Nothing ruins a good vacation (or its memories) like a data breach. Unfortunately, if you stayed at one of the 54 Starwood hotels that were recently hit by malware, you may want to check your accounts and make sure everything is in order. Between the end of 2014 and the first half of this year, over four dozen Starwood properties, including W Hotels, Sheraton, Westin, and Le Meridien, fell victim to yet another cyber attack. According to the hospitality giant, the malware was designed to steal “cardholder names, credit card numbers, security codes, and expiration dates,” but added that “there is no evidence that other customer information, such as contact information or PINs, were affected by this issue.” As per a recent press release, Starwood Hotels says that the data breach was centered around “certain restaurants, gift shops and other point-of-sale systems at the relevant Starwood properties,” but that reservation and Starwood Preferred Guest membership systems seem safe from the breach. “Protecting our customers’ information is critically important to Starwood and we take this issue extremely seriously,” said Sergio Rivera, Starwood President of the Americas region. Noting that the firm has taken “prompt action to determine the facts,” Starwood is assuring customers that its hotels have since “implemented additional security measures to help prevent this type of crime from reoccurring.” As compensation, the hotel chain is offering affected customers a year of AllClear ID to provide identity protection and credit monitoring services, free of charge. Related: Despite security revisions, the secrecy of your passwords may still be at risk with LastPass These sorts of incidents are becoming increasingly commonplace, with such large corporations as Target, the Home Depot, and Oracle recently falling victim to cyber attacks. Indeed, it seems that no sector is safe from hackers — in addition to large retailers, insurance companies and even the U.S. government has been affected by malware. Should you believe that you may have been affected by this Starwood breach, the company encourages you to “immediately contact [your] bank or card issuer.” More information can be found on Starwood’s website. More »Did you stay at one of the 54 Starwood hotels affected by a malware attack?
The odds favored The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 this weekend, with the grand finale of the blockbuster franchise earning the top spot in the box-office rankings with a $101 million debut. Despite the film’s big opening weekend, the outlook wasn’t entirely positive for Mockingjay — Part 2, the fourth film in the hit series adapted from Suzanne Collins’ popular, post-apocalyptic young-adult novels. Related: The Night Before is a raunchy holiday romp without the sickly sweet filling Not only did the film have the lowest opening of the series so far, falling $20 million short of its 2014 predecessor, but it also currently ranks as only the fifth best opening of the year (and likely to be the sixth after Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens debuts). Given that all of the previous films ranked in the top three openings of their respective years, it’s a notable step down for the franchise. Still, there have been few — if any — franchises to have their first four films earn more than $100 million on their opening weekends, so it’s not all doom and gloom for the final installment of The Hunger Games. # Title Weekend U.S. Total Worldwide Total 1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 $101M $101M $247M 2. Spectre $14.6M $153.7M $677.8M 3. The Peanuts Movie $12.8M $98.9M $108.7M 4. The Night Before $10.1M $10.1M $10.1M 5. The Secret In Their Eyes $6.6M $6.6M $6.6M 6. Love the Coopers $3.9M $14.9M $14.9M 7. The Martian $3.7M $213M $486.4M 8. Spotlight $3.6M $5.9M $5.9M 9. The 33 $2.2M $9.9M $22.6M 10. Bridge of Spies $1.9M $65.2M $85.2M In other news, the debut of the R-rated holiday comedy The Night Before might not have generated a lot of box-office business, but the film did manage to earn rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. That could mean good things for the raunchy comedy starring Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie, as positive word-of-mouth tends to provide a big boost for films around the holiday season. Also making its debut in the top ten films of the weekend was the thriller The Secret In Their Eyes, a remake of the Oscar-winning Argentinian film of the same name. The English-language film stars Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Nicole Kidman and earned a modest $6.6 million — a result that’s probably viewed as a win by the studio, given the movie’s nonexistent marketing campaign. Finally, Ridley Scott’s The Martian continued to stay strong at the box office and make a strong case for extending its run in theaters with another $3.7 million over the weekend. That total was good for seventh place on the weekend, and The Martian now ranks as the sixth highest-grossing film of the year in U.S. theaters and the 11th highest-grossing film of the year worldwide. This upcoming weekend features the release of several big films, including the latest animated feature from Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios, The Good Dinosaur. The film’s debut during a holiday week when many children are out of school makes it as close to a sure thing as you get in Hollywood, so expect to see it post some big numbers over the extended weekend. For the older crowd, the Rocky spin-off Creed finally arrives in theaters over the weekend, as well as the Oscar-friendly biopic T he Danish Girl, which casts Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery. More »Box office hits and misses: The Hunger Games wins big, but there’s a catch
Intel’s new Skylake CPUs continue their invasion of the world’s systems, with their introduction to the newly expanded lineup of Asus’ N Series laptops. The two new systems utilize Intel’s high-end Core-i7 processors, and combine them with ultra-high definition displays, Nvidia graphics, and bountiful connectivity options. The new N series laptops come in two different sizes. The first, the N552, has a 15.6 inch display, while the larger N752 has a 17.3 inch screen. Both however come with the same 4k (3,840 x 2,160) IPS panel, with a 100-percent sRGB color palette. At its widest, the tablet portion is just 30mm thick, and it weighs just over 5.5lbs. Internally the potent quad-core, i7 CPUs (6700HQ or 6300HQ) are twinned with 16GB of DDR4 RAM and up to 512GB of PCIExpress SSD storage, which has a sustained read rate as high as 1,500 Mbps. There are also choices for more traditional 2.5 inch storage SSD and HDDs, as per TPU. Options for graphics are left up to the buyer to decide, but they can go all the way up to a GTX 960M if they need higher powered 3D rendering abilities. Related: Speak and it shall be done: Intel’s Skylake can be awakened with your voice In terms of ports, there’s one of the much-lauded USB type-C connectors that is also able to make use of USB 3.1’s high-speed data transfer. Alongside that futuristic connector are three more traditional USB 3.0 ports, as well as an RJ45 Ethernet port, an HDMI connector, headphone and microphone jacks, and a mini DisplayPort. ASUS has also put a lot of effort into the audio for this laptop, utilizing its “SonicMaster” audio system, which has B&O ICEpower class-D amplifiers for the speakers. Although we wouldn’t expect sound quality to be like that of full-size speakers, audio should certainly be above average with these new laptops. For now the eventual price and release date for the N552 and N752 laptops are unknown as they have only appeared on international versions of the ASUS site. We will endeavor to update this piece when that information becomes available. More »ASUS N series laptops get Skylake CPUs and 4K displays
We wear a helmet to protect our skulls, but being human, we expect more from these inert lifesavers. So we strap on cameras to film our stunts or canyon carving adventures — the world needs to see! We want to talk to our buddies while in the wind, so we pop in a Bluetooth kit. In our pockets and around our wrists, we have apps for navigation and tracking. Though there are helmets on the market that come with one or more of these technologies, you still have to add on what’s missing. That’s no longer so, as Fusar Technologies has created a platform that combines a camera, activity tracker, Bluetooth 4.0 communication device, GPS, black box, Wi-Fi capability, and emergency response system all into one device. It’s called Mohawk, and it is compatible with any type of helmet. This “Swiss Army knife” of smart helmet technology hit its $100,000 Indiegogo goal the first day, and is fast approaching $150,000. Fusar wants to change the way riders share their media, navigate, and communicate, all while remaining safe. Related: Eyesight’s Raptor smartglasses feature augmented reality and more The camera, which Fusar claims to be the most aerodynamic mounted unit on the market, allows users to capture 12MP photos and shoot 1080p video at 30 or 60 FPS via the touch of a button on a handlebar or wrist-mounted remote. Short press the button on your BRC (Bluetooth remote controls) to snap a photo, and long press to record video. The media instantly syncs to your smart phone. Real-time videos can be uploaded to social media with the HotShot feature, which can be activated anytime to save the last 15 seconds of footage, even if you weren’t recording. Mohawk can be synced to your smartphone, providing walkie-talkie style communication and GPS tracking for up to 12 friends and fellow riders, keeping everyone together. This should reduce the stress of teaching the newbies to properly interpret hand signals! How much air did you catch on that last trail jump? Were you knee-down on that third bank? Onboard sensors allow you to track air time, degree of lean, and more using a built-in 3-axis accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscope. A major fear for solo riders is taking a fall when no one else is around. In a crash involving head or spinal trauma, every minute is crucial, and if you’re lying unconscious or unable to move, what can you do but wait for passersby to call for help? Mohawk is equipped to notify loved ones and emergency contacts via text and email in the event of a crash. It also provides them with a map to your precise location and the phone numbers of the three nearest EMS dispatchers. If you do go down, the black box records the last two minutes of audio and video, your speed and direction of travel. This can be beneficial afterwards, especially for insurance purposes. The mobile app, Bluetooth headset, and handlebar remote are expected to ship in the first quarter of2016, while Mohawk itself will follow in the third quarter. It will be available for $550, but early birds can pre-order the kit for $300. More »Mohawk smart helmet kit features camera, GPS, black box, Bluetooth, and more
Google is excited about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and has launched a special promotional campaign to make sure we’re all aware the new movie is now less than a month away from release. By choosing to support either the Light Side or the Dark Side of the Force, all your Google apps and sites will get a special Star Wars makeover. Getting involved is easy. Padawans need to visit google.com/StarWars, where you’re told to pledge allegiance to the Force, but with the option of going down the light or dark path. When you join, Google puts a filter over your profile image and adds the relevant insignia, which can also be downloaded for posterity. If you suddenly have a change of heart, and would like to follow a different way, then just hop back to the main page. Related: Watch the first TV spot for Star Wars: The Force Awakens From here, Google will customize different sites and apps. For example, Google Maps will show iconic Star Wars vehicles marking your location, Gmail gets a Star Wars theme and wallpaper, and if you visit Google Play, you’ll find an updated version of Disney’s Star Wars app. The new version includes a Star Wars watch face for Android Wear. Additionally, Google will add little Star Wars touches to YouTube, Calendar, Translate, Search, and Waze. The more you explore, the more you’ll discover. The changes are often very subtle. Check out Google Maps on the desktop, where if you’ve followed the Dark Side, the Street View stick man changes to become a little Stormtrooper. Have patience if you don’t see anything that different straight away, Google warns there could be a short wait before changes go live. There’s more cool stuff to come, says Google, highlighting that it’ll add a virtual reality tour of the Millennium Falcon and other surprises between now and The Force Awakens release. That’s taking place on December 18, and we can’t wait. More »Google promises Force Awakens goodies if you decide between the Light or the Dark Side
Portable Bluetooth speakers always used to disappoint me a bit. But just when I was ready to concede I expected too much, Riva came along with the Turbo X and proved I had every right to expect more. Billed as a speaker built by and for musicians, the Turbo X is not just another Johnny-come-lately to what has become an exceedingly saturated product category, it’s a premium offering worthy of those who demand audio excellence. You may find lighter, more rugged, or more portable battery-powered Bluetooth speakers out there, but you won’t find anything else that combines such superb sound quality with must-have features. Here’s why the Riva Turbo X is now my favorite portable Bluetooth speaker. Out of the box The Turbo X is a bit of a brick. Like the Braven 850, Creative Labs Roar 2, and UE Megaboom, you’ll notice this speaker’s 3-lb. heft when you toss it in your backpack, but you won’t mind it so much when you get where you’re going and crank it up. The weight is there for good reason, resulting in a difference you can hear just as much as you feel. In the box with the speaker is an RCA (male) to 3.5mm (male) cable and a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm (male to male) to accommodate connection of any number of outboard analog audio devices – think TV, Blu-ray player, or turntable. Bill Roberson/Digital Trends What isn’t in the box is the carry case Riva sells for $30 extra. It’s a great heavy-duty case, built to last, and outfitted with a separate pocket for the speaker’s power adapter, connecting cables, or pretty much anything else you might want to stuff in there. This should really be included, considering the speaker runs a good $300 online, and because the speaker is heavy and less than easily “portable” without it. Fun features The Turbo X is filled with all sorts of features, only one of which we’d consider frivolous: A wave of the hand over the top of the speaker will “wake up” on-board controls, which basically means they light up – the touch-capacitive keys also illuminate as soon as you touch one. Otherwise, the Turbo X is loaded with useful stuff. For instance, the namesake Turbo button increases loudness and bass so the speaker can play as loud as a claimed 100 decibels without blowing itself up (to say nothing of your eardrums). We can vouch that the button certainly does increase loudness, but we think most folks won’t need it while indoors unless there’s a big party going on. Outdoors, where the extra beef helps the speaker sound much bigger than it is, the Turbo button makes a little more sense. We just wish engaging it didn’t make the ridiculous “vroooom” sound effect you can hear in the video above. The Trillium sound mode produces a quasi-surround sound effect, which is far from immersive, but it does add a bit of spatial sound effect. It tricks the ear into believing sound is coming from outside the confines of the speaker. This mode works best when the speaker is placed in a corner, or with a large, flat surface about 6-inches behind it. A large TV works, but we got the best effect with the speaker placed in front of a large pane of glass. Bill Roberson/Digital Trends Bill Roberson/Digital Trends The last of three different sound modes available on the Turbo X is Phono mode. By raising input gain and disabling some compression, the speaker is made well-suited to vinyl playback. You’ll need a turntable with a built-in phono pre-amp or an outboard phono pre-amp for the best sound, but you’d be surprised how well the speaker works for listening to records without having to have a big, elaborate system. Perhaps the Turbo X’s most desirable and practical feature, however, is its excellent battery life. Riva claims 26 hours of playback at 75db SPL (sound pressure level), and while that’s a bold promise, the Turbo X delivers. During our testing, we charged an iPad Air from depleted to capacity and played music for well over 20 hours before needing to recharge the speaker. Under the hood At the heart of the Turbo X is a complement of drivers and amplification chosen by Riva’s engineers to reproduce the most accurate sound possible. Riva tells us the speaker includes three active 60 mm (about 2.4-inch) drivers, each with its own dedicated 15-watt (RMS) channel of amplification, and four passive radiators. If that doesn’t seem like much, then you have yet to witness what can be done with seemingly modest digital amplification and a hearty dose of DSP. The Turbo X supports SBC, AAC, and aptX codecs. It does not, however, digitally connect directly to devices, so there’s no Hi-Res audio support here. Performance Based purely on sound quality, my top three portable Bluetooth speaker picks would be the Bowers & Wilkins T7, Bang & Olufsen A2, and the Riva Turbo X. Each of these three has its own admirable sonic characteristics, making a “which is best” determination very difficult. But in the end, the one I want to take home and live with on the long term is the Turbo X. This speaker just does it for me. The A2 is a much snazzier looking speaker than the Turbo X (hey, it’s Bang & Olufsen), is far more portable thanks to its soft leather strap and light weight, and puts out an impressive amount of bass, but it lacks the warmth and depth I crave. The T7, on the other hand, has a more uniform, balanced sound, a respectable amount of bass, and a very cool aesthetic, but it lacks the punch and power the Turbo X has, and its battery falls a good eight hours short of the Turbo X’s. The Turbo X may not be the most fetching speaker on the block, but it certainly isn’t rough on the eyes, either. It’s got killer battery life and, with the addition of Riva’s carrying case, is just as portable as the A2 and T7. What really cinches the deal for the Turbo X is the right blend of sonic power, punch, presence, balance, and detail. It’s a speaker made by musicians, and it sounds like it. The funny thing about us musicians is that we want to hear honesty from a speaker — music the way it was made to sound. We want faithful reproduction, not sculpted art. The sculpting has already been done by the mixing and mastering professionals who recorded and produced the music, it doesn’t need to be re-sculpted. In fact, the best thing a speaker can do is just get out of the way, and the Turbo X does that better than any other Bluetooth speaker I’ve tested thus far – and I’ve tested a lot. Bill Roberson/Digital Trends Peter Gabriel’s performance of Solsbury Hill from the Growing Up Live tour is one of my favorite versions of the tune, and a great test track if you’ve never tried it. The persistent thunk of drummer Ged Lynch’s kick drum sets the tone and tempo, even if it does sound a little less prominent than you might expect. But then the bass gets serious as bassist Tony Levin hooks up in lockstep with the kick, delivering a driving pulse over which strumming guitars and piano comps provide their harmonic foundation for Gabriel’s vocal husk. It’s a feast for the ears, and the Turbo X made it all sound delicious. The Turbo X can do power, but it can also do delicate. Nickel Creek’s When You Come Back Down is full of the transient clicks of guitar and mandolin picking, and it all dances between the left and right channel before a full chorus of voices comes in, dominating the mix. With the Turbo X playing the cut, I never lost the delicate details hiding toward the back of the mix – they stayed with the tune from beginning to end, providing a bit of texture and pulse to a tune which has no percussion otherwise. Of course, sometimes you just need to party, and that’s where the Turbo in theTurbo X really steps up where other portables simply can’t. If you need to rock your camp site or beach party all day, the Turbo X can do that and charge up your smartphone at the same time. Believe me when I say, your Spotify playlist will peter out before the Turbo X does – isn’t it nice to know it doesn’t have to be that way, though? Conclusion The Riva Turbo X is worth every penny of its $300 asking price to the discerning listener who wants the best sound quality and long-term performance possible while away from the comforts of their Hi-Fi (or recording studio.) It’s finally a Bluetooth speaker you can be proud of, without having to make any compromises. Highs Big, balanced, rich sound Phono mode for turntable connection Long-lasting battery Charges devices Splash proof Lows Carrying case not included Annoying Turbo sound effect More »Riva Audio Turbo X Bluetooth Speaker review
You shouldn’t have to fear when your one-month free trial of Netflix draws to a close. The streaming king currently offers a bevy of subscription options, whether you prefer to stick with a streaming-only package or simply opt for one or two discs a month. Related: Battle of the streaming giants: which is best for you? Below, we’ve outlined each pricing plan so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting and if those extra add-ons are worth the extra cost to you. After all, while it might only be a $4 leap from the basic plan to the premium, perhaps you’d rather save your cabbage for Hulu’s Showtime add-on or a premium slice of ‘za. The choice is yours. Price Netflix has three different plans when it comes to streaming: basic, standard, and premium. Plans start at $8 and increase incrementally by $2, rendering the standard and premium plans $10 and $12, respectively. Below is a breakdown of what each plan entails, with the added features. Plan Price Number of screens Resolution Basic (streaming) $8 1 SD Standard (streaming) $10 2 HD Premium (streaming) $12 4 HD + Ultra HD The folks at Netflix certainly pride themselves on their streaming plans, but that doesn’t mean the service ditched discs altogether. The company still offers DVD and Blu-ray plans — none of which include streaming access — beginning at $5 and going up from there. The monthly cost just depends on how many discs you have check out at a time, or how many you want per month. Plan DVD Price Blu-ray Price Number of discs out at a time 1-Disc $8 $10 One 2-Disc $12 $15 Two 3-Disc $16 $20 Three Limited $5 $6 Two (per month) What is simultaneous viewing — streaming only If you opt for a streaming package, this is a huge perk if you want to share your Netflix account with roommates, friends, or family. The basic Netflix plan allows you to stream content on only one screen at a time, though the number of screens on which you can simultaneously stream content increases with each plan upgrade. Ergo, if you opt for the standard plan, you use the same account to watch content on two different devices at once, or four different devices at the same time with the premium plan. That said, the number of devices and people you want to share your account with will likely influence which plan you pick. What is HD and Ultra HD — streaming only Even if you never plan on sharing your Netflix account or watching on two screens at the same time, opting for the standard or premium plan is likely worth it considering it enables HD streaming. The basic plan doesn’t offer high-definition content, and unless your Internet speed is too slow to handle HD streaming, the quality difference between the two resolutions is enough to make the $2 leap worth it. However, Netflix offers more than just HD content. Related: Everything you need to know about Ultra HD 4K If you’ve shelled out the bucks to buy a 4K TV or monitor, you might as well spend a few extra dollars for a premium account. Doing so will grant you access to Ultra HD content — such as NBC’s The Blacklist and the lauded Breaking Bad — allowing you to watch shows and films at a resolution considered to be four times that of 1080p (HD). Just type “UHD” or “4K” into the search bar in Netflix to find the high-resolution programming. More »How much does Netflix cost these days? Here’s the lowdown
Mechanical keyboards have become the only choice for hardcore PC gamers, and gaming peripheral manufacturers have responded with mechanical keyboards purpose built for gaming. Capable of professional gaming, but designed for everyone, these sprawling monuments to the gaming tower are fitted with complex key switches, advanced macro features, and bold aesthetic design. With so many preferences and opinions about the best mechanical keyboard for gaming, we decided the best course of action was to bring some in and pit them against each other in keyboard battle royale. The competitors include the Logitech G910 Orion Spark, Razer BlackWidow Chroma, SteelSeries Apex M800, and Cooler Master Quick Fire XTi. They’re all excellent keyboards, and crowd favorites, but only one can take home the title. Time for a keyboard cage match! The gaming aesthetic The current state of gaming peripherals is all about shades of black, hits of color, and exciting edges. To different degrees, the boards are in line with that look. While the Logitech has wild loops and angles, the Razer and SteelSeries are a bit more subdued, with smooth corners, matte and glossy black, and stylized print on the keycaps. Cooler Master, on the other hand, has taken a classic approach with the Quick Fire XTi, opting for a heavy duty chassis with no logos or detailing. If not for LED backlighting, the Cooler Master could pass for an office keyboard. Regardless of aesthetics, all of the keyboards in our review suite are built with great care. There are no panel gaps, weak corners, or flexible panels on any of the boards. Flip the switch While the industry standard is the Cherry MX switch, we’ve also chosen a selection of keyboards with in-house or commissioned keys. This has become a popular trend as of late, as each brand looks to distinguish its keyboards with a specific feel and sound. The Cherry MX Blue switches found in the Cooler Master are something of a control for our experiment. The Blue switches are designed to have both a physical and audible response, with a light touch and quick activation point. There’s a reason Cherry MX switches are still so popular, and it doesn’t take much time with the Cooler Master to feel it. The keys slide easily when touched, and click satisfyingly after hitting the actuation point. They quickly return to fully extended, so the loudest part of typing on the Blues is the cap smacking as it snaps back into position. The most comparable keyboard to the Cooler Master is the Razer BlackWidow. Although the switches are branded Razer Green, they’re produced in partnership with Kaihua Electronics, which has been making switches for almost as long as Cherry has. The Green switch is the rough equivalent of the Cherry MX Blue, with a slightly higher actuation point, and a heavier touch. The result is a switch that feels more defined than the Cooler Master. That’s not to say a quick strike won’t fire the key, but it’s easier to hold the key right above the activation point. The BlackWidow has a more distinct feel to activation than the Blue does. The Logitech’s Romer-G switches lack an intentional click mechanism in the switch, which makes them quieter. The activation point is very close to the surface, so a quick touch can fire a switch easily. It doesn’t take much force to do so, but just enough to keep the keys from firing accidentally. The high activation point means a slower spring rebound than the other keyboards, which means they take more time to bounce back, but they returned quickly enough to keep me satisfied. SteelSeries’ Apex 800 is supported by its proprietary QS1 switches, the only truly linear switch in our roundup. They’re comparable to the Cherry MX Brown switch, a popular choice for fans of FPS games, for their fast rebound time and easy double-tapping. The lack of tactile response means a quicker reset before pressing again, and the lack of an audible click makes the keyboard whisper quiet. Related: Why mechanical keyboards aren’t just for geeks anymore The same qualities that make the board a great fit for an avid CS:GO player also render the keyboard difficult to type on or use casually. The unclear activation point and light touch mean lots of accidental key presses, which is annoying while typing, and detrimental to MMO and RTS play, where an extra tap can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Make some noise Mechanical keyboards usually come in “clicky” or quiet variants.The noise caused by the keycap hitting the top or bottom can be mitigated with careful typing, but clicky switches, like those found in the Razer and Cooler Master, always make a noise when activated. It would be easy enough to measure the key volume of a mechanical keyboard by how many coworkers it angers, but it’s more helpful to use real values. In order to find some noise levels, we took to Counter-Strike: Global Operations for some finger-snapping fun-er…work. At the onset of the testing, the keyboards seemed similarly rowdy. Once I had a feel for the tactile feedback of the Logitech’s activation point, though, I could play silently. The SteelSeries took even less acclimation time, and was nearly silent within a couple matches of Arms Race. No amount of careful typing can quiet the storm that brews under the keys on the Razer and Cooler Master. That isn’t a bad trait for a keyboard, assuming no one is nearby that needs complete silence. Noise is user preference, but I prefer switches without audible feedback, especially since I wear headphones while gaming, anyway. Cap it off All the keyboards in this shootout opt for custom printed keycaps. That allows for the use of symbols that coordinate with macro and mode keys, as well as finer tuning of the shape and curve to the keys. Most modern mechanical keyboards have curved keys, with a scalloped left-to-right feel that keeps cradles the user’s fingers. That’s the case with the Cooler Master, Razer and Steelseries. The Logitech’s keycaps are a different story. Rather than a curved shape, the keys have a flat panel in the middle, with distinct, sloped banks around the sides and far edge of each key. Logitech admits that some users don’t like it for typing. The payoff for that compromise is more comfortable gaming. SteelSeries’ keyboard has the lightest curve to its keys, followed by the Razer. The deepest wells, apart from the aforementioned Logitech, belong to the Cooler Master. It’s worth noting that users tend to look for oily, shiny spots on keys to tell when they’re starting to wear down. In the case of the Razer, finger oils developed almost instantly on the keys, and even popping them off for cleaning didn’t help clear things up much. Mostly braided Two of the keyboards, the Logitech and the Cooler Master, use a single USB cable to connect to the PC. The Razer and SteelSeries have a second USB plug on the cable to power their built-in hubs, but can be left unplugged without that functionality. The Razer’s cable also has a mic and headphone jack, supporting corresponding jacks on the keyboard. Related: Razer goes for longevity and sweet lighting with new BlackWidow mechanical keyboard All of the cables except the Logitech’s are braided. Granted, that’s not as important for a keyboard as it is for a mouse, but it’s still a feature we like to see. Braided cables have quickly become the norm for their durability and shaping. The Razer’s thick cable is particularly hefty, and is malleable while still holding a shape. All the colors of the rainbow All but one of the keyboards sports full RGB lighting across individual keys. The exception is the Cooler Master, which offers red and blue lighting, plus every shade possible using those two colors. It also includes a clever gimmick that lets you play snake on the keyboard’s lights. On the Logitech and SteelSeries boards, the LED is located in the center of the key, right in the middle of the switch mechanism. This requires a change in how the keycap is mounted, but also allows improves the backlight’s appearance. Characters can sit in the middle of the key cap, rather than to the side, and the light behind the characters, even on larger keys like caps lock, is still superb. There’s also no light leakage with centrally located LEDs. The backlighting is limited to the characters on the keys themselves, which makes the keys easier to read. Bill Roberson/Digital Trends Both the Razer and Cooler Master have LEDs located on the far edge of the keycap. The result is light that bleeds out into the channels between each key. That reduces the contrast of the backlit characters, making them harder to read. Lights and music All four companies take different approaches to the software used to control each keyboard’s advanced features, but largely provide the same feature set and customization options. Apart from the standard macro recording and light settings, each keyboard’s software has a little trick that sets it apart. Razer’s management suite is Synapse, a cloud-supported customization application that handles whatever Razer peripherals are plugged in. Notably, the Razer Chroma Workshop allows users to share not only lighting profiles, but integrated applications built using the SDK. Logitech has a software suite specific to its gaming products, and the standout feature by far is the Arx control. It’s a smartphone app, with a dock in the keyboard, which seems a little gimmicky until it’s actually up and running. The app is essentially an extension of the management software, and includes media control, lighting and macro customization, and a diagnostic suite that displays quick info on various component temps and usage stats. Steelseries makes a name for itself in the software by including more advanced game integration than the other keyboards. It can keep track of active keys in a specific game, as well as show cooldowns on the light behind each key to show exactly when it’s ready. The Cooler Master is the only keyboard that lacks its own dedicated software suite. Its lighting modes are baked into the device right out of the box. Macros are recorded on the keyboard itself, using a series of commands. Thankfully, the individual key lighting assists greatly with this task, and with a little help from the video manual, the macro and lighting customization is quite robust. The only feature the Cooler Master is noticeably lacking is game integration, which all of the other games support. It’s a fun feature, to be able to see health under your fingertips, or check cooldowns based on key color, but if the game is intense, your eyes are usually on the screen anyway. Fat pockets You’ll have to spend between $150 and $200 to snag one of these boards. To those un-initiated PC gamer, that might seem like a lot, but it’s well within budget for serious system builders. Related: Logitech’s G410 mechanical keyboard dons Romer-G switches, RGB lighting, second screen controls At the top of the charts is the SteelSeries, which retails for $200. That’s tough price to stomach considering the Apex M800’s limited feature set. The build quality isn’t as nice as the Cooler Master either, which is actually the least expensive keyboard in the roundup at just $150. The other two boards fall right in the middle price-wise, and offer a decent balance of price and feature set. Conclusion All of the keyboards in our roundup are at the top of mainstream gaming keyboards, and in reality, none of them are a bad choice for serious gamers or system builders with an eye on premium peripherals. But there has to be a winner, and in a number of important aspects, that winner is the Logitech G910 Orion Spark. That’s not to say the other keyboards in the group don’t have their merits. When it comes to key feel, there’s no beating the Cooler Master’s Cherry MX switches – there’s a reason they’re so popular. The satisfying chunk, sturdy feel, and perfect balance lend a refined presence. Subtle isn’t for everyone, and for those users, there’s the Razer BlackWidow. While it doesn’t stand out much from the Blue switches (not a bad thing) it does make up for it with gorgeous, splashy backlighting. The other boards offer it too, but Razer sets itself apart with clear, bright lighting and a deep customization community. But the Logitech offers up intentional, important features in every aspect of the board. The switches feel and sound great, the lighting is subdued and classy, and it provides a set of gaming and media controls that would make any membrane keyboard blush. Logitech paid a great deal of attention to feedback from pro gamers when building the G910 Orion Spark, and it shows from the software to the switches. More »We tried all the best gaming keyboards, and one fragged the rest