As we roll into December there’s a sense of looming Christmas cheer. Awards season is over, next-gen consoles are on the shelves - well, sort of, their stock has been emptied and they’re hard to get hold of - and we’ve spent the week tying up various stocking fillers.
Well, sort of: the unveiling of the first Ford Mustang in Europe, our play with the Porsche Panamera and our review of the Renault Clio 200T both point to cars that you won’t fit into socks. Not normal sized ones anyway. And as much as we’d like to find any one of them under the tree this Christmas, we’re not sure how Santa would get them down the chimney, or afford such extravagance.
The likes of Mario 3D World for the Wii U, however, arrive at a time when Nintendo’s ailing console really needs a kick - and this is the exact title to give it. Or, for Xbox One fans looking for family fun, there’s the delightful Zoo Tycoon that’s eaten up many hours of time since the Microsoft console launch.
Our other focus is on cameras. The high-end Canon PowerShot G16 and the even-higher-end Sony Cyber-shot RX10 aren’t your typical point-and-shoots. But both made a big splash.
Renault Clio RenaultSport 200 Turbo EDC Lux review
Quick review: The RenaultSport 200Ts shifts from the classic Clio norm. This is Renault’s way of re-aligning this model. It’s much easier to justify as a family car than earlier Clios, and much easier to put up with - in fact it’s simply very good - on a long trip. It’s better in traffic. It is more economical (we got 33mpg average), more mature and there’s more space. But that’s not really the point of a hot hatch. So we’re pleased to report that the hot Clio still does tick the fun box. We cannot stress just how good that chassis set up is for a front-wheel drive car, and for British roads.
Pros: Fantastic chassis - brilliant ride stands out, great seats, nice interior, more refined and easy to live with
Cons: Turbo engine isn’t as rev hungry as before, gearbox is too slow-witted in first two modes - and in most aggressive mode there's no traction and stability control
Price: £18,995 | £21,945 (as tested)
Full article: RenaultSport Clio 200 Turbo review
Zoo Tycoon review
Quick review: Zoo Tycoon is a playable, family-friendly game. There's plenty to get involved with, but most importantly, the game design means that the Xbox One - the game is also available on Xbox 360, but without all the features - isn't just the preserve of adult gamers. There's plenty here for children and with Xbox One wanting to be an all-round entertainment package, the game is a platform to show off online co-op integration and Kinect voice and gesture interaction.
Pros: Great for kids, plenty of interaction, great tutorial, variety
Cons: Some will find it a little slow paced, occasional Kinect interaction was a little sluggish to work
Full article: Zoo Tycoon (Xbox One) review
Super Mario 3D World
Quick review: Super Mario 3D World is an ideal example of what makes Nintendo great. Yes, it might be struggling to sell its Wii U console in significant numbers - more so now that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 major players have joined the party - but Nintendo has always been the master at crafting the most playable, inventive and downright fun games. Nintendo might not have intended to release this chapter in a never disappointing franchise on the same day as the PlayStation 4, but in doing so has served a reminder that it is not the power under the hood that is most important in games design, it is invention. And Super Mario 3D World is an exceptional title that shows the next-gen big boys a thing or two.
Pros: Beautiful graphical design that makes the most of the 720p output resolution, superb and inventive variety in levels, multiplayer is hilarious, Mario is back to his very best
Cons: It’s hard to keep up in four-player multiplayer, later levels can get super-tough, only 720p but who cares?
Full article: Super Mario 3D World review
Sony Cyber-shot RX10
Quick review: As much as we didn't quite get the camera at first, and irrelevant of how many pros and cons we can throw its way, we derived our RX10 verdict after experiencing it in the real world. And over the days that we delved deep into RX10 land, the more we wanted to stay there. Everything rapidly fell into place and we were snapping some great images with minimal effort. There was never a moment where we were left wondering "ah, if only I had that other camera with me." It's a special long-zoom camera, even if it is a niche one.
Pros: Decent image quality, constant f/2.8 aperture, physical aperture ring, great for video capture, weather-sealed, close-up focus is brilliant, fast autofocus, tilt-angle LCD very useful, great electronic viewfinder
Cons: Zoom lens slow to travel, aperture click on/off switch placement, it's DSLR in its scale, could do with greater focal length, it's a lot of cash, no touchscreen, no pinpoint autofocus, who's it aimed at?
Full article: Sony Cyber-shot RX10 review
Canon PowerShot G16
Quick review: The G16 may be starting to look a little dated, particularly when you compare it to something like Sony’s sleek RX100, but that doesn't stop the Canon remaining a top-notch snapper all round. When something's right, it's just right - and the G16 largely represents that. It won't suit all photographers on account of its bulky size, but for those that it will, it'll be spot on.
Pros: Image quality is great, raw shooting option, physical control layout perfect, bright maximum aperture - even at full zoom, 1080p movies at 60fps
Cons: Body could do with a refresh, fixed screen position, very small viewfinder, Wi-Fi features don’t extend to wireless shooting
Full article: Canon PowerShot G16 review
Teac USB DAC Amplifier AI-501DA
Quick review: We won't pretend the Teac AI-501DA - a USB DAC and integrated amplifier - is not expensive, because it is. Initially, we must admit, we just didn't "get" it either. We loved the classic design, but it was the unprocessed sound which wasn't to our taste at first. But the more audio we fed the Teac - and the higher quality the source material was - the more we got it. And then it totally sucked us in because the audio quality is, without doubt, absolutely superb. After weeks of listening Teac had to prise this machine out of our hands because we loved it so much and didn't want to give it back.
Pros: Looks beautiful, brilliantly built, sounds amazing when fed lossless audio (24-bit /192kHz max), lots of physical inputs, doesn't taint or bias sound
Cons: USB-based problems - likely related to Windows driver, expensive, lossless audio hard to track down
Full article: Teac USB DAC Amplifier AI-501DA review
Western Digital My Passport Ultra
Quick review: The great thing about the WD Ultra is its raw transfer speed - USB 3.0 is fast. It's unusual that a portable hard drive impresses us in this regard, but the Ultra really did. It's got a decent capacity for a fair enough price point and you won't get cross copying files to it - and that's a massive advantage for a portable hard drive.
Pros: Compact, light, sensibly priced, fast, decent capacity
Cons: Backup software is a paid extra
Price: £49 (500GB) | £65 (1TB) | £99 (2TB)
Full article: WD My Passport Ultra review