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    Testing: Logitech G502 Proteus Core Gaming Mouse

    Wait, wasn't it just one year ago that Logitech released the G500s, the rebirth of its venerated G5 line of gaming mice? Hold on for just a second while I check my review. Yep, that was just last March. But here we are, with another new high-end gaming mouse, the G502. And this year, Logitech's given it a fancy moniker: the Proteus Core. I'm not sure if that's meant to evoke a certain StarCraft faction in gamers' minds, or simply a take on the SAT-friendly word 'protean', meaning versatile or adaptable. The latter's likely the case, given the G502's ability to be calibrated for different mousing surfaces (glass and mirrors notwithstanding). Regardless, Logitech's new flagship is an aggressive product, an $80 mouse that not only succeeds last year's G500s, but revamps the design of Logitech's gaming mouse line. That curvy G5 design that I was so hot on last year has once again been retired (at least temporarily).

    I've been testing the G502 for about a week, in first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, and lots of desktop imaging work. I'm not a MOBA player, so my perspective may not reflect those playing the dominant PC gaming game type today. And as I've said before, a gaming mouse is an accessory that most people rarely change--they find the one that works for them and stick with it. If you like the Razer DeathAdder, Mad Catz R.A.T., or even Logitech's own previous G-series, mice, there's really not a lot of reason to spend another $80 on a new gaming mouse unless your current one breaks. Gaming mice technology has really reached a point where every new generation of product offers fewer new benefits; product engineers really feel like they're reaching when they push the boundaries of sensor DPI or add more configurable buttons. And the G502 has plenty of those new back-of-box features, for sure. Let's run through them and evaluate whether they truly add any benefit to your gaming experience.

    Arguably the most important component in a gaming mouse is its sensor, and the G502's optical (IR) sensor was apparently designed from the ground up to introduce two notable features. The first is DPI (dots per inch, or technically counts per inch) sensitivity that ranges from 200 to 12000. You read that correctly: this mouse is sensitive to past 10,000 DPI, which I believe is a first for a gaming mouse. (Consider that the G5, circa 2005, topped out at 2000 DPI). At that maximum setting, the tiniest flick of the wrist will send the cursor all the way across a 1080p panel; it's meant for gamers who want to make extremely large movements quickly, or desktop users running multiple monitors spanning many thousands of pixels wide. Of course, high DPI doesn't denote accuracy, just sensitivity. A mouse set to 10,000 DPI isn't useful if it isn't accurate at that "resolution"--the trick is testing the mouse's accuracy at the sensitivities that you find most useful.

    The Best Wi-Fi Router (So Far)

    If you need to pick up a new router today, you should get the Asus RT-AC56U. It’s not the absolute fastest router on the market, so why do we like it? It turns out that most Wi-Fi tests are performed using technology that even the absolute latest laptops won't see for years, and the speeds touted on the box and in many reviews don't actually reflect real-world speeds. Most of us don’t own devices that would take advantage of that extra technology—even if you own the latest MacBooks, Lenovos, or iPads, according to our (light) tests—so you'd be paying extra for performance you're not likely to experience. Future-proofing yourself at twice the cost (or more) today is not only a bad idea—specs often drift over time—it's also more cost-effective to just upgrade your router again in the future when you get newer technology.

    According to our research, the RT-AC56U offers the best overall performance for the price, and it has an easy-to-use interface to boot.

    The Best Portable Hard Drive Today

    After 30 hours of research and nearly 40 hours of testing, we determined that the 2TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim is our new favorite portable hard drive. It’s slimmer, lighter, and faster than our previous pick, the WD My Passport Ultra. However, you should not buy the 4TB version, also known as the Seagate Backup Plus Fast. Though it may seem like a better value, it’s not as reliable (more on this later).

    The 2TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim weighs just 0.33 pounds and is one of the thinnest portable drives out there, measuring .48 inches thick. The Slim also bests our previous pick, the WD My Passport Ultra, in speed, and the drive’s plastic case doesn’t flex or creak under pressure like the WD’s case. The 2TB model is less expensive per terabyte than the 1TB and 500GB models, making it the best value aside from the 4TB Seagate Backup Plus Fast, which you should avoid.

    Photo credit: Flickr user linsinchen via Creative Commons.

    But the WD My Passport Ultra is still a solid alternative should our new pick go out of stock. If you’re in need of a ruggedized drive, our previous recommendation, theSilicon Power Armor A80, is still the best shockproof and waterproof option available. And for professionals or those who know they need a Thunderbolt connection, we still recommend the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt.

    Who should(n’t) buy this

    If your external hard drive is just going to sit on your desk all the time and never budge, you’re better off with a desktop external because it’s faster and you can get more storage for less money. For example, our desktop pick—which isn’t the fastest desktop hard drive out there—has faster read and write speeds by about 30 megabytes per second and is about $20 cheaper per terabyte than our portable recommendation at the time of writing.

    You’ll be paying more per terabyte and sacrificing some speed, but a portable hard drive can be the perfect backup solution for your laptop.

    But if you need an external drive that can be (carefully) tossed in a bag and used on the go, a portable hard drive is just what you’re looking for. You’ll be paying more per terabyte and sacrificing some speed, but a portable hard drive can be the perfect backup solution for your laptop or a way to store photos and other data while traveling or commuting.

    Most portable externals use 2.5-inch hard drives, which are powered entirely by the USB or Thunderbolt connection. This means that portable hard drives don’t need an additional power adapter, unlike desktop external drives, and are consequently more convenient to use while traveling. Portable hard drives are usually much smaller and lighter than their desktop counterparts.

    However, most portable hard drives have smaller platters and slower rotation speeds, which translates to slower read and write times and longer waits for file transfers. The 2.5-inch HDDs typically found in portable drives currently max out at 2TB, compared to 3.5-inch desktop external drives that go up to 4TB. So if you need more than 2TB, you’ll be stuck buying multiple portable externals versus a single desktop drive. Again, portable hard drives are also generally more expensive per terabyte than desktop options.

    Hands-On: Virtuix Omni Treadmill with Oculus Rift

    We strap on a harness and step on board the Virtuix Omni motion tracker at this year's Game Developers Conference. The Kickstarter-backed treadmill system pairs with an Oculus Rift development kit to simulate walking and running in a first-person shooter. It took a little getting used to, but the experience was unlike anything we've tried before.

    The Best Utility Knife Today

    If you’re looking for a utility knife for general around-the-house use, we recommend the Milwaukee Fastback II ($15). After 25 hours of research and hands-on testing of 20 different knives, we found that, simply put, this knife has it all. It can be easily (and quickly) opened and closed with one hand. It has a comfortable grip with all the right contours and finger notches. Changing blades is easy and it has a nice, springy belt hook. For increased safety, the knife locks in both the open and closed position. And finally, despite its thin profile, it still has room to store one additional blade.

    If you’re heading down the path of an aggressive DIY lifestyle and feel that the ability to store multiple blades on a knife is essential, we recommend that you go with the Olympia Turbopro ($16). Even with its extremely compact body (thinner than the Fastback II), it still has the capability to house five additional blades. It also has an auto-load feature to make blade changes freakishly easy. It’s a nice durable knife and the butt end has a small carabiner clip so it can be hooked on a belt loop.

    For those of you who aren’t comfortable handling a utility knife and will only use it for really basic tasks, we recommend the Milwaukee Self-Retracting Knife ($12). This knife has a spring-loaded blade that withdraws into the handle as soon as the thumb slide is released. While this feature makes it a very safe knife to use, it also limits the ways you can hold it, making it difficult for anything more than very basic cutting.

    In Brief: Sony Announces Project Morpheus VR Headset

    I think this is something most people saw coming, but Sony today announced that it has been working on a virtual reality headset for its PlayStation 4 console. And thankfully it's not the virtual reality headset prototype we saw at CES, which was little more than a motion tracker slapped on Sony's HMZ-T3 display. Unveiled at a GDC press conference, Project Morpheus (as in Dream of the Endless, not the character from The Matrix) is a head-tracking HMD that's much more Oculus Rift than personal movie theater, with specs that look very similar to Oculus VR's Crystal Cove prototype. Morpheus uses a 5-inch 1080p display (LCD instead of Oculus' AMOED), tracks with a combination of accelerometer, gyro, and camera, and has optics that display games with a 90-degree FOV. Sony also carted out the keywords that will be familiar to anyone following modern VR work: presence, low latency, and 3D audio. It's apparently something Sony has been exploring since 2010, when its labs attached Move controllers to a HMD. This being GDC, Sony of course announced plenty of software partners for its VR initiative, including some developers that have already shown work on the Oculus Rift. There's no launch timeframe for Project Morpheus, but I bet that this holiday season is going to be really interesting for fans of virtual reality. What do you guys think of Sony's announcement?

    Norman 2
    The Best Computer Speakers Today

    If someone asked me what’s the best all-around buy in a 2.0-channel computer or desktop speaker system today, I’d recommend the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40. It offers sound that’s competitive with everything we’ve heard under $300, yet it’s readily available for just $119.

    That said, the AV 40s can be a bit large and not very nice to look at, so we have some alternative picks as well. The Audioengine A2+ is sleekly designed, super-compact, and sounds fantastic, although it isn’t real loud and doesn’t have a lot of bass. The Grace Digital GDI-BTSP201 sounds good (although not as good as the AV 40 or the A2+) and adds Bluetooth wireless plus a user-friendly design and control layout. The Edifier Spinnaker has a cool, cutting-edge design with a handy wireless remote, Bluetooth, and pretty good sound.

    Photo credit: Flickr user mikeporesky via Creative Commons.

    Unfortunately, while all these speakers have okay bass response, if you want really big bass, you’ll probably want a 2.1 system, which will include a separate subwoofer. (It’s difficult or impossible to add a subwoofer to most 2.0 computer speaker systems.) We expect to test 2.1 systems soon.

    The Best Standing Desk Mat (So Far)

    If you use a standing desk, you should also be using an anti-fatigue mat. This will provide support for your feet and relieve pressure on your heels, back, legs, and shoulders, which in turn helps you stand for longer. After hours of research and weeks of foot-on testing, we recommend the Imprint CumulusPro for just under $100. We found it was the most supportive out of the dozens considered and five tested. What’s more, it won't off-gas toxic chemicals, has a ten-year warranty, and feels great to stand on.

    And if our main pick is sold out, we recommend the WellnessMats Original—it’s a little less supportive than our main pick, but it’s a good alternative if you need to buy something now.

    The best way to keep your body happy and healthy while working and reduce the risk of ailments caused by sitting on your butt all day is to split your work day between sitting and standing. You can read more about the dangers of constant sitting in our standing desk guide and blog post about how to stand at your desk.

    The Best Wireless IP Camera Today

    After 20 hours of researching, interviewing experts, and testing, I found the Dropcam Pro to be the best wireless IP camera for most people. Though it's not an all-encompassing security solution, the $200 Dropcam Pro hits the sweet spot for those looking for a basic piece of monitoring kit that’s easy to set up and use indoors. In addition, the latest Dropcam has a robust set of improvements over the previous Dropcam, including better image quality at 1080p, a 130-degree field of view, a new zoom function that lets you focus with clarity on a particular area, and even better night vision. Oh, and it will soon communicate with other smart devices in your home.

    Who should get this?

    If home security is your primary reason to get a network camera, Dropcam is not for you…

    If you’re looking to check in periodically on your home, pet, business or tiny human being with the best possible picture quality, and you’re interested in the burgeoning connected/smart home market, then the Dropcam Pro is for you. This is not, however, for the security buff or those looking for wired IP camera networks or full CCTV systems. It also doesn’t tie into connected home security systems (like our pick, FrontPoint Interactive), which typically use Z-Wave or Zigbee-compatible security cameras. And, of course, it can’t see anything if the power or Wi-Fi goes out. If home security is your primary reason to get a network camera, Dropcam is not for you—instead consider, you know, a home security system.

    This is geared towards those wanting a basic monitoring system that’s easy to use, set up, and monitor from anywhere. There’s no need to run Ethernet cables, figure out your IP address or configure your firewall. You don’t have to worry about setting up a home server or swapping memory cards to record and view footage either because it’s all done in the cloud. Just set it and forget it.

    If you would prefer a more tinker-friendly setup and are willing to put in the effort, that’s cool too, but we think most people are better served by an easier-to-use, all-inclusive package. That said, we did look at a few less-user-friendly options and you can read our takes on them in the competition section.

    You Should Use A Mechanical Keyboard

    Do you have a computer? Do you have fingers? Do you type or game on that computer using your fingers on a keyboard? You should get a mechanical keyboard.

    Cherry MX Black switch CREDIT: OCN

    The vast majority of mechanical keyboards on the market today (aside from Model M-alikes) use Cherry MX switches. These switches are referred to by color, e.g. Cherry MX Reds. Each color has slightly different action, and this guide at Overclock.net is the canonical reference for such things.

    In my experience, the type of mechanical keyswitches matters less than the fact of mechanical switches--compared to the dome-membrane of cheap desktop keyboards, or scissor switches of most laptop keyboards, they last longer and feel better to type on, and you can press more keys at once. Plus (depending on the type of switch) they're actually easier to use. The only hitch is the cost: you're looking at around $60 minimum for a mechanical keyboard, like one from Monoprice.

    Photo credit: Flickr user ydolon via Creative Commons.

    The difference between typing on a mechanical keyboard and using a standard dome membrane keyboard is like the difference between running on a track in running shoes and running barefoot on sand. And no, I don't want to hear about your minimalist running shoes or your Vibram FiveFingers. But silly metaphors aren't the real reason to buy a mechanical keyboard. Here are the real reasons.

    The Best Surge Protector Today

    If I were recommending a surge protector for general home office or audio/video use, I’d suggest the APC Surgearrest 3020J. It offers best-in-class surge protection and enough outlets for almost any application. But depending on what you’re going to do with your surge protector—and even on where you live—another model may work better for you.

    We also liked the Belkin BG108000-04 Conserve, a close second in our surge protection tests. The Belkin comes with a wireless switch that lets you turn off 6 of its 8 outlets from up to 60 feet away. And if you want something more portable for travel, we discovered that our pick for best mini USB power strip (or alternatively, the Tripp-Lite SK120USB, which appears to be the same thing, but was in stock at the time of testing) also provides a respectable amount of surge protection for its size.

    Finally, if all you want is a couple of extra outlets and you don’t care to pay extra for outlet-access-maximizing design, we found that your typical $10 surge strip isn’t all that much worse than many of the fancier, more expensive models we tested when it came to clamping down on power surges.

    Hands-On with Sixense STEM VR Motion-Tracking System

    New technologies like the Oculus Rift and the Omni treadmill are renewing interest and faith in virtual reality as a viable platform for gaming, but we still don't have a good control system for tracking your limbs and body inside a virtual space. The inventors of Razer's Hydra controller technology have a new motion-tracking system that they think is the solution. We give the STEM system a quick test and learn about its uses in gaming and 3D modelling.

    Dude, Don't Get a Dell 4K Monitor

    You've probably seen the news that came out of CES a few weeks ago: 4K ultra-high-definition monitors for under $1000! Dell announced the P2815Q, a 28-inch 3840x2160 panel for just $700, and you can already buy it. Lenovo and Asus both announced their own sub-$1000 4K panels at the show--the Lenovo ThinkVision 2840m and Asus PB287Q, both shipping in spring or summer for $800 and both offering that 28-inch 4K experience. But are any of them good enough to buy?

    Nope. Not yet.

    More like Twisted-No-Thankyou

    All the sub-$1000 4K monitors announced so far--at least the ones we have any panel information on--use twisted-nematic (TN) displays rather than in-plane-switching (IPS) panels. A TN panel can have quicker refresh rates, but everything else about it is inferior to IPS: the viewing angles are bad, the colors are more washed out, and it inherently can't reproduce as wide an array of colors as an IPS panel, so it's not accurate enough to use for photo or video editing. (More on the difference in this previous column.)

    Dell's P2815Q

    TN panels are still popular with twitch gamers because they can have much quicker pixel refresh times than IPS monitors, which can be important in fast multiplayer shooters. And indeed, Dell advertises a 5ms refresh rate, which on the surface seems fast enough for gamers. But that leads us the next problem with Dell's 28-inch 4K monitor, and possibly the other two as well.

    The Best Bluetooth On-Ear or Over-Ear Headphones

    If I really needed a pair of Bluetooth headphones, I’d get the Jabra REVOs (also available from Apple), which (currently) carry an average price tag but have better build and sound quality than your average Bluetooth headphones. However, as relatively good as they are compared to peers, you can get better wired headphones for a lot less. Unless you really need wireless capabilities, you’re better off with traditional headphones.

    After researching extensively, considering 50 pairs and testing the best-reviewed 16, our panel of experts all agreed they liked our pick. Not only did the REVOs sound great, they were comfortable and built to last, and they have some really nice extra features: NFC pairing, cool touch controls, a cord with a remote and mic, a free app that allows you to tweak the EQ, and a helpful voice prompt that talks you through pairing.

    How Did We Pick a Winner?

    First, I interviewed a number of experts. However, many headphone enthusiasts are loath to use/recommend Bluetooth headphones because of the audio quality and cost. In fact, one well-known reviewer replied to my inquiries with a simple “Sorry, I’m no fan of BT.” That was the entire email. Another reviewer, Tyll Hertsens of Innerfidelity, could only recommend one pair of Bluetooth headphones. As a result, identifying a pool of headphones to test was an uphill battle.

    I then took to user reviews on Amazon, Best Buy, CNET, Crutchfield and more to see what real people had liked. From there, I looked to see what was new on the market and untested; based on that list, I came up with 16 that looked the most promising and called them in to put them through their paces.

    Each of the panelists…spent several hours pairing, listening…and then selecting their top three.

    We then brought in a faceoff panel consisting ofGeoff Morrison, A/V Editor for the Wirecutter and writer for CNET, Forbes, and many other AV magazines; John Higgins, a session musician and music/audio teacher at The Windward School, and me, Lauren Dragan, a writer for Wirecutter and Sound&Vision and a professional voice actor with a dual bachelors degree in music and audio production.

    Each of the panelists brought their own device and music selections and spent several hours pairing, listening, adding the cord, listening again and then selecting their top three. After I took into account price and features, we had a clear winner.

    Testing: Logitech PowerShell Controller for iOS

    Since the first games appeared in Apple's app store, the iPhone and iPod Touch have been eating away at dedicated handhelds' market share in mobile gaming. With the convenience of being able to play great-looking games on a smartphone, not only were more people playing games, but those people were playing games on the iPhone at the expense of Nintendo and Sony's portable consoles. But a contingent of "core" gamers would not be swayed so easily--the lack of physical buttons on the iPhone made it an inferior platform for "traditional" console games. Simulating those buttons on a touchscreen (or the use of capacitive accessories) was a stopgap measure, often implemented poorly. And while developers eventually figured out how to make excellent games that suit touch, accelerometer, and gyroscope controls, there hasn't been a good solution for the kind of side-scrollers or platformers that we loved on the DS and PSP. Mario beats endless runners any day of the week.

    iOS games could benefit from physical controls. But be careful what you wish for, because you might get just it.

    Last fall's iOS 7 introduced a MFi (Made for iPhone) specification for certifying hardware controls for iOS games. That meant accessory makers could create gamepads and cases with thumbsticks, buttons, and triggers that would work with any MFi-enabled game, no proprietary Bluetooth connection or API required. Three MFi controllers have been announced so far, from Logitech, MOGA, and SteelSeries, and Logitech's PowerShell is the first one I've tested. And after a month playing games with it on my iPhone 5, I'm left unenthused about the prospect of bootstrapping hardware game controls for any iOS games at all.

    The PowerShell works exactly as advertised: you get to have physical analog buttons for a variety of side-scrollers, adventure games, flight sims, and fighting games. But its problem isn't compatibility, it's one of ergonomics.

    In Brief: Vizio and Dell Bring Down the Price of 4K

    There are many barriers to 4K display adoption. For televisions, 4K only makes sense for consumers if four major criteria are met: content needs to be shot in 4K, edited in that resolution, broadcast or delivered in a mainstream format, and finally, the televisions themselves have to be affordable. Content providers like Netflix are working to solve the first of those three criteria--eg. with its House of Cards Season 2--and it'll be a year or two until 4K TVs come down dramatically in price. Or maybe not. This week, both Vizio and Polaroid announced 50-inch 4K televisions for $1000, well below what LG and Samsung have been pricing their Ultra HD sets. From reports, Vizio's 4K TV looks more promising in terms of image quality, though there are many unknowns such as refresh rate and input options.

    On the PC side, desktop operating systems and web content can scale to whatever resolution a monitor supports, so 4K adoption there is a more a factor of price. Dell's 28-inch Ultrasharp P2815Q monitor was just confirmed for $700, well below the sub-$1000 promise that Dell made late last year. That's an incredibly attractive price for a 3840x2160 resolution display, and may get me to trade-up from my current 30-inch 1600p monitor.

    Norman
    Intel CES Keynote Focuses on Wearables You Probably Won't Wear

    At Intel's 2014 CES keynote, chief executive Brian Krzanich could have focused on the technology Intel is developing to compete in the mobile market. Smartphone and tablet processors are a huge market, and one that Intel is still struggling to compete in. Intel wants to get its chips into many, many more devices than PCs. Mobile, then, is the obvious choice. But Intel went with something less obvious: wearables.

    Smartwatches, smart earbuds, smart chargers, smart you name it. That's the future Intel's shooting for, and the one Krzanich talked about in his CES 2014 keynote. The "smart" echo also follows the trend of CES's past, which promises that processors and wireless transmitters embedded in our washing machines and watches will make them better. The questions of how and why are usually left unanswered.

    The key piece of technology behind Intel's smart initiative is Quark, a very very small system-on-a-chip. Intel did not announce Quark at CES--the company announced the SoC many months ago, but now we're hearing about how it may be used in the future. Intel's examples included a pair of earbuds that include biometric capabilities, reading a jogger's heartrate and calculating how many calories they burn, and an "always listening" headset called Jarvis, which pairs with an Android smartphone and offers voice assistant features like Siri or Google Now.

    Like many products shown at CES, these are reference designs, which means you'll probably never be able to buy them. Similar products will probably go on sale eventually, and Intel says it plans to work with fashion designers to make attractive wearables. Intel is, at least, thinking about answering the how and why--The Verge quotes Krzanich stating: "Wearables are not everywhere today because they aren't yet solving real problems and they aren't yet integrated with our lifestyles...We're focused on addressing this engineering innovation challenge."

    But the "why" in this case, at least for Intel, is that the company needs to branch out from the shrinking PC processor market. And the how is, for them, an "engineering innovation challenge." Intel can make an incredibly small and capable processor, but it will largely be up to other companies to decide how to use that technology in a way that matters, and a way that makes our lives better.

    Will smart earbuds improve our jogs over a smartphone fitness app? Will the integration of biometrics into the earbuds be a useful convergence, or make the earbuds too expensive, or negatively impact audio quality?

    You could ask the same thing about the nursery products Intel used to show off Edison, a small computer running on Quark that fits into the form factor of an SD card. Edison runs Linux, has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and will run software from its own app store. Edison will likely be a very useful small form-factor computer, but "Nursery 2.0,"--which Intel used to demonstrate Edison, isn't convincing. A baby onesie with a turtle-shaped sensor embedded in it monitors the baby's vitals and transits that data to a coffee cup, where an LED display shows off the data. Or the sound of a baby crying can trigger a cup of milk to begin heating up.

    Does Edison know that the baby wants milk? Is a connected coffee cup with an LED more useful than existing baby monitors? Are smart turtles the future of technology?

    Edison is likely a significant advancement in miniature computing, and Intel plans to give out $1.3 million in prize money to developers who make useful applications for it. The ability to run Windows and Android simultaneously on one chip, which Intel gave only a vague mention during the keynote, is also an important step forward for uniting mobile and PC hardware. These are bits of technology to remember, because they'll probably pop up in some meaningful device a year or two down the road--but that device, in all likelihood, won't be one of the ones Intel showed off during its keynote.