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Review: Symbol Audio Modern Record Console

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Review: Parrot Bebop

Caption: Christie Hemm Klok/WIRED

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Review: Symbol Audio Modern Record Console

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Review: Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Caption: The four-cylinder engine sends 237 horsepower to the rear wheels, enough to propel the car to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and a top speed of 160. Alfa Romeo

Caption: The folks at Alfa say the 4C is inspired by the voluptuous 1967 Tipo 33 Stradale, but the curving elegance of that classic has been swapped for a design that looks like it was carved with a machete. Alfa Romeo

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Caption: The Alfa Romeo 4C is a true driver’s car that connects you to the road in a way other 21st century cars don’t. Alfa Romeo

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Caption: The Spider is the drop-top version of the 4C, the sports car that launched last year to mark Alfa Romeo’s return to the US. Alfa Romeo

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Caption: It starts at $63,900 and hits US dealer lots in August. Alfa Romeo

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Caption: The car does a wonderful job keeping you in aggressively low gears, where power and torque are available at the twitch of a toe. Alfa Romeo

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Caption: Stab the brakes, get a downshift. Stab them hard, and you can go from 60 mph to a dead stop in under 100 feet. Alfa Romeo

Caption: This is the Immortan Joe regime equivalent of an automatic transmission, all about speed and fury. Alfa Romeo


Caption: The engine vents make the rear of the car look like Pikachu or a robot panda, depending on the angle. Alfa Romeo

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Caption: nside, there are no creature comforts. No arm rests, though the passenger can hang onto a leather strap. The cup holders are just deep enough for espresso cups. Alfa Romeo

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Caption: The 4C has a radio. I don’t touch it. Partly because listening to the four cylinders and turbocharger do their thing behind my head is pleasure enough, but mostly because I don’t need, or want, the distraction. Alfa Romeo

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Caption: The 4C doesn’t make driving easy—my lap times are, how you say, not bellissimo—but it does something better. It connects me to the road. Alfa Romeo

Review: Drop Connected Kitchen Scale

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Review: Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3




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Apple MacBook (2015) review: Slimmer and lighter than Air

The slimmest, lightest Apple laptop currently available High-quality Retina display Fanless design runs cool and quiet Sturdy, yet elegant constructionSingle USB-C interface for connectivity and charging Modest performance and battery life Expensive

It is, perhaps, a sign of the times that the slimmest and lightest laptop that Apple has ever produced has been almost completely overshadowed by the launch of the endlessly hyped Apple Watch. However, Apple’s Mac computers — and particularly its MacBook laptops — have sold consistently well in recent years, regularly posting double-digit increases in sales at a time when the wider PC market seems to be in steady decline.

Apple’s new MacBook is certainly a significant release, providing a major redesign for a long-neglected member of the Mac lineup. It’s a wonderful piece of design, but it also turns Apple’s existing laptop range on its head. It relegates the former flagship MacBook Air to the role of entry-level laptop, and establishes a new category of premium ultraportable devices that Apple, with typical modesty, describes as “the future of the notebook”.

The 12-inch MacBook measures just 3.5-13.1mm (0.14-0.52in.) thick and weighs 0.92kg (2.03lbs). Image: Apple

Prices for the new MacBook start at £1,049 (inc VAT; £874.17 ex. VAT), which buys you a dual-core 1.1GHz-2.4GHz Intel Core M-5Y31 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage. For £1,299 (inc. VAT; £1,082.50 ex. VAT) you can step up to 1.2GHz-2.6GHz Core M-5Y51 and 512GB storage, while £1,419 (inc. VAT, £1,182.50 ex. VAT) secures a further speed bump up to the 1.3GHz-2.9GHz Core M-5Y71. The new MacBook is only available with a 12-inch Retina display with a native resolution of 2,304 by 1,440 pixels, and there’s no option to upgrade the memory beyond 8GB.

That’s expensive, but still in the same price range as ultraportable rivals such as Lenovo’s Yoga 3 Pro (which, incidentally, beat Apple to the punch with a slimline Core M laptop by several months). But, as always with Apple, those numbers only tell half the story, and you need to spend some hands-on time with the new MacBook in order to appreciate its strengths and weaknesses.

The extent of the redesign that new MacBook has received is illustrated by the fact that this 12-inch laptop manages to be both slimmer and lighter than the 11-inch version of the aging MacBook Air that’s still on sale. The 12-inch MacBook measures just 3.5-13.1mm (0.14-0.52in.) thick and weighs 0.92kg (2.03lbs), compared to 3-17mm (0.11-0.68in.) and 1.08kg (2.38lbs) for the 11-inch MacBook Air. The MacBook Air also has a chunky metal border around the screen, which results in a total width of 300mm (11.8in.) for the screen panel, whereas the edge-to-edge glass panel of the new MacBook reduces the width of the laptop by almost 20mm to just 280.5mm (11.04in.).

The build quality, of course, is immaculate. The aluminium chassis of the MacBook looks smart and elegant, but feels very sturdy and provides good support for both the screen and the keyboard panels. There are no internal cooling fans either, so the MacBook is virtually silent when running.

new-macbook-keyboard.jpgThe ultra-thin keyboard uses a new ‘butterfly’ key hinge mechanism, while the trackpad is a ‘taptic’ Force Touch unit. Image: Apple

The pressure-sensitive Force Touch trackpad has already made an appearance on the recently updated MacBook Pro, but the new MacBook also benefits from a redesigned keyboard that uses a ‘butterfly’ hinge mechanism under each key to reduce the thickness of the keyboard while still providing a firm response that feels comfortable when typing quickly. And, taking a leaf out of the iPhone’s book, the MacBook is now available in three different colours: traditional silver; a darker ‘space grey’; and a gold model that might be a little too ostentatious for business users seeking an air of cool professionalism.

new-macbook-colours.jpgThe new MacBook comes in Apple’s now-familiar colour choices: Silver, Space Grey and Gold. Image: Apple

Another key difference that sets the MacBook apart from the MacBook Air is the new Retina display. The 12-inch display boasts a resolution of 2,304 by 1,440 pixels (226 pixels per inch, or ppi), compared to just 1,366 by 768 (142ppi) for the 11-inch MacBook Air, and 1,440 by 900 (131ppi) for the 13-inch model. In fact, it’s only 250 pixels short of the 27-inch display on my office iMac.

The Retina update is long overdue, but the image quality is undeniably impressive, with bold colours, strong contrast and excellent all-round viewing angles. There are Windows rivals that can beat its resolution, of course (including the 3,200-by-1,800 [282ppi] display on the 13-inch Yoga 3 Pro), but the Mac operating system handles these ultra-high resolutions more effectively than Windows. The Display control panel within OS X provides a number of ‘looks like’ options that scale text and graphics in order to enhance visibility. By default, the MacBook display ‘looks like’ 1280 by 800, which is quite easy on the eye, but you can increase or decrease this simulated resolution to suit whatever applications you use in your work. Some people may still prefer to work on a slightly larger screen, but if lightweight portability is your priority then the new MacBook is hard to beat.

But, as always, there’s a trade-off between portability and performance. Even with a Turbo Boost option that can increase clock speed to 2.4GHz, the entry-level 1.1GHz Core M processor with its integrated Intel HD Graphics 5300 GPU delivers only modest performance. To be fair, its GeekBench 3 scores of 2489 for single-core performance and 4633 for multi-core are comparable to those of Lenovo’s similarly configured Yoga 3 Pro, but they’re slightly lower than the less expensive 1.6GHz Core i5-based 13-inch MacBook Air.

The new MacBook will still be perfectly adequate for routine web browsing, email and running Microsoft Office, but if you’re thinking about more demanding tasks such as photo- or video-editing then you’ll need to look at the more powerful Core i5/i7-based MacBook Pro range.

The real strength of Intel’s new Broadwell processors is their power-efficiency, and we’ve seen impressive battery life from a number of Broadwell laptops recently. However, the slimline design of the new MacBook means that there’s only room inside it for a relatively modest 39.7Whr battery to power the high-resolution Retina display.

Apple claims nine hours of web browsing for the new MacBook, but we only got 6 hours and 40 minutes of streaming video from the BBC iPlayer during our tests. That’s respectable enough (and comparable to the battery performance of the Yoga 3 Pro), and you can probably squeeze another couple of hours out of it for more casual web browsing. However, the high-resolution Retina display clearly affects battery life, and there are plenty of laptop rivals that can match that performance. The MacBook Air may have a more modest display, but it can handle 10 hours of streaming video with no trouble at all and is still worth considering if battery life is your main priority.

new-macbook-side.jpgApart from the headphone jack, the only interface on the new MacBook is a USB-C port: you’ll have to buy optional adapters to get extra connectors. Image: Apple

new-macbook-dangle.jpg Image: Apple One other factor that allowed Apple to reduce the size of the MacBook so dramatically. Apple says that the new MacBook is designed for ‘a wireless world’ — which is one way of saying that it has virtually abandoned physical interfaces and cables for external connectivity. A single USB-C port on the rear left corner is used to charge the MacBook, the only other connector being a headphone socket on the opposite left-hand corner. There’s no video output, and the new MacBook has even abandoned Apple’s own high-speed Thunderbolt interface.

The assumption is that all other peripherals and network connectivity will be over wi-fi (802.11ac) or Bluetooth (4.0). This, of course, is nonsense — as we discovered as soon as we tried to install our test files off a USB memory stick. Fortunately, Apple does supply a number of USB-C adapters for those of us that still use cables to connect to monitors, hard drives and other peripherals. There’s a basic USB-C-to-USB adapter, which allows you to connect a single USB device to the MacBook. However, you can’t charge the MacBook while you have a USB device plugged in with that cable, so it makes more sense to opt for one of Apple’s Multiport adapters instead. There are two available: both include a USB-C port to charge the MacBook and a conventional USB 3.0 port for peripherals, and either HDMI or VGA for an external monitor. There’s no Ethernet adapter available from Apple, but third-party manufacturers such as Belkin have already announced plans to plug that particular gap.

Apple provided these adapters with our review unit, and they proved essential in order to perform routine tasks such as transferring files from a hard drive and charging an iPhone that was connected to the MacBook. Unfortunately, none are included with the MacBook, and Apple charges £15 (inc. VAT) for the basic USB adapter, and a thumping £65 (inc. VAT) for the Multiport units. Most users will need at least one of these accessories and it’s unforgivable that Apple doesn’t at least throw in the basic USB adapter free of charge.

The new MacBook’s lightweight, slimline design certainly has that special aura of elegant functionality that always overcomes objections to Apple’s high prices. And while the limited connectivity may deter business users who need to connect to wired office networks and other peripherals, we suspect that those issues are likely to fade in coming months as USB-C becomes more widely adopted.

However, the new MacBook’s portability does come at the cost of performance and battery life. If weight is your main concern when travelling with your laptop, then this MacBook is in a class of its own. But if you value battery life or raw power then you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.

View the original article here

Smartphones for audiophiles: is the iPhone 5 more musical than its rivals?


Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

The love of audio. It’s a dangerous condition, because every minute spent obsessing over headphones or specs or conflicting opinions is a minute not spent enjoying your favorite tracks or discovering new ones. That’s why a review like this, which compares the iPhone 5 with rival phones based largely on acoustic qualities, runs a high risk of time-wastage — no one really needs a cacophony of flowery words with no concrete conclusions.

How to steer clear of the technological equivalent of a wine-tasting? By trying our damnedest to focus only on the more practical pros and cons of these top handsets, specifically from the POV of someone who listens to a lot of music on their phone. We’re talking about someone who likely prefers high-bitrate recordings and who is ready to spend money on something better than the earbuds (or EarPods) that come in the box.

In addition to testing Apple’s new flagship we’ll also look at the iPhone 4S, which is now a ton cheaperthan it was a few weeks ago, as well as the Galaxy S III (both the global and the Sprint US version) plus the HTC One X (global and AT&T), and run them all through an audiophile obstacle course that goes right from purely subjective observations through to slightly more scientific tests as well as storage, OS and battery comparisons. There’ll also be some consideration of the iPhone 4, Nokia Lumia 800 andPureView 808, although it’ll be more condensed.

And yes, we’ll end up with an overall winner, but the research here is about more than that. Different phones may suit different people, depending on their priorities. Moreover, new handsets are just around the corner — the Lumia 920, the Note II, the LG Optimus G and whatever other goodies the future undoubtedly holds — and so it makes sense to have a bed of knowledge against which new entrants can be judged. Interested? Then let’s get started.

The tests

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

You’ll find a total of four tests here, each with a different approach and each with its own winners and losers:

1. First impressions. These are totally subjective and simply involve me listening to a range of tracks on each device, using a pair of in-ear headphones, and then jotting down some notes. The point was to force me to pin my colors to a mast: if I made random judgments during this phase, then I stood to be contradicted and / or humiliated by subsequent tests, which would then put this whole review in its place (a place called Meaninglessville).

2. Scientific tests, conducted by AMS Acoustics in London, UK. These guys test audio equipment for a living, in everything from concert halls to train stations, and we’re grateful for their time and expertise.

3. Guided listening tests, which were still subjective but at least had some discipline to them, and which were again conducted under the auspices of AMS Acoustics. These tests also brought in the opinions of a totally independent witness: Chris Nicolaides, an AMS audio engineer, who is normal enough to regard both the iPhone 5 and the GS III as “just more phones.”

4. A brief round-up comparison of battery life, storage, pricing and software from an audiophile perspective.

(Note: the iPhone 5 in this review was running on the Vodafone UK network. It’s possible that slightly different audio hardware is used in other variants.)

1. First impressions

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

As mentioned, the idea here was to make some rapid and purely subjective judgments about the way these smartphones sound. I did that using a pair of top-end Sennheiser IE-80 in-ears, which are characterized by low impedance (16 ohms) and high sensitivity — in other words, it’s easy to make them go loud even if you have a low-power audio source like a smartphone.

Given that these Senns are so easy to drive, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that all the smartphones tested came off pretty well. In fact, it’s not going too far to say that if you use in-ears with similar properties to these, and if you’re only ever likely to use these types of headphones, then you may as well pick your handset based on other factors, because audio quality isn’t a big enough deal to accept or reject any of them.

“If you’re only ever likely to use these types of headphones, then you may as well pick your handset based on other factors.”

That said, three phones did stand out just a little: the iPhone 4, 4S and global HTC One X. The two older iPhones caught my attention on quiet classical tracks because I noticed that they could both go really loud without adding much extra hiss (i.e., hiss that wasn’t clearly on the original music recording.) The HTC One X stood out in more rhythmic types of music like hip-hop and dance because it had great stereo imaging — you could really hear different degrees of left and right — and somehow it also accentuated little details that weren’t always apparent on the other handsets. The only downside of the One X was that it added quite a lot of hiss.

What about the iPhone 5? Well, it was fine on the whole, but I did notice something holding it back: you had to push the volume a good few notches higher just to get the same output level as the 4 or 4S. Doing this caused the iPhone 5’s on-screen volume display to turn a stress-inducing red color, which is arguably not what you need when you’re trying to chill out to some chill-out. More importantly, the volume hit its max limit sooner, making the 5 a quieter phone all-round.

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rivals

Honestly, this is no big deal with lightweight in-ears, but many audiophiles prefer cans with open-backs or higher impedances, which respond best to an abundance of energy from the source device. To explore this, I switched to using Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro over-ears with a high impedance of 250 ohms and found that the difference was obvious: the iPhone 4 and 4S were the only devices to provide sufficient volume in quiet recordings using these headphones. Admittedly the Beyerdynamics may be a niche choice for mobile listening, but still — the 4 and 4S deserve points for being so flexible.

Just to add another perspective, our Mobile Editor Myriam Joire also checked out the devices using DT 990 Pros and found that — at least with her preferred types of music, such as house and drum & bass — the global HTC One X really won her over, although it didn’t go as loud as her iPhone 4S or indeed as loud as she would have liked. Myriam was attracted to it for much the same reasons as I was, scoring it high for stereo imaging and a slightly noisy “analog feel.”

Our findings so far: The iPhone 4/4S and global HTC One X both win this round. The iPhones win because they go loud enough to allow virtually any choice of audiophile headgear and any genre of music, while the HTC One X wins for subjectively sounding better in louder genres, with better stereo imaging and detail albeit at the expense of more noise.

2. Objective tests

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

To make things slightly more scientific and reliable, AMS Acoustics took two key measurements for each phone: frequency response (FR) and total harmonic distortion (THD). FR tests the device’s ability to treat all bass and treble frequencies equally, which in turn allows you to hear what was recorded in the studio or to make your own EQ adjustments from a neutral starting point. Meanwhile, THD measures the degree to which the phones introduce harmonic tones that are not present in the original media — for example as a result of clipping or other types of distortion.

Despite being objective, FR and THD should be regarded as very blunt tests. They measure neutrality, which isn’t necessarily what the human ear would perceive as being pleasant or unpleasant. There are also impurities these metrics can’t catch — such as noise and intermodulation distortion — and even when they do highlight a difference, they won’t tell us what caused it. A lack of neutrality could just as easily be a product of the software as of the phone’s audio circuitry, and it could potentially be fixed by using a different app or different EQ settings — we only tested stock music apps with default settings (including with the Beats setting turned off on the HTC phones).

The strength of these tests, however, is that they’re reliable enough for AMS to be able to vouch for them. What’s more, they’re able measure things which are perceivable and which we know are important — namely, the ability of a phone to reach a high level of volume without distorting the output, such that it may be suitable for a wider range of headphones. We deliberately ran each phone at its maximum volume setting in order to find this out, and as a result our FR chart is also useful for ranking the phones in terms of loudness.

Frequency Response

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

Let’s start with the FR chart above, and in particular with the topmost line. It’s the odd one out because it doesn’t correspond to a smartphone, but rather to the FIIO E17 DAC and headphone amp. We used this as a benchmark for comparison because it’s a $130 device that’s totally dedicated to producing audio. In other words, it represents what a manufacturer can do with a smartphone-sized block of electronics when they don’t also have to worry about it receiving calls or playing tower defense games.

We can see right away that the FIIO goes much louder than any of the smartphones under test, and that’s before you even extend its default volume range using its settings menu (something our little test rig begged us not to try). It’s also reasonably flat — not the flattest, certainly at the treble end where it rolls off too quickly — but flat enough.

“The iPhone 5, meanwhile, fails to distinguish itself.”

In fact, all the smartphones tested here are good and flat, with the only obvious exception being the Lumia 800 with its apparent bass boost. Aside from that, the major difference this chart reveals is how loud each phone can go while remaining flat, and that prize undoubtedly goes to the iPhone 4 and 4S, which both contain Cirrus Logic audio chips and which seemed to behave almost identically here. The quietest phone was the GS III, but it deserves some marks for being so flat all the way from bass to treble — thatWolfson audio chip clearly is no slouch. The iPhone 5, meanwhile, fails to distinguish itself by tracing a path somewhere in the middle, amongst the Qualcomm-powered American GS III and One X.

Total Harmonic Distortion

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

Now, this next graph works totally differently. It shows the amount of the audio signal that was due to harmonic distortion, so a higher curve is theoretically “bad” or at least non-neutral — we want a line that is a low as possible throughout as much range as possible.

Interestingly, the FIIO is far from perfect here — it’s higher than any of the smartphones on trial, although we have to go a little easy on it because we know that its test signal was so much louder, and remaining loud and neutral is what devices find most difficult.

All the smartphones are tightly bunched together, without large differences between them, but once again the iPhone 4 and 4S come off extremely well. The 4S wins hands-down on this chart, while the 4 is ahead of the bunch everywhere except at the bass frequencies. Again, the iPhone 5 is somewhere in the middle, alongside the Qualcomm-powered phones.

“Once again, the iPhone 4 and 4S come off extremely well.”

Before we conclude this section there’s one other thing that the THD graph shows: the global HTC One X has slightly higher distortion than the other phones. It could be coincidence, but it’s interesting that the two stand-out devices from the first test also sit at the extremes on this one. The global One X is thought to contain a bespoke audio — likely from Texas Instruments — and it’s just possible that its higher harmonic distortion is correlated in some way with the noisy, analog vibes that made it notable before. Indeed, THD isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it’s one of many types of distortion that can be deliberately used in a recording studio to add color to certain types of music.

Findings: These tests can hardly be considered the final word on audio quality, but they do make the iPhone 4S (and 4) stand out for being the phone which goes the loudest with the least distortion.

3. Guided listening (and a wildcard)

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

So, you’ve made it this far? Then hopefully we can start bringing this whole thing toward a conclusion, and to do that we’re going to try a new kind of test: guided listening, in which myself and Chris Nicolaides from AMS sat down with each phone and tried to score it out of 10 against different criteria. This time we opted for headphones with middle-of-the-road impedance and sensitivity, in the form of Sennheiser HD 595 over-ears rated at 50 ohms.

We listened to the phones at full volume and tried to detect differences in loudness, hiss, distortion (such as clipping), dynamic range (the ability to make loud and soft stand out from each other) and overall “quality.” For a loud track with little dynamic range we chose something from Roni Size, while Ellie Goulding represented a busy and complex electronic sound and Chopin represented classical. Two people, five metrics, three test tracks and 10 points give a maximum score of 300.

“None of the phones scored below 70 percent.”

Where we couldn’t hear any differences between phones on a particular test, we simply gave all the phones a default score of 10/10 on that measure. This seemed fair at the time, but on reflection our approach seems to have exaggerated the differences between phones. Even if we only heard a minor disadvantage on a particular handset, just the fact that we didn’t award a full 10/10 score seems to make less-than-perfect phones stand out too much. So, just bear that in mind while you glance at the table — after all, none of the phones scored below 70 percent, so none of them were bad as such:

Device Loudness Dynamic Range Distortion Hiss “Quality” Total
FIIO E17 (reference) 60 60 58 60 60 298/300
iPhone 4S 54 57 60 60 58 289/300
iPhone 5 45 55 60 60 55 275/300
HTC One X (global) 35 50 59 50 45 239/300
HTC One X (AT&T) 34 44 58 55 36 227/300
GS III (Sprint) 36 40 58 46 35 215/300
GS III (global) 29 40 58 51 35 213/300

Findings: So, the iPhone 4S wins yet again, providing almost the same experience as a dedicated $130 headphone amp — which is pretty incredible when you think about it. Of all the devices tried, and on our 50-ohm headphones, only the iPhone 4s and the FIIO were too loud to be comfortable, and we’d have happily pushed all the phones up higher if they’d been able.

Our subjective rankings for loudness don’t tally exactly with the FR chart above, suggesting that smaller differences in maximum volume are hard to detect aren’t a big deal. Indeed, the iPhone 5 overcame its objective lack of volume to reach second place — showing that it still went loud enough in our test tracks to have emotional impact.

Interestingly, the global HTC One X stood out for the third test in a row — scoring higher than the other Androids thanks to a high score for dynamic range (the feeling of impact between soft and loud) and as well as its subjective overall “quality” rating.

“The iPhone 5 overcame its lack of volume to reach second place.”

Oh, and what about that wildcard? It was simply this: we also tested a rooted global Galaxy S III, running a nice little app called Voodoo Sound. The app was built by a good friend of Engadget, François Simond, and it has helped many people to overcome the quietness of Samsung smartphones. Once it has superuser privileges on the phone, Voodoo Sound is able to control the digital volume and analog amplifier separately, while also removing the limit Samsung imposes on the amp. The GS III version of the app isn’t out yet, and we only tested a very early build which had a few bugs so we didn’t want to score it — but suffice to say that it scored significantly higher than the stock GS III and it does solve the only real problem with this device’s audio.

4. Non-audio comparisons — OS, cost, storage and battery life

Smartphones for audiophiles a review

Comparing mobile operating systems can get academic, seeing as by now so many people are entrenched in their preferred ecosystem. That said, during our tests the Android devices did stand out in a number of ways. First, they didn’t try to force us to use particular pieces of software (hello, iTunes and Zune), and they had the decency to treat our test tracks as regular files that we could move around as we wished, particularly through USB mass storage mode. Second, the Androids handled Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) files out of the box, and allowed the playback of Apple Lossless files (ALAC) through third-party apps like PowerAmp, whereas iOS devices didn’t make it easy to play FLAC and the Windows Phone didn’t readily like either codec. Given that even the latest Android devices are readily rootable and flashable, allowing the use of custom ROMs and software utilities with an even deeper layer of control, Google’s OS feels the most welcoming to audiophiles.

“Google’s OS feels the most welcoming to audiophiles.”

Most of the Android handsets in this test also came off very well in terms of cost and storage. If we agree that an audiophile needs at least 32GB, then the GS III (all variants) and global HTC One X offer that for a decent price in their respective markets. The GS III wins outright for having expandable microSD storage, meaning you can add 16GB to a base model for just $10, and it also has On The Go compatibility with USB sticks — a feature which kills the battery, but can occasionally come in handy. Apple generally charges an obscene amount ($100) to add 16GB to an iPhone, but fortunately the iPhone 4S isn’t so extortionate these days and is actually quite a sensible purchase. The AT&T One X and Lumia lose out due to their 16GB storage cap — which is a real shame. Conversely, the PureView 808 deserves a mention here for the fact that it also has a microSD slot and OTG USB storage.

Finally, let’s take a quick look at battery life, based on our regular battery run-down tests, which are probably a better indicator of actual usage then just running the phone with music playing and the screen off:

Phone Battery Life
iPhone 5 11:15
Samsung Galaxy S III (Sprint) 9:20
Samsung Galaxy S III (global) 9:02
HTC One X (AT&T) 8:55
Nokia 808 PureView 8:40
iPhone 4S 8:00
HTC One X (global) 6:00
Nokia Lumia 800 N/A (different benchmark)

Findings: Which phone wins this fourth and final section? That’s largely up to you to decide, depending on which measure is most relevant to the way you listen to music. We’d have to pick the Galaxy S III though, because it offers the most flexible OS alongside the best and cheapest storage options, and it also very good battery life.


Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

We’re now able to round this musical journey off with a cadence that — we hope — does justice to all the handsets we’ve tried. The main conclusion is quite straightforward: tests one, two and three all deliberately gave preferential treatment to the loudest phones with the least distortion, which resulted in a unanimous victory for the iPhone 4S. By extension, some of that glory also belongs to the iPhone 4, which as far as we can tell possesses virtually identical audio circuitry.

The iPhone 5, meanwhile, joins the ranks of smartphones which generally sound great but which aren’t especially well-suited to those audiophiles who want to stick with high-impedance headphones. In terms of pure audio quality, it was above average in the subjective tests and probably deserves to tie in second place with the global HTC One X, which has its own peculiar but attractive sound.

We need to ask Apple why it has now joined in with other manufacturers in limiting the volume on its newest handset. It’s possible that there are very good reasons, such as avoiding the risk of hearing damage. Or perhaps restricting the headphone amp is seen as a way of maximizing battery life. Either way, it’s curious that some manufacturers seem to be moving in the exact opposite direction: for example, we’re told the voltage has been bumped up on the headphone jack of the forthcoming HTC Windows Phone 8x specifically in order to cater for hefty headphones, which leaves us very keen to give that phone a listen.

As for the majority of smartphone users who prefer low-impedance or closed-back headphones that are designed for mobile devices, and that are better suited to an office environment or public transport, then the first three tests aren’t especially relevant. The only test that really matters is the fourth one, which broadened the scope of comparison.

If you demand a flexible OS, then Android shines in that area. If you need a sensible price for at least 32GB, then a Galaxy S III and iPhone 4S stand out as the smartest options in the US, alongside the global HTC One X and PureView 808 in other lands (or on import). If battery life is all-important, pick the iPhone 5, Galaxy S III or AT&T HTC One X. But if you want a phone that really shines on all of those criteria, then we’d have to recommend the Samsung Galaxy S III. Although it didn’t win us over to the same degree as the global One X in terms of subjective audio quality, it excels in every other respect: it’s a great smartphone with the advantage of LTE in the States (missing on the iPhone 4S, for example), it can be heavily tweaked with apps and third-party mods, and it’s every inch an audiophile device.

Smartphones for audiophiles: is the iPhone 5 more musical than its rivals?
Newton Coull Videos – We are a video performance network.

Nintendo 3DS XL review: bigger is better, but it’s still not quite enough


Nintendo 3DS XL review Bigger is better, but not quite enough

If you like your portable gaming three-dimensional, clam-shelled and big, then Nintendo’s 3DS XL fulfills those broad, unconventional requirements. It’s a design refresh that more closely references bothprevious generations of DS hardware (and the incoming Wii U) — all while touting a substantially bigger, 3D-capable, parallax-barrier screen. Aside from a larger battery, the XL’s internals rehash what we first saw over a year ago: the controls remain the same, with no addition of a (mildly) hardcore gamer-courting second analog stick. For what it’s worth, the device does arrive with a 4GB SD card in-box (up from 2GB in the original), matching the approximate doubling in physical dimensions. 18 months is a long time in gaming,especially these days, and although 3DS sales have recently rallied against Sony’s latest, we reckon the 3DS XL has double the appeal of its forebear. We’ll explain why right after the break.

It’s a huge relief to see Nintendo return to the cleaner, tidier lines of the DS Lite and DSi. Gone are the awkward tri-colored gloss and the angular, bizarre shape of the 3DS. Instead, it’s now a simple, softly curved oblong, which looks more mature and considered. Closed, the 3DS XL’s matte finish wraps around both halves — and unintentionally reminds us of Sony’s Tablet P. Fortunately, the casing is far more solid than that Android tablet, and feels much slimmer. In fact the device’s thickness feels (and measures) roughly equal to the 3DS, despite the explosion in screen size, improved battery life and a 46 percent weight increase to 336g (11.85 ounces).

Nintendo 3DS XL review Bigger is better, but not quite enough

While gamers with smaller paws may not agree, the 3DS XL feels more at home in-hand than the 3DS — not to mention, it looks a good deal classier than what came before. Thanks to those rounded corners, the device doesn’t dig into your palms like its slightly squarish predecessor. The circle pad is still supremely comfortable, just the right side of tactile, while the faithful Nintendo button medley and D-pad still do the trick.

Even more than what’s changed, it’s what’s still missing that baffles us. Given that the 3DS has been furnished with a secondary analog stick through a slightly unwieldy peripheral, we don’t understand why they couldn’t have embedded one into the 3DS XL — certainly, it’s not for lack of space. Our review sample arrived with Resident Evil: Revelations in the slot — a game that’s not very forgiving without that second stick. It’s also worth adding that while the plastic stylus on the bigger hardware remains functional enough, we miss the classy, extendable chrome pen that arrived in the original 3DS. The collar buttons are just as responsive as Nintendo’s preceding handhelds. And if you weren’t a fan of the cheap-looking button trio underneath the secondary screen, you’ll be glad to hear that the odd bar has been replaced by three more standard-looking — and feeling — buttons. The SD slot has been repositioned to the right edge, meaning that Nintendo’s sticking with standard removable storage. There’s also now a horizontal cubby for the aforementioned stylus, referencing the DS Lite and DSi of gaming past.


DNP Nintendo 3DS XL review Bigger is better, but it's still not quite enough

Bigger is better. Maybe it’s our review-jaded eyes, but the larger, 4.8-inch screen (just shy of the width of the PlayStation Vita, although slightly taller) seems to make the 3D effect less taxing, not to mention more immersive. The similarly expanded secondary screen also offers more real estate for touch-heavy titles. The pair of screens, however, still looks a little incongruous, each boasting different sizes and dimensions. While matching the humble resolutions found on the original, we found the screens both had comparable (if average) viewing angles. The main screen may be 1.8 times larger, but it packs the same 800 x 240 resolution of last year’s model — now spread a little thinner, with the more typical ‘flat’ 320 × 240 display also unchanged on the secondary.

Purely number-wise, it doesn’t sound impressive to anyone spoiled by Retina displays and the like. The screens on the original weren’t the sharpest back then, but the jagged edges on fonts and detail is noticeably more pronounced on the bigger model. It goes without saying that the Vita’s screen is a stronger performer, both visually and technically (being capacitive and all). We presume this is why Nintendo imposed filming and photography restrictions on its reviews for the 3DS XL, even though pixel math dictates that the bigger screen won’t look so hot close-up. Even if the 3DS XL doesn’t win on crispness, however, Sony’s onyx wonder can’t — and never will — output 3D content.


So apart from size, the hardware hasn’t changed that much. The same can be said for the software, but it’s a good chance to see how Nintendo’s embraced online content and gaming in the midst of strong smartphone contenders. Since launching last March, Nintendo’s baked-in software, including eShop, Spot Pass, Mii Plaza and online functions, have had time to grow and it’s particularly noticeable when it comes time to interact with other users. During the first few months of use, you weren’t going to pick up many Mii visitors — not unless you were hanging around gaming writers, tech bloggers and importers, anyway.

DNP Nintendo 3DS XL review Bigger is better, but it's still not quite enough

Now, whether we flit across the country by train or park somewhere in center city, we pick up new Miis — and accessories — in the process. Admittedly, the games that tie into this social component really aren’t worth your time, but the simple process of connecting with other users — and being notified of it — still makes us smile. The uncomplicated approach makes online gaming a cinch. With access to WiFi, we could connect in-game with a single option selection and would soon be battling strangers with far greater skills than we could ever muster. The friend PIN system also allows you to connect with real-life competitors.

The augmented reality games are still baked into Nintendo’s newest portable, although they haven’t moved on in any way. If you’ve played with them on the original, you’re getting the same deal again here. The Nintendo eShop has expanded its offerings since we last opened our online wallets for the 3DS launch, with its wares separated out for ease of navigation. “In Stores” houses demos of incoming 3DS titles, and is presumably where the full-length games will be housed in the near future. Next is the Virtual Console, wrapping up NES, GameBoy, GameBoy Color and (gasp) Game Gear titles for anyone over 20 to replay again. It’s joined by software and mini-game channels and a recommended videos collection. Unfortunately, the likes of Netflix and Hulu weren’t available on our review model here in the UK and overall it’s still not as good as it could be. While it does give taste of how content will be sold through Nintendo in the future, we’d like those to be available now, not in another two months.

Battery life

DNP Nintendo 3DS XL review Bigger is better, but it's still not quite enough

Nintendo reckons you’ll see around three to six and a half hours of gameplay from 3DS titles, and between five and eight for simpler DS games. In our experience, we managed an average of four hours of playtime in full-fat gamer mode, with the 3D switch and brightness cranked up to maximum, WiFi connected and around two hours of online play folded into our test. As even Nintendo forewarns on the console, how the 3DS XL is used has a huge impact on total runtime. Switch off the 3D mode, dabble with older DS titles and retro hits, and you’ll see a substantial improvement in battery life. We did just that, also switching on battery saver mode and dropping brightness down to the middle setting, and got closer to nine hours of playtime — it’s a substantial improvement but obviously means limiting your gamer habits to some extent.


DNP Nintendo 3DS XL review Bigger is better, but it's still not quite enough

Nintendo’s explanation for the lack of an AC adapter in both European and (some) Asian countries is that most buyers will be coming from older hardware — naturally. Thus, buried in the settings menu, is the option to transfer your content — like your digital purchases — across from original 3DS consoles and the DSi. You’ll need both devices and an SD card to get it done, and it feels like an exercise in frustration compared to the effortless systems in place for other gaming challengers like Google Play, which allows you to house your purchases on multiple devices without so much hassle.


DNP Nintendo 3DS XL review Bigger is better, but it's still not quite enough

After playing with the 3DS XL, we returned to the original only to find it difficult and awkward to use in comparison. The new size is an improvement in so many ways, including ergonomics and playability. The bigger screen makes 3D gaming less tiring, and offers a larger sweet spot for Nintendo’s all-important gaming effect, while the curved edges simply fit your hands better. Competition remains tough, however. The Vita remains clearly ahead technically, while Nintendo banks on its strong in-house software team to bring in the customers. Pitch Resident Evil: Revelations against Uncharted, or Super Street Fighter IV 3D against Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, and it’s clear to see on those big ole’ portable screens which has the most potent hardware. But if you’ve been waiting out for a 3DS Lite before taking the plunge into 3D waters, then we can’t help but recommend Nintendo’s latest. We just hope the company can give its online content offering a shot in the arm soon, as it’s really starting to age the hardware.

Nintendo 3DS XL review: bigger is better, but it’s still not quite enough

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