Review: Driving the track-ready, race-banned McLaren Senna GTR

The McLaren Senna GTR shouldn’t exist.

This feat of engineering and design isn’t allowed on public roads. It’s built for the track, but prohibited from competing in motorsports. And yet, the GTR is no outlier at McLaren. It’s part of their Ultimate Series, a portfolio of extreme and distinct hypercars that now serve as the foundation of the company’s identity and an integral part of their business model.

The P1, introduced in 2012, was McLaren Automotive’s opening act on the hypercar stage and was an instant success for both the brand and its business. McLaren followed it up with the P1 GTR, then went on to chart a course toward the Ultimate Series of today and beyond.

Since 2017, the automaker has added the Senna, Speedtail, Senna GTR and now the open-cockpit Elva to the Ultimate Series portfolio. While the GTR is certainly the most extreme and limited in how and where it can be used, it follows a larger pattern of the Ultimate Series as being provocatively designed with obsessive intent.

Automotive takes the wheel

Purpose-built race cars that call on every modern tool of engineering and design have historically been produced for one purpose: winning. This objective, nourished by billions of dollars of investment from the motorsports industry, has led to technological and performance breakthroughs that have eventually trickled down to automotive.

The pipeline that has produced a century of motorsports-driven innovation is narrowing as racing regulations become more restrictive. Now, a new dynamic is taking shape. Automotive is taking the technological lead.

mclaren-car-stats-final

Take the McLaren Senna road car, the predecessor to the GTR. McLaren had to constrain the design of the Senna to make it road legal. But the automaker loaded it with active aerodynamics and chassis control systems that racing engineers could only dream about.

McLaren wasn’t finished. It pushed the bounds further and produced a strictly track-focused and unconstrained race car that expands upon the Senna’s lack of conformity. The Senna GTR might be too advanced and too fast for any racing championship, but McLaren said to hell with it and made the vehicle anyway.

The bet paid off. All 75 Senna GTR hypercars, which start at $1.65 million, sold before the first one was even produced.

The Senna GTR is the symbol of a new reality — a hypercar market that thrives on the ever-more-extreme, homologation standards be damned.

Two weeks ago, I had a chance to get behind the wheel of the Senna GTR at the Snetterton Circuit in the U.K. to find out how McLaren went about developing this wholly unconstrained machine.

Behind the wheel

Rr-rr-rr-kra-PAH! The deafening backfire of the GTR’s 814-horsepower 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine snapped me to attention and instantly transported me to the moment earlier in the day that provided the first hints of what my drive might be like.

Rob Bell, the McLaren factory driver who did track development for the GTR, was on hand to get the car warmed up. Shortly after he set out, the car ripped down the front-straight, climbing through RPMs with an ear-protection-worthy scream that reverberated off every nearby surface, an audible reminder of how unshackled it is.

As Bell approached Turn 1, the rear wing quickly dropped back to its standard setting from the straightaway DRS (drag reduction system) position, then to an even more aggressive airbrake as he went hard to the brakes from 6th gear down to 5th to 4th. The vehicle responded with the signature kra-PAH! kra-PAH! and then promptly discharged huge flames out the exhaust as the anti-lag settings keep a bit of fuel flowing off-throttle.

I thought to myself, ‘Holy sh*t! This thing is no joke!’

McLaren Senna GTR driver

Sliding into the driver’s seat, I feel at home. The cockpit is purposeful. The track was cold with some damp spots, and the GTR is a stiff, lightweight race car with immense power on giant slick tires. Conventional wisdom would suggest the driver — me in this case — should slowly work up to speed in these otherwise treacherous conditions. However, the best way to get the car to work is to get temperature in the tires by leaning on it a bit right away. Bell sent me out in full “Race” settings for both the engine and electronic traction and stability controls. Within a few corners — and before the end of the lap — I had a good feel for the tuning of the ABS, TC and ESC, which were all intuitive and minimally invasive.

As a racing driver, it’s rare to feel a tinge of excitement just to go for a drive. As professionals, driving is a clinical exercise. But the GTR triggered that feeling.

I started by pushing hard in slower corners and before long worked my way up the ladder to the fast, high-commitment sections. The car violently accelerated up through the gears, leaving streaks of rubber at the exit of every corner.

Once the car is straight, drivers can push the DRS button to reduce drag and increase speed for an extra haptic kick. The DRS button is now a manual function on the upper left of the steering wheel to give the driver more control over when it’s deployed. After hitting the DRS, the car dares you to keep your right foot planted on the throttle, then instantly hunkers down under braking with a stability I’ve rarely experienced.McLaren Senna GTR drive

The active rear wing adds angle while the active front flaps take it out to counterbalance the effect of the car’s weight shifting forward onto the front axle, letting you drive deeper and deeper into each corner. It’s sharply reactive; the GTR stuck to the road, but still required a bit of driving with my fingertips out at the limit on that cold day. I soon discovered that the faster I went, the more downforce the car generated, and the more speed I was able to extract from it.

Tip to tail

In almost any other environment, the Senna road car is the most shocking car you’ve ever seen. Its cockpit shape is reminiscent of a sci-fi spaceship capsule. The enormous swan neck-mounted rear wing is one highlight in a long list of standout features. The Senna road car looks downright pedestrian next to the GTR.

McLaren Senna GTR doors

The rear wing stretches off the back of the car with sculpted carbon fiber endplates and seamlessly connects to the rear fender bodywork. The diffuser that emerges from the car’s underbody — creating low pressure by accelerating the airflow under the car for added downforce — is massive. The giant 325/705-19 Pirelli slicks are slightly exposed from behind, giving you the full sense of just how much rubber is on the ground, and the sharp edges of the center exit exhaust tips are already a bluish-purple tint.

The cockpit shape and dihedral doors are instantly recognizable from the road car. But inside, the GTR is all business. The steering wheel is derived from McLaren’s 720S GT3 racing wheel, a butterfly shape with buttons and rotary switches aplenty. The dash is an electronic display straight out of a race car; six-point belts and proper racing seats complete the aesthetic.

McLaren Senna GTR cockpit

Arriving at the front of the car, the active front wing-flaps are as prominent as ever, while the splitter extends several inches farther out in front of the car and is profiled with a raised area in the center to reduce pitch sensitivity given the car’s much lower dynamic ride-height. In fact, nearly the entire front end of the car has been tweaked; there are additional dive-planes, the forward facing bodywork at the sides of the car have been squared-off and reshaped, and an array of vortex generators have been carved into the outer edge of the wider, bigger splitter surface.

All of these design choices in the front point to the primary area of development from the Senna road-car to the GTR: maximizing its l/d or ratio of lift (in this case the inverse of lift, downforce) to drag.

McLaren pulled two of its F1 aerodynamicists into the GTR project to take the car’s aero to a new level. The upshot: a 20% increase in the car’s total downforce compared to the Senna road car, while increasing aero efficiency — the ratio of downforce to drag — by an incredible 50%. The car is wider, lower and longer than its road-going counterpart, and somehow looks more properly proportioned with its road-legal restrictions stripped away to take full advantage of its design freedom.

McLaren Senna GTR back

This was the car the Senna always wanted to be.

The development process of the GTR was short and to the point. When you have F1 aerodynamicists and a GT3 motorsport program in-house attacking what is already the most high-performing production track car in the industry, it can be. There were areas they could instantly improve by freeing themselves of road-car constraints — the interior of the car could be more spartan; the overall vehicle dimensions and track width could increase; the car would no longer need electronically variable ride heights for different road surfaces so the suspension system could be more purposeful for track use; the car would have larger, slick tires.

All this provided a cohesive mechanical platform upon which to release the aerodynamic assault of guided simulation and CFD.

Senna GTR CFD1 aero side

The GTR benefits from the work of talented humans and amazing computer programs working together with a holistic design approach. What was once a sort of invisible magic, aerodynamics has become a well-understood means of generating performance. But you still have to know what you’re seeking to accomplish; the priorities for a car racing at Pikes Peak are much different than those of a streamliner at Bonneville.

The development team for the GTR sought to maximize the total level of downforce that the tires could sustain, then really kicked their efforts into gear to clean up airflow around the car as much as possible. Many of the aggressive-looking design elements that differentiate the GTR from the Senna are not just for additional downforce but to move air around the car with less turbulence — less turbulent air means less drag. You can’t see it or feel it, but it certainly shows up on the stopwatch, and is often the difference between a car that just looks fast and one that actually is.

I hadn’t asked how fast the car was relative to other GT race cars before I drove it. I think a part of me was fearful that despite its appearance and specs it might be wholly tuned down to be sure it was approachable for an amateur on a track day. And that would make sense, as that’s the likely use-case this car will have. After driving the GTR, I didn’t hesitate for a second to ask, to which they humbly said that it’s seconds faster than their own McLaren 720S GT3 car, and still had some headroom.The Senna GTR is another exercise in exploring the limits of technology, engineering and performance for McLaren, enabled by a market of enthusiasts with the means to support it. And this trend is likely to continue unless motorsports changes the rules to allow hypercars.

McLaren’s next move

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, organizers of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has been working for years to develop regulations that could include them. While these discussions are gaining momentum, it remains to be seen whether motorsport can provide a legitimate platform for the hypercar in the modern era.

The last time this kind of exercise was embarked on was more than 20 years ago during the incredible but short-lived GT1-era at Le Mans that spanned from 1995 to 1998. It saw McLaren, Porsche, Mercedes and others pull out all the stops to create the original hypercars — in most cases comically unroadworthy homologation specials like the Porsche 911 GT1 Strassenversion (literally “street version”) and Mercedes CLK GTR — for the sole purpose of becoming the underpinnings of a winning race car on the world’s stage.

At that time, the race cars made sense to people; the streetcars were misfits of which only the necessary minimum of 25 units were produced in most cases, and the whole thing collapsed due to loopholes, cost, politics and the lack of any real endgame.

Today, the ACO benefits from a road-going hypercar market that McLaren played a key role in developing. Considering McLaren’s success with hyper-specific specialized vehicles in recent years, I’d bet the automaker could produce a vehicle custom-tailored to a worthy set of hypercar regulations. Even if not, McLaren will continue to develop and sell vehicles under its Ultimate Series banner.

And there’s already evidence that McLaren is doubling down. 

McLaren Elva

McLaren shows off the open cockpit Elva.

McLaren’s Track 25 business plan targets $1.6 billion in investment toward 18 new vehicles between 2018 and 2025. The company’s entire portfolio will use performance-focused hybrid powertrains by 2025.

The paint had barely dried on the Senna GTR before McLaren introduced another new vehicle, the Elva. And more are coming. McLaren is already promising a successor to the mighty P1. I, for one, am looking forward to what else they have in store.

Review: Driving the track-ready, race-banned McLaren Senna GTR

The McLaren Senna GTR shouldn’t exist.

This feat of engineering and design isn’t allowed on public roads. It’s built for the track, but prohibited from competing in motorsports. And yet, the GTR is no outlier at McLaren. It’s part of their Ultimate Series, a portfolio of extreme and distinct hypercars that now serve as the foundation of the company’s identity and an integral part of their business model.

The P1, introduced in 2012, was McLaren Automotive’s opening act on the hypercar stage and was an instant success for both the brand and its business. McLaren followed it up with the P1 GTR, then went on to chart a course toward the Ultimate Series of today and beyond.

Since 2017, the automaker has added the Senna, Speedtail, Senna GTR and now the open-cockpit Elva to the Ultimate Series portfolio. While the GTR is certainly the most extreme and limited in how and where it can be used, it follows a larger pattern of the Ultimate Series as being provocatively designed with obsessive intent.

Automotive takes the wheel

Purpose-built race cars that call on every modern tool of engineering and design have historically been produced for one purpose: winning. This objective, nourished by billions of dollars of investment from the motorsports industry, has led to technological and performance breakthroughs that have eventually trickled down to automotive.

The pipeline that has produced a century of motorsports-driven innovation is narrowing as racing regulations become more restrictive. Now, a new dynamic is taking shape. Automotive is taking the technological lead.

mclaren-car-stats-final

Take the McLaren Senna road car, the predecessor to the GTR. McLaren had to constrain the design of the Senna to make it road legal. But the automaker loaded it with active aerodynamics and chassis control systems that racing engineers could only dream about.

McLaren wasn’t finished. It pushed the bounds further and produced a strictly track-focused and unconstrained race car that expands upon the Senna’s lack of conformity. The Senna GTR might be too advanced and too fast for any racing championship, but McLaren said to hell with it and made the vehicle anyway.

The bet paid off. All 75 Senna GTR hypercars, which start at $1.65 million, sold before the first one was even produced.

The Senna GTR is the symbol of a new reality — a hypercar market that thrives on the ever-more-extreme, homologation standards be damned.

Two weeks ago, I had a chance to get behind the wheel of the Senna GTR at the Snetterton Circuit in the U.K. to find out how McLaren went about developing this wholly unconstrained machine.

Behind the wheel

Rr-rr-rr-kra-PAH! The deafening backfire of the GTR’s 814-horsepower 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine snapped me to attention and instantly transported me to the moment earlier in the day that provided the first hints of what my drive might be like.

Rob Bell, the McLaren factory driver who did track development for the GTR, was on hand to get the car warmed up. Shortly after he set out, the car ripped down the front-straight, climbing through RPMs with an ear-protection-worthy scream that reverberated off every nearby surface, an audible reminder of how unshackled it is.

As Bell approached Turn 1, the rear wing quickly dropped back to its standard setting from the straightaway DRS (drag reduction system) position, then to an even more aggressive airbrake as he went hard to the brakes from 6th gear down to 5th to 4th. The vehicle responded with the signature kra-PAH! kra-PAH! and then promptly discharged huge flames out the exhaust as the anti-lag settings keep a bit of fuel flowing off-throttle.

I thought to myself, ‘Holy sh*t! This thing is no joke!’

McLaren Senna GTR driver

Sliding into the driver’s seat, I feel at home. The cockpit is purposeful. The track was cold with some damp spots, and the GTR is a stiff, lightweight race car with immense power on giant slick tires. Conventional wisdom would suggest the driver — me in this case — should slowly work up to speed in these otherwise treacherous conditions. However, the best way to get the car to work is to get temperature in the tires by leaning on it a bit right away. Bell sent me out in full “Race” settings for both the engine and electronic traction and stability controls. Within a few corners — and before the end of the lap — I had a good feel for the tuning of the ABS, TC and ESC, which were all intuitive and minimally invasive.

As a racing driver, it’s rare to feel a tinge of excitement just to go for a drive. As professionals, driving is a clinical exercise. But the GTR triggered that feeling.

I started by pushing hard in slower corners and before long worked my way up the ladder to the fast, high-commitment sections. The car violently accelerated up through the gears, leaving streaks of rubber at the exit of every corner.

Once the car is straight, drivers can push the DRS button to reduce drag and increase speed for an extra haptic kick. The DRS button is now a manual function on the upper left of the steering wheel to give the driver more control over when it’s deployed. After hitting the DRS, the car dares you to keep your right foot planted on the throttle, then instantly hunkers down under braking with a stability I’ve rarely experienced.McLaren Senna GTR drive

The active rear wing adds angle while the active front flaps take it out to counterbalance the effect of the car’s weight shifting forward onto the front axle, letting you drive deeper and deeper into each corner. It’s sharply reactive; the GTR stuck to the road, but still required a bit of driving with my fingertips out at the limit on that cold day. I soon discovered that the faster I went, the more downforce the car generated, and the more speed I was able to extract from it.

Tip to tail

In almost any other environment, the Senna road car is the most shocking car you’ve ever seen. Its cockpit shape is reminiscent of a sci-fi spaceship capsule. The enormous swan neck-mounted rear wing is one highlight in a long list of standout features. The Senna road car looks downright pedestrian next to the GTR.

McLaren Senna GTR doors

The rear wing stretches off the back of the car with sculpted carbon fiber endplates and seamlessly connects to the rear fender bodywork. The diffuser that emerges from the car’s underbody — creating low pressure by accelerating the airflow under the car for added downforce — is massive. The giant 325/705-19 Pirelli slicks are slightly exposed from behind, giving you the full sense of just how much rubber is on the ground, and the sharp edges of the center exit exhaust tips are already a bluish-purple tint.

The cockpit shape and dihedral doors are instantly recognizable from the road car. But inside, the GTR is all business. The steering wheel is derived from McLaren’s 720S GT3 racing wheel, a butterfly shape with buttons and rotary switches aplenty. The dash is an electronic display straight out of a race car; six-point belts and proper racing seats complete the aesthetic.

McLaren Senna GTR cockpit

Arriving at the front of the car, the active front wing-flaps are as prominent as ever, while the splitter extends several inches farther out in front of the car and is profiled with a raised area in the center to reduce pitch sensitivity given the car’s much lower dynamic ride-height. In fact, nearly the entire front end of the car has been tweaked; there are additional dive-planes, the forward facing bodywork at the sides of the car have been squared-off and reshaped, and an array of vortex generators have been carved into the outer edge of the wider, bigger splitter surface.

All of these design choices in the front point to the primary area of development from the Senna road-car to the GTR: maximizing its l/d or ratio of lift (in this case the inverse of lift, downforce) to drag.

McLaren pulled two of its F1 aerodynamicists into the GTR project to take the car’s aero to a new level. The upshot: a 20% increase in the car’s total downforce compared to the Senna road car, while increasing aero efficiency — the ratio of downforce to drag — by an incredible 50%. The car is wider, lower and longer than its road-going counterpart, and somehow looks more properly proportioned with its road-legal restrictions stripped away to take full advantage of its design freedom.

McLaren Senna GTR back

This was the car the Senna always wanted to be.

The development process of the GTR was short and to the point. When you have F1 aerodynamicists and a GT3 motorsport program in-house attacking what is already the most high-performing production track car in the industry, it can be. There were areas they could instantly improve by freeing themselves of road-car constraints — the interior of the car could be more spartan; the overall vehicle dimensions and track width could increase; the car would no longer need electronically variable ride heights for different road surfaces so the suspension system could be more purposeful for track use; the car would have larger, slick tires.

All this provided a cohesive mechanical platform upon which to release the aerodynamic assault of guided simulation and CFD.

Senna GTR CFD1 aero side

The GTR benefits from the work of talented humans and amazing computer programs working together with a holistic design approach. What was once a sort of invisible magic, aerodynamics has become a well-understood means of generating performance. But you still have to know what you’re seeking to accomplish; the priorities for a car racing at Pikes Peak are much different than those of a streamliner at Bonneville.

The development team for the GTR sought to maximize the total level of downforce that the tires could sustain, then really kicked their efforts into gear to clean up airflow around the car as much as possible. Many of the aggressive-looking design elements that differentiate the GTR from the Senna are not just for additional downforce but to move air around the car with less turbulence — less turbulent air means less drag. You can’t see it or feel it, but it certainly shows up on the stopwatch, and is often the difference between a car that just looks fast and one that actually is.

I hadn’t asked how fast the car was relative to other GT race cars before I drove it. I think a part of me was fearful that despite its appearance and specs it might be wholly tuned down to be sure it was approachable for an amateur on a track day. And that would make sense, as that’s the likely use-case this car will have. After driving the GTR, I didn’t hesitate for a second to ask, to which they humbly said that it’s seconds faster than their own McLaren 720S GT3 car, and still had some headroom.The Senna GTR is another exercise in exploring the limits of technology, engineering and performance for McLaren, enabled by a market of enthusiasts with the means to support it. And this trend is likely to continue unless motorsports changes the rules to allow hypercars.

McLaren’s next move

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, organizers of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has been working for years to develop regulations that could include them. While these discussions are gaining momentum, it remains to be seen whether motorsport can provide a legitimate platform for the hypercar in the modern era.

The last time this kind of exercise was embarked on was more than 20 years ago during the incredible but short-lived GT1-era at Le Mans that spanned from 1995 to 1998. It saw McLaren, Porsche, Mercedes and others pull out all the stops to create the original hypercars — in most cases comically unroadworthy homologation specials like the Porsche 911 GT1 Strassenversion (literally “street version”) and Mercedes CLK GTR — for the sole purpose of becoming the underpinnings of a winning race car on the world’s stage.

At that time, the race cars made sense to people; the streetcars were misfits of which only the necessary minimum of 25 units were produced in most cases, and the whole thing collapsed due to loopholes, cost, politics and the lack of any real endgame.

Today, the ACO benefits from a road-going hypercar market that McLaren played a key role in developing. Considering McLaren’s success with hyper-specific specialized vehicles in recent years, I’d bet the automaker could produce a vehicle custom-tailored to a worthy set of hypercar regulations. Even if not, McLaren will continue to develop and sell vehicles under its Ultimate Series banner.

And there’s already evidence that McLaren is doubling down. 

McLaren Elva

McLaren shows off the open cockpit Elva.

McLaren’s Track 25 business plan targets $1.6 billion in investment toward 18 new vehicles between 2018 and 2025. The company’s entire portfolio will use performance-focused hybrid powertrains by 2025.

The paint had barely dried on the Senna GTR before McLaren introduced another new vehicle, the Elva. And more are coming. McLaren is already promising a successor to the mighty P1. I, for one, am looking forward to what else they have in store.

Peak Design’s Everyday Backpack Zip and Everyday Backpack V2 are top-notch photo and travel bags

Peak Design has evolved from a crowdfunded upstart into a trusted accessory brand for photographers everywhere, and this week it introduced updates to its ‘Everyday’ line of backpacks and bags. These new and improved designs offer stuff that impresses anyone who was previously a fan of Peak’s work, and should also win the company brand new fans, based on my testing of the all-new Everyday Backpack Zip 20L and the updated Everyday Backpack V2 30L.

Everyday Backpack Zip 20L

The Everyday Backpack Zip is a brand new product for Peak, taking a lot of inspiration from the Everyday backpack but opting for a full zip closure in place of the MagLatch that it created and introduced on the Everyday line. Opting to go with a zipper instead of the MagLatch means that the Zip backpack doesn’t have the same capacity expandability to allow you to stuff more… stuff… in the top compartment, but it also offers its own benefits depending on your needs.

First, there’s price: The Backpack Zip 20L I reviewed will cost you $219.95, which is $40 less than the equivalent Everyday Backpack with the magnetic closure. It’s not a huge gap, but if you’re looking to save a few dollars it’s a good value for what you get. The Zip also comes in a smaller 15L capacity, the smallest size for any of the Everyday Backpacks, and that’s a nice compact bag for anyone with a smaller frame or looking to carry less gear.

The zipper enclosure is also interesting in its own right, allowing you to fully open the back of the bag if you want. By default, there are rigid dividers in the backpack to effectively give it shelves, but should you want to remove these, this makes this the most easily packable Peak backpack in this daypack size range. It’s therefore a great choice for those looking for a backpack to use for purposes other than as a camera bag.

The Everyday Zip also still packs a ton of connection points for you to hook gear to, as well as improved zippers vs. Peak’s original packs. There’s a dedicated laptop sleeve with a tablet pocket that can fit 15″ laptops on the 20L and 13″ laptops on the 15L. The 20L also features the all-new adjustable laptop pocket design that Peak introduced on this generation, which includes an adjustable shelf that lets it more easily hold smaller laptops without them falling all the way to the bottom. It’s also on the standard Backpack V2, and it’s an awesome and easy-to-use quality of life improvement.

Like the Everyday Backpack, the Zip also features a pass-through luggage strap for putting it on a roller while you’re making your way through an airport, and interlocking zipper pulls that can help prevent anyone from quickly tugging open the bag to try to manage a quick pass-by theft. The durable, ripstop fabric exterior is also great for lifetime sustainability.

In terms of capacity, this is a smaller bag but it can still fit a lot of gear – I was able to pack my Sony 70-200 f/2.8 GM, Sony 100-400 f/2.8 GM and my Sony A7R IV with the 24-70 f/2.8 GM attached for instance, though fitting all that in with the requisite accessories is probably too tight a fit and merits moving up to the bigger sizes of the V2.

 

Everyday Backpack V2 30L

The improved Everyday Backpack V2 brings back the MagLatch, with a new design that Peak says is “more ergonomic and sleek.” It definitely stands out less than before, and does seem to be more intuitive to use, which is good news. The sides are again accessible via two zippered compartments (all the zippers are improved and designed for more durability) and the interior is divided by three included velcro, flexible dividers.

The overall look of the Everyday Backpack V2 has been tweaked – and for the better. It was already one of the better looking photo backpacks you could buy, but Peak has made it more rounded this generation, and improved the look of all the seams for a look that just generally projects more quality and attention to detail.

Peak sent the 30L version for me to review, and the capacity difference between it and the 20L Zip allows for packing in way more stuff, including all the various accessories like extra batteries and chargers, mics and more you’re likely to want with you on a dedicated photo or video shoot. I could easily pack the same lens+body combo mentioned above, plus a Mavic Mini and a second Sony A7III body in the 30L.

That height-adjustable laptop sleeve is again present, and makes an even bigger difference on the 30L, since the pocket is deeper to begin with. On my existing V1 Everyday, chasing down the company-issue 13″ MacBook Pro in that cavernous pocket was always a bit like diving deep to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but here it’s really easy and far less likely to give your fingers rug burn.

The shoulder straps on the Everyday V2 are also improved, and they do feel more comfortable based on initial testing. They also now have embedded magnets that connect to the back of the bag when you’re not wearing it, which is actually wonderful for when you’re stowing the bag in an airplane overhead compartment, or putting it through the scanner at the airport security checkpoint. It’s a small detail, but then again Peak’s whole rep is built on it including small details, like the various stowable straps, that remain out of the way until needed and then really deliver awesome convenience.

Bottom Line

Just like the originals, Peak has delivered what are likely the most thoughtful, carefully designed photography backpacks available on the market with their V2 range. The fact that Peak as a company is now also focused on ensuring they can build and deliver their products in a way that has a neutral impact on the climate is just an added benefit of its ability to engineer and deliver high-quality, functional gear.

Peak’s stuff is not for everyone – you can definitely get totally fine photo gear for less money. But it’s a category-leading choice for anyone with the means and a great value if you’re looking for a long-term, modular solution that you can go everywhere with.

Nix Pro 2 and Nix Mini color sensors are powerful, easy-to-use additions to any creative pro toolkit

Translating the physical world to the digital has been a challenge, especially when it comes to things like color: Color isn’t actually all that static a thing, and the myriad displays and cameras we use can represent them in very different ways. But new gadgets from startup Nix can help cut through the confusion – the Nix line of color sensors, including the accessible Nix Mini (normally $99) and the more sophisticated Nix Pro 2 (normally $349).

These devices are deceptively simple in their use and construction, but do one job remarkably well – with a lot going on behind the scenes to make that possible. They’re main purpose is to give you a digital interpretation of an analog color, which could be the color of any surface you come across. To do this, they house a small lens and sensor inside a diamond-shaped plastic enclosure. Both the Mini and the Pro are easily pocketable, but the Mini is about the diameter of a large coin, while the Pro feels more like a golf ball in the hand.

The sensors include built-in batteries that charge via Micro USB, and since they aren’t really using that much power when in operation, you can get around 3,000 individual surface scans out of a single full battery. Using them is also fantastically easy: You download an app (Nix has three, including one for digital color capture, one for paint, and one for Pro users with additional info useful for professional paint shops and other applications), pair one of the devices (they should show up automatically once charged) and then tap a button in the app to scan a surface, holding the Nix up to said surface.

The process is super quick, and provides different results depending on which app you’re using. In the Nix Paints app, once you select your preferred brand, it’ll give you the closes possible off-the-shelf matches, which is great if you’re doing patch work or repainting a portion of your house. You can also get a palette of complimentary or otherwise matching colors for redecorating. And the ‘Digital’ app lets you see all the HEX and other values you’d use for web or digital product design, and also build palettes that work together for project work.

[gallery ids="1917679,1917680,1917681,1917682"]

Nix Pro provides a range of color readouts that are used by professionals for super-accurate matching and measurement, and you can again use the built-in paint library to match accurately, or the color values to have a batch custom mixed to your specifications.

Nix can scan just about any surface, including all types of paints and fabrics, as well as tile and other flooring. It’s an accessory that really makes quick and painless what has been a pretty messy process in the past, and it also comes calibrated out of the box so there’s nothing the user has to do to ensure color accuracy when actually using it.

Netgear’s Meural Canvas II is a better version of the best home gadget for photographers

Netgear has released the first updated Canvas digital art from from Meural since acquiring the company last September, and the next-generation connected frame comes with some decent quality-of-life improvements as well as a new, additional size. It’s not a dramatic change from the original Meural Canvas, but it means that a product that was already great is now even better.

The Meural Canvas II from Netgear comes in two sizes, including a smaller 16×24 frame that provides a 21.5-inch diagonal picture (starting at $399.95), and a 19×29-inch frame with a 27-inch diagonal display (starting at $599.95). Both screens are 1080P full HD resolution, and both feature ambient light sensors (which are relocated to a better location under the mat that surrounds the screen for improved light detection) that will automatically adjust the brightness of your image to make it appear more natural and less like a screen.

The Canvas II features built-in Wi-Fi, which is also upgraded with this generation (Netgear, which makes routers and other Wi-Fi products, seem to have brought their expertise to bear here) and they offer new Ethernet connectivity, as well as full-size SD ports. They can also hang either vertically or horizontally, and a new accessory mount for this generation (sold separately) allows for even easier switching between the two orientations via simple rotation.

For the virtual art collector

Meural is controlled primarily from the Meural companion app, though you can also access a web interface to accomplish much of the same thing from a desktop browser. The app features curated collections of artwork, which is available both via a paid monthly subscription, and via direct, one-time purchases. One of the changes that the Meural service has undergone is that the subscription membership now gets you some, but not all of the art available – some premium content is still and additional charge on top of that. It’s definitely not as good from the user’s perspective as when everything was free once you’d paid the subscription fee, but paying monthly still nets you 20GB of cloud storage for uploading your own art, discounts on the stuff that is available for purchase, and access to a much larger library than you get without any membership.

Subscriptions go for either $8.95 per month, or $69.95 per year, and they’re probably plenty to satisfy most casual art lovers who just want some recognizable or interesting works to adorn their walls, and want to be able to change that on a fairly regular basis. And when you use the art provided through Meural’s various collections, you can take a look at credits and descriptions right on the display – available quickly via a motion control swipe up gesture made possibly by the sensors built into the frame.

A note on those motion controls – they allow you to navigate between artwork, and even change playlists and access a menu of other options related to the frame. Basically you wave your hand near the bottom of the Meural to make this work, and it’s great when it does work, but it definitely takes some learning to figure out how and where to swipe to make it reliably respond. It’s convenient that it’s an option, but controlling the display with the iOS or Android app is a lot more pleasant generally speaking.

The built-in library that Meural provides is definitely a selling point, and Meural is regularly adding new art collections, both for paid purchases and to build out the library of those works available included in the subscription. It just added a bunch through a new partnership with Marvel, in fact, including movie posters from a long list of their cinematic universe releases.

For the amateur/enthusiast/pro photographer

The primary reason I think the Meural Canvas II is a fantastic product has very little to do with its subscription-based art collection, however. Instead, it’s all about the flexibility and convenience that the Canvas provides when it comes to displaying your own photos. It’s incredibly easy to upload your photos from your mobile device or your desktop, and you can organize them in playlists, add descriptions and titles, and crop them manually or have the frame crop them automatically to display in its 16×9 aspect ratio.

As a display for your own photos, the Meural Canvas II is hard to beat: It’s a lot more flexible and cost effective than getting high quality prints made, since you can rotate them out as often as you feel like, and the display’s color rendering and matte finish, while obviously not as good as a professional photo print, is nonetheless very pleasing to the eye. When you take as many photos as we collectively do now, but seldom have anywhere to show them off, the Canvas provides the perfect opportunity to ensure they have a great place to shine at home.

The included SD card reader means it’s easy to load up images and put them on the Canvas locally, but I also found that uploading from whatever WiFi-connected device I had access to around the house was easy and fast (again, seems like Netgear’s core expertise came into play here). The ability to quickly change the orientation, which is fast and simple even without the rotation mount accessory, is another big plus for your own photos since it means you can show off both portraits and landscapes.

Oh, and the ability to load your own artwork isn’t limited to just your photography, of course – any image in a standard format, including animated GIFs, can work on the Meural, which means it’s really only limited by the scope of what’s available on the internet.

Bottom line

Between the frame options, which you can swap out for different color options eventually when they’re sold separately, and the ability to upload your own content to the Canvas, it’s easily the most customizable piece of home decor you can find right now. For some, opting to move up to something like Samsung’s The Frame TV might be a better option, but that’s much larger, much more expensive, much heavier for mounting and not as flexible when it comes to playlists and your own curation of art to display.

The Meural Canvas II provides largely the same visual experience as the generation it replaces, but the other improvements make this a much better product overall, with faster, more reliable WiFi connectivity, improved motion controls, more flexible on-device storage and new mounting options. If you like some variety in your wall art, or you’ve just been trying to figure out to do something interesting with all those pictures you take, the Meural Canvas II is a great option.

The new AirFly Pro is the perfect travel buddy for your AirPods Pro

Accessory maker TwelveSouth has a solid lineup of gadgets, many of which fill a niche that their products uniquely address — and address remarkably well. The AirFly Pro ($54.99) is a new iteration on one of those, providing a way to connect Bluetooth headphones to any audio source with a 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s being sold at Apple Stores, too, as part of its launch today — and there’s good reason for that: This is the ideal way to make sure you can use your AirPods Pro just about everywhere, including with airplane seatback entertainment systems.

The AirFly Pro will work with any Bluetooth headphones, not just AirPods Pro — but the latest noise-canceling earbuds from Apple are among the best available when it comes to both active noise cancellation and sound quality, both great assets for frequent travelers and people more likely to encounter an in-flight entertainment system. But the AirFly Pro has additional tricks up its sleeve that earn it the “Pro” designation.

This is the first version of the product from TwelveSouth that offers the ability to stream audio in, as well as out. That means you can use it with a car stereo system that only has auxiliary audio in, for instance, to stream directly from your iPhone to the vehicle’s sound system. The AirFly Pro can also serve that function for home stereo sound equipment, speakers or other audio equipment that accepts audio in, but not Bluetooth streaming connections.

One other neat trick the AirFly Pro packs: audio sharing, so that you can connect two pairs of headphones at once. This is similar to the native audio sharing feature that Apple introduced for its own AirPod line in the most recent iOS update, but it works through the AirFly with any audio source, and any Bluetooth headphones. That’s yet another great feature for when you’re traveling with a partner.

I’ve had a bit of time to spend with the AirFly Pro, and so far it has been rock solid, with easy pairing and setup, and a convenient keychain ring/3.5mm connector cap for making it easier to keep with you. It charges via USB-C, and there’s a USB-A to USB-C cable included, too. The on-board battery lasts for 16 or more hours, which is more than enough time for even the longest of flights, and again, you’re getting that audio sharing feature which is super handy even around the house for just checking something out on the iPad on your couch.

Alongside the AirFly Pro, TwelveSouth also introduced new AirFly Duo and AirFly USB-C models. The difference is that neither of these offer that wireless audio input mode — but you get up to four more hours of battery life for the trade-off. The USB-C model also offers USB-C audio compatibility, for connecting to devices that use that connection for sound instead of 3.5mm, and both of these still offer dual headphone connectivity, for $5 less, at $49.99 each.

Review: Samsung’s Space Monitor is handsome and minimal — if you have the desk for it

When Samsung announced the Space Monitor, I knew in an instant that it was going to be something I had to try out in person. Now that I’ve had time to do so, I’m happy to say it’s much as advertised, a streamlined and solid monitor with a smart new design — but not necessarily one for everybody.

Samsung Space Monitor

Pros:

  • Clever space-saving design
  • Quiet, attractive look
  • Solid color out of the box

Cons:

  • Doesn’t rotate and height depends on distance from wall
  • Sub-par viewing angles
  • Doesn’t work with every desk

Price: $400 (27-inch); $500 (32-inch)

We don’t review a lot of monitors at TechCrunch — none, really. This was more of a curiosity to me. I’m interested in design and monitors are usually ugly at best. But I was impressed with Samsung’s approach here and wanted to see if it worked in real life.

The big advance of the Space Monitor is its very low-profile mount, which grips the edge of your desk on the wall side and can be folded up flat against said wall. It can rotate up and down, the monitor tilting to taste — not so far as the Surface Studio, but with that same general range of motion.

The monitor itself comes in two varieties: a larger 32-inch 4K one and a smaller 27-inch one at 2560×1440. I reviewed the smaller one, as the large one has a lower refresh rate and I really don’t have any use for 4K in my workflow.

The ideal situation for this thing is a relatively small work space where having the monitor actually sitting on your desk kind of invalidates all the space around it. With the Space Monitor, the stand is flush with the wall, clearing up the area below and in front of it even when it’s folded outwards. It’s easier than piercing the wall for a free-floating display.

The performance of the monitor, as far as I am able to tell, is good but not great. The colors are vibrant and the default settings are solid, if perhaps a little warm (easily adjusted, of course). The refresh rate goes up to 144 Hz, which is more than enough for gaming, and can easily be tweaked to 120 for those of us who are very picky about video pulldown and other deep frame rate stuff.

One thing that isn’t impressive is the viewing angle. I feel like the sweet spot for this monitor is far narrower than on the Dell Ultrasharp IPS panel I’ve used for years. If you’re not sitting directly in front of it, you’re going to get color and brightness falloff at the edge you’re farthest from.

The bezel is narrow, a bit more than a quarter inch, a little thicker on the bottom side. It’s also nearly flush on the top and sides so you don’t feel like the bezels protrude toward you. All in all it’s a very handsome and understated design, as these things go. It’s worth noting that Samsung appears to have fudged the press imagery a bit and the microscopic bezel you see in official images is not actually what you get.

Installation isn’t quite as easy as just setting something down on your desk, but if you have a compatible desk, it’s literally as easy as sliding the clamp on and tightening it. A custom cable (optional, but convenient) combines HDMI and power into one, and fits into a groove on the back of the stand, eliminating clutter.

But you’ll want to take a good look at your desk to make sure it is compatible. I didn’t, and had to jury-rig a solution.

Basically, unless your desk is more or less solid and has a ledge that the clamp can close down on, you might have a problem. My desk is solid and about an inch and a half thick, but has a sort of wall that juts down about two more inches. I removed and reattached the bottom part of the clamp so it could just barely be slipped around the wall, but then the screw wouldn’t reach the bottom surface of the desk, so I had to fill the gap with a book. (It’s okay, I’ve got lots.)

The stand is plenty stiff and the monitor stays exactly where you’ve put it, but it is a little wobbly — understandable, given that it sits at the very tip of a 14-inch-long arm. I only really noticed when I was typing very hard or bumped the desk, when I noticed it wobbled more and longer than the Dell on its traditional stand.

Now, if you’ve looked closely at the way this monitor and stand is set up, you may have noticed something else: this thing can’t rotate. Yes, unfortunately, the nature of the Space Monitor means that it must always be parallel to the desk edge it’s attached to, and can only move directly perpendicular to it. There is also no way to slide the monitor up and down, or rather to do so you must also move it toward or away from you.

For some this is unacceptable. And although it’s fine for me as a primary monitor, it would never work as a secondary one, like the Dell I now have angled toward me adjacent to the Samsung.

That does significantly limit its use cases, and the spaces in which it works well. But I still feel it’s a great option for some. If you have limited space and plan to primarily work from the sweet spot directly in front of it, this is a solid monitor big enough for productivity, movies and games.

For those seeking a low-profile, space-saving alternative to the usual monitors, the Space Monitor is a great option. But for multiple-monitor setups or people who shift the angle a lot, it probably isn’t the best. At $400 it has strong competition from the usual suspects, but for some people the slight increase in image quality or the ability to slide the monitor up and down isn’t worth losing the desk space or having a clunky design. The Space Monitor is available now, at Samsung’s site or your usual electronics retailer.

DJI Mavic Mini Review

The $399 Mavic Mini lives in a sweet spot of core features and a low price. It packs everything critical to be a quality drone. It has a good camera, good range and a good controller. It holds up well in the wind and is quick enough to be fun. And it’s so small that you’re more likely to throw it in your bag and take it on Instagram adventures.

The small size is the Mavic Mini’s main selling point. It weighs 249 grams, and that odd number isn’t an accident. Drones that weight 250 grams and above have to be registered to fly. And yet, even though the Mavic Mini is lightweight and foldable, it’s packed with core features: 30-minute flight time, 4 km HD video transmission, three-axis gimbal holding a 2.7K camera and a physical controller that works with Android and iOS devices. At $399, it’s a lot of drone for the money even though it’s missing features found in DJI’s other drones.

There are more expensive drones packed with a lot of features. I own most of those drones. They’re fun, but several years ago, feature creep started sneaking into DJI’s products. Now, with a convoluted product line, a spreadsheet is needed to decipher DJI’s drones. Most come loaded with countless features owners will likely never use. The Mavic Mini is something different. It’s basic, and I dig it.

Here’s what’s missing: collision detection, ultra-long-range connection, 4K camera, gesture control and advanced camera features like trackable follow, panoramic, time lapse and optical zoom.

The Mavic Mini is quick enough to be fun, but it won’t win any races. It’s responsive and fast enough. Light and easy. Compared to a Mavic 2, it feels smaller and less powerful — because it is — and yet it never feels too small or underpowered. The Mavic Mini is well-balanced, and owners should find it enjoyable to fly.

Despite its tiny size, the Mavic Mini holds up well in high wind. I took it up to 200m on a windy fall day in the Midwest. The wind was clearing leaves off the trees, and I was bundled up in hat and gloves. It was gusty. The Mavic Mini didn’t care. It took off like a drone much larger and stood tall against the wind. What’s more, the video didn’t suffer. The gimbal held the camera steady as it recorded the autumn landscape.

The drone uses DJI’s new app, and I’m using a beta version to test the drone. Called DJI Fly, it’s a streamlined version of DJI Go and packs several enhancements. Safe fly zones are better integrated into the app and have an additional level of detail over the older app. DJI also offers better built-in support for its social community app, SkyPixel. However, as this version is streamlined, it lacks a lot of information standard on the Go version, most notably, a mini-map in the bottom corner of the screen. I’m hoping DJI adds more features to this app after it launches.

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The camera is good for the price. The pictures here were taken from the drone and not altered or adjusted. They were taken on cloudy and sunny days. The range is surprisingly good, as the drone can capture blue skies and dark highlights. Occasionally in direct sunlight, the camera colors become washed out.

They say the best camera is the one you have with you. That’s where the Mavic Mini comes in. The best drone is the one you have with you. For years, I lugged around a massive Pelican case containing Phantom 2 and later a Phantom 3. I thought I was the coolest. At a moment’s notice, I could go to my car’s trunk and retrieve a suitcase containing a flying camera. A few minutes later, after my phone synced to the drone, and the controller joined the drone’s network, I had 15 minutes of flight time. Then came the foldable Mavic, which fit alongside my camera gear like a large telephoto lens. Other drones came and went. I liked the GoPro Karma for a time.

The tiny Mavic Mini is a game-changer. It’s small enough that I’ll bring it everywhere. It’s small and light enough that it feels like a large point and shoot in my computer bag.

Want more features and a better camera but keep the portable size? Earlier this year DJI announced the $919 foldable Mavic Air that has a 4K camera and five-mile video transmission.

The Mavic Mini gets everything right. It’s small, comes with a lovely case, and in a $499 bundle, two extra batteries with a clever charging pack. The camera is surprisingly good though admittedly less powerful than DJI’s more expensive drones. The Mavic Mini is the perfect drone for a first-timer or experienced drone enthusiast. DJI stuffs enough features into the 249 gram body to make this a fantastic drone for anyone.

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DJI Mavic Mini announcement

Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure is a silly, gentle way to shape up

Nintendo has a long history when it comes to exercise-driven games. I’m dating myself, but I can say I remember playing Track & Field on NES with the Power Pad. How far we’ve come! Ring Fit Adventure is a full-body workout for grown-ups, but fun, gentle, and ridiculous enough to forget it’s exercise.

The game and accessories were announced in September, coming as a complete surprise even considering Nintendo’s constant but hit-and-miss attempts at keeping its players healthy. What really threw people off was that this game actually looked like… a game. And so it is!

Ring Fit Adventure has you, the unnamed and (naturally) mute protagonist, journeying through a series of worlds and levels chasing after Dragaux, a swole dragon who’s infecting the land with… something. Maybe he’s not wiping down the equipment afterwards. Come on, man.

Playing with these virtual versions of the controllers gives you a real feel for how solid the motion detection is.

Anyway, you do this by using the Joy-Cons in a new and strange form: the Ring-Con and leg strap. The latter is pretty self-explanatory, but the ring must be explained. It’s a thick plastic resistance ring that you squeeze from the edges or pull apart. It detects how hard you’re squeezing it through the other Joy-Con, which slots into the top. (The strap and ring grips are washable, by the way.)

The two controllers combined can detect all kinds of movements, from squats and leg lifts to rotations, presses, balancing, and yoga poses. You’ll need them all if you’re going to progress in the game.

Each level is a path that you travel down by actually jogging in real life (or high stepping if you’re in goo), while using the Ring-Con to interact with the environment. Aim and squeeze to send out a puff of air that opens a door or propels you over an obstacle, or pull it apart to suck in distant coins. Press it against your abs to crush rocks, do squats to open chests — you get the idea.

ringfit1

I haven’t gotten this one yet, but it looks handy. I could use a stronger arm-based multi-monster attack.

Of course you encounter enemies as well, which you dispatch with a variety of exercises targeting different muscle groups. Do a few arm presses over your head for some basic damage, or hit multiple enemies with some hip rotations. Each exercise has you do a number of reps, which turn into damage, before defending against enemy attacks with an “Ab Guard.”

The ring and leg strap seem almost magical in their ability to track your motion in all kinds of ways, though some are no doubt only inferred or fudged (as when you lift the leg without the strap). A missed motion happened so rarely over thousands of them that I ceased to think at all about it, which is about the highest compliment you can give a control method like this. Yet it’s also forgiving enough that you won’t feel the need to get everything right down the millimeter. You can even check your pulse by putting your thumb on the IR sensor of the right Joy-Con. Who knew?

As you progress, you unlock new exercises with different uses or colors — and you soon are able to fight more strategically by matching muscle group coloring (red is arms, purple legs, etc) with enemies of the same type. It’s hardly Fire Emblem, but it’s also a lot more than anyone has every really expected from a fitness game.

The red guys are like, “yeah… do him first.”

In fact, so much care and polish has clearly gone into this whole operation that’s it’s frequently surprising; there are so many things that could have been phoned in an not a single one is. The exercises are thoughtfully selected and explained in a friendly manner; the monsters and environments show great attention to detail. There’s no punishment for failure except restarting a level — the first time I “died,” I expected a little sass from my chatty companion, Ring, but it just popped me back to the map with nary a word.

Throughout is a feeling of acceptance and opportunity rather than pressure to perform. You can quit at any time and it doesn’t chide you for abandoning your quest or not burning enough calories. If you decide not to do the warm-up stretch, Tabb just says “OK!” and moves on. When you perform a move, it’s either “good” or “great,” or it reminds you of the form and you can try again. Whenever you start, you can change the difficulty, which I believe is reps, damage, and other soft counts, since it can’t increase the resistance of the Ring-Con.

dragaux

Seems familiar…

There’s no pressure to change your body and no gendered expectations; Your exercise demonstration model/avatar, Tabb, is conspicuously androgynous. Your character is a pretty cut specimen of your preferred gender, to be sure. And Dragaux himself is a sort of parody of oblivious, musclebound gym bunnies (“He’s working out while planning his next workout,” the game announced one time as he skipped an attack to do some bicep curls). But even he, Ring mentions at one point, used to be very insecure about his body. Importantly, there’s nothing about the game that feels targeted to getting a certain type of person a certain type of fit.

I’m not a trainer or fitness expert, but so far the variety of exercises also feels solid. It’s all very low-impact stuff, and because it’s resistance ring and body weight only, there’s a sort of core-strengthening yoga style to it all. This isn’t about getting ripped, but you’ll be surprised how sore you are after taking down a few enemies with a proper-form chair pose.

If you don’t want to play the adventure mode, there are minigames to collect and short workouts you can customize. Honestly some of these would make better party games than half the stuff on 1-2-Switch.

As I’ve been playing the game and discussing it with friends, I found myself wanting more out of the game side. I’m hoping Ring Fit Adventure will be a success so that Nintendo will green light a new, deeper version with more complex RPG elements. Sure, you can change your outfit here for a little extra defense or whatnot, but I want to take this concept further — I know the fundamentals are sound, so I’d like to see them built on.

[gallery ids="1907223,1907228,1907230,1907231,1907227,1907232,1907234"]

It feels like until now there have been few ways to really gamify fitness, except the most elementary, like step tracking. The two separate motion controllers and the smart ways they’re used to track a variety of exercises really feel like an opportunity to do something bigger. Plus once people have bought the accessories, they’re much more likely to buy matching software.

My main criticisms would be that it’s a bit limiting at the beginning. There’s no choice to, for example, prioritize or deprioritize a certain type of exercise. I could probably stand to jog more and do arm stuff less, and I dreaded having to resort to squats for the first few worlds. And the constant instruction on how and when to do everything can be wearing — it would be nice to be able to set some things to “expert mode” and skip the tutorials.

The game and accessories will set you back $80. If you consider it simply as buying a game, it’s an expensive gimmick. But I don’t think that’s the way to think about it. The target audience here is people who likely don’t have a gym membership, something that can cost $50-$100 a month. As a fun and effective fitness tool that does what it sets out to do and does so in a praiseworthy way, I think $80 is a very reasonable asking price.

NVIDIA’s new Shield TV wins the Android TV market with amazing 4K upscaling

NVIDIA has a new family of Android TV-based streaming devices, as tipped early via a couple of leaks from online stores. The new NVIDIA Shield TV ($149) and Shield TV Pro ($199) replace the existing Shield TV generation of hardware, which debuted in 2017. Both new Shields offer new Tegra X1+ processors, which outperform the predecessor chip by about 25 percent, and make possible one of this Shield’s new highlight features: AI-powered 3K up-conversion for HD content.

Both Shield TV and Shield TV Pro also support Dolby Vision HDR content, as well as Dolby Atmos surround sound. The differences between the two devices center mainly around physical design, with the Shield TV adopting a cylindrical tube design, and the Shield TV Pro looking more like its predecessor (basically a small set-top box form factor). The Shield TV Pro also gets more RAM (3GB vs. 2GB), more storage (16GB vs 8GB) the ability to transcode 1080p streams when acting as a Plex Media Server, support for the SmartThings Link to turn it into a SmartThings smart home hub and advanced Android gaming support, along with two USB 3.0 ports.

Shield TV Review

Nvidia Shield TV 4I’ve been using the Shield TV for around a week now, and this is definitely a worthwhile upgrade for anyone looking to get the best possible experience available in an Android TV home theater device. NVIDIA has clearly done a lot to survey the market, look at everything that’s come out in the two years since it last updated this hardware, and delivery generational improvements that help it stand out from the crowd in meaningful ways.

Android TV now ships on a lot of smart TVs, and there have been many generations of Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices introduced since we last saw a new Shield from NVIDIA – all of which adds up to needing to really do something special to ask for $149.99 from consumers to invest in a new dedicated streaming media box. NVIDIA has always delivered a lot of value for the upfront cost of their streaming hardware, with consistent updates over the life of the devices that add plenty of new features and improvements. But this new hardware packs in some excellent features not possible with software alone, and that are also unique when you look across the options available in this category.

AI Upscaling

Chief among the additions NVIDIA has made here is the AI upscaling made possible with the new Tegra X1+ chip. You might have heard of ‘upscaling’ before, and you might even think that your TV already handles that well. But what you probably don’t know is that often content from streaming media sources doesn’t actually get upscaled by your TV, which means if you have a 4K display but are often watching YouTube or other services with large quantities of non-4K content, you might not be getting the most out of your hardware.

NVIDIA has addressed this with on-device 4K upscaling, which is powered by on-device machine intelligence that has been trained on a deep neural network to turn both 720p and 1080p signals into much sharper, 4K-equivalent images. Having used this on a variety of content, including media streamed from YouTube, non-4K Netflix content and stuff from Plex, I can attest to its ability to produce visibly sharper images that look great, especially on my LG C8-series OLED 4K TV.

The Shield TV’s tech is trained on popular movies and TV shows, and so does a remarkably good job of guessing what the 4K version of the HD image it’s looking at should properly look like. Considering that there’s a ton of content out there that hasn’t been made available in 4K, despite now a lot of TVs supporting that resolution, this is a big advantage for NVIDIA, and again one that they uniquely offer among their peers.

Dolby Everything

These new Shields also support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, across more services than anything else out there on the market right now. These HDR and surround sound modes really do offer the best audio-visual experience you can get, provided you have TVs and audio output equipment that supports them, but what you might not know is that even on other streaming hardware that technically support these standards, they might not be supported across all services.

Shield TV supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos across Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Vudu and Movies Anywhere, so you should be getting the most out of these technologies, too. I asked about the forthcoming Apple TV+ service, which is rolling out to Roku devices, for instance, but NVIDIA didn’t have any news to share just yet – it does seem like it’s a good idea to stay tuned on that front, however.

Like AI Upscaling, Dolby support across everything might not seem like a big competitive advantage, but it’s absolutely a decision tipping factor for people who are looking for the best possible A/V experience in a home streaming device.

New and Improved Remote

Nvidia Shield TV 5NVIDIA is shipping the new Shield TVs with a brand new redesigned remote in the box. There’s a dedicated ‘Netflix’ button, which is a nice touch, but the remote overall is just an improvement over both Shield remotes past, and other competing remotes, in every way. It’s powered by AAA batteries (included) and it has a new pyramid-shaped body design that makes it easier and more pleasant to hold.

There are also lots of new buttons! Yes, NVIDIA actually put buttons on their remote control – what a novel concept! Whereas the remote from the last generation seemed to be adopting a lot of the questionable choices Apple has long been making on their remotes, this one feels like it’s made with humans in mind, with dedicated play/pause, back, forward, volume and other buttons. A wealth of buttons.

This remote also has automatic backlighting, which will serve you well when using it in a darkened room. Because of the bulkier body design, it also stands on its end, and there’s a lost remote finding function, too. Chalk up a win for human-centric design with this remote, it’s a joy to use.

Simple physical design

The design of the device is not flashy, but it is smart. There’s an Ethernet port, a power connector, an HDMI port and a micro SD card slot, dividing across both ends of the tube. This makes it perfect for placing behind a console or media bench, on the ground or next to your other power cables.

[gallery ids="1904249,1904250,1904246"]

It still provides hardwired connectivity options in case you do things like in-home game streaming or GeForce NOW cloud gaming, and it offers expandable storage via the microSD slot.

Bottom Line

NVIDIA’s new Shield is a great option for anyone looking for a versatile streaming device, with access to all of Google’s Play Store apps for Android TV, and support for the latest AV standards. It’s real bonus advantage is that AI upscaling, however, which is something that NVIDIA is uniquely poised to do well, and which goes a long way in making that $149.99 price point seem like a tremendous value.

SHIELD TV Family