Top Gear Series 25 Episode 1 review: The future finally looks bright

Matt LeBlanc and Chris Harris in Top Gear

Top Gear is revving its engines as it looks to accelerate full-speed ahead into a new era after its stalled start in 2016. But if the first series without Clarkson, May and Hammond was a *cough* car crash – Chris Evans’ iteration was a disappointment with critics and audiences alike – and last year’s series was an attempt at rebuilding, then the new run looks ready to put the pedal to the metal and maybe even guide it back to its glory days.

It’s down to Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid to find their own identity while winning back long-time fans of Top Gear – and on the evidence of the first episode of series 25, they look very close to striking a winning formula that stays true to the show without becoming a cheap imitation of its past.

LeBlanc appeared comfortable at the helm in the first episode of the new season, although if truth be told, with his presenting team of Chris Harris and Rory Reid, it feels like the three petrolheads are on an equal footing, enjoying their time together.

The banter between the trio is fantastic – and it was an inspired choice to kick the series off with an episode almost entirely dedicated to a road trip across Nevada in tribute to the V8 engine.

Their cheeky humour shines through, especially with a number of impromptu tasks, including a Wild West “duel in the dirt”. After which, the loser is faced with a nail-biting challenge – the watch-between-your-fingers ‘Chain Car Figure of 8’ which really has to be seen to be believed.

It’s not all long open roads and inventive tasks, though – at one point, the trio face a race against Officer Block as they run a crate of moonshine to the state line. And we’ve also got the return of the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car segment, which is a very welcome move.

BBC's Top Gear season 25 - The Stig

This week, it’s comedian Rob Brydon in the hot seat – and it’s worth watching for his commentary on his run alone. Charming, hilarious and knowledgeable, he’s a great guest to kick off the series, even if Matt and Rory can’t resist tearing into some of his choices in cars.

He set himself a goal of beating Tinie Tempah’s time of 1:50.04 – you’ll have to check the episode this weekend to see if he was able to – but the excuses came in early as the track was absolutely drenched.

Battling the elements, Rob struggled with the gears but got enough control to put in a very good effort. Commentating on his run, he teased from the studio: “The classic Roman profile gripping the wheel with assuredness and a strange sensuality.”

Naturally, it’s not perfect – some lines and segments come across as a little awkward and too scripted, with the three stars still finding their feet and getting used to each other. Reid admitted last year that chemistry doesn’t come overnight, and while that’s definitely true, they’ve still taken great strides and now come across as much more likeable.

There was a slight disappointment that the trio couldn’t complete a challenge at Bonneville – the US’ fastest race track – because freak rain left it waterlogged, but they seem just as gutted as us. Harris admitted: “I suppose I’ve now got one of the worst Bonneville stories out of anyone I know.”

All in all, the biggest take away from the first episode is just how easy it is to watch without comparing it to what has come before, and enjoy it for what it is. Sure, The Grand Tour has Top Gear’s successful and beloved trio at the helm, but LeBlanc, Harris and Reid are in the driving seat of a new era and the road ahead looks clear. Hit the gas, boys.

[“Source-digitalspy”]

Gear that improves on what was and changes what might be

Gear that improves on what was and changes what might be

Consider these new products for savvy travelers. (Handout)

hape-shifting innovations put a twist on the familiar in this gear roundup.

Picture perfect

The quality of photos from a smartphone is so good that many travelers leave their clunky camera gear at home. To give you even more photographic flexibility, Pixter has introduced a pack of four compact specialty lenses that clip onto any smartphone.

The Pixter Pro Pack includes a wide-angle lens; a 238-degree super fisheye lens; a 10X macro lens; and a telephoto lens. The lenses come in a padded travel case and have front and back lens caps.

Cost, info: Pixter Pro Pack lists for $154.90 (lenses are about $55 apiece a la carte).

Twofer toy

Pillow Pets

Taking a buddy along can make children happier and when that pal is a plush companion that morphs from a toy into a pillow, you’ll please and placate your child.

Pillow Pets are chenille-stuffed animals (also some cute cars) that widen and flatten into a pillow with the release of a cinch strap. Sizes average 12- to 16-inches-square when fully open. All are machine washable.

Pillow Pets also come as zippered sweatshirts. Bunch up the garment for a nice, fat cushion or use just the padded hood part as a pillow and wrap the rest around your child for an extra-warm hug with pockets.

Cost, info: Pillow Pets run $20 to $25; animal-head hoodies cost about $20. www.mypillowpets.com

This bag does tricks

Eagle Creek

Pulling a rabbit out of a hat is just a trick; pulling a backpack out of a wheel-aboard bag? That’s magic.

That’s what the wizards at Eagle Creek Luggage have conjured with the new Morphus International Wheeled Carry-On. With a quick unzip, what had been a single 20½-by-13¾-by-9-inch roller bag separates into a backpack and a wheeled bag, offering about double the space you started with.

Both are made with polyurethane-coated polyester and have top- and side-padded grab handles, double lockable zippers and reinforced seams.

The wheeled bag has thick, treaded wheels; a hinged kickstand keeps the bag upright. The soft backpack has zip-away padded interior sleeves that can accommodate a 15-inch laptop and a tablet, as a well as a nifty built-in cord winder, a key fob and padded pouches for fragile electronics.

The backpack’s two trolley straps can slide over the wheeled bag’s telescoping pull handle. Zipped back together, the bag can be wheeled, or carried using the pack’s back straps.

All this abracadabra isn’t cheap, but it’s a class act, even without the wand.

Cost, info: Morphus International Wheeled Carry-On costs $329.

A bag that suits

Selk’Bag

Is anything as yummy as curling up in your tent inside a toasty sleeping bag on a chilly night camping? Is anything as awful as having to get out of that warm sleeping bag to go out into the elements?

No problem if you have the new SelkBag Wearable Sleeping Bag, designed to keep you comfy in and out of the tent.

It looks like a giant snowsuit, but lets you be much more mobile. It has zip-off booties, big kangaroo-style pockets and flaps at the wrists that let you quickly free your hands.

It’s made of ripstop nylon and polyester with hollow fiber polyester insulation, and its insulated adjustable hood extends from a high thermal collar.

The zip-off booties let you substitute your own shoes when you are active, and the booties’ reinforced nylon soles and lateral grips for traction make them tough enough for a stroll.

The bag comes in a range of colors and patterns, including Star Wars-themed designs, in adult and children’s sizes.

One quibble: The SelkBag is not equipped with a drop seat so you must wriggle out of the bottoms when nature calls. A fix is in the works.

Cost, info: SelkBag Wearable Sleeping Bag in adult sizes costs about $170 for the Original (warmest) model; a lighter, less-insulated model costs $99. Children’s SelkBags cost $69 to $89. www.selkbagusa.com

[“Source-latimes”]

Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro Review

Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro Review

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro works with both Android and iOS
  • It features waterproofing, in addition to GPS and Super AMOLED display
  • It is currently priced at Rs. 13,590

Upon reviewing the Gear Fit 2 at the beginning of 2017, we said it redefined what buyers should expect at its price point (then less than Rs. 12,000). It handily beat every Fitbit offering, and was especially suited to those with Samsung phones. We did have a few complaints, and in the months since then, Samsung has fixed one big one.

The new Gear Fit 2 Pro is similar to its direct predecessor in most ways. The addition of the ‘Pro’ suffix is because of its more fitness-focused features, including waterproofing – you can easily take this new wearable into the shower, pool, or ocean (up to 50m deep) without worry. There’s also continuous heart rate tracking now, so the device will always keep an eye on how you’re doing.

This is Samsung’s third take on a complete fitness wearable, and it shows in its construction quality, ease of use, and feature list. Now that the Gear Fit 2 has been discontinued, this is the one to consider.

Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro look, feel, and navigation

Samsung has opted for a traditional railroad strap with the Gear Fit 2 Pro, which will be familiar to most people. Inserting the strap’s tooth into the last hole isn’t as easy it was on the Gear Fit 2, but the quality of material used here is definitely better. The Gear Fit 2’s rubber strap left rashes on our arm on days with a lot heavy walking, but that hasn’t been the case with this new model.

The display on the Gear Fit 2 Pro is the same as before; a 1.5-inch Super AMOLED curved screen that can show all colours, and works with the slightest of touches. In contrast, those on Fitbit devices usually require harder presses. The two buttons – Back, and Home – are still on the right side of the wearable. You can wake up the Gear Fit Pro with a press of either button, or just tilt your wrist so that the display faces you.

samung gear fit 2 pro 02 Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro

 

Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro software

Samsung has improved the customisation options for watch faces on the Gear Fit 2 Pro. You can tweak not only what statistics you want displayed on the home screen, but also the colour and font. That helps personalise the device, and there are also hundreds more watch faces available via the Gear Store.

Speaking of the Gear Store, Samsung has (thankfully) gotten rid of the strange forced localisation that we were treated to when we reviewed the Gear Fit 2, so you won’t have to deal with a Hindi interface just because you’re browsing from India. We still couldn’t find a way to change it, but defaulting to English is a better choice in our opinion.

The store is still region locked though, which means the likes of Spotify and UA Record aren’t available without the help of a VPN, removing the SIM card, and all that jazz. Still, there are many more useful apps now, with the focus clearly on exercising: Under Armour Record, MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal, and Endomondo are the highlights of the lot.

The biggest annoyance with the iOS app is that it takes forever to connect to the Gear Fit 2 Pro. For what it’s worth, you don’t need to use the app much unless you regularly wish to install and test new apps, but it can be frustrating when you need to tweak something on the go. Even when it does connect, it can end up randomly disconnecting if you move your hand even slightly.

Installing apps is cumbersome for no reason at all. The Gear Fit app throws up multiple dialog boxes before every download, asking whether you want to download directly to the device (the Gear Fit 2 Pro has Wi-Fi as before), informing you that downloads over 1MB can result in high mobile data charges (even if your phone is connected to Wi-Fi), and then a permissions screen. On top of all that, installation takes too long, and apps in the queue don’t download if the phone’s screen goes off.

samung gear fit 2 pro app Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro

 

Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro activity monitoring, GPS, music, and notifications

Like its predecessor, the Gear Fit 2 Pro is capable of tracking a wide variety of activities. That includes walking, cycling, squats, and yoga, as well as using exercise bikes and rowing machines. The one big addition this time is swimming. That’s made possible thanks to full waterproofing on Samsung’s new wearable, as opposed to just splash-proofing on the older Gear Fit 2. The device can track these activities automatically, but you won’t get a GPS route of your exercise unless you trigger it manually.

Getting a GPS lock takes a long time on the Gear Fit 2 Pro with an iPhone, more so if there are a lot of trees or skyscrapers on the route you normally use. It can mean losing the first one to two minutes of your activity, and in some cases, the device might even give up and ask you to move into an open space to try again. With Android, it’s a lot better as Samsung can pull A-GPS data from your paired phone.

But hey, the fact that built-in GPS is an option means that you can leave behind your bulky phone, and not have to deal with arm straps during workouts. The Bluetooth functionality and 4GB of onboard storage let you carry music with you and use wireless headphones. There’s a caveat to that storage figure though – of the 4GB, 1.9GB is already occupied by the system itself, so you start off with 2.1GB. Still, that’s enough space for nearly 300 songs encoded at 320kbps, with an average length of 3 minutes.

You can use Wi-Fi to transfer music via the Gear Music Manager app, and you can even use it to maintain a remote connection with your phone beyond the capability of Bluetooth. That way, you’ll know when you’re getting a call (and other notifications) even if your phone is silent and in some corner of the house, as long as you’re wearing the Gear Fit 2 Pro of course.

Notifications support is wider than with most Fitbits, and alerts from every app – on both Android and iOS – will show up on the wearable. On Android, you can turn off what notifications you want from the app, but with iOS, all notifications are on by default and can be blocked the first time they pop up. With Samsung’s own phones, you can send canned replies too.

samung gear fit 2 pro s health Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro

 

Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro performance

We tested the Gear Fit 2 Pro against mile markers on a running track, and with the built-in GPS on, the Gear Fit 2 Pro was well on point during activity tracking, with a 3 percent average error rate in distance measured. Turn the GPS off, and the Samsung wearable became a lot worse, arriving at an 11 percent average error rate. (Runkeeper, using an iPhone’s built-in GPS, showed an average error rate of less than 3 percent.)

When cycling, the Gear Fit 2 Pro’s GPS problem is more pronounced, since bikes are naturally faster than running. We found that we lost records of the first 40-60 seconds of our exercise routines, unless we were okay waiting for the device to get a lock before starting off. Even worse, doing so affected all our stats, as Samsung considers that time as part of the activity.

Samsung’s S Health app hasn’t gotten the facelift it needs, but the amount of data it gives you for your exercises is great. It’s deeper than what the likes of Fitbit and Runkeeper provide, owing to how both those apps generate revenue for their makers. The behemoth that is Samsung has no need to lock your data behind a paywall. Samsung is also trying to keep up with Fitbit’s innovations in the sleep department, giving you a look at light and deep sleep, and how much rest you actually got.

In terms of battery life, the Gear Fit 2 Pro lasts two to three days with moderate usage. That’s if you keep Wi-Fi and GPS off through the day, and only rely on Bluetooth to maintain a connection to your phone. For those used to the five days that most Fitbit devices can manage, this means more frequent charges. It only takes a little over an hour to get it from single digits to a full charge, given the 200mAh battery.

samung gear fit 2 pro fitbit charge 2 Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro Fitbit Charge 2

 

Verdict
The Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro isn’t a game-changer compared to its predecessor, but waterproofing and continuous heart tracking are welcome additions, especially since they come without a price bump. The Pro model has been launched at the same Rs. 13,990 price as Gear Fit 2, and is already down to Rs. 13,590 in retail. Samsung was quite aggressive with the pricing of the original, bringing it down to Rs. 11,990 in a few months, and it eventually hit Rs. 8,990, and we could see the same pattern this time around.

Even if that doesn’t happen, Samsung’s latest is already more affordable than the Fitbit Charge 2 (Rs. 14,990, but often discounted). Moreover, the Gear Fit 2 Pro has more features and capabilities than the Charge 2 – built-in GPS, a Super AMOLED display, full notifications support, and now waterproofing – that Samsung would be our first choice even if it winds up costing a little more.

Pros:

  • Built-in GPS
  • Super AMOLED screen is still great
  • Waterproofing, can track swims
  • Full notifications support

Cons:

  • Region-locked store is frustrating
  • Display is weak outdoors
  • Inaccurate without GPS

Ratings (out of 5)

  • Design: 4
  • Tracking: 4
  • Other features: 5
  • Value for money: 3.5
  • Overall: 4

[“Source-ndtv”]

Metal Gear Survive, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, Shadow of the Colossus, and Other Games Releasing This February

Metal Gear Survive, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, Shadow of the Colossus, and Other Games Releasing This February

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Shadow of the Colossus for the PS4 is a remaster of the PS2 classic
  • Metal Gear Survive is the first entry in the series minus its creator
  • Bayonetta 1 and 2 will come to the Nintendo Switch

Now that the 2017 hangover is done with, we’re now stepping into February where an exciting lineup of games wait us. We have some great remasters like Secret of Mana and Shadow of the Colossus, along with some ports of some of the hottest action games that we didn’t get to play the first time around. Don’t worry, we have some great originals releases out in February too. Here’s our un-cluttered list of the games that are a must-play this month, starting with a spin-off on the biggest stealth game franchise ever.

 

Metal Gear Survive
The Metal Gear Solid franchise has a long, convoluted history behind it that was masterfully pieced together by the legendary game developer Hideo Kojima. He may be out working on his own new IP, but Konami has found a way that may just make the franchise more interesting – by adding zombies.

It sounds like an easy cash grab, but Metal Gear survive does have a lot of new concepts at work that help it transition well from a stealth action game to a survival horror one. Besides the hide and attack bits, you can now craft a myriad of items and traps on the fly to better prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Or at least give you some very entertaining ways for dealing with them.

 

  • Metal Gear Survive release date: February 22
  • Metal Gear Survive platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
  • Metal Gear Survive price: Rs. 2,790 on PC & Xbox One, Rs. 2,750 on PS4 ($39.99 in the US)

Age of Empires: Definitive Edition
It’s time for old-school strategy game fans to relive their glory days. Age of Empires returns with much better visuals, improved gameplay, and basically all the pampering you’ve come to expect from modern gaming, while retaining the original feel. It’s not just a cheap remaster either. Age of Empires has been rebuilt from the ground-up with 4K visuals, redone narration and pacing, as well what’s touted to be a much better 8-player online multiplayer gaming experience. Will it touch the right nostalgic chords? We’ll know soon enough.

 

  • Age of Empires: DE release date: February 20
  • Age of Empires: DE platforms: PC
  • Age of Empires: DE price: Rs. 574 ($19.99 in the US)

Bayonetta 1+2 Collection
Missed Bayonetta 2? Can’t blame you considering it was originally released only on the Nintendo Wii U. But now with the immensely more popular Nintendo Switch, the game will finally have the reach that it deserves. To make sure you’re completely up to speed for the upcoming Bayonetta 3, you also get the original Bayonetta as well, which simply sweetens the deal.

 

  • Bayonetta 1+2 Collection release date: February 16
  • Bayonetta 1+2 Collection platforms: Switch
  • Bayonetta 1+2 Collection price: $59.99 USD (roughly Rs.3,830)

Kingdom Come: Deliverance
It’s not Skyrim, but it is a story-driven open-world RPG that will just scratch that itch. Kingdom Come: Deliverance offers a highly detailed and period accurate set pieces including real-world locations and castles, and spins a story that’s ripe with the right amount of facts and fiction. Even the combat style and soundtrack used in the game are real representations of the 15th century European setting that the game is based in. If you like attention to minute details, then this game is exactly what you need.

 

  • Kingdom Come: Deliverance release date: February 13
  • Kingdom Come: Deliverance platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
  • Kingdom Come: Deliverance price: Rs. 1,179 on PC, Rs. 3,999 on consoles ($59.99 in the US)

Shadow of the Colossus
Yes we know it’s been remastered before on the PS3 and originally on the PS2 before that, but the PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus is a whole new beast. The visuals are brand new in this version instead of just a texture upgrade that we saw in the PS3 re-release, so the game looks a lot better than it ever did. Moreover the most frustrating part of the original game has been redone as well. Yes, we’re talking about the controls. If you haven’t played this game on any of the previous generation of consoles, you should give this one a try only for the most epic boss battles in the history of PlayStation.

 

  • Shadow of the Colossus release date: February 7
  • Shadow of the Colossus platforms: PS4
  • Shadow of the Colossus price: Rs. 2,750 ($39.99 in the US)

This isn’t all either, if you’re using Xbox Live Gold, here’s what you can play this month.

Games for Xbox Live Gold – February 2018

  • Shadow Warrior (Xbox One)
  • Assassin’s Creed Chronicles – India (Xbox One, Feb 16 to Mar 15)
  • Split/Second (Xbox 360, Feb 1 to 15)
  • Crazy Taxi (Xbox 360, Feb 16 to 28)

What are you planning to play this month? Let us know via the comments.

 

 

[“Source-ndtv”]