2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe review: A standout that stands alone

2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe review: A standout that stands alone

The Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe is kind of a standalone offering in the luxury space. Sure, other carmakers build compact and full-size premium coupes, but Mercedes is the only one that sells a two-door in the midsize segment.

Thankfully, the AMG E53 is appealing for much more than its just-right size.

Cool competency

The AMG E53 Coupe is powered by a velvety, yet racy-sounding 3.0-liter, turbocharged, inline-six-cylinder engine. Paired with Mercedes’ EQ Boost mild-hybrid system — which adds 21 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque to the party — the powerplant’s 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque feels like it’s in a hurry to get to the wheels, forcefully shoving turbo lag out of the way.

Mercedes says the E53 scoots to 60 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds, with the help of 4Matic+ all-wheel drive that expertly doles all that thrust to the pavement. On the way up to high speeds, the nine-speed automatic transmission cracks off shifts in a flash, but is glass-smooth when you’re just cruising.

Once the road starts to bend, the Benz continues to rise to the occasion. The steering is weighted just right, with appropriate heft befitting of a powerful car. That said, there isn’t as much feedback through the wheel as you’d expect in a sports car, but for a big luxury coupe with sporty pretensions, I think the level of steering feel is just right.

Easily one of the industry’s best powertrains.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

The 4,000-plus-pound, 190.6-inch-long E53 is an imposing machine, but AMG gave it a proper regimen of dancing lessons. The coupe’s suspension tuning makes the car eager to attack the twisties, with the AMG air suspension keeping body motions at a minimum when I want to chuck the E53 into a tight corner. At the same time, the Mercedes offers a ride that’s always comfortable.

When bringing this big, German slab to a halt, the competency continues. Meaty 14.6-inch brake rotors up front and 14.2-inch units at the rear help the AMG stop with plenty of confidence matched with appropriate pedal modulation.

Even with all its sporty merits, the AMG E53, brings respectable efficiency to the table. According to EPA estimates, the E53 is good for 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg highway. After 419 miles of testing, I fell on the lower end of those figures, netting just 21.9 mpg. But I blame that thirstier figure on the mellifluous straight-six exhaust note that gets louder in the E53’s sportier drive modes, and at the top end of the engine’s rev range.

It’s not my favorite side, but when viewed low from dead ahead, the E53’s nose is fetching and stately.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

In da Club

Mercedes-Benz front fascias aren’t my favorite — to my eyes, they look like swept-back, blob-like headlights flanking an overtly erect grille pair as well as eating an orange after brushing your teeth. (Other Roadshow staffers agree, though it’s worth noting that some think I’m crazy.) Aside from the nose, though, the E53 Coupe’s overall design is handsome. My favorite bits are the graceful roofline arc, the simply sculpted coupe shape and the the rounded-off rear that proves simple taillight designs can still be striking. Despite this car’s healthy stature, there’s only 10 cubic feet of trunk space, but the rear seats are split-folding if you’re looking to fill the extra-spacious rear row.

Step inside the AMG E53, and you’ll be treated to one of the plushest interiors on the market. Two standard 12.3-inch displays — one ahead of the driver and one atop of the center stack — create a future-forward style, complemented by a leather-lined cabin that matches its sumptuous looks with lavish comfort.

The E53’s seats, no matter which one of the four you choose, are endlessly supportive, looking especially fetching in the black-and-red Nappa leather of this test car. The $1,320 massaging front seats certainly aren’t a necessity, but I relished the extra entertainment they offered my astern section during a traffic-riddled, Saturday afternoon drive back to LA from Santa Barbara.

It’s more of an experience than just an interior.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

My ears were plenty entertained, too, thanks to the E53’s optional, 23-speaker Burmester 3D-Surround Sound premium audio system. It’s an impressive setup, for sure, but I’m not convinced it’s worth an extra $4,550 over the standard, 13-speaker Burmester audio system that I’m willing to bet sounds just fine. Still, the upgraded audio is a nice way to fill the E53’s otherwise-tranquil cabin, while also complementing its technology features.

With a starting price of $73,700 plus $995 for destination, the AMG E53 comes with a fair amount of standard tech such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, embedded navigation, HD radio and an SD card reader. Mercedes even throws in wireless device charging, NFC phone pairing and a free month of in-car Wi-Fi.

Standard driver-assistance tech includes car-to-X communication, pedestrian-detecting collision-mitigation braking, blind-spot monitoring, a driver attention monitor and rain-sensing wipers. The E53 also features optional forward cross-traffic collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic alert, evasive steering assist, blind-spot collision prevention, automated lane-changing, a 360-degree camera and automated parallel parking.

My $96,285 tester is pretty much fully loaded. It boasts adaptive cruise control that can pause up to 30 seconds in stopped traffic before canceling, rather than the more common three-second pause. The adaptive cruise control can also adjust its set velocity according to local speed limits and even in anticipation of curves in the road ahead, but my example’s lane-centering tech doesn’t feel as advanced. In fact, I rarely ever keep steering assistance engaged because rather than helping me track clean lines on gently curving highways, the steering assist has a tendency to want to fight me so that it can ping-pong in the lane instead.

The simple rear-end and graceful roofline combine for an alluring rear-three-quarter countenance.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

How I’d spec it

I’d start by upgrading from the standard 19-inch wheels to a set of 20s. For just $750, that’s a reasonable cost of entry into the “rollin’ on dubs” aristocracy. Next, I’d add the $800 exterior lighting package featuring Mercedes’ really cool Multibeam LED headlamps that give you a mesmerizing light show on startup. The headlights also take automatic high-beams to the next level by individually controlling specific LED beams to prevent dazzling drivers ahead.

Adding the $1,050 Warmth & Comfort Package (heated steering wheel, rapid front-seat heating and heated front armrests) necessitates the $1,320 massaging front seats, as well as the $2,990 Nappa upholstery. I’m a sucker for illuminated door sills, so there goes another $350. I’d also spring for Mercedes’ Energizing Comfort Package that can tailor your audio playlist, climate control, ambient lighting and even cabin aroma to suit your mood. The $550 package also includes Air Balance cabin-air purification and ionization. At first, I thought it was a gimmick, but after trying it out for just a few minutes, I fell in love with my sense of smell all over again.

Front seat ventilation adds another $450, while the head-up display will set you back $990. Say “yes” to the $2,250 Driver Assistance Package for the advanced adaptive cruise control and other driver aids. The $1,290 Parking Assistance Package allows the car to automatically parallel park. Last but not least, I’d get the $1,250 AMG Performance Exhaust. That all amounts to $88,735 out the door — $7,550 less than my tester.

No matter which of the six optional 20-inch wheel designs you choose, the upgrade is only $750. That’s refreshingly simple.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

Pampering, not frivolous

The closest competition you might cross-shop against the Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe would be the new BMW M850i or the Lexus LC 500, but those are more competitive with the pricier S-Class Coupe.

The E53 Coupe, meanwhile, can give you much of the satisfaction of the $100,000-plus 8 Series or LC, but for a much lower starting price. Even when well-equipped, you can still save a huge chunk of change with the E53 versus the BMW or Lexus.

Of course, a personal luxury coupe is not the most practical purchase, and to that end, Mercedes makes an E53 sedan, or you can go full-lifestyle-machine and get the E53 Cabriolet. But if you can convince yourself that the E53 allows for serious pampering while saving a bunch of money over a similar luxury rival, that should be enough to quash any feelings of frivolity.

Manuel’s Comparable Picks

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The prospects of American strawberries: Comprehensive review summaries the challenges, needs, and opportunities for strawberry growers

The prospects of American strawberries: Comprehensive review summaries the challenges, needs, and opportunities for strawberry growers

A comprehensive review led by Jayesh Samtani of Virginia Tech and Curt Rom of the University of Arkansas encapsulates an understanding of the challenges, needs, and opportunities of strawberry growers across the United States. Samtani and Rom formed and gathered support from a team of 12 researchers from 10 different states as they embarked on an academic journey designed to generate an effective guideline essential for research, policy, and marketing strategies for the strawberry industry across the country, and to enable the development of general and region-specific educational and production tools.

Their findings are summarized in the article “The Status and Future of the Strawberry Industry in the United States,” an open-access article published in HortTechnology.

The review divides the United States into eight distinct geographic regions, and an indoor controlled or protected environment production system. A common trend across all regions is the increasing use of protected culture strawberry production with both day-neutral and short-day cultivars for season extension to meet consumer demand for year-round availability.

All regions experience challenges with pests and obtaining adequate harvest labor. Increasing consumer demand for berries, climate change-induced weather variability, high pesticide use, labor and immigration policies, and land availability impact regional production.

The United States produces more than 3 billion pounds of strawberries each year, providing almost 20% of the world crop, and is a global leader in production per unit area. The farm gate economic value of strawberries is just shy of $3 billion per year. With that monetary strength, the US production acreage has increased approximately 17% steadily since 1990, with the largest expansion in Florida and California.

US consumption of strawberries has increased significantly during the past 2 decades, from 2 pounds per capita in 1980 to approximately 8 pounds per capita in more recent years. Consumption is expected to continue to increase as a result of increased awareness of the health benefits associated with berry consumption, year-round availability made possible through domestic production and protected berry culture, increased imports, and improved cultivars.

The future of strawberry production will be dictated both by grower production needs and consumer demands for the fruit. The number of growers who have reduced the use of fumigants has increased. In those regions that rely on fumigants to control soil-borne pests and weeds, there is increasing interest in alternative treatments such as the use of steam, enhanced soil solarization, or hot water treatments.

Until the economic viability of these alternative treatments is determined, growers facing pest pressures at their production sites are continuing to use fumigation, despite regulations against it. Automation and robotics to assist with the more labor-intensive tasks of planting, maintaining, and harvesting will be further developed and used to expand both the regions and seasons of production, thus increasing consumer accessibility and reducing the use of pesticides and the corresponding environmental impact.

Samtani adds, “What started off as a discussion and a general idea between myself and Curt Rom certainly progressed into a benchmark review. From its foundation as a USDA-SCRI planning grant proposal (Planning to Increase the Productivity and Competitiveness of Sustainable Strawberry Systems), the initiative gained momentum over time through our exchanges of ideas and thoughts. This culminated into a workshop at the 2017 ASHS Annual Conference. Speakers were carefully identified, ensuring those with sufficient knowledge, experience, and expertise were chosen to represent the different strawberry production regions of the US. We believe that we have provided a great overview of the different strawberry-producing regions of the United States — a topic that has not been investigated and documented at a national level.”

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2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country review: A plush adventure wagon

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country review: A plush adventure wagon

The formula to make station wagons more appealing to SUV-crazed Americans isn’t exactly a secret. Take a regular wagon, add a few inches of ground clearance, staple on a tasteful helping of exterior plastic cladding and, voila, your longroof is instantly more desirable. It’s a blueprint that Volvo has used for its Cross Country models for 20 years, and after spending some time with the 2019 V90 Cross Country, I can say it still works quite well.

Toughen up

The Cross Country’s plastic cladding adds some nice visual toughness to the already stylish V90. From a practicality standpoint, they also provide extra body protection, whether you’re venturing off road or just dodging shopping carts in the urban jungle. Combine that with the simple and strong body lines, a pretty “Thor’s Hammer” headlight treatment and new-for-2019 grille, and the whole package looks smashing.

The pumped-up stance helps, too. A 2.7-inch higher ride height gives the Cross Country more clearance to strike out into the wilderness. While I didn’t travel out to the middle of nowhere to thoroughly test off-pavement capabilities, I did trudge through a winter storm that brought 8 inches of snow to southeast Michigan. Here, the extra height prevents the front lower air dam from doubling as a snow plow.

The Volvo’s standard all-wheel drive system also comes in handy to charge through accumulation and make up for the 19-inch Pirelli Scorpion Verde tires’ not-so-stellar winter-weather performance. Even for an all-season tire, stopping distances are long and grip around turns is disappointing, resulting in lots of tail-wagging action. Thankfully, all-wheel drive does a good job corralling things around corners to keep the Cross Country moving in the desired direction with only a few small steering corrections. If you want, controlled drifts are possible. Not that I’d know anything about that, of course…

On plowed, salted roads, the Cross Country’s comfort-focused chassis tuning is greatly appreciated. With 235/50 series tires, there’s some sidewall to help smooth out most road imperfections, and my tester’s $1,200 rear air suspension makes things a bit cushier, as well. Of course, a more compliant suspension and higher center of gravity does mean that there’s noticeable, but controlled body roll in turns — slightly more than what you’ll get in the regular V90. The steering is lightly weighted and on the vague side, even with the car’s Dynamic mode activated, which is fine and fits the car’s cushier and relaxed vibe.

The Pirelli all-season tires help deliver nice ride comfort, but are lacking in the snow performance department.


Jon Wong/Roadshow

T6 trade-offs

While the base V90 Cross Country comes with the 250-horsepower turbocharged T5 four-cylinder, my tester packs the more potent turbo- and supercharged T6 powerplant. With 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque on tap, there’s no shortage of punch. Volvo claims the 4,180-pound Cross Country hits 60 miles per hour in believable 5.8 seconds. However, I do have issues with how said power is delivered. There’s a noticeable lull at throttle tip-in and then spastic power delivery throughout the rev range. An eight-speed automatic transmission bolts to the complex engine that returns smooths shifts most of the time, but occasionally turns in some rough cog exchanges.

Together the drivetrain receives an EPA estimated fuel economy ratings of 20 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. Unfortunately, I didn’t get an accurate real-world mixed fuel reading. All the snow storm driving and extended warm-up periods in frigid temperatures threw things off, but I still averaged 19.3 mpg — not too far off from the EPA’s city figure.

The turbo- and supercharged T6 engine is potent with 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.


Jon Wong/Roadshow

A comfy, tech-filled cabin

Like the outside, the inside of the Cross Country is simple and stylish. Surroundings are built from quality materials and the design offers just the right amount of flair. A contrasting black and beige two-tone color scheme, open-pore dark walnut wood trim and silver accents provide a truly premium feel. And without question, Volvo seats are the best in the business, possessing good support some initial squish will let you sink into.

A standard panoramic sunroof makes the cabin light and airy, and space in both rows of seats is generous. Being a wagon, cargo capacity is also a strong suit, with 25.5 cubic feet of real estate in the trunk area, which grows to 53.9 cubic feet with the second row folded. I put it to good use during a supply run for the Wong family restaurant, piling in 1,080 eggs, six boxes of t-shirt bags, paper towels, a case of commercial-grade Tide cleaning detergent and a bunch of other eatery odds and ends.

On the tech front, Volvo’s 9-inch, vertically-oriented Sensus touchscreen system takes care of infotainment features. Screen graphics are crisp and the main home screen easily gets you to common menus, with tiles for navigation, audio, phone and one for apps like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Spotify or Pandora.

The V90 Cross Country’s cabin is beautifully trimmed and massively comfortable.


Jon Wong/Roadshow

Things like climate, heated seats and engine stop/start are also controlled through the center screen, which can be distracting as you move through its myriad menus and displays. Disappointingly, Sensus continues to be slow to boot, even with its faster processor, causing me to wait impatiently to turn on the bun warmers, dial up the thermostat and change vent settings during this winter storm. Call me old-fashioned, but a few more buttons and knobs on the center stack to at least control climate would be just fine.

Since it’s a Volvo, the V90 Cross Country’s level of safety tech is robust, with standard adaptive cruise control with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert and rear parking sensors. A $2,500 Advanced Package beefs matters up further with a 360-degree camera, adaptive headlights, head-up display and automatic parallel and perpendicular park assist.

How I’d spec it

I like power just as much as the next guy, but the T6’s wonky delivery is a turn-off. Because of that I’ll take the aforementioned turbo-only T5 in my V90 Cross Country. With $54,940 base price, including $995 for destination, I’d spring for a $645 Magic Blue Metallic paint job and $750 heated rear seat and heated steering wheel package because Midwest winters can be brutal. That takes my ideal car’s price tag to $56,345, substantially undercutting the $62,190 test car you see pictured here.

I’ll take my V90 Cross Country with the base T5 engine.


Jon Wong/Roadshow

A different choice

There’s a lot to like about the Volvo V90 Cross Country. Slightly more all-weather and all-terrain performance with standard all-wheel drive and higher ride height give it capabilities that will rival many crossovers. The taller stance and visual updo help, too. The V90 also boasts plenty of space, luxury and comfort for an always-relaxing ride, no matter the scenario.

That the V90 Cross Country will set you apart from the sea of crossovers and SUVs is another huge selling point. Cars like the Audi A4 Allroad, Buick Regal TourX and Volkswagen Golf Alltrack do this at a lower price, and Volvo will soon sell a Cross Country version of its V60 wagon, too. But if you fancy a big wagon with SUV utility and oodles of luxury, the V90 Cross Country is really the only game in town.

Jon’s Comparable Picks

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Lenovo Legion Y7000P review: Great gaming for a grand

Lenovo Legion Y7000P review: Great gaming for a grand

Last year’s redesigned Lenovo Legion Y530 and Y730 laptops were a couple of my favorites for mainstream gaming. The Legion Y7000P is an offshoot of those two with a bit more gaming flare to the design and, oddly enough, better components than what you can currently get in the higher-end Y730. 

Currently only available in the US through Lenovo’s retail partners, the Y7000P sells for around $1,000 depending on the configuration. The version reviewed here available from Costco combines a midrange Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 and a hexa-core Intel Core i7 processor for $1,100 and includes Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 until the end of April. That converts to approximately £855 or AU$1,550 for reference.  

04-lenovo-legion-y7000p-1060

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For the same price you can get the Y7000P from B&H with less storage than the Costco configuration, but with a 144Hz full-HD display. But you can also find it for less than $900 from NewEgg, but with a GTX 1050. In the long run, though, you’re better off to save up and get the GTX 1060. 

Basically, the Legion Y7000P is a solid value with the CPU/GPU combo I tested when you add in its other specs, display, keyboard and overall build quality. If you want something that’s a step above entry-level gaming, it’s worth tracking down. 

Lenovo Legion Y7000P-1060

Price as reviewed $1,099
Display size/resolution 15.6-inch 1,920×1,080 display
CPU 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H
Memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz
Graphics 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060
Storage 1TB 7,200rpm HDD + 256GB PCIe SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Black and red out, black and gray in

Entry-level gaming laptops seemed to be stuck with the same designs over the past couple years: Black with red accents and a red blacklight for the keyboard along with the WASD keys outlined in red. That started to change late last year, which is when Lenovo originally announced its new Legions. 

The Y530/Y730 looked like a clean black Thinkpad workstation with subtle Legion branding. The Y7000P is a little more aggressive with flared cooling vents and an angular, iron-gray metal lid with a big glowing Y symbol. It’s not over the top, but it’s also not your average thin-and-light laptop, especially not at 5 pounds (2.3 kg). 

11-lenovo-legion-y7000p-1060

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Like its linemates, most of the Y7000P’s ports and power input are on back between those two vents. It’s a good setup for controlling cable clutter, particularly if it’s going to regularly be at a desk connected to an external display, mouse and keyboard. However, it can also be a pain until you remember which port is which. 

There are single USB-A ports on each side and a headphone jack on the left in addition to what’s in the rear, but no SD card slot. That’s a shame given the extra graphics horsepower under its hood. 

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Gigabyte Aero 15 Y9 review: RTX 2080 performance, at a price

Gigabyte Aero 15 Y9 review: RTX 2080 performance, at a price

With last year’s Aero 15X, Gigabyte managed an impressive feat: putting powerful gaming performance and long battery life into a 4.4-pound body. This year, the Taiwanese company is trying to top itself with the Aero 15 Y9, its new flagship laptop. Weighing just a bit more at 4.5 pounds, it’s now equipped with top-of-the-line components: an Intel i9-8950HK 6-core CPU and NVIDIA’s RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU.

The latter component has become rather controversial. NVIDIA revealed that the portable Max-Q version, while packing the same Turing Tu104 chip, is underclocked by up to half that of the desktop RTX 2080 GPU. It comes in an 80-Watt version with a 735-1,095MHz core clock and a faster, more power-hungry 90-Watt variant that runs at 990-1,230MHz. The desktop RTX 2080, meanwhile, runs at 1,515-1,710MHz — over double that of the lower-powered Max-Q version.

So performance and battery life depend on which chip the manufacturer uses and how much it’s overclocked, which brings us back to the Aero 15 Y9. It’s the first RTX 2080 Max-Q laptop we’ve tested, so I was interested to see how Gigabyte handled it. The good news is that performance is definitely better. But it’s not that great a leap and, unfortunately, it’s much costlier. Some of the other defining qualities of the last Aero have been lost, too.

Gallery: Gigabyte Aero 15 Y9 gaming laptop | 38 Photos

Engadget Score


Poor


Uninspiring


Good


Excellent

Key

Pros
  • Very light and slim
  • Top-notch gaming and graphics performance
  • Keyboard and touchpad feel great
  • 4K display is bright and colorful
  • Plenty of ports
Cons
  • Microsoft Azure AI features not that useful yet
  • Low refresh rates for gaming
  • Expensive

Summary

Gigabyte continues to lead the way with powerful yet small gaming laptops. At 4.5 pounds, the Aero 15 Y9 is one of the lightest 15.6-inch models you can buy, but packs a one-two CPU and GPU punch that can knock down any game or graphics creation task. The 4K display is bright and colorful, but limits the battery life and gaming performance compared to 1080p models. Unfortunately, the AI software doesn’t help gaming performance much yet. It’s also expensive, but pricing should be comparable to rival models once they’re released.


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Last year, NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang held up the original Aero 15X as an example of what manufacturers could do with its Max-Q graphics, kickstarting a boom in lightweight, thin-but-powerful gaming laptops. This year, he wielded the Aero 15Y. It’s still just 19 mm thick, but slightly heavier at 4.5 pounds. That’s still pretty impressive considering the new internal parts.

The only RTX 2080 Max-Q model that’s lighter is MSI’s 4.2 pound GS65 Stealth. However, that laptop has a smaller battery, and as you’ll soon find out, that makes a big difference. HP’s Omen 15 packs an RTX 2070 Max-Q and weighs 5.2 pounds, Alienware’s m15 weighs 4.8 pounds, while ASUS’s ROG Zephyrus S, with RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics, weighs just a touch more at 4.6 pounds. None of those weights include the often heavy power brick, of course.

Otherwise, the Gigabyte Aero 15 Y9 has exactly the same low-profile design as the last model, with just a triangular textured area as a nod to its gaming genes. It has tiny bezels, making the laptop smaller than its 15.6-inch screen would suggest, and easily fits into the rear pouch of my Peak Design messenger bag.

Gigabyte Aero 15 Y9 gaming laptop with NVIDIA RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics

The company was wise not to change; the Aero 15X’s design looks smart and won’t be out of place at any office or production house, either. I liked the last model enough to purchase one myself.

There’s quite an array of ports. You get two USB 3.1 ports (5 Gbps), one higher-speed USB 3.1 Gen2 port (10 Gbps), ethernet, one Thunderbolt over USB Type-C, a UHS-II SD card reader, an HDMI 2.0 port and a 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack.

However, the new Aero 15 Y9 also packs DisplayPort 1.4 over USB Type-C, rather than a standalone mini DisplayPort like the Aero 15X. Data speeds are the same, but I had to buy a new cable (USB Type-C to DisplayPort 1.4) to get the best performance out of my HDR display. It’s worth mentioning that all these ports run at their rated speeds (I checked), which is not always the case with laptops.

In Use

Because of the low-key design and high-end components, the Aero 15 Y9 is equally well-suited to gaming and content creation. To be sure, the model I tested had top-drawer specs. It packs a six-core Intel Core i9-8950H CPU, 2TB Intel 760p NVMe SSD, 32GB of RAM (upgradeable to 64GB), NVIDIA RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics, a 94 Wh battery and a 4K 60Hz display. Gigabyte will eventually release a similar model with a 1080p 144Hz screen that will no doubt be more suitable for gaming and have a (much) longer battery life.

Gigabyte Aero 15 Y9 gaming laptop with NVIDIA RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics

While gaming in 4K, I consistently saw speeds of 29 fps on Shadow of the Tomb Raider with graphics settings on “highest.” I achieved similar results with Hitman 2, and subjectively, both games played fairly smoothly with little stuttering or tearing. At 1080p with the same settings, both games hit 60 fps, maxing out the sync rate on the laptop’s display. That’s not bad, but is about 33 percent less than the 45 fps you can get at 4K with the desktop RTX 2080 card. The GTX 1080 Max-Q can run the same benchmark at around 22 fps, so the RTX 2080 Max-Q is about 30 percent faster.

The most notable new feature other than the hardware is AI Gaming+ & Professional+. When you game or run graphics software, it uses cloud-powered AI (either from Gigabyte or Microsoft’s Azure) to adjust the performance and computer-fan speeds to optimize gaming frame rates. In practice, running the Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark, I found it increased 4K frame rates by a single frame or two per second in either mode.

There’s no way to control it, only run it in “edge” (Gigabyte), “cloud” (Microsoft) or disabled mode. Given the minor performance gains, it wasn’t particularly useful. However, it’s supposed to learn and get smarter over time, so perhaps it’ll improve down the road.

As for the vaunted ray-tracing (RT), I was only able to use it on one game: Battlefield V. You nee a very specific PC setup that includes the latest version of Windows 10 (build 1806) and recent NVIDIA drivers. I’m all about the pretty graphics, and ray-tracing does deliver — at times — with reflections, realistic lighting and more atmospheric gameplay. A recent NVIDIA patch delivers improved RT performance on Battlefield V, and I found I could game smoothly at 1080p and below. At 4K, there was quite a bit of stuttering and lag with the feature enabled, unfortunately.

Gigabyte, like many laptop makers, uses NVIDIA’s Optimus system, which switches between the Intel Iris 630 and discrete graphics to balance performance and battery life. If you use your laptop with an external monitor via the HDMI or DisplayPort, it will be powered exclusively by the NVIDIA graphics. That means you can hook up an external monitor with a higher refresh rate and benefit from better speeds and features like HDR and NVIDIA’s G-SYNC.

PCMark 7 PCMark 8 (Creative Accelerated) 3DMark 11 3DMark (Sky Diver) ATTO (top reads/writes)
Gigabyte Aero 15 Y9 (2019) (2.9 – 4.8Ghz Intel i9-8950HK, NVIDIA RTX 2080 Max-Q) 7,305 7,989 E25,007 / P20,589 / X9,138 37,665 2.6GB/s / 1.46GB/s
Alienware m15 (2018) (2.2GHz – 4.1Ghz Intel i7-8750H, NVIDIA GTX 1070 Max-Q) 6,276 5,293 E22,298 / P17,118 / X7,100 35,991 2.56GB/s / 432MB/s
Alienware 15 (2017) (2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ, NVIDIA GTX 1070) 6,847 7,100 E17,041 / P16,365 20,812 2.9GB/s / 0.9GB/s
Razer Blade (2018) (2.2GHz – 4.1GHz Intel i7-8750H, NVIDIA GTX 1070 Max-Q) 6,699 5,434 E17,833 / P15,371 / X 6,760 29,932 2.1GB/s / 1.3GB/s
MSI GS65 Stealth Thin (2.2GHz – 4.1GHz Intel i7-8750H, NVIDIA GTX 1070 Max-Q) 6,438 5,696 E20,969 / P15,794 / X6,394 32,288 542MB/s / 482MB/s
Gigabyte Aero 15X 2018 (2.2GHz – 4.1GHz Intel i7-8750H, NVIDIA GTX 1070 Max-Q) 6,420 6,558 E18,920 / P15,130 / X6,503 30,270 2.4GB/s / 1.5GB/s
ASUS ROG Zephyrus (2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ, NVIDIA GTX 1080) 6,030 7,137 E20,000 / P17,017 / X7,793 31,624 3.4GB/s / 1.64GB/s

The 4K AUO screen is pretty nice. It covers 100 percent of the Adobe RGB gamut and is factory calibrated using Pantone settings. I found it worked well for watching movies, gaming and content creation with accurate colors. However, unlike upcoming OLED screen models from Dell and HP, it can’t handle HDR. At 283 nits, the display is moderately, but not incredibly, bright. Still, if you love 4K resolution, like me, Netflix films and games looked incredibly sharp, and color-wise, everything was nice and punchy.

Apart from the higher-resolution display, the GPU is another attractive element for video editors and graphics pros. The RTX 2080 is the first NVIDIA GPU to support full RGB 4K 10-bit H.265 HEVC decoding, which should eventually make YouTube playback and H.265 video editing smoother.

NVIDIA also joined forces with RED to support playback of 8K video files, which will make video editing and effects a lot less of a pain. I tried downloading one myself (courtesy of Phil Holland), along with RED’s Redcine X, and can confirm that I was able to play a full-fat 8K RED video clip, which is slightly insane on a laptop.

Gigabyte Aero 15 Y9 video editing

It also felt a lot faster than my similarly equipped Aero 15X for video editing. I shot this video in 10-bit 4K and exported the color corrected clips at 1080p faster than in real time. Exports in general seemed a lot faster than on my GTX 1080 Max-Q Aero 15X laptop, and for video pros, that’s a huge time-saver. It also fairly flew for displaying and rendering 3D animations using Autodesk’s 3DS Max software.

The Aero 15 Y9 got slightly less hot than my Aero 15X, aided by the dual fans that duct air down and away. I was able to set it on my lap during gaming sessions, and it never got uncomfortably warm. The new model was also slightly quieter, with fan noise reduced except for the most challenging gaming and graphics rendering tasks.

As for typing and mousing, I liked the keyboard on my Aero 15X, so I’m pleased that it hasn’t changed on the new model. Gigabyte did fix the trackpad, thankfully, and it was less stiff and more accurate than the one before. It’s actually pretty good now, and unfortunately, that’s more than you can say for most Windows laptops.

Gigabyte Aero 15 Y9 (2019) 3:30
Alienware m15 (2018) 8:30
Razer Blade (2018) 8:50
MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 7:01
Gigabyte Aero 15X (2018) 7:45
ASUS ROG Zephyrus 1:50
Alienware 15 (2017) 4:31

In our battery rundown tests, in which an HD video was looped until power ran out, the Aero 15 Y9 ran for three and a half hours. While that might seem sad next to the previous model, which lasted for nearly eight hours, it’s typical for laptops with 4K displays. Calculating and pushing quadruple the pixels takes a great toll on battery life, and the screens hog a lot of power. As mentioned, Gigabyte will soon release a 1080p version with a much faster 144Hz refresh rate version of the Aero 15 Y9, and it should last a lot longer on a single charge.

Rather than using Dolby Atmos for audio, like before, the latest model features Nahimic 3D audio for gamers. That won’t make a huge difference, as Dolby Atmos on laptops is nothing like it is on a true home-theater system — it’s more about branding than anything else. The two-watt external speakers still pack tin-can quality, with bass just a distant dream.

Gigabyte Aero 15 Y9 gaming laptop with NVIDIA RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics

As you might expect given the components, the Aero 15 Y9 is expensive. If you wanted the same loadout that I’ve tested, it will cost you $3,999, while the base version of the Aero 15 Y9, with a 144Hz 1080p display, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB NVMe SSD is $2,700. Those sums are beyond the means of most gamers, but in reach for many content creators who earn a living with their computers.

Stepping down to the Aero 15 X9 will save you a decent sum. It comes with RTX 2070 Max-Q graphics, an Intel Core i7-8750H CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB NVMe SSD and a 1080p 144Hz screen starting at $2,400. For that model, expect a mild drop in performance, but it should be a touch faster than a GTX 1080 Max-Q laptop. By comparison, last year’s Aero 15X started at $2,200.

With prices like that, the Gigabyte Aero 15 series is clearly not for everyone. However, it’s competitive against other RTX models like Razer’s new Blade model, which starts at $2,999 with an RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU and will probably be about the same as the Aero 15 Y9 with similar components. Other models from Dell, Alienware, ASUS and MSI will likely fall in that range, as this has become an ultra-competitive category.

Wrap-up

Gigabyte Aero 15 Y9 NVIDIA RTX 2080 Max-Q

As the first RTX 2080 Max-Q notebook we’ve had a chance to review, Gigabyte’s Aero 15 Y9 really showed us the best — and worst — of modern gaming laptops. On one hand, it’s awesome that I can get so much power in a portable device, letting me game, watch movies and work wherever I go. However, the pricing keeps going up and the performance gains are getting smaller and smaller. We’ve now reached a point where we’re quibbling over a feature like ray-tracing, which only works on one single game.

That’s not Gigabyte’s fault, though. It took the components it had and made a well-designed, fast and lightweight laptop that can grind through the most challenging games and content-creation chores. The company made it even better with tweaks to the touchpad and elsewhere, and the only shortcoming in this particular model (or any 4K laptop) is the battery life. It’s also costly, but again, the price should hold up to rivals. Overall, the Aero 15 Y9 is an easy laptop to recommend.

All products recommended by Engadget were selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company, Verizon Media. If you buy something through one of our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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2019 Kia Niro review: A frugal and functional hybrid crossover

2019 Kia Niro review: A frugal and functional hybrid crossover

Even in the crowded compact crossover class, the Kia Niro stands alone. Why? It’s the only one that comes standard with electrification. And in addition to the hybrid model tested here, Kia offers its Niro with plug-in power, or as a fully electric vehicle with an estimated 239 miles of range.

The Niro shares its underpinnings with the Hyundai Ioniq, which is a more traditional Prius fighter. But thanks to its crossover shape and extra cargo space, the Niro presents itself to be a much more compelling hybrid package.

Slow and steady

The Niro is powered by a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that works in concert with a 1.56-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery to produce 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. In a subcompact crossover that weighs about 3,300 pounds, that’s simply not enough. Driving up steep sections of the Grapevine on Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles, I had to dig deep into the throttle in order to keep pace in traffic.

The silver lining to that sluggishness, however, is fuel economy. The most efficient Niro FE is EPA-rated for 52 miles per gallon in the city and 49 mpg highway. My top-of-the-range Niro Touring tester’s 2-inch-larger wheels and nearly 200-pound-heavier curb weight reduce fuel economy quite a bit, though, to 46/40 city/highway mpg. After 12 days and 1,209 miles, most of which were spent on the highway, I averaged 41 mpg.

The Niro’s hybrid powertrain is anemic on the highway.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

The lack of power isn’t quite as noticeable off the highway, the electric assist offering short bursts of torque for off-the-line acceleration. The six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission is good at fading into the background, but takeoffs can sometimes be jerky, and the shifts lack the characteristic quickness you’ll find in dual-clutch units from other automakers.

The rest of the Niro’s driving qualities are well-sorted, just as they are in the Ioniq I recently tested. On twisty back roads, the direct steering helps the hybrid feel nimble. The suspension expertly keeps body roll in check, while soaking up bumps with aplomb, and the brakes bring everything smoothly back to rest, free from the maligned regenerative lurch sometimes found in other hybrids.

Curiously, the Niro is a front-wheel-drive-only affair, so if you’re looking for something a little more all-weather-capable, you may have to look elsewhere.

Decent-quality materials and supportive seats make for a well-sorted cabin.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

Nice digs

Although the Kia Niro shares a platform with the Hyundai Ioniq hatchback, the Niro has a more interesting-looking interior with higher-quality materials. On a six-hour drive from LA to San Francisco, the Niro’s seats offer plenty of comfort. With a generous (for a subcompact crossover) 106.3-inch wheelbase, there’s plenty of room to stretch out, whether you’re seated up front or in back. There’s also plenty of breathing room for cargo with 19.4 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, and 54.5 cubic feet with the back seats folded.

The spacious, comfortable and quiet cabin is complemented by plenty of standard tech. The Niro is equipped right out of the gates with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 7-inch touchscreen. Satellite radio and a six-speaker stereo also come standard. In fully stocked Touring trim, you get an 8-inch touchscreen with embedded navigation that’s simple to use though Kia’s voice-command system. The Touring also bundles an eight-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system, HD radio and wireless phone charging.

When it comes to safety tech, no advanced driver-assistance systems come standard, but with a starting price of $23,490 (plus $995 for destination), I’m not mad about that. My fully loaded ($33,245 including destination) Touring, however, comes with adaptive cruise control that works above 5 mph, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, plus parking sensors front and rear.

Just like its Hyundai Ioniq sibling, fully loaded is the way to go with the Niro.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

How I’d spec it

My Niro tester’s Deep Cerulean paint got several compliments, but I’d opt for the Runway Red instead, which costs an extra $295. That’s the only change I’d make. Otherwise, the Niro Touring has all the equipment I like in a car, such as HID headlights, keyless access, a sunroof, auto-dimming mirror, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, driver’s seat memory and a heated steering wheel. All in, we’re looking at $33,540 out the door.

After a couple of years on the market, the Kia Niro still offers a compelling package. But with all-wheel-drive rivals like the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid and the Toyota Prius AWD-e entering the market, the Niro might have to step up its game just a little to keep buyers interested.

Manuel’s Comparable Picks

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2019 Ford F-150 Raptor review: The off-road truck that does it all

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor review: The off-road truck that does it all

You might imagine that we at Roadshow spend all our time driving performance cars at full throttle. That couldn’t be further from the truth, especially in winter, when our Midwest contingent instead spends its time dodging potholes, avoiding snowdrifts and watching for black ice. Yet there is, it turns out, one performance vehicle that’s just as much fun during the onset of the Polar Vortex as any other time: the Ford F-150 Raptor. The go-anywhere and get-there-fast pickup truck enters the 2019 model year with a handful of changes that make it, almost unbelievably, even more capable.

21st century suspension

The biggest change since our last in-depth review of a Ford F-150 Raptor is the addition of clever electronically controlled shock absorbers. The Fox Racing Live Valve shocks’ damping curves can be adjusted in real time by the Raptor’s onboard computers. As Roadshow Executive Editor Chris Paukert discovered last fall, that makes the truck even better able to bounce and bound around off-road — especially given that new Jump Mode control logic tweaks the shocks to better cope with departures and arrivals from terra firma.

Even the hardiest Raptor driver, however, will have to spend some time on asphalt, and it’s there that the Fox suspension seems to have had the greatest effect. Where the last Raptor I drove listed like a sailboat around bends, the 2019 model exhibits remarkably solid body control that provides a whole lot more confidence on the road. The adaptive shock absorbers essentially avoid that traditional compromise of off-road trucks, which is that the soft suspension settings you need to handle rocks and bumps result in a vague and wallowing ride-and-handling mix.

Still, I had hoped the shock absorbers’ adjustability might have tamed the truck’s ride. The big F-150 still hops and skips over road imperfections; loading up the bed to take advantage of all 1,200 pounds of my tester’s payload ability would, as in any pickup, smooth out the ride somewhat. At least with massive BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A K02 tires, in size 315/70 R17, there’s never any worry you’ll burst a tire on Metro Detroit’s annual midwinter potholes.

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

These shock absorbers are key to how the Raptor performs both on pavement and out in the middle of nowhere.


Jake Holmes/Roadshow

Effortless performance

There are no tweaks under the hood this year, and that’s just fine. The F-150 Raptor’s unique tune of Ford’s familiar 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 is burly and powerful, with 450 horsepower and a huge 510 pound-feet of torque, the latter available from just 3,500 rpm. Couple that with the well-behaved and quick-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission and the Raptor accelerates with a ferocity that belies its 5,697-pound curb weight.

The Raptor really hauls, with big speed and a tremendous, bassy bellow from its exhausts. Sure, the exhaust note is not as thrilling to listen to as the first Raptor’s 6.2-liter V8, but it’s still got all the noise and aggression you could want from a tough truck. Giant metal paddle shifters feel great and elicit instant gearchanges, but frankly the 10-speed automatic is responsive enough I rarely used them.

Driving modes, selectable from steering-wheel buttons, make further changes to the throttle and transmission mapping, as well as adjusting the four-wheel-drive system and the suspension. Normal and Sport are, of course, the ones most appropriate for street use, but it’s awfully tempting to select Baja and charge across the nearest snow-covered field.

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

It’s hard to fault the omnipresent torque delivery of the twin-turbo engine.


Jake Holmes/Roadshow

Yes, it’s still a truck

Speaking of which, the 2019 F-150 Raptor still does all of the truck stuff you expect of a vehicle with a pickup bed. My tester, a SuperCrew model, is rated to tow 8,000 pounds (the SuperCab can tow 6,000 pounds and has a 1,000-lb. payload rating). It comes standard with four-wheel drive with a low range, and you can even order it with beadlock wheels for serious, low-pressure off-road use. Other important numbers include 11.5 inches of ground clearance, a healthy 30.2-degree approach angle, a 23-degree departure angle and 21.8 inches of breakover.

Another addition for the 2019 model year is Trail Control, which is essentially cruise control for off-road use. It’s an evolution of hill-descent control that allows drivers to set a speed and then focus on steering; Trail Control handles acceleration and braking to keep you at the chosen velocity. It’ll work in any driving mode at speeds between 1 and 20 miles per hour.

To keep tabs on your off-roading adventures, a page in the digital trip computer can show details on the modes of the truck’s shock absorbers and steering, while another displays pertinent inclination angle details. An optional forward-facing camera, with its own washer nozzle to keep it clean on the trail, is as useful for tight parking lots as it is for inspecting obstacles ahead of the Raptor’s enormous hood.

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

In-car tech includes blind-spot monitoring, a 360-degree camera, touchscreen infotainment and 4G LTE Wi-Fi.


Jake Holmes/Roadshow

It looks the part

That enormous hood is part of what gives the Ford Raptor such a commanding presence on the road. The big wheels, raised stance, functional skid plates and enormous fender flares make this far tougher than your chrome-trimmed F-150 Lariat; a unique front bumper not only permits a glance at the suspension components and orange Fox shock absorbers but also provides more clearance off-road. Along with other details, like various vents, Raptor badges and the big exhausts and it’s no surprise that during my testing a stranger at a gas station, unsolicited, stopped to say, “That thing looks like a beast!”

Ford’s designers likewise do a nice job of upfitting the F-150’s cabin for Raptor duty, with nicely bolstered seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel that sports a racy red center stripe. Recaro seats with blue accents are newly available for 2019 but were not fitted to my tester; they’d likely be a must-have upgrade if you’re regularly doing the sort of off-pavement adventures that’ll jostle you around in the standard seats.

Other features include an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system running Ford’s excellent Sync 3 software, with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A built-in 4G LTE modem can provide a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 10 devices. The infotainment system responds to inputs promptly and its menu structure is simple to comprehend. More information is available in the digital trip computer: stuff as simple as tire pressures and trip information, or as detailed as engine boost and oil temperatures or the aforementioned off-roading gauges. Still, my Raptor test truck was not overloaded with modern gadgets: It still has a traditional key, rather than push-button start, and lacks any active safety technology besides blind-spot monitoring.

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

This Raptor-specific front bumper provides more clearance and allows for a better view of the tire and suspension.


Jake Holmes/Roadshow

A beast in every sense of the word

At times it feels excessive to use the big Ford truck in places that are not, say, wide-open deserts. At 86.3 inches wide, the Raptor barely fits between the lines in most parking spaces, and at 19 feet, 4 inches long, my SuperCrew tester always stuck out beyond the edge of them. It’s thirsty, too, with the EPA rating the truck for just 15 miles per gallon city and 18 mpg highway on premium fuel. If you’re not planning on escaping the suburbs and using it to its full potential, well, the Raptor is probably overkill. Then again, isn’t that also true of the carbon-fiber, 200-mile-per-hour supercars we praise for their track prowess?

Unlike the rest of the 2019 Ford F-150 lineup, which has myriad bed and cab options, the Raptor is very simple to configure. All models come with four-wheel drive and a short (5.5-foot) bed, with buyers able to choose only between SuperCab (2+2 doors) and SuperCrew (four full-size doors). Pricing for the former starts at $54,450 with destination. My tester rings in at $62,915 after a handful of options, including LED puddle lights, a spray-in bedliner, a tailgate step (essential, give how high off the ground the Raptor rides) and heated, powered leather seats. Yep, that’s expensive, but remember again that the Raptor can perform on paved roads, on the trails and for traditional towing and hauling truck tasks. You get a lot of utility for the money.

The 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor makes a big impression not only because it can do so much, but also because there’s nothing else quite like it. Scroll down to the “Comparable Picks” box, for instance, and you’ll see that no other pickup truck quite blends this speed, off-road performance and overall capability. That specialness alone is a big part of what makes Ford’s beefy truck so alluring to enthusiasts.

So, maybe you want the Raptor because it looks and sounds cool. Maybe you want it as a no-questions-asked on-road performer. Maybe you’re going to take it blasting through the desert or charging over muddy trails. No matter your demand, the Raptor can handle it.

Jake’s Comparable Picks

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2019 Hyundai Santa Fe XL review: Dated, but still plenty relevant

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe XL review: Dated, but still plenty relevant

Poor Santa Fe XL. Despite getting a new name for 2019, it’s actually the old version of Hyundai’s Santa Fe crossover. Its five-passenger counterpart got a complete redesign for this year, and the XL will soon be replaced by the brand-new 2020 Hyundai Palisade later this year.

But despite existing on borrowed time, and being long in the tooth, it has a silver lining to its story. For folks who need a well-rounded, three-row SUV, the Santa Fe XL is still remarkably compelling.

Touchy first impression

The Santa Fe XL is powered by a 3.3-liter V6 with 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque sent through a six-speed automatic transmission. My top-trim Limited Ultimate tester sends power to its front wheels, but all-wheel drive is available.

In fact, all-wheel drive is the setup I’d prefer. The V6 engine offers plenty of low-end torque which, combined with a sensitive throttle, means it’s easy to chirp the tires pulling away from a stoplight. A better distribution of power might make for smoother off-the-line starts.

But with a careful right foot, the Santa Fe XL reveals itself to be a smooth operator. The big Santa Fe feels more like a plush luxury sedan than a tall crossover, thanks to its well-sorted suspension. The Hyundai’s ride quality comes close to rivaling the Lexus ES 300h I tested recently.

Solid powertrain the Santa Fe XL’s got here.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

But smooth-riding as it is, the Santa Fe XL, feels out of sorts when I elevate the pace. Body roll is noticeable, a reminder of this thing’s sheer size. The Honda Pilot is more composed when driven in a hurry but still offers a compliant ride.

Everything else about the Santa Fe XL’s driving experience is just fine. The steering is nicely weighted, while reasonably direct and accurate in its response. The brake pedal is well-modulated, too. Highway passing power is respectable. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and feels eager to drop down on the freeway, but fades into the background when I’m just cruising along.

At 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg highway, the Santa Fe XL is one of the less-efficient three-row crossovers on the market, according to the EPA, but my mileage fared better than the government’s estimates. After a tank of mostly highway miles, I saw 26.6 mpg.

While the exterior still looks with the times, the interior is ripe for a redesign.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

Fresh outside, dated inside

Even though the Santa Fe XL is long in the tooth, I still find it rather attractive. Inside, it’s a different story, though I can’t say the cabin is poorly designed. The quality of materials is appropriate for a midsize SUV, and there’s ample space in the first and second rows. That said, the third row is cramped, and the story only gets worse when you venture into the cargo hold to find just 13.5 cubic feet of space with all the seats raised.

So, yes, you can carry up to seven occupants in the Santa Fe XL, but good luck finding room for all their stuff. Competitors like the Chevy Traverse, Ford Explorer and Volkswagen Atlas offer more than 20 cubic feet behind their third rows, as well as more cargo room behind their first and second rows. At least the Santa Fe can tow up to 5,000 pounds, just like those other SUVs.

Getting the Hyundai’s back seats folded is a breeze. The third row disappears in an instant after tugging at a couple of straps, and the middle row is just as easily leveled with the simple pull of a lever at the side of each captain’s chair. Power-folding rear seats are nice, but nothing beats the simplicity — and speed — of conventional folding.

My tester’s touchscreen is an inch larger than the standard unit, and includes embedded navigation to boot.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

Baked-in modern tech

The base Santa Fe XL SE comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 7-inch touchscreen. HD and satellite radio also come standard with a six-speaker stereo. That’s a lot more standard kit than many of the Santa Fe XL’s competitors.

Conversely, Hyundai is rather stingy with the driver-assistance tech. If you want pedestrian-detecting collision-mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and adaptive headlights with automatic high-beams, not only do you need to step up to the $39,550 Limited Ultimate trim, but then you have to elect for the $2,100 Tech Package.

How I’d spec it

The Santa Fe XL starts at $30,850, but even all decked out, the Santa Fe XL falls on the cheaper side of the three-row crossover segment. That in mind, I’d go all out, and start with the top Limited Ultimate trim, which comes with 19-inch wheels and keyless access. Inside, there’s push-button start, a panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, memory driver’s seat, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row captain’s chairs, an upgraded 8-inch touchscreen with embedded navigation, Infinity premium audio system and a hands-free power liftgate out back.

The Santa Fe’s Achilles’ heel lies in its cargo capacity that can’t measure up to others in the class.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

The top trim also features standard blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors and a 360-degree camera. Of course, I’d add the aforementioned Tech Package, and all-wheel drive for $1,750. With every box checked, we’re looking at $44,445 out the door.

Not to be overlooked

The Hyundai Santa Fe XL is kind of a lame duck crossover at this point. Soon, we’ll have the all-new Palisade to woo American three-row crossover consumers.

But despite this inherent obsolescence, the Santa Fe XL still holds up really well. It’s nicely appointed and enjoyable to drive. And with a base price that undercuts many of its toughest competitors, it’s still a perfectly good way to get three-row utility in 2019.

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TCL S325 Roku TV review: Small size and price, superior streaming

TCL S325 Roku TV review: Small size and price, superior streaming

The trend in TVs today is bigger and bigger screen sizes, and I’m the first reviewer to tell you get a larger TV. For years my TV buying guide has included the following line: “Bigger is better: More than any other ‘feature,’ stepping up in TV screen size is the best use of your money.”

But what if money is tight? What if you can’t fit a 55-inch TV in that spot? What if a 32- or 40-inch TV — positively puny by today’s standards — is plenty?

If that’s the case for you, start with the TCL S325 series, reviewed here along with its larger brother the S425. 

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Their picture quality is mediocre. They can’t compete with more expensive sets for black-level performance, contrast or pop. If you want a home theater-worthy image in a budget set, start with the Vizio E-Series. Unfortunately, it’s not available in sizes under 43 inches. Put another way: Don’t expect great image quality in any TV under 43 inches.

On the other hand, mediocre might be good enough for you, especially if you’re buying a smaller set for secondary viewing or you just want the cheapest smart TV you can get. As long as you don’t expect too much, you might be perfectly satisfied with a TCL 3- or 4-Series, especially for the price. And if nothing else, I predict you’ll like its built-in Roku.

TCL 3- and 4-Series sizes and models

There are a lot of different models in these series, so before we get into it, here’s a breakdown.

TCL 3- and 4-Series TVs (2017-2019)

32-inch 40-inch 43-inch 49-inch 50-inch 55-inch 65-inch
S305 (2017, HD) 32S305 40S305 43S305 49S305
S325 (2019, HD) 32S325 40S325 43S325 49S325
S405 (2017, 4K HDR) 43S405 49S405 55S405 65S405
S425 (2018 and 2019, 4K HDR) 43S425 49S425 50S425 55S425 65S425

Even though the oldest TVs are from 2017, TCL told CNET that the only difference between them and the 2018/2019 models is in cosmetic design. They have the same picture quality and features. (These models are not available in the UK and Australia.)

We’ve reviewed the S305 and S405 in 2017 and for this review we compared them with two new 2019 review samples, the 43-inch 43S325 and the 50-inch 50S425. Yes, the cosmetics are slightly different, with the newer sets having black stand legs instead of silver, and slightly different frames around the picture. We also saw some minor differences in image quality (see below for details). But overall not much has changed in two years, and the CNET ratings are the same for all of them.

In other words, you’re fine buying the 2017 (S305 and S405) versions for as long as they remain on the market. TCL’s representative said they’d be slowly phased out and replaced by the newer models (S325 and S425) this year.

04-tcl-s325-s425-series

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Sarah Tew/CNET

4K HDR in 40 and 43 inches: Not worth the extra $$$

Here’s where I mention that the S305 and S325 models have 720p in the 32-inch size, and 1080p resolution (aka full HD) in the 40- and 43-inch sizes, and they can’t do high dynamic range (HDR). Meanwhile the S405 and S425 models have 4K resolution and HDR capability.

As you can see on the chart, for most sizes there’s no overlap: The 32- and 40-inch sizes are HD only, while the 50-, 55- and 65-inch sizes are 4K HDR only. Most people choose a TV size first, then worry about everything else, so there’s not much of a choice in those sizes.

Where sizes overlap (43- and 49-inch) there’s typically a $30 to $70 difference. For most buyers in this price range, I don’t think it’s worth paying that difference. You’re better off saving the money and getting the 1080p, HD, non-HDR versions instead of the 4K HDR versions. Yes, you could see some improvement in image quality with some 4K HDR material, but it will be minor at best. See the image quality section below for more.

11-tcl-s325-s425-series

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The Roku TV remote is simple.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku reigns

The best thing about the 3- and 4-Series TVs is built-in Roku. It gives you dead-simple access to just about every streaming app available, including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Sling TV, Pluto TV and more.

Since the apps are built in, you can get to them faster and more easily than via an external streamer, which requires switching inputs and probably juggling a second remote. Of course you can connect other gear (like game consoles or Blu-ray players) to these Roku TVs too, and they have some cool features for people who use an over-the-air antenna to get free TV.

Roku TV’s main competitor is Amazon’s Fire TV Edition sets by Toshiba and Insignia. Amazon has its advantages, especially when it comes to voice control with Alexa. But I still like the Roku platform better overall because its menu system is more neutral — it doesn’t force-feed you Amazon Prime TV shows and movies.

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David Katzmaier {authorlink}
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Honor View 20 review: Pretty and (mostly) premium

Honor View 20 review: Pretty and (mostly) premium

“Glamorous” isn’t the first word that springs to mind when thinking of Honor smartphones, but to my surprise, it actually fits the Honor View 20 quite well. And why shouldn’t it? With an eye-catching design, an ambitious camera and one of the world’s first widely available hole-punch displays, the View 20 seems well-equipped to take on rival devices from companies like OnePlus and Xiaomi. The fact that it only costs around $600 is just icing on the cake.

Engadget Score


Poor


Uninspiring


Good


Excellent

Key

Pros
  • Excellent design and build quality
  • Multi-day battery life
  • Mostly great performance
  • Proves hole-punch displays aren’t terrible
  • AI Ultra Clarity photos are impressively detailed
Cons
  • Huawei’s software still needs polish
  • Display has some touch latency
  • Questionable US launch plans
  • No water resistance or wireless charging
  • Regular camera experience

Summary

Despite a price tag far lower than that of high-end flagship phones, Huawei’s Honor View 20 packs a handful of forward-looking features that some people will be able to use right away. There’s that 6.4-inch display that proves that life with hole-punched screens won’t be so bad. And the 48-megapixel dual camera system has lots of potential (especially its super-crisp Ultra Clarity mode), even if it’s only just OK in most situations. There’s no shortage of power here either, thanks to Huawei’s Kirin 980 chipset, and you almost certainly won’t be in trouble if you forget to charge your View 20 once in a while. All told, the View 20 is a tantalizing package for the price, and one that’s well worth looking into if you don’t mind occasionally odd software, minimal water resistance, and don’t live in the US.


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Of course, not everyone will get the chance to use one. Honor, if you’re not familiar, is a brand built and owned by Huawei, the Chinese electronics giant that’s currently facing serious legal pressure from the United States government. Huawei’s plans to bring the Honor View 20 to the US were pretty nebulous even before those lawsuits were filed, and at this point, we’d be surprised if this phone made an official appearance in North America anytime soon. That’s too bad. Smartphone makers of all stripes are busy making premium devices with more reasonable price tags, but few of them pack the allure and technical savvy that the View 20 does.

Hardware & Design

We’re suckers for pretty hardware, and the View 20 definitely fits the bill. It doesn’t take long for the phone’s design to suck you in, either: the first thing you’ll notice is the phone’s gleaming glass back, engineered so that light refracts in a signature V pattern. I’m a fan (especially of the red model Honor didn’t give us), though I can see how it would come off a little gaudy to some. Say what you will about Huawei, but few smartphone makers are as ambitious when it comes to crafting new finishes. That glass back also houses the snappy rear-mounted fingerprint sensor and a whopper of a dual camera.

Honor View 20 review

And of course, we need to talk about this display. The race is on to eliminate the dead space around smartphone screens, and if 2018 was the year of the notch, 2019 is gearing up to be the year of the hole-punch. The cut-out houses a 25-megapixel front-facing camera and, like notches before it, you’ll almost certainly stop noticing it before long. And naturally, it takes up much less space than a “traditional” notch — having a screen that stretches entirely across the phone’s face is worth the mild weirdness of seeing a hole cut out of a corner.

It helps that Huawei has generally done a good job making sure the camera hole never really gets in the way. Icons that pop up in the notification bar are shifted slightly to the right, and in general, the software here is smart enough to keep the hole from obscuring crucial UI elements. If it turns out the hole really isn’t your thing, though, it can be obscured entirely with a black bar.

Gallery: Honor View 20 review | 11 Photos

As novel as this notch-less design is, the 6.4-inch IPS panel that actually surrounds that camera hole leaves us with a little less to get excited about. This LCD runs at 2310 x 1080, and while it’s far from the most outright impressive screen I’ve ever used, it has been pleasant enough in day-to-day use. During my week of testing, I never had trouble reading or framing up photos on the View 20 in broad daylight, and its colors are seriously punchy for an LCD, too. In fact, the point some would argue they’re a little too punchy — thankfully, there are options to tune the color mode and temperature.

So yeah, the View 20 is a striking device to behold. More importantly, the phone is remarkably comfortable to use. Other devices in this price range, like the excellent OnePlus 6T, feature glass backs and slim edges that make the phone more difficult to grip. The View 20’s edges are a little thicker, and for me at least, it makes a noticeable difference in stability. Rounding out the package is a decent single speaker that suffers from the same issue as most phone speakers: it’s decently loud but lacks any depth. But, rejoice! Huawei included a standard headphone jack.

The biggest knock against the View 20’s hardware is its of lack of wireless charging and IP-rated water and dust resistance. I can forgive the former, but as someone who has drowned at least one phone just by running in the rain, Huawei’s promises of splash resistance don’t fill me with much confidence.

In use

The View 20 has much more going for it than just good looks. Tucked inside is one of Huawei’s 980 chipsets, that delivers serious speed /and/ really impressive battery life. Overall performance depends on what version of the View 20 you’re working with, though: our review unit has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, while the less-expensive base model ships in a 6GB/128GB configuration.

As a result, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that this version of the View 20 generally runs like a dream. My daily routine has never proved to be much trouble for high-powered devices like this; at any given time, you’ll probably find me firing off messages, playing music in Spotify, triaging my Gmail account and more. If anything, the View 20 got more of a workout once the work ended.

When digging into some truly embarrassing PUBG and Fortnite matches, the Kirin 980 and its Mali G76 GPU kept things running incredibly smoothly, to the point where I didn’t notice a single dropped frame in either game. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise, especially where Fortnite is concerned: when the phone officially launched at a glitzy press event in Paris, Huawei said would be the first Android device to run the game at 60FPS). And when all that run-and-gun humiliation was over, the View 20 nimbly kept up while exploring the lush worlds of Another Eden. These graphical loads didn’t stymie the phone one bit, and not once did I even consider firing up the View 20’s “performance” mode. This feature allows the Kirin 980 to run full-throttle with little respect for battery life and device temperature, but the option hardly feels necessary here.


Chris Velazco/Engadget

That’s not to say everything is perfect here. Like other Huawei phones though, there’s a tiny delay between the moment you swipe the screen and when the interface actually reacts. I’m not exactly sure whether this latency is due to Huawei’s software or if it’s a problem with the touchscreen. In general, the minute lag isn’t annoying enough to distract from whatever task is at hand, but it stands in stark contrast to devices like the Pixel 3 and the OnePlus 6T, where that kind of input lag barely exists at all.

Overall, the Kirin 980 chipset offers mostly excellent performance, and it’s enough to give any Snapdragon 845 device a run for their money. Because of the way the chipset’s eight cores were designed, they also squeeze a lot of battery life from the View 20’s 4,000mAh cell. After a full day of frequent use, the View 20 would routinely have 40 to 50 percent left in its battery when it was time for bed. If you only use your phone sporadically, you could easily get away with charging the View 20 every other day — maybe even every three days, if you’re lucky.


Chris Velazco/Engadget

Unfortunately, some of Huawei’s software decisions drag down this otherwise impressive hardware. The View 20 ships with Android 9.0 Pie and that would be great news if it weren’t painted over so thoroughly with the Honor Magic UI. Honestly, I’m not sure why Huawei bothered giving this interface a different name at all because it’s essentially identical to the EMUI 9.0 interface the company debuted on the Mate 20 Pro. That wouldn’t be a problem if EMUI wasn’t so dumb sometimes.

For instance, lock screen notifications can be sort of a mess. By default, you’re only shown your latest notifications, not the full list that have rolled in since you last checked. Fine, I can see the rationale there. My biggest issue so far though has been with Gmail: Even the app pre-installed and fully functional, I’ve never received a notification on my lock screen. A quick trip to the phone’s notification settings revealed the problem: there was, for whatever reason, no way to push Gmail notifications to the lock screen. Beyond that, interacting with items on the lock screen requires a tedious double-tap — you were probably better off just unlocking the phone altogether. Oh, and our review unit suffers from a bug where Android’s navigation keys shift to the left a bit after rotating the phone from landscape to portrait. It’s a minor thing, but attention to detail matters, people. If I were you, I’d trade this not-so-Magic UI for an alternative launcher ASAP.

The camera

If you’ve considered buying a camera in the past fifteen or so years, someone has probably told you that more megapixels don’t necessarily make for better photos. The same is true of smartphone cameras, but I have to give Huawei some credit for squeezing a 48-megapixel Sony camera sensor into the View 20. It’s total overkill, but it’s fun.

To be clear, though, you won’t be firing off 48-megapixel stills right out of the box — nor should you be. The View 20’s camera shoots at 12-megapixels by default, and since the phone lumps multiple pixels on the sensor to act as bigger individual pixels, the resulting pictures are very solid, even in low light. Colors are pleasant enough (especially with the AI camera mode enabled) and in general, there’s more detail to be found while pixel-peeping a 12-megapixel View 20 photo than with one taken by, say, an iPhone XS. Switching into the full 48-megapixel mode means you’ll wind up with larger files, but I haven’t noticed a meaningful difference in quality between the phone’s 12MP and 48MP photos — the latter just let you zoom in more.

48MP still (left) versus 48 AI Ultra Clarity still (right)

That all changes once you fire up the camera’s AI Ultra Clarity mode. To get the most detailed images possible, the phone shoots and combines a handful of 48-megapixel exposures into a single shot — think of it as Huawei’s general-purpose take on Night Mode. Given enough light and very steady hands the results can be astoundingly crisp.

I’ve spent the past week reviewing some Ultra Clarity shots and randomly zooming around to see how legible minute details were, and so far, the gimmick hasn’t gotten old. Even expensive flagships can’t really keep up with the View 20 — 48-megapixels is a lot of data, after all, and the way Ultra Clarity stitches those exposures together adds some new dimensions to the final photos. The feature does, however, have its caveats: shooting an Ultra Clarity photo takes five seconds (ideally, nothing in the frame moves during this period), and if your hands move a little too much, some of those fine details could be smoothed out into oblivion.

The bigger question here is whether all of this extra detail this sensor captures ultimately makes for better pictures, and the answer is “not really.” Ultra Clarity photos are indeed highly impressive when the conditions are right, but the amount of time needed to shoot them means you probably won’t be using the feature constantly. The View 20’s standard 48-megapixel photos pretty detailed themselves, though (as mentioned) the phone’s 12-megapixel stills usually turn out a little nicer. And overall, photos taken with devices like the Pixel 3 feature more pleasing colors and dynamic range — even though those files don’t feature the same level of detail, they’re the ones I’d prefer to look at more often. The old wisdom holds true: resolution isn’t everything.

Gallery: Honor View 20 camera samples (12MP) | 16 Photos

Of course, that 48-megapixel camera isn’t alone. It’s accompanied by a secondary time-of-flight sensor that’s meant to make the View 20 better at isolating faces in portraits. The camera does a respectable job of isolating the subject from its background, but it’s not always great at figuring out where an object’s edges are, and the results aren’t much to write home about. The most interesting — and problematic — use of this time-of-flight sensor is in a beauty mode called “Shaping” that makes people look thinner. Yikes.

The 25-megapixel front camera is further proof that resolution isn’t everything. You’ll need to find bright, even lighting to get the best results, as things tend to very get grainy otherwise. That’s true of all front-facing cameras, but I was hoping Huawei would be able to work some software magic and turn all 25 megapixels of data into something above-average. I was wrong: the results here were average at best, and I’d take a Pixel 3’s selfie camera any day, lower resolution be damned. I appreciate Huawei’s tepid attempt to improve selfies by throwing more pixels at the problem, but maybe a more conventional approach would’ve been better.



Wrap-up

On the surface at least, the Honor View 20 seems like the smartphone fan’s smartphone. It’s beautifully built, packs some serious horsepower, and that hole-punch display offers a taste of the near-future — that’s not a bad package for $600. Sure, Huawei’s sometimes-amateurish futzing with Android Pie means it isn’t a great choice for Google purists (those folks would be better served by a Pixel 3 or a OnePlus 6T) and most of the time that oft-hyped camera is good, not great. If you live in a part of the world that hasn’t completely blacklisted Huawei hardware, the View 20 is a worthy, if not astounding, option.

For now, at least, continued tension between Huawei and the US government means the odds of being able to buy one of these in a big-box store grow slimmer by the day. While those of us in North America probably won’t experience what the View 20 brings to the table anytime soon, we’ll still probably benefit from the phone’s release elsewhere — in some ways, Huawei raised the bar for what to expect from a high-end, low-cost smartphone, and we’re sure to see other companies follow suit this year.

All products recommended by Engadget were selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company, Verizon Media. If you buy something through one of our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Chris is Engadget’s senior mobile editor and moonlights as a professional moment ruiner. His early years were spent taking apart Sega consoles and writing awful fan fiction. That passion for electronics and words would eventually lead him to covering startups of all stripes at TechCrunch. The first phone he ever swooned over was the Nokia 7610, because man, those curves.

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Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case review: Apple’s Smart Battery Case for the iPhone XS and Max: Pretty good, if you need the boost

Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case review: Apple’s Smart Battery Case for the iPhone XS and Max: Pretty good, if you need the boost

The Apple Smart Battery Case for the iPhone XS ($1,000 at Amazon), XS Max ($1,100 at Amazon Marketplace) and XR is a bulky way to make sure your phone doesn’t need a recharge. Apple has done this before, for the iPhone 6S. That battery case was mocked, but it was actually pretty good, if you found its $100 price and slightly bulbous design acceptable.

How long does the battery last?

I’ve been living with Apple’s new and even more expensive $130 iPhone battery cases on an iPhone XS and XS Max over the past few weeks. And you know what? Weeks later, they do the job. They protect the phones, feel sturdy and add a bit of padding. The two battery cases have the same battery capacity (1,369mAh/10.1 Wh), and in everyday use they ended up lasting just about a whole normal workday, and then dipping into the actual phone’s battery at the very end of the day. That means you could use these and not have to charge your phone overnight, if you were ever in a situation where you needed that option. I was on a long flight (9 hours) recently and was able to arrive and still have basically a whole charged phone but with a depleted battery case. Apple claims a combined 39 hours of talk time, 22 hours of internet use or 27 hours of video playback for the iPhone XS, or 37 hours/20 hours/25 hours on an iPhone XS Max. It’s nothing like the massive battery capacity of a stand-alone charger, but in real-life use it’s a bit more than I expected.

As to how long the battery lasts over time … that remains to be seen. Also, how will the case’s rubberized construction hold up after a few months or more?

Both cases add enough bulk that the phones seem downright featherweight once you take them back out, but the case’s bottom-heavy weight distribution makes it easy to grip with one hand. I’ve used these on mission-critical trips where I needed access to my phone for photos, videos, audio recording, calls and other features. And they never annoyed me. The silicone casing can be a huge dust magnet and also collects smudges and oil, but it offers bumperlike support on the edges and the back of the phone. 

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Scott Stein {authorlink}
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TCL S425 Roku TV review: Built-in streaming powers a great value

TCL S425 Roku TV review: Built-in streaming powers a great value

China-based TCL is selling TVs hand over fist, taking market share from Vizio and other big TV brands in the US. It has grown 60 percent in each of the last two years, according to market research firm NPD, and its Roku TVs continue to dominate Amazon’s best-seller lists.

At CNET our favorite TCL is the 6 series, with the best picture quality for the money of any TV we’ve tested. But cheaper models, namely the TCL 3 and 4 series reviewed here, are the ones that remain the most popular.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Their picture quality is mediocre. They can’t compete with more expensive sets for black level performance, contrast or pop. If you want a home theater-worthy image in a budget set, start with the Vizio E series — just keep in mind that it’s not available in sizes under 43 inches.

On the other hand, mediocre might be good enough for you, especially if you’re buying a smaller set for secondary viewing or you just want the cheapest smart TV you can get. As long as you don’t expect too much, you might be perfectly satisfied with a TCL 3 or 4 series, especially for the price. And if nothing else, I predict you’ll like its built-in Roku.

TCL 3 and 4 series sizes and models

There’s a lot of different models in these series so before we get into it, here’s how they break down.

TCL 3 and 4 series TVs (2017-2019)

32-inch 40-inch 43-inch 49-inch 50-inch 55-inch 65-inch
S305 (2017, HD) 32S305 40S305 43S305 49S305
S325 (2019, HD) 32S325 40S325 43S325 49S325
S405 (2017, 4K HDR) 43S405 49S405 55S405 65S405
S425 (2018 and 2019, 4K HDR) 43S425 49S425 50S425 55S425 65S425

Even though the oldest TVs are from 2017, TCL told CNET that the only difference between them and the 2018/2019 models is in cosmetic design. They have the same picture quality and features. (These models are not available in the UK and Australia.)

We’ve reviewed the S305 and S405 in 2017 and for this review we compared them to two new 2019 review samples, the 43-inch 43S325 and the 50-inch 50S425. Yes, the cosmetics are slightly different, with the newer sets having black stand legs instead of silver, and slightly different frames around the picture. We also saw some minor differences in image quality (see below for details). But overall not much has changed in two years, and the CNET ratings are the same for all of them.

In other words, you’re fine buying the 2017 (S305 and S405) versions for as long as they remain on the market. TCL’s representative said they’d be slowly phased out and replaced by the newer models (S325 and S425) this year.

04-tcl-s325-s425-series

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Sarah Tew/CNET

4K HDR in 40 and 43 inches: Not worth the extra $$$

Here’s where I mention that the S305 and S325 models have 720p in the 32-inch size, and 1080p resolution (aka full HD) in the 40- and 43-inch sizes, and they can’t do high dynamic range (HDR). Meanwhile the S405 and S425 models have 4K resolution and HDR capability.

As you can see on the chart, for most sizes there’s no overlap: The 32- and 40-inch sizes are HD only, while the 50-, 55- and 65-inch sizes are 4K HDR only. Most people choose a TV size first, then worry about everything else, so there’s not much of a choice in those sizes.

Where sizes overlap (43- and 49-inch) there’s typically $30 to $70 difference. For most buyers in this price range, I don’t think it’s worth paying that difference. You’re better off saving the money and getting the 1080p, HD, non-HDR versions instead of the 4K HDR versions. Yes, you could see some improvement in image quality with some 4K HDR material, but it will be minor at best. See the image quality section below for more.

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The Roku TV remote is super-simple.


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Roku reigns

The best thing about the 3 and 4 series TVs is built-in Roku. It gives you dead-simple access to just about every streaming app available, including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Sling TV, Pluto TV and more.

Since the apps are built-in, you can get to them faster and easier than via an external streamer, which requires switching inputs and probably juggling a second remote. Of course you can connect other gear (like game consoles or Blu-ray players) to these Roku TVs too, and they have some cool features for people who use an over-the-air antenna to get free TV.

Roku TV’s main competitor is Amazon’s Fire TV Edition sets by Toshiba and Insignia. Amazon has its advantages, especially when it comes to voice control with Alexa. But I still like Roku better overall because its menu system is more neutral — it doesn’t force-feed you Amazon Prime TV shows and movies.

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AMD Radeon VII review: Is 4K gaming enough?

AMD Radeon VII review: Is 4K gaming enough?

When AMD announced it was developing new GPUs for data centers in mid-2018, it was clear they weren’t intended for gaming. AMD was in a tough spot: NVIDIA was gearing up to release its RTX cards with ray-tracing and AI-powered tech that AMD couldn’t compete with. The feeling was that AMD had decided to cede the high-end to NVIDIA and focus on the mid-range (where most sales are). A new high-end gaming card wasn’t expected for another year at least.

These data-center cards, the Instinct MI60 and MI50, took AMD’s previous flagship gaming chip (named Vega 10) and shrunk the transistors from 14nm to a 7nm process. A small manufacturing process makes smaller transistors that can run faster or use less power for the same speed. When the Instinct cards were announced in November, they were a refined version of last years’ gaming cards, with enterprise features like error correction and support for super-high-precision math. Take those features away from an Instinct MI50 and you have something that looks very similar to the Radeon VII.

AMD Radeon VII

Part of the surprise around the Radeon VII’s existence is that the 7nm process is brand new, and generally new fabrication processes are messy. Yields are low, meaning lots of chips come out damaged or non-functional. The Instinct MI50 and 60 are the first GPUs produced with this new process. The appearance of the Radeon VII suggests either 7nm is off to a strong start, or it thought getting back in the high-end graphics game was important enough to cannibalize some of their Instinct cards.

Despite its smaller transistors and refined design, the Radeon VII has a lot in common with last year’s Vega 64 and 56 models. The Radeon VII features 60 compute units vs the Vega 64’s… well, 64, but its clock speed is 1,400MHz, with a boost speed of 1,750MHz. This is a good deal faster than the Vega 64 at 1,247MHz. There are also improvements in the memory design. Because of the 7nm process, the GPU itself can be smaller. The Radeon VII’s GPU is only 331 square millimeters, down from the 14nm Vega 64 at around 500 square millimeters (and both dwarfed by the NVIDIA RTX 2080 Ti at over 750 square millimeters).

AMD Radeon VII

This smaller design lets AMD cram another two memory controllers on to the Radeon VII, giving it a whopping 16GB of memory. The memory is speedy, too: AMD is using second-generation high-bandwidth memory, or HBM 2. Compared to the GDDR found on most graphics cards, HBM actually runs at a lower frequency, but it can transfer much more data at a time. The four memory controllers on the Radeon VII give it a memory bandwidth of 1TB per second, the fastest we’ve ever seen on a GPU. This should help, especially at high resolutions where the card needs to shuffle tons of data-intensive frames around the graphics memory.

Vega 64 Radeon VII


GPU

Vega 10 Vega 20
Base Clock 1274 MHz 1400 MHz
Boost Clock 1546 MHz 1750 MHz
Memory 8GB HBM2 16GB HBM2
Memory Bandwidth 483.8GB/s 1TB/s
Process 14nm 7nm
Power 295 Watts 300 Watts

The Radeon VII is priced at $699, the same as NVIDIA’s RTX 2080. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get our hands on a 2080 for these tests, but we can still get a good sense of how the Radeon VII should perform compared to its green rival. For our tests, we had an older NVIDIA GTX 980 Ti as well as a Vega 64 for competition.

AMD Radeon VII

For testing, we ran the Radeon VII through a series of games and a few compute and synthetic tests. First off, we tried Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. This is a game built on the Vulkan API, which AMD helped develop and, unsurprisingly, AMD cards did very well here. We tested with every graphics setting at max.

AMD Radeon VII

Even at 1080p, the older Vega 64 cracks 200 fps, and at 4K, the Radeon VII is still hitting nearly 90 fps. Most tests of the RTX 2080 we’ve seen put it around 75 fps at 4K.

The new remake of Resident Evil 2 is quite graphically intensive and includes options to monitor how much of the GPU’s memory is in use. Our poor 6GB 980 Ti maxed out pretty quickly, but the 16GB of memory on the Radeon VII would let you turn everything up to max if you want. Here the Radeon VII stuttered a bit more but managed nearly 60 fps at 4K, and with a couple of settings tweaks, you could get a locked 60 fps. You’d expect a 2080 to come in a few frames ahead, but it’ll still be in the same range.AMD Radeon VII

Finally, we tested Battlefield V. EA’s latest shooter is currently the only game that supports NVIDIA’s RTX ray-tracing technology, which adds super-realistic lighting to the game. AMD doesn’t currently have anything like this, but if you can live with a less-reflective game world, it still runs pretty well.

AMD Radeon VII

Again, even at 4K and ultra performance settings, the Radeon VII puts out a totally playable 60 fps, though again we’d expect the RTX 2080 to be 10-20 percent ahead of it.

Aside from raw frame rate, frame-time variance is the other measurement that best indicates a smooth gameplay experience. Frames-per-second is an average and doesn’t account for the possibility that the frames may be arriving unevenly. To give a hypothetical worst-case scenario, you could have 59 frames arrive within a millisecond, and then have a single frame arrive 998 milliseconds later. This would still average out to 60 frames a second, but you’d experience a moment where the action didn’t move for almost an entire second. The reality is never quite this bad, but a high frame variance can lead to stuttering or uneven playback, even with a high frame rate.Battlefied V Frame Times

The plot above shows Battlefield V, which was the most uneven of the three games. The straighter the line to horizontal, the smoother the game should feel. The vertical lines show where the game was slow to produce a frame or stuttered. Some people claim to be able to notice frames that are as little as 15ms slower than the average, but AMD has claimed in the past that as long as frame times are under 30ms, in general, most players won’t notice any variance. In our other two games, the lines stayed well under 30ms, regardless of the resolution.

Beyond gaming, AMD is making a big deal about the Radeon VII’s ability to speed up content creation. While most video editing and animation software is still heavily CPU dependent, many are adding GPU accelerated features, including previewing, resizing, effects and exporting. A general rule of thumb is the more you are altering your footage, the more GPU power you’ll need, and the higher the resolution, the more graphics memory you’ll want.

We put together a series of tests for both Premiere Pro and Davinci Resolve exporting 8K and 4K footage into HD, with and without GPU-accelerated effects added. It’s not worth showing the results, though, because the difference between the various cards was negligible. Using no GPU acceleration noticeably slowed down the exports, but the difference between our older 980 Ti and the Radeon VII was only a few seconds. While a good GPU can help with previewing your footage, in most cases, for video editing, a faster processor is going to be more noticeable than a GPU upgrade. Still, there may be some content creation apps out there that can take advantage of all of the Radeon VII’s HMB2 memory, and outside of a $2,500 workstation card, the VII is the only way to get 16GB of high-speed graphics memory.

AMD Vega VII

The Radeon VII is undeniably a speedy card, but at $700, it needs to be faster than the RTX 2080, and it doesn’t seem like it always is. In addition to being fast, the 2080 supports DLSS and ray tracing, NVIDIA’s proprietary graphics technologies, which are impressive — if you can use them. These processing options can boost frame rates and graphical fidelity, but outside of ray tracing in Battlefield V and DLSS anti-aliasing in Final Fantasy XV, there aren’t any games that currently support them.

That might be about to change, though, with a number of RTX-enhanced games due in the next few months, including anticipated blockbusters like Anthem and Metro Exodus. If history is any indication, AMD will respond with its own version of these technologies in time, but for now, if you’re going to spend $700 on a graphics card, you might want to take advantage of RTX and the new rendering options it brings to the table.

It’d be a different story if the Radeon VII was consistently faster than the 2080. Ray tracing and DLSS may not end up becoming widespread, and if you don’t care about RTX technology, then there’s nothing wrong with the Radeon VII. Future drivers may improve performance, and if the price drops, it could be a good choice. Either way, unless you need the utmost performance, $700 is a lot to spend for a graphics card, and we’d recommend you wait a few months. There are indications that NVIDIA’s RTX cards haven’t been selling well, and both companies are dealing with excess inventory — a good sign prices might be due to come down.

There’s also the matter of AMD’s upcoming Navi cards. The rumors are hard to pin down, but Navi has been developed partly to serve the next generation of game consoles, and we expect it will be a serious revision of AMD’s graphics architecture. The Radeon VII shows that AMD is improving its manufacturing, but it feels a bit like a first effort. Let’s see what they make next.

All products recommended by Engadget were selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company, Verizon Media. If you buy something through one of our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Asus ROG Zephyrus GX701 review: New Nvidia RTX graphics give this laptop a lift

Asus ROG Zephyrus GX701 review: New Nvidia RTX graphics give this laptop a lift

If you haven’t gotten the memo yet, gaming laptops no longer have to be massive backbreaking monsters. They also don’t need wild, flame-embossed lid designs or glowing backlit creature logos. The latter actually still seems pretty tough to get rid of, but thinner, more powerful gaming laptops are now the mainstream, at least at the higher-end of the price scale.

The first arrival in our testing lab to combine both a slim, professional-looking design with the expanded power of Nvidia’s new RTX graphics cards is the Asus Zephyrus GX701. The laptop versions of the new RTX 20-series GPUs have just launched in laptops, with a handful of models available now and more on the way. From our early testing, these new laptop GPUs represent a generational leap over the previous GTX models (still available in many laptops).

asus-rog-zephyrus-s-gx701-06

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The 17-inch Asus Zephyrus GX701 is the fourth iteration of that thin-and-light Asus series we’ve seen. Despite being only 18.7mm thick, it has the Nvidia RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU, which is near the top of the current stack, with only the non-Max-Q 2080 sitting above it for now. Nvidia introduced these Max-Q variant in 2017 as a way to get higher-end GPUs in slimmer laptops, with only a modest hit to overall performance.

Surprising no one, the RTX 2080 Max-Q in the new Asus Zephyrus beat other high-end  gaming laptops when it comes to game performance. The closest competition comes from laptops with full-power Nvidia GTX 1080 GPUs, but those are already dinosaurs, with high prices and bulky bodies. We included a gaming desktop with dual desktop RTX 2080 cards to show how the desktop experience can still beat even a high-end laptop.

Asus Zephyrus GX701

Price as reviewed $3,299
Display size/resolution 17.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 display
CPU 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H
Memory 24GB DDR4 SDRAM 2666MHz
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q
Storage 1TB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 5.0
Operating system Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)

A laptop that likes to vent

The system manages this style-to-power ratio by dispersing heat across a wide footprint. The body itself, housing a 17-inch screen, is 11.8 inches wide and 10.6 inches deep. More than half of the interior is empty real estate (except for a glowing Asus gaming logo), with fans kicking heat out through tiny vent holes.

Heat also escapes through a wide opening at the rear of the system, where the bottom panel lifts up on tiny hinges when the clamshell is open. This raises the rear of the system up by a few millimeters, but especially against the larger 17-inch body, it’s hardly noticeable.

asus-rog-zephyrus-s-gx701-13

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Of course, making all this room for high-end graphics and tons of cooling means making some changes to the traditional laptop layout. Each of the Zephyrus laptops we’ve seen over the past two years has taken some liberties with the expected keyboard/touchpad. Here, the keyboard is pushed all the way to the front lip of the system, eliminating the usual wrist rest.

The touchpad gets shifted to the right side, where a number pad might live on a different laptop. As always, you mess with the established norms of laptop design at your own peril. Having a touchpad off to the side, and one with a portrait-style orientation rather than a landscape one, is just never going to feel entirely natural. Decades of muscle memory will continue to pull your fingers down rather than to the right.

Need a number pad? Probably not, but the touchpad here lights up with a number pad screen at the touch of a button. It’s a gimmick we’ve seen on a few similar touchpads (including the original Zephyrus), but I’d trade it all for a standard touchpad in the usual spot.

asus-rog-zephyrus-s-gx701-07

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The keyboard, while shallow for a gaming laptop, has per-key backlighting in a rainbow of colors and patterns. But my favorite feature may be the small roller control for system volume. If I had a dime for every time I’ve squinted at a keyboard while holding down the function button and trying to figure out which keys control the volume, I might be able to buy a Zephyrus.

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2019 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid review: No-frills efficiency

2019 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid review: No-frills efficiency

Throw the word “hybrid” out there, and most people will probably picture a Prius. That’s understandable — the Prius was one of the first gasoline-electric vehicles to hit the market, and has since gone on to be the world’s best-selling hybrid car.

But some people don’t want a Prius. I can’t blame them — it’s ugly, and tends to carry a reputation of being driven by people who like to go slow in the fast lane. Enter the 2019 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, then, a car that’ll do everything the Prius can do, and in some cases, do it better.

A spark of performance

Under the Ioniq’s hood is a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that combines forces with a 32-kilowatt (43-horsepower) electric motor. The Ioniq may only have 139 total system horsepower, but thanks to the powertrain’s combined 195 pound-feet of torque, along with a relatively light curb weight of just over 3,000 pounds, the hybrid hatchback is no slouch while accelerating up highway onramps or steep grades. It’s no performance car by any stretch of the imagination, but it never feels underpowered, either.

Power is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed, dual-clutch gearbox — a nice change of pace from the continuously variable transmissions you usually find in compact hybrids. The transmission does a good job of fading into the background, but the Ioniq can sometimes feel jerky when accelerating from a stop. The Ioniq even has steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, though they’re hardly engaging — best to leave these alone.

Once you’re moving along, Hyundai’s hybrid impresses with a smooth ride. The Ioniq uses a MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension, which is aided by tires with some seriously thick sidewalls. My test car rolls on 15-inch wheels wrapped in 195/65-series rubber, which is great at muting road noise and minor surface irregularities. Thick sidewalls can sometimes mean slow handling reflexes, but the Ioniq’s relatively low weight makes it feel reasonably spry. The Ioniq’s direct, accurate steering also goes a long way in making this car fun to drive. Thankfully, the Ioniq offers smooth braking response, too — free from the regenerative lurch that plagues some hybrids.

Of course, the Ioniq’s biggest boon is its fuel economy; it’s the most efficient non-plug-in vehicle available in the US, with an EPA rating of up to 58 miles per gallon combined for the base Blue model. Because of their extra features and weight, the higher SEL and Limited trims are estimated to return 55 mpg combined, which is still seriously impressive. However, after 488 miles of testing an Ioniq SEL, the best I was able to achieve was only 47.8 mpg.

Even in mid-range SEL trim, the Ioniq’s interior verges on “penalty box.” More options can fix that, however.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

Minimal frills

Unlike the Toyota Prius, which seems to have gotten weirder and uglier with each generation, the Ioniq just looks like a regular car. The Ioniq isn’t a bad-looking machine at all, but it’s sort of boring. Some people like the Prius, for better or worse, because it stands out. The Ioniq, meanwhile, will much easier be lost in a crowded parking lot. If you’re looking for a middle-ground hybrid design, the Honda Insight is a safe and attractive bet.

The Hyundai’s interior is pretty forgettable as well. Cheap plastics do the cabin no favors, but at least the cockpit is comfortable, spacious and quiet. Thanks to a 1.56 kilowatt-hour, lithium-ion battery under the rear seats, cargo space out back is a respectable 26.5 cubic feet — spitting distance within the Prius’ 27.4 cubic feet.

On the tech front, the Ioniq comes well-equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus HD and satellite radio on a 7-inch touchscreen. Hyundai’s infotainment systems are consistently intuitive and easy to use, and in the Ioniq, it’s business as usual.

My SEL tester is a step up from the base Blue trim, and adds a sharp 7-inch LCD instrument cluster, along with driver-assistance features such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control that works down to 5 miles per hour, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and driver attention warning. If you want things like an Infinity premium audio system, embedded navigation, an 8-inch touchscreen or wireless smartphone charging, you have to step up to the Limited.

It’s a very good car with a dusty patina of dullness.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

No-nonsense commuter

The Ioniq starts at $22,400, not including $920 for destination, but this car is better with all the bells and whistles. Even my SEL model — $25,870 as-tested — feels too close to “rental car” for comfort.

The top-end Limited trim, however, gets you all the aforementioned features, as well as a sunroof, automatic high-beams, HID headlights, leather upholstery and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a HomeLink transceiver. On top of that, I’d splurge for the Ultimate Package, which gets you a memory driver’s seat, rear-seat HVAC vents and a cargo cover. Fully loaded, the Ioniq totals to $31,670 out the door.

With its great fuel economy, respectable driving dynamics and competitive pricing, the Ioniq makes quite a case for itself. That it does so without all the weird Prius looks and stigma makes it all the more attractive. 

Manuel’s Comparable Picks

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