Thanks to a partnership made with OctaneVPN, you can make use of a VPN tool to ensure that your data is always secure, and that your online activities aren’t tracked by third-party organisations. If you run into any problems, you can access the company’s online support and FAQ page.

You’re spoilt for choice in terms of subscription options. The best value plan costs $7.99 (£6.55, AU$10.60) for the first month, before going up to $16.99 (£13.95, AU$22.50). For that, you get unlimited bandwidth, 3,127 days of binary retention, access to all the company’s servers and a VPN service that works in over 35 countries. You can find all the details on further plans here.

Final verdict

Overall, ThunderNews is a decent Usenet service, and it’s definitely one to consider. Although the prices of its plans vary greatly, they aren’t too expensive generally speaking. As well as being relatively affordable, there’s also decent retention, support and security options on offer here.

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Tech firms to get Wikileaks CIA files first

Technology firms will get “exclusive access” to details of the CIA’s cyber-warfare programme, Wikileaks has said.

The anti-secrecy website has published thousands of the US spy agency’s secret documents, including what it says are the CIA’s hacking tools.

Founder Julian Assange said that, after some thought, he had decided to give the tech community further leaks first.

“Once the material is effectively disarmed, we will publish additional details,” Mr Assange said.

US federal agencies have launched a criminal investigation into the release of the documents.

However, the CIA has not responded to the claims.

In the first tranche of leaks, Wikileaks alleged that the CIA had developed what Mr Assange called “a giant arsenal” of malware to attack “all the systems that average people use”.

Tech firms, including Google and Apple, have said that they are developing counter-measures to combat any malware that the CIA may have developed.

Mr Assange said that his organisation had “a lot more information on the cyber-weapons programme”.

He added that while Wikileaks maintained a neutral position on most of its leaks, in this case it did take a strong stance.

“We want to secure communications technology because, without it, journalists aren’t able to hold the state to account,” he said.

Mr Assange also claimed that the intelligence service had known for weeks that Wikileaks had access to the material and done nothing about it.

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The 15 best laptops of 2017: the top laptops ranked

Update: In keeping our best laptops guide stacked with the latest assortment of choice notebook selections, we’ve made it a point to replace the Lenovo Yoga 900 with this year’s Lenovo Yoga 910.

It was only a few years back that we were all prematurely declaring the death of the PC, thanks to the swarm of tablet computers that flooded market following the lead of the iPad in 2010. While a handful of these slates saw success, many did not. 

As market interest began to fade, many former tablet enthusiasts turned their heads to Chromebooks and 2-in-1 devices. Meanwhile, those interested in slim designs and lengthy  battery lives were given the choice to pick up a thin-and-light Ultrabook, though hardy gaming machines like the Origin EVO15-S still remain.

That said, the versatility of convertibles like the Acer Swift 7 comes in handy for more than just creative types. For instance, if you’ve ever wanted to binge-watch a Netflix show in bed, a 2-in-1 notebook can mean doing so with or without the obstruction of a physical keyboard.  

Despite the barrage of choices, finding the best laptop to suit your needs doesn’t have to be a chore. To help you complete your laptop checklist, we’ve compiled a definitive list of the 15 best laptops you can spend your money on today.

Best laptops

1. Dell XPS 13

Still first-rate, now with Kaby Lake

CPU: Intel Core i3 – i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – QHD+ (3,200 x 1,800) | Storage: 128GB – 512GB SSD

Faster than ever
Same long-lasting battery
Still poor webcam position
No Windows Hello

With the 2016 model, the Dell XPS 13 reigns supreme as the best laptop you can buy today. Thin and light with a battery life that exceeds 7 hours, according to our movie test, Dell’s flagship laptop is the posterchild for Ultrabooks. Once again, too, Dell has managed to squeeze a 13.3-inch screen into an 11-inch frame, proving the nigh-borderless InfinityEdge display to be a design marvel. Outfitted with Intel’s latest Kaby Lake processors and lightning-fast storage and memory, the Dell XPS 13 is dressed to impress with welcome addition of a Rose Gold color option as well. It should comes as no surprise, then, that we still rank it as the best Ultrabook and best laptop overall.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 13

Best laptops

2. Asus ZenBook UX305

Better than the MacBook and at a fraction of the price

CPU: Intel Core Intel Core M3-6Y30 – M7-6Y75 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch, FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – QHD+ (3200 x 1800) IPS display | Storage: 256GB – 512GB SSD

Incredibly thin and light
Vibrant, glare-free screen
Weak sauce graphics
Tinny speakers

If you’re looking for a Windows alternative to Apple’s latest rose-tinted MacBook, the Asus ZenBook UX305 might be more your speed. Though it looks like a Cupertino design from every angle, it’s actually superior to Apple’s creations in almost every way. From its purple-tinged aluminum design to its sharp display and hearty helping of built-in storage space, the UX305 puts Windows back in style, fanless design, long battery life and all. And, while the low-cost is enticing, if you’re shopping for something with a bit more horsepower (not to mention an even more compact design), look no further than the Asus ZenBook 3.

Read the full review: Asus ZenBook UX305

Best laptops

3. Razer Blade Stealth

The gaming Ultrabook you’ve been waiting for

CPU: Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 12.5-inch, QHD+ (2,560 x 1,440) – 4K (3,840 x 2,160) IGZO LED-backlit multi-touch | Storage: 128GB – 1TB SSD

Captivating, colorful display
Greatly improved battery life
Cumbersome charger
Keyboard needs more travel

The Razer Blade Stealth is an exceptional Ultrabook hindered only by its efforts in trying to be a gaming laptop. Price-wise, it has the upperhand against key competitors, but don’t be fooled – with an Intel Kaby Lake Core i7 processor, the latest Blade Stealth is more powerful and power-efficient than ever. Better yet, this laptop can change the lighting of each key on its keyboard, with more than 16.8 million colors to choose from. Plus, if you mind the integrated graphics from Intel, you can attach a (albeit rather pricey) Razer Core external GPU enclosure for boosted performance when stationary.

Read the full review: Razer Blade Stealth

4. Asus Chromebook Flip

The winning premium Chromebook formula

CPU: Intel Pentium – Core m3 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 12.5-inch, FHD (1,920 x 1,080) LED backlit anti-glare | Storage: 32GB – 64GB eMMC

Elegant tablet mode
Gorgeous, vivid screen
No out of box Android app support
Middling speakers

When Asus first came out with the Chromebook Flip as a “premium” offering, we were skeptical. Premium Chromebooks had been done before with little to no fanfare. After all, who would want to spend over a grand on a laptop that’s limited to the Chrome browser and a handful of Android apps? This concept becomes more enticing when you cut the price in half, as Asus has skillfully accomplished with the latest Chromebook Flip. Stacked with a gorgeous design, a keyboard that feels rich to the touch and even a 2-in-1 form factor, the Asus Chromebook Flip proves that Chromebooks can be premium without going overboard.

Read the full review: Asus Chromebook Flip

Best laptops

5. Samsung Notebook 7 Spin

Premium build, affordable price point

CPU: 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 940MX (2GB DDR3L); Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 12GB – 16GB | Screen: 15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) LED with touch panel | Storage: 1 TB HDD – 1TB HDD; 128GB SSD

Excellent value
HDR display
Hefty weight
Graphics narrowly miss the mark

If you’ve ever wanted a MacBook Pro without selling a kidney to afford it, the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin not only delivers the style and glitz of Apple’s professional-level laptops, but it even adds a touchscreen to the mix for an approachable starting price. For a hefty 2-in-1 with a Core i7 CPU, 12GB of RAM and even a discrete Nvidia GPU, the Samsung Notebook 7 provides top of the line specs considering its value. But why stop there?

Samsung even went as far as to include an HDR display despite offering only a 1080p resolution. Though not many services actually support the technology (yet), some argue that it’s more essential than a higher resolution anyway. Deeper blacks, more vibrant color – the works.

Read the full review: Samsung Notebook 7 Spin

6. Acer Aspire S 13

CPU: Intel Core i3 – i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520 – 620 | RAM: 4GB – 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch, FHD (1,920 x 1,080) anti-glare touchscreen IPS | Storage: 128GB – 512GB SSD

High performance and decent battery life
Exterior feels a little cheap

Even though arguably the MacBook Air itself has expired, the clones seem to never cease production. Among them is the Acer Aspire S 13, an affordable alternative to Apple’s entry-level laptop that even outdoes it in some ways. It’s not quite as thin and light as many prominently featured Ultrabooks, nor is it particularly expensive looking. However, the Acer Aspire S 13 does pack quite a punch when it comes to performance. USB Type-C and a full HD display put it just over the edge in beating out the 13-inch MacBook Air, and for a much lower cost at that. Despite the efficacy of the CPU, the Acer Aspire S 13 even manages a battery life of 7 hours and 49 minutes, according to our movie test results.

Read the full review: Acer Aspire S 13

Best laptops

7. Samsung Notebook 9

Greatness doesn’t need to break the bank

CPU: 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch, FHD (1,920 x 1,080) LED anti-reflective display | Storage: 256GB

Competitively priced
Nearly perfect display
Micro-sized video ports
Short battery life

The Samsung Notebook 9 may not be the flashiest title on the list, but at $949 it does offer more bang for the buck than you’ll see in most laptops. That’s because unlike much of the competition now, it’s an Ultrabook with a full-fledged Core i5 Skylake processor. That alone makes it effectively more powerful than a MacBook Air with a better screen resolution and price point to boot. On the downside, it’s the battery life that takes a hit as a result.

Read the full review: Samsung Notebook 9

Best laptops

8. Surface Book

The ultimate Windows 10 hybrid laptop

CPU: Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel HD graphics 520 – Nvidia GeForce graphics | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.5-inch, 3,000 x 2,000 PixelSense Display | Storage: 128GB – 256GB PCIe3.0 SSD

Futuristic design
Seamless tablet separation
Battery life falls well below promises
Major updates are still in tow

If you’re looking for a more traditional notebook, Microsoft knocked it out of the park with its first laptop ever, the Surface Book. Though it has a peculiar 3:2 aspect ratio and 13.5-inch screen that’s outside of the norm for most Ultrabooks, it’s one of the best designed convertible laptops ever created. As a standalone tablet, otherwise known as the Clipboard, it’s the most powerful and thinnest Windows 10 computers in the world. Then docking the screen into the keyboard base affords it even more performance by way of a discrete GPU.

Read the full review: Surface Book

Best laptops

9. HP Spectre x360 15

Thinner, sexier and faster than ever

CPU: Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 940MX | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 15.6-inch, UHD (3,840 x 2,160) IPS UWVA-backlit multi-touch | Storage: 512GB SSD

Flawless keyboard
Spectacular design
Comes with stylus
Less-than-stellar battery life
Trackpad gets in the way of typing

HP nailed its 2016 revision to the Spectre x360, and it’s done it again with the 2017 version that comes with a host of new modern features for the versatile laptop/tablet hybrid. It may not be as small as other Ultrabooks, but the HP Spectre x360 15 still looks beautiful and feels fantastic to use. It also keeps the 360-degree hinge, letting you flip the device so you can use it comfortably no matter what your needs are. So, you get amazing build quality and design and some of the best hardware currently powering modern laptops. What’s not to love?

Read the full review: HP Spectre x360 15

best laptops

10. MacBook

Gorgeous, thin and light

CPU: Intel Core m3 – m5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 12-inch, 2304 x 1,440 LED-backlit IPS display | Storage: 256GB – 512GB SSD

Terrific design
Surprisingly good speakers
Processor is still slow
High cost for low performance

Apple has updated its most attractive laptop yet with an Intel Skylake Core M processor. Still clocking in at 1.1GHz to start, the 2016 MacBook aims at those who don’t need power as much as portability and pizazz. The stylish, aluminum unibody design and the Retina display are all back, too. Aside from a 3.5mm headphone jack, the only connector port remains USB-C, though the reversible interface has gained traction since last year’s debut. If you’re willing to lug cable adapters and take a performance hit in the name of stellar design, the brand new, appetizing Rose Gold finish might be just for you.

Read the full review: MacBook

Best laptops

11. Asus ZenBook Flip UX360

MacBook speeds with more ports for fewer dollars

CPU: Intel Core m3 – Core m7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 13.3-inch, FHD (1,920 x 1,080) LED-backlit glare touchscreen | Storage: 128GB – 512GB SSD

All-day battery life
Roomy keyboard and trackpad
Lacking multitasking performance
Tons of screen glare

When it comes to crafting an affordable Windows laptop with a premium feel, Asus takes the cake. The Asus ZenBook Flip UX360 in particular combines a mid-range price tag with a convertible form factor, a full-size trackpad and keyboard and an extensive arrangement of ports. These include USB-C, micro HDMI, micro SDXC and, yes, standard USB ports and even a 3.5mm headphone jack. In the pre-2015 MacBook era, these features would be expected, but nowadays, they’re an anomaly given the minimalistic efforts of newer laptops. Don’t go in expecting the ZenBook Flip UX360 to be old-fashioned, however, because as the naming suggests, this is a notebook that prides itself on its ability to shapeshift 360 degrees.

Read the full review: Asus ZenBook Flip UX360

best laptop

12. HP Spectre

Thin, powerful and delightfully chic

CPU: Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 8GB LPDDR3 SDRAM | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS UWVA WLED | Storage: 256GB – 512GB SSD

Tasteful glitz and glam
Tactile keyboard
Below average battery life
Spongy trackpad

One glance at the HP Spectre, and you’d think it belongs in a mansion. What you may be surprised to discover is that not only does it boast a premium appearance, but the HP Spectre is actually more powerful than the latest MacBook and for a lower price at that. From the beautifully designed gold hinge to the optional Intel Core i7 configuration to the trio of USB-C ports, you’ll not only look like you have one of the most capable (not to mention future-proof) laptops around, but you actually will. Although it only boasts a 1080p screen , that criticism is trumped by a work of supreme industrial design.

Read the full review: HP Spectre

Best laptops

13. MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2016)

Bigger isn’t always better, but for the MacBook Pro it is

CPU: Intel Core i7 | Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 450 – 460 | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 15.4-inch Retina (2,880 x 1,800) LED-backlit IPS | Storage: 256GB – 2TB PCIe SSD

Luminous display
Loud and clear speakers
Touch Bar not fully-realized
Trackpad feels too big

For media production, the 15-inch MacBook Pro has been the go-to for many years now. Slight design changes have annually accompanied CPU upgrades, making every new MacBook Pro that comes out a subtle rewrite of its predecessor. This year, however, Apple has made changes – for better or worse – that will dramatically change how the MacBook Pro is used altogether. To Apple outsiders, the decision to omit all the standard USB ports and SD slots in favor of four USB-C connections is baffling. For the fans, however, it’s a strategic means of future-proofing. Regardless of how you feel about the concessions, the MacBook Pro’s most alluring invention is the Touch Bar, which replaces the function keys and, in turn, introduces a layer of functionality only possible with the latest MacBook Pro.

Read the full review: Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2016)

Best laptops

14. Lenovo Yoga 910

An avant-garde take on a contemporary classic

CPU: Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.9-inch FHD 1,920 x 1,080 IPS multi-touch | Storage: 512GB PCIe SSD

Substantially larger screen
Edgier looks
Heats up (and gets loud) fast
Disappointing battery life

Unlike many iterative notebook upgrades, the Lenovo Yoga 910 feels like a completely different laptop than its predecessor, the Yoga 900. Now embellished with edgier looks (literally, as the edges are far more defined) and an all-aluminum chassis, the Yoga 910 is quite the stunner. That’s without going on to detail its superior, 13.9-inch display, which is 0.6 inches bigger than the Yoga 900. The real feat, however, is that the Yoga 910 retains a similarly sized shell, not to mention a slimmer body, despite the added screen real estate. The banging set of speakers are merely a bonus.

Read the full review: Lenovo Yoga 910

15. HP Chromebook 14

A fun, bright and affordable Chromebook

CPU: 1.83GHz Intel Celeron N2940 processor | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB DDR3 | Screen: 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 display | Storage: 16GB eMMC

Excellent keyboard and trackpad
Crisp, vivid screen
Not as powerful as some higher end notebooks
Average battery life

With a 14-inch screen, this HP Chromebook isn’t the smallest or lightest Chrome OS device out there. However, it strikes a good balance between ample screen space and portability. A top-notch keyboard and trackpad, coupled with a great screen, makes the Chromebook 14 a joy to write and browse the web on for very little money at all. On the other hand, if you’re willing to shell out a bit more for an aluminum design and upgraded performance, the smaller HP Chromebook 13 might be more your style.

Read the full review: HP Chromebook 14

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article

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LG G6 initial review: A masterful marriage of hardware and software

The G6 comes at a crucial time for LG. It made a loss last year following the disappointing sales of the G5 and V10 and its new handset is a bold step in the right direction, but that doesn’t always save a company’s fortunes. To cut to the chase, the LG G6 is an astonishing smartphone that easily holds it own against the best smartphones ever made. 

Its taller 18:9 screen is easy to get used to, and while many operations require two hands given the 5.7in screen, it actually is comfortable to hold, scroll, and use with one hand – just like the marketing would have you believe. LG has wisely ditched the gimmicky leather of the G4 and the cool-but-not modularity of the G5 to craft the best ever LG phone. And there have been a lot of them.

The design has been overhauled again following the leather-clad G4 and the modular G5 to a debatably more uniform metal and glass affair. LG’s Friends  didn’t last long, did they?

We’ve tested the G6 rigorously since we got our hands on the unit before its announcement at MWC 2016 and it performs just as well as the best smartphones on the market. Here’s our full review of the LG G6.

Note: The version we have tested is a pre-production unit. Once we have received and tested a UK G6 retail unit we will amend any necessary sections with any differences found, as well as a final verdict.

See also: LG announces the G6 at MWC

LG G6 hands-on review: UK price and availability

MobileFun has revealed the UK price of the LG G6: £699. You can pre-order the LG G6 from its site now. The release date is unconfirmed, though we expect it to be in April or May, and we expect it to be available on all four major UK networks.

Should the official price be £699 in the UK, we are a touch disappointed. We thought LG would be wise to undercut Samsung to boost chance of sales, but it looks like it’s gone all out premium on pricing as well as build.

LG G6 hands-on review: Design and build

So LG has gone big, but it’s the screen, not the handset itself, that’s grown. The G6 boasts an 18:9 screen, expanding the display from the traditional confines of 16:9. This leaves it with a 5.7in Quad HD display. It looks seriously good. 

Alongside that wonderful display is a design that conforms, unlike the modular G5 and the leather-clad G4. The G6 takes a leaf out of the iPhone 4’s book with a solid aluminium frame and Gorilla Glass on the front and back. It comes in platinum, white and black, with only the latter being a true fingerprint magnet.

Alongside that wonderful display is a design that conforms, unlike the modular G5 and the leather-clad G4. The G6 takes a leaf out of the iPhone 4’s book with a solid aluminium frame and Gorilla Glass on the front and back. It comes in platinum, white and black, with only the latter being a true fingerprint magnet. 

The refined design is simpler and more elegant, with the dual rear cameras and fingerprint sensor that acts as the power/lock button sitting flush with the body. The bottom edge houses the USB-C port (fully waterproof), single speaker and mic. The right edge is smooth and clear save for the SIM tray, while the left edge has the two volume keys. The top edge has that very welcome 3.5mm headphone jack.

Even though the metal and glass frame isn’t entirely original, the rounded design is made all the more striking thanks to the rounded corners of the actual display as well. It’s a clever detail that doesn’t negatively affect use while accentuating the G6’s thin bezels and unusually tall screen. It works really well.

The black model sports this look slightly better than the white or platinum models though. The rounded screen actually has a tiny thin black gap between it and the coloured bezels, but it’s enough on the white and platinum to be constantly visible. Though it’s there on the black, it’s invisible and makes for an even better visual impression.

So, while we prefer the platinum model for looks and how it hides fingerprints, the black one wins because the rounded screen simply looks better on it.

LG said that its goal with the G6, after extensive customer research, was to make a phone with a huge screen but that you could still comfortably use with one hand. The problem here is that that is basically impossible, even for those with large hands. Where the company has succeeded though is by making the G6 perfectly pocket friendly while packing in a screen that it’s easy to scroll through and hold with a single paw.

This might sound easy to achieve, but it can be rare to find on phablets like the G6. The iPhone 7 Plus, for example, is a through and through two-handed device, and the G6 succeeds in fitting a larger screen than that phone into a smaller overall body.

From the precision cut metal rim to the flat back that still packs in dual cameras and a fingerprint sensor and, of course, the screen, LG has hit a home run with this design. If at first it looks ordinary, in use it really is far from that. No gimmicks, no leather, no risks – just incredible build quality that positively affects daily use.

LG G6 hands-on review: Features and specifications

In the tech press, a new high-end smartphone usually takes a fair (and unfair) battering simply because of the specs. To us, the G6 actually feels like a marriage of hardware and software that transcends this sort of nit picking because it works so well as a cohesive whole. The flack the G6 has got for using the Snapdragon 821 is a little unfair given how well it performs. Here we’ll break down the features and specifications for you to decide for yourself what you make of LG’s decisions.

Processor

One point of contention among the tech community is LG’s decision to go with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 processor rather than its latest 835 that we expect to see in the Galaxy S8. 

The 821 is in its third generation, and LG told us in an interview that it therefore has more expertise in how to optimise the user experience (UX) and implied the 835 wouldn’t have brought any more noticeable advantages.

It’s true that the 835 might bring noticeable battery life gains when we see it in the Galaxy S8, but if we don’t fully know why LG chose to forego it’s hard to fully criticise the decision. The 821 is, after all, doing just fine powering the Google Pixel

The G6 can handle some pretty heavy multitasking. We swiped between games, video streams, Spotify, document editing and more and the phone barely broke a sweat. Very occasionally in app (Spotify for example) we noticed a tiny lag on album art when switching songs, but live streaming services often do this even on high-end phones. 

We can’t imagine anyone having complaints about the G6’s performance, and the benchmarks below reflect how it holds its own against the best of the best. In fact, it is one of the best.

You’ll notice some of the frame rate scores are lower than the G6’s market rivals; the OnePlus 3T and Google Pixel have the same 821 processor but have better scores.

We are putting this down to the larger resolution on the G6 and its Full HD display, and the processor needing to push that bit harder to keep up. At no point during gaming, for example, was the frame rate lagging, but if top specs that give maximum possible performance are your thing, you may want to take this into consideration

Display

The display is a 5.7in Quad HD display with a resolution of 2880 x 1440 – it’s stunning. The extra pixels on that first figure are to account for the 18:9 aspect ratio, which you will get used to much quicker than you might think.

The latency is very good, with very fast response, but it still is a touch (tiny touch) behind the iPhone 7, but very comparable to any other Android phone we have used. It never affected our use of the device.

Aside from the 564ppi, the extra height of the 18:9 aspect means the whole experience of using the G6 is improved from the G5. If that sounds a bit too vague, it’s because you really need to get your hands on it to see what we mean. The extra height just makes sense in the slim form factor, and you really will use it with one hand. This impression is also intrinsically linked with the changes to the software, which we’ll come onto.

The screen also retains the always-on functionality from the G5, with a slightly altered setup lower down on the screen with a new default font. It still displays the time, date and apps that you have notifications for.

The rounded corners really help the display; they make it feel more contained, almost like the display has been penned in for fear of it becoming to large. This is to positive effect, and we found that everything from homescreen swipes to typing long messages was a joy on the larger display. There was a lot of room for error here, but in terms of pure presentation, LG has absolutely nailed it.

We delve more into how the aspect ratio affects the software in the software section of this review. Click here to skip down to it.

Cameras

The LG G5 impressed us with its dual camera setup that enabled wide-angle shots. The G6 retains this, with two 13Mp rear facing cameras. The wide-angle lens offers a 125-degree angle and the standard has optical image stabilisation. LG claims it has found an algorithm that lets you zoom between the two cameras smoothly without a software jerk. We found, unfortunately, that this isn’t the case. There’s still a tiny flicker as the lenses switch over.

These cameras can record up to 60fps at full HD quality, and in ultra HD at 30fps. HDR support is only for still images, not video, but this is quite usual for smartphones – even the high-end ones.

We found general image quality to be excellent. The display is a joy to use as a viewfinder given its size and the root files themselves show a superior handling of composition. 

The wide-angle lens option is still best on the G6 in comparison to rivals. The user-friendly presentation in Auto mode means you can easily and quickly switch between the two. Check out the comparison shot below for an idea of the perspective changes you get. Though be aware that the full wide angle does create a slight fishbowl effect at the edges of the image. 

 

The camera is also good at handling macro-style shots, and most casual users won’t need to stray into the manual mode, though if you do, it’s well set up.

Something that’s more pushed in the marketing is the camera’s Square mode that panders towards Instagram friendly shots. It also fits in nicely with the G6’s square themed GUI. There are four shooting options in square mode: Snap, Grid, Guide and Match. Here’s a quick rundown of what they do, and an example (examples below explanations).

Snap splits the screen in half and means once you’ve taken a picture you can preview it straight away whilst the second half of the screen remains a viewfinder to take another shot in. Handy if you’re trying to get a perfect picture of an important subject (potentially your own face). 

Grid is the simplest and is a quick way to create a four image grid of pictures that is itself a square. It’s the most simple and most effective mode. 

Guide is where it gets slightly too clever for itself, with the option to pick an image from your gallery to act as a ghosted guide image with which to overlay in the viewfinder and better compose another picture. It ends up overcrowding the screen and is confusing to use. 

Match is set up to capture two images like in Grid, but this is to be slightly kooky and combine (LG suggests) candyfloss with a vapour trail to create a trick image. It’s very hard to use and even harder to get a decent shot. 

They are fun modes to play around with, but it’s a distraction from the very good sensor that takes normal photos very well. But LG is trying to please the Instagram generation, and it has most likely succeeded there.

Storage and RAM

All variants of the LG G6 have 4GB RAM as standard. Regionally, some of the features differ. The European version of the LG G6 has 32GB storage but a micro SD slot for expansion up to 2TB. The same applies to the US version.

The Korean variant will have 64GB storage, but also the micro SD support. LG said these differences were down to regional marketing decisions. Hopefully it won’t make too much difference given the storage is expandable.

Connectivity and extras

Where regional decisions become a bit more frustrating is in the extras. The US G6 has wireless charging, which adds extra convenience, minimal extra weight and no design changes. However, the Korean and European versions miss out on this handy addition. 

The Korean G6 has Hi-Fi Quad DAC, a component that allows for high quality audio playback. LG told us that it doesn’t cost much more to add this feature, but the US and Europe miss out on it. It referred back to regional decisions on included components, but for us it’s frustrating that the European version misses out on two desirable features.

There will also be a dual SIM version, but don’t expect this to come to the UK or Europe. These three missing features aren’t vital to the G6’s success in the UK, but we’d certainly welcome them and it’s frustrating to see a major phone split its features like this dependent on market. Extra features are universally appreciated.

The G6 does have one trick up its sleeve for all regions though. LG claims it’s the first smartphone to support both Dolby Vision and HDR 10. In basic terms, it’s the first smartphone to theoretically support superior audio-visual standards normally associated with high-end televisions.

We say theoretically because while it supports both, streaming services such as Netflix don’t actually yet offer playback of this combined quality on mobile devices. Remember when everything was ‘HD ready’, before HD actually existed? It’s like that. Watch this space.

An iPhone 7 compared to the LG G6

Where it falls down slightly – but thankfully not too much – is in how it adjusts to display content that is by default 16:9 or similar. For example, using Netflix will display the video in 16.7:9 on the G6. Swiping down from the top pf the screen gives you a green icon, tap that and you have the option to view in 16:9 or expand to the full 18:9. If you opt for the latter, it warns you ‘The app’s content may not be fully displayed’. 

It’s a bit fiddly, and we found it meant having to return to the Netflix homescreen. And, in every option, some form of black bar remained on at least one edge to make sure all the content was still visible. It’s far from ideal if you want to view apps using the full display.

LG told us that it was working directly with Netflix to sort this out and bring a seamless 18:9 video experience to the G6, but we remain worried that with the plethora of services and games out there, the G6 might be doomed to a life of black bar playback. Hopefully not.

Battery life

The G6 has a 3,300mAh non-removable battery. This might bug LG fans of the G4 and G5 whose batteries you could remove, but in reality this is the correct decision. The battery is big enough to easily last a full day and the bundled fast charger continues Android device’s pleasing trend of above-average battery life and very fast top up times. 

Our review unit of the G6 was a pre-production model, so perhaps the slight erratic nature of the battery life can be put down to that. It was the only area of use that we suspected might be improved with the final retail version. We were never left out of juice, but some days the G6 would be on 75% by bed with reasonably heavy use (which is outstanding) while other days it’d reach that with light use by mid-morning. We’ll update this review in due course and after an even longer test period.

Our pre-production model was also a US version, and we can confirm the wireless charging works excellently with a number of third party charging pads and through various cases. It is, though, slower by a long way compared to fast charging via cable.

LG G6 hands-on review: Software

The G6 pleasingly ships with Android Nougat 7.0, but then again it’d be a crime if it didn’t. LG’s overlay has a certain playfulness in the pastel colours, square design focus and rounded edges influenced by the screen. However it is well refined, with everything from app animations to menus flowing well and without pause.

It takes a bit of getting used to if you’re coming from Samsung’s TouchWiz or pure stock Android, but after a time it’s just as fun and practical to use as them.

The G6’s software has been quite substantially overhauled from the G5’s in order to play nice with the taller 18:9 screen. LG’s own apps such as messaging, weather and calendar have been redesigned to better manage white space and information displayed since there’s more room to play with.

When presented side by side with the G5’s screens, the difference is noticeably positive:

As you can see, apps have more space to work with, so LG has worked very hard to bring the user a more aesthetically pleasing experience, working on attractive, modernised graphics in the main apps.

The camera software too has been redone, with some excellent use of the extra screen space – we love that when taking photos landscape, you get a camera roll of the last few photos taken, rather than the smartphone norm of one tiny thumbnail of the one most recent photo. 

We also welcome LG’s decision to choose whether or not to display apps iOS style on the home screen or store them in an app tray. We don’t mind it on iOS, but given the choice on Android, we’ll pick the app tray every time.

Multitasking is also good on the G6. As with all Android phones that allow it, you can’t use it with every app, but it’s handy if you want to run two apps simultaneously. It works best though without a keyboard onscreen. As soon as you need it, even the 18:9 aspect can’t cope with the room needed, and multi-window becomes useless. It’s still a feature that we don’t really use, even though some continue to push it.

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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti has been arguably the most anticipated graphics card of the new year. The 1080 series is Nvidia’s top-end GPU for gamers, and this year’s iteration even outpaces the Titan X in several regards.

Priced at $699 or £699 (about AU$930) – the same as the pre-discounted Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 – this card offers stunning performance that’s often equal to the Titan X. Beyond being Nvidia’s most impressive GPU to date, it’s a showcase of how far the company’s Pascal architecture has come in less than a year.

Specifications

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is packing 3584 CUDA cores, 224 texture units and 88 ROPs. It comes with just a notch less video RAM than the god-like Titan X, but the 1080 Ti’s 11GB complement of GDDR5X VRAM is tuned to a faster 11Gbps – clearly Nvidia is a fan of Spinal Tap – making this Nvidia’s quickest Pascal card.

There’s no question the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti is a performance beast, running at a base 1480MHz frequency and 1582MHz when boosted.

True, the GTX 1080 boosts to a higher 1,733MHz; however, the Ti model is running with more cores and VRAM, boosting performance in both benchmarks and real-world gaming.

Design and cooling

If you’ve seen one of Nvidia’s self-produced Pascal graphics cards, you’ve seen them all. Externally, the original GeForce GTX 1080 and Nvidia’s latest Ti (or tai as the company pronounces it) card are virtually indistinguishable.

Not that we’re complaining. Nvidia’s design for its Founders Edition cards was a hit when it first debuted and the modern, angular look still appeals. One little change users might notice is the lack of a DVI port; don’t fret though, as the GTX 1080 Ti comes with an adapter you can plug into a DisplayPort.

Getting rid of the DVI port has made more room for a better cooling solution. In fact, Nvidia says its new high airflow thermal solution provides twice the airflow area of the GeForce GTX 1080’s cooling system.

Our testing corroborates those claims. Even at a full load, the GTX 1080 Ti stayed at a cooler 75 degrees Celsius while the GTX 1080 peaked at 82 degrees Celsius. Of course, you can push both cards to the edge of 91 degrees Celsius by adjusting the power limiter and overclocking the GPUs.

Performance

4K gaming at 60fps with a single graphics card has long been the promised land for gamers, and the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti is the closest we’ve come to it. Getting a silky-smooth gaming experience in Ultra HD is highly dependent on which games you play, however.

We were able to achieve frame rates in the 50 to 60 range with games like Battlefield 1 and Doom. That’s not an easy feat – but these are also two of the most optimized games in existence right now. 

Likewise, Nvidia released a DirectX 12-optimized Game Ready Driver that helped us run Rise of the Tomb Raider at a solid 40fps, not quite matching the Titan X’s 57fps performance and double the 20fps previously seen on the GTX 1080.

Those are best case scenarios and you shouldn’t think the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti is a bulletproof solution for 4K gaming. Total War: Attila for one thing brought the Titanium-power GPU to its knees as it struggled to render the game at a just playable 26fps.

Getting to the pure-performance testing 3DMark: FireStrike Ultra benchmark, the GTX 1080 Ti completely demolishes its forebears by a difference of 2,000 to 4,000 points across the board. More impressively, this ultimate GeForce skips ahead of the Titan X too.

The most mind-blowing bit is the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti is doing all of this without any overclocking. Nvidia claims the card can be pushed as far as 2GHz, we haven’t quite pushed it that far yet but we have been able to achieve a stably running system at 1.7-1.8GHz range.

Final verdict

From top-to-bottom this is Nvidia’s most impressive graphics card to date. It’s remarkable more powerful than the original GTX 1080 while matching the Titan X’s gaming performance. You’re also looking at one of Nvidia’s coolest running cards with overclocking potential for days.

If you’ve been pining for Nvidia’s top GPU, but couldn’t stomach the $1,200 (£1,099, AU$1,599), the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti looks much more appetizing at $699 or £699 (about AU$930).

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