Well, the hallowed day has finally arrived. Assuming you’re willing to spend $600 on an Oculus Rift and its accompanying Touch controllers, then another $70-ish on a plastic guitar and a copy of the game, then you can finally—finally—play Rock Band on a PC.
It’s really more like a Guitar Hero game of course, and lacking the huge DLC back catalog of its console counterparts, but still. Rock Band. On PC.
All the world’s a stage
I’ve been messing with Rock Band VR off-and-on for the last two days. The first thing I’ll say: Much as I hate the idea of rebuying my entire song library piecemeal, this game desperately needs DLC. It’s been a while since I’ve been limited to only the pack-in soundtrack on a Rock Band game, and oof, it’s rough.
Seemingly every appliance can benefit from being smarter and connectable to Wi-Fi, and that includes the humble air purifier. These household fixtures, which bring relief to allergy sufferers, asthmatics, and other air-obsessed folks by removing airborne contaminants, are being reimagined to monitor for pollutants, adapt to environmental conditions, and notify their owners of dangerous changes in air quality. One of the latest of these home-monitoring marvels is the Airmega 300S ($749, street-priced on Amazon for $551.65 as of this writing).
DIY home security systems aren’t a new thing, but developers are slowly working the kinks out of what can often be a complicated system with lots of moving parts that, should a single component fail, could result in catastrophic consequences. That’s good news for homeowners concerned about their safety, but who might be shy about paying thousands of dollars for a traditional system.
Abode hit the scene three years ago, and it now offers a wide array of home security products that’s deep enough to outfit just about any home or business. At the core lies Abode’s Secure Bundle starter kit ($429 after the currently offered 40-percent discount), which includes the gateway, two door/window sensors, an indoor motion sensor with still camera, a remote control key fob, a backup cellular radio, and one year of professional monitoring and cellular backup. Those who prefer self monitoring can acquire the same hardware for $299, but the cellular radio won't be activated.
Welcome back to tax season, I’m Jeff Battersby and I’ll be your guide for all things related to filing your taxes online. This year we’re going to look at the usual suspects, TurboTax and H&R Block. We’ll also look at TaxAct Online (last year’s newcomer), and Tax Slayer (this year’s newcomer).
When it comes to filing taxes the basics are essentially the same: You provide your financial information and the tax software uses an interview process to gather that information, minimize your tax liability, and, with some luck and good data, maximize your refund and reduce your stress level.
All of these online services offer various try-before-you-buy options that let you fill out your forms and then pay when it’s time to file. It’s important to note that all these app also charge more money the closer you get to tax time. We’ve included some links to paid versions on Amazon, so before you buy anything, make sure you’re purchasing the right package, and the correct OS version.
The DIY home security camera market has expanded by leaps and bounds in the two years since we reviewed Netgear’s Arlo HD Camera. Netgear itself has expanded its wireless security camera line exponentially; it now includes a half-dozen cameras, including the indoor-only Arlo Q, the portable Arlo Go, and the upcoming Arlo Baby monitor. We have reviews of those two last products in the works. In the meantime, here’s our take on Netgear’s Arlo Pro.
There are many adjectives you can use to describe the LG Watch Style: Simple. Basic. Modest. Streamlined.
Or you can just cut to the chase and call it what it is: Cheap. Not inexpensive, mind you, just cheap. While LG has positioned the Style as a smaller, more affordable alternative of the Sport, the two models couldn’t be more different. With the Sport, at least you’re getting a lot of watch for your money, but the Style cuts way back on the bells and whistles for the sake of fashion.
And while it may cost $100 less than its bulky, bulbous big brother, the Style still somehow feels overpriced, despite its fashionable, dinner-party demeanor.
In-ear monitors with active noise cancellation (ANC) are an ideal solution for commuters and frequent air travelers. They’re compact, light, and conveniently sized for slipping into a shirt or coat pocket. Equally important is their ability to mask the drone of jet engines, train tracks, wind noise, and other distracting ambient noise. But if you forget to charge the batteries the ANC depends on, you can end up with a pair of expensive paperweights on a string.
Denmark’s Libratone has come up with a solution that might appeal to folks with Apple iPhones, iPods, and iPads manufactured since late 2012: Its Q Adapt In-Ear headphones are outfitted with a Lightning adapter that powers the headphone’s ANC circuitry in addition to performing digital-to-analog audio conversion from the mobile device they’re plugged into. I judge the effort a partial success.
Night in the Woods takes so long to get its meandering plot moving, I almost thought it never would, and that I’d be listening to the trials and tribulations of small-town Anywheresville for seven hours. I’d even started to grow okay with that idea—and then the plot did start moving, and I sorta wished it hadn’t. Funny how things work sometimes.
It’s neither praise nor condemnation, simply a comment on how Night in the Woods defies expectations as an oft-brilliant piece of interactive fiction couched within just enough action and leaping to-and-fro to get the “This isn’t even a game!” crowd off its back. Maybe.
Taking place in the quiet mining town of Possum Springs, Night in the Woods tells the story of Mae Borowski, a 20-something college girl who bails out of college and returns home to live with her parents, hang out with old friends, “Get The Band Back Together,” eat pizza, go to keggers, and try to figure out what the hell she should do next.
Talk about clever. StarTech’s 35SAT225S3R (available for $60 on Amazon) looks just like a 3.5-inch hard drive, but is actually a two-bay RAID enclosure for 2.5-inch drives. Those drives can be linked to form a single “Big Disk,” striped in RAID 0 for better performance, mirrored in RAID 1 for data redundancy, or treated like JBOD (just a bunch of disks), i.e. multiple volumes.
Logitech’s ZeroTouch smartphone holder has been on the market for almost a year, but I’ve ignored it because my beat doesn’t include mobile devices. That changed about a month ago when Logitech integrated Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service into its ZeroTouch app. Now I can use voice commands to control my smart home while I’m in the car and my smartphone is connected to the ZeroTouch.
I’ve encountered a few bumps in the road during my month-long review (pun intended), but I’ve concluded that the air-vent version of this holder fully justifies its lofty $60 price tag (simpler phone holders cost about 10 bucks.) The dashboard version has all the same features, but I’m not as enamored with it because it must be glued to your dashboard and it costs $80. Apple iPhone users, meanwhile, might want to stop reading now: the ZeroTouch is an Android-only device for the time being.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a technological marvel. I said it Monday in PCWorld's initial PC performance impressions piece, and it’s worth reiterating now. This is a game where you can spend 10 to 15 minutes crossing the map by helicopter without hitting a single load screen. In a car? I don’t even want to estimate how long it’d take to cross this fictional Bolivia. A maddening amount of time, no doubt.
It's stunning—and yet therein lies the seeds of Ghost Recon’s downfall. So much space, and absolutely no reason for most of it to exist.
Nvidia’s mighty Titan has fallen, as it always does.
Jaws dropped when the second-gen Titan X stomped onto the scene in August, and for more reasons than one. The monster graphics card was the first to ever flirt with consistently hitting the hallowed 60-frames-per-second mark at 4K resolution with everything cranked to 11—but that privilege cost a cool $1,200. Fast-forward five months: Nvidia’s teasing the GTX 1080 Ti as the “ultimate GeForce” card, with more performance than the Titan X for just—“just”—$700. That’s what the GTX 1080 Founders Edition cost at launch, and Nvidia says the Ti stomps the base GTX 1080.
M.2 NVMe SSDs such as ADATA’s XPG SX8000 are a game-changer for PCs. There is simply no other upgrade that offers as dramatic an improvement to the feel and response of your system. If you’re moving from a hard drive, you’ll be astounded. If you’re moving from a SATA SSD, you’ll still be extremely pleased.
Specs and pricing
The SX8000 is a four-lane, PCIe 3.0 (1GBps) M.2 2280 (22mm wide, 80mm long) SSD using 3D (layered) TLC NAND technology. To mitigate the relatively slower writes of TLC (triple level cell/three-bit) NAND, a DRAM cache is employed, as well as some of the TLC treated as SLC for a secondary cache.
One could easily mistake the Como Audio Duetto as a vestige of the Rat Pack era. The half-inch walls of its cabinet are sheathed in a furniture-quality wood veneer rarely seen these days. There are six radio preset push buttons above the display, and three old-fashioned knobs below it. But that nostalgic feeling evaporates as soon as you push the leftmost knob to turn the radio on, and an analog clock face changes to a grid of icons that includes the Spotify logo.
The 3.2-inch display doesn’t boast a high resolution, and it’s not a touchscreen, but it hardly matters. Most speakers in this class don’t include a display at all. And if you must have a touchscreen, download the Como Audio app to your smartphone (there are Android and iOS versions). Don’t want to use your phone? There’s an infrared remote, too.
With a new year comes fresh laptop updates—companies like Dell, HP, Acer, and Asus have already begun to launch revamped versions of popular notebooks and spin-offs of existing lines.
These new additions to the scene (like Dell's XPS 13 2-in-1) just keep adding to the wide and varied options already out there. Expect to keep seeing even more convertibles, 2-in-1s, and traditional clamshells as the months roll by, and also keep an eye peeled for more laptops with discrete graphics. In January, Nvidia expanded its game-changing Pascal GPU lineup to include a mobile version of its budget-minded GTX 1050, and it's already rolling out as an option in larger thin-and-light systems.
Far as I can tell, Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a 30-50 hour game. PCWorld received a review code late on Friday (during GDC, no less) and I’ve only managed to play maybe 10 hours. So yeah, as you might expect we’re not reviewing Wildlands today.
Even so, I’m here to offer up my impressions from those first ten hours—mostly PC performance, but also an abbreviated section about the game itself.
If nothing else, Wildlands is a technical feat. I’m not going to say this is the largest map I’ve seen in a modern game, but it certainly feels that way at times. It’s enormous, with the game often asking you to travel upwards of six kilometers from one end of a province to another—and there are 20-odd provinces in the game, with no load screens as you travel.
Not everyone needs a quad-core processor and a dedicated graphics chip in a 15-inch laptop, much less a thin-and-light one. At least, that’s the wager HP made last year with its Spectre x360 15. The company packaged a dual-core CPU with integrated graphics and full-HD screen in an aluminum body, kept the weight at four pounds, and charged just $1,150.
The resulting 2-in-1 laptop offered the right mix of portability, performance, and value. If you only needed to check email, watch YouTube videos, color-correct the odd photo here and there, and edit documents—and you prefer not to lug around a tank—you had an affordable option. It looked great, too.
The Ezviz Mini I reviewed late last year was a home security camera that stood out from the hordes of Dropcam clones, thanks to its small size and even smaller price tag. Ezviz has now released a new-and-improved version, the Ezviz Mini Plus, while keeping it attractively priced at $100.
From the outside, there’s little to distinguish the Ezviz Mini Plus from its predecessor. It sports roughly the same dimensions and weight—just under 3.5 inches tall and about 3 ounces respectively—and it features the same sturdy metal housing, though it’s now offered in a black finish as well as white. The camera swivels 180 degrees on its magnetic base. This last feature gives you additional mounting options if you don’t want to permanently place it on a wall or ceiling with the included bracket and screws.
SnapPower makes ingenious replacement switch and outlet covers, adding features such as LED nightlights and USB chargers. We’ve given high marks to some of its previous products, but offered one suggestion for improving them: Provide retention washers so the screws don’t fall out while you’re installing them. SnapPower included that change and made three much bigger ones with its new Safelight.
Like the Guidelight, the Safelight replaces your existing outlet cover with one that has an LED light strip on the bottom. A light sensor automatically turns the LEDs on when the ambient light is dim. So what improvements did SnapPower make? First and foremost, the two outlets have spring-loaded sliding covers to prevent curious toddlers from sticking objects into them. When you need to use either of the outlets, you simply insert the plug partway and then slide the cover to the right to expose the outlet and push the plug in.
Motion-activated lighting isn’t a new idea. Whether you’re using it to illuminate a dark stairwell or ward off intruders, the technology has become a staple of even the simplest of home environments.
But smart motion-activated lighting is another idea. Traditional motion sensors offer only rudimentary configurability at best, perhaps featuring an analog knob controlling sensitivity or a switch that sets how long the attached light stays activated, if that. By linking the sensor to your smart phone and your smart lighting environment, smart motion sensors promise to greatly increase the utility of those pricey smart bulbs.
Operationally, smart motion sensors are built to work with a certain vendor’s bulbs. Configuration and control is integrated into the lighting app you already use, so you don’t need to switch between multiple apps to configure lights and sensors. We tested two new sensors, one from Philips and one from Ledvance, both designed as unobtrusive cubes that measure an inch or two on each side and which are ready to drop directly into your smart home.
Admit it. You love underdog tales. The Cleveland Cavaliers coming back from a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors. The New York Giants defeating the 18-0 New England Patriots, and the Average Joes beating the heavily favored Purple Cobras in the dodgeball finals.
Well, you can now add AMD’s highly anticipated Ryzen CPU to that list of epic comebacks in history. Yes, disbeliever, AMD’s Ryzen almost—almost—lives up to the hype. What’s more, it delivers the goods at an unbeatable price: $499 for the highest-end Ryzen 7 1800X. That’s half the cost of its closest Intel competitor.
Roost started out with a great battery that makes any dumb smoke alarm smart. We weren’t quite as impressed with their second product, a smoke, fire, carbon monoxide, and natural gas detector that uses that same battery for emergency backup power (the detector itself is designed to be hardwired to power). Now the company is expanding its offerings with a smart water leak detector, and it’s a winner. If the company follows through with its promise to offer an add-on accessory, it will be our top pick in this category.
LeEco’s 65-inch class Super4 X65 TV impressed us with its rich and accurate color, which is far closer to the picture quality of the more-expensive Sony X930/940D series than other TVs in its $1400 price class. Additionally, action sequences were smooth, the remote is our favorite flavor of minimalist, and we also quite liked the way the TV looked sitting on our test bench.
The Super4 65X is thin: It's less than an inch thick for the top 55 percent or so, deepening to approximately 2 inches at the bottom where the electronics and speakers are located. Close to the wall, hung using a standard VESA mount (200mm by 200mm or 400mm by 400mm varieties are supported) you’ll have few aesthetic complaints. All told, the 65.5-inch, 3840x2160 display is fit into a package that’s 57.3 inches wide, 36 inches tall, and weighs 62.4 pounds naked (about 64 pounds with the two feet installed).
If only Torment: Tides of Numenera were twice as long. I don’t say that about many games—particularly RPGs. Even some of the genre’s best could afford to lose 10 to 15 hours of filler quests, cinch up the story’s sagging middle, and get on with it.
Not so, here. What’s frustrating and yet also tantalizing about Tides of Numenera is that it gives us a glimpse of infinite potential, then cuts it short.
A new torment
Despite being billed as a “spiritual successor” to Infinity Engine cult classic Planescape: Torment, it’s important to mention the two are officially unrelated. This is not a sequel.
Immersive audio technologies such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X create an incredible three-dimensional sound field that simply blows away traditional multi-channel home theater. Once you hear it, you just can’t go back.
If you’ve longed for immersive audio in your home theater, but balked at the thought of installing speakers in your ceiling, MartinLogan has a fantastic solution. The company's Motion AFX, $599 per pair, are Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers that deliver all the benefits of object-oriented soundtracks such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X without the hassle of opening your ceiling.
How do the Motion AFX perform their magic?
Dolby Laboratories, the company behind Atmos, knew that most consumers wouldn’t be able to install in-ceiling speakers. So, with some creative thinking, the laws of physics, and a bit of psychoacoustics, Dolby came up with a slick solution aptly called a Dolby Atmos-enabled speaker. To be labeled as an Atmos-enabled speaker, a speaker must conform to Dolby’s standards.
After two weeks circling opponents, sword held stiffly above my head, waiting for an opening, I think it’s time to slap an official score on For Honor. It’s not the score I wanted to give, and it’s not even a score I’m confident will apply long-term—Ubisoft has leaned heavily on games-as-a-service the past few years, with numerous instances of a stuttering launch experience turning around to an unabashed success. Looking at you, Rainbow Six Siege.
Maybe For Honor will find itself added to that list someday. It has the potential—there’s an excellent core concept here. But oh, there’s also so much reason to be disappointed. Worst of all? There’s no reason for it. Reverse a few key choices and this all could have been averted.
Cerise’s Circular computer wants to be like Apple’s Mac Pro. The company, which primarily makes Windows PCs for digital content creators, has brought the same cylindrical “hot air rises” concept to a system that’s hand-built by one person, using a custom-designed, Mac Pro-like case that’s made in the United States. Cerise’s business model makes the Circular computer pretty unique, and pretty expensive—our test unit cost $3,339.
The puzzler is the specific configuration we tested. There’s nothing wrong with it—it’s just more like a gaming PC than a Mac Pro killer (unless you opt for a version with more powerful Xeon or Broadwell-E parts). Viewed from the obsessive bang-for-buck perspective of gaming builds, the Circular’s boutique pricing becomes a liability.
You only know for sure that you needed a surge protector after your equipment fries. Then it’s too late. For a very reasonable amount of money, you could put an almost literal firewall between your expensive (and cheap) electronics and the juice coming in from a wall socket. A surge protector throws itself into the line of fire, sacrificing its components again and again so that your devices stay functional.
These reviews are of surge protectors designed for a home office or cubicle, or a home-entertainment system. Such power mediators have a single function: keeping voltage from exceeding a certain rated level, beyond which equipment can blow a fuse, burn out its power supply, or completely fry its circuitry beyond repair. The surge protector takes a hit instead of your hardware or A/V system, and it could potentially save you hundreds to many thousands of dollars, depending on what you have connected.
We included this AmazonBasics model in our testing, because we wanted to see how a baseline, mostly old-style power strip with surge protection would work. The answer is: not well and we don’t recommend it for electronics of any kind. Its clamping voltage is too high, protection too low, and durability too short.
It’s almost a side note that the location and spacing of the outlets isn’t ideal for electronics. There’s one extra long gap at the strip’s end opposite the power switch, but I was only able to position four typical plugs among its six outlets.
To be fair, Amazon markets it at the top of its product page as for “small appliances, phones, and lamps,” but in the full description, Amazon says it “creates an important layer of defense, protecting electronic devices like hard drives against system crashes, data loss, and damage.”
When you’re on the road, in a hotel room, at a coffeeshop, in an airport, or in a conference or banquet room, the power outlets available often fall far short of what you need. The Accell 6-outlet Powramid has a cutesy name, but packs a wallop. With six outlets spaced at intervals around a circle, plus two high-speed USB charging ports, you can practically power an office. You’ll make a lot of friends when you plug this in.
The Powramid isn’t precisely portable. It’s just under 1.5 pounds and with the bulbous main unit plus the six-foot cord, so you won’t want to drop it into a laptop bag or a regular carry-on. But it is the kind of gadget you might throw into a car or in checked luggage if you’re routinely short of power or traveling with colleagues.