Category Archives: Ars Approved

Mini-review: The 2017 MacBook could actually be your everyday laptop

Andrew Cunningham

The MacBook Air has been one of Apple's most popular, most enduring laptop designs, but that wasn't always the case. When the first version of the laptop was released back in 2008, you had to pay too high a price for its thinness and lightness. And I'm not just talking about the literal price of the thing, either, although its $1,799 starting price was steep by any standard.

No, the main problems were that its anemic port selection made it annoying to use with the accessories of the day, while the available processors and hard drives made for a really slow, frustrating computer. It was way thinner and lighter than anything else you could get at the time, but most of the compromises weren't worth it.

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Review: 10.5-inch iPad Pro is “pro” hardware waiting for pro software

Andrew Cunningham

Nothing Apple has done in the last three years has reversed the iPad’s sales decline, or stopped it, or even really slowed it down all that much. But 2017 has made clear that if the iPad keeps falling, it won’t be for lack of trying.

On the software side, you’ve got iOS 11, an update that makes iOS 9’s multitasking additions look rudimentary and quaint. It adds a distinctly Mac-like application dock and dramatically changes how the device runs and interacts with multiple apps at the same time. The changes allow for much-improved "window" and file management, and you can easily drag-and-drop content between apps.

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Arms review: Nintendo reinvents the fighting game and it’s brilliant

Enlarge

Like Splatoon and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo's Arms takes an established genre—in this case, the classic one-on-one fighting game—and turns it on its head. Gone are the side-on views, fast close-quarters combat, and complex combos adopted by almost every fighting game since the debut of Capcom's seminal Street Fighter II in 1991.

In their place is a bold mix of long-range, third-person combat played at a strategic pace far removed from the split-second timing and dexterous button bashing typical of the genre. There are even motion controls that not only work with surprising accuracy, but are more appealing than their tactile counterparts.

Having been burned by motion-controlled flops like the Kinect-powered Fighters Uncaged, or even Nintendo's own notoriously shallow Wii Sports Boxing, I'm surprised that Arms' motion controls work as well as they do. More surprising is that, despite the motion controls and Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic, Arms is a game of boundless depth. Even now, after hours spent swinging wildly at a television, I have barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer. Arms isn't a button-masher (or arm-flailer) for the casual crowd, but a complex fighter for those with a steady hand and the patience for betterment.

In short, Arms is utterly brilliant.

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RiME game review: An unforgettable memorial vacation

Enlarge / RiME is often a peaceful game, but it has a few harrowing moments. (credit: Tequila Works)

I have had one of the most gorgeous Memorial Day weekends that I can recall, replete with beautiful, exotic memories. Some are dotted with endless coastlines and remarkable rock formations. Others are covered by bizarre memorials to an unnamed past, all scorched by the sun and set into contrast by raging thunderstorms. Each has contained its fair share of sky-burning sunsets, foliage-lined cavern glades, and wild animals.

Roughly every 15 minutes, I have stopped, marveled, and taken a photo. Now that my trip is complete, I have a scrapbook of my experiences. It's among my favorites of the past few years.

This has been my experience with the video game RiME, which launched a few days ago on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PCs. I got behind on other work ahead of the Memorial Day weekend and figured I'd play this cute, "narrative puzzle-platformer" in a few hours, then write some impressions before I clocked out for the holiday.

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Strafe: Difficult, randomly generated Quake-like kicks ‘90s ass

Strafe gameplay demonstration. (video link)


You would be forgiven for getting tired of procedurally generated and "roguelike" video games. Too often, these types of games rely on the gimmick of random content, as opposed to finely crafted, enjoyable experiences. Math and procedural trickery don't make up for a game whose difficulty or boredom doesn't come with a payoff.

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Hands in the box: New puzzle game Statik does right by VR

Enlarge / That’s how the doc’s face looks throughout Statik Institute of Retention. (credit: Tarsier Studios)

The first thing Statik Institute of Retention gets right is that it leans into every single limitation of the PlayStation VR platform.

The last thing Statik gets right is that it turns those limitations into a bizarre, brilliant rumination on our relationship with computers and games—in a way that only brilliant sci-fi can pull off.

Along the way, the PlayStation VR game reveals its share of successes and failures, but through all of those, this VR debut from Swedish developer Tarsier Studios lands on PSVR as the platform’s most compelling sit-down experience yet.

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Review: Apple’s $329 iPad is for people who have never upgraded their tablet

Andrew Cunningham

Apple isn’t shy about admitting it: the biggest feature of its newest iPad is the price. At $329, it’s $70 cheaper than the iPad Air 2 used to be, $270 cheaper than the smaller iPad Pro costs now, and $170 cheaper than the initial starting price of the iPad back in 2010. It’s a big shift, especially after a year-and-a-half where larger and more expensive iPads were Apple’s main focus.

That’s apparently where the users are. Apple told us that the iPad Air 2 was its most popular iPad, and it had been since its introduction in October of 2014. It was the most popular with enterprises, the most popular with small businesses, the most popular in schools, and the most popular with people who were new to the iPad altogether (more than half of all iPad Air 2 buyers were picking up their first iPad). And even after the introduction of the iPad Mini in 2012 and the big iPad Pro in 2015, the 9.7-inch screen size has remained the most popular of the three.

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Mini-review: Asus cranks out another excellent $700 Ultrabook

Andrew Cunningham

If you want the “best” Windows laptop right now, it’s hard to argue with stuff like Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 or HP’s Spectre x360. But a lot of the time, people don’t want the “best” laptop so much as they want the best laptop they can get for a certain amount of money.

In the last couple of years, a few of Asus’ midrange Zenbooks have done a nice job striking a balance between price and features. The $700-ish Zenbook UX305 laptops in particular were easy to recommend, though the Zenbook Flip model that debuted at the same price had a few too many flaws for our liking.

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Corsair One review: The best small form factor PC we’ve ever tested

Enlarge (credit: Mark Walton)

Specs at a glance: Corsair One
Lowest Middle Best (as reviewed)
OS Windows 10 Home 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i7-7700 (liquid cooled) Intel Core i7-7700K (liquid cooled) Intel Core i7-7700K (liquid cooled)
RAM 16GB DDR4 2,400MHz (8GBx2) 16GB DDR4 2,400MHz (8GBx2) 16GB DDR4 2,400MHz (8GBx2)
GPU Nvidia GTX 1070 (air cooled) Nvidia GTX 1080 8GB (liquid cooled) Nvidia GTX 1080 8GB (liquid cooled)
HDD 240GB SATA SSD, 1TB HDD 480GB SATA SSD, 2TB HDD 960GB SATA SSD
PSU 400W SFX 400W SFX 400W SFX
NETWORKING Gigabit Ethernet, AC Wi-Fi
PORTS 3 x USB 3.1 Type-A, 1 x USB-3.1 Type-C, 2 x USB 2.0, 2 x DisplayPort, 2x HDMI, headphone jack, microphone jack
SIZE Height: 380mm (18.6 inches), depth: 200mm (14.19 inches), width: 176mm (8.35 inches)
WEIGHT 7.4kg
WARRANTY Two years with 24/7 support and five day repair turnaround
PRICE £1800/$1800 £2200/$2200 £2300/$2300

It's hard to believe that the Corsair One comes from the same company that designed the Bulldog, a small form factor PC so monstrously ugly that the mere thought of placing it in a living room was enough to set off a spousal gag reflex. Where the Bulldog was a confused mishmash of jaunty, l33t gamer angles, the One is sleek, sophisticated, and—dare I say it—even a little grown up.

That Corsair continues to sell a slightly updated version of the Bulldog is something of mystery considering just how good the Corsair One is. Of all the small form factor (SFF) PCs I've tried—and there have been quite a few over the past year—it is by far the best. I'd even go as as to say it's one of the best pre-built PCs you can buy, full stop.

At £2,300 for a fully loaded version, the Corsair One isn't cheap by any means—and as always, going the DIY route can lead to substantial savings—but few homebrew PCs have such a tiny footprint. Fewer still do so while being entirely liquid cooled, graphics card and all. It's a combo that results in a PC that doesn't just fit into the living room environment aesthetically, but acoustically too.

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Review: Better GPU and 4K screen make the XPS 15 a MacBook Pro for PC users

Andrew Cunningham

PC companies are striving to make their 13-inch laptops ever thinner and lighter, a trend that has been good for our shoulders and backs but not as good for performance. Luckily, 15-inch laptops are there to serve as a counterweight, offering not just quad-core processors but increasingly powerful and desktop-like graphics chips.

Dell’s XPS 15, much like Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro, attempts to straddle the line between svelte and powerful. It’s not the smallest or most powerful laptop, but last year’s model struck a good balance between size and speed even if the best configurations were on the expensive side. This year’s version doesn’t change a lot, but a new more power-efficient GPU, a Kaby Lake CPU upgrade, and a fingerprint reader all make it worth reconsidering anyway.

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