Here are a few of CNET Reviews' favorite gadgets from the past week, including the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7, the HTC Thunderbolt, and the Canon EOS Rebel T3i.
Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air
Here's our weekly roundup of the new products CNET reviewers liked best.
Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air speaker system
Editors' rating: 4 out of 5
The good: The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air is a sleek, high-end iPod/iPhone stereo speaker with built-in Apple AirPlay audio-streaming capabilities. Ample speaker drivers--two 1-inch tweeters, two 3-inch midrange drivers, and one 5-inch woofer--provide solid sound. AirPlay compatibility is available via Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
The bad: The Zeppelin Air is very expensive, and it offers little stereo separation unless you're sitting or standing near the speaker. AirPlay setup may be tough for first-timers, and there are some compromises when controlling via iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.
The bottom line: While the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air is as pricey as the earlier Zeppelin, Apple AirPlay support and improved sound quality make it a better value.
The good: BMW's hybrid system adds significant power to the 2011 ActiveHybrid 7, while making it the most fuel-efficient 7-series model. An active suspension gives the car excellent handling. Google local search integrates with the navigation system.
The bad: Points-of-interest and music library screens are unintuitive, and not easy to operate while driving. The hybrid system's idle stop feature shuts off power steering and doesn't work well in stop-and-go traffic.
The bottom line: Although a tech powerhouse, in some ways the hybrid system in the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 feels like a novelty. It adds power and fuel efficiency, but also adds quirks to everyday driving. Cutting-edge cabin tech features are available in all 7-series models.
The good: The Creative Live Cam Socialize HD AF Web camera produces impressive 8-megapixel snapshot photos and 720p video, and the engaging chat-ready visual and voice effects place this Webcam a cut above the competition.
The bad: The video lags and struggles to catch up during several of the face distortion features.
The bottom line: We recommend the Creative Live Cam Socialize HD AF Webcam because it directs attention to the subject while the hardware operates smoothly in the background, allowing you to freely engage in uninterrupted communication with your friends and family.
The good: Dell's new XPS 15 offers a high-resolution screen and excellent JBL speakers. Intel's new Core i-series CPUs and Nvidia graphics are standard, but there are also plenty of configuration options.
The bad: The extremely bulky, uninspired design of the XPS 15 doesn't suit its price, and though the battery life is very good, it's not as great as Apple's MacBook Pro. Some configuration options feel like they should have been included for free.
The bottom line: Equipped with second-gen Intel Core i-series CPUs and improved Nvidia graphics, the new Dell XPS 15 performs even better than its predecessor, although it's still just as bulky. Also, keep in mind that the XPS 15 ranges greatly in price, from $799 up to $1,500.
The good: The Harman Kardon SB 16 has excellent sound quality for a sound bar. Its exterior design is also a cut above budget sound bars, and its two digital audio inputs should be enough for basic home theaters.
The bad: The subwoofer's giant footprint may be too much for some buyers. The SB 16 also relies on your TV's remote to adjust volume, which may result in annoying onscreen messages on some HDTVs. And $600 for a sound bar is more than many are willing to spend.
The bottom line: The Harman Kardon SB 16 features a premium price tag and some remote control quirks, but its excellent sound quality and exterior design make it worth the extra cash.
The good: The HTC Arrive features a durable design with a responsive QWERTY keyboard and a tilting screen. It's the first Windows Phone 7 device to ship with Microsoft's cut-and-paste feature.
The bad: The HTC Arrive's heavy and bulky body will weigh some people down, and it requires some pressure to slide open the keyboard. Its camera could be better, and we were hoping for 4G WiMax support.
The bottom line: The HTC Arrive, Sprint's first Windows 7 phone, is a solid effort that largely delivers, although it will disappoint those looking for a 4G smartphone.
The good: The HTC Thunderbolt offers incredibly fast 4G data speeds. The Android 2.2 smartphone also supports simultaneous voice and data over 3G and boasts a large 4.3-inch touch screen, ample storage, and an excellent camera.
The bad: Battery life takes a big hit when using 4G. There is no way to toggle between 3G and 4G.
The bottom line: The HTC Thunderbolt lights up with blazingly fast data speeds, but those who want 4G now should be aware that it takes a big toll on the smartphone's battery life.
The good: The 2012 Infiniti M35h's next-generation hybrid system generates 360 horsepower and returns fuel economy in the high 20s. Driver assistance systems handle braking in traffic. The cabin tech interface is easy to use.
The bad: Copying contacts from phone to car is a manual process. Trunk space is compromised by the hybrid system battery pack.
The bottom line: The 2012 Infiniti M35h pushes the envelope with its hybrid system and its driver assistance features, making for one of the most economical luxury sedans, without sacrificing power.
The good: The 13-inch Asus U31JG-A1 has a good combination of performance and portability, along with strong graphics performance and a solid battery life.
The bad: The design of the U31JG isn't anything to write home about; the plastic keyboard isn't very comfortable; and the laptop uses a last-gen Intel Core i3 processor, so it's already out-of-date.
The bottom line: For $829, the 13-inch Asus U31JG-A1 is a rock-solid compact laptop with a good combination of CPU, graphics, and battery life. However, at this point, we'd hold off on buying one until it gets upgraded with a second-gen Intel Core i-series CPU.
The good: The Canon EOS Rebel T3i delivers excellent video capabilities and image and video quality.
The bad: If you shoot both still and video, the T3i's controls can be frustrating to operate, and it's not terribly fast for burst shooting sports, kids, or pets.
The bottom line: For the money, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i is a great choice for dSLR videographers--though the cheaper T2i can still suffice if you don't need the articulated LCD--and it's a solid choice for creative still shooters. But though the image quality and general shooting performance are top-notch, if you're upgrading to capture sports, kids, or pets, the T3i may not be able to keep up.
The good: The TDK Sound Cube packs powerful sound into a portable, well-crafted box, decked out with tons of audio input options (including iPod and iPhone), EQ, FM radio, and the option of battery power.
The bad: There's no remote, iPod dock, or AM radio, and the exposed speakers make the TDK Sound Cube a poor choice for use outdoors.
The bottom line: The TDK Sound Cube looks like nothing else, and its big sound and flexible input options make it a party machine.