THE MARKETING BLITZ swirling around the Droid Razr’s launch drive home these twin selling points: thin, yet powerful. This wafer of a smartphone measures just over a quarter of an inch thick along most of its chassis before filling out at the top where the camera lens and flash; speaker; and HDMI, USB, and headphone jacks reside. A layer of Kevlar fiber drapes the backside, and the Gorilla Glass covering the 4.3-inch display has a water-repellent coating for protection against errant spills and inevitable raindrops.
For all its vaunted thinness, the Razr feels very sturdy in your hand, while its substantial surface area assures that it doesn’t feel small. If anything, it’s a bit unwieldy for one-handed operation. The thin build has its share of downsides, too: The side-mounted power and volume buttons are too small, and this is one of the rare Android form factors that doesn’t let you remove the battery.
We do, however, cherish the generous qHD Super AMOLED Advanced display, which exhibits vivacious colors and deep black levels. The Razr is one of the first smartphones to allow Netflix streaming in HD; and for what it’s worth on a screen this size, movies, other HD video, and games look extraordinary.
WHEN SAMSUNG DEMOED the T27A950 for us a few months back, we got excited. This 27-inch, 120Hz display looks sleek and sophisticated, and it offers a long list of features, including an onboard digital HDTV tuner, picture-in-picture capability, DLNA-compliant networking, Samsung’s collection of smart TV apps, and active 3D. We couldn’t wait to get it in the Lab for a better look.
It didn’t take long for our excitement to ebb. The unconventional stand that makes the monitor stand out from the crowd severely limits the panel’s range of movement. You can tilt it forward and back by a few degrees, but you can’t adjust its height, pivot it into portrait mode, or mount it to a wall or any alternative stand.
THE FIRST AND SECOND Transformers movies were abominations, and Hasbro has sued Asus for violating its Transformers trademark, but there’s no denying that Asus’s Eee Pad Transformer Prime improves on the original Transformer tablet in nearly every conceivable fashion.
Asus’s latest tablet—we’ll just call it the Prime—loses the awkward build of its predecessor in favor of a smaller, lighter, and more stylish aluminum-backed chassis. It’s actually thinner than the iPad 2—probably as thin as it could be considering it’s outfitted with a combo headphone/mic-in jack, a Micro HDMI port, a MicroSD card slot, and a USB/charge/dock port. A matching keyboard dock (a $150 option) adds full-size USB and SD card interfaces and up to 10 hours of additional battery life. The dock provides many helpful keyboard shortcuts, and its keyboard action and trackpad mouse response improve over the original.
A fabulous single-player experience in a massively multiplayer online game
STAR WARS: The Old Republic (TOR) comes with a buffet of a story for an MMO, but you only get to fill your plate once. From decisions as significant as choosing your character’s class specialization to events as trivial as responding to key dialog options, everything you do has a lasting and permanent effect on your gameplay. We like the feast: BioWare’s masterful use of instanced environments creates more captivating gameplay for the solo quester than most any other MMO.
But this is BioWare’s first foray into the massively multiplayer world, and it shows. TOR is more a role-playing game you play alongside 999,999 friends than a true MMO. BioWare either poorly integrates or completely misses the mark on many of the elements that define an MMO. On the upside, the beautiful blend of voice acting and dialogue options in each of TOR’s many quests should earn the game a celebratory parade through the Yavin 4 throne room. And while the scripted quests (occasionally punctuated by John Williams’s familiar score) are immersive, they make the rest of the game’s environments seem stale by comparison. TOR’s non-instanced “generic” areas just aren’t very player-interactive. The Nar Shadda casino, a cold and lifeless location that cries out for mini-games and interactivity, is just one example. And don’t get us started on TOR’s cantina music.
Acer’s H9500BD 3D video projector is the most expensive of the three models here, but it has a couple of features the other two lack. Its overall image quality, however, is only on par with projectors in this price range. We’ll leave it up to you to match those considerations to your needs/wants list.
The H9500BD, like Optoma’s HD33, is based on Texas Instrument’s DLP technology. When connected to a PC or Blu-ray 3D player via HDMI, the projector is capable of producing frame-packed 3D video at 1920x1080 resolution at a refresh rate of 24Hz (the same frame rate movies are filmed at). If you want to play games, you’ll need to drop the resolution down to 1280x720, so you can use a 60Hz refresh rate (markedly better for games).
Unless you’ll be the only person watching the projector in 3D mode, though, you should keep in mind that Acer provides only one pair of 3D glasses with the projector; additional pairs of DLP Link 3D glasses cost about $100 each. (Flip over to Lab Notes on page 92 for a longer discussion of what you’ll need to drive any of these projectors with an AMD or Nvidia GPU.)
THE REMARK ABOVE is more than a left-handed compliment. D-Link’s DIR-645 isn’t nearly as feature-packed as our current favorite wireless router, Netgear’s WNDR-4500, but the DIR-645 is nearly as fast on the 2.4GHz frequency band, and it costs almost half as much as Netgear’s decidedly kick-ass router.
If you’ve divided your router requirements into needs and wants, and you’ve determined that a single-band router is all you need, D-Link’s DIR-645 is a good choice. If attaching USB storage to that router is also firmly ensconced in your needs column, on the other hand, you should stay clear of this device. While it's outfitted with one USB 2.0 port that is capable of hosting either storage or a multi-function printer, you must install D-Link’s SharePort utility on every computer on your network that needs to use it. And only one of those computers will be allowed to connect to an attached device at any one time.
SILVERSTONE'S TEMJIN TJ08-E is a microATX chassis that strikes a nearly perfect balance between practicality and performance. The TJ08-E is fabricated primarily from steel, but its front panel is brushed aluminum, with two USB 3.0 ports (with an internal header), a mic input, a headphone output, and power and reset switches. The front I/O ports are located beneath the two 5.25-inch drive bays and above the chassis’ only fan, an 18cm Air Penetrator concealed behind a large mesh cover. The fan features an on/off switch built into the side of the case, and there’s a large removable dust filter between the mesh cover and the fan.
The TJ08-E is surprisingly roomy for a small form factor chassis. Although it measures just 8.26 inches wide, 15.2 inches long, and 14.7 inches tall, it provides enough interior space to accommodate a GTX 590 videocard without having to move anything. The TJ08-E also provides four internal hard drive slots, a single 2.5-inch mounting bracket, and a dual-purpose 3.5-inch drive bay. We had no problem popping our full-size drives into the bays and securing them with screws, although the backs of the drives protrude from the rear of the hard drive cage. The hard drive cage can be completely removed, in case you need extra room, and a CPU-cooler support at the bottom of the case will prevent a large heatsink from banging against its floor.
IT'S BEEN five years since the debut of Cooler Master’s wildly popular Cosmos chassis, and its successor is finally here. The Cosmos lineage is strong with this one—from the hinged side panels, to the top carrying handles, to the slide-out hard drive trays—but the Cosmos II is a thoroughly modern product with massive cooling potential, strong cable-management chops, and wide-open spaces. The chassis frame is steel, while the shell is plastic, with aluminum cladding on the panels. Our review unit is matte black, but Cooler Master also offers a silver model.
Toshiba offers three SKUs in the DX735 line, two with Core i5 CPUs and one with a Core i7. All three models use mobile CPUs, and all three rely on integrated graphics. Whereas HP’s TouchSmart 520-1070 is somewhat capable of playing games, Toshiba’s DX735 series is not at all capable. If you really want to play games on this machine, we suggest plugging an Xbox 360 into its HDMI input.
HP once built its TouchSmart line using notebook components because they required much less active cooling. Limiting the number of fans inside the machine made it quieter. This TouchSmart not only uses a desktop CPU—Intel’s low-power Core i7-2600S, running at a stock 2.8GHz—but HP has also packed a discrete GPU inside this TouchSmart’s chassis. AMD’s Radeon HD 6550A might not be a barn-burner of a videocard, but it is vastly superior to the GPU core integrated into the Core i7. The Radon HD 6550A is DirectX compatible, but that doesn’t mean it will deliver a satisfying performance with highly demanding games. Playing Metro 2033 at 18 frames per second—in DirectX 10 mode—is not very satisfying. But no one will buy this type of a machine for gaming.