Valve has known that its platform Steam, the biggest marketplace for PC titles, has had a review problem for years. Groups of users abuse a game’s rating by ‘review bombing’ them, propping up negative feedback with far more ‘this was helpful’ votes than is humanly possible. While Valve tried a passive solution two months ago, but it didn’t fix the problem. So the company is trying a couple more changes: Diluting the effects of likely review-manipulators and making sure a game’s top ten reflect the title’s overall approval rating. In other words, if 80% of a game’s players left a favorable review, eight out of its top ten reviews will be positive. That will help keep the small amount of artificially-inflated ‘bombed’ posts from drowning out feedback that’s representative of the community’s opinion. The other fix tracks how many times an account votes that reviews are ‘helpful’ for a single game. Most users just mark a few reviews as helpful or not, and that feedback will continue to be counted normally. Those that blatantly mass-downvote other reviews — typically around 10,000 times on a single game, the Steam blog noted — will see each additional vote diluted more and more. This won’t be the last fix coming to Steam’s review system, either: Future tweaks will address how players feel about a game now after updates and changes, as well as filtering to account for issues that only affect players in certain regions. Source: engadget.com
Not being able to find a file is one of the biggest frustrations you can have with a computer. Whether you can’t remember where you saved it, what the file was called or you just need it now and have no time to jump in and out of nested directories, this is a problem that you’ve probably suffered at least once.
Thankfully, Microsoft’s addition of Cortana — which can parse text thanks to natural language recognition — in Windows 10 gives you a faster and easier way to search for that file you so desperately need. Here’s how to quickly pull up the photos you shot over the weekend, the last document you had open and that presentation you are supposed to share with your team. Cortana can also point you to emails and other file types, depending on how you phrase your query.
How To Find A Group of Photos You Took With Cortana
1. Type your search request into the Cortana Search Box, asking it to show you a specific kind of file, and name the day or time window you used it.
2. Select the “Show me…” option that “Search photos” under it.
Cortana’s found the photos you were looking for, so you can look back at the simpler and more decadent times.
How To Use Cortana To Find The Last File You Opened
1. Type your request into the Cortana Search Box, specifying that you’re looking for the last file you opened.
2. Select the “Show me” option that has “Search documents” under it.
There’s that file you were just using, and the directory it can be found in is listed as well.
How To Find Your Presentations With Cortana
1. Ask Cortana to show you your presentation files.
2. Select the “show me” option that has “Search documents” underneath it.
There’s that presentation you needed!
Want to change how your desktop and windows look in Windows 10 and share that design with friends? Windows 10 lets you create your own theme with a custom desktop background, windows border and Start menu accent color. You can save these settings as a new theme file to use over and over or send to others.
1. Open the Start menu and select Settings.
2. Choose Personalization from the settings screen.
3. Change one or more of the following
- Desktop background: Select picture, solid color, or slideshow. In addition to some default photos, you can click the Browse button to select a background picture. If you choose slideshow, the default album for the slideshow will be the Photos folder, but you can browse to a different folder and also set how often you want the picture to change on your desktop.
- Colors: You can either have Windows automatically pick an accent color from your background or select a color for the Start menu tiles background and the thin border around windows. This will also change the color of the Windows icon in the taskbar when you hover over it. Optionally, you can also have that color shown on the taskbar and Windows 10’s action center by checking those checkboxes.
You can also change the Lock screen background image and Start menu settings here, but these aren’t saved with your theme.
4. Click Themes in the Personalization window, then Theme settings.
This will open up the personalization settings in the Control Panel.
5. Right-click on the Unsaved Theme and select Save theme. The Unsaved Theme appears in the My Themes section and contains the the settings you just adjusted.
6. Give your theme a name in the window dialog box and hit OK.
Your new theme will be saved and you can switch between it and other themes easily by going to the personalization options in the Control Panel. Once your theme is saved, you can also right-click on it and save the theme for sharing as a .deskthemepack file.
Microsoft doesn’t offer a built-in way to create more complex themes than this (e.g., changing app icons or default sounds), but there’s an app in the Windows App Store called Theme Creator that promises to let create a complete Windows theme package. The app crashed on me when I tried it, but you might have better luck.
Browser home pages have been replaced, usually with new tab pages that show you pages you recently or commonly browsed. If you use one site a lot, though, you may still want a single button that will bring you back. Chrome doesn’t feature the Home button by default anymore, but by rummaging through its settings, you can bring it back.
Here’s how to add a Home button to Chrome:
1. Type “chrome://settings” into the Omnibox.
2. Check “Show Home button” under the Appearance section.
3. Click “Change” to set your own home page.
4. Type the URL for the home page you want and click “OK.”
The home button will appear next to the Omnibox.
- All-you-can-eat VPN
- Ability to disable VPN per device
- Tied to one VPN
- Warranty is void when router is flashed
Routers, like pretty much every other piece of computing hardware, have reached a maturation peak with very little disruptive innovation now happening.
A few smaller vendors are trying new things to differentiate themselves from the rest of the competition, often by offering fine-tuned, bespoke services.
It certainly came as a surprise when one VPN provider, ExpressVPN, offered to send us the Linksys WRT 1200AC router with its services baked in by way of a customised firmware.
Note that in our case, the router was already preconfigured, but owners of the WRT 1200AC or the WRT 1900AC/S (the only two Linksys routers that support the native ExpressVPN option) will be able to install this particular firmware.
A couple of points here: changing the firmware of your router is not for the faint hearted and there’s a small chance that you could brick (break) your device during the process.
Doing so with a third-party firmware will invalidate your warranty although you can always go back to the original Linksys firmware.
ExpressVPN told us that, while this is the case, Linksys has done a good job to make this device a lot more reliable than anything else on the market.
Speaking of the WRT 1200AC, this is a relatively mature device that was launched well over a year ago; although the one that was sent to us is the v2 incarnation.
You can nab it for as little as £102 (around $125, AU$165) including delivery from online retailer Ballicom (and you can check out our review of the ExpressVPN service here).
Those who have used the now legendary WRT 54xx series will recognise the device’s blue-black colour scheme. The WRT 1200AC is the heir to that line with some pretty bold lines and a futuristic design.
There are plenty of holes in its enclosure, a sign that the hardware inside may well get warm under near-constant use. As expected, it sits comfortably on four big plastic feet and carries two detachable antennas at the back.
As with the vast majority of routers on the market, there are plenty of status lights up front (11 in all), a lot of ports at the back, and all the admin details about the router are on its base.
Overall, the 1200AC has a very solid feel to it with an air of nostalgia; it won’t wobble or fall off a flat surface thanks to a low centre of gravity.
The original router had 256MB of RAM while the new version 2 we evaluated doubles that to 512MB. There’s still a Marvel 88F6820 ARM system-on-chip at its heart, a dual-core model clocked at 1.3GHz. It has a theoretical maximum transfer rate of 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 900Mbps on 5GHz; you can of course use both at the same time, depending on your devices.
Note that the WRT 1200AC incorporates beam forming technology which means that it can focus its wireless signals on devices connected to it.
At the back of the router you’ll find a switch, a reset button, a power connector, one USB 3.0 port, one eSATA/USB 2.0 connector and four Gigabit Ethernet ports.
You must have an ExpressVPN subscription for the VPN to work, something that can cost you as little as $99.99 (around £80, AU$135) for a year. You’ll need to enter your 23-digit activation code to use the router, and the VPN service will work on all the devices connected to it.
You will not need a subscription to use the router if you do not plan to use the VPN service, but presumably if you’re buying this product, you’re doing so for the bundled VPN. Still, if you change your mind down the line, the hardware will still work without the subscription.
Linksys also encourages you to register for its free Smart Wi-Fi service which allows you to monitor and manage your router using a mobile app from anywhere in the world. Very useful if you want to reset or troubleshoot when you’re not physically near the device.
The router’s user interface is well laid-out with some clear options that even include a speed test feature, one which connects with the popular Speednet service. You can configure the modem to run on OpenWRT or DD-WRT, two popular alternative router operating systems.
This, however, would require you to get rid of the ExpressVPN firmware (which is itself a customised version of OpenWRT).
While ExpressVPN usually enforces a limit of three simultaneous connections per account, that limit doesn’t hold for this router, and as we mentioned earlier, you can connect as many devices as your broadband can support, a real boon for households with loads of devices.
It’s worth noting that the only type of split tunnelling support is VPN (single location) or No VPN. Individual devices cannot have individual servers.
Users can select which devices they want to connect through the VPN, and which devices they do not want to be protected.
Connecting the router to our existing Virgin Media Superhub 2ac directly (without switching on the router mode) worked, with the WRT 1200AC consistently providing a better browsing experience than Virgin Media’s bundled router.
There are two parts to this verdict. The first pertains to the router itself which is a decent model that delivers a strong showing in terms of transfer rate and stability.
The user interface and the free mobile app are a welcome change from what you usually get with the router bundled with your broadband line. Sure, it doesn’t have features like MU-MIMO or triple band but then again, it is a £102 (around $125, AU$165) router and one of the cheaper AC1200 models.
And secondly, as for the ExpressVPN option, it is unfortunately a flawed one as it invalidates the hardware’s warranty (as confirmed by Linksys). If you’re happy to take this risk, there’s one incentive and that’s the fact that everything is done transparently.
Experienced users can always install VPN clients on their own devices and swap between providers as they see fit, either because features have evolved or they feel they could get better value-for-money elsewhere.
Mail merge lets you easily turn one document into several personalized, unique versions of it. You can use mail merge in Office 2016 to create form letters or address labels, certificates with unique names, and more. Here’s how.
With mail merge, you create a document in Word that has the information that you want to be the same in each version (such as the return address on an envelope or the main content of your email). You add fields as placeholders in the document for the unique information that you want to be updated (such as the recipient’s name or address). Instead of having to manually create new versions of the same document and replace those fields, Word does all the work, pulling in information from your Outlook contacts, an Excel spreadsheet or other data source to run the mail merge.
In this example, we’ll be using mail merge to create a letter for multiple recipients.
1. Make sure your contacts list is ready. It’s best to have your spreadsheet or Outlook contacts prepared before you start creating the document so the mail merge goes smoothly. For example, whether you’re using Outlook contacts or an Excel spreadsheet for your data source, make sure none of the data is missing for the fields you’ll be pulling in. If you’re using Outlook and have a large number of contacts but only want to use mail merge for specific contacts, you’ll make the process easier by selecting those contacts and copying them to a new folder. (To do this, select the contacts, right-click, choose Move and then Copy to Folder…)
Make sure you change the contact folder’s properties so it will be shown as an email address book (Right-click the new contacts folder, go to properties, and check “Show this folder as an email Address Book”)
2. Create a new blank document in Word.
3. Navigate to the Mailings tab.
4. Click the Start Mail Merge button and select your document type. We’ll start with the letter first.
5. Click the Select Recipients button and choose to create a new list, use an existing list, or choose from Outlook Contacts. The “Type a New List… ” option creates a new data table in Word, but you’re better off using an external source like a spreadsheet or the contacts list in Outlook so the data is readily available to other programs and other purposes.
6a. If you choose “Use an Existing List…” you’ll be asked to browse to the file on your computer and then confirm the data table.
6b. If you choose “Choose from Outlook Contacts…” you’ll be asked to choose the Outlook contact folder and then add or remove recipients from the merge. (This is why we advised in step one to create a new contacts folder for your mail merge: You won’t have to scroll all of your contacts in this small box.)
7. Create the content for your document and insert the placeholders. When you get to the part where you get to information that needs to be personalized from your data source, insert a placeholder with either the Insert Merge Field button or one of the two shortcuts Word offers for common fields: Address Block and Greeting Line.
8. Use the Address Block shortcut. As the name suggests, the Address Block button creates a placeholder for a name and address–useful when creating letters or mailing labels or envelopes. With both the Address Block and Greeting Line shortcuts, you’ll be able to specify what gets inserted and preview what it will look like.
If the preview seems to be missing information, as in the address preview above, click the Match Fields button to tell words where the data is for the missing fields.
When the preview looks okay, click OK, and Word will insert the address placeholder.
9. Use the Greeting Line shortcut. The Greeting Line button adds a salutation that you can format. The dropdowns will let you select to include the full name (by default), the full name with the title (e.g., Mr. Joshua Randall Jr.), title and last name, just a first name, a nickname, and other variations.
As with the Address Block shortcut, preview the results of the mail merge and use the Merge Fields… button to correct make sure your fields match if they don’t in the preview.
10. Insert other fields into your document. For other placeholders you might need, click on Insert merge field and select the field you want to insert at that point in the document. In this case, I have a unique account number in my database that I want to add to the letter, so I choose the Account Number field and click Insert.
11. Preview the merge results after you’ve finished the document and inserted all your fields by clicking the Preview Results button.
You can format any of the placeholder text, such as adjust the line spacing, by selecting the text and formatting it as you would any other content. In the Mailings tab, use the forward and back buttons to check all of the mail merge results.
12. If all looks good, click on the Finish & Merge button and you can print individual documents, send them as email messages, or editing each individual document if you would like.
Repeat this for other types of documents you’d like to use mail merge for. In addition to letters (which can be any sort of document, including certificates and coupons), you can choose emails, envelopes, labels, or directories as the document type. Word also has a Step by Step Mail Merge Wizard (found under the Mailings tab > Start Mail Merge button), which basically walks you through the process above.
ALEXA CAN ALREADY order you an Uber, control your smart home devices, and keep you company. She’s about to learn much better DJ skills, save you six bucks a month on streaming music, and possibly even change the way you listen to music in your house.
Amazon Music Unlimited, a beefed-up subscription service built to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, launches today. It’s cheaper than those big-name services—for many users, at least—and it features clever voice control with the company’s Echo speakers.
If you’re using Music Unlimited on an Amazon Echo, Tap, or Dot, the service only costs $4 a month. To use it on anything else—mobile devices, your computer, a Fire TV stick, or even Sonos speakers—the pricing falls more in line with Spotify or Apple Music. It’s $8 per month if you’re an Amazon Prime member and $10 per month if you aren’t.
Is There an Echo in Here?
At face value, entering a streaming-music market that has established Goliaths like Spotify and Apple divvying up more than 50 percent of the market share may sound like Fire Phone 2.0. In fact, it may seem even crazier: People generally don’t switch the music services they’ve bought into every two years. They drive tent stakes in the ground in the form of playlists and saved albums, then camp out for the long haul.
But Amazon’s secret weapon isn’t just lower prices. Its popular Echo lineup of voice-assistant products are a huge draw, and because of Echo and Alexa, Amazon Music Unlimited is aiming at a different target than its competitors. Traditional mobile and desktop users aren’t an afterthought, but Amazon is hoping the in-home experience is the huge hook for millions of new subscribers.
To be sure, the service has slick mobile and desktop interfaces. There’s also an (optional) offline tool that auto-downloads music recommendations to your device in the background—a handy feature to ensure you’ve got something to listen to on the train or plane.
But the far more compelling UI for the service is invisible. Or maybe it looks like an Echo speaker.
Amazon Music Unlimited’s marquee feature is the way you use spoken commands and the Echo speakers to dive into it, and it shows how Amazon is trying to transform the household listening experience. According to Amazon, unlocking Alexa’s full potential as an in-house DJ was a two-step process.
“The first thing we wanted to do was provide that full-catalog music service… that’s a no-brainer,” says Amazon Music VP Steve Boom, noting the company has been talking to music labels about this effort for a long time. “But looking at how people were listening to music in the Alexa environment, it’s a different experience than doing it on their phone or on their laptop. You talk to her naturally, you talk as if you’d talk to a friend about music. It forces you to reimagine how people interact with a music service.”
The Request Line Is Open
As you’d expect, you can just ask for a specific album, artist, or genre, and Alexa will start spinning. But Amazon has also employed the voice assistant’s machine-learning smarts to get much more granular and helpful. You can request genre- or mood-specific music from a certain era, to fit a certain mood, request the latest single from an artist, or say “Alexa, play music” to start a dynamic playlist based on your listening habits.
The service even aims to one-up Shazam. If you don’t know the name of the Das EFX song stuck in your brain, just ask Alexa to “play the song that goes ‘I diggedy dot my i’s and cross my tiggedy-t’s bro.’”
Boom says the voice features for the new music service required significant investments in deep machine learning, creating new metadata for the entire universe of music, and verifying information.
“Even something like playing a new song, that’s not easy,” Boom explains. “If you say, ‘play Adele’s new single,’ it’s now the third single off the album. All the songs have the exact same release date, so we had to train Alexa to get smarter about looking at songs that are rising the charts and are the newest songs being played on the radio.”
Amazon is also trying to replicate the liner notes experience with a “Side By Side” feature. Like a Criterion Collection for albums, it plays spoken-word introductions to album tracks from an artist, giving anecdotes about the song that follows. This certainly won’t be the service’s most-used feature—and it’s only available for a few albums—but it speaks to one of Amazon’s throwback goals.
“One of the things that’s been lost in the age of digital music has been music’s primacy in the home,” Boom says. “It’s been moved to the personal device. Music is finding its way back into the home, and we wanted to try to recreate that [liner notes] experience via voice.”
This isn’t Amazon’s first stab at a streaming-music service, but it’s certainly its most ambitious and compelling effort. A couple of years ago, Amazon Prime Music launched, and it has about two million songs on demand. It’s a decent extra for Prime subscribers, but it offers a fraction of the music the major streaming services do.
Music Unlimited also won’t replace Amazon Prime Music altogether. Amazon Prime Music lives on, giving Prime members the ability to stream a couple million songs as part of their Prime subscription. For an extra $4 to $8 a month, Prime subscribers get access to the Music Unlimited catalog, which is at least 10 times bigger.
Amazon won’t offer a more-specific number than Music Unlimited having “tens of millions of songs,” but it’s a mammoth leap forward. Spotify and Apple Music have around 30 million songs each, and one would assume Amazon is trying to match that reach.
But Amazon’s aim isn’t just putting a dent in Spotify or Apple Music—even though the combination of a lot of music for a lower price with deep Alexa integration could help make that happen. The greater goal is redefining the way we listen to music in our homes. After a decade of tech companies rallying around a “mobile first” mentality, Amazon’s one-two punch of music and Alexa is focusing on “home-first.”
“Historically, the home market has been driven by smartphones,” Boom says. “Amazon has established a really strong position there, and voice is the interface for that environment.”
Earlier on Tuesday it emerged Samsung had finally pulled the plug on the Galaxy Note 7, halting production and advising owners to immediately halt use.
Now the company is sending buyers, who purchased the phablet directly, special return kits that include safety gloves.
The package, shown off by XDA Developers features a static shielding sleeve and three three different boxes, the last of which is lined with fire retardant ceramic fiber paper.
Incidentally, that’s the stuff they use to line ovens because it can withstand temperatures in excess of 2300-degrees Fahrenheit.
In a note accompanying the return kit “designed specifically for the Galaxy Note 7” the firm says “some individuals may be sensitive to ceramic fibre paper lining the Recovery Box” so the gloves have been included as a “courtesy.”
The firm says those returning the device must to do via the ground, in order to avoid the near-catastrophy experienced by one replacement Note 7 owner last week.
His new Galaxy Note 7 began smoking when boarding a Southwest Airlines plane, an incident which spelled the end for the Note 7.
Has your trust in Samsung been shaken by the way it has handled the Note 7 situation? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
You can see the unboxing of the box in the video below.
By David Shields
Manufacturer: GAMDIAS Technology, Inc. Product Name: Hephaestus v2 Surround Sound Gaming Headset Model Number: GHS3510 UPC: 84847500156 EAN: 47129601300289 Price As Tested: $59.99 (Amazon)
Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by GAMDIAS.
In my last article, we reviewed the GAMDIAS EROS ELITE EQ Headset, a budget-minded base headset with plenty of useful features. Today, we have the Hephaestus v2 headset, a higher-end GAMDIAS product that comes with a few added features.
The GAMDIAS Hephaestus v2 Surround Sound Gaming headset features a 50mm USB connection, built-in smart controller, large ear cups, decorative LEDs, omnidirectional mike, and finally “bass impact.’ This takes low frequency bass tones and applies a slight vibration effect to let wearers “feel” the sound. In this article for Benchmark Reviews, we’ll look at the design of the Hephaestus v2 before diving into some basic performance tests.
Features & Specifications
|Vibration Unit Driver Unit Size||35mm|
Hephaestus v2 Headset Overview
The body of the Hephaestus v2 is made from quality plastic that doesn’t collects noticeable marks or dust during use. I think it should stand up to repeated and long-term use over time very well.
The headband and ear cups are covered in a layer of vinyl. Both are very comfortable and stand up well to extended use without causing perspiration or chaffing. An omnidirectional microphone with noise cancelling is included. We’ll get into it’s actual performance later, but for now its worth noting the microphone can be easily adjusted to any height and is placed for optimal voice pickup.
GAMDIAS states that the Hephaestus v2 features a “Flat-foldable design to fit the lean space of laptop carrying bag,” as shown above. As demonstrated below, it can in fact by stored in multiple configurations to fit nearly anywhere, making it a perfect travel companion.
This headset fits comfortably for long term wear thanks to the large ear cups and wide headband. One complaint I had with the Eros Elite was it’s weight – the double headband was very heavy and unsuited for long-term wear. Each side is fitted with an extension that allows roughly three centimeters of additional height on each side.
In our next section, we’ll address some of the finer details of the Hephaestus v2 before moving on to testing and performance.
A huge improvement on Wileyfox’s original Spark, but the X still has some way to go before it beats the Moto G4
The Wileyfox Spark was pretty underwhelming when it first launched earlier this year, but the Spark X, its upmarket sibling, is arguably a much better bet. For an extra £20 over the original Spark, you get a larger 5.5in display, 16GB of storage rather than 8GB, double the RAM, a bigger battery and a higher-resolution 13-megapixel camera.
That’s quite the leap from the Spark’s 5in screen, 1GB of RAM and 8-megapixel rear camera, and it makes you wonder why Wileyfox bothered releasing it in the first place. The Spark X still has some things in common with its little brother, namely its overall design, quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek 6735 processor and 1,280 x 720 resolution, but otherwise it’s a huge improvement in every respect.
The Wileyfox Spark X still quite a chunky handset, measuring 8.8mm at its thinnest point, but its classy soft-touch rear gives it an air of sophistication that many £110 smartphones simply don’t have. Whether you like the bronze fox head and Wileyfox branding on the back will be down to a matter of personal taste – I, for one, am not a huge fan – but at least they’re nicely complemented by the bronze ring surrounding the camera lens and subtle bronze plastic frame framing the phone.
It’s a shame Wileyfox hasn’t seen fit to include a Full HD screen here. The Spark X’s resolution of 720 x 1,280 means it’s less sharp than its 5in sibling due to a lower pixel density.
Its Cyanogen 13 interface still looks crisp enough from a normal viewing distance, but it doesn’t take much before you start noticing its flaws. App icons in homescreen folders are noticeably jaggy, and notification text is a little fuzzy around the edges. To be fair, this would have been perfectly acceptable on a phone this cheap about a year ago, but ever since the £160 Moto G4 rolled into town with its 5.5in, Full HD screen, large budget smartphones have had to try a lot harder to make the grade.
The Spark X falls behind on overall screen quality, too, with our measurements showing that it’s only able to display 85% of the sRGB colour space. This is a step down from the Spark’s 89.8%, and the Moto G4’s 90.0% coverage, and the result is a slightly duller, less vibrant colour palette. The colour temperature is also a little warm for my liking, with whites taking on slight pinkish tinge. That said, its contrast ratio of 1,154:1 is respectable, and with a peak brightness of 563cd/m2, it will remain perfectly readable whether you’re using it indoors or standing outside in direct sunlight.
With a quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6735 processor and 2GB of RAM at its disposal, the Spark X isn’t the quickest phone in the world, but it’s fast enough to handle some light web browsing and basic menu navigation. It can be a little sluggish on media-heavy websites, but with decent Geekbench 4 scores of 592 and 1,680 in the single- and multi-core tests, it won’t leave you hanging if all you want to do is browse your photo gallery or load up Google Maps.
It’s less adept at playing demanding games, as its rather pitiful score of 441 frames (6.6fps) in GFXBench GL’s Manhattan 3 onscreen benchmark can attest, but simple puzzle games such as Threes ran perfectly well.
The biggest improvement the Spark X makes on the original Spark, though, is its battery life. While its little brother couldn’t even make it to nine hours in our video-playback test, the Spark X put in a much better performance. It lasted 11hrs 4mins when I set the screen brightness to our standard measurement of 170cd/m2 and switched the handset into flight mode. This is still pretty mediocre – the Moto G4 lasted 13hrs 39mins – but at least the Spark X is better equipped to get you through the day than its little brother.
On the back, you’ll find the Spark X’s 13-megapixel camera. Considering it has a fairly narrow aperture of f/2.8, it actually does a decent job for the money. Shooting in Auto mode has a tendency to blow out whites and leave shadows quite dark, but this improved when I switched over to HDR mode. Otherwise, its colour reproduction was good and detail levels were steady throughout.
However, the camera app itself makes it very difficult to frame your pictures accurately. Despite being set to shoot in 4:3, the app’s viewfinder still displays in 16:9, so you never know whether you’ve got everything in the shot. It’s something I’ve complained about on previous Wileyfox phones, so it’s disappointing to see this still hasn’t been fixed.
It’s particularly irritating when you’re taking indoor shots in close quarters, and I constantly had to lean back to fit everything in. The Spark X started showing its limitations indoors as well. Objects were very soft round the edges even in bright lighting conditions, and there wasn’t much contrast between light and dark.
On the plus side, there’s little to no noise and colours were still reasonably bright and vivid. The fur on our stuffed bear was a little greenish, but nothing too troublesome.
For some people, a large part of the Spark X’s appeal will be down to the fact it uses Cyanogen rather than stock Android as its main operating system. Cyanogen is still based on Android, so it’s not too dissimilar in terms of its overall look and menu structure, but it does have a couple of extra features.
The Themes Store, for instance, lets you customise the look of the OS, while Truecaller is built straight into the phone’s dialler, allowing you to block calls and identify unknown callers without having to download an additional app. Another of Cyanogen’s big draws used to be individual app permissions, but this is now part of Android 6 and 7 by default, so it’s not quite so cutting-edge as it once was.
Instead, it’s the smaller touches that give the Spark X a bit of an edge, such as the option to select a left-handed mode when you’re using the phone in landscape mode, and the ability to add additional shortcuts to the power button. A double-press opens the camera, for instance, but you can also use it to end calls.
It’s also possible to configure separate system profiles for when the phone is set to silent or when you’re in your car, allowing you to alter the phone’s notification preferences, screen brightness, lockscreen mode and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS automatically.
For all its merits, though, there’s still one smartphone that does it all better than the Spark X, and that’s the Moto G4. It is, admittedly, £50 more expensive SIM-free, but I’d say it’s worth the extra cost. Not only are you getting a sharper, higher-quality display, but also a superior camera and longer-lasting battery.
The Spark X is still a good choice if you don’t want to spend much more than £100 on a smartphone (although this might change once I get the new Moto E3 in for review, which has a 5in screen, a splashproof design and costs just £99). However, if you’re looking for the very best budget smartphone that money can buy, the Moto G4 still reigns supreme.