TIME Smartphones

HTC’s Lead Designer Explains How Smartphones Get Made

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HTC HTC One M9

"You can make the wildest predictions, but it will always surpass your imagination"

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TrustedReviews sat down with Daniel Hundt, HTC’s passionate Creative Director and now Lead Designer, to ask him about the design of HTC’s latest flagship – the HTC One M9. He explains honest design, how materials affect the process and why the world isn’t yet ready for modular phones.

Trusted Reviews: What’s changed on the One M9 and why?

Hundt: A common question we get is: “Why does it look similar to the One M8 and M7?” It’s really important for us that we keep the lineage. We’ve built a strong brand with the One and we want to continue that strong DNA. I tell my team all the time that we need discipline – we can’t get bored of what we’re doing, we have to stay true to who we are what we feel is HTC. We have to keep what’s good and improve on what’s not working.

We’re always striving to make the perfect product. Sometimes we’re pretty close, other times we’re further away, but we always seek greatness combined with consistency.

What we did with the M8 was shrink down the size to make it more pocketable and feel better in your hand. We made the M8 rounder than the M7 to attract more female customers, but also to make it more ergonomic. One interesting thing that we learned from making it round was that, as you use it, the texture changes, so it becomes more slippery. People said, “Hey, it’s really hard to hold, can you guys go back to something that has a little more of an edge feel?”. We ended up with something in between the M7 and M8 because that’s what people want.

How do you decide what materials to make a phone out of?

Craftsmanship is really important to us. When we talk about our products, we talk about our inspiration. We think of ourselves as makers – like shoemakers, watchmakers, instrument makers – and get inspired by attention to detail. That’s the level of perfection that we try to apply.

The HTC One M9 is a premium phone, a premium device, with premium materials. We invested heavily in making a phone with a metal unibody and bringing that to life, and over the last three years we’ve been looking to improve that.

On the M7 we had a metal unibody with some plastic on the sides. We improved the design on the M8 where we had 95% metal content. As competitors started to catch up it was important that we push ourselves again and bring the metal finish, and the way we work with metal, to another level. That’s why we introduced not just the dual tone, but also the dual finish – two processes in one phone.

First we machine the back from one block of aluminum – 95% of the aluminum gets machined away, but of course we recycle that into new blocks. Then we anodize it and then machine it again, treat the edge and put another really fine hairline and anodize it again. It’s a pretty crazy process and one of the reasons I love working for HTC is that we’re doing those things.

We sit down with our CEO and present ideas we feel have a consumer benefit and people really love. If we present an opportunity that can make a real emotional connection with the user, then we go for it, and I really think as a company we have our heart in the right place. We think about the consumer before the bottom line.

You use metal for the One M9, but do other materials provide more design benefits?

Whenever you deal with a conductive material like metal, you have to deal with the antennas so the phone almost designs itself. There’s a beauty in that. As a designer you sort of guide the process rather than trying to shape it into what you want. You’re almost not designing it as a designer, you’re there to guide the process rather than to try to steer it. You have to let go of control and let the material and technology do its thing, and you just make sure it stays on track. It’s a fascinating process.

Can a flagship phone made of plastic ever compete with the likes of the metal One M9?

No. You’ve seen other brands play in that space before [with phones] that were completely made out of plastic and tricked people into thinking they had a metal frame. Obviously the market has shown that you can be successful if you put enough marketing knowledge behind it, but I fundamentally believe that’s the wrong thing to do. When we use a material, we want to be honest about it. We try not to fake things; we’re totally against that.

So the problem isn’t plastic, the problem is making plastic look like another material?

Yes. That’s bottom-line thinking. You take the cheapest available material and then you try to make it look like something else. Fundamentally I don’t agree with that. When you show a person a product in a picture you’re giving them a promise, and I think you have to be true to yourself. If you tell them that you’re going to give them metal, you give them metal. If you want to give them a different material then you have to be honest about that as well. Plastic can be beautiful, it’s a matter of how you use a moulding technology to bring it to a new level, like we’ve done with the Desire Eye and Desire 820.

Do you think some manufacturers compromise battery life too much in the pursuit of thinness?

Yes, but we don’t look at what other people do and how they make trade-offs. For us it’s about finding the right balance. We study that a lot. You wouldn’t believe how many mock-ups of the HTC One M9 we have with different batteries in. We put everything on the table and think about battery life and see what effect it will have on the form factor and make those smart tradeoffs. We don’t just say “this is the battery it has to have.” We do tons of mockups and put ourselves in the role of the consumer and decide what will really benefit them.

It’s very tempting to play the spec game, but we try not to get ourselves caught up in that. What’s the user benefit to have a phone 0.1 or 0.2mm thinner? It’s a strong statement to say you have the thinnest phone available, but we try not to get caught up in that.

What will the phone of 2020 look like?

I stopped making predictions so far out. Just looking back in the history of mobile phones, technology exceeds your imagination. You can make the wildest predictions, but it will always surpass your imagination.

What about modular phones then? Will they ever be as successful or be as good as a well-designed all-in-one phone?

It might be as technology advances. It’s about tradeoffs. If you have something modular you have wall thicknesses to consider. Once technology reaches a certain size why wouldn’t it be successful?

I don’t think it’s marketable yet, though. I think the tradeoffs on an everyday level for a product like that, because of its size, mean it’s not justifiable yet. It’s more for novelty’s sake. It’s very interesting and it will happen, but technology has to adapt.

[Making a modular phone] is similar to choosing a material for a phone. You will have to guide the process. Technology will set the rules, the outline, and our job as designers is to create a function by which those rules are applied. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in that space. I’m not clawing onto the fact that this [One M9] has to be in this package or sit in this form. If there’s a consumer benefit then we’ll look at it.

How are bezel-free designs and curved and flexible screens going to change the design of phones going forward?

Well, the bezel-free design we’re all driving for has a clear consumer benefit, which is size. You have maximum screen-to-form ratio and that’s something I’m really excited about.

Curved displays always take me back to the question of consumer benefit. Is it just for novelty’s sake, is it to be interesting, have something to talk about, or does it have a long-lasting benefit to the user?

At the moment where do you think curved displays sit?

I haven’t seen an application yet where it’s for true user benefit. So far, curved screens are for novelty’s sake.

What makes a design stand the test of time and can another truly iconic phone ever be made with annual refresh cycles?

I don’t see this as a limit. It’s important for us to have discipline. We felt like we had something special when we were working on the HTC One M7 three years ago, the first completely unibody phone with the strong iconic look. As a design team we felt we’d found something. This is HTC moving on. We want to maintain that.

It’s important for us to have the discipline and not react to the marketing team saying, “Hey, we need something new, we need to be the thinnest.” We want to keep what’s good and what’s recognizable for us and work on the elements that don’t work so well for us.

If you have an icon and create something good, you should hone it and refine it rather than doing something revolutionary.

This post is in partnership with Trusted Reviews. The article above was originally published at TrustedReviews.com.

TIME Retail

Amazon Is Suing Sites That Sell Fake Reviews

Amazon Unveils Its First Smartphone
David Ryder—Getty Images Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos presents the company's first smartphone, the Fire Phone, on June 18, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.

Sites offer to fill seller's product pages with 4 and 5-star reviews

Amazon is cracking down on sites that it says sell fake reviews to bolster products sold on the retailer’s website.

The online retail giant filed suit Wednesday against buyamazonreviews.con and buyazonreviews.com, according to The Seattle Times. The suit accuses the websites of false advertising, trademark infringement and violating consumer protection laws.

Buyamazonreviews.com did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, the website’s owner, Mark Collins, told the Times that Amazon’s claims were without merit, saying his site offers “unbiased and honest” reviews, not fake ones.

On its home page, buyamazonreviews.com offers “unlimited” four and five star reviews to its customers. “Our skilled writers look at your product, look at your competitor’s products and then write state of the art reviews that will be sure to generate sales for you,” the website states.

The case marks the first time Amazon has brought a lawsuit against a company said to be shilling fake reviews. Amazon is seeking triple damages and attorney’s fees, as well as a court order to stop the other sites from using the retailer’s name.

TIME Video Games

Bloodborne’s 10 Quirkiest Ideas So Far

From Software's PlayStation 4 exclusive does just enough to walk the studio's unique action-roleplaying ideas forward, but it could have done more

That I’m nowhere near finished with Bloodborne says as much about From Software’s PlayStation 4 lycanthrope-mauler as anything. I’ve had the game since late last week and clocked at least 40 hours through Monday night — just shy of what some claim it takes to beat the game. I’m still working through the first few areas. Chalk my sluggishness up to being a slower, more methodical player.

But it’s also because Bloodborne carries forward the Souls’ series back-breaking pedigree: this is a game about pushing the proverbial ball up something more like a mountain, millimeter by grueling millimeter, looking for meaningful perspective on your progress. From Software’s great triumph as a studio — and Bloodborne epitomizes this — is in making that feel like something you want to do, not that you have to.

Here’s what I think of Bloodborne so far, absent the multiplayer angle, which I’m waiting to futz with until the game’s launch tomorrow, March 23.

The new “regain” system changes everything

From Software’s entire developmental oeuvre trades on simplistic sounding gameplay ideas that wind up having monumental depth. To wit, in Bloodborne the studio’s added what it calls a “regain” system to combat.

It sounds trivial: after an enemy damages you, you have a few crucial seconds to strike back and, if you connect without taking further damage, replenish your flagging health bar. They hit, you hit. On paper, it’s as nuanced as a pugilism seminar.

But Bloodborne packs its Grand Guignol zoo with deft, spontaneous enemies who make it incredibly difficult to land reciprocal blows before the regain timer runs out and the damage to your health bar becomes permanent. Regain is thus another dare (in a game about daring), goading you to act recklessly, to make split-second tactical choices that, if you’re not thoroughly versed in an enemy’s attack patterns, often result in your taking even more damage.

Multiply by the barrage of new enemy types, each with unique attacks, and how you dispatch them — the crux of these games, requiring methodical thought — is easily the most nuanced of any of the prior Souls installments.

So does the game’s loot-hunt twist

The Souls games are basically risk-reward abattoirs wrapped around hack-and-slash chutes. You haul around souls (the games’ version of cash), but drop them if you die, after which you have just one shot to bash your way back to the spot you croaked and reclaim your booty. Die before you get there, and those dropped goods vanish forever, forfeiting all your hard work to that point.

Bloodborne continues in the same vein (instead of souls, it calls your cha-chings from enemy kills “blood echoes”), but with a fascinating wrinkle: now, if you die in the vicinity of enemies, they can snatch up your lost treasure and go for a stroll.

Return to the spot of your demise, and you’ll often find it bare. Instead, you have to scan nearby enemies until you identify one with glowing eyes — the telltale sign it’s the creature schlepping your goods. And the only way to retrieve them is to defeat the creature in combat. Suffice to say I’ve lost a lot of hard-earned moola overzealously rushing blood echoes thieves flanked by lethal helpers. (Woe to anyone who loses their trove in battle with a deadly mini-boss, and has to fight it to get their blood echoes back.)

From Software

It’s all about crowd control

The Souls games generally involve engaging enemies one and sometimes two at a time. Bloodborne by contrast opens the battlefield up to whole squadrons of horrors, each creature bristling with different weapons, hit ranges and attack sequencing, making them pretty much phalanxes of anarchic insanity.

Figuring out how to break down a crowd, maybe by luring away one or two enemies at a time (you can toss pebbles, Shadow of Mordor-like), is thus as crucial as leveraging the game’s new arsenal of crowd control weapons. If you’re into observation-related strategizing, and I am, Bloodborne forces you to pause and study groups of enemies before engaging them far more than in From Software’s prior games.

You can scan enemies from a distance — and you’ll need to

Demon’s Souls and both of the Dark Souls games opened on vast panoramas, but blurred their beautifully bleak far-off scenery for technical reasons. Bloodborne makes no such compromises, spotlighting ever exquisite distant detail of its Boschian nightmare-scapes, allowing you to eyeball enemy mobs (and their shambling trajectories) from several stories up, so you can plot your approach vectors accordingly.

It’s the apotheosis of From Software’s ultra-creepy visual aesthetic

I’ve loved the bleak, convoluted, almost Peake-ian feel of the Souls games for years, but Bloodborne ratchets that up another order of magnitude. In the starter areas, you’ll prowl gorgeously macabre coffin-choked cobblestone streets, observing flamboyant gothic tableaus framed by cathedral structures with coruscating stained glass windows and knuckled spires, while a fat, apocalyptic star baptizes the landscape like something out of a Jack Vance yarn.

I imagine you’re going to see the adjective “Lovecraftian” slung around a lot here, and fair enough, since he’s clearly an influence. But after reading Jeff Vandermeer’s hypnotically weird Southern Reach trilogy last year (if you’ve read it, I’m thinking specifically of the tunnel/Crawler sequences), I have a new word to describe how these games work on me: Vandermeerian.

From Software

Access points are just access points (again)

Dispensing with Dark Souls’ “campfires-make-it-all-better” approach to vitality replenishment, where you could heal by tagging the nearest bonfire, Bloodborne’s lantern-lit checkpoints are simply I/O ports to and from the game’s safe hub (that is, they’re more like Demon’s Souls’ bonfires). If you want to heal, you instead have to quaff blood flasks swiped from defeated enemies.

The only problem: so far, those blood flasks are pretty easy to come by. You can carry up to 20 on your person off the bat, and store another 100 in the safe hub (they’re a lucrative business, too: I’ve probably sold half as many as I’ve gulped). I have yet to run short of flasks during the toughest boss battles, where when I’ve died, it’s because I didn’t drink them fast enough.

And the levels cross-connect in fascinating ways

I’m not sure we’ll ever see an open-world From Software game (or that we’d even want to), nor is Bloodborne in so much as the same hemisphere as those sorts of games. But the levels I’ve plumbed are far more intertwined, and in cleverly concealed ways, offering, among other things, the option to take on certain bosses out of sequence. If you enjoy hunting for secret avenues or byways, some that lead to secret items, others that open up shortcuts or ways of cutting ahead, Bloodborne is flush with them.

But some of the boss fights are too pattern-enslaved

Maybe this changes further along, but all the end-area creatures I’ve battled have been tediously bipolar: you’re either destroyed quickly for lack of pattern recognition, or winning almost effortlessly once you’ve sussed the latter.

The most interesting thing about Bloodborne (so far, for me) is the crowd-control dynamic that coalesces spontaneously in the midst of a level, defying rote approaches. The boss fights, by contrast, come off too much like the same old static puzzles: once you’ve solved for X, you’re just going through the motions.

From Software

It really is Dark Souls with shotguns (but they’re not the main attraction)

That’s what a Sony community manager called it. It sounds glib, but only because it misses Bloodborne’s real star: its transformable arsenal of melee weapons. Brandish the game’s cane, for instance, and you’ll execute a series of fast, nominally damaging hits at short range. But pull one of the gamepad’s triggers and, after rapping the cane on the cobblestones (transformations aren’t instantaneous), it’ll change into something Castlevania’s Simon Belmont would appreciate: a jangling whip that, while slower to strike, deals pain at much greater range and lets you tag entire swathes of enemies.

Projectile weapons, by contrast, are more adjuncts to your melee armory, used offhand to stun or drive back enemies before you launch the coup de grace from your main hand. They’re helpful, in other words, but only as blowback tools. There’s no ballistic finesse involved, and since the main action’s happening in your other hand, that’s as it should be.

The chalice dungeons are kind of boring

The idea with chalice dungeons is that you stumble on goblets in the main game, then perform a “chalice ritual” in the game’s safe zone to spawn mini-dungeons from random seeds, which you can then visit at leisure to practice or level up. Each time you perform the ritual, the layout of the dungeons — including creature placement, trap arrangements and boss finales — gets rejiggered.

Random generated dungeons are already dull by design, but here they feel doubly so. After slogging through Bloodborne’s handcrafted main levels hundreds (and eventually thousands) of times, who wants to plow through haphazardly computer-built ones?

As an alternative to grinding out the same choreographed battle maneuvers in the primary areas to level up, introducing optional mini-dungeons isn’t a terrible idea. And the way the game mashes up enemy types and difficulty levels makes for a curiously asymmetric (and in that sense, unique) experience. But so far, they’re too arbitrary to hold my interest, though perhaps that’ll change once I’ve had a chance to try them in cooperative or player-vs.-player modes.

TIME Smartphones

Review: HTC One M9 Chooses Evolution Over Revolution

Front and rear views of the HTC One M9 smartphone.
HTC—AP Front and rear views of the HTC One M9 smartphone.

The HTC One M9 shows how far HTC has come in the last few years

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This post is in partnership with Trusted Reviews. The article below was originally published at TrustedReviews.com.

What is the HTC One M9?

The HTC One M9 is a crucial phone for the Taiwanese manufacturer. The One M8 and original One were fantastic handsets, arguably better than their Samsung and Apple counterparts. The competition has caught up, though. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have sold by the bucket-load and Samsung appears to have put its flimsy-design woes to rest with the glass and metal Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge.

How does the One M9 compare? HTC has opted for evolution rather than revolution this time. The design closely resembles its last phone and the screen is almost the same. A new camera, processor and larger battery provide the bulk of the hardware changes, while HTC’s version of Android has had a facelift with Sense 7.

This all leads to a great phone that still has some areas of improvement. The rear camera doesn’t live up to its promise, and neither does the One M9’s battery life. And that really is surprising.

However, this is still one of the best phones you can get and it just goes to show how far HTC has come in the last few years that we hold its products to such lofty standards.

Watch the HTC One M9 hands on video:

Related: HTC On M9 Tips, Tricks and Secrets

HTC One M9: Design

Think about the HTC One M9 like an S version of an iPhone. It shares the same basic design and screen as the One M8, but some minor tweaks differentiate it from last year’s model.

The first, and most evident, is the new two-tone design. Where the back of the previous One curved round to the screen, the M9 has a ridge that connects the front to the back. It looks as if the front of the phone has been shoehorned into the rear, the benefit being that HTC has managed to remove the thin plastic edge between the screen and frame.

It’s a fussier design and one that’s highlighted by the fact that the front metal is a goldish-silver (in this case), while the edge is gold. Turn the phone around and it changes again to – this time to a more traditional silver finish. Not all colors are as glitzy. The gunmetal grey version is dark and broody instead.

Related: HTC One M9 vs HTC One M8

Do any of these changes make it better? Not in our opinion. The HTC One M8 has a classier air about it – it’s like comparing an understated Breitling to a gold Rolex. Both are well-made, but which one you’d grace on your wrist depends entirely on your taste.

This is a little harsh on the M9. It’s a good-looking phone, full of slick design touches and craftsmanship – a word HTC keeps using, and with good reason – but we like the M8 more.

The one upside to the ridge is it makes the M9 easier to grip – it’s less slippery than the M8 and other curved phones like the iPhone 6. It’s easier to hold one-handed, too, though it’s a smidgen less comfortable to hold.

Related: 17 Best Smartphones and Mobile Phones

In every other respect the design of the HTC One M9 is a triumph. This isn’t a thin phone, but neither does it feel porky – it’s 0.2mm thicker than the M8, but almost 1mm narrower. The back curves into your hand and the metal feels solid – more so than the previous model even though it’s a few grams lighter at 157g. That weight gives it a good heft – the One M9 is well balanced, if a little bottom heavy. It feels like you’re holding a quality phone, not a toddler’s toy. We like that.

One major new design improvement is the feel and location of the volume and power buttons. Previously plastic and along the top, the power button was a struggle to reach. It’s now in a far more sensible position, on the right hand edge, just below the volume buttons. It’s also been upgraded to metal and comes with a light etch so you can tell the difference between it and the volume buttons. These have had a tweak too. The buttons are a mite firmer and feel that bit better to press.

Related: 10 Best Android Phones and Smartphones

This is a tall and narrow phone so the new button position means it’s easy to reach with your thumb, if you’re using it right handed, or with your left hand’s index or middle finger. What’s still an issue is reaching the top of the screen.

It’s a real stretch to get your thumb to the browser back button or search box. Apple has gone some way to solving the issues that come with handling a large phone by dropping the screen with a double-tap on Touch ID. Samsung has as well, to a lesser extent, with one-handed mode. HTC hasn’t addressed the problem at all. If you’ve got average or small hands, you will need to juggle the phone to reach certain areas of the screen when you’re using it one-handed.

In most other respects the HTC One M9 is what you’d expect from a flagship phone. The microUSB and 3.5mm headphone jack are at the bottom, while there’s a pair of fine grilles at the front which house the new BoomSound speakers – we’ll cover those in more detail later.

Almost the whole top edge is covered with translucent black plastic. This is there to accommodate the infrared blaster that lets you use the M9 as a TV or home cinema remote.

Related: The Best Android Apps

The only other difference between the One M9 and last year’s phone is on the back. Rather than a round camera that sits flush to the body the M9 has a square one that’s slightly raised. Rounded edges ensure the phone doesn’t snag when you’re sliding it into a tight pocket.

All in all the design changes HTC has made to the M9 are positive. The ergonomics have improved thanks to the new power button and narrower body, but some of the aesthetic alterations are less of a success. HTC could have left well enough alone, but there’s no denying that the HTC One M9 is dashingly handsome.

The M9 is available in three colors at launch: Gunmetal Grey, Gold on Silver, and Gold on Gold. Read on to find out about the HTC One M9’s screen.

For the rest, please go to TrustedReviews.com.

TIME Reviews

This Is the Best Tax Filing Software You Can Buy

TurboTax makes filing taxes simpler and more comfortable than other options

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com.

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The best tax filing software should do a decent impression of a human accountant, teasing out deductions and keeping your forms organized. After spending more than 30 hours over two years filing fake tax returns for four fictitious households—with the help of a professional tax preparer to test the hard return numbers—we found TurboTax to be the most conversational, fast, and comfortable way to file your return through a browser.

On top of running the hard numbers, we also spent time noting the interfaces of 14 competitors, and the upsell annoyances and year-to-year convenience of our five finalists. Our main pick, TurboTax, wasn’t always the cheapest for complicated returns, but it can also be actually, entirely free for very simple returns. It made entering your financial data simpler and more comfortable than anything else we tested. If, however, you don’t need your taxes explained, so much as a place to punch in the numbers, we have a stripped-down and (likely) cheaper pick for you, too.

How we tested tax software

Our four “fake filers” lived in different states, worked salary and independent jobs, had kids or rental properties or home offices, and ranged from a single guy in an apartment to a married couple with capital gains. We had their life details in a spreadsheet; we noted how TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxACT, FreeTaxUSA, and eSmart Tax differed in asking about their situations, and how they totaled out.

All of these online suites offer some version of a maximum refund guarantee, and, indeed, most produced the same results given the same numbers. We searched to find online tax suites that were known entities, and we focused on web options because they’re more accessible to everyone. So we also considered how fast you could safely move through each form, and how intuitive the interface made going forward and back, or saving and coming back later. We also looked for a known and backed name, because you’re handing over very sensitive data. And we wanted the pricing to be clear, fair, and not involve endless upgrade pitches. Check out our full guide to learn more about our criteria for narrowing down the field and testing.

Our pick

TurboTax makes entering your tax data more simple and comfortable than anything else we tested. The account creation, login, and state-saving processes are smooth and sport lean, modern designs. The questions and categories are organized in a coherent flow, with live chat help available if you’re lost, even for free filers. TurboTax can automatically fill in salary and charitable donation amounts, and handles the new Affordable Care Act requirements ably. TurboTax makes taxes feel less like spreadsheet data entry and more like signing up for a new social app.

A good interface and smooth interview flow matter for more than just style points. While the amounts of each return turned out more or less the same with every tax suite we tested, TurboTax made it easier to avoid potential mistakes and head back to double-check figures and results.

TurboTax could be the cheapest or most costly online tax software for you, depending on your needs. If you make less than $100,000, and have absolutely no itemized deductions, non-salary income, or other complications (meaning attached “schedules”), your taxes could cost nothing under TurboTax’s Absolute Zero offer. Otherwise, state and federal filing under “Deluxe,” “Premier,” or “Home & Business” cost from $72-$117.

The runner-Up: FreeTaxUSA

If you don’t qualify for TurboTax’s Absolute Zero offer, but your taxes are still simple and consistent year to year, consider FreeTaxUSA. It’s a minimal, straightforward set of boxes and some help to get your numbers in and send them out.

FreeTaxUSA is faster than TurboTax, remarkably cheap (free federal, $13 for one state filing, $19 for a slight Deluxe upgrade), and it gets the job done for those who know exactly what they earned and what they owe. It doesn’t have the same smooth flow of TurboTax, and its text-focused screens can cause some motivational drag, but it does move quick and gives you a big-picture view of your income and deductions.

If you’re under 22, FreeTaxUSA is free to use entirely. And FreeTaxUSA’s pricing includes all the schedules and deductions an individual might need: rental or independent contractor income, home ownership and energy credit deductions, and more. As a final sweetener, you can see and download your returns in PDF form, as they would appear on a standard tax form. That’s helpful for getting tax advice from another human, if you’re not sure you’ve got everything right.

The other option: a human accountant

When our tax professional—Mark Francis, EA, of Lapidos, Leung & Francis, Inc. in San Francisco—ran our fake filers through each tax suite in 2014, he ended up with the same exact federal and state refund amounts for each. In 2015, when I ran a moderately complicated individual (home, rental property, investments) through each suite, I ended up with four different amounts. And none of the suites raised major red flags. If something has changed with your life or money in the past year, or you ever feel adrift while clicking through online tax forms, consider finding a local tax professional.

Is TurboTax actively allowing fraudulent tax returns?

The 2015 tax season has been heavy with news about TurboTax “fraud” or “hacks.” Most notably, respected security journalist Brian Krebs detailed the allegations of two former TurboTax officers that TurboTax’s parent company, Intuit, willfully ignores fraud concerns. The FBI and IRS may be investigating; TurboTax, for its part, denies the officers’ claims and has a detailed response on security concerns.

These are (as of early March 2015) unproven allegations and, in some cases, misrepresentations of TurboTax’s part in the problem. TurboTax, with 29 million customers in 2014, is by far the largest target for fraudulent filers, armed with sensitive data obtained through other breaches. In other words, avoiding the use of TurboTax to file your return this season will not protect you from potential fraud, especially if your data is already out there (or you’ve clicked a bad email phishing link). The IRS’s unwieldy and insecure refund processes play a significant role, too.

Does this affect our recommendation of TurboTax? For those who want to file online, no—we still see TurboTax as the best tool for putting your return together and filing it online. And, as noted by Ars Technica, the other major tax suites are no better as securing your account; none of the major four we tested even verified your email address before allowing you to carry on toward filing. Choosing to avoid TurboTax over security concerns will not make you more or less of a potential fraud target.

In closing

If you’ve got all your forms and figures and want to file yourself, TurboTax is the best conversation you can have with an online server about your financial life. For those with more experience, or remarkably simple taxes, FreeTaxUSA is the fastest way to get to done. But leave yourself enough time this year for a back-up option: a human.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation, please go to The Wirecutter.com.

TIME Reviews

The New MacBook Is Perfect for the iPad Generation

The new MacBook is the hybrid iPad that Apple will never make

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This post is in partnership with Trusted Reviews. The article below was originally published at TrustedReviews.com.

First you’re in awe of how thin and light it is. Then you’re amazed that it’s totally fanless. Next you’re floored by its beautiful screen. You’re intrigued by its innovative Force Touch trackpad; envious of its flawless design; impressed that it’ll still last nine to ten hours on a full charge.

But then you start to think about the practicalities of Apple’s new MacBook, announced Monday. It doesn’t have a normal USB port. There isn’t even a microSD slot, let alone a proper SD card slot like almost every other laptop on the planet. If I wanted an iPad, I’d buy an iPad. In fact, I already own one! What am I supposed to do with this?

 Apple Inc. began showing off features and applications for its first new device in five years, a smartwatch designed to put information on peoples' wrists and break open the fledgling market for wearable technology
David Paul Morris—© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LPThe new gold edition Macbook laptop is displayed during the Apple Inc. Spring Forward event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, March 9, 2015.

And there’s the key point. The new MacBook will replace the iPad for some people. Indeed, when you look at it closely, it has as much in common with an iPad as it does a laptop.

It has a Retina screen like an iPad. It has a single connection for power and video out like an iPad. Its only other connection is a headphone jack just like an iPad. Here’s a great stat for you: the new MacBook is only 0.1mm thicker than the original iPad! Yes, seriously.

Now let’s flip that around – what similarities does the new MacBook have with a typical laptop? It looks like a laptop. It has a keyboard like a laptop. It runs a laptop operating system and, well, that’s all I have. By my count, that’s a draw.

That’s why I think the new MacBook is, in effect, an iPad-MacBook hybrid. It’s just not a hybrid in the way the Surface Pro 3 is a hybrid. It combines the spirit of the iPad and MacBook into one, not their incompatible designs. It is, in other words, the perfect laptop for the iPad generation.

Some of you are probably thinking I’ve drunk the Apple Kool-Aid, that I’m a rabid Apple fanboy and my opinion isn’t worth jack. I urge patience. It’s true that all the things that make the new MacBook wrong for me (and you) are deeply annoying. Just try and remember that there’s a large body of people out there for whom none of those things matter.

Let’s start with that SD card slot business. Have you seen camera sales recently? Every month the good folks at Gfk UK send me a report that shows the sales trends across various markets. I can’t remember the last time the photography market wasn’t 20% to 30% down year on year. That 20% to 30% are the people for whom a phone is the only camera they need, and whose photos sync wirelessly as they go.

Next, let’s talk USB. USB is great and this new USB Type-C connection is a special thing – I recommend you read Edward Chester’s guide to USB Type-C when you get a spare moment. But even I don’t need USB ports that often – I most often use them to access press kits I’m given on a flash drive.

For many people, a USB flash drive is a quaint tradition, though. They also don’t use printers, or at least use them wirelessly. They don’t have external hard drives. For the once in a blue moon that they’ll need a USB port, Apple will sell an adapter that includes video and USB connections. It’ll sit in a drawer for most of its life, I’ll wager. It’ll probably cost $70 or so, but does that matter when you’re buying a $1299 laptop? It’s a bit like agonizing over spending pocket change on a mobile app.

It’s a similar story for video out. I bought a Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI cable when I bought my MacBook Air back in oh, 2011/12. I still haven’t used it. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I just don’t need to plug my MacBook into screens anymore. Ordinary users need to do so even less than I do.

And this is why the new MacBook is Apple’s hybrid. Anyone who’s ever bought a keyboard for their iPad is looking at the new MacBook very hard right now. If you can live with an iPad paired with a keyboard, you can live with a proper laptop with iPad-like restrictions.

Moreover, so much of the software on Macs is now just like it is on iPads – the new Photos app, currently in public beta, is a near carbon copy of the iPad version. It’s increasingly true across the whole operating system, and that integration and homogenization is only going to increase.

Related: Intel Core M: How it makes the new MacBook possible

So, when a friend or relative expresses an interest in buying the new MacBook, remember that the things you care about probably don’t matter to them anymore. They’re a member of the iPad generation. They are, to use Steve Jobs’ brilliantly ambiguous term, “Post-PC”. And, for them, the new MacBook is everything they need in a laptop.

For the original article, please go to TrustedReviews.com.

Read next: Hands-On With Apple’s Stunning New Gold Laptop

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TIME Reviews

Hands-On With Apple’s Stunning New Gold Laptop

It’s a complete—and very desirable—overhaul

Apple had a trick up its sleeve during Monday’s special event. And no, it wasn’t the Apple Watch.

(Though you ought to read my initial review of that device here.)

The company announced a new laptop, which it calls simply MacBook, that looks more like a MacBook Air that went on a diet. How slim, you ask? It measures just 13.1 millimeters at its thickest point, and weighs in at a mere 2.03 pounds.

And then you put your hands on it and realize. Gosh, it’s small. Incredibly small. Unbelievably small.

I repeated a similar phrase during the keynote that introduced it, which I live-blogged for this very publication. It’s easy to think dwell on size when the device is the sole item on a sweeping black stage. It’s another thing to walk into Apple’s demo area, lay your eyes on the sold, silver, and grey varieties, and think the same thing all over again.

Apple’s new MacBook is indeed all-new, and it’s a complete overhaul of the device, from components on out. It lacks fans of any sort and relies on an energy-efficient Intel Core M processor to keep it cool and prolong battery life, which Apple claims lasts an entire day. Its screen, the so-called high-resolution Retina display, measures 12 inches on the diagonal, situating the new laptop in between Apple’s two models of MacBook Air, at 11 inches and 13 inches. The difference: That Retina display packs 2304 pixels across by 1440 pixels down into that diminutive picture.

Each key features a new “butterfly mechanism” that provides for a unique typing experience. It’s one that I struggled with during my hands-on time with the new MacBook. It’s not that the keys are hard to press, or even awkwardly placed. If anything, the keys are almost too easy to press. A touch-typist will fall in love with it after just a few minutes of tapping away. Others will take long to adjust to a keyboard that stretches to the very edges of the MacBook’s housing. I’m in the latter camp.

A new trackpad offers the same “Force Touch” technology found in the Apple Watch. Push past the marketing and you’ll find a trackpad that doesn’t move when pressed, no matter how hard you do so. (Well, within reason—don’t shove the thing off a table.) Its immobility allows it to differentiate between amounts of pressure, and by extension, intent to accomplish different tasks. For example, moving the mouse pointer over a file icon and Force Touching on the trackpad prompts Quick Preview to open. See an address in an e-mail? Force Touch on it and a dialogue box with Apple Maps appears to reveal its exact location.

Similar shortcuts are present throughout the updated Mac OS X operating system. You can adjust the degree of pressure in the System Preferences area. And try as I might on the floor of the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, I still couldn’t believe that the new MacBook’s trackpad wasn’t actually moving. Apple assured me it’s not. The “Taptic Engine” underneath the aluminum pad leaves the user with the impression that it’s traveling in space. Color me impressed—or confused.

There is a notable lack of ports on the new MacBook. In fact, there’s only one. (Well, two if you want to make the argument a headphone-jack is a port.) On its left flank is a USB Type-C port. Think of it as the more capable, younger sibling of the Lightning adapter on your iOS device. Through this single port you can charge the MacBook, transfer content, and connect it to an external monitor.

It’s the Swiss Army Knife of connectors, though for now at least, external monitor functionality will require a series of adapters. Why? USB Type-C is a new standard—one that most accessory manufacturers have yet to fully commit to, let alone release products with it incorporated. So for now, adapters will be a necessity for MacBook owners.

As someone who works primarily from an iPad, I can’t complain about the lack of ports. For me, adapters are a way of life and something I’ve come to accept. But that’s not for everyone, and Apple’s minimalism will be a break in how we’ve come to think about the desktop/laptop computer. I asked several attendees at the Apple event what they thought about this issue; reactions ranged from excited to discouraged. (The concerns of the latter group: what’s the point of ultraportability if I need to carry around a bunch of adapters? Fair point.) That Apple’s adapters are priced as high as $79 won’t help.

But back to the new MacBook. Its Intel M Core processors clock in at a lowly 1.1GHz and 1.2GHz respectively, which is cause for concern. I wasn’t able to fully test either version outside of Apple’s demo area, unfortunately, so I can’t comment on their overall performance. I can say that during the limited time I used the new MacBook—to watch videos, browse through a Photos library, and accomplish other miscellaneous tasks—I was left with the impression that comparatively slow processors wouldn’t adversely impact performance too much.

But that’s not the real point. Apple’s new MacBook is transformative based on its size alone. To put it into perspective, the new MacBook is only slightly heavier (and far thinner) than my iPad-plus-keyboard setup, but it’s a full-fledged content creation device.

Which has me, and I suspect many other people, wondering: Laptop. Tablet. Now what?

Jason Cipriani is Fortune’s personal technology columnist and the author of its weekly “Logged In” column.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME Video Games

The Order 1886 Review: Sony’s Exclusive Blockbuster

Ready at Dawn

Ready at Dawn's latest revisits the "interactive movie" concept with mostly positive results

“When you play a game, one moment you’re just controlling it and then suddenly you feel you’re in its world,” said Nintendo luminary Shigeru Miyamoto in a recent interview, adding that playing a game is thus “something you cannot experience through film or literature.”

What to make of developer Ready at Dawn’s gloomy, Victorian, supernatural pastiche The Order: 1886 then, a game that frequently takes player control away?

On the one hand, The Order: 1886 is an interactive drama (or what we might have called an “interactive movie” back when Under a Killing Moon and Phantasmagoria were in vogue) that spends Hideo Kojima quantities of time in the driver’s seat. It’s a kind of participatory film with occasional bursts of third-person action, in other words. But are games only games when we’re manipulating the action? Is player agency the be-all, end-all? Or is there something potentially fascinating when simply watching what happens is a large part—or most—of the experience?

All I can tell you is that I generally enjoyed The Order: 1886‘s hybrid approach to whatever it is we want to call what we’re doing these days when we play/receive/experience/watch a game. In fact the more I delved into Ready at Dawn’s Arthurian legend retelling, the more I appreciated the way the studio seemed to know just the right moments to step forward and tell its story, then back away to let you maneuver through its James Bond-meets-Nikola Tesla ballistic scenarios for yourself.

Ready at Dawn

If there’s one thing The Order: 1886 does very well, it’s providing that sense of continuously inhabiting a detailed world. Call it a PlayStation 4 tech demo if you like, it’s still an achievement: the render complexity of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within finally realized in realtime, any lingering benefits of pre-rendered cutscenes extinguished in one gorgeously shaded and illuminated swoop.

Sometimes that leads to overindulgence. You can pick up items and glean vague plot-related details, for instance, but they’re window dressing (and at best worth a few PlayStation 4 trophies). The Order: 1886 isn’t an adventure game where you sleuth for clues to solve puzzles, but hefting objects for admiration’s sake alone feels like a missed opportunity. I spent a fair lot of time perusing doohickeys, papers and photographs, finding nothing gameplay-related, and wondering if I’d missed the point (or joke).

But there’s undeniably something more intimate about this sort of carefully controlled, story-emphatic, single-player approach that’s absent from freeform games: the shifting abilities (sometimes you can walk, run, climb, shoot, sometimes one at a time, sometimes all together) that ironically increased my involvement with my surroundings, and the way the studio uses the game’s slower pace to unpack the characters and plot.

Ready at Dawn

Not that Ready at Dawn’s design choices are unimpeachable. The story, however well told, feels a bit too Underworld in an era of hackneyed monster mashups. The quicktime events are as derivative and lifeless as quicktime events have ever been, and the only minor innovation–having to swing the camera around to unmask which button to push–feels like a pointless tack on.

That goes double for all the repetitive input. Game studios still haven’t figured out that asking players to jam on a button to make whatever mechanism work (like moving an elevator) is a cliched and frankly impoverished substitute for actual interactivity. If, for instance, you’re going to make sending Morse Code integral to the game, great, but if you’re just asking me to tap out a few letters on a control surface once and for novelty’s sake, then as Hume said, to the flames.

I’m also a little conflicted about the game’s gunplay. A few of the weapons are halfway interesting (in particular a monstrous thing that lets you fire combustible powder, then ignite it with a followup flare). The enemies are more than competent, and the difficulty spikes satisfyingly brutal. But there’s something a little formulaic about the way enemies appear during these sequences—like pop-ups in a carnival game, the deadlier heavies arriving only after you’ve passed a threshold, making battles less about learning to react shrewdly than pattern recognition.

Ready at Dawn

But then I also love the way low cover obscures your view during shootouts, encouraging you to seek taller cover (you can see more, standing and shooting around corners), or to find cover that’s a mix of both so you can alternate fluidly. I love that snipers won’t shoot until you pop up, that if you’re not using cover judiciously bullets can hit and knock you into the open, that shotgunners flank at close range and that you can dodge grenades.

A word about the ending, which didn’t work for me. As spoiler-free as possible, I can say it comes down to a choice, or the lack of one, and at the only point I wanted the freedom to choose. I get that Ready at Dawn needs to tell its story, that as far as its concerned the choice made is the only one possible, but boy oh boy that ending…it’s the one place where auteurism and agency feel most like matter touching antimatter, and not in an artsy or revelatory way.

Some players are going to buck Ready at Dawn’s approach no matter what I say, and by all means steer clear if “interactive drama” isn’t your thing, but I submit that’s the wrong place to raise bulwarks. The Order: 1886 has flaws enough without conflating personal taste and flawed presumptions about game design—though it’s also a promise, assuming Ready at Dawn gets the go-ahead to make a sequel, of what this sort of author-player partnership could yield, better tempered, down the road.

3.5 out of 5

Review using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

Read next: This Museum Is Building a Video Game Hall of Fame

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TIME Tablets

Here’s How to Pick the Best Tablet For You

Apple Unveils New Versions Of Popular iPad
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images An attendee looks at the new iPad Air during an Apple announcement at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on October 22, 2013 in San Francisco, California.

What to look for—and what to avoid

Five years ago, no one knew quite what to make of the tablet. Was it the future of the laptop? Was it made for creation or consumption? And in the end, was it just a bigger version of the smartphone? For the next several years, we saw almost every device you could imagine, from a 2.8-inch micro-tablet (the Archos 28) to a 27-inch beast (the Planar Helium). A few new ideas stuck. Most flopped.

Jump ahead to 2015, and the market has largely settled. Customers seem to want one of three kinds of tablets, and the best devices almost all fit neatly into one of these categories.

In that spirit, we’ve broken down these three tablet groups, then picked a handful of products we would recommend for each. We’ll let you know what to look for—and what to avoid—depending on your preferences. Finally, we’ll highlight a few trailblazing tablets that don’t belong in any of these categories.

1. The General-Purpose Tablet

Pros: Can do a little of everything
Cons: No obvious strengths
Typical screen size: 9-11”
Typical starting price: $400-500

The most popular category for tablets, these models are jack-of-all-trade devices, designed to do a little bit of everything. Want to snap family photos? Each of these models comes with a decent camera. Need to give an off-site presentation to a client? You’re getting a nice mix of lightness and screen size. Just want to share status updates and YouTube comments? Post away.

The only problem: none of these tablets truly excel at any one thing. Products in this category tend to be just a bit too big for a purse or coat pocket, but a little too small for completing serious work.

So grab a general-purpose tablet if you plan to use it for all sorts of tasks, but consider another category if you have one or two particular uses in mind.

(Read more: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review)

2. The Mini Tablet

Pros: Extremely portable, great for reading
Cons: Underpowered and bad at productivity
Typical screen size: 7-8.5”
Typical starting price: $200-400

The mini tablet is the ultimate travel and leisure device. Pop it in your backpack, slide it out for some poolside browsing, or place it on your nightstand for some bedtime reading. They’re so light you’ll forget you’re holding a tablet, and thin enough to squeeze in almost any nook, pocket, closet or cranny.

Better yet, they’re the cheapest tablets on the market. The iPad Mini 3 is Apple’s least expensive new tablet, while Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD 7 has a price tag under $150.

But you also get what you pay for. Miniature tablets tend to be the least powerful models, less capable of running high-end mobile games with a smooth, consistent experience. And forget about productivity. Trying to update a spreadsheet or compose a presentation on a mini tablet is frustrating and time-consuming.

Finally, consider that smartphones are getting bigger every year. Do you really need a 7-inch tablet if you plan to buy a 6-inch phone next year? The biggest phones and smallest tablets are practically becoming the same device, and you certainly don’t need both.

So consider a mini tablet if you want something leisurely and affordable, but make sure that’s all you want — or else you’ll wish you purchased something bigger and more capable.

(Read more: Hands-on with Apple’s new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3)

3. The Productivity Tablet

Pros: Gets work done
Cons: Expensive and bulky
Typical screen size: More than 11”
Typical starting price: $600-1,000

The answer to the mini tablet is the productivity tablet—a device built for getting work done. Typically equipped with massive screens and sold with optional accessories (ex: keyboard and stylus), tablets in this category are designed to replace your laptop.

The best customer for these tablets is the on-the-go professional. You can work up a client presentation at your desk, slide the tablet into your briefcase, then travel to an off-site presentation, all with just a couple pounds of technology in tow.

On the flip side, are these devices really good enough to replace a laptop? Sure, they might be the most productive tablets available, but most laptops still do the same tasks just a bit better, making the productivity tablet a hard sell for seasoned business people.

And then consider leisure activities. Even if you don’t plan to use your tablet for fun very often, those few moments will quickly become obnoxious as you attempt to hold up a 900-gram device through all 58 minutes of Game of Thrones.

So buy a productivity tablet if you’re serious about getting work done (and don’t need or want a laptop), but save the fun and games for another device.

Bonus: The Trail Blazers

Pros: Creative, outside-the-box
Cons: Unproven

Microsoft Surface Hub
Nvidia Shield Tablet

You might say the tablet market has matured, but Microsoft and Nvidia aren’t convinced. Microsoft’s freshly announced Surface Hub comes in two massive sizes—55- and 84-inches—an office touchscreen designed to reinvent brainstorms, conference calls and collaborative meetings. We’ve never seen anything quite like it, complete with Skype integration and stylus compatibility. The device is set for release sometime later this year.

Meanwhile, Nvidia isn’t satisfied with angry birds and crushed candy: the company’s Shield Tablet wants to bring the power of expensive, modern gaming to a tablet device. As such, the tablet comes packed with a 2.2 GHz, quad core processor—the sort of internals you’d normally expect only on a laptop. While it’ll be tough to lure PC and console gamers from their keyboards and Dualshock controllers, Nvidia is committed to the cause.

It’s entirely possible that both Microsoft’s and Nvidia’s pioneering devices will flop. But if either hits, we’ll be looking not at three, but four tablet categories in 2016.

This article originally appeared on FindTheBest.

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TIME Reviews

This Is the Best TV You Can Buy Right Now

Sony Sony X950B Series

The Sony X900B series has the most lifelike picture of any TV on the market

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

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If you’re looking for a really great, solid TV, the Sony X900B series is the one we recommend for most people, plus it has near universal praise from the top reviewers. It has a colorful, rich, vibrant image that is lauded by experts from across the web. It has the most lifelike picture of any TV on the market, and has few (if any) real issues.

It is, however, very expensive: $2,800 for a 55-inch television. So if you don’t absolutely need the best picture quality available today, we have a cheaper recommendation too.

Who should get this TV?

Someone looking for the best picture quality currently available without spending even more per-screen-inch on an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) TV.

If you just want a good-looking TV, one that doesn’t have quite the X900B’s contrast, brightness, or resolution, check out our pick for Best $500 TV.

If you’re looking for something bigger, consider a projector in $500, $1,000, or $2,500 “Awesome” forms. These will give you a great and significantly larger image than any TV.

Our pick

The Sony X900B starts at about $2,800 for the 55” version. It has an incredibly dark black level compared to the rest of the competition, creating a powerfully contrasty image. It’s less like you’re watching a TV, and more just a movie floating in your room. The colors are lifelike and accurate. While there are many great TVs on the market this year, in review after review, the X900B edges out the others (often by just not doing anything wrong).

It also has great sound quality thanks to a rather large, built-in speaker array. Think of it as having a halfway-decent soundbar built into the TV. Those without an existing setup will appreciate the fact that it actually sounds good, but if you already have a sound system, it’s just an unnecessary added expense that takes up extra space.

David Katzmaier, from CNET, gave the X900B 3.5/5 stars, including a score of 9/10 for performance (though only 5/10 for value). In his review, he says “the Sony XBR-X900B series provides the best picture quality of any 4K TV we’ve tested so far, competing well against the better plasmas.”

Who else likes it? Robert Heron reviewed the X900B for HDGuru.com, concluding, “as a product that delivers an audio and visual experience with 4K, HD, and streaming sources, I cannot think of another LCD television that has impressed my ears and eyes more than the Sony XBR-X900B series.”

The X900B comes in 55- ($2,800), 65- ($3,800), and massive 79-inch models ($8,000).

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Those ears, man. Those ears. Each side of the X900B’s screen features big speakers. They’re incorporated well, but make the TV much bigger than it needs to be, and are rather useless for anyone adding a soundbar or surround sound system (which we always recommend). You’re not paying extra for the speakers (at least not any meaningful amount), so it’s really just the aesthetics that are the issue.

The X900B is also on the expensive side. With the demise of plasma, the sweet, sweet low-priced, high-performing television is gone. LCDs that were close to plasma’s picture quality were always much more expensive. They needed features like local dimming and high refresh rates to compete with plasma’s inherent strengths. So the next step down, into what we’ll call the “mid-range” of LCDs on the market (say, $1,000-$1,500 for a 60-inch), is a big step down in price, and a fairly sizeable step in picture quality.

A Budget Pick

If the X900B is out of your price range, check out the Vizio M-series ($1,150 for a 60-inch). It’s not perfect, but there’s no single standout for the “best” mid-range LCD. The M-series offers very good picture quality, a little better than its competitors, and is a great price for its size.

There are two main issues with the M-series. The first is its motion resolution, which means objects that move onscreen, like a car driving from the left of the screen to the right, will blur more than a stationary background. And Consumer Reports says the motion blur reduction feature “also activates the smooth-motion effect that gives movies a “video-like appearance.”

That “smooth-motion effect” is also called the Soap Opera Effect (SOE), which many (including me) can’t stand. It makes everything look like an ultra-smooth soap opera. This is often the tradeoff with LCDs: poor motion resolution, or SOE. Some higher-end TVs have additional settings that reduce motion blur but don’t cause SOE, but the M-series doesn’t have those. Sports and gaming won’t look weird with SOE enabled, but movies and TV shows will. If you’re bothered by motion blurring, and you hate SOE, but don’t want a plasma (which don’t have this issue), consider the Samsung H6350.

The other issue with the M-series is that it’s only a little better-looking than Vizio’s less expensive E-series. CNET thinks “[the] picture is not significantly better than less-expensive E-Series.” They rate the two the same, Consumer Reports gives one extra tick to the M-series. So if you want to save a little money, the E-series is about 30% cheaper for only slightly worse picture quality. The consensus is the M-series does look a little better, though.

If money is no object…

OLED technology has been on the cusp of a breakthrough for many, many years. OLED’s biggest improvement over plasma and LCD is an even better contrast ratio, which is the most important part of a TV’s picture quality. The contrast ratio on OLED is effectively infinite. The image is better—it’s more lifelike and “window-to-another-world” than you’ve ever seen on any TV technology.

At an MSRP of $3,500, this year’s OLED, the LG 55EC9300, is significantly cheaper than last year’s, which was $15,000 when first available (that model is now on clearance at $3,200).

CNET’s David Katzmaier is effusive in his praise of the new TV, saying in his review that it has “the best picture quality” of any TV he’s reviewed, with “perfect” black levels, and “exceedingly bright whites.”

Our take on 4K TV Ultra High Definition TVs

Yes, our pick is a 4K TV, but we didn’t pick it for that reason—it’s a beautiful TV, that just happens to also be 4K. Resolution, in itself, isn’t a reason to upgrade your TV; it’s just one aspect of picture quality. The best 4K TVs do look good, but that’s because they also have all the best technologies their manufacturers can put in them (local dimming, etc). Cheap 4K TVs only have resolution going for them, so you’re getting a mediocre TV. Or to put it another way, you’re getting a Kia with Pirelli P-Zeros on it. It’s still a Kia. Wouldn’t you rather a Porsche for a little more money?

Further, the claims about an increase in picture quality due to the increase in resolution are somewhat dubious as well. Your eye can’t resolve the increased resolution in anything but very large screen sizes. Wirecutter contributor Chris Heinonen has an excellent 4K calculator to determine if you’ll get any benefit going with a higher-than-HD resolution display. Basically, if you’re sitting where most people are (9 or 10 feet from your TV), then you’ll need way more than 70-inch TVs before you even start to see a difference.

For a 50-to-60-inch TV, 4K is just going to be a waste of money, unless you’re sitting really, really close. If you want to dive into the science behind it, check out my articles over at CNET.

Wrapping it up

If you’re looking for the best TV, I recommend the Sony X900B in 55-, 65-, and 79-inch sizes. It has the best picture available right now. Too expensive? Check out Vizio’s M-series.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

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