The Good The Braun BrewSense KF7150 creates drip coffee every bit as good as gourmet machines that cost three times as much. It’s also compact, so it won’t take up much space on your kitchen counter.
The Bad It uses a glass carafe and hot plate instead of a thermal carafe. Pouring the carafe too quickly causes spills and drips. The water tank has a small opening.
The Bottom Line Fans of thermal carafes won’t like the glass pot and hot plate, but those looking for excellent drip at a low price will sing the BrewSense’s praises.
Every so often a product surprises me by performing better than I thought possible. Case in point, the $100 Braun BrewSense KF7150 coffee maker. Judging from its comparatively low price and modest appearance, I assumed that this kitchen gadget lacked the chops to whip up pots of excellent drip coffee. Boy, was I wrong. Time after time, the BrewSense KF7150 transformed my lowly test beans into quality joe, the type I’ve only coaxed from more expensive drip machines.
Sure, Braun did make some trade-offs to keep the cost down. Like the$140 Bonavita BV01002US, another aggressively priced coffee maker, the BrewSense KF7150 doesn’t feel as sturdy as luxury models. It also relies on a glass carafe and hot plate combo instead a thermal carafe. If these are deal breakers then consider the $190 Bonavita BV1900TS and $299 Technivorm Moccamaster KBT 741, both premium models aimed at the gourmet set.
Braun BrewSense looks basic but makes superb…
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Design and features
A rectangular block, 14 inches tall by 8 wide, with rounded edges, the BrewSense is lightweight, made from mostly black plastic. Adding a touch of class is a thin skin of stainless steel that covers three quarters of the coffee maker’s chassis.
The Braun BrewSense KF7150 coffee maker looks like many ordinary drip machines on the market.
A square, perforated metal lid flips open to reveal a water tank and a plastic filter basket. The basket accepts either type #4 paper coffee filters or the bundled gold tone permanent filter. You can brew up to 12 cups (5 ounces each) of coffee, the appliance’s maximum capacity.
Flip the lid up to access the filter and water tank.
On the front face is a control panel with a tiny LCD screen, with an illuminated digital clock. Nine buttons run along the bottom edge of the panel, with a circular power key under that. These buttons let you perform various functions such as starting a brew immediately or scheduling one in advance, setting the clock’s time and engaging the machine’s cleaning cycle.
The control panel has numerous buttons and a clock LCD.
Instead of a double-walled thermal carafe, a basic glass carafe rests on a base at the center of the coffee machine. An electric hot plate below it provides warmth to brewed coffee inside the container. You can set the hot plate to operate at different temperatures: low, medium and high. This arrangement isn’t ideal if you don’t drink your coffee quickly and often leave it sitting in the pot for hours at time. That’s because the carafe isn’t air tight and brewed coffee’s subtle flavor quickly fades when exposed to oxygen.
Be careful pouring from the carafe too aggressively as well. I found that if I tilted the container at too sharp an angle, liquid tended to spill and drip along its sides. Filling the coffee maker’s reservoir with water can be tricky too, since its opening is quite a small target.
Here’s an interesting idea for a Wi-Fi system. Instead of using two or three medium-size pieces of hardware (like the Eero, the Netgear Orbi or the Google Wifi) for your whole home, how about using a bunch of little ones, say, one for each room?
That’s the basic premise of the Plume Adaptive WiFi system. You can get up to six tiny identical units — as small as, well, plumes — in a pack. Each unit, called a Plume Pod, has a Gigabit Ethernet network port and can be plugged directly into a wall socket, resembling a typical powerline adapter. There’s no powerline involved though, this is a pure Wi-Fi device.
The Plume Adaptive Wifi system allows you to use an unlimited amount of tiny Wi-Fi extenders, called pods, in a home network.
How the Plume system works
You connect one of the Plume Pods to an internet source, like a broadband modem and it works as your main router. Now plug the rest of the pods around the house and you have just created an extended or “mesh” Wi-Fi network. The Wi-Fi signal will propagate from one pod to another and the more pods you have, the larger the coverage area is. There’s no limit to how many pods you can use. One pod costs $69, three cost $179 and six cost $329.
Usually when a Wi-Fi signal is extended, it hops from one transmitter to another. When this happens, severe signal loss occurs, because the extender unit has to both receive and rebroadcast the signal at the same time. This means devices connected to the extender will have around 50 percent slower speed compared to those connected to the original broadcaster. So the more extenders you have in a system, the more times the signal will hop, exponentially reducing the speed. This is the reason most Wi-Fi systems have only three units, effectively making the signal hop only twice at most.
Plume says that with its Auto channel hop feature, the pods use different channels or bands, deliberately picking those that aren’t crowded, so the signal loss from each hop is minimized, if not eliminated. This should translate into faster and more reliable performance, allowing the Wi-Fi speed to remain constant when extended. This is similar to the Netgear Orbi, which has a third dedicated band exclusively for extending the signal.
So that’s the theory. And in theory, it’s a great idea. In reality, you should prepare yourself for some disappointment.
You can plug a pod directly into a wall socket.
Easy to use, flawless operation
As long as you have an Android or iOS phone or tablet, the setup process is quick, easy and even fun with the Plume app. (There’s no web interface option.) OK, you do need to tap on the screen a few times but really, everything was self-explanatory and every step happened exactly as expected in my case. It took me less than 5 minutes to get five pods up and running. (I couldn’t immediately find a free wall socket to plug the sixth in; more on this below.) And after that everything just worked, flawlessly. I didn’t run into any trouble at all.
By the way, you do need an account with Plume before you can use the app and the system will stay connected to the Plume at all times. This is the case with many Wi-Fi systems, including the Eero and the Google Wifi.
Once setup, in any room where there’s a pod, you’ll have full-bar Wi-Fi signal. However, full bars just means you have a strong connection to the pod you’re closest to. It has no bearing on the actual speed of that connection to the rest of the network and the internet.
Plume Adaptive Wifi System
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Slow speed, short range, no features
And in my testing, standing just a few feet from a pod, the max sustained speed I got was just 90 megabits per second. For comparison, the Eero can deliver some 200Mbps from 75 feet away and the Negear Orbi is even faster, at 230Mbps. When I move farther, say at about 20 feet away, the Plume fluctuated at around 20 to 30Mbps. And I couldn’t move much farther away because each pod’s Wi-Fi range is short, especially when there’s a wall in the way, and in a home, you don’t need to move very far before getting a wall or two in between. In fact, the range is so short that I couldn’t be one room away from a pod (so with two walls in between) and still get a strong signal from it.
This short range can make it tricky to find an ideal wall socket to plug the Plume pods in for the mesh network to function optimally. If you want good performance, you can’t put them more than 25-30 feet away while within line of sight, or no more than 15-20 feet way if there’s a wall between them, and never put them two walls apart. This is the reason I had a hard time finding a good spot to plug the sixth pod into. In the end, I found that with all six pods I could make the system cover a home of some 1,800 square feet (plus a basement) with decent internet speed. But my single Asus RT-AC88U router — strategically placed right in the middle — can do that with much faster speed.
The Plume system has no features at all, including those commonly found in other Wi-Fi systems, like bandwidth priority, parental control and so on. You can only make it work in router mode (where it’s the only router in the house) or in Auto mode (where it works as a Wi-Fi extension of an existing network) and change the name of each pod. Other than that it has a cool visualization of your home network that resembles a floating solar system where each Plume pod is a planet and each connected client is a satellite. And that’s it!
The Plume app has a cool way to display the home Wi-Fi network but offers almost no settings or customizations at all.
Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET
The Plume system is definitely slow, but it’s fast enough to deliver midtier broadband connections, which tend to have somewhere between 30 and 50Mbps download speeds. So if you just care about surfing the internet, or even streaming Netflix, its speed won’t be a big concern. (You only need 25Mbps for streaming 4K content, anyway.) Its price will be, however.
You can get one Plume pod for $69, a set of three units for $179 and a set of six units for $329. The problem is six units can barely cover an 1,800-foot three-bedroom home. If you have a larger home, you probably will need more than six: one pod for each room in your home, and if you have a very large living room, you might want to use two for it alone. If you live in a small apartment or studio, a set of three pods will likely get the job done, but so does an AC1200 router that you can get for around $50 (less than the cost of one pod) and it will give you faster Wi-Fi speed and a ton of features.
Also, keep in mind that while the Plume pods are small, they still take up space at the wall socket. In my personal experience, they kinda stuck out a bit too far from the wall. And with the amount of things we want to plug in these days, chances are you’ll need a few power strips if you want to use that many pods in your house. I had to get one in during my trial.
So yes, the Plume Adaptive WiFi system is an innovative idea, super easy to use, and its Auto channel hop actually works — I didn’t experience noticeable speed reduction when moving between the pods. But in reality, you will be much better off, both in terms of cost and performance, getting a normal router or, if you have a large house, a more traditional Wi-Fi system, like the Eero or the Netgear Orbi.
Cost aside, though, if all you care about is a moderate connection to the internet, a basket full of Plume pods, plus a few extension cords, will quickly and surely bring reliable Wi-Fi to every corner of your home.
The Good The Last Guardian is a larger-than-life tale of a boy and the gigantic beast he befriends. It’s a charming, smart and beautifully designed puzzle-platformer that tells a unique story of companionship almost without saying a word.
The Bad There are a number of technical issues in The Last Guardian, from its erratic framerate to its often frustrating camera. The game’s controls take some getting used to and aren’t always as responsive as you’d want them to be.
The Bottom Line The Last Guardian might show some of the wear and tear that comes from a decade of on-and-off development, but as a whole, it’s a fantastic adventure that players of all tastes can enjoy. And if you’re among those who’ve enjoyed the developer’s other games, The Last Guardian will seem like a near-perfect hybrid of those two classics.
Back in 2001, development studio Team Ico released a self-titled game called Ico for the PlayStation 2 that won over critics and players alike with its endearing story and unique brand of puzzles. Ico was well received when it was released but its popularity continued to grow well beyond its debut, propelling it to cult status as years passed.
Four years later, Ico was followed up by Shadow of the Colossus, a game that many believe is the PlayStation 2’s absolute best. Shadow delivered something no one had ever really witnessed before, giving you an incredible sense of scale and triumph as you took down larger-than-life colossi one by one.
With two instantaneous classics cemented on the developer’s resume, the gaming world patiently waited for the next adventure from Team Ico. The Last Guardian was announced at E3 2009 for a 2011 release on PlayStation 3. But soon after that initial tease, Sony and Team Ico went radio silent. The wait became grueling, to the point of being downright laughable. The game itself became a piece of lore that the community fantasized about, with little hope it would ever actually see the light of day.
That changed in June of 2015, when from seemingly out of nowhere the game reappeared as a surprise announcement during Sony’s E3 press conference, complete with a gameplay preview. The spot ended with a simple screen title: 2016. The Last Guardian had a date. Finally, 18 months later, it’s arrived exclusively for the PlayStation 4.
Of course, a game with this kind of build-up has a disproportional amount of expectation attached to it. The Last Guardian isn’t a result of a decade’s worth of programming and finessing, it’s just the result of the realities of the world of interactive entertainment, its politics and the fact that it is — and continues to be — very hard to make a videogame.
But even with that disastrous track record, remarkably, The Last Guardian is an excellent game and is certain to trigger the memories of those players who’ve had the pleasure of experiencing Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. It’s like stepping into a videogame time machine.
On its face, there are a ton of similarities to draw. You play as a young boy who meets and befriends a towering beast named Trico and together you must escape a desolate and massive crumbling world.
The Last Guardian has its own set of rules, and is cut from similar cloth to its spiritual predecessors. There are cerebral puzzles to figure out, strange items to use and the ominous feeling that you’re about to slip and fall off a cliff or be abducted by a haunted guard.
The Last Guardian plays eerily similar to Ico and Shadow, especially the latter. In fact, the game is such a spot-on throwback to those earlier titles that it sometimes feels like you’re playing an 11-year-old game.
The Good The Oculus Touch controllers add impressive finger and hand movement, plus physical buttons for traditional games. The Rift headset is well designed and compact. A strong collection of software offers many apps to explore.
The Bad The motion tracking lacks the HTC Vive’s full-room scale. It takes a while to adjust to the controls. Total cost of headset plus controllers is expensive — and that doesn’t include the pricey gaming PC you need, too.
The Bottom Line The Oculus Rift now offers a great combination of controls and apps for next-level VR and some room tracking, but it offers a less expansive experience than the Vive.
Hey — it’s my hands.
I can see them as I look down. I lift my finger. That floating, glowing hand moves its finger. I grip my fingers into a fist. I point.
I pick up a slingshot on the table in front of me. It takes a little practice. Now I’m holding it. I pull the elastic band back. I aim, and shoot paint pellets across the room.
Am I really holding my virtual slingshot? Yes and no. In my hands are controllers that I’m resting my fingers on, with buttons and triggers. I lift my fingers and control those hands. But when I let go completely — oops, my controller falls to the floor.
Virtual prosthetics take time to understand.
The Oculus Rift arrived way back in March, but all that came with it was a headset and an Xbox controller. It didn’t have real VR hand controls, like the HTC Vive or PlayStation VR. You could sit down and play games, but you couldn’t move anywhere. There was the promise of exciting things, but the reality was less than what we expected.
This is what we thought of the Rift then: potential. Now, it’s time for reality.
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The Oculus Touch is the necessary other part of the equation: wireless controllers that also act as tools for your hands in virtual spaces. They’re fantastic. They’re $200 (which converts to £160 or AU$270). They’re required hardware if you already own an Oculus Rift.
But if you don’t? You’ll need to pay $800 (roughly £630 or AU$1,075) for the Rift and Touch controllers combined, plus have a VR-ready gaming PC. That’s an expensive bundle. In fact, it’s the same as what the Vive costs. Oculus is now a complete package, and a compelling journey into VR worlds with lots of games and apps to try.
Oculus’ collection of unique games and apps gives it a more polished edge over the Vive, but Vive’s more open Steam platform feels like it has an edge on larger-scale VR experiences that Oculus is still trying to catch up to.
An updated review of the Oculus Rift — including how the Touch controllers change the equation — follows.
If I were rating the Touch controllers on their own, I’d give them an A. Anyone who already has a Rift should definitely get them. But that doesn’t make the Rift a slam dunk for buyers coming into VR from scratch. With an expensive VR headset that has limited room tracking, the Oculus Rift as a whole is still a work in progress.
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Touch combines buttons, motion controls and even finger-tracking.
VR for your hands
What’s particularly brilliant about the Touch controllers is that, while they can be used as motion-sensing tools, they also have regular buttons and analog sticks. They’re almost like a split-apart gamepad held in two hands.
The HTC Vive and PlayStation VR also have handheld controllers, but theirs look more like wands and lack some standard controller-button functions. With the Touch, you can play a regular game as well as a VR motion-enabled one.
The Touch is also unique because it senses finger position, whether your fingers are pressing the triggers or not, and it even senses when your fingers are resting on particular buttons. Raising a thumb off the controller can make your virtual hand do a thumbs-up. Extending your forefinger will make your virtual hand point.
It’s not full analog finger-sensing, but moving your forefinger, thumb and middle finger can create hand gestures that feel like real grasping. The controllers vibrate with feedback, and when you pick something up, it generates a hand feel. After a while, it started to feel like my hands were really somewhere else.
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This could be you.
What do you with these crazy controllers?
The dipping-your-hands-into-VR feel of Touch gives it an edge over the PlayStation’s Move VR controllers, or the wand-controllers of the Vive. But they all allow pretty similar things. That being said, the Touch aims to simulate actual hand movements, like grasping objects. Sometimes this works really well, and other times it feels like trying to grab chopsticks with gloves on.
There will be dozens of touch-enabled games on Oculus, and I’ve played over a dozen that are already available. But the biggest problem with the Oculus Rift and Touch isn’t the controllers themselves, it’s the limited range of motion tracking which means more standing in place, instead of moving around. And that’s because of the limitations of Oculus’ two-sensor motion-tracking system.
The Touch controllers are brilliantly designed, though, and are everything I’d want in a VR controller right now. Plus, they use AA batteries — one per controller — which are easily popped in via a magnetic sliding cover. In two weeks or so of mixed use, I haven’t had to replace them.
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Those camera sensors need a table or shelf to sit on, and they need to be wired to your PC.
Setup and room tracking: A slight headache
The Oculus Rift Touch controllers need two camera sensors to track movement: one that comes with the controllers, and the other that comes with the Rift headset. Both need to be placed on a flat surface like a computer desk or a shelf and set several feet apart — not too far, not too close, and angled for maximum coverage of the playing space (3-7 feet, roughly). Oculus has some setup guides in its PC software, but it’s not as easy as the one-camera setup of PlayStation VR. This requires some finesse.
It also needs two separate USB 3.0 ports on your PC, one for each sensor. (That’s in addition to the one the Rift helmet is using, and possibly a fourth one if you have the wireless dongle for the Xbox controller.) The cables are fairly long, but not long enough for a PC to be across the room. Good luck, because it’s not easy to get right.
Much like HTC’s Vive VR, you then have to draw a boundary around your play area, which shows up like a glowing blue cage in virtual reality. Oculus calls it the “Guardian.” Get too close to your play area limits, and the cage reappears to warn you. But that doesn’t help with accidental tripping over furniture, cords, pets, kids, sandwiches or roller skates — so clear your room before playing.
The Oculus Rift proved that high-end VR has a place in your home, but so far it’s lacked one major feature: motion controls. That’s something both the HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR offered from the start, and it’s gone a long way toward helping those platforms deliver more immersive virtual-reality experiences. Now with the long-awaited $199 Touch Controllers, Rift users can finally join in on the fun. Sure, it’s taken nine months for Oculus to actually put motion controls in the hands of consumers, but it’s clear that the company hasn’t been twiddling its thumbs. Instead, it’s delivered one of the most refined game controllers I’ve ever held.
Even if you’re a diehard gamer, the Oculus Touch controllers probably don’t look like anything you’ve seen before. They’re more like how a sci-fi film would imagine a futuristic gaming-input device: beautiful, but unwieldy at first glance. The Touch controllers are made from smooth black plastic (they look a lot like the Xbox One’s controller), and they feel pretty sturdy. It’s hard to tell this is Oculus’ first attempt at a gamepad.
Once you get past the unique design and get your hands on them, though, you’ll notice something surprising: They’re actually incredibly intuitive. The Touch controllers are contoured for your left and right hands, and once you grab their rounded handles, your fingers will naturally fall into place. Both feature analog sticks; two face buttons; triggers, which your index fingers rest on; and grip buttons, located underneath your middle fingers. Additionally, the left controller features a menu button right below the analog stick, while the Oculus home button sits on the right controller. Their prominent circular rings help with motion tracking, but you won’t ever need to hold them.
You also get another Oculus sensor in the controller’s box, which allows the Rift to handle VR experiences in which you’re standing and moving around. It’s not quite room-scale VR like the HTC Vive, though you can buy a third sensor for $79 to make that happen (or a fourth for very large spaces). Because the original Rift sensor sits on the far right side of my office desk, I set up the second on the far left.
Since they’re both smaller and lighter than the Vive and PS VR’s gamepads, the Oculus Touch controllers are also better suited for extended virtual-reality sessions. Admittedly, size and weight isn’t a huge issue with the competition, either, but the Oculus controllers feel significantly more comfortable. I’d also attribute that partly to better ergonomics. HTC’s Vive controllers fit into your hands well, but they’re very large. And the PlayStation Motion controller wasn’t built specifically with VR in mind, so it’s a bit tougher to use when your eyes are covered with a headset.
Each Touch controller is powered by a single AA battery, which fits inside the base via a magnetic latch. As usual, I would have preferred it if Oculus had included removable, rechargeable batteries instead (perhaps with micro-USB support to make life easier). I can understand not building in rechargeable batteries, like on the HTC Vive and PS VR, because they make for much more expensive replacements if anything goes wrong. But it would be nice to re-energize these controllers as easily as the other gadgets in my life. According to Oculus engineers, the controllers should last around 30 hours on a single battery without haptic feedback, and 20 hours with haptic feedback.
Setting up the Touch controllers was simple: I plugged the additional sensor into a USB 3.0 port and followed the on-screen instructions in the Oculus app. I was surprised to learn that both sensors have to be facing straight forward to work with the Touch devices — mostly because I was used to having them point toward me from a corner of my desk. Similar to the Vive’s setup, you’ll also have to trace out the boundary of playable free space in your area. That information is used for the Oculus Guardian feature, which creates virtual walls when you’re in VR to keep you from bumping into obstacles.
Once everything is configured, you’re thrown into “First Contact,” a retro VR experience that steps you through the Touch controller’s capabilities. It teaches you how to recognize all of the individual buttons, grab objects and make gestures like pointing your fingers all while playing with things like virtual fireworks. It’s a good way to whet your appetite, because plenty of games will use similar input schemes.
When it comes to motion tracking, the Touch controllers kept up with hectic things — like shooting several enemies virtual gun — or more-precise movements, like setting down an object gently on a table. On my desktop, which is powered by an Intel Core i7 4790k CPU running at 4GHz, 16GB of 2400MHz DDR3 RAM, and an NVIDIA GTX 1080 GPU, I didn’t have any issues with spotty motion tracking, even in instances where I had to aim at something behind me. It felt significantly more stable than the PlayStation VR’s motion tracking, which relies on a single depth-sensing camera and less-powerful hardware.
What really surprised me about the Oculus Touch controllers, though, is that they’re also very good game controllers. The analog sticks rotate smoothly and have a ridged outer ring, which keeps your thumbs from slipping off. The four face buttons and triggers all deliver a solid amount of feedback (once again, they remind me of the Xbox One’s gamepad).
Of course, those are just my thoughts after playing with them for a few weeks; the real test of a controller is seeing how it feels after a month or so of strenuous play. I’ve only had a few weeks with these (and for the record, my battery life for each is around 20 percent).
One aspect that I didn’t appreciate as much in earlier Touch demos: Each button on the controllers is capacitive, so it can tell when you have your finger on a button while not pressing it down. It can also detect if you lift your fingers off a button — which is useful for things like the pointing gesture I mentioned above. Thanks to this refined finger detection, the controllers do a better job of keeping you “present” in VR experiences. And it’s also something I expect we’ll see in other gamepads in the future.
I’ve had game controllers in my hand since I got an NES at age 5, but the Oculus Touch are the first to feel as if they’re practically extensions of my body.
At this point, we’re well into the second major wave of VR releases (the first coincided with the launch of the Rift and Vive; this one was kicked off by the PS VR). Oculus says 53 titles will offer Touch support at launch, including existing games like The Climb and Job Simulator. As for next year, you’ve got games like Arkitka.1 and Giant Cop: Justice Above to look forward to. Plenty of Vive Steam VR titles will also work with the Oculus Touch, even if they’re not available in the Oculus store.
One thing is for sure: Your Touch controllers won’t be gathering any dust soon. Here are my impressions of a few titles available at launch:
‘I Expect You to Die’
VR was practically made for locked-room puzzles, and I Expect You to Die doesn’t disappoint. Developed by Schell Games, it puts you in the role of a spy who always finds himself in sticky situations. At first, it’s a booby-trapped car that you need to drive out of a plane, but it’s not long before you’re stopping superviruses from wiping out millions. It’s a fine showing for the Oculus Touch controllers because it demonstrates how well they can manage fine, methodical movement.
At one point, you have to maneuver something through an array of laser sensors, all while spraying window-washer fluid to make the lasers visible. Shortly after that, you’re handling beakers of potentially exploding material. You’ll die a lot, but as with the best games, it’ll usually be your fault — not the controller’s.
‘Serious Sam’ VR
“I just spent 30 minutes in VR and boy are my arms tired.” That’s me after every Serious Sam VR session.
The original game was an insane mashup of action-movie machismo, big guns and boatloads of carnage … so you’d imagine that would translate to VR pretty well. The VR version is just as bombastic, but because you’re actually physically aiming guns and dodging an assortment of projectiles, it’s also quite the workout. I could only play it for around a half hour at a time without getting exhausted. But for those glorious minutes, I was in shooter heaven. It’s exactly what my 13-year-old self dreamed of.
Serious Sam is the fastest-paced VR game I’ve played, and it’s a testament to the Oculus Touch’s tracking capabilities. Even as I was whipping guns all around my office and spraying bullets everywhere, the controllers never skipped a motion-tracking beat.
A Doctor Strange fan’s dream come true, The Unspoken is a multiplayer magic battle game that puts you right in the shoes of a destructive spellcaster. Most of your time will be spent throwing fireballs at your enemies and shielding incoming fire while teleporting around a stage. But you’ll also have to do things like make motion gestures for powerful spells and hammer out mystical items mid-battle. It’s a prime example of the versatility of Oculus Touch — they’re able to keep up with the fast-paced action while also being accurate enough for complex gestures.
‘Robo Recall’ (demo)
While the full game will be available free next year, the Robo Recall demo I played was sublime. Developed by the Unreal Engine masterminds Epic — people who really know their shooters — the game puts you in the role of an enforcer who has to take down rogue robots. And, yes, you can bet that’ll involve plenty of guns and explosions.
Like many VR games, you move around by teleporting (a mechanic that’ll hopefully get refined before launch, because reorienting yourself is a pain). The real focus, though, is on shooting — and it’s spectacular. The Oculus Touch controllers are incredibly accurate, both when it comes to fast-paced blasting and slowing down to nail an accurate shot. And like Epic’s Bullet Train demo (which was used to show off Touch prototypes), you can also slow down time, yank bullets out of the air and throw them right back at those nasty bots.
Much like Google’s Tilt Brush, Quill is Oculus’ attempt at a VR painting app. It was originally created to help develop the VR short Dear Angelica, but it has since evolved into a worthy virtual drawing tool in its own right. I’m not the best person to judge the merit of artistic tools, but I can say that the motion tracking of your virtual brushes seems on-par with Google’s app. And even for those who can’t draw, there’s still something magical about doodling in three-dimensional space.
It’s pretty clear what Oculus is up against: the HTC Vive and the PlayStation VR. Sony’s option is still the cheapest pathway to consumer VR — and if anything, the Touch controllers make the Rift an even more inaccessible platform. Because they’re another $200 on top of the Rift’s $600 cost, it puts the platform on the same level as the $800 Vive.
The choice really comes down to which headset and platform you prefer. If you want to walk around in VR environments today, the Vive’s hardware can do that. The Rift, together with the Touch, will let you only stand and take a few steps around a small space. You can also play games on both platforms, no matter which headset you own. Personally, I’ll probably end up spending more time with the Rift, because the headset is so much more comfortable to wear.
Oculus had one job: Bring motion controls to the Rift. With the Touch controllers, it managed to do that well. And, surprisingly enough, the company also proved it could make a damn fine game controller. If you’ve already invested in a Rift, the Oculus Touch is a no-brainer purchase. And if you’ve been holding out for VR platforms to iron out some wrinkles, it’s a sign that the virtual-reality ecosystem’s growth isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
At this point, we’ve all seen way too many nauseatingly shaky GoPro videos. And while the electronic image stabilization in the new Hero5 cameras helps, it doesn’t compare to the results you get with the Karma Grip.
The Grip is the camera stabilizer found on the company’s Karma drone plus the battery-powered handheld mount that’s bundled with the drone. While the Karma might be temporarily unavailable because of a recall, you can now get just the Karma Grip for shooting on the ground for $300, AU$460 and £250. It’s expensive, but it’s actually in line with similar 3-axis gimbals and GoPro’s is way more flexible.
The stabilizer is ready to use with the Hero5 Black, but a $30 harness is available for the Hero4 Silver and Black and one for the Hero5 Session arrives in 2017. Since the Grip connects directly to the camera’s USB-C and Micro-HDMI ports on its side, the two are completely integrated to give you both control and power from the handle.
GoPro Karma Grip is a handheld and mountable…
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On the handle you get buttons for power and changing shooting modes, adding highlight tags to your videos, starting and stopping recordings as well as a tilt-lock button that also gives you battery status. Normally the camera stays pointed forward regardless of how you hold the handle, but pressing the tilt-lock lets you aim the camera above or below the horizon and keep it at that angle. Double tapping it will lock the camera to follow a subject, so you can move around someone while keeping them framed in your shot.
There are no pan or tilt controls, though. The Grip also can’t stand on its own and there’s no tripod mount on the handle itself. Instead, GoPro includes a mounting ring that slips in between the handle and the stabilizer sections. The metal collar can attach to any GoPro mount or any other third-party mounts out there that use GoPro connectors.
A mounting ring lets you attach the Grip to any GoPro mount.
Going a step further, GoPro will have an extension cable that connects between the stabilizer and handle. This way, you’ll be able to mount the stabilizer on a helmet, for example, while mounting the handle on your body or backpack for power and control.
The Grip has a built-in rechargeable battery rated for up to one hour and 45 minutes of use and takes six hours to fully power up with a 1-amp charger. That is crazy long considering it’s a non-removable battery, but GoPro offers a fast charger that promises to cut that time down to just under two hours. A USB-C port is used for charging the Grip and the camera, but can also transfer your shots without removing the camera.
The results speak for themselves. In the clip above, I mounted the Karma Grip with a Hero5 Black on the left strap of GoPro’s Seeker backpack. On the right, I attached a Hero5 Black directly to the right strap. Other than some slight movement when I rode over bumps, the video from the Grip is perfectly smooth and stays pointed forward.
The camera’s electronic image stabilization would have helped some (I didn’t have it on), but you have to drop the resolution to at least 2.7K and record at no more than 60 frames per second to use EIS. With the Karma Grip, you can set the camera’s resolution and frame rate to whatever you want.
Motor noise will get picked up by the camera’s mics, which you can’t hear in this scene over the traffic, but in very quiet shots you’ll hear it. It’s something I’ve experienced with all small stabilizers like this where the camera (be it GoPro, phone or otherwise) is mounted right next to the motors.
The standard GoPro mount lets you go hands-free with the Karma Grip.
A good motorized stabilizer like the Karma Grip makes a huge difference in your results and makes GoPro’s cameras that much more useful regardless of what you’re recording. There are other GoPro gimbals out there, but this one adds some versatility the company’s cameras are known for.
The Good The Roost Smart Smoke Alarm includes the easy-to-use Roost Smart Battery, which allows it to reliably send you push notifications when your alarm sounds.
The Bad The alarm itself adds nothing to the experience. You’d get the exact same functions by installing a Roost Battery in your own alarm.
The Bottom Line Think of buying the Roost Smart Smoke Alarm like buying a dumb alarm packaged with a smart battery. If you need both, it’s worth a purchase, but if you only want smarts, get the battery on its own.
Visit manufacturer site for details.
The Roost Smart Smoke Alarm is a logical step forward for the company that made the Roost Smart Battery.
The battery is a useful, Wi-Fi-connected 9-volt that fits in your existing alarms and sends push notifications to your phone when the alarm sounds or the battery runs low. The problem with the Roost Smart Smoke Alarm is that it adds nothing to connected smoke detection that the included Roost Smart Battery can’t do on its own.
Roost just put its name on a Universal Security Instruments (USI) alarm and called it smart. It’s not.
If you do need a new alarm, Roost actually has two options. We tested the $80 RSA-400, which senses smoke, fire, carbon monoxide and natural gas. You can also get the $60 version of the Roost Smart Smoke Alarm — the RSA-200 — which just senses smoke and fire. The RSA-400 is reasonably priced. A similar USI smoke and CO detector costs $50, plus the $35 Roost. The RSA-200 is less so, as a USI detector that just smells smoke is only $12.
Either way, I don’t recommend replacing a working smoke alarm with a Roost Smart Smoke Alarm just to add remote notifications. You can get that with a $35 Roost Battery and your existing alarm. If you want wholesale smart replacements, I recommend spending a little more for the $100 Nest Protect.
The Roost Smart Smoke Alarm plays it safe
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I really liked the Roost Smart Battery when I reviewed it last year. It looks just like an ordinary 9V, so if you can replace a battery, you can install a Roost. Hidden in that familiar form are a Wi-Fi antenna, a microphone and a replaceable power pack that snaps free from the bottom of the battery. Supposedly, a Roost lasts five years. When that time expires, you’ll get a notification and you can buy a new power pack for $15.
The Roost App is simple and intuitive. Alerts arrived promptly when we tested it. Now, the Roost works with online rule maker IFTTT so it can integrate with a larger smart-home setup. For example, you can create a recipe that tells your smart lights to flash when your alarm sounds.
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The Roost springs into action when your alarm sounds.
Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET
Because of how much I liked the Roost battery, I had lofty expectations for the Roost Smart Smoke Alarm. One criticism I had of the battery is that the in-app silencing feature doesn’t work on hard-wired alarms. That’s understandable, as it’s just a battery and it silences the alarm by cutting the power. I thought the Roost Smoke Alarm would certainly address this problem, as well as close the gap between the Roost Battery and Nest in other ways by adding a light, a motion sensor or the ability to talk to other smoke detectors. Nope, nope and nope. The Roost Smoke Alarm adds nothing. In fact, Roost’s Smart Battery would be more useful in a different, battery-powered — app-silenceable — smoke detector.
The NES Classic is an easy sell: It’s a $60 device that looks and feels like the original Nintendo Entertainment System, with a library of 30 popular games pre-loaded. It’s also easy to set up — all you need is a spare USB port on your TV. The problem? The device is such a great proposition that it’s either sold out everywhere, or only available through resellers for five times the price. We’re not sure we recommend spending $300 on this, especially given a few flaws like the too-short controller cables and the fact that you can’t download any additional games. But if you do resort to desperate measures to get one this holiday season, we won’t judge.
The 2016 Surface Book is a lot like last year’s Surface Book, which we already really liked. So we recommend this one too, though the few flaws we noted last time remain as well. As ever, it’s a well-built piece of kit, with a bright detachable screen whose 3:2 aspect ratio makes it comfortable to hold in tablet mode. The keyboard and trackpad are both still comfortable to use, and more than ever (ahem, Apple), we appreciate the port selection, which includes some full-sized USB ports and an SD card reader.
Unfortunately, this year’s configurations are even heavier, at 3.68 pounds, but the extra heft at least comes with longer battery life: 16 hours of video playback in laptop mode, and around four hours in tablet mode. (That last figure still ain’t great, but it is nonetheless an improvement.) The screen also still wobbles in its hinge when you tap the touchscreen, and the whole thing is a little top heavy when you rest it in your lap.
Oh, and it’s expensive: The newest models start at $2,399. For that money, you’ll get great performance and mostly good ergonomics — in other words, one of the best laptops on the market. Still, those insistent on a thinner, lighter design should either look elsewhere, or hold out till next year and see if Microsoft delivers something more portable.
The Good This slim, modern-looking laptop has VR-ready graphics, and enough ports to plug in all the accessories PC gaming often requires. Origin PC has a great rep for service and support.
The Bad The minimalist laptop body lacks personality, and its power button is poorly placed. You can find other laptops with the same Nvidia graphics card for less. The display is non-touch, and limited to standard full-HD resolution.
The Bottom Line The Origin PC Evo 15-S shows a premium gaming laptop, even a VR-ready one, doesn’t have to be a backbreaker.
Configure at Origin PC.
For a long time, gaming laptops have been too big, too heavy and too ugly. At least over the past few years, the gaming power in these semiportable rigs has closed the gap with gaming desktops, but for the most part these laptops were were still back-breaking monsters. The big change over the last two years is that PC makers have finally decided it was time to work on the look and feel of these systems, and that’s put us much closer to achieving my dream gaming laptop.
The Origin PC Evo 15-S is one of this new generation of gaming laptops that slim down, while running graphics cards powerful enough to work with virtual reality hardware, such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Razer was a trailblazer in this category, and mainstream brands like Alienware are catching up. Now even Origin PC, a boutique PC builder known for massive no-compromise systems, has a slim 15-inch gaming laptop with one of Nvidia’s new GeForce 1060 GPUs inside.
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It’s a break from the traditional look of the many Origin PC laptops we’ve tested or reviewed previously, even if the overall look of this matte black laptop chassis is a bit generic. That’s because boutique PC builders like Origin PC, Falcon Northwest and others typically don’t design and produce laptop bodies — which is a very expensive endeavor only a handful of big PC makers can take on. Instead they take off-the-shelf bodies from component suppliers such as MSI (which also sells its own systems direct to the public), and tweaks and fine-tunes the components and software to create a custom gaming masterpiece. (Interestingly, Origin PC has designed a couple of custom desktop PC designs, the Chronos and Millennium, and both are excellent.)
By choosing this slim body for the basis of the Evo 15-S, Origin PC sets itself up nicely to provide excellent gaming power, reasonable design and portability, and very importantly, enough connectivity. The Achilles’ heel of many slimmer laptops aimed at power users is the lack of ports. Especially when hooking up VR gear, in addition to a mouse and/or gamepad, you’re going to need a lot of ports, and not just a couple of USB-C ones, as offered by the latest MacBook Pro.
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The Evo 15-S, compared to larger gaming laptops from Origin PC and Asus.
Pay to play
Of course, you’re going to pay a premium for packing this kind of power into a slim, well-built laptop. The Evo 15-S is offered in a single basic configuration, with a Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor, 16GB of RAM, a fast 256GB PCIe SSD combined with a big 2TB hard drive (but note it’s a 5,400 rpm drive), and the new Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphic card, which is essentially the same part whether you get it in a laptop or desktop. That very capable combination of parts runs $2,099, which is more than some other laptops with that new Nvidia 1060 cost. For the UK or Australia, the company can provide a custom quote, and the US price converts to about £1,659 or AU$2,816, but there may be a hefty shipping fee and additional taxes.
Origin PC Evo 15-S
|15-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 display|
|2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ|
|16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz|
|Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060|
|256GB SSD + 2TB HDD|
|802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Micorsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)|
The newly redesigned Alienware 15 or even a stock version of this from MSI can cost a few hundred less, but the Origin PC version doubles the storage to 2TB compared to those other two. Other interesting options include the Alienware 13, which has the same CPU and GPU, but adds a higher-res OLED touchscreen for the same $2,099. That’s a really fun system, but suffers from a lack of ports. You could also go whole-hog and get a big 17-inch Eon-17X from Origin PC, it’s flagship gaming laptop. We’ve tested one of these impressive beasts recently and it’s very powerful, but has a more old-school design.
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The Evo 15-S shares a design sensibility with the classic 15-inch MacBook Pro, although it’s closer in size to the recently retired version than the new slimmer Touch Bar model. It has a minimalist interior, with an expansive wrist rest and large touch pad, but also has a grille for airflow above the keyboard. Cooling is clearly important here, there are also vents on either side and a slightly raised felt-like cover on the bottom, giving the bottom fan vents a little more room to breath.
It’s also surprisingly light, just about 4.3 pounds, versus 4.0 pounds for the new 15-inch MacBook Pro.