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Turtle Beach Elite Pro review: Is this the pro gamer’s headset of choice?

Vaughn Highfield

2 hours 55 min ago
Price when reviewed 
350

Turtle Beach has, for the most part, been the pack leader when it comes to gaming headsets for consoles, but it’s been much less prominent in the PC space. The rise of eSports, however, has given Turtle Beach good reason to take aim at the pro PC player as well, and the Elite Pro and its various attachments are well suited to both.

First off, it has to be said that Turtle Beach has absolutely nailed the art of making the Elite Pro feel special. It all starts with the packaging, which is a high-quality sleeved box with the headset elegantly presented inside.

It’s clear the US peripheral manufacturer is trying its hardest to make you feel as if these cans are worth the £170 asking price, and that’s before you add in the £150 competition-grade Tournament Audio Controller (TAC) and £30 noise-cancelling microphone.

Thankfully, they do feel like they’re worth every penny. While I spent most of my time using the Elite Pro in conjunction with the TAC – even without its added amplification, chat mixing and audio-equaliser presets – the Elite Pro makes for an excellent gaming headset.

Turtle Beach Elite Pro review: Design and comfort

Turtle Beach loves to throw buzzwords around – adorning the box are such snappy phrases as “ComforTec Fit System”, “AeroFit Ear Cushions” and “ProSpecs Glasses Relief System” – but despite the hyperbole, they’re fantastically comfortable headphones to wear.

Not once did I find the headset was pushing against the side of my head during prolonged play, nor did it ever feel like my ears were getting too warm. For me, the most welcome addition was the “ProSpecs Glasses Relief System”, which is simultaneously the geekiest and most welcome addition to any headset ever.

It’s a simple idea, but an effective one. An adjustable indentation in each earpad pulls the pad in at the point that it contacts the arm of your spectacles, reducing the pressure considerably. If you wear glasses, you’ll know just how great an addition this is.

Turtle Beach Elite Pro review: Audio quality

Thankfully, the Elite Pro isn’t just about comfort. Audio, which is delivered by a pair of beefy 50mm drivers, is also superb, even without using the optional Tournament Audio Controller (TAC). The headphones don’t come into their own, however, until you hook up the TAC, unlocking the Elite Pro’s DTS 7.1 surround-sound capabilities plus a host of other key features.

The TAC contains presets for watching films or listening to music, but it’s the Game mode that you’ll use the most, and there are a number of options to choose within that. I found that “Shooter” was excellent for the likes of Call of Duty and DOOM and still perfect for other bass-heavy titles such as driving and action games.

Knocking it into “Footstep Focus” or “Superhuman Hearing” knocks the bass down and ups the treble – handy for pinpointing the direction bullets are being fired from or the sounds of creeping shoes on gravel and grass. I can’t say I’ve ever found Call of Duty as enjoyable as I have while wearing these.

The TAC also allows you to set up perfectly tuned chat audio. You can daisy-chain multiple units together to create lag-free local chat networks, which is great for LAN parties, but also tweak levels to boost your own microphone level, limit background noise, custom-mix game and chat audio, and even set a monitor volume so you can hear yourself speaking more clearly.

Turtle Beach Elite Pro review: Chat

This brings me, rather neatly, onto the Elite Pro’s chat capabilities. As you’d expect for a tournament-grade headset, it comes with a removable microphone in the box. As a microphone, it’s nothing particularly special, but Turtle Beach has done a good job of ensuring that audio is clear and the mic is relatively unobtrusive and secure.

In all honesty, the packaged mic will be perfect for 99% of you. For that 1%, however, there’s a swanky optional noise-cancelling microphone attachment you can buy. Using two microphones to cancel out background noise, this is perfect for those wanting to use the Elite Pro at a tournament or in a noisy gaming environment – such as a gaming bar. Even just through the voice monitor, it’s audibly cleaner and crisper than the default microphone.

Turtle Beach Elite Pro review: Verdict

The only downside I can think of for the Elite Pro is the price tag. Paying £170 for the headset itself is perfectly reasonable for how good it is, but it’s a bit much to ask for another £150 for an audio controller to make the most of your purchase. Other headsets that ask the same tend to be a little cheaper, and you can pick up many excellent gaming headsets that come with their own breakout box for digital audio and are wireless for less than the price Turtle Beach is asking for.

But those headsets just aren’t as comfortable to use, nor as well engineered for the long stints and tournament-style play that these are. All in all, if it’s the pro option you’re after, you shouldn’t look much further than these.

Posted on 24 July 2017 | 8:35 am

 

Lenovo Miix 510: A cheaper alternative to the Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Christopher Minasians

3 days 2 hours ago
Price when reviewed 
850

The Lenovo Miix 510 is a 2-in-1 laptop to rival the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. On paper, it’s a much better deal, thanks to the inclusion of a detachable keyboard and stylus pen - and a cheaper price point.

Is this 12.2in Windows 10 laptop a worthy competitor, or does it fall short of its promise?

READ NEXT: Best laptop 2017: The BEST laptops you can buy in the UK right now

Lenovo Miix 510 review: What you need to know

The Miix 510 is significantly cheaper than the Surface Pro 4, at £850 including a detachable keyboard. That’s a saving of £192 versus the Surface Pro 4 with Type Cover.

But that’s not the entire picture. The Miix 510 keyboard feels flimsy and unpleasant to type on, and the display doesn’t match the resolution or colour accuracy of the Surface Pro 4. This makes the Miix 510 hard to recommend, despite the attractive price. If you’re in the market for a sub-£1,000 2-in-1 laptop, get the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. If you’re looking for a cheaper 2-in-1 laptop with a bundled keyboard, get the Asus Transformer 3 Pro for £700 instead.

Lenovo Miix 510 review: Price and competition

The Miix 510 is available from Lenovo’s website for £650 with a Core i3-6100U processor, or for £850 with a Core i5-6200U - the latter being the model at hand.

Identical specs can be found on the £917 Microsoft Surface Pro 4, but that doesn’t include the £125 Type Cover keyboard. The Asus Transformer 3 Pro is also similar, and can be found for £700 on Amazon and £999 through Tesco.

While not identical, the 2-in-1 £999 Core i5 HP Envy x360 is another option to consider.

Lenovo Miix 510 review: Design and build quality

The laptop is solidly built with an aluminium unibody design. That promises great durability, and the attention to detail is impressive. The rear kickstand is attached with a “Watchband Hinge”, made up of 280 individual pieces of stainless steel and providing 150 degrees of flexibility when using the laptop. Unfortunately, the bottom of the kickstand isn’t rubberised, so it’s apt to slide around on your desk.

At 900g, the laptop is rather heavy without its detachable keyboard, and attaching it pushes the weight up to 1.25kg. By comparison, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 weighs in at only 786g without its Type Cover attached - something to consider if you’re regularly on the move.

The Miix 510 features speakers on both edges for true stereo. These have a limited power output, but you can improve matters by enabling Dolby Audio through Windows 10’s Sound settings. If you’re looking to play music or movies through the laptop, consider investing in a separate Bluetooth speaker - see our pick of the best for inspiration.

At the right-hand side of the laptop sit a power button, volume rocker and a 3.5mm audio jack. At the left there’s USB 3.0 and a Type-C port. Note that this can’t be used for charging: you’ll have to use Lenovo’s proprietary charger to give the Miix 510 some juice.

Finally, 2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras make the Miix 510 ideal for Skype calls and casual snaps.

READ NEXT: Best cheap laptop 2017

Lenovo Miix 510 review: Keyboard, trackpad and pen

One of the Miix 510’s key selling points is the inclusion of a keyboard. But this isn’t really much to shout about.

To be fair, it’s a good size, and the keys have a good travel distance before being actuated. Even so, it’s not pleasant to type on. There’s noticeable flex, so if you’re a heavy typist it’ll cave under pressure. I also found the built-in trackpad would inconsistently jump about while I was navigating web pages, or fail completely to respond to my movements and clicks.

If you want to use the Miix for regular typing, I’d suggest the Logitech K400 Plus Wireless Touch Keyboard for £25 as an alternative to the bundled keyboard. It might not be an all-in-one solution, but it’ll give you a much better typing experience.

As well as the keyboard, you also get the Lenovo Active Pen. This works very well: it’s great for 3D Paint and Windows Ink, two features that have been a focus of Microsoft’s recent Windows 10 updates.

READ NEXT: Best gaming laptop 2017: The best gaming laptops you NEED to buy today

Lenovo Miix 510 review: Performance

Partnering the 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U. Lenovo includes 8GB of DDR4 RAM at 2133MHz. That’s plenty for all your multitasking needs on Windows 10 Home 64-bit - which is just as well, as there’s no option to upgrade the RAM further.

Even though I was testing the more expensive Core i5 model, I was disappointed by its benchmark scores. It achieved a measly 30 overall in the Expert Reviews benchmarks, putting it effectively on par with the Asus Transformer 3 Pro, which managed a score of 31. For comparison, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with its Intel Core i5-6300U scored a much stronger 44.

In the cross-platform Geekbench 4 benchmarks, the Miix 510 achieved a single-core score of 2,892 and 5,682 for multi-core operations.To put that in context, the Huawei MateBook X, a non-convertible laptop with the newer 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U managed a score of 3,806 and 7,371 respectively.

^Lenovo Miix 510: Benchmark table

Although the Miix 510 didn’t excel in our benchmarks, it has plenty of power to churn through daily tasks. Browsing, watching movies and typing an essay aren’t a problem. It’s when you’re looking to do any video editing, or push the processor to its limits, that you’ll find the Lenovo unable to keep up.

It’s a similar story with the integrated GPU. Intel’s HD Graphics 520 is fine for watching movies and very light gaming, but if you start gaming on the laptop, its limitations immediately become apparent. Hitting just 30.6fps in GFXBench Manhattan and 21.5fps in GFXBench Car Chase, this isn’t a laptop that’s made for games.

It gets a little hot around the top of the casing too - but CPU temperatures stay low at around 65 degrees, which is well within its thermal threshold.

For storage, meanwhile, you get a blisteringly fast 256GB PCI-E Samsung SSD. With disk write caching disabled, the Miix 510 delivers 1,325MB/s sequential read and 1,068MB/s write rates. Copying files to and from the laptop is a painless experience.

^Lenovo Miix 510: Battery life

At only 5hrs 40mins, the Miix 510’s battery life falls short of many rivals’. It does beat the Asus Transformer 3 Pro by quite some margin, but overall it’s unimpressive. If you’re looking to take this computer on a long haul flight, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got access to power.

Lenovo Miix 510 review: Display

The Miix 510’s 12.2in multi-touch display works flawlessly on Windows 10. It’s not as sharp as the Surface Pro 4’s, though. That system’s stunning 2,736 x 1,824 resolution delivers 267ppi across its 12.3in screen. The Lenovo’s much lower 1,920 x 1,200 resolution translates to just 185ppi, meaning text doesn’t look as sharp.

The screen is also rather dull, with only 89.6% sRGB gamut coverage. Next to the Surface Pro 4’s 97.5% sRGB coverage, the Lenovo falls short in offering a vibrant display. An average Delta E of 2.73 also means the laptop’s screen isn’t particularly accurate. If you’re planning on editing images or videos with the Miix 510, consider using an external calibrated monitor.

On the plus side, the screen is nice and bright. I measured a maximum brightness of 334cd/m2, which means it’s bright enough to be used in direct sunlight. And with a 0.16cd/m2 black level and 1006:1 contrast ratio, dark scenes in movies are accurately reproduced.

READ NEXT: Best Bluetooth speakers 2017

Lenovo Miix 510 review: Verdict

The price is tempting, but the Lenovo Miix 510 falls short in a few areas. It hasn’t got particularly good battery life, its screen is rather drab, it’s far from the fastest laptop in its class, and its detachable keyboard isn’t pleasant to type on either.

If you’re looking for 2-in-1 computing on a budget, you’ll be better off with the cheaper Asus Transformer Pro 3 for £700 - or, spend a little extra for the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 at £917.

Posted on 21 July 2017 | 8:58 am

 

Best sofa beds 2017: Comfort and convenience from £175

Kate Hilpern

3 days 2 hours ago

A sofa bed combines two essential pieces of furniture in one – it’s a settee with a fold-out bed hidden underneath. It’s perfect for putting up friends or rellies overnight at a moment’s notice; or, if you’re living in a smaller studio, it’s a great way to squeeze both a couch and bed into a limited space.

Don’t be put off by visions of the bad old days, when sofa beds tended to be cumbersome and rock-hard. Today, many are just as comfortable and durable as a standalone sofa or an actual bed. Plus, there’s more choice than ever, from mattress types to measurements and fillings to fabrics. Read on to discover the best sofa beds, and what to look out for when buying one.

How to buy the right sofa bed for you

What types of sofa beds are there?

With a metal-action frame, the mattress and bed frame fold out from inside the body of the sofa. This is great for comfortable sleeping because there’s enough space underneath to fit a fuller mattress.

A “clic-clac” design is simpler, and better for smaller spaces. Here, the base cushion of the sofa clicks forward and the back part lies flat. Whichever design you choose, the ideal sofa bed should fold out in one smooth motion, without squeaking or sticking.

A third option is a futon: these work in different ways depending on the type of frame. For example, you might fold the back panel of the sofa down to convert into a bed frame, then place the mattress on top.

How important is size?

Very – and don’t just think about how much space a sofa bed will take up as a settee. You need to be sure there’s space for you to fully open it out. Check the dimensions of the whole structure, not just the mattress dimensions. Think about how you’re going to get it into place, too: check doorways, hallways and stairwells to ensure it will fit through.

Is there anything else I need to consider?

A big question is how often you intend to use your sofa bed, for either sitting or sleeping. If it’s going to be your main sofa, it needs to be robust and durable, particularly if you have a family or pets. Make sure it looks the part, too: if it’s going to be the centrepiece of your living room, you don’t want something that looks like a folded-up bed.

If your sofa bed is going to be frequently used as a bed, then you’ll want a good-quality mattress. For more occasional use, you may be able to make do with a medium-quality mattress, perhaps with a mattress topper for extra comfort. Remember, a thicker mattress isn’t necessarily better – a slimmer one may actually offer more support, depending on how it’s engineered. The ultimate in comfort comes from a pocket-sprung mattress (with as many springs as possible), but memory foam also suits some people well, moulding to the shape of their body. Also bear in mind that wooden slatted and webbed mechanisms tend to offer better support than trampoline types.

The best sofa beds to buy

1. Sofa Workshop Jude: Best sofa bed for a corner

Price when reviewed: £2,409

Handmade in Britain, the Jude has a durable hardwood frame, solid beech feet (which can be stained light or dark) and foam seat cushions with fibre-filled back cushions. These provide great support and are low-maintenance.

What’s really distinctive about the Jude is its corner design. It comes in two mirror-image versions, so you can make sure it fits your room layout. There’s also huge choice when it comes to fabrics, and you can even use your own – if you’ve found some upholstery fabric you like in John Lewis (as long as it’s plain), for example. It looks great with the matching footstool, although that will set you back another £361.

Not only is the Jude attractive, it’s one of the best beds we’ve tested, both in terms of comfort and support. And if you’re worried your doorway is too small, you can remove the arms for access.

Buy now from Sofa Workshop

Key specs – Dimensions: 92 x 269 x 175cm (HWD); Mattress size: 183 x 133 x D11cm (LWD); Mattress type: pocket-sprung; Number of fabrics available: 1,000+; Warranty: 15 years for frame

2. Ikea Lycksele Lövås: Perfect for limited budgets

Price when reviewed: £175

If you don’t want to spend a lot on your sofa bed, this humble option from Ikea is just the thing. It has a removable, washable cover and the foam mattress moulds to your body and is nice and thick.

While it doesn’t quite as look as swanky as some of the more expensive sofa beds in our roundup, we like the understated, minimalist appearance and clean lines. With the covers available in six colours – plus extra ones available to buy separately – you can easily match it to your décor and give your room a new look whenever you like.

Buy now from Ikea

Key specs – Dimensions: 87 x 142 x 100cm (HWD); Mattress size: 188 x 140 x 10cm (LWD); Mattress type: foam; Number of fabrics available: 1 (6 colours available); Warranty: 10 years

3. Futon Company Oke three-seater sofa: Best futon

Price when reviewed: £949

The Futon Company was the first futon shop to open in the UK in 1980. It now has 21 branches across the country, with a wide range to suit all budgets – our favourite being the Oke 3-seater.

The Oke’s solid oak frame looks smart and, unlike many futons, offers good lumbar support, with a nice high back. The cotton/polyester filling makes for a supportive mattress and the lack of springs means it will last well. Heavier folk can upgrade to include an extra supportive layer in the mattress – or, if you prefer a softer mattress, there’s a new fluffy option with an extra malleable layer.

There are also plenty of great extras available, including a drawer to go underneath, cushions and table. Our only caveat is that the angular corners aren’t great if you’ve got young children around.

Buy now from Futon Company

Key specs – Dimensions: 81 x 203 x 100cm (HWD); Mattress size: 190 x 136 x 15cm+ (LWD) (depending on mattress type – there are 3); Mattress type: cotton and polyester blend; Number of fabrics available: 4 (17 colours available); Warranty: 1 year

4. Innovation Recast sofa with pocket-sprung mattress: An easy-fold sofa bed with eye-catching retro styling

Price when reviewed: £899

The Recast’s design says Scandinavia all over – and sure enough, this sturdy sofa bed is handmade in Denmark, by a company that’s been going since 1972.

Of all the sofa beds we’ve tried, this is one of the quickest to fold out – you simply pull out the base and drop down the back. And because the mattress is pocket-sprung, it’s comfortable, albeit quite firm – if you prefer a bit more give, you might want to add a mattress topper. The fabric is top-notch quality and hard-wearing, but be warned there’s a lot of depth in sitting mode, which doesn’t suit everyone.

There’s enough room for a duvet in the storage space – handy for when unexpected overnight guests descend on you. It’s a shame there are only two fabrics available, though, and you have to assemble the whole thing yourself, which takes around 90 minutes.

Buy now from John Lewis

Key specs – Dimensions: 63 x 200 x 96cm (HWD); Mattress size: 220 x 140 x 14cm (LWD); Mattress type: pocket sprung; Number of fabrics available: 1 (2 colours available); Warranty: 2 years (frame and mechanism have lifetime warranty)

5. Loaf Cloud sofa bed: Best sink-into sofa

Price when reviewed: £1,595

Cloud by name, cloud by nature – this laidback, slouchy sofa is the settee of choice for those who want to sink into the softest, squashiest and cosiest seating at the end of a hard day. The box edges give it a chic, contemporary and tidy finish, while the seats are made from feather-wrapped foam, with feather-filled back cushions.

There are two sizes available – medium and large – plus a wealth of fabric choices, including herringbone, wool, a wide range of linens, cottons and velvets. There’s also an option for loose covers, which can be removed and washed – good for anyone with younger kids and dogs – and if you still can’t decide, then you can find your own.

The metal action pull-out system works with a firm tug from the front, but although the mattress is padded with wool and cotton and the bed has wooden slats, the open coil filling isn’t ideal for light-sleeping couples, as the springs move as one unit.

Buy now from Loaf

Key specs – Dimensions: 76 x 190 x 95cm (HWD); Mattress size: 180 x 135 x 12cm (LWD); Mattress type: open coil, padded with wool and cotton; Number of fabrics available: 156; Warranty: 10 years

6. Made Fletcher: Best for everyday use

Price when reviewed: £1,299

Made’s clever folding mechanism makes it effortless to switch the Fletcher between modes. The whole thing glides seamlessly from sofa to bed in one swift action, with the back cushions staying attached when it’s pulled out. It's designed to be slept on every night – so it’s perfect for studios – with a memory foam or pocket sprung mattress available. Some people may find the former too hot at night, since it moulds to the shape of your body, but the latter offers a great balance of support and comfort. The clean lines of the design give an elegant finish; we only wish it were available in more than two colours.

Buy now from Made

Key specs – Dimensions: 87 x 189 x 102cm (HWD); Mattress size: L190cm x W140cm x D14cm; Mattress type: memory foam or pocket sprung; Number of fabrics available: 1 (2 colours available); Warranty: none

7. Willow & Hall Foxham love seat sofa: Best for compact spaces

Price when reviewed: £861

Willow & Hall is a brand that stands for luxury, and most of its sofa beds feel on a different level to anything else on the market. If you get a chance to visit the company’s Chiswick showroom, do – the staff are hugely knowledgeable, and that’s a boon when you start to realise the number of choices you have to make. You can take your pick of mattress type (pocket sprung, open springs and memory foam), cushions (from luxury ones to harder-wearing everyday designs), under-seat storage, and of course fabrics.

For us, the standout piece is this Foxham love seat, which is great for popping into a small alcove in the living room. Not sure about the design? Check out the company's large selection of other love seats, all ideal for more compact living spaces.

Buy now from Willow & Hall

Key specs – Dimensions: 90 x 130 x D90cm (HWD); Mattress size: H54cm x W95cm L182cm; Mattress type: 3 types available (open sprung, memory foam, pocket sprung); Number of fabrics available: 130; Warranty: 10 years on wood frame

Posted on 21 July 2017 | 5:11 am

 

Best noise-cancelling headphones 2017: The best headphones for crystal-clear music

Christopher Minasians

3 days 7 hours ago

There are two types of noise-cancelling headphones: active and passive. Passive noise cancellation just means blocking out external noises, which is why some companies call it “sound isolation”. Active noise cancellation (ANC) is much smarter, using clever technology - as we’ll explain below - to silence ambient noise, so nothing disturbs your listening pleasure.

There are many models of ANC headphones to choose from; we’ve rounded up some of the best from £70 to £300. If active noise-cancelling is out of your budget, take a look at our roundup of the best Bluetooth headphones and the best wired headphones you can buy today.

What is Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)?

ANC uses tiny outward-facing microphones built into the headphones. These register the ambient sound around you, and digitally generate a soundwave that cancels it out, which is then played into your ears along with the music feed. The result: distracting noises vanish, allowing you to enjoy your music as it was meant to be heard.

ANC is a very impressive technology, but it doesn’t completely wipe out every type of background noise. Since high frequencies have a much shorter wavelength than lower tones, they’re harder to eliminate in real time. The technology is most effective a blocking out lower sounds, such as the rumble of aeroplane engines.

Be aware too that that ANC can very slightly affect the overall sound quality, since the noise-cancelling wave can interfere with the frequencies in the song you’re listening to. The effect is minimal, though, and far preferable to putting up with background noise.

Due to the way the technology works, you might also hear a slight high-pitched hiss in the background when nothing is playing - but again, it’s a small price to pay for the ability to enjoy your music untroubled by intrusive external sounds.

Are there any other advantages of ANC?

ANC doesn’t just help you enjoy your music: it can protect your ears. Without noise-cancelling technology, the only way to escape ambient noise is to crank up the volume and drown it out. Done on a regular basis, this can lead to permanent hearing damage. ANC lets you listen at lower volumes, and in-turn protecting your hearing.

ANC is also useful if you have hypersensitivity, hyperacusis or a similar health condition, as the technology can help reduce the strain on your ears.

Best noise-cancelling headphones 2017

Bose QuietComfort 35: The best ANC headphones on the market

Price when reviewed: £330

Bose is well known for its ANC technology, and its QC35’s are the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market. Battery life lasts around 20 hours over a Bluetooth connection, which means you can take them on a long-haul flight. They’re comfortable enough to wear for that long too, with soft padding and an over-the-ear design.

Sound quality is as fantastic as you’d hope, with tight bass, rich treble and a wide soundstage. The price will certainly put them out of contention for most people, but if you’re in the market for the best ANC headphones on the market, the QC35s are worth every penny.

Read our full Bose QuietComfort 35 review for details

Key specs - Headphone type: Over-ear headset, Built-in microphone and remote, Plug type: 2.5mm headset jack plug (optional), Weight: 310g, Cable length: 1.2m

FIIL Diva: Portable ANC headphones with Bluetooth aptX

Price when reviewed: £146

These headphones aren’t from a well-known brand, but they’re packed with desirable features. You get Bluetooth 4.1 aptX, 3-mode ANC, motion technology to automatically pause your music when they’re off your head, touch-sensitive controls and a foldable design that allows you to conveniently pack the headphones into a bag or pocket when not in use.

Coming in either black and white, the headphones look fantastic, especially with the illuminated FIIL logo by the side of the headphones.

The sound is surprisingly good too. A weighty, rumbling bass makes these great for dance music. The mid-range is not too restrained either, and the highs have a good energetic sound to them. The soundstage meanwhile has a 3D-like presence that will make you think you’re wearing full-sized headphones.

Key specs - Headphone type: On-ear headset, Built-in microphone and music control buttons, Plug type: 3.5mm headset jack plug, Weight: 215g, Cable length: 1.2m

Philips SHB9850NC: Stylish Bluetooth ANC headphones with aptX

Price when reviewed: £110

Don't let the unwieldy name put you off: the Philips SHB9850NC is an excellent set of headphones with a tasteful design. Its build quality is superb - the earphones feel more sturdy than cheaper rivals - and both active and passive noise cancellation are offered.

Sound quality isn’t bad either. The headphones have a slight warmth, punchy bass and a sparkly treble that makes music sound fun and exciting. There’s also a touch-sensitive control surface on the right earphone too, which allows you to control your music without having to fiddle with physical buttons.

Read our full Philips SHB9850NC review for details

Key specs - Headphone type: Over-ear headset, Built-in microphone and remote, Plug type: 3.5mm headset jack plug (optional), Weight: 275g, Cable length: 1.2m

Lindy BNX-60: Top-quality ANC headphones for a reasonable price

Price when reviewed: £80

Much like the Ausdom ANC7, the Lindy BNX-60 is an affordable pair of Bluetooth ANC headphones. The design has better isolation, so even with ANC switched off, you won’t be constantly annoyed by external sounds.

The headphones are comfortable too, with soft earpads that are comfortable for long commutes. The battery is rated for 15 hours of listening over Bluetooth with ANC enabled; you can also attach a cable and enjoy around 30 hours of ANC listening.

Sound quality is very agreeable, with punchy mid-bass and an accurate reproduction of the mids and highs. The BNX-60 also supports the aptX codec, resulting in a top-quality Bluetooth stream. Simply put, they’re the best ANC headphones for under £100.

Read our full Lindy BNX-60 review for details

Key specs - Headphone type: Over-ear headset, Built-in microphone and music control buttons, Plug type: 3.5mm jack plug, Weight: 318g, Cable length: 1.5m

Ausdom ANC7: The most affordable ANC headphones

Price when reviewed: £70

The Ausdom ANC7 is a set of stylish, lightweight, affordable wireless ANC headphones. At 209g, these sit lightly on your head, which means you can use them for long listening sessions or use them on your morning jogs.

On a full charge, the ANC7s last around 20hrs over Bluetooth 4 - enough to last the entire duration of a long-haul flight. You won’t get much isolation with these headphones, but their ANC capabilities provide a good get-away from the outside world.

The ANC7’s most impressive trait is sound quality. With the help of the CD-quality aptX Bluetooth codec, the ANC7’s deliver a fantastic sound. Music sounds warm, with punchy bass and energetic treble. The soundstage is impressive too, providing excellent width and instrument separation. If you’re on a budget, the Ausdom ANC7 are a great choice.

Key specs - Headphone type: Over-ear headset, Built-in microphone and music control buttons, Plug type: 3.5mm jack plug, Weight: 209g, Cable length: 1.2m

Posted on 21 July 2017 | 3:59 am

 

Best umbrellas 2017: Stay dry in style from as little as £20

Kate Hilpern

4 days 57 min ago

You probably don’t spend much time thinking about umbrellas. But if you put off buying one until it rains, you can easily end up with a poorly made brolly that doesn’t suit your style – and may well fall apart in no time.

We’ve tested umbrellas of all shapes and sizes – and across all budgets – to bring you the most durable, waterproof, easy-to-use and smart-looking umbrellas on the market. And we’ve also asked the experts for their top tips when buying one.

How to buy the best umbrella for you 

What types of umbrellas are there?

The two main types are full-length walking umbrellas and folding umbrellas. Walking umbrellas have a bigger surface area and don’t fold; these are good for windier weather and long periods of time in the rain, as well as for people who prefer the traditional look. The largest type are known as golfing umbrellas. For more convenient everyday use, a foldable umbrella can be tucked away in a bag ready for when you might need it.

Both types are available with either automatic or manual opening mechanisms. The former requires a simple push of the button to unfold, which is great for when you’re in a hurry - but the mechanism tends to have a shorter lifespan. Manual opening systems involve a bit more effort to open, but are likely to last much longer.

Are there any types to avoid?

Steer well clear of low-cost, lightweight folding umbrellas. Sure, they’re cheap, but that’s normally because they’re made from low-quality materials and a frame that’s likely to see bits of aluminium poking out in odd places as soon as the slightest wind gets up. We suggest you also avoid umbrellas that fold into lots of parts, as they’re generally more flimsy, often difficult to operate and can pinch your fingers.

What features should I look out for?

If you want to ensure your umbrella won’t blow inside-out in howling winds, consider a vented or two-layer fabric canopy. Also consider a brolly with fibreglass ribs, which flex with the wind rather than breaking. If you can afford it, look for a canopy with a polyester pongee fabric for increased strength and water resistance. The more common nylon canopy is fine for occasional showers, however.

On the subject of the canopy, make sure it’s big enough - otherwise expect wet shoulders – and think about the shape and style too. The classic birdcage can be pulled right down over your shoulders, while the ingenious Senz shape protects you from the rain, whatever direction it’s coming from.

The handle should ideally be cushioned, or at least comfortable to hold in either your left and right hand, as you never know what else you’ll have to carry. And a good grip is essential for windier weather.

As for weight, stay clear of heavy and bulky designs – unless you don’t have to think about carrying anything else. At the same time, be mindful that while aluminium is lighter than steel, it also breaks much more easily.

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The best umbrellas to buy

1. Senz Original Folding Umbrella: The most innovative umbrella

Price when reviewed: €54.90

Thanks to the aerodynamic design, Senz umbrellas effortlessly slice through gale-force winds of up to 100km per hour without flipping inside out – and can still be comfortably gripped with one hand.

What’s more, tests show that using it requires 40% less muscle tension than typical umbrellas. The clear view promises to save you from embarrassingly clumsy moments, and the spokes sport unique “eye savers” – reassuring for both you and innocent bystanders.

Despite all these clever features, it’s a lightweight umbrella that will fit in your bag. There’s a range of four vibrant colours, in both automatic and manual. Take the time to watch the video to learn how to use it, though – if you don’t allow it to move around or hold it in the right position, you won’t get the full benefit.

Buy now from Senz

Key specs – Canopy size: 91 x 91 x 28cm; Length when folded: 28cm; Length when unfolded: 57cm; Weight: 360g; Colours available: 4; Warranty: 2 years

2. James Smith & Sons Pencil Umbrella with Malacca crook: The best traditional umbrella

Price when reviewed: £85

Made by a family business that’s been selling umbrellas since 1830, the James Smith & Sons pencil umbrella is designed for women, although there's a male version too. It’s pricey, but a more sleek and sophisticated brolly you will not find.

Highlights include elegant gold spoke tips, a black rope loop and wrist loop, and button fastening for keeping the canopy from flapping about when not in use. In our view, though, the best bit is the crook-shaped wooden handle made from Malacca cane, a mainstay of hand-crafted umbrellas for over a century – this one’s sourced from Malyasia with a sleek mottled finish.

Despite the high-quality materials, the umbrella is surprisingly lightweight, and the manual opening works smoothly, with a decent-sized polyester canopy. The company runs a repair service for its own umbrellas too.

Buy now from James Smith & Sons Umbrellas

Key specs – Canopy size: 88cm diameter; Length: 71cm; Weight: 350g; Colours available: 7; Warranty: 1 year

3. Fulton Tiny Umbrella: The best pocket umbrella

Price when reviewed: £20

If you’re always caught out when it rains, the answer could be a compact umbrella that can live at the bottom of your bag until required. Where most little umbrellas are disappointingly flimsy, this miniscule and lightweight one has a polyester pongee cover that’s great for protection from sudden showers.

The frame is made partly from aluminium, with added fibreglass for strength, while the rubberised handle never slips out of your hand. Measuring just 6 x 3cm when folded, it will hardly take up any room in your bag or even your pocket – just don’t expect it to manage in torrential rain.  

Buy now from John Lewis

Key specs – Canopy size: 87cm diameter; Length when folded: 6cm; Length when unfolded: 15cm; Weight: 158g; Colours available: 2 plain + seasonal patterned; Warranty: none

4. Kate Spade Clear Umbrella – Eyes: The best birdcage umbrella

Price when reviewed: £32

The dome shape of this stylish birdcage umbrella for women is great for full protection from the rain. You can pull it right down over your shoulders, ensuring not a drop of rain splatters your hair or makeup, and you can still see where you’re going. It’s strong and sturdy, too, with a good grip on the black, hooked handle.

The black-and-white design looks classy and minimalist, as you’d expect from New York designer Kate Spade. The only thing we’d add is a shoulder strap.

Buy now from Amara

Key specs – Canopy size: 86cm diameter; Length: 82.5cm; Weight: 310g; Colours available: 1; Warranty: none

5. Gustbuster Pro Series 62: The best golfing umbrella

Price when reviewed: £35

The Gustbuster brand is a favourite of notable names from Donald Trump to the royal family – and this award-winning, flip-proof umbrella is the top choice of many golfing professionals. Its 62in canopy is easily enough to protect two people from the elements (or one person plus all their gear), while the double canopy design and solid yet lightweight fibreglass frame can easily cope with strong winds.

Despite its size, the Pro Series 62 remains a doddle to handle in the most blustery of weather, thanks to its proprietary elastic shock cords that allow the wind to pass through the umbrella, while keeping water out. The alleviation of wind pressure also prevents the canopy from leaking after a short time. The rubber handle is comfortable to hold, and it comes in a selection of sizes so you can pick the right one for you.

Buy now from Umbrella World

Key specs – Canopy size: 136cm diameter; Length: 102cm; Weight: 800g; Colours available: 7; Warranty: lifetime

6. Totes Auto Open/Close Xtra Strong Umbrella: The best folding umbrella

Price when reviewed: £22

A good folding umbrella should be small, easy to open and close, and strong enough to withstand everyday winds. This one ticks all those boxes, and more. No matter how much you open and close it, the mechanism remains effortless, while the large and particularly water-repellent canopy is designed to provide protection in winds up to 70mph – that’s 60% stronger than your average folding umbrella.

While it’s not the lightest umbrella we tested, it’s by no means irritatingly heavy, and the rubberised handle sits comfortably in the hand with a good grip even when wet. Also handy is the elastic wrist strap and matching storage bag.

Buy now from Totes

Key specs – Canopy size: 98cm diameter; Length when folded: 28cm; Length when unfolded: 56cm; Weight: 340g; Colours available: plain black + seasonal patterned; Warranty: none

7. Fulton Stormshield: An umbrella built to survive the worst weather

Price when reviewed: £27

The Fulton company is named after engineer Arnold Fulton, who founded it in 1956. Today it’s the UK’s bestselling umbrella brand, and holder of a Royal Warrant to the Queen. The Stormshield, as the name implies, is a technically outstanding umbrella, with standout features including a lightweight yet super-strong fibreglass frame, a huge vented canopy that can tackle powerful winds and a non-conductive design that should protect you from being struck by lightning, should you be caught outdoors during a thunderstorm. Its wind resistance, flexibility and versatility make this one of the most popular umbrellas on the market.

Buy now from Fulton Umbrellas

Key specs – Canopy size: 130cm diameter; Length: 101cm; Weight: 720g; Colours available: 3; Warranty: none

Posted on 20 July 2017 | 9:19 am