H96 Max H2


Android will be celebrating its tenth birthday in September and the operating system has come a long way in terms of features and stability. Its versatility – and the fact that it is free – has made it possible for even the smallest vendors to come up with solid products at rock-bottom prices. And the H96 Max H2 is one of them.

This is an Android box – built by one factory and sporting various names – that can be used by businesses as a thin client to access cloud resources (and occasionally as a TV box thanks to a bundled remote control). Moreover, it manages to hit an incredible level of performance for not a lot of money.

Before we proceed further, it’s worth noting that if you do decide to buy this product, make sure you opt for the right model. Gearbest also stocks a cheaper 32GB variant, but the saving you make isn’t worth it in our opinion. Get the 64GB model.

What makes the H96 Max special is the fact that it is the cheapest Android box sporting 4GB memory and 64GB of storage, offering enough capacity for those looking to install a decent quantity of apps locally.

H96 Max H2

Design

There’s nothing spectacular about the design of the H96 Max. It doesn’t have the cachet of the Voyo V3 Mini PC or the ambitious design of the Sunvell T95P PC-in-a-plug. Instead, it is a bog standard slab of plastic with sides that are 113mm long and 24mm high, sitting on four plastic feet.

There’s an LCD display at the front which doubles as a status screen, and plenty of vents on five sides to allow the device to cool passively.

H96 Max H2

The top is adorned by a funky lid made of plastic, and as for the ports, there are plenty with three USB 2.0 connectors, one USB 3.0, SPDIF and audio out, an RJ45 Ethernet port (100Mbps), HDMI 2.0 and an SD card slot. Another version of the box comes with a Type-C connector and a microSD slot, both of which are preferable in everyday life.

The enclosure feels reasonably solid which means that you can easily carry it around in a bag, and that’s certainly a boon for those inclined to work remotely.

H96 Max H2

The box is powered by a 5V/2A power supply unit that connects via a proprietary DC-in port. This is a missed opportunity as the manufacturer could have implemented a universal microUSB port, which would have made it possible to charge via a portable battery charger.

Specifications

The device uses an ARM Cortex-A53-based quad-core processor, clocked at up to 1.5GHz, with an ARM Mali-450MP2 GPU and support for HDMI 2.0 (delivering proper [email protected] output).

As expected you get 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 but no Gigabit Ethernet, which is a shame. This is doubtless part of the cost-cutting to reach a low price point, and the same could be said for the use of USB 2.0 ports (in the majority).

That said, the 4GB of DDR3 memory and the 64GB eMMC on-board storage more than make up for these cut corners, especially at this price.

Usage and performance

This Android box proved to be fast enough for most of the tasks we threw at it. The fact that it uses a quad-core processor with old GPU technology means that this box isn’t suited for games, as evidenced by the benchmark results.

The H96 Max sports the sort of full-size menu screen expected on similar TV boxes, and it’s one that can be customized. The bundled applications are also heavily focused on entertainment rather than work, but Google Play is only a few clicks away anyway.

The competition

The Scishion V99 is the most potent alternative, swapping storage capacity (halved to 32GB) for a steep 27% price discount, and a doubling in the processor’s core count. The Android version (5.1.1) used is nearly two-years-old, though, and there are no USB 3.0 ports at all, so proceed with caution on the V99.

If connectivity is critical, then the circular-shaped R-TV Box R10 is worth considering. It has half the on-board storage but is cheaper, has a more potent GPU subsystem, a Gigabit Ethernet port and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The icing on the cake is the great looking design.

Last but certainly not least is the Scishion AI One which is a tad more expensive than the H96, and has half the on-board storage, but shines thanks to its metal enclosure and the incorporation of the latest version of Android (8.1). This is, in fact, the only Android TV box we know that sports this build of Android, and the only non-branded one that supports voice control.

H96 Max H2

Final verdict

The H96 Max H2 is eminently usable as a thin client regardless of whether you plan to deploy it in a business setup, or use the device at home for leisure. Its dimensions and price mean that the H96 will appeal to even the smallest micro-businesses out there. Just don’t expect anything fancy; the unique selling point here is value for money.

4GB of RAM and 64GB of on-board storage should keep you going for a while, but support is likely to be patchy (excuse the pun) and firmware updates non-existent. The fact that we couldn’t track the name of the manufacturer just shows that some Chinese vendors have a long way to go before they achieve the status of, say, Xiaomi (or even Chuwi).

H96 Max H2

Overall, though, if you don’t mind the above caveats, you’ll be purchasing a great little computer that can punch well above its weight. Just don’t expect exceptional aftersales support with this device.

Ideally, we’d like to have seen a microUSB power connector, USB 3.0 rather than USB 2.0 ports, and a Gigabit Ethernet connector, but none of these are deal-breakers for what is otherwise a great product.



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Acer Chromebook Tab 10


Acer has at last allowed the press to play around with the world’s first Chrome OS tablet, the Chromebook Tab 10. However, we’re not exactly psyched to have had the chance.

You see, Chrome OS on tablets is a tricky proposition at the moment, with very little consideration in the interface for touch-only devices. That makes the otherwise cleverly-designed tablet rather difficult to use and difficult to get excited about.

Acer may have beaten Apple to the punch with a tablet for classrooms (by a day) with an education tablet that includes a stylus, but perhaps it would have been better off pumping the brakes for a little while.

acer chromebook tab 10

Price and availability

Acer has priced the Chromebook Tab 10 rather conservatively at just $329 (about £229, AU$429), which includes the built-in stylus.

That price gets you a 2GHz Rockchip processor behind the 9.7-inch, IPS touchscreen with a 2,048 x 1,536 resolution. Backing that up are 4GB of memory and 32GB of eMMC storage.

Of course, that price is strategically set to combat Apple in the classroom and elsewhere in kids’ lives – but we’re not sure it’s enough. Apple’s iPad processor should handily trounce the Rockchip in performance tests, and it generally feels like a more substantial device.

Design and display

The Chromebook Tab 10 is designed like most budget Android tablets, with a blue, pocked plastic shell surrounding a display with rather thick bezels. 

Acer has included a USB-C port for charging and data transfer as well as display extending, as well as a microSD slot and headphone jack, which is more than Apple can say at least.

Furthermore, Acer can proudly say that its education tablet stylus is included – it hides within the left side of the device – whereas Apple’s costs another hundred bucks or quid. However, it’s a rather chintzy-feeling pen with no additional features or buttons, despite the Wacom technology inside.

That said, the stylus performs admirably, even including strong pressure sensitivity to create thin or thick digital ink strokes.

We appreciate the light weight and no-nonsense style of the Chromebook Tab 10 design, but it’s just nowhere near as luxury-feeling as a device that costs exactly the same (though without the stylus).

The display, on the other hand, is just gorgeous. It unsurprisingly matches Apple’s resolution pixel for pixel, but the IPS technology inside makes for awfully wide viewing angles.

acer chromebook tab 10

Interface and performance

Perhaps our biggest bugbears with the Chromebook Tab 10 come through its interface. Simply put, Chrome OS needs work in a tablet environment – at least for those without keyboards.

Chrome OS on tablets makes very few considerations for the platform on which it exists for several reasons, the worst of which being that it has no home button. There is no way to get to the home screen of the tablet other than exiting all of your open apps.

There is a system-wide search function and app manager, but neither can stand in for the lack of a basic feature. Pinning anything to the home screen seems like a non sequitur, and there appear to be no touch functions for easy access to system settings, much less multi-touch gestures.

Simply put, even with Google Play Store support, Chrome OS works best on a tablet with a keyboard.

Unfortunately, we were not able to test the augmented reality function of the tablet during Acer’s big event.

acer chromebook tab 10

Early verdict

Acer’s – and the world’s – first Chrome OS tablet might be ideal in a classroom environment for security reasons, but it’s certainly not ideal in most other applications.

The tablet employs a gorgeous display and gets extra points for the included stylus, but we’d have a hard time using this tablet with any regularity considering these shortcomings.

While we’ve yet to fully test the Chromebook Tab 10, we’re sad to say that we’re not all that excited to do so anyway. 



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Acer Predator Helios 500


Acer has introduced its flagship, 17-inch gaming laptop for 2018, and it’s a powerful desktop replacement with lots of options (save for graphics) and features tailor-made for a mobile gaming rig.

This is the Acer Predator Helios 500, a 17.3-inch gaming laptop powered by up to Intel Core i9 processors and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics.

We’ve had a brief time to test drive the laptop during Acer’s annual keynote event in New York City, and we’ve come away impressed – especially considering the price – if a little uninspired.

Acer Predator Helios 500

Price and availability

Acer is setting the Predator Helios 500 to start at $1,999 or £1,799 (about AU$3,179) when it lands in stores and online in the US in June and the UK in July. Acer has not yet disclosed Australian pricing and availability.

That starting price gets you quite a lot: a 17.3-inch, 1080p (configurable to 2160p) Nvidia G-Sync display at 144Hz, which is powered by an 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor (up to Core i9) and an Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics card. Backing that up are up to 16GB of DDR4 memory and SSD options ranging from 512GB to 1TB (you can also get up to a 2TB hard drive).

With that, the Helios 500 falls well in line with its competitors when it comes to pricing for the hardware inside.

Design and display

There isn’t that much different about the Helios 500 design from its smaller cousin, the Helios 300. The laptop adopts a matte black shell adorned with light blue Predator-branded accents. You won’t find any chrome or gold on this laptop.

As expected, the Helios 500 is rather heavy at 8.82 pounds (4kg), so this laptop sits squarely in the desktop replacement category. Of course, Acer makes ample use of the laptop’s tall base with a full-sized, fully RGB-backlit keyboard (numpad included) that offers satisfyingly deep travel and strong bounceback from the keys. This is a gaming laptop with a keyboard that can be used for lengthy bouts of typing with no problem.

As for the display, Acer seems to have all but ignored the trend of shrinking bezels, which is understandable. With a screen that large, do the bezels even matter?

The short answer from our brief time with the device is ‘no, it doesn’t.’ The UHD (2160p) display on the Helios 500 is a sight to behold when playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). However, it’s currently unknown just how much the Nvidia GTX 1070 inside can handle other games at such a high resolution.

Acer Predator Helios 500

Performance

While we were unable to glean too much regarding the laptop’s power from our short time with it, the spec sheet shows lots of promise. The game of PUBG that we played while at the show went down with zero fuss, stutter or slow down, if that’s any indication.

However, no other, more intense games were found on the demonstration unit available during Acer’s event. Further testing at TechRadar headquarters will have to determine just how performant that Core i9 processor is when paired with Nvidia’s latest.

That said, we did find the Helios 500 to run rather cool after several minutes of gameplay – even when touching the base of the laptop. It’s easy to chalk this up to two of Acer’s latest, proprietary AeroBlade 3D metal cooling fans, and five heat pipes inside.

Acer Predator Helios 500

Early verdict

Acer’s newest 17-inch gaming laptop isn’t rewriting the rule book on mobile PC gaming, but rather keeping pace with the competition. The result is a fine-looking and potent desktop replacement that, at the moment, we’d be comfortable seeing replace our desktop. If the price is right, then all that’s left is to suss out the performance – stay tuned for a full review.



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Samsung C49J89


We love a good ultra-wide monitor here at TechRadar, and the Samsung C49J89, which comes with a ‘super ultra-wide’ aspect ratio, makes most of the monitors we’ve previously tried feel rather cramped and titchy by comparison.

This is thanks to its combination of a large 49-inch screen and an aspect ratio of 32:9. In comparison, standard widescreen monitors usually have an aspect ratio of 16:9, while ultra-wide monitors, like the BenQ EX3501R, have aspect ratios of 21:9.

In fact, the Samsung C49J89 has only one rival when it comes to 32:9 aspect ratio, and that’s another Samsung monitor: the Samsung CHG90, a gaming-focused monitor with the same 49-inch screen size and 32:9 aspect ratio.

The difference between the Samsung C49J89 and the Samsung CHG90 is the latter’s focus on gamers, so the C49J89 on test here has a lower maximum brightness (300cd/m2 compared to the CHG90’s 350cd/m2), and a slower response time (5ms (GT) compared to the CHG90’s 1ms (MPRT)).

There’s also a difference in price, with the Samsung C49J89 costing a fair bit less than the Samsung CHG90.

Price and availability

The Samsung C49J89 is now available to order in the US for $1,099, in the UK for £899, and in Australia for AU$1,899. While this is pretty steep for a monitor, you are getting a lot more screen than you usually would.

It’s not the most expensive monitor we’ve tried either, and is less expensive than the Samsung CHG90, although that monitor is now seeing discounts if you shop around.

So, if the gaming-centric features of the Samsung CHG90 don’t appeal but you still want that huge 32:9 aspect ratio for working on, watching movies or doing the odd bit of gaming (or all three at once – seriously, this monitor is wide), then you could save yourself some money by going for the Samsung C49J89 instead.

Design

At first glance the Samsung C49J89 looks pretty much identical to the Samsung CHG90, with the same screen size and aspect ratio, along with a pretty much identical body and stand. It’s little surprise that the design is so similar, as Samsung would hardly have a wide selection of 32:9 monitor bodies knocking around, so it makes sense to use the same chassis.

Unless you're familiar with its sibling, the Samsung C49J89 looks like no other monitor you’ve seen, with its almost ridiculous width sometimes appearing as if it were an optical illusion – it quite easily fills your horizontal field of vision. However, the wider monitors get, the more the vertical aspect seems diminished, so here you get a very wide, yet narrow, monitor. Combined with the resolution of 3840 x 1080, which gives you the same vertical resolution as a high-definition TV, you may find the aspect ratio a bit constrictive. 

In comparison, the 21:9 BenQ EX3501R has a resolution of 3440 x 1440, and that extra vertical resolution is greatly appreciated. Of course, upping the vertical resolution of the Samsung C49J89 would likely increase the asking price dramatically, and would also make it require more powerful hardware to operate, especially if you wanted to game on it.

If you are eyeing up the Samsung C49J89 you’ll need a pretty wide desk to handle its 47.36-inch span. And, sitting in front of it, you’ll likely find yourself having to turn your head to see open windows positioned at the extremities. 

Like the Samsung CHG90 it's curved, which makes it more comfortable to take in the full screen. It has a curvature of 1800R, which is pretty pronounced – 1800R is quite common in curved monitors, but some (as well as curved TVs) go for a 3000R curvature, which is subtler. But then there’s nothing subtle about this monitor.

The screen is easily attached to the arm and stand, although you will need a screwdriver to properly affix it, and when assembly is complete you can swivel and tilt the screen, as well as adjust the height. Around the back are two 7-watt speakers, and on the bottom are the various ports. Given the vast width of the Samsung C49J89 you can imagine that there’s plenty of space for ports, and Samsung hasn't passed on the opportunity – the monitor comes with two HDMI ports, a DisplayPort, two USB Type-C ports, two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port and an audio jack. It also has a USB Type-C upstream port, enabling you to turn the monitor into a hub.

It’s a stylish, slick, but also domineering monitor, thanks to a classy design by Samsung, and of course the sheer size of the screen.

Performance

The Samsung C49J89 has a VA (vertical alignment) panel. On paper VA panels should deliver excellent blacks, but they can suffer from having a rather narrow viewing angle, which means VA screens can sometimes appear washed out if you’re viewing them from an angle, rather than straight-on.

Due to the sheer length and size of the C49J89 there’s a good chance that you’ll be viewing at least some of the screen at an angle, but in our time with it we didn’t notice any deterioration in image quality at the extremities when sitting in front of it at a desk – the curvature of the screen certainly helps here.

The Samsung C49J89 is designed more for productivity use than for gaming, and Windows 10 does a good job of scaling the desktop to the super-ultra-wide aspect ratio. You really do get a lot of screen space to play with, and we were able to work quite comfortably with a large number of programs, apps and websites all open at once. 

However, the 1080-pixel vertical resolution does mean there’s not a lot of vertical screen space, and if you’re coming from a monitor with a WQHD resolution (2560 x 1440) you may actually find the Samsung C49J89 a bit too narrow.

However, being able to have so many windows open while only having one monitor on your desk is a fantastic feature, and image quality out of the box is pretty good. The buttons on the bottom of the bezel are shortcuts for certain features, with the first switching between input sources. The second turns on the monitor's Picture-In-Picture mode – this is an excellent feature that allows you to plug in a second source, such as a laptop, and display that screen within the main screen connected to your PC. Because of the sheer size of this monitor this is a very handy addition, and it works well.

The third button enables you to use the Samsung C49J89 as a KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch, so you can have one keyboard and mouse plugged into the monitor, and the button will let you switch the peripherals to other devices you have plugged into the monitor without having to physically unplug and move the mouse and keyboard. It’s another useful feature for business users.

Behind the power button is a joystick-like button that's used to bring up and control the onscreen menu. It’s hidden away a bit, but once located it can be used to go through some of the pre-set display modes, which you can tweak to your liking.

Samsung also has a piece of software, EasySettingBox, that works with the Samsung C49J89. This software lets you quickly split the screen into multiple areas, either using one of the ready-made templates or one that you’ve created yourself. Then, when you drag a window you can place it in an area (they're highlighted in blue) and the window will expand or shrink to fit in that area. The idea with this is to make it quick and easy to arrange multiple windows, and it’s quite a handy tool, and worth having a play around with.

While unlike the Samsung CHG90 the Samsung C49J89 isn't designed primarily as a gaming monitor, there will be people who want to use it as one, with the super ultra-wide aspect ratio and 144Hz refresh rate being two compelling reasons. So we fired up a couple of games to see how it performed.

Most modern games can cope with the unusual resolution and aspect ratio of the C49J89, but you may have to tweak a few settings to get them displaying properly. We did with Wolfenstein II, and when we fired up a level the results were really impressive. The field-of-vision-spanning aspect ratio really is immersive, and if you sit in the right spot it’s almost like wearing a VR headset, as your entire vision is filled with the game. The view is so wide that you can physically move your head to look around you, rather than using the mouse, which takes a bit of getting used to but could end up giving you a real advantage in certain games, as enemies will have a harder time sneaking up on you.

The slower response time of the Samsung C49J89 compared to gaming monitors does make the gameplay feel a little more sluggish. We’ve recently been spoiled by gaming monitors with G-Sync and Free-Sync technology that combines high refresh rates with low response times for incredibly smooth gameplay, although none of them can match the sheer spectacle of the Samsung C49J89’s 32:9 aspect ratio.

If you often work over multiple monitors, and you’d like to do a bit of gaming as well, then you’ll be very happy with the Samsung C49J89’s performance. We’d love to see a version with a higher resolution (and there are now rumors that Samsung is working on one) and if you’re a competitive gamer who's conscious of input lag then a gaming-orientated monitor would be more to your liking.

Verdict

If the gaming-orientated Samsung CHG90 was a bit too expensive for your tastes, the Samsung C49J89 is a very good alternative, offering the same rare 32:9 aspect ratio for a lower price, and without sacrificing too many features.

It’s not quite as good for gaming as the CHG90, but it still puts on a good show – that super ultra-wide aspect ratio really can be breathtaking when you're playing games. It’s also got some great productivity tools that make it a good choice for business use, especially if you often work over numerous monitors, as you can now swap out those for a single Samsung C49J89.

Our only major complaint is the lack of vertical resolution – at 1080 pixels it does make things a little tight, but if you’re used to 1080p monitors you’ll love the extra horizontal space.



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Asus ZenBook 13


Carrying around a laptop that’s impressively thin, lightweight and yet packs a punch seems to bring about a feeling of confidence on most days. Knowing that a powerful tool is in your backpack or briefcase is reassuring; even more so when that tool doesn’t cost a couple thousand dollars. 

Take the new ZenBook 13 as an example: this ultra-portable laptop packs Intel’s latest Core i5 processor, an Nvidia GPU and is more affordably priced than Apple’s MacBook Pro or HP’s latest Spectre 13. Heck, it’s priced the same as Dell’s XPS 13, but with slightly better hardware inside that we’ll get into in a bit.  

Price and availability 

If you’re in the market for the latest ZenBook 13, you won’t have any options to customize internals in the US. The $999 ( £899, about AU$1,320), price tag gets you the modestly configured laptop you see here. 

In the UK, the same model we tested is £899, with a more powerful model featuring a an Intel Core i7 and double the storage will set you back £1,299. 

Comparatively, a similarly spec’d HP Spectre 13 starts at $1,149 in the US, or in the UK the Spectre 13 doubles the storage and a 4K display for £1,599. 

Apple’s MacBook Pro far exceeds the price point of the ZenBook 13, and is stuck with last generation Intel processors.

We recently took a look at the new Dell XPS 13, priced at $999 (£1,299, $2,299), but without a touch-screen, half the RAM, and half the amount of storage found on the ZenBook 13. All in all, the ZenBook 13 is competitively priced for what it offers. 

According to the Australian Asus website, the ZenBook 13 is available across a long list of retailers, however we’ve failed to find a retailer with any stock.

Asus ZenBook 13

Design

The next time you find yourself frantically looking for a mirror to ensure your hair looks good, just close the lid of the ZenBook 13. It’s not only shiny, but reflective enough to serve as an impromptu mirror for you or your classmates. We tested the royal blue model, but the slate gray model looks just as reflective and shiny. 

There are a number of ports on the ZenBook 13. On the right side is a microSD card reader, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a USB 3.0 port. On the opposite side is where you’ll find a USB Type-C port, another USB 3.0 port and a full-sized HDMI port. 

It’s that last port that has us a bit puzzled. Indeed, it’s convenient to have the option to connect smaller laptops such as the ZenBook 13 to external monitors, but we can’t help but think using that space for another USB-C 3.1 port would be far more beneficial than an HDMI port.   

A standard keyboard is backlit with a white light and several levels of intensity. The chiclet keys offer 1.4mm of travel and is incredibly comfortable to type on. We use a lot of keyboards, and most take some sort of adjustment before we really get into a flow. With the new ZenBook 13’s keyboard, however, it was love at first type.

The 13.3-inch display is surrounded by 6.8mm Asus’s NanoEdge bezels. The touch sensitive display is smooth and responsive to our fingers. We didn’t have an Asus Pen to test on this particular unit, but that is an option with the ZenBook 13 should you want a stylus for jotting notes and drawing. One thing to note, however, is that the hinge does not let the display fold flat, so you’ll have to adjust to drawing with the screen in a standard laptop-like orientation.

Even though the display is FHD (1,920 x 1,080), it’s incredibly sharp and leaves the impression of being of a higher-resolution. 

Asus ZenBook 13

Fingerprint sensor is finally in the right place

Thankfully, Asus has come to terms with the fact a fingerprint sensor does not belong on the touchpad. We’ve long complained about having to work around an Asus fingerprint reader in the top-right corner of the touchpad, making it awkward to move documents around or use gestures. 

The fingerprint reader now sits just below the right arrow key, and is far more convenient to use. Thanks, Asus. 

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Let’s talk touchpad

With the fingerprint sensor out of the way, this is the first time we’ve had a change to truly get a feel for an Asus touchpad. The touchpad works with gestures, but almost too well. 

When using two fingers to scroll down a webpage, we often accidentally trigger the zoom function in Google Chrome. The gestures are different enough (two finger swipe and pinch-to-zoom) that we are a bit puzzled by the mixup. 

Over the course of a week, we’ve put the ZenBook 13 through our daily work routines. There was plenty of Slack messages, Chrome tabs, streaming of music and everything else in between. There was even a bit of casual gaming on our review model. 

The addition of an Nvidia GeForce MX150 shows in looking at our benchmark results. The ZenBook nearly pulls off a complete sweep against the Spectre 13, save for the single-core Geekbench test. The results aren’t just a few points different, either. For example, the 3DMark scores are nearly double that of the Spectre 13. 

In daily use, the ZenBook 13 starts off a big sluggish, but as it warms up, any slowness disappears and it performs without any hiccups or issues. At multiple times we had many Chrome tabs and windows open and switching between them, along with multiple apps and emails arriving at a rapid pace without any issues. 

As we previously said, we didn’t test out any intense games, but did take some time to play a few online games and found it to get the job done without issue. You can expect to play more casual games without a problem, but anything more intense might drag.

Asus ZenBook 13

Battery life

Through our tests and daily use, we are able to confidently say the ZenBook 13 has a battery that’s more than enough to get you through a cross country flight, or through a day of meetings. 

The PCMark 8 battery test came in at 3 hours and 49 minutes, but the movie test was a strong 6 hours and 38 minutes. That’s not the longest battery life we’ve seen from an Ultrabook by a longshot, though it’s reasonably long enough.

Asus ZenBook 13

Speakers

Smaller laptops don’t normally have the best sound output, and unfortunately that is also true with the ZenBook 13. The speakers sound muffled, even when sitting flat on a desk, without any real power or robust sound behind them. 

If you do opt to play any games or listen to music on this laptop, you’ll want to use some headphones or earbuds. 

Asus ZenBook 13

Final verdict

The ZenBook 13 is a competitively priced laptop that offers more than enough power for the casual user and the occasional video editor. It’s not going to be enough to get through intense Fortnite rounds, but for the casual gamer it should get by. 

The super reflective lid is a magnet for fingerprints, which is either going to upset you or not matter at all. One of the smaller, yet most important, highlights of this particular model is the fingerprint reader’s new location – freeing up the touchpad. It’s unfortunate that the touchpad, then, is frustrating to use. 

Overall, the flaws with the ZenBook 13 aren’t deal breakers, but caveats that you deserve to be made aware of regarding this otherwise impressive Ultrabook.



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Honeywell Lyric T6R


The Honeywell Lyric T6R smart thermostat offers up competent smartphone controlled heating for your home.

It may not be as well known as the likes of Hive or Nest, but the Lyric T6R is just one of a number of Honeywell smart home devices (including the zonal smart thermostat Evohome), showing the company is committed to the industry rather than just chancing its luck. 

We've been using the Lyric T6R for around a year, putting it through its paces and trying out the various features it offers including scheduling, remote control when away from home, and geofencing. 

Big selling points include its compatibility with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit, as well as the fact the thermostat itself doesn't need to be fixed to a wall. 

Rather, the wireless box simply needs to be connected to a conventional power outlet, allowing you to place it in a more convenient location in your home, for better visibility of the screen.  

Price and availability

The Honeywell Lyric T6R has an RRP of £199, but if you shop around you can pick it up for around £160 from some retailers (and at time of writing there was an Amazon deal for £149.59 so it's worth keeping your eye out for deals). 

There is a model that requires fixing to a wall which costs £179 (the Lyric T6), but it's certainly worth paying the additional £20 for the added convenience of the freestanding thermostat.

The price doesn't include installation, so it's worth getting some quotes in before making your purchasing decision. 

The Lyric T6R is available from a number of major UK retailers including Amazon, Argos and Very.

Installation and set-up

While the main thermostat of the Honeywell Lyric T6R simply needs to be connected to a power outlet, there’s a second box that comes with it that attaches to your boiler and so needs to be installed by a professional. 

It took one engineer around half an hour to connect the boiler control unit to our current central heating controls, however this could vary depending on your home's setup. 

Always investigate how long it will take, and how much it will cost, before committing yourself to a smart thermostat purchase. 

The boiler control unit then overrides your current heating controls, passing them off to the Lyric T6R thermostat. Once installed you'll need to connect the thermostat to the smartphone app and your home Wi-Fi network. 

The Honeywell Lyric app

The Lyric application (available on both iOS and Android) provides a relatively straightforward step-by-step guide on how to set up the thermostat. 

Initially the T6R struggled to connect to our smartphone and home WiFi, but after a couple of attempts we were up and running. 

While you have a reasonable amount of freedom when it comes to the placement of the T6R, you need to make sure it's in a room that is representative of your home's average temperature; there's no point placing it in a conservatory or a room that's generally poorly heated, as you'll end up wasting power and money. 

Design and display

The Lyric T6R has a rather simplistic design, it's essential a black square. 

This means it doesn't look as striking as the likes of the Hive or Nest, which is a shame considering the convenience of being able to place it in a range of locations around the home. We'd have liked something that looked a little more alluring to place on our side-table, but it is functional. 

The touchscreen display dominates the front of the thermostat, with the current temperature of your home proudly displayed in the middle. This figure is large on the screen, making it easy to read from across a room. 

Tap the touchscreen and more information will be displayed on the screen including 'plus' and 'minus' icons allowing you to quickly increase or decrease the temperature. 

Features and performance

Once set up, the core feature within the Honeywell Lyric app is the schedule, allowing you to fine-tune when you want your heating to go on and off, and the target temperature for when it's on.

You can either choose to setup a schedule for grouped days (e.g. Mon-Fri and Sat-Sun) to easily replicate the same behaviour over multiple days, or you can opt for a day-by-day setup allowing you to have a different routine every day.

It’s easy to put a schedule together, although it does take a little while to get all the timings correct. Once put together, you can easily adjust the temperature goal for a certain time period by tapping it and moving the scroll wheel to the desired temperature.

The app’s home screen shows you the current temperature of your home at the top of the screen (and the outdoor temperature just above it) while at the bottom of the display a scroll wheel shows the you temperature you’ve specified either manually or in the schedule. 

The Honeywell Lyric schedule in the app

If the Lyric T6R is currently following the schedule, you can manually override it by moving the temperature wheel at the bottom of the screen.

When manually overridden you can select how long the Lyric T6R should follow the new command before returning to your schedule, which is a useful feature if you’re looking for a few hours of heat before leaving the house or going to sleep.

You can also turn the thermostat (and thus your heating) off completely from the application, allowing you to save energy when you’re out of the house for a longer period of time, with the ability to turn it back on from your phone before returning home – ensuring you don’t come back to a cold house.

There’s also a dedicated holiday mode where you input the dates you are away and the application can make sure your house is heated for your return, without using any unnecessary energy while you’re away – which all helps to reduce your bills.

Another nice feature within the Lyric application is geofencing, allowing your thermostat to turn itself on and off depending on how close you are to home.

The geofencing feature in action 

You can adjust the size of the radius around your home, with those living in more rural areas ideally wanting a larger radius, while those in towns and cities are best off using a smaller radius to ensure you’re not triggering the heating when you’re out shopping.

We found the geofence feature worked well most of the time, but it will require a little more battery from your smartphone so it’s worth keeping an eye on your power level if you’re running low.

Members of your family can also have their own logins to the Lyric app, allowing you to share control with others – and also revoke it if necessary. Handy if you’re having someone house sit for you while you’re away.

You can also control the Lyric T6R with your voice thanks to integration with Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Apple’s HomeKit.

You’ll need to head into your smart assistant’s dedicated phone app and link your Honeywell account and the Lyric T6R as a device on the service. Once linked up you can ask your smart speaker – or other assistant-powered device – what the temperature currently is, and to turn the T6R up, down, off and on.

It’s useful to have voice control, especially if your hands are full, your phone isn't available, or the thermostat is in a different room.

The Honeywell Lyric T6R isn’t as featured packed as some rival smart thermostats though and it offers just one zone of control. 

This means you won’t be able to use the Lyric T6R to adjust temperatures in a specific room – any setting is mirrored around your home and it’s not compatible with smart radiator valves, underfloor heating systems or hot water controls (which the Honeywell Evohome is).

Unlike some others, it also doesn't learn patterns of usage, or provide you details on how much energy you’ve used/saved.

We liked

The easy-to-use Lyric application makes adjusting the heating easy from anywhere in the world, and the added geofence feature takes away the need to remember to turn the system on/off when you return/leave home.

We also like the support for the main voice assistants from Amazon, Apple and Google, allowing you to control the temperature of your home by just speaking to a smart speaker or assistant-enabled smartphone.

Installation was also quick and easy, and the Lyric T6R is a relatively affordable smart thermostat option with the added benefit of not needing to be fixed to a wall.

We disliked

Honeywell offers a range individual radiator-valve thermostats, but the Lyric T6R is not compatible with any of them, meaning you’re limited to a single zone of control, rather than being able to control the temperature in different rooms independently.

Compare it to rivals from Netatmo, Nest and Hive though and the Honeywell Lyric T6R does feel a little more basic, with no support for additional heating devices, no energy tracking and no AI that learns your usage and adapts over time.

Final verdict

The Honeywell Lyric T6R is a simple thermostat, but we like the fact it isn't overcomplicated. It's functional, but in a good way.

It’s easy to setup and use, the scheduling feature is great and being able to link it to Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Apple’s HomeKit further enhances its usability.

We’d have liked a more attractive design, support for other smart heating devices and either multi-zonal or hot water control, but what it does offer, it does very well.



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Razer Blade 2018



With the Razer brand amassing a cult-like following, the company has spent the first half of this year focusing on some unexplored avenues, namely the impressive Razer Phone, while continuing to push its Chroma range of LED-lit peripherals.

At its heart, though, it’s still all about the PC gamer, and this year’s Razer Blade laptop lineup seems set to be another impressive offering for those hunting down a premium gaming-focused machine.

Pricing and availability

There will be five different 15.6-inch models in total, starting at $1,899 (close to £1,400 when directly converted) for a version armed with a full HD 60Hz display, Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU and 256GB SSD, and going up to $2,899 (£2,140) for one equipped with a 4K touch screen, GTX 1070 and 512GB SSD. All make use of an 8th-gen Intel Core i7 6-core processor, and pack in 16GB of upgradable RAM. Note that the 4K touchscreen version will be exclusive to the US, Canada, UK and Germany. 

The Razer Blade 2018 model line is on sale now, with UK layout systems rolling out in mid-June 2018.

Design

If you’ve seen the Razer Phone, you’ll notice that some of its design language has now made its way into Razer’s laptop styling too. Gone are the curved sides and clamshell top, replaced with a sharper, angular look. There’s still that matte-black-with-neon-green-highlights thing going on, but there’s a refinement here that shows Razer wants this Blade to mean business as well as pleasure.

An aluminum chassis gives some weight to this Blade ( around 2kg, give or take, depending on the build you choose), but it’s still more than light enough to carry around in a rucksack without too much effort.

Depending on whether or not you opt for a GTX 1060 or GTX 1070 GPU, you’re looking at a thickness of either 16.8mm or 17.3mm, the former of which dimensions Razer claims makes this the ‘world’s smallest’ 15.6-inch gaming laptop on the market.

Razer is calling the screen of the 15.6-inch model an edge-to-edge display, which doesn’t quite make sense considering it’s surrounded by a 4.9mm bezel, but it’s a great screen nonetheless – we were impressed with the contrast quality and viewing angles on the Full HD, 144Hz panel we briefly tested.

If you’ve turned your nose up at Apple’s recent insistence on going all-in with USB-C ports on its MacBooks, you’ll be pleased to hear that there are ample connections on the 2018 Razer Blade. You’ve got two USB 3.1 ports on the left-hand side of the laptop, and one on the right, which are joined by a single USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port, a HDMI port and a miniDisplayPort. There’s also a Kensington Lock notch if you want to keep thieving hands off your new gaming baby.

Features

A few changes made to the Razer Blade 2018 over previous models are noted and welcome. While you’ve still got an RGB-backlit Chroma keyboard, the arrow keys are now sensibly all of a uniform size, reducing the overall footprint. The large trackpad makes use of Microsoft’s Precision Drivers, allowing for more accurate in-game swipes and turns as well as a full suite of gesture controls.

Another space-saving measure is found with the power button, which now sits recessed into the left-hand speaker grille that runs along either side of the keys. The stereo speakers are also equipped with Dolby Atmos output capabilities, although you’re really going to need to hook the laptop up to a souped-up home cinema system to enjoy the full benefits of the overhead sound simulation it provides.

Gaming laptops get particularly hot under load, but Razer has made use of a new cooling system in an attempt to keep the heat – and associated fan noise – from becoming overbearing. A large vapor chamber and high-performance thermal blockers are employed, with a dual-fan system keeping air flowing through a generous venting system.

The blade design is also thinner than in previous models, which Razer claims should keep the fan whirs to a minimum. This will also be aided by Razer’s Synapse performance-monitoring software, enabling you to ramp the fan speed up or down depending on the load you’re intending to put the machine under.

Performance

Although our time with the Razer Blade 2018 was brief, a quick run through a couple of stages of Doom’s arcade mode suggested that this will be a machine to reckon with. 

The silky-smooth refresh rate, running alongside the GTX 1070 GPU, made the denizens of hell a pleasure to tear apart, with not a stutter to be seen even as the onscreen action became increasingly intense. We were playing on a souped-up model, so it’s hard to tell how this performance will hold up lower down the line, but in terms of comfort, all models will share the sharp and rich screen, comfortably large trackpad and excellent key travel.

Early verdict

As with previous models, the 2018 Razer Blade commands a premium price, but the attention to detail in the design, paired with the powerful spec options, sees it earn its price tag, and for the Razer diehards out there, of which there are many, this will likely be shooting straight to top of their wishlist. We’re looking forward to putting it under the microscope for a full review shortly, so check back soon for our final verdict.



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Huawei MateBook X Pro


We could not have seen this coming, but there is a new best laptop in town: the Huawei MateBook X Pro. We’ve been so taken aback by this sleeper hit laptop, that it now sits amongst the highest-ranking in our top buying guides.

Huawei has managed to deliver the most luxurious, performant and long-lasting laptop we’ve seen since the Dell XPS 13. Granted, the company achieved such a design by emulating trendsetters rather closely, though none of its predecessors have been able to achieve quite this balance of function and form.

Sure, you’ll end up paying handsomely for such a complete experience, but the math works out in Huawei’s favor, offering up capabilities that few of its closest competitors can muster for a similar price. Now, let’s get into the beautiful nitty gritty.

Price and availability

After months of delay, Huawei has finally revealed the pricing of its laptop in the US: $1,199 (about £899 or AU$1,599) to start, with an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) and an Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU inside.

From there, your next option is to bump up the spec sheet to double the amount of available storage and memory as well as pump up the graphics option to an MX150 GPU for $1,499 (about £1,119 or AU$1,999).

If we’re to take these estimated US and UK prices, then the MateBook X Pro model reviewed here looks like a veritable bargain next to the most expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro configuration that costs $2,299 (£2,219, AU$3,479). Meanwhile, the XPS 13 is handily beat in terms of value, too, costing $1,999 (£1,649 AU$2,464) to meet the most expensive MateBook X Pro configuration – and with still only half the storage space.

Though, in either case, neither of these options offer the dedicated graphics that Huawei’s new laptop does.

Design

The MateBook X Pro’s design keeps the premium feel of its predecessor alive, featuring an aluminum unibody design with diamond-cut edges and a sandblast finish. This results in a laptop that undoubtedly looks luxe – and feels that way as well.

When closed, the MateBook X Pro is just 4.9mm (0.19 inches) at its thinnest end, and 14.6mm (0.57 inches) at its thickest. All the while, it weighs just 1.33kg (2.93 pounds), which – as Huawei is keen to point out – is lighter than the MacBook Air’s 1.35kg.

Clearly, this is a slim and light-enough laptop to comfortably carry around. Again, the MateBook X Pro comes in two colors, Space Gray and Mystic Silver, and both look gorgeous up close. Of course, you’ll have to get the priciest version if you want that silver color – at least in the US.

When using the MateBook X in the real world, the lightweight and portable chassis means it can comfortably be clasped in a hand while rushing from meeting to meeting. It also fits in most backpacks – and even some tablet compartments and sleeves. So, despite considerable power contained within, it remains incredibly mobile.

Another welcome touch is that the laptop opens without needing to hold down the bottom half. Simply wedge your thumb or finger under the top of the screen when closed, lift and, as if by Apple-magic, the laptop opens with no awkward clamshell fumbles.

Huawei MateBook X Pro

There’s a full size keyboard that’s backlit and spill-proof, though we wish the backlighting had more fine control than just a few brightness levels. That said, the travel on these keys is plenty deep for the laptop’s awfully thin profile, and they are just punchy enough on the return from a press to present little to no learning curve from other premium laptops, namely the MacBook.

Beneath the deep-and-punchy keyboard rests the large trackpad – which Huawei says is the largest one found on a 14-inch laptop. After a bit of use, we can confidently say that the extra-sized trackpad only helps the experience, with Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad technology and certification resulting in strong palm detection. This keeps your palms from triggering touches of the trackpad while typing.

On either side of the keyboard are two top-firing, stereo speakers (for a total of four) that support Dolby Atmos, and it shows. Audio set at 80% volume is loud and impressively nuanced when playing music or movies. We can actually hear the sound travel across the four distinct audio channels.

Above the keyboard is the power button, which – like the MateBook X – has a built in fingerprint scanner for Windows Hello. This is an excellent idea, as it means you can turn on the laptop and sign into it with just a single touch. Huawei tells us that, from cold startup to logging into Windows 10, it takes just 7.8 seconds to start the machine – and just 6.6 seconds from hibernation. We’re getting similar numbers in our testing.

This is thanks to the fingerprint sensor being a hardware-level part, meaning it’s controlled directly by the processor, not by Windows 10 – of course, it still works with Windows Hello. It’s little touches like this that help Huawei’s laptop stand out from the competition.

Huawei MateBook X Pro

Display

The 13.9-inch IPS (in-plane switching) screen now has impressively thin, 4.4mm bezels surrounding it. This keeps the overall size of the laptop down to just under 12 inches wide. Huawei claims that the MateBook X Pro is the world’s first ‘FullView’ notebook, with a 91% screen to body ratio.

In comparison, the original MateBook had a ratio of 84%. We’re serious fans of screens with tiny bezels, so by giving over so much space to its display, the MateBook X Pro is undoubtedly eye-catching.

In fact, the bezels are so small that Huawei came up with a unique placement for the MateBook X Pro’s webcam: it’s actually in the keyboard beneath a key with a camera icon on it. Pressing the key depresses a latch that lets the 720p camera appear. 

This doesn’t really solve the whole ‘ChinCam’ problem we’ve seen on laptops like Dell XPS 13. Rather, it exacerbates the issue with this new webcam position creating an all new 'KnuckleCam' problem. Excited typing can result in rogue knuckles appearing on-screen and, unlike the camera on the XPS 13, the MateBook X Pro camera can't be tilted up or down.

Huawei MateBook X Pro

That said, the ability to completely hide away the webcam is excellent for privacy. In this way it feels like a more elegant and clever solution other thin-bezel laptops.

Now, back to that display: it’s now a touchscreen with snappy response and Gorilla Glass protection to keep it from getting scratched. It also has a 3K (3,000 x 2,000) resolution, which leads to a 260 PPI (pixels per inch) pixel density. So, the display is plenty sharp, though you may notice that it is more ‘square’ than other laptops.

This is because it features a 3:2 aspect ratio, like the MateBook X before it, rather than the most common ratio of 16:9. So, it offers more vertical space than other laptops, which can help with productivity, though watching movies and TV on it will result in more pronounced black bars at the top and bottom of the display than most.

No matter what you use it for, the screen undoubtedly looks sharp and vibrant, with a 450 nit brightness able to combat some serious glare even at 50% brightness and 1,500:1 contrast ratio for seriously deep blacks.

Considering the spec listed before, that the MateBook X Pro absolutely flies through basic tasks shouldn’t be too surprising. The version here uses an Intel processor that is 40% faster than the previous model’s. Huawei is keen to point out its use of a U series CPU, rather than an M series, which is more often found in laptops of this size.

That point, coupled with Nvidia MX 150 graphics, leaves us with a laptop that’s prepared to take on nearly any major productivity task short of editing and rendering 4K media. The laptop keeps pace well enough with the comparably-specced Dell XPS 13, beating its Geekbench 4 Single-Core score and coming within the margin of error of most other benchmarks.

As for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the MateBook X Pro handily squashed it in both our Geekbench 4 and Cinebench tests, proving how much stronger Apple’s leading laptop would have been had it waited a bit longer for 8th-generation Intel processors. Meanwhile the MateBook X Pro’s dedicated graphics chip means it can handle media editing and rendering better than either competing device without issue.

In short, the more holistic power profile within the MateBook X Pro makes it perhaps an even more alluring alternative to the Dell XPS 13 and MacBook Pro performance-wise, a surprising development.

Huawei MateBook X Pro

Battery life

The wins don’t stop there. The MateBook X Pro is one of the longest-lasting Ultrabooks – much less Windows laptops in general – we’ve ever tested. At 6 hours and 12 minutes on the PCMark 8 battery test, this laptop beat Dell’s flagship by just under two hours. 

Meanwhile, it outlasted both the XPS 13 and MacBook Pro by more than two hours and 90 minutes, respectively, in the TechRadar local video rundown test. We definitely didn’t see the day coming that would have a laptop outlast both the best Windows laptop around and Apple’s leading MacBook.

At this point, you’re looking at a laptop that’s not only more powerful than both the top 13-inch models for Windows and macOS, respectively, but one that also lasts longer. How much does this laptop cost again?

Huawei MateBook X Pro

Software and features

While the MateBook X Pro does promise a Microsoft Signature Edition of Windows 10 on its latest laptop, Huawei did inject just one app into the operating system: Huawei PC Manager. This service allows for more instant wireless connection between it on the MateBook X Pro and Huawei phones.

The PC Manager tool also allows for Huawei Share, a sort of Apple AirDrop competitor that permits file sharing with nearby devices at speeds using the service up to 20 Mbps. It’s a fine enough feature, but requires for not only the user to buy all-in on Huawei devices and services, but all of his or her friends and co-workers, too – a tall order.

Beyond that, the only other marquee feature of the MateBook X Pro is its USB-C, 65W power adapter that houses a smart controller, allowing it to deliver just the right amount of voltage and amps depending on what type of device is plugged in. Better yet, for this laptop, it offers up fast-charging capabilities, so it will charge the MateBook X Pro faster than you can burn its battery down.

Huawei MateBook X Pro

 Final  verdict

Frankly, we’re stunned by Huawei’s sophomore effort in the laptop category. In one fell swoop, the MateBook X Pro presents an overwhelming alternative to our favorite laptop, the Dell XPS 13, and the MacBook Pro.

From its slick, subtle design to its luxurious typing and navigating experience, and its powerhouse performance to its storied battery life – not to mention a sublime touchscreen – the Huawei MateBook X Pro is an incredible laptop. Its apparent flaws are few and far in between, like the lack of an SD card slot and webcam trick that’s clever, but flawed nevertheless.

All told, the MateBook X Pro will be one of the answers we give readers and friends when they ask the broadest of questions: ‘what’s the best laptop?’ For that, it’s earned our Best in Class award.



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VyprVPN


  • Until July 31st 2018, get 40% off VyprVPN's annual plans, just in time to boost up your coverage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. VyprVPN is a fast, highly secure VPN without third parties, all for as little as £26.10 for the first year. Get VyprVPN here

VyprVPN is a popular VPN which is based in privacy-friendly Switzerland, and comes from the same stable of companies as US ISP Texas.net, Data Foundry, and top Usenet provider Giganews.

The service grabbed our attention with some impressive specs: 73 server locations, unlimited data usage, over 200,000 IPs, secure DNS servers, a kill switch and more.

There are apps and setup instructions to run the service on almost any platform: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, smart TVs and multiple router types.

The standard VyprVPN plan allows three simultaneous connections, and is priced at £6.95 ($8.70) a month billed monthly, or £4.08 ($5.10) a month billed annually.

VyprVPN Premium ups the limit to five simultaneous connections, and adds support for the company's Chameleon protocol to help bypass VPN blocking. It's yours for £10.50 ($13) billed monthly, or £5.83 ($7.30) a month billed annually.

The company (Golden Frog) doesn't block torrent traffic, but warns that "subscribers who are repeat infringers of either unlawfully copyrighted material or otherwise illegal content" will have their accounts terminated. Combine that with session logging (more on that in a moment) and this service is seemingly not the best choice for heavy P2P users.

There are cheaper VPNs around which support five connections, but if you can live with three, VyprVPN offers a lot of privacy power for a very fair price. The company has a 3-day trial, too, so you can easily check the service quality for yourself.

Privacy

VyprVPN's privacy policy is clear, straightforward and extremely short, far better than the lengthy legalese you'll often be bombarded with elsewhere.

The document heads each section with simple text explaining exactly what it's aiming to answer: "What data Golden Frog retains from VyprVPN sessions", or "How Golden Frog responds to criminal investigations", and so on.

Each section provides only brief details, but they still manage to cover what you need to know. The good news is the service doesn't log your traffic within a session, perform any packet inspection on it, discriminate against devices or protocols, and it doesn’t throttle or limit your internet connection.

There is some session logging, as the company explains:

"Each time a user connects to VyprVPN, we retain the following data for 30 days: the user's source IP address, the VyprVPN IP address used by the user, connection start and stop time and total number of bytes used."

This data is retained for 30 days "to use with billing issues, troubleshooting, service offering evaluation, TOS issues, AUP issues, and for handling crimes performed over the service."

What this means is that VyprVPN won't record that you've visited website X or downloaded torrent Y, but it is keeping an audit trail that may allow others to find out. If an investigator has the VyprVPN IP address that you used to take some action, and within 30 days they can get a court to demand the company hands over its logs, it will be possible to link that action to your account.

It's important to keep this in perspective. Many VPNs do something similar: all that's happening here is that VyprVPN is being honest enough to clearly and explicitly tell you about it. And if you're simply using the service for regular browsing, it probably won't matter anyway. But if you're looking for complete anonymity no matter what you're doing, this may not be the VPN for you.

We moved on to the terms of service page, where most of the clauses seemed very standard: don't use the service to do illegal stuff, you bear the responsibility for your actions, services will automatically be renewed unless you cancel your account, and so on.

There's only one catch in the refund policy, which says you'll never get one, ever, under any circumstances. That's far stricter than most companies, although if you think you can test the service adequately in the 3-day free trial, it may not make any real difference.

Performance

Sign up for VyprVPN and you're asked to provide much more information than usual. Handing over your email address is normal, but the company also requires your first and last name, billing country and postcode or zip code.

If you can live with that, the rest of the signup process looks familiar enough: choose the monthly or annual plan, enter your details, and pay in the usual way. We chose PayPal and approved the payment, but were then sent to a blank page at the Golden Frog site, with no information about our order at all.

Fortunately, a welcome email arrived moments later with a 'Confirm account' link, and clicking this opened a more useful web page with download links and setup guides.

We grabbed a copy of the Windows client, downloading and installing it in a few seconds. This looked relatively compact, taking only 10MB of hard drive space, but its background processes were more resource-hungry. The VyprVPN service and client typically gobbled up 110MB RAM in total, more than four times the requirements of the more lightweight IVPN, for example.

The client has an appealing interface which includes a real-time chart of your current network download and upload speeds. Your current IP address is highlighted, and there's also a clear display of your NAT firewall status and preferred VPN protocol, details that other clients usually bury deep in their settings dialog.

Tapping the Connect button automatically connects you to the fastest server, or you can choose your preferred option from the full server list.

The client can display locations by continent, name or speed. A Search box displays matches as you type, or you can save commonly-used locations to a Favorites list.

VyprVPN favorites are also available direct from its system tray icon's right-click menu, conveniently. This also displays handy details like your IP address and connection status. That seems an obvious idea to us, but it's rarely implemented by other VPNs.

The client's most impressive feature is probably its Settings dialog, a nicely judged mix of options which has something for every level of user.

You get fine-grained control over connections, for instance. You can have the service connect as soon as Windows starts, or when the client launches, or when you access any untrusted Wi-Fi networks.

There are several notification settings. You can have the client alert you to every single connect and disconnect event, or just connection failures, and optionally play different audio files on connects or disconnects. That may sound trivial, but don't dismiss it. Other services might annoy you with regular popups, or not give you any clear notification of disconnects at all, so being able to control this is a definite plus.

It's a similar story with the Protocol tab. You don't just get to choose from OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec and PPTP. You can configure OpenVPN with your choice of encryption level, port settings, or – if you've signed up for the Premium plan – specify VyprVPN's own Chameleon protocol to (theoretically) do a better job of bypassing VPN blockers.

If you really know what you're doing, the Advanced tab enables low-level tweaks for your TAP adapter, MTU, route delay or TLS timeout, and you can also add custom OpenVPN parameters to your configuration file. There's a lot of power here for experts.

Performance was generally impressive in our testing*, too. Speeds to our local UK server averaged 36Mbps and never dropped below 33Mbps. Moving to French, German and other close European locations made little difference, with speeds generally still above 30Mbps.

US connections were more variable at 15-25Mbps, and UK to Asian connections struggled to a just-about-usable 3-5Mbps, but even these were better than we've seen with many competitors.

The good news continued right to the end, as we rounded off the review with a series of leak tests. Whatever we did, VyprVPN successfully preserved our privacy by blocking any DNS and WebRTC leaks.

Final verdict

VyprVPN's excellent performance and powerful clients make it a great choice for some people, but heavy P2P users should check out the company's session logging and copyright infringement policies before they buy.

*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds, and then tested immediately again with the VPN turned off, to check for any difference (over several rounds of testing). We then compared these results to other VPN services we've reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.



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Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ


The Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ is one of the first of a new breed of gaming monitors, combining the high refresh rates of Nvidia’s G-Sync technology with 4K resolution and HDR (high dynamic range) support for exceptional image quality.

We got to spend a bit of time with the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ at an event held by Nvidia, which is keen to make its G-Sync technology synonymous with high-end gaming monitors.

So, with the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ we get HDR 10 support and DCI-P3 color gamut for vivid colors, a high 144Hz refresh rate for smooth gameplay, and an ultra-high-definition resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. If you have a gaming rig that can keep up, then the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ is set to be a very impressive gaming monitor indeed.

Price and availability

At the moment we don't have an exact price for the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ, but because it's a 27-inch 4K G-Sync monitor with HDR we’re expecting a pretty high price tag. 

Similarly-specced G-Sync monitors with HDR support go for around $900 (£700, AU$1,300), and at the showcase event Nvidia could not provide prices, but hinted that the Auss, and similar monitors, won’t be any less than $1,000 (£800, AU$1,400), and could conceivably have price tags around the $2,500 (£2,000, AU$3,000) mark.

Acer has hinted that its own G-Sync HDR monitor, the Acer Predator X27, will be around £2,199 ($3,000, AU$4,000), so we expect to the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ to be around the same price. We’ll update this hands-on as soon as we hear more.

If it does go for around that price, then this will be a monitor that will likely only be of interest to enthusiasts and pro gamers who are willing to spend that amount of money.

We don’t have an exact date when the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ will be available to buy, but Nvidia hinted that it will be at the end of May, or early June, 2018. We should hopefully get hold of the monitor for a full review around that time as well.

Design and features

The Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ was shown off alongside the Acer Predator X27, another G-Sync HDR gaming monitor, and while Acer’s design is more subdued the PG27UQ has a more eye-catching look, as we’ve come to expect from Asus’ ROG (Republic of Gamers) brand.

The 27-inch screen is a good size for a gaming monitor, and with its standard widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9 this is a monitor that’s large enough to immerse you, but doesn’t dominate your desk as larger gaming monitors do.

A medium-sized bezel runs around the screen, and at the bottom is the ROG logo. On the back of the screen’s body is a larger, glowing ROG logo, alongside patterns that are reminiscent of circuit boards. That glowing ROG logo can be controlled by the Asus Aura Sync software, so it can compliment other ROG devices with AURA lighting. It certainly echoes the design elements of other ROG gadgets, so if you have some already then the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ will fit right in.

The stand is also eye-catching, with a blade-like design that feels sturdy, and an LED light that points down towards the desk.

On the back you also get buttons for controlling the on-screen menu. If you’re already a fan of the ROG line then you’ll love the look of the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ, and even if this is your first ROG device the look of the monitor isn’t too over the top.

But it’s the tech behind the screen of the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ that's the real star of the show. With a refresh rate of 144Hz, combined with 4K UHD resolution and G-Sync HDR technology, the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ is capable of some extremely impressive visuals.

It features an LED backlight that's dynamically controlled across 384 zones, which provides impressive contrast between light and dark scenes. It also has quantum-dot technology, and a DCI-P3 color gamut, which offers up a 25% wider color range compared to sRGB monitors, which means the monitor is capable of displaying much more accurate colors.

In our opinion, this latter feature has the potential to drastically improve the image quality of the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ. Not only will this benefit games and media that supports the DCI-P3 color gamut, but it also means the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ is a good choice of monitor for film and photo editors, which may help justify its high price tag.

It’s the combination of high resolution, high refresh rate, low latency and HDR support that will make the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ really stand out from its competition.

Performance

We didn’t get a lot of time with the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ at the event Nvidia held, but from our brief time with the monitor, it looks very promising.

Playing Destiny 2, which features lots of bight colors and dark locations, the G-Sync technology certainly puts in a lot of work, resulting in some really impressive visuals to go along with the 4K resolution – it appears to match, and often exceed, many 4K HDR TVs we’ve seen.

The 144Hz refresh rate also worked wonders, making the game feel snappy and responsive, and there wasn’t a hint of screen tearing. Basically, we can’t wait to spend more time with this monitor so we can really put it through its paces, as it looks like it could be a really special screen for gaming on.

Early verdict

Our brief time with the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ has definitely left us wanting more: this has the potential to be one hell of a gaming monitor, thanks to its combination of 4K resolution and G-Sync HDR technology, which delivers astounding visual fidelity and high frame rates.

For any PC gamer who's looked on enviously as PS4 and Xbox One games get HDR support, while their platform remains overlooked, the fact that companies like Nvidia and Asus are pushing for HDR support will be welcome.

However, we have a feeling that the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ will be a very pricey monitor indeed, which means it will be out of reach for many gamers. You’ll also need a powerful PC to take advantage of the high resolution and frame rates, while having a 10-series Nvidia graphics card is necessary to benefit from G-Sync HDR.

If you like the look of the HDR future the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ holds, then you may need to start saving now.



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