BEKO WDA91440W

WHAT IS THE BEKO WDA91440W?

The WDA91440W is a feature packed washer dryer from Beko with an impressive 9kg load capacity for washing or a sizeable 6kg load for washing and drying all-in-one go. It offers 16 pre-set programmes to suit different clothing types and it has two fast wash modes for when you’re in a hurry.
This A rated energy efficient washer dryer uses direct air cooling technology that draws outside air in during the drying process to cool the condenser. Against other washer-dryers that use cold water for cooling the condenser this can save you up to 95 bath tubs of water per year. This model also feature’s the company’s Aquafusion technology, which is claimed to reduce the amount of detergent wasted during a washing cycle by 10%. With a clear LCD display to keep you informed of your washing progress and a countdown timer, the Beko WDA91440W is a neat all round package.

BEKO WDA91440W: WHAT IS IT LIKE TO USE?

The main controls are fairly self-explanatory with all the programmes set around a large dial that illuminates your chosen setting. There is also a more detailed LCD screen with touch buttons that allows you to adjust the spin speed and temperature of the chosen programme, as well as access other options such as delay start or extra rinse. The on/off touch control button is not very sensitive so needs to have a firm finger press to get the ball rolling although there is no such problem with the start button.
A countdown timer and progress bar are on display on the LCD screen, although their accuracy varied considerably. The drying function of the Beko WDA91440W can be programmed at the start of the washing cycle depending on the weight of the washing and how dry you want it before the cycle ends. Alternatively, it can be programmed separately using wet washing and set to 1 of 4 levels of dryness.

BEKO WDA91440W: HOW NOISY IS IT?

The Beko WDA91440W measured fairly quiet on a wash cycle (58dB) and relatively quiet on the spin cycle (74dB). This disagreed with Bekos figures in both ways, the published numbers being 55dB for washing and 77dB for spinning. We found the actual noise generated during a drying cycle to be miles away from Beko’s figures – in a good way! We measured an average of around 60dB against Beko’s claimed 70dB, which is a massive difference. However, as the WDA91440W is quieter than we expected on two out of three of its functions, we are not complaining.

BEKO WDA91440W: WHAT PROGRAMMES DOES IT HAVE?

This Beko WDA91440W has plenty of programmes to cover a broad variety of washing clothes and requirements. Apart from the usual cotton, cotton eco, synthetic, woollen and hand wash cycles there is also a dedicated shirts wash.
The real winners are the two quick wash options for the busty household. There is a Daily Xpress for up to 9kg of washing that takes 39mins to complete, and the Xpress Super Short for up to 2kg of washing that is complete in 14mins – great timesavers.
Programme options to run a complete wash and dry cycle are also plentiful catering for cotton, synthetic dry, an anti-allergy wash and dry and a straight forward wash and wear cycle. There are four levels of drying to choose from, iron dry, wardrobe dry, extra wardrobe dry and a delicate dry.
Added together with further additional options available including extra rinsing, spins speed and a handy anti-crease function, that will gently tumble your washing after the spin cycle to loosen the fibres and lessen the wrinkles before ironing, this machine is incredibly versatile.

BEKO WDA91440W: HOW WELL DOES IT WASH?

For our tests we ran four different wash cycles; a 40°C cotton wash with a 7.2kg (80%) full load at 1400 spin speed, a 40°C cotton wash with 3kg (50%) load all the way through to dry, a 40°C cotton wash with a 3.6kg (40%) load at 1400 spin speed and a 40°C cotton eco wash with a 3.6kg (40%) load at 1400 spin speed. The choice of an 80% load is more in tune with a genuine load as very few people stuff their washing machine to maximum capacity. We included a test stain strip in the first wash, stained with dried on ketchup, coffee, blood, red wine and engine oil. We used a major brand non-biological detergent washing powder.
The timings for all the washes were very inconsistent, with the first wash running over by a whopping 1hr 48mins on top of the 1hr 47mins initially indicated. The two 40% loads were a bit more accurate with the first one coming in exactly on the time of 1hr 47mins indicated and the second one overrunning by 20mins on the 2hrs 36mins indicated. The full wash & dry cycle was actually 57mins quicker than the 4hrs 12mins indicated, curtailed short as our cotton-base test load is fairly easy to dry.
Wash results were a little above average for a mid-price washer and a quite good for a washer dryer at this price, which generally show poorer wash performance than pure washers. Ironically, the WDA914440W washer-dryer tested here washed slightly cleaner than Beko’s own WMB91442 washing machine also tested this month. All five stains were still just visible after the main 40°C wash with non-bio powder, the coffee and wine proving very stubborn to shift for the Beko.
As is common among mid-priced washer dryers, the spin results were generally well below the average when compared to mid-priced dedicated washing machines. The first load left a hefty 4.3kg (60%) of water from a dry weight of 7.2kg of clothing and the second wash leaving 1.6kg (44%) of water from a dry weight of 3.6kg.
At least the eco wash fared a little better, leaving 1.2kg (33%) of water from a 3.6kg dry weight although this cycle used 0.133KWh more than the standard wash therefore costing more electricity. The only thing eco about this cycle was that it used slightly less water (10.6 litres) than the standard wash. It is not uncommon for half-load eco modes to use more electricity than a full eco-mode washes, but rarely does that appear in the manual. For best results with eco washes, always use a full load.
Its tumble-drying performance, however, was very good, and if anything we thought some that it dried a little ‘dryer’ than would be expected from its four described levels of iron dry, wardrobe dry, extra wardrobe dry and a delicate dry. The Beko WDA91440W fully dried the clothing in the wash & dry cycle to a comprehensively extra dry state, allowing clothing to be worn straight from the drum. This is never going to be a cheap way to dry your washing, and the cost of this convenience works out around 30p per wash with this Beko.

BEKO WDA91440W: HOW MUCH WILL IT COST TO RUN?

Based on an average UK household use (200 x 40°C 80% max load and 40 x 40°C 40% half load with a 50/50 split on normal and eco programmes), the Beko WDA91440W annual running cost is a fairly stiff £43.98 on washing alone. Over the life of the appliance that is likely to be a higher cost than the machine itself.
Moreover, the Beko is not one of the most economical washer dryers for its drying cycle either. In our tests drying a half load added 30p (2kw) to the cycle, so If you did 100 x half load drying cycles per year it would add around £30 to your annual running costs. Premium washer driers like the Samsung WD906U4SAGD will halve that figure. Do note that the type of clothes and the degree of dryness selected will vary the actual costs. Specific figures for power and water use are available on the specs page.

SHOULD I BUY THE BEKO WDA91440W?

This is a simple, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin machine with plenty of programmes. It is easy to use, easy to load and easy to read. It looks smart with its chrome door surround and the detergent tray is easy to remove for cleaning. The wash results were average but with the help of some biological powder this would improve. Energy and eco is not a strong point either as the power figures show, however It does offer great value at the price for the wealth of features on offer – you would be hard pressed to buy even budget separate washer and dryer for less.

Friday, 30 December 2016
Posted by samzam

SAMSUNG WD906U4SAGD


WHAT IS THE SAMSUNG WD906U4SAGD?

A feature packed all-in-one washer dryer with an impressive 9kg load capacity for washing or you can wash and dry a 6kg load all in one go. It also features Samsung’s the same ecobubble wash technology as the excellent Samsung WF90F7E6U6W washing machine, where a soapy froth is created by mixing the detergent with both air and water before the cycle begins, enabling the bubbles to penetrate deep into the fibres faster than a conventional wash. This enables wash performance at cooler temperatures to be as effective as warmer temperatures, which in turn saves energy and running costs.
The embossed raised shape of the Diamond Drum, unique to Samsung, allows the clothes more contact with the water and drum, while smaller water holes prevent damage and snagging. It is claimed that this provides deep clean results even for the most delicate washing. The air wash cycle gently removes unpleasant smells and sanitizes laundry without water, so is ideal for some dry-clean-only clothes with no need for chemicals.

SAMSUNG WD906U4SAGD: WHAT IS IT LIKE TO USE?

The main controls are fairly self-explanatory with all the programmes set around a large dial that illuminates your chosen setting. There is also a more detailed panel, lit with green LEDs, that shows the chosen programme in more detail and allows you to manually alter the automatic settings, for example the spin speed or temperature.
The ecobubble wash is standard for all programmes but can be manually turned off if required. The Samsung WD906U4SAGD does not precisely sense the load weight but roughly calculates the wash time and displays this as a countdown timer. This was found to be rather variable, but corrects itself as the wash cycle proceeds. On completion you get Samsung’s cheerful tune, which is fun for about the first half a dozen washes. After that it can easily be turned off.

SAMSUNG WD906U4SAGD: WHAT PROGRAMMES DOES IT HAVE?

There are nine automatic wash programmes to choose from as well as Samsung’s My Cycle button that allows you to design and save your own bespoke programme for use in the future. Manual options for tweaking the temperature, spin speed and number of rinses is also available. Alongside the usual cotton, synthetic and woollen washes, there is a baby care programme that has additional rinses to ensure no detergent residue is left behind. A quick 15-minute wash, one of the quickest on the market, a super eco wash and an outdoor care wash for sportswear fibres complete the standard programme line-up. As if that isn’t enough, there are also 2 air wash cycles for either deodorisation or sanitization. These refresh without using water and differ by their cycle times of 29 minutes or 59 minutes.
Things get a little more complex when you begin to integrate this machine’s drying functions. If selecting a stand-alone drying programme you have four choices on the dial; cupboard dry, iron dry, low temperature drying for delicate fabrics or a manual drying time choice. There is also an option to fully wash and dry a complete load automatically by choosing the desired wash cycle then pressing the drying button repeatedly until the desired drying cycle is highlighted. Obviously your wash load is limited to the maximum drying load of 6kg or lower, depending of wash cycle, in this case. For caring for the actual machine there is an eco drum clean that flushes out built-up residues and is recommended after every 40 washes.

SAMSUNG WD906U4SAGD: HOW NOISY IS IT?

This machine measured fairly quiet on a wash cycle (57dB) and relatively quiet on the spin cycle (70dB), but it did go through a phase of having a rather loud rattle (72dB) on getting up to top spin speed – a noise fairly reminiscent of an older style washing machine that everyone remembers. Ordinarily we’d have put this down to an unbalanced load , but the same noise happened on all our wash loads.

SAMSUNG WD906U4SAGD: HOW WELL DOES IT WASH AND DRY?

We ran four different wash cycles for our tests; a 40°C cotton wash with a 7.2kg (80%) full load at 1400 spin speed; a 40°C cotton wash with 3kg (50% of 6kg) load all the way through to dry; a 40°C cotton wash with a 3.6kg (40%) load at 1200 spin speed and then the same wash but this time in super eco mode. We did not use the full 9kg load as using 80% is regarded as more realistic for day-to-day usage. We also included a test stain strip in the first wash which was stained with dried on ketchup, coffee, blood, red wine and engine oil and washed using a non-biological detergent.
The timings for all the washes were a variable feast, with the first wash running over by only 16 minutes from the 3 hours 5 minutes indicated. This full wash also proved effective in spinning away the majority of water, leaving 2.7kg (38%) of water weight from a dry 7.2kg starting weight load. All of the stains on our strip were removed, apart from the tough engine oil. This got noticeably lighter in colour but is unlikely to be removed without the help of biological powder. Using an average energy price of 15p per KWh at the time of this review, this cycle worked out costing rather high 26p per wash.
The other two ‘wash only’ cycle results were identical visually but the cotton wash took an extra 53 minutes longer than the 2 hours 3 minutes quoted – a very large difference compared to the washing machines we’ve reviewed. The super eco wash timing was more accurate, with an extra 9 minutes added to the 2 hours 13 quoted. Both washes left 1.5kg (42%) of water weight from a dry 3.6kg weight. Washer-dryers are rarely as efficient as dedicated separate washing and drying machines but in super eco mode the Samsung did work out at a very frugal 10p per wash. However the cotton wash came in at a hefty 24p per wash. Considering this was only for a 3.6kg load, and the 7.2kg load cost only 2p per cycle more, users would be well advised to ensure they max-out their wash day loads to save money over the year.
The drying cycle was very effective in removing all the moisture in the wash, but tumble drying is never going to be a cheap way of drying your clothes. While the Samsung is actually one of the more frugal dryers on the market, adding a drying function to a cotton half load used an additional 0.978KWh, adding 15p to the price of the wash. Interestingly, the Samsung indicated the full dirty to dry cycle would take over 6hrs but it actually came in at around four and half with our test load. This is likely to be variable on the type of washing and how well it responds to tumble drying.

SAMSUNG WD906U4SAGD: HOW MUCH WILL IT COST TO RUN?

Based on an average UK household use (200 x 40°C 80% max load and 40 x 40°C 40% half load with a 50/50 split on normal and eco programmes), the Samsung WD906U4SAGD’s annual running cost is a fairly stiff £58.74. Over the life of the machine that is likely to be a higher cost than the machine itself, and it’s around £20 to £25 per year more than straight washing machines like the Panasonic NA-140VZ4 and LG F14A8FDA.
However, the Samsung is one of the more economical washer dryers for its drying cycle. In our tests drying a half load added just 15p (1kw) to the cycle, so if you did 100 x half load drying cycles per year it would add around £15 to your annual running costs. Do note that the type of clothes and the degree of dryness selected will vary the actual costs. Specific figures for power and water use are listed at the bottom of this review.

SHOULD I BUY THE SAMSUNG WD906U4SAGD?

This is a great all-in-one washer dryer ideal for the busy household and gives you the option to only wash, only dry or do both. Its washing cycle costs in power and water are not the best, but it makes up for it in its very efficient drying performance and a reasonable price, so it’s definitely a machine to consider if you are a heavy tumble dryer user. As an added bonus the air wash cycle could reduce your annual dry-cleaning bills.

iPhone 7

Let's get right down to it: if Apple had launched the iPhone 7 in place of the iPhone 6S last year, it would probably have been the phone of the year.
We're used to the S variants of the iPhone being minimal upgrades – just the right amount of change to encourage a purchase by those with ageing handsets – and if the myriad changes on this new iPhone had arrived in 2015, it would have been fantastic.
Instead of the iPhone 6S, with just a 3D Touch screen in the way of new features and a few power boosts here and there, we'd have had a waterproof handset with dual speakers, a brighter and more colorful screen and a boosted 12MP camera that took better pictures than the one on the iPhone 6.
Changing the home button from a clickable entity to something that responds to pressure – and possibly even the loss of the headphone jack – would have been seen as innovative and alternative in a sea of identikit handsets.
And if Apple had thrown in the new Jet Black finish with a top-end 256GB storage model… well, that would have been a real challenger, a chance for the brand to cast off the 'tick-tock' mentality of keeping the smaller upgrades confined to the S variants, and remind us that it just makes great phones.
But that didn't happen, and now the metronomic quality of Apple's upgrades seems to have come to a halt – or the pendulum is stuck.
Because with the iPhone 7 we've got another 'tock'. The initial reaction of dubbing this an iPhone 6SS is unfair, as it's more than just an S upgrade – but it's not as much of a push forward as many would have expected given the large changes on the iPhone 4 and 6 in particular.
Although maybe there's a second pattern emerging here – the odd-numbered iPhones keeping things incremental before the big changes on the even-numbered models. Either way, the iPhone 7 is another very good, but not great, handset from Apple.

iPhone 7 price and release date

  • Launched on September 16
  • Price for 32GB starts at $649 (£599, AU$1,079)
  • Cheaper than iPhone 7 Plus by $120 (£120, AU$150)
The iPhone 7 price starts at $649 (£599, AU$1,079) for the 32GB model. If you fancy upping your storage to 128GB you'll need to shell out $749 (£699, AU$1,229) – which is the same cost as the 64GB iPhone 6S when it launched.
Power users, meanwhile, will want to check out the $849 (£799, AU$1,379) iPhone 7 with an iPhone-first 256GB of storage, giving you masses of storage space.
The iPhone 7 inherits the same pricing structure as the iPhone 6S when it launched back in September 2015 – at least in the US and Australia it does; for those in the UK the aftershocks of Brexit are being felt, with a £60 price hike for the iPhone 7 over the 6S.
The iPhone 7 Plus, with its larger 5.5-inch display, bigger battery and dual-camera on back goes for a premium, too. Apple starts the price at $769 (£719, AU$1,229) for 32GB. That means the iPhone 7 is now cheaper by $120 (£120, AU$150), widening the price gap between the two.
In terms of contracts, we're not looking at a cheap phone here. In the US, you'll pay about $33 a month for the phone alone without a plan factored in. In the UK, the iPhone 7 starts at £43 per month with no upfront cost - that'll give you 4GB of data and the lowest-spec model - that's £9 per month more than theSamsung Galaxy S7 Edge on the same deal.

Design

  • Water resistance brings confidence in robustness of device
  • Same design as previous two years
  • Headphone jack removal is inconvenient

The two big design changes on the iPhone 7 are big talking points: it can now survive plunges into a swimming pool, thanks to the water-resistant chassis, and the headphone jack on the bottom of the phone is no longer there.
Let's start with the biggest of those changes: the omission of the headphone jack. It's a bold move from Apple – although calling it 'courageous' during the launch event was a bit much, and has led to some warranted memes – and one that could shake up the headphone industry.
The loss of this port will impact users in varying degrees: for some people it'll be no more than a shrug before they get on with their day, because they only use the EarPods in the iPhone box – and those are still there, just with a Lightning connector.
For others, though, it'll be an inconvenience, as they'll need to attach the short white dongle to the 3.5mm jack on the end of their headphones in order to plug them into the Lightning port.
In a survey conducted over three commutes, we noticed that out of 60 people wearing headphones, 34 were using the bundled EarPods that Apple offers – given than many of those people might not have been using an iPhone, that's a higher number than expected.
Losing the headphone jack also severely limits those wanting to buy a new pair of headphones for use with their iPhone, given how much we all listen to tunes or watch films on our phones these days.
Sure, you can buy regular 3.5mm headphones, but then you'll have to connect the adaptor. If you want to get something directly compatible you'll either need to go Bluetooth or Lightning-ready – and there are fewer decent models available to buy in that latter category.

AirPods

You could, of course, try the new Apple AirPods, which have been developed on a new wireless standard. A quick Public Service Announcement: you DO NOT need to buy these to get audio on the iPhone 7.
Three separate people have told us that that's what they thought was the case when Apple launched them – that's something the brand needs to clarify soon.
There's also another reason not to buy them: they're incredibly expensive at $159 / £159 / AU$229, and all they really do is cut the wire from the EarPods you get in the box.
The sound quality doesn't feel like it's much better, and while the ability to tap one pod to activate Siri, or remove a Pod and have the sound instantly stop, is cool, it's not really worth the cash.
Plus, there's also the fact that they don't look the most elegant in the ears – and if you struggle with the fit of the EarPods, these things are going to fall out all the time.
They do have a lot of charge, come with a cool magnetic carry case (which also adds 24 hours of charge, to the point where we've not even come close to running ours down during the review) and free you from the wires… but these feel more like reference designs for future wireless Apple devices than the must-have iPhone accessory.
The overall design of the iPhone 7 is actually rather impressive when you consider some of the changes that have taken place. The waterproofing always add thickness, as the seals will need some space within the device.
The new dual speakers, which fire out of the earpiece and the bottom of the phone, also needed somewhere to go, which starts to explain why the iPhone 7 is 7.1mm thick… the same as the iPhone 6S, and 0.2mm more than the iPhone 6.
Perhaps it's something to do with the fact that these features aren't the first of their kind to market, but there's something unexciting about the iPhone 7 being waterproof. It's been done already by Sony on the Xperia Z and Samsung on theGalaxy S7, and those phones combined impressive design with the reassurance that you could sling them in a lake and still have a working phone.
It's a really nice feature to have, and to iPhone users it'll be a complete novelty – although they'll be aware that many Android-toting pals will have had the feature for a while. But it's a necessary move from Apple, and it's good to see.
The home button, that iconic design from Apple that's endured throughout the years, has changed dramatically too: it's no longer a clickable, physical entity, but a sunken point on the front of the phone that responds to the force of your touch.
Initially, it seemed terrible, something that would be impossible to get used to; the loss of the dependable, pressable button was awful, and we kept getting no response when trying to get back to the home screen from within an app.
But then, suddenly, it clicked (well, not physically), and it felt like a completely natural motion. After a while we forgot what was happening, and when you remember that nothing is moving beneath your finger it's quite an odd sensation.
Despite the same / slightly higher prices (UK readers can thank Brexit for that one), Apple has doubled the storage sizes on offer with the new iPhone, with 32GB, 128GB and 256GB options. While it's nice to be able to move files on and off your phone, these new capacities kind of put the debate over why the iPhone doesn't have a microSD slot to bed – it's not needed any more.
The overall design of the iPhone isn't anything new really – unless you're looking at the jet black version. This darker version has the antenna bands colored in, a black iPhone logo and a weird shine to the plastic.
It's kind of like an iPhone 5C was given the Pretty Woman treatment, if that makes any sense.
This model does scratch very easily though, so you'll need to sling it in a case the second you get your hands on it… which rather defeats the object of owning it in the first place.
The iPhone's design hasn't changed a great deal from the 6S, with the only significant alterations other than the loss of the headphone socket being the larger and more protruding camera lens, and the two speaker grilles at the bottom of the phone.
These dual grilles are deceptive though – only one actually fires out sound, while the other is entirely aesthetic, perhaps trying to distract us from the lack of the headphone jack.
As it's so similar to the iPhone 6S, it's familiar for most iPhone users. The screen is a little hard to reach with one thumb, but not overly so – and the strong build quality in the volume and silencer switch is still as evident as ever.
Apple knows how to put together a smartphone, and it's done so effortlessly again here.

Screen

  • 25% brightness boost and more colors are hard to spot
  • Sharpness is still far lower than competitors
  • Contrast ratio for movie watching could be better
The main change to the screen on the iPhone 7 is the brightness and color, as it's otherwise identical. The same 4.7-inch 1334 x 750 resolution display is on offer here, meaning that if you hold it side by side with something like the Galaxy S7 Edge, you'll notice the lack of sharpness.
However, in day to day use you won't notice much wrong with the screen at all, as even at the HD resolution on offer you've still got a large amount of pixels, so internet browsing and movie watching is still clean, clear and crisp enough.
There's also 3D Touch in the mix again – it's an identical system to that on the iPhone 6S, where the handset can detect the amount of pressure your finger is exerting on the screen. We were promised loads of apps that make use of this, but while most icons will do something when force is exerted, it's not often very useful.
How you view this screen depends on what phone you're coming from on – if it's the iPhone 6 or lower, then you'll love the display, as it's brighter, more colorful and just as crisp as before. If, however, you're moving from something like the LG G4, then you might struggle with the lower res, as side by side there is a drop.
This is where Apple sets out its stall when it comes to its screens: it's not about the sharpness, or the number of nits of brightness – it's how the display looks when it's in your hands that matters.
And to that end, the iPhone 7 is a step forward. The screen is more colorful – not in an overpowering technicolor way, but just in terms of richness, with the depth of color matching that of the cinema screen.
The brightness is also improved in the right way – again, it's not overpowering, but more of an upgrade in the right way, giving you an easier look at the screen when it's as bright as it can go.
The white balance of the display is also improved to a warmer tone – there were rumors that Apple was going to be using the same True Tone display as seen in the iPad 9.7, and it feels like elements of that are true.
One thing Apple badly needs to sort out, though, is its auto brightness feature. The current setup is to blind you if you look at the phone in the dark, where other phones are more adept at dropping right down to the lowest possible brightness to save you from burning out your retinas.
Apple will maintain that it's done enough with the screen to make it a great viewing experience without packing in too many pixels and forcing the battery to work hard unnecessarily.
To a degree that's right, but in truth if this is the best that can be done on battery life then it's something of a problem, as the iPhone 7 isn't stellar in that department.
That's the feeling that comes across when watching movies on the new iPhone: it's fine, but nothing special. The contrast ratios don't feel as clear and crisp as on some other phones, and the size is a little small compared to others.
Perhaps that's an unfair criticism. The size of the screen is precisely what attracts some people, and as such it's presumably acceptable for media.
However, the size of the phone should be able to accommodate a larger display, pushing closer to the edge of the handset rather than the amount of bezel used. Of course, it's terribly naive to just say things like 'make the screen bigger!' 'Put in more battery!' 'Shove in more pixels!' as everything is a trade-off.
But, as other brands seem to have managed it, it seems that thinner bezels are at least possible.
Talking of watching movies, the dual speakers that Apple has popped into the new iPhone are a real upgrade. The location at the top and bottom is a little weird, given that they fire in different directions, but the sound quality is much better than before.


Monday, 3 October 2016
Posted by samzam

Panasonic HX-A1ME

WHAT IS THE PANASONIC HX-A1ME?

The HX-A1ME is Panasonic's entry-level action camera – the baby brother of the HX-A500E. As an entry level action camera the HX-A1ME cuts a few corners on hardware. Where the HX-A500E boasts a 4K video resolution and a separate recording unit, the HX-A1ME only offers Full HD and uses a more standard bullet camera format. Making up for this, the HX-A1ME is also about half the price.

PANASONIC HX-A1ME – DESIGN

Thanks to its bullet-camera shape and 45g weight, the HX-A1ME is one of the smallest action cameras you'll come across. It makes a GoPro HERO3 look like it needs to go on a diet, although the recently released HERO4 Session is also tiny. There's no built-in screen, and there are only three buttons on the top for control. It's available in black and luminous orange.

Panasonic has led the way with standards-based rugged camcorders, and the HX-A1ME continues the tradition. It's waterproof and dust-proof to IP68 standard, which means it's completely impervious to dust and waterproof to depths beyond 1m, although Panasonic claims only 1.5m.
It's also shock-proof to MIL-STD810F Method 516.5-Shock, which confirms that it will survive a drop from up to 1.5m onto a hard surface. It can also withstand temperatures down to -10C, which will be good news for the ski and snowboarding community.

PANASONIC HX-A1ME – CORE SPECIFICATION

The HX-A1ME doesn't use quite such a large sensor as the HX-A500E, but with a 1/3-inch back-side-illuminated CMOS sporting 3.54 megapixels it's ahead of a lot of action cameras – particularly the cheaper options.
This bodes well for image quality, especially in lower illumination, and potentially places the Panasonic action camera in the serious league in its class. However, it will be difficult to dislodge GoPro from its plinth.
As I mentioned earlier, for this model, Panasonic sticks with Full HD rather than 4K as the top resolution. This may put some off the HX-A1ME now that an increasing number of action cameras are offering 4K, and at full frame rates.
The 1,920 x 1,080 option is shot at 30 progressive frames per second, with a reasonable but not outstanding 15Mbits/sec data rate. This data rate is also available for 720p when shot at 60 progressive frames per second, or you can shoot 720p at 30fps and 9Mbits/sec data rate. It's also possible to grab 2.7-megapixel still images at 2,176 x 1,224. There's a 848 x 480-pixel mode too. A microSD slot is used for storage.
So there are lots of shooting options, but perhaps the most interesting ones are the slow-motion choices. There's a 720p mode that shoots at 60fps but outputs 30fps, for half-speed. The 848 x 480 resolution can be shot at 120fps and played back at 30fps for quarter-speed.
These modes will be useful for capturing fast-paced action, but we'd have liked to have seen a standard frame rate high-bitrate option greater than 50Mbits/sec – as the HX-A500E offers – since not having this will make the HX-A1ME less attractive for professionals hoping to get their footage broadcast. The slow-motion options are also behind even an iPhone 6, which can record at 240fps.

PANASONIC HX-A1ME – MOUNTING OPTIONS

Panasonic has been a little more generous with its included mounting options thanTomTom has been with the basic Bandit bundle.
There's a screw fitting for a tripod, but also a strap fitting with a ball joint. This can be attached to a velcro strip that comes with double-sided adhesive, enabling you to stick it to a helmet or any flat or curvy surface. There's a velcro wrist-strap for use with this mount as well, which could also be used for any wrist-sized bar such as a car roll cage.
The camera straps onto these mounts via a hoop that secures it firmly. This attaches to the last third of the HX-A1ME, which looks a bit insecure but won't budge when fully tightened. Attaching the hoop more centrally would obscure the control buttons.
Further optional extras include a twin-mount and a head mount. The former is for shooting in two directions, such as your face as well as the action, or attaching a light – in particular an infrared torch for use with the camera's 0 lux capability.
The two ends of the unit unscrew. The rear can be replaced with an open cap, which allows the micro-USB connection to be accessed, so the camcorder can be employed as a webcam or powered externally.
The rear can also be replaced with an optional extra battery, adding an additional 2hrs 45 mins, while maintaining the waterproofing. On its own, the HX-A1ME manages less than an hour of recording, so this is a recommended accessory.
A replacement glass cover for the lens is also included. This is marked IR and is meant for use with a separate infrared light, which isn't included. However, these can be purchased separately for as little as a tenner. The combination means the HX-A1ME can shoot in complete darkness, making it great for capturing nocturnal wildlife in action.

PANASONIC HX-A1ME – CONTROLS, SETTINGS AND WI-FI SMARTPHONE CONNECTION

The three buttons on the top of the HX-A1ME turn on the device, toggle recording, and switch between video, still image, and slow-motion modes. A longer press on the mode button enables the Wi-Fi connectivity, which is essential if you want to take advantage of the camcorder's full range of settings. This works with Panasonic's Image App, which is available for iOS and Android.
Image App is the only way to change the shooting resolution, and provides access to the white balance options, which include daylight, cloudy, two indoor modes and fluorescent, alongside automatic and user-configured.
Backlight compensation and shooting guidelines are also available. You can switch the USB mode between storage device and web camera. Once you have the HX-A1ME configured the way you want, Image App can be used for live preview and toggling record.

PANASONIC HX-A1ME – IMAGE QUALITY

Without 4K resolution, and due to the increasingly crowded action camera market, the HX-A1ME really needed to deliver top-notch Full HD video quality. However, while colour fidelity is good, footage is merely decent otherwise. There is a little softening of detail, which would have been alleviated by the availability of a higher data rate. However, the HX-A1ME copes reasonably well with contrasts in brightness, and auto-exposure reacts quite quickly to changes in illumination.
There's also little evidence of compression artefacts or noise in good lighting, highlighting the underlying quality of the CMOS sensor. However, while colour is maintained well in low light, a noticeable amount of noise develops as illumination falls.
We don't expect action cameras to do as well here as premium models, but we've also seen better performance, particularly from Panasonic's own HX-A500E. As with most action cameras, the lens is also set to an aggressively wide angle, and this causes noticeable barrel distortion at the edges of the frame.

SHOULD I BUY THE PANASONIC HX-A1ME?

The Panasonic HX-A1ME is a capable action camera, with its small size and rugged construction making it particularly attractive to extreme athletes. The infrared 0 lux shooting gives it a unique nocturnal capability, and the slow-motion options will be welcome.
However, image quality is merely good and there's stiff competition from GoPro and a number of other manufacturers. For action videographers at the bleeding edge, the lack of 4K will also be a disappointment. Nevertheless, at well under £200, this is a good-value action camera with some decent capabilities.
VERDICT
The Panasonic HX-A1ME has a couple of unusual abilities, and is pleasingly rugged, but it isn't sufficiently special to be an award-winner.
Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Posted by samzam
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Snooper DVR-4HD

WHAT IS THE SNOOPER DVR-4HD?

The Snooper DVR-4HD is a dashboard camera with added safety features, including speed camera alerts. The frequency of cameras on cyclists' heads and inside vehicles is increasing, to match those the authorities and commercial interests have proliferated our cities and roads with. The DVR-4HD is designed to give you your own forward-facing surveillance system, so you can capture your own evidence of any incidents that occur ahead.
The DVR-4HD is much smaller than a sat-nav, with a 2.7-inch screen. This is a good halfway house, because you do want a decent screen to make sure the camera is pointed in the right direction. But you also don't want a screen so large that it distracts you from the road, or vies with your sat-nav for attention.

SNOOPER DVR-4HD – WINDSCREEN MOUNTING

The mount is designed to be installed near the top of your windscreen. You could place it to one side, but I found the best position was just beneath the rear view mirror, although I did have to get used to not looking at it when checking out what was behind me. However, the power adapter comes with a very long cable, so you can route this around your windscreen so that it doesn't dangle across your visible area.
This brings me to my first criticism of the Snooper. The power cable is fixed at the car adapter end, and there is no extra USB socket on that end either. So if you want to use the Snooper alongside a sat-nav, you will need to invest in another cable and a dual-USB connector, or a socket splitter. That is, unless you are lucky enough to have a car with dual power sockets.
Once the DVR-4HD is installed and the MicroSD card inserted (it comes with a 16GB module), initial operation is pretty simple. Just slide the switch on the bottom of the unit over, and the video recording begins. The switch also partially covers the MicroSD card slot, so the media can't be knocked out accidentally.

SNOOPER DVR-4HD – RECORDING FORMATS AND QUALITY

Video is recorded by default at Full HD 1080p, with a 17Mbits/sec data rate, although there is also a 720p option available. To switch to this you can use the menu or a WiFi-connected smartphone, of which more later. In 1080p mode, the supplied 16GB card will be enough for a little over two hours of footage, and once the storage is full the space will be recycled by deleting the oldest files to make way for new ones. However, any footage considered to be an “event” will be saved.
The video is rather fuzzy at night, however. A well lit number plate is visible very close up, otherwise it's just a blur. There's still enough detail to show what really happened in events, though, so the Snooper just about delivers on its promise of capturing your journey in every driving condition. So far so good.

SNOOPER DVR-4HD – SAFETY FEATURES

The DVR-4HD is much more than just a handy car-friendly camcorder, however. There's an accelerometer to detect collisions or emergency stops, which is how the DVR-4HD detects an incident. It will then protect the video files being recorded at the time by placing them in a separate "Event" folder, or you can do this manually by pressing an onscreen icon.
Although there are no sat-nav capabilities, the DVR-4HD has a GPS receiver built in, so your position is recorded alongside the video. In fact, the Russian GLONASS network is also supported, although you can't use both at the same time. The GPS is also used with Snooper's database of safety camera locations to let you know when you are approaching one and have accidentally strayed over the limit.
In this mode, a strip along the top half of the screen provides the necessary information, or you can touch what looks like a zoom icon on the right-hand side of the screen to have a full-screen speed readout. You are then shown a display of your current speed, which switches to a speed camera icon as you approach. I found Snooper's Aura database was as accurate and up-to-date as others I have used, making this a useful additional feature for the DVR-4HD.
The remaining plethora of safety features are a little more hit or miss. There's a lane departure warning system, which requires you to align onscreen guide marks with the road and eye level. The forward collision warning tells you when you are closer than 20m from the car in front when driving over 60km/h, again requiring the same calibration as lane departure.
Front Vehicle Go tells you when the car in front has begun moving again in a traffic situation. The headlight warning tells you to put your headlights on when the conditions warrant it. You can set an alert for a specific speed limit, although this won't vary with the road you are on – there is just one setting available. There's a fatigue alert, which is a simple timer-based warning. There is motion and collision detection, and notification of when you are braking or accelerating too fast. Turning on all these functions can get a little distracting, though, so I found I stuck with a few of the most useful.

SHOULD I BUY THE SNOOPER DVR-4HD?

The Snooper DVR-4HD's desktop software may lack a little of the polish of some competitors, and it's a little more pricey than alternatives such as Garmin's Dash Cam 20. But it also sports quite a few more safety features, in particular the speed camera warnings. If you don't already have a sat-nav with this feature, or don't tend to drive with one, the Snooper makes decent economic sense.
It's also worth noting that the DVR-4HD is one of the dash cams that qualifies for up to a 15 per cent price reduction on Adrian Flux insurance. So you could save as much as the device costs. There are a few rough edges, but it does its main job well, making the Snooper DVR-4HD worth considering if not a total slam-dunk winner in every respect.
VERDICT
The Snooper DVR-4HD is a dash cam packed with so many safety features you will find it hard to use all of them.
Posted by samzam
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