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The best of CES 2018 awards: Our pick of the best products at this year’s CES tech conference

Nathan Spendelow

3 hours 42 min ago

Arguably the biggest technology showcase of the year, CES 2018 is officially over. A week-long event filled with the biggest launches and announcements, it’s certainly one of the busiest entries in any tech journalist’s calendar. And the Expert Reviews team was there in full force, bringing you the latest coverage.

And as we’ve just about recovered from our jet lag – and the inevitable convention flu – now’s the perfect time to highlight our favourite products for the year ahead. From smartphone-powered laptops to TVs the size of your wall, we saw it all, and couldn’t resist handing out awards to the latest and greatest products.

Here are Expert Reviews’ favourite products from CES 2018.

Best of CES 2018 awards

Best laptop: Dell XPS 13

Dell certainly isn’t unfamiliar with receiving accolades. In fact, despite only having marginal refreshes every year, its XPS 13 ultraportable laptop is regularly at the top of our best laptops hierarchy. And this year’s model offers the biggest shakeup in years.

Dell’s 2018 redesign is more than enough to reignite interest in the range, introducing Coffee Lake CPUs, a Rose Gold colour, weight and size reductions and three USB Type-C ports. It’s gorgeous, and I can’t wait to get my hands on one for a full review.

Read more about the Dell XPS 13

Best TV: Samsung The Wall

Our best TV award winner was a no-brainer: no-one could accuse Samsung’s The Wall of being subtle. Essentially a bezel-less, 146in modular TV with self-emitting micro-LEDs, it has nothing to do with that Dale Winton game show nor Pink Floyd, but is well worth keeping an eye on.

That’s right, the TV is entirely bezel-less, which means the screen can be made to order to whatever size you see fit. And as for the micro-LED tech inside, well, each micrometre (µm) LED emits its own light, eliminating the need for any power-hungry backlighting or colour filters.

Indeed, The Wall offers a very interesting glimpse into the future of TV tech and makes us very excited for the year ahead.

Read more about Samsung’s The Wall

Best audio product: JBL Link View

CES certainly wasn’t short of smart speaker announcements, but JBL’s Google Assistant-powered Link View stood out due to its interesting built-in display.

The speaker also has a front-facing, five-megapixel camera. And as for that screen, it measures 8in across the diagonal, has a resolution of 1,280 x 720 and is capable of displaying information just like Amazon’s Echo Show. Elsewhere, the twin 10W bass drivers flank the screen, facing forwards with a passive radiator at the rear to reinforce the bass notes.

It’s certainly an intriguing device and it will be interesting to see how it compares with the Echo Show when we eventually get our hands on a review device.

Read more about the JBL Link View

Best smart home tech: Nest x Yale Lock

The Nest x Yale Lock replaces your front-door key with a memorable passcode, offering peace of mind when you’re on your two-week holiday and can’t remember whether you locked the door.

Available in three finishes – polished brass, satin nickel and oil-rubbed bronze – the Nest x Yale Lock completely does away with physical keys in favour of a battery-powered touch-sensitive numpad for your home’s security. It will alert you via the app whenever it’s used, and automatically locks behind you, too.

It’s not out just yet, but the Nest x Yale Lock looks to be the final piece of the interconnected smart home puzzle.

Read more about the Nest x Yale Lock

Best fitness tech: Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Fitness trackers have taken off recently, and Garmin certainly isn’t shy of leading the pack. In fact, the firm has a long-standing reputation with fitness watches, and Garmin’s latest Forerunner 645 Music looks to be no different. Not only that, but it has a handy surprise up its metaphorical sleeve.

Appropriately titled, this is Garmin’s first attempt at a smartwatch with music playback features. For £400, you can transfer up to 500 songs directly from your PC and store offline playlists with Deezer+.

Elsewhere, Garmin’s Forerunner 645 looks to set the gold standard for runners’ watches. Built-in GLONASS and GPS allow you track how far, how fast and where you’ve run, and the watch also accommodates swimming, cycling and walking tracking.

Read more about the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Best of show: HTC Vive Pro

And finally, the winner of our most prestigious CES 2018 award is the HTC Vive Pro VR headset, and its new Wireless Adapter accessory.

HTC Vive has lead the virtual revolution since way back in 2016. And now, just under two years later, the firm has launched a new and improved VR headset.

The Vive Pro almost doubles the screen resolution from that of the original, with improved ergonomics and built-in audio. Not only that, but the new optional Wireless Adapter finally cuts the cords and allows for hassle-free VR gaming.
The HTC Vive Pro could be the latest headset to rekindle the VR flame and is more than deserving of our Best of Show award at this year’s CES.

Read more about the HTC Vive Pro

Posted on 16 January 2018 | 3:51 am


Sony Bravia XE85 (KD-55XE8596) review: Good but not great

Vincent Teoh

3 days 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.

Posted on 12 January 2018 | 11:03 am


Nest x Yale Lock: First smart door lock finally unveiled at CES 2018

Nathan Spendelow

3 days 22 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.

Posted on 12 January 2018 | 9:03 am


Asus Tinker Board review: A brilliant computer for projects

James Archer

1 day 6 min ago
Price when reviewed 

Not many major tech firms have made a serious challenge to the Raspberry Pi series’ hold on the single-board computer market, with even Intel’s Arduino 101 being discontinued recently. Perhaps Asus will have more luck with the Tinker Board, a more powerful – and expensive – rival to the Pi 3.

For compatibility reasons, Asus has used the same layout as the Raspberry Pi 3. From the 40-pin header (with 28 GPIO pins) to the CSI connector and USB, HDMI and 3.5mm audio ports, everything is where you’d find it on the Pi 3, and even the physical dimensions are identical. This allows the Tinker Board to fit into most Raspberry Pi cases, making it viable as a swapped-in replacement.

READ NEXT: Best mini PCs

While ports and connectors may be in the same place as the Pi, Asus has upgraded many of the components, making the Tinker Board an altogether more premium product. For starters, while the Pi 3 has only 10/100Mbits/sec Ethernet, the Tinker Board has both Gigabit Ethernet and its own Ethernet controller; the Pi uses a USB-to-Ethernet bridge.

While both boards have 802.11n Wi-Fi, the Tinker Board has an upgradable IPEX antenna header, should you want to boost wireless performance. The Tinker Board also has a superior sound chip, supporting 24-bit, 192kHz audio. This could make Asus’s product the better choice for audio apps, as could the unpopulated PWM and S/PDIF holes.

Asus Tinker Board review: Performance

Asus has gone all out to boost performance, too. The Tinker Board’s 2GB of RAM is double that of the Pi 3, and a more powerful Rockchip Quad-Core RK3288 processor is fitted as well. As this CPU can generate a bit more heat than the Pi 3’s Broadcom BCM2837 processor, the Tinker Board ships with a stick-on heatsink, which you should fit to stop the processor from getting too toasty.

As with the Pi 3, you’ll need to provide your own microSD card and install an operating system on it. Via Asus’ website, you can download Android 6 Marshmallow or the Debian-based TinkerOS.

Android is an interesting choice. Asus has tweaked Marshmallow to make it play better with a keyboard and mouse, but there’s no Google Play store option. To install apps, you have to download the APK and sideload using the provided installer. Technically, it should be possible to sideload the Google Play Store, but we found it exceptionally hard to do.

Otherwise, though, sideloading apps is not hard, and we soon had Geekbench and Netflix installed. It may look basic, but the operating system works well with a keyboard and mouse.

Asus Tinker Board review

With a smart GUI and command line, the Linux-based TinkerOS is a better choice for makers. Asus supplies a different range of apps to the Pi, but you can use the sudo apt-get command to install what you want. Given the processor and RAM, TinkerOS turns the Tinker Board into a usable desktop computer.

We had no trouble browsing the web using the Chromium web browser, playing HD YouTube videos or editing simple documents. Certainly, the Tinker Board feels much snappier than the Pi 3 and, especially, the Pi Zero W, and this was reflected in the Sysbench prime number verification test: running on a single thread, the Tinker Board completed the test in just 94.25 seconds, beating the Pi 3’s 182.49s, and switching to four cores cut this down to 45.86s.

Asus Tinker Board review: Graphics

Graphics performance is also better, thanks to the Tinker Board’s Mali-T764 GPU. While you can’t play games on it, this GPU has integrated H.265 decoding so it can play 4K video. Testing in Kodi by streaming the open-source 4K film Tears of Steel, the Tinker Board effortlessly played the file; the Pi 3, conversely, struggled and dropped frames.

READ NEXT: Our full review of the Raspberry Pi 3

Although 4K films can be decoded, the Tinker Board is not actually a true Ultra HD device. With its HDMI 1.4 output and no HDCP support, it’s capable of a maximum resolution of 4K at a fairly jerky 30Hz. Running at this resolution, the Tinker Board upscales 1080p content to fill the screen, bar 4K video played through the bundled video player.

While the Tinker Board can be used as a desktop computer, it’s ultimately designed for projects. Fortunately, most Pi code can be translated to run on the Tinker Board with only minor modifications. This is great news, as there are thousands of example Pi projects online for you to choose from, many of which would benefit from the Tinker Board’s faster processor and networking. Alternatively, if one of your existing Pi projects needs a bit more oomph, you can swap out its existing computer for the Tinker Board.

Asus Tinker Board review: Verdict

Be prepared to do a bit of work, as not all Pi scripts will work out of the box and may need a slight modification to suit the Tinker Board’s environment. For the savvy Linux user, this shouldn’t be a problem, but it does raise a potential issue with the Tinker Board, and one that’s not easily fixed: the community.

The Tinker Board’s userbase just isn’t as large or active as that of the Pi series, which means that if you get stuck and need help, there won’t be nearly as much of a community to call on for support. That’s not to say that things won’t improve in the future, but it’s going to take a while (if ever) for the Tinker Board to match the Pi in this regard.

That’s not to say that the Tinker Board should be ignored; as a Pi-compatible computer that can run more demanding tasks, it fills a helpful role. For less savvy users looking to get into project-based computers, however, the Pi 3 is cheaper and has a better community for helping first-time users.

Posted on 12 January 2018 | 6:58 am


Garmin Forerunner 645 Music: Garmin announces first GPS smartwatch with music playback

Nathan Spendelow

4 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.

Posted on 12 January 2018 | 5:14 am