Best of techradar 2015: our articles of the year

2015 won’t be here for much longer, so as the year comes to a close, we decided to look back at some of our favorite writings of the last 365.

Our editors combed through the pages of techradar to bring you our the stuff we enjoyed writing the most in 2015. And what a year it was: we tested the latest tablets, interviewed movie directors and went to the first-ever VR film festival. We completed a triathlon, asked experts how to make the ultimate PC and discovered that, yes, you can build a real-life Death Star.

Thanks for reading and commenting, and we look forward to hearing from you in 2016!

iPad Pro review

By Gareth Beavis

iPad Pro review

“The iPad Pro is a divisive tablet. It’s just a bigger iPad, which is boring and ‘so Apple’ to some. To others it’s a bigger iPad, and that’s simply awesome.

But your affection, desire or interest is purely limited to what you use a laptop or tablet for already. If you’re a hardcore laptop fiend, crouching over it at every possibility throughout the day, the iPad Pro is going to have a very different set of criteria to the person who idly uses the tablet around the house and occasionally pulls it out on the train to quickly update documents or fill out a to-do list before work.”

Thank Phonebloks for Google’s Project Ara

By Cameron Faulkner, April 13

Dave Hakkens

“The inspiration for the modularity project came from an unlikely source: a broken camera. The good news was his point-and-shoot was salvageable. The bad news? It would cost more to repair the camera than it would take just to buy a new one.

This dilemma presents the crux of Hakkens’ argument with Phonebloks: if tech products are built in such a way so that users could easily and affordably swap out components without any technical know-how, they’d be less likely to resort to tossing them in the garbage.”

More picks by Cameron:

Fallout 4: the good, the bad and the ugly of the Boston Wastelands

By Hugh Langley, November 9

Fallout 4

“Above all, Fallout 4 is still a game of exploration. In its opening moments, you’ll look around the perfectly normal, pre-nuked house replete with a baby bassinet and servo droid and feel the urge to explore every inch of the gorgeous interior.

This wide-eyed wonder carries with you for much of the game as you delve into numerous caves, subterranean strongholds and derelict subway stations. You’ll watch as the world around you changes when [redacted] and your family [redacted] (spoilers, spoilers).”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens review

By Patrick Goss

Star Wars

“‘Chewie, we’re home’ says Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The character is ostensibly talking about the Millennium Falcon, but the truth is he’s talking about the entire Star Wars franchise, about the original cast, the original ethos and, honestly, he’s speaking for the millions of fans who have been waiting impatiently for 30 years for the next true step into a Galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a terrific film – it is reverent but not deferential to the original trilogy, genuinely funny without feeling the need to be puerile and it oozes the gritty Star Wars universe we know and love from every pore.”

More picks by Patrick:

Halo 5 multiplayer is anything but spartan

By Joe Osborne, September 28

Halo 5

“Sure, it’s a bummer to think that I won’t be able to relive my foundational memories of the Halo series in this shiny new iteration. But after seeing it first hand, what developer 343 Industries has created in focusing on 100% online multiplayer is remarkable. Frankly, one new approach to online play made for the best time I’ve had playing Halo online since Invasion in Halo: Reach.

Welcome to Warzone, the brand new player-versus-player-versus-environment-versus-player game mode that can be described as Halo’s response to the League of Legends craze. Whether you’re (somehow) new to the Halo series or haven’t dove in since, say, Halo: Combat Evolved, this is probably where you’ll live online when Halo 5 lands, and that’s totally OK.

In fact, I already prefer it.”

More picks by Joe:

How the voices of Siri discovered they were inside your iPhone

By James Peckham, November 7

Voice of Siri

“When Siri was introduced on the iPhone 4S back in October 2011, no one knew the people they were speaking to, yet they fast became some of the most recognised voices in the world.

The only people who knew the voices speaking back at them were the voice actors themselves, and even they weren’t certain at first. Apple didn’t publicly reveal the names of the Siri voices, but the company also didn’t see fit to contact the actors directly either – so it was a bit of a surprise when they discovered they were inside millions of phones.”

You might actually survive Dark Souls 3

By Nick Pino, August 5

Dark Souls 3

“It’s this method of rewarding its most resilient fans that makes developer From Software’s series so beloved by a growing niche audience. For the rest of us – the ones that run from room to room haphazardly, missing the myriad treasure chests and secret doors – however, death comes quickly and relentlessly.

Getting to play Dark Souls 3, I expected it to be as hard as its two-year-old predecessor, Dark Souls 2. I expected that I’d need to take that careful approach; for my character’s maximum allowed health to deplete after every death and restorative potions to be sparse.

How wrong I was.”

More picks by Nick:

The first-ever VR film festival showed me the future of movies

By Lily Prasuethsut, September 19

Virtual Reality

“Tyler Hurd, director of Butts, never thought he’d be talking to a reporter about his animated short. Originally 2D, Hurd’s coworkers at Double Fine wanted to make Butts for VR. Simple, hilarious and yes, even touching, the short was one of the first virtual reality films made.

Technically, he says the conversion is tricky, because VR is still in development, “There’s a lot of things that break.” Creatively however, it’s “been fun to explore.” Examples include directing the audience’s attention to little moments with certain cues to look in different places since you “can’t physically turn their heads” you have to provide visual and auditory hints.”

The smartphone torture tests your handset has to pass

By John McCann, February 10

Huawei phone torture chamber

“Deep underground at Huawei’s Shanghai campus lies a purpose-built facility designed to put the latest smartphones through extreme tests, ensuring the device which lands in your hand is capable of taking more than just a couple of knocks.

We were invited to China to check out Huawei’s facility inside the city’s longest building, stretching for one kilometre and the workplace for over 10,000 employees.”

More picks by John

Anyone can build a PC – here’s how the experts do it

By Kane Fulton, March 26

8Pack

“Peering into the gaming PC’s gargantuan case, the system’s creator flicked away a spec of dust.

“When the customer said they wanted this colour,” he begins, pointing to a water-cooling reservoir radiating an atomic yellow hue, ‘I thought it would look awful – but it’s turned out really well.'”

Talking techradar through the rig, a near £10,000 (around $14,900) dream machine called the Supernova, is Ian “8pack” Parry. A veritable T100 in a polo top sporting a thick Huddersfield, England accent, Parry is the creator of Overlockers UK’s flagship 8pack gaming PC range.”

More picks by Kane

How I broke the 40 minute 10K barrier with tech

By Gareth Beavis, September 13

Shoes

“If the title of this piece seems a little like I’m bragging, then, well, I can’t really deny that. But this is one of those instances in life that just feel like you have to make a big deal about, else they just get lost in the current with the rest of daily life.

Regular readers will know that I’ve been after the sub-40 minute 10K race for a long, long time now – and on Sunday I finally did it in London’s Kew Gardens, and all thanks to some subtle training tweaks that were enabled through technology.

And, more importantly, Runner G completed her first ever race – getting people on the running train is way better than cracking times.”

More picks by Gareth

This is what riding in Mercedes’ self-driving car looks (and feels) like

By Michelle Fitzsimmons, March 19

Mercedes self-driving car

“Of course, while you’re occupied doing anything but driving, the F 015 is hurtling through space. I had one ‘oh crap moment as the F 015 accelerated on its own, no driver at the helm to brake if necessary. Even more disconcerting: there wasn’t anyone looking out the front windshield to see where we were going. The driver can manually take over the F 015 at any time, but still, you have to trust it’s not going to drive you straight into the San Francisco Bay.

Any passenger can technically become the driver – or ‘conductor,’ as Mercedes refers to whoever is controlling the car – accelerating or decelerating the F 015 by touching the door displays. This particular software wasn’t working properly during my test drive, unfortunately. I wanted to give my fellow passengers a scare.”

More picks by Michelle

From drones to iPhones: how George Miller recreated the mad world of Mad Max

By Marc Chacksfield, October 2

Mad Max Fury Road

“The release of Mad Max: Fury Road earlier this year pushed George Miller’s name right up to the top of the action director pile. The movie, a quasi-sequel to Miller’s Mad Max trilogy, is the most refreshing piece of action cinema in years.

The reason: all the sequences were shot in-camera, not in front of a green screen – something that made complete sense to the director.

‘We didn’t use CG because we don’t defy the laws of gravity [in the movie],’ says Miller. ‘There’s no flying people or space vehicles, no alien planets. This is a real world, it’s crazy to do it CG when you can do it for real. You want the world to be authentic, to be immersive.'”

More picks by Marc

Epson PictureMate PM-400 review

By Juan Martinez

Epson printer

“I was never much of a photo-taker. Most of the snaps I took were of important moments with family and friends, or vacation landscapes that I wanted to remember later. I usually just fired off a few pics, loaded them onto Facebook and returned to them from time to time, to reminisce.

There was no real effort, no attention to detail and I didn’t really think anything should happen to these images outside of their digital existence.

That all changed this past March when my wife and I had our first child – a baby girl we named Mila. Mila’s birth didn’t turn me into a shutterbug. I still use the automatic setting on my DSLR, and I can’t tell you the difference between my aperture and ISO settings.”

More picks by Juan

Yes, we can build a Death Star – and here’s how

By Duncan Greene

Death Star

“Close your eyes for a moment and imagine you’re the head of North Korea’s space program. It’s Friday afternoon, you’ve had a tough week, and you’re just sending a last few emails before you go home when a message drops into your inbox from Kim Jong-Un. Uh-oh, better answer this. The subject line is just two words. ‘Death Star’.

Turns out he’s been watching some of his dad’s old movies, and one of them featured a huge planet-sized space station – he wants to know if it’s possible to build it. A giant megastructure floating in space that’s also capable of firing planet-destroying lasers – what could be simpler? You look at the plans. You look at the email reply window. You can’t say ‘no.’ You know what a ‘no’ would mean for you and your family.”

This man is closer than ever to building the world’s first time machine

By Hugh Langley, November 2

Ron Mallett

“It was a personal tragedy that started the timeline. After Boyd Mallett died of a sudden heart attack in 1955, his 10 year old son, Ronald, made a promise: he would find a way to travel back in time to warn his father of what was going to happen. It was a mission inspired partly by a copy of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which Ron discovered a year after his father’s passing.

The story follows the narrator’s journey into the future, but one line in particular struck Ron: ‘Scientific people know very well that time is just a kind of space and we can move forward and backward in time just as we can in space.’ He believed that he could build a fully working time machine to go back in time and so he dedicated his future to proving it.”

More picks by Hugh

Your old smartphone could help save the Amazon rainforest

By James Peckham, November 22

Rainforest Connection

“If we ever think about the environmental impact of our upgrade addiction, it’s usually to berate ourselves for the damage it does. But there is an option for your old mobile that will not only reduce waste, but actively help to preserve some of the most threatened habitats in the world.

In the last 50 years, 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed – partly by climate change, but much of it through illegal logging to develop farmland. This is a terrible loss by itself, but it also deprives indigenous tribes of their homes and drives rare species of plants and animals to extinction. There are even wider-reaching effects too: because forests act as a carbon sink, the more we lose, the more CO2 is released into the atmosphere and the greater the potential for global warming.”

More picks by James

Surface Book review

By Kevin Lee

Surface Book

“Now, Microsoft introduces the Surface Book as the “ultimate laptop.” Like the Surface tablets before it, this laptop takes a unique spin on the notebook format that’s been around for over 40 years. Between the 3:2 aspect ratio, 13.5-inch screen and its practically-trademarked “dynamic fulcrum” hinge, there isn’t any machine on the planet like the Surface Book – and then, with the touch of a button and a gentle tug, it becomes a tablet.

It all sounds like an amazing idea on paper, and with the added “holy shit, Microsoft made a laptop” factor, the Surface Book sounds like a thoroughly amazing device. Let’s see just how well Redmond made good on the hype.”

Techradar on social media

This was also a huge year for techradar on the social media front. Our Social Editor Salwa Azar gathered up the highlights of our year in social – the posts that have set our emoticons alight, made us puke rainbows and generally made us go “Huh?.”

  1. Self-aware robots – we wrote this story in July and it took social media, including Reddit, by storm.
  2. Our Star Wars clip from London Comic Con – with over 10,000 views, this was one of our most popular videos on Facebook.
  3. Chewbacca Furby – a surprise entry proving that you really do love all things Star Wars. While it was posted to Instagram and Facebook, it was on Vine that this video really went crazy with over 200,000 loops and counting!
  4. Wearable leggings – One of the more bonkers ideas we’ve seen in terms of content.
  5. Cat laptop – Yes, it comes with a mouse.

Our top lists on social media were:

Make sure you’re with us for an exciting start to the New Year as we attend CES 2016 in Las Vegas, and things really start off with a techno-klaxon. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

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