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.


  • 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.


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.


  • 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


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.
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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.
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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NutriBullet Rx


Not content with making it easier to get your five-a-day through smoothies, NutriBullet is now championing healthy soups with its Rx model. While it isn't the first blender to ramp up the power in order to cook the contents, the Rx is more compact than equivalent professional-style machines.
A larger version of its smoothie-blitzing predecessor, it comes with similarly super-sized kit. This includes two cups for making cold drinks and nut butters, and a jug for whizzing together steaming soups at up to 70oC.


The Rx is a grown-up version of the familiar NutriBullet design. A power button resides on the side of the unit to switch the Rx on and off, and another button at the front switches it from a minute-long smoothie programme to a seven-minute soup-heating one.
However, its mode of operation has changed, with blending activated by dropping the jug or cup with blades onto the base. To stop, you can either remove or turn off the power.

The extractor blade also receives a makeover. Rather than the four, fairly innocuous-looking flat blades of previous models, two of the four in the Rx are angled upwards, tapering to a sharp point.
Of the cups, the short and oversized one are for blitzing smoothies, while the pitcher – known as a SouperBlast – handles soup. As is the case with the smoothie cups, the blades screw onto the pitcher and it’s topped with a two-part lid that’s vented to let out steam.
Also in the box is a pouring lid, a lid and rim, plus a cleaning brush that’s great for getting under the blades. There's also a spanner-like tool that helps you twist off the hot extractor blade.


There’s no lack of information when it comes to using the NutriBullet Rx. As well as the user guide, there’s a quick-start guide just for making SouperBlasts and 165-page recipe and nutrition book. Unfortunately, some of the ingredients are measured in cups, with recipes appearing to have been devised for the US market.
We started by attempting a straightforward smoothie, the Slimming Vitamin Citrus, using spinach, broccoli, chia seeds and fruit with water. Adding the ingredients to the short cup and attaching the extractor blade, we placed it on the base. It worked through the fruit to the greens at the bottom in around 20 seconds.
The programme ran continuously, with a slowdown three-quarters of the way through; this is designed to help unblended ingredients drop towards the blades. Once the programme was complete, we removed the blades to find a silky-smooth, bubbly smoothie. The texture was consistent, with a few seeds remaining, but the drink itself wasn’t sweet enough to disguise the taste of the vegetables.
 Next, we tried a smoothie with hard ingredients – almonds, combined with black treacle, chia seeds, fruit, spinach and water: a Calci-Yum. While progress was slower, with some nuts rattling around the cup, by the time it had finished, all the almonds had disappeared to leave a smooth drink.
Swapping the cup for the pitcher, we added cauliflower, pear, nut butter, oil, mustard, stock and almond milk. We attached the base and selected the soup programme. It slowed down twice to allow ingredients to settle, and a small amount of steam could be seen in the vented lid.
Once finished, we removed the lid to reveal hot soup with no lumps. Its consistency was thin, and the overpowering flavour was mustard – but the process of making the soup was fuss-free.
The NutriBullet Rx has been designed to cook only once, so if it doesn’t get the soup hot enough the first time, it recommends using a microwave or hob cooking. It also can’t brown ingredients, so this needs to be done before you add the contents to the cup.
We finished by making nut butter from almonds and oil, adding them to the short cup and blitzing in 30-second intervals. After six cycles, the butter was gooey and creamy, with only a few shards of almond remaining.
All the parts, except the extractor blade, are dishwasher safe, making clean-up simple. The brush was particularly useful for shifting any remnants of butter.


As a soup maker the Rx is limited, lacking the ability to sauté or reheat. However, the convenience of being able to make fresh hot soup in seven minutes gives it huge appeal. It’s also perfect for family-sized batches of smoothies or making items ahead of time.
Where it could do better is with regards to its design. There’s a lot of kit to store when it isn't in use, and no obvious way to stack it. We also found the lip of the cups too bulky to drink from comfortably, and would have loved the option of on-the-go flip-top lids.


A few tweaks would make this the perfect appliance. Nevertheless, it’s still fantastic for kick-starting a healthy-eating habit.

Friday, 23 September 2016
Posted by samzam

Kenwood BLP300WH Blend-X Compact


Affordable, functional and dinky enough to live out on the worktop, the clue is in the name when it comes to the biggest selling point of the Blend-X Compact.
With a footprint that's smaller than full-sized machines, the Blend-X still offers plenty of features. These include two speeds for blitzing soups and smoothies, a pulse mode, a good-sized 1.6-litre goblet with a working capacity of 1.2 litres and a respectable 450W motor.
And even though it sits at the budget end of the market, it’s been well designed, with the jug and blades detaching for a thorough clean.


It isn't often that much thought goes into the design of a basic blender, so it’s cheering to discover that the Blend-X Compact has plenty going for it.
Although it’s available in white, the base has been consciously sculpted with a grey trim to match the control dial. Underneath the unit, large sucker feet plant it firmly on the worktop to ensure that there’s no shifting about once it gets going.
The jug and lid, with integral measuring cup on top, are plastic. That limits the foods you can blend: spices, for example, may damage it and hot food need to be cooled to room temperature before blitzing.
However, it can accommodate some impressive quantities, blending up to 800ml of liquid mixtures, such as milkshakes, batters and eggs. You can get away with 1.2 litres of soups and thicker mixes, as well as three eggs and 450ml of oil for mayonnaise. Markings on the outside of the jug make it simple to measure ingredients as you go.
Inside the jug, the detachable blade unit uses a "MultiZone" design. Each blade has been dedicated to performing a specific task – blending, grinding, crushing and chopping – to help create the perfect texture, while a spacer spreads them over a wider area, increasing their cutting zone.


Putting the blender together is straightforward: the blade unit simply screws into the jug with a sealing ring to keep it watertight, while the whole unit twists (in the other direction) and clicking into the base.
We started by making a milkshake with powdered chocolate and around half a jug of milk on speed 1. We blended the mixture for around 20 seconds. Within that time the volume of the liquid almost doubled, turning it into a smooth, frothy milkshake. Once poured out, a good level of long-lasting foam remained, with no lumps or unblended chocolate.
Next, we tried an adaptation of the solitary recipe in the instruction booklet: carrot and coriander soup. After pan-frying leeks with garlic, we added these to the jug with chopped carrot and cooled stock to the 1.2-litre mark. Blending on speed 2 for around 15 seconds (speed 5 was advised for a coarse soup, longer for smooth), the consistency was still quite chunky.
Further blending produced a more even result, but visible lumps of carrot remained and a little liquid became trapped in the lid – although it didn’t escape from the jug. Cooking it on the hob for half an hour helped to make the lumps less obvious, but the result wasn’t as consistent as we'd hoped for
Finally, we finished by crushing ice using the pulse option. Adding a handful of ice cubes to the jug, we pulsed the blades in short, quick bursts to achieve a snowy texture – perfect for chilled drinks and cocktails. The sucker feet performed well throughout, giving an extra confidence on the more intense speeds. However, once or twice, the jug became stuck in the base, requiring a firm twist to free it.
Splitting into just four pieces, the blender is reasonably easy to clean, and the lid and jug are dishwasher-safe. The blades need to be washed by hand, however, and since there’s no cleaning brush supplied, it can be tricky to clean around them safely.


The Kenwood BLP300WH Blend-X Compact is a good buy if you’re on a budget, or want to blitz little and often and need a model that can live out on the worktop. Where this blender separates itself from comparable models is the ability to come apart for thorough cleaning, plus it has a practical capacity. Greater power and more than one recipe suggestion would have been welcome, but it handles everyday tasks well.


As basic blenders go, the Blend-X Compact is better than most, and has size on its side for small kitchens. Keen cooks will find its lack of power frustrating, however.

Panasonic TX-65CZ952


The TX-65CZ952 is the year’s most "out there" TV. Its £8,000 price is sure to make bank managers weep. Its rear panel is the first we’ve ever seen to sport the designer fabric Alcantara. Although it fails to include some of the smart features found on much cheaper Panasonic TVs, its OLED screen shows that it refuses to compromise on picture quality. The question is, do the TX-65CZ952’s eccentricities make it a lovable rogue or simply a basket case?


The TX-65CZ952 certainly does its best to look like an £8,000 TV. Its 65-inch screen sits on an astoundingly slim chassis – a classic OLED design trait – and within a barely-there frame that leaves you free to focus completely on the pictures it displays.
 Build quality is outstanding too – although as is the case with any super-thin OLED TV, I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous when attempting to slot the set onto its three-quarter-width stand.
As noted earlier, Panasonic has kitted out the TX-65CZ952’s rear in white Alacantara fabric, even going so far as to include a clip-on panel – also finished in the designer fabric – to cover the connections area as well. I'm not entirely convinced that this was worth the effort – especially since most folk will only ever see the front of their TV. Neverthless, it certainly gives Panasonic’s OLED debutante another point of difference.
The curved screen may be a sticking point for some AV fans, for reasons discussed in our article "Curved screens: the pros and cons". However, the degree of curvature is reasonably slight, so hopefully issues such as excessive onscreen reflections and distorted image geometry during off-axis viewing won’t prove too problematic.
The TX-65CZ952 ticks the right boxes with its connections, which include four HDMIs, three USBs and the usual Wi-Fi and wired network connections. However, it has an unwanted surprise in store: there's no sign of the Firefox operating system found on many other, much cheaper 2015 Panasonic TVs.
I'm not entirely clear as to why this system hasn't been included in Panasonic’s flagship TV, but it’s undoubtedly a pity that such a mostly forward-thinking TV doesn’t benefit from Firefox’s customisable menus and the Firefox development community.
It also turns out that the TX-65CZ952 doesn’t carry the Freetime Play catch-up TV service now available on many of Panasonic’s 2015 TVs.
While these are both significant blows from a smart TV perspective, they don’t by any means render the TV hard to use. The menus are basic but straightforward, and the apps provided include the BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon – the latter two supporting 4K streaming.
Turning to the TX-65CZ952’s picture features, the main one is, of course, that the screen uses OLED technology. OLED screens are made up from pixels that can create their own light, versus LCD technology, which uses external light sources to light groups of pixels.
OLED is the first consumer screen technology since plasma to support this pixel-by-pixel "self-emissive" approach, so given Panasonic’s long history with plasma TVs, you can see why the brand may have keen to try its arm with OLED too.
The benefits of OLED are generally considered to fall into five main areas. One is design, especially the potential for OLED screens to be super-slim. Next is colour, with OLED claimed to be capable of both more accurate and stable colour tones (over a product’s lifetime). Colours, gain, benefit from OLED's ability to control light output on a per-pixel basis, providing the potential for almost infinite amounts of contrast and black level depth.
Benefit four is viewing angles. OLED images retain colour and contrast well beyond 80 degrees from directly opposite. With LCD technology, you'll be lucky if you an watch from an angle of more than 30 to 40 degrees without the picture being affected.
Finally, OLED screens are claimed to enjoy a much faster response time – up to 5,000 times as fast – than LCD screens, which should mean they suffer less with typical LCD motion issues such as blur/resolution loss when showing moving objects.
With LG already selling 65-inch OLED screens for around £4,000, however, where exactly does Panasonic’s take on OLED add an extra £4,000 of quality. The key appears to lie in two main areas: a new iteration of Panasonic’s impressive 4K Pro video-processing engine, and some new driving systems for the OLED panel designed to tackle a couple of niggles that exist with LG’s current OLED models.
The 4K Pro implementation for the TX-65CZ952 features some similar algorithms and techniques to the system used on Panasonic’s LCD TVs. These include the high-level 3D colour look-up tables with their 8,000 reference points, and gradation algorithms for eking out more shadow detail in even the darkest parts of pictures. There’s an added Absolute Black element feature for OLED, though, designed to deliver control of the panel’s lighting above total blackness – and which has caused the occasional issue on LG’s OLED TVs.
The TX-65CZ952 also includes a new picture preset that’s been calibrated for Panasonic by Hollywood colorist Mike Sowa. Sowa, who’s probably best known for his work on Oblivion and Insurgent, has been brought in to make the point that OLED enables TVs to get closer than before to the standards of digital cinema. His professional colour tuning is saved under the TX-65CZ952’s True Cinema preset.

Further "outside" endorsement for the TX-65CZ952 comes from THX. The independent quality-assurance group has given the TV its first OLED seal of approval by including a couple of picture presets to help you get pictures looking how THX thinks they should look.
If you’d rather tinker with the image yourself, there's a wealth of picture-calibration aids available, as we’ll see in the next section.
Two final features to cover are 3D playback (delivered via the passive system) and support for the new generation of high dynamic range (HDR) content. However, the firmware update required for HDR hadn't been launched in time for this review.


The great thing about the TX-65CZ952 is that it caters for both pro-grade installations and out-of-the-box simplicity. The latter is delivered by some excellent picture presets. Mike Sowa’s True Cinema mode, in particular, works remarkably effectively with most content, especially movies.
Amateur or pro installers are provided with all the tools they'd need to match any standard they wish to, take into account any room conditions for which they need to cater, or simply to achieve a specific personal preference.
Among the calibration tools on offer are high-level colour management, white balance management, gamma controls, and multiple levels of power for almost every aspect of the TV’s extensive processing. It’s hard to think of anything else Panasonic could have sensibly put at your disposal.
The TX-65CZ952’s pictures are so good and its processing so powerful that it’s actually pretty forgiving where specific settings are concerned. You can even push the brightness high if you want to without having to worry about black levels giving up as they do on LG’s current OLED TVs.
The only things you should definitely do are turn off all noise reduction for native 4K content and good-quality HD sources; leave the set’s motion processing set to its low level, or turn it off entirely; and try to resist the temptation to push colours to the levels of intensity to which you’ll feel tempted.
You’ll actually enjoy the greatest benefit from the screen’s combination of astonishing black levels and pixel-precise luminance if you keep things relatively contained.

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