Diving into the wild world of custom, ergonomic, mechanical keyboards – CNET

ErgoMech keyboards

Yes, that's a keyboard -- or it will be, once you finish soldering it together.

Tim Stevens/CNET

"That's a keyboard?"

That was the reaction I got the first time I sent a picture of my new, customized, 36-key GergoPlex keyboard to a friend. A friend who, like me, has spent much of his life within an arm's reach of some keyboard or another. But across the spectrum of input devices that have been tethered to personal computers over the years, of all the variations and evolutions of the classic AT layout, few have looked so radical as this.

The GergoPlex is just one of the options out there for keyboard jockeys who want something different, something customizable and, frankly, something more raw than anything you're likely to find inside your average computer hardware outlet -- never mind an Apple Store. It served as my introduction into the fascinating world of DIY ergonomic mechanical keyboards, a wormhole I'm about to open up for you.

Ergo Mech

To begin with, it's important to understand what a mechanical keyboard is. For a long time, all keyboards were mechanical, and there's a good chance you've typed on one at some point in your life. If you've ever pressed a traditional key offering a nice, progressive throw and maybe even a bit of a click, you've probably experienced a mechanical 'board. Each key on a mechanical keyboard is a discrete, electrical switch. The internals vary, but pressing of a key physically compresses a spring and completes an electrical circuit, which the controller sends along as a keypress.

The other, increasingly common option are membrane-based keyboards, which use springy contact patches called pressure pads. Push down on a pad and you complete the circuit. My first experience on one was learning BASIC on the Atari 400, which featured a spill-proof, membrane that is perhaps the worst keyboard of all time. Since then, membrane-based keyboards have gotten much better, offering physical keys and improved feel combined with greater durability and lower cost. However, for traditionalists, mechanical boards will always be king.

Why? It mostly comes down to feel and customization. Cherry MX switches are the traditional mechanical standard, but there are hundreds of options on the market offering different levels of spring resistance, throw heights, key shapes and even different sounds. And, if that's not enough, switches can be disassembled and customized with bespoke springs and even oils.

Now, if the idea of dissecting your keyboard to add a custom weight lubricant and progressive springs sounds crazy, hold tight, because we're just getting started.

ErgoMech keyboards

Faunchpad is a functional, eight-key keyboard that's a great way to learn soldering.

Tim Stevens/CNET

PCB hero

Custom key-feel is a huge draw for mechanical keyboard aficionados, a group I now very much consider myself a part of. However, we can go deeper.

Since individual keys are just electrical switches, it's relatively simple to create a fully custom keyboard. Know a thing or two about printed circuit board design? Whip up something that accepts standard switches, upload your design to a PCB house and you could be soldering together your next board inside of a week. Add a 3D printer to the mix to create a custom housing and you have yourself the beginnings of a beautiful, nerdy hobby.

But, you needn't go with a fully custom PCB. Hundreds of underground vendors are crafting small-batch custom kits requiring various degrees of soldering proficiency. Whether you're the sort of person who can't splice two wires without burning yourself or you're a surface-mount star, there's a kit for you. Vendors like Boardsource have plenty to choose from.

At the beginning of this journey, my soldering skills lay more toward that former group and, as I was trying to figure out where and how to get started, a friend turned me on to the kits offered by Jeremy Bernhardt -- or, as he's known in the ErgoMech community, Germ.

Bernhardt is a Saskatchewan-based fan of custom PCBs and stenography, passions that have berthed a suite of custom PCBs swathed in catchy silkscreens. His company, G Heavy Industries, offers a suite of keyboards of various shapes and sizes, ranging from the 10-key Ginny to the nearly full-sized BuzzSaw which, in living up to its name, can be broken into pieces as your typing skills improve.

Most of the boards can be purchased as kits, where you solder every single chip onto the board. Given some are smaller than a grain of rice, beginners may want to opt for a so-called Partial Kit. Here, Bernhardt has done the hardest soldering for you, leaving you with the relatively simple task of attaching individual switches of your choosing. Or, if you're just not into soldering at all, many of the kits can be ordered fully assembled.

That just leaves the not-so-simple task of compiling a custom firmware for your keyboard.

qmk-configurator

QMK's online configurator makes it easy to do the majority of setup that you'll need.

Tim Stevens/CNET

QMK

Did you think that we were going to stop with custom hardware? No way, we're going deeper still down this wormhole, into the realm of coding.

A custom keyboard is nothing without some sort of embedded processor to pass along those keypresses to your device, and while you could go so far as to write a bespoke firmware or perhaps something that runs on top of Arduino, the Quantum Mechanical Keyboard  community already has you covered.

QMK is an open-source framework that greatly simplifies the task of coding up a custom keyboard. With QMK, you need only worry about the details of what you want each key, or combination of keys, to do. QMK handles the ugly details of passing that instruction along down the USB cable.

Still, knowing your way around a text editor and a build environment is definitely helpful. QMK Configurator means you can define custom layouts in a friendly interface, then download compiled firmware and flash it to your device. But, if you really want to delve into the power of QMK, you'll need to learn a bit of code.

What kind of power? Well, how about a key that changes behavior if you hold it down for 50 milliseconds versus 60? Or, a single key that types out your entire email signature, or that moves your mouse cursor diagonally up and to the right? All things are possible if you're willing to break out a text editor.

ErgoMech keyboards

My GergoPlex now lives on my sim racing wheel.

Tim Stevens/CNET

My experience

So, what's it like to actually build and use one of these keyboards? As I mentioned above, my soldering skills are hardly legendary, so I started off with a partially assembled GergoPlex. Bernhardt had kindly added the trickier surface-mount components, leaving me with a bag full of switches and keys to solder myself. Which I did, successfully. For someone who enjoys building kits and figuring out how stuff works, it was legitimately fun.

I wish I could say the same about learning to type on the thing. GergoPlex has just 36 keys split across a pair of small PCBs. That may seem generous considering there are only 26 letters in the traditional English alphabet, but look at all the other keys on a typical keyboard and you can see the challenge.

The idea is that, with so few keys, your wrists and hands never need to move. You're never reaching across to a numberpad, never straining to hit backspace or tab and forcing your hands to leave their home position. All the keys are literally right underneath your fingers and so the ergonomic compromise of using a keyboard is minimized. 

To make this work, individual keys must do double duty, or even triple-duty. Or more. This is done partially by defining keys that act differently when tapped vs. held. For example, I configured the lower-right key to be both the period key and the shift key -- tap for the former, hold for the latter.

To get the arrow keys, I defined what's called a second layer. Holding down the horizontal key beneath my left thumb enables that layer, changing the behavior of all the keys. Now, the J, N, M and comma keys now became up, down, left and right. Number keys? For that I created a third layer, this one triggered by holding down the vertical key beneath my left thumb, which turned the keys on the right side into a numberpad.

Wondering why there's nothing printed on these keys? Now you know: each key does many, many things.

Factor in all the special keys that you'll need to access, not to mention things like scroll lock, and it all begins to get complicated. Before disconnecting my old, traditional keyboard, I ran an online typing test and scored 137 words-per-minute. I plugged in the new GergoPlex and tried the same test. My score? Nine wpm. Yes, nine.

As someone who spends all day tethered to a keyboard, whether writing or emailing or communicating in Slack, I cannot tell you how painful it was to be that slow. I made it an hour on my first day before switching back to my old keyboard, twice as long on the second, then started forcing myself to spend at least 4 hours a day figuring out my new keyboard.

When typing on the tiny, split GergoPlex I could almost feel my brain being rewired. All those shortcuts, all those ingrained key combos were being ripped out as I had to start from scratch. It was like learning to walk again. The biggest hangups were backspace and enter, two keys typically operated by my right little finger, now done by my thumbs. Many an erroneous message was dropped in Slack thanks to this.

By the end of the first week I was up to 50 wpm, achieving accuracy of 90%. A far cry from my previous 137 wpm and 98%, but getting there for sure. A week later I scored 80 wpm then after another week, fell back to 70. I managed to get back up to 80 the following week, but I had clearly hit a sort of ceiling. The problem? The lack of dedicated modifier keys.

I had one key operating as both the period key and the shift key -- tap for the former, hold for the latter. When I was typing slowly that worked just fine. As I got quicker, the time I was holding shift necessarily got shorter, and I started getting a lot of dots when I wanted capital letters.

I spent hours fiddling with parameters in the QMK code, modifying timing figures in 10 millisecond increments to try to fix the issue. It's a tedious process, requiring a full recompilation and firmware flash of the keyboard with every change. After many iterations I decided to make the obvious choice: switch to something with a few more keys. 

ErgoMech keyboards

My Gergo keyboard, with a custom, tented case.

Tim Stevens/CNET

Gergo

The Gergo is actually a predecessor to the GergoPlex, featuring an additional two rows of keys, plus an additional two keys for each thumb. Having 48 keys means you're still working with less than half the offerings of a traditional, 104-key unit, but compared to GergoPlex it's downright roomy.

Crucial for me are the extra keys on the sides, enabling dedicated shift, control and backspace. Meanwhile, the extra thumb keys means I have a dedicated space plus plenty of other keys at my disposal for triggering layers. I even had enough left over for a dedicated printscreen key, something I didn't realize I'd miss as much as I did.

I made other changes, too, experimenting with different shaped keys to help me more quickly find home, something sorely missing before. I'm also trying heavier springs and even designed a custom, 3D-printed tented case with magnets to hold it together.

The result? well, I'm still far from 130 wpm on the Gergo, but I'm up over 90 consistently, and my accuracy is over 95%. The GergoPlex? I really enjoy typing on it, but I just don't see that being my daily driver. For that board, I actually made another custom case and mounted it to the steering wheel on my sim racing rig. It's the perfect size for quick chats between stints.

I honestly don't know if I'll ever get back up over 130 wpm on the Gergo, nor can I say how long it'll be before I can stop consulting a printed keyboard mapping to remember how to type a tilde. But as I get older and the threat of arthritis and other repetitive stress-related injury grows stronger, the appeal of something perfectly ergonomically suited to my hands gets stronger, too.

Ultimately, though, the world of the ErgoMech keyboard is as much about crafting. It's the art of creating an input device that is perfectly suited to you, both functionally and aesthetically, and in that regard I feel like I'm just getting started.

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Your Electrified Life: When car tech and smart home tech collide – CNET

There are more electrified cars on the market today than ever before, and more choices means more reasons for you to ditch your gas habit and experience the joy of emissions-free motoring. Or, if you're not quite ready to go cold-turkey, you can go with a plug-in hybrid, which will give you a taste of that EV lifestyle without saddling you with a case of crippling range anxiety. 

While you're taking on new technology in your car, you might also find it spilling over into your garage and your home. From maximizing your EV range, charging on the road and at home, to bringing your car online and getting it communicating with your smart home, the crossover between car tech and home tech is getting more robust by the day. 

Over the next five weeks, we'll explore the ins-and-outs of electric vehicle ownership and automotive-specific smart home tech through a series of videos. Check back here every Wednesday for the latest installment.

Maximize the range of your electrified car 

 Whether you go hybrid or full EV, you're going to want to get the most range out of your batteries.

    Crank the heat while it's still plugged in.

    Mini
  • EVs or plug-ins don't like extreme heat or extreme cold. Chances are if you're uncomfortable outside, they are too, and that means less range. Some cars with advanced thermal management systems, like the latest Tesla Model S for example, might only see range losses of 20% or so when the temperature drops below freezing. On simpler cars like the Nissan Leaf, we've seen range estimates go down by upwards of 50% on a cold day. 
  • Preconditioning is a great way to minimize the impact of cold temperatures. Almost all EVs and most plug-ins have some way of turning on the car's heating or air conditioning systems remotely, either via a smartphone app or perhaps via a timer set through the car's dashboard interface. The initial heating or cooling uses a huge amount of electricity, and if you can do that without using any power in the battery that'll definitely give you a noticeable increase in range.
  • Turning up the heat when it's a little chilly means wasting power in a car that's just running on electricity. Instead, reach for the heated seats and, if your car has one, the heated steering wheel. Heating you directly is far more efficient and effective than blowing hot air around.
  • Any car uses the most energy when speeding up and wastes energy when slowing down. The solution is to maintain a steady speed, but even tiny adjustments to the throttle can have a noticeable impact on range. Whenever it's safe to do so, set the cruise and let the car keep speed on its own.
  • Make sure you have the right tires fitted on your car, ideally the ones that the manufacturer recommends. Many EVs and electrified cars have special models with lower rolling resistance. Whatever tires you choose, make sure the pressures are right. All modern cars will tell you if your pressures are dangerously low, but you might not get an alert if they're only off by a few PSI. Make a habit of checking regularly.

Install an L2 charger at home 

The L1 charger included with many EV or hybrid cars is the path of (yes) least resistance for charging at home. To ensure you start each day with a full battery, consider adding an L2 charger to your garage or to the exterior of your home. 

  • An L1 charger will work on standard residential 120-volt wiring, although you might need an adapter depending on the outlets you have in your garage. On a 120-volt line, you can expect roughly four miles of range added to your battery per hour. For some electric cars, that could mean days of charging time to replenish an empty battery.
  • If your garage has an existing 240-volt line, perhaps from an old dryer, or you're willing to have an electrician add one, you can install an L2 charger. An L2 charger will charge at a rate of 25 miles of range per hour. That will bring your battery to full within a few hours. 
  • The L2 charger itself can cost between $500 to $1,000, on top of any additional electrical work, but it's a worthwhile investment to minimize day-to-day range anxiety.
  • Some chargers like the ChargePoint Home Flex in our video can connect to the internet so you can control things like scheduling charging times against your local peak usage hours to save you some money. That's a useful feature, but some EVs include their own apps with similar features, so don't pay extra for a connected charger if you don't need one. 

Keep your battery healthy

Sure, you change the oil in your car regularly, right? But do you know how to take care of the battery in your EV or PHEV?

  • Try not to fully charge or discharge your battery every time. Instead, try to cap your charges to about 80% and don't run your car down below 20%. This'll keep your car's cells healthier for longer.
  • Going on a long trip? Make sure your EV has a decent charge before you head out. Batteries will slowly drain while sitting and, if your car gets down to zero, that could be bad news. So, charge it before you go or, better yet, leave it plugged in.
  • When you do park, even just for a day, try to keep your car from baking in the sun or freezing in the cold. Modern batteries aren't nearly as sensitive as those even from a few years ago, but still, a little climate control will keep your car's battery healthier longer.
  • While quick-charging is great when you need it, don't rely on Superchargers or DC fast-chargers every time you need a little juice. They cause battery packs to get hotter than normal charging. Over time, that can have a detrimental effect on performance. 

Smarten up your garage door

A smart garage door opener lets you open and close your garage door from your phone or via a voice command. Here's what you need to know.

  • You can buy smart openers that are built into the garage motor controls, but retrofit options are plentiful, easy to install and usually cost under $100 for a comparable set of features.
  • Chamberlain's MyQ opener is the most established brand. Its controller pairs wirelessly with your existing opener, making it very easy to install.
  • Wired options from Tailwind and others are pricier and require you to run wires to the opener and the open/close sensor. Installation usually takes about an hour. The benefit over Chamberlain is the wired options often have more advanced features, like automatically opening the garage door when you pull in. They're usually freer with their support of voice commands, too. 
  • Make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi signal in your garage to ensure the smart opener will respond when you want it to.

Survive your first EV road trip

Road tripping gets a little more complicated when you need to stop to charge every couple-hundred miles. Here are a few tips to make your electrified journey go a little more smoothly!

  • Be realistic about range. You're scheduling a disastrous trip if you can't make it as far as you think you can. Take things like weather and terrain into account.
  • Make sure you factor in enough time for charging. Sure, a DC fast-charge can get you to 80% in just 30 minutes, but that last 20% can take another hour or more!
  • Check out charger reviews on sites like Chargepoint. That'll give you an early heads up if a charger is out of commission, working poorly or simply hard to find.
  • Fast charge as often as you can. Yes, as we mentioned above, fast-charging isn't exactly good for your battery, but if you're going a long way then now's the time to do it.
  • Finally, try and pick chargers that aren't just sitting on the side of a highway. Go for places that will let you go for a walk, do a little shopping or maybe just hit a restaurant you want to try.

Add a voice assistant to your car

A voice assistant like Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant in your car works the same as it does from a smart speaker, including letting you control connected devices in your home. Ready to dive into Android Auto or Apple CarPlay

  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto let you connect your iPhone or your Android phone to your car's infotainment system via a USB cable or a Bluetooth connection. 
  • For Alexa, you'll need to buy the Echo Auto device, which also connects to your car via Bluetooth or your car's aux input. 
  • Once you have a voice assistant connected, you can ask basic questions, get weather information or cue up streaming audio with your voice. 
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will also mirror certain apps from your phone to your car. This is a great way to integrate Apple Maps or Google Maps, which you can then also control with your voice.
  • Just yesterday, Apple CarPlay added the ability to find a ChargePoint charging station.
  • If your car doesn't support CarPlay or Android Auto, you can add them via an aftermarket infotainment system.
  • Some carmakers such as Lexus, Honda and Volvo offer deeper integrations with the various voice assistants, including from smart speakers inside your home. For example, you can ask an Echo Dot to remote start, preheat and check fuel levels for cars that support that feature. 
  • Google is also rolling out Android Automotive, a new system that will have Google Assistant built-in, no phone needed. It's designed to act like a native car operating system, which manufacturers can then use to give you access to all of a car's different systems, like AC and window control, along with the standard Android features in your phone. 

First published Oct. 15.

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Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered drifts home in November – Roadshow

nfs-hot-pursuit-remastered-07

Maybe not next-gen graphics, but far better than last-gen.

EA

Today's driving games, whether competition-heavy sims like iRacing or downshift-and-chill haulers like SnowRunner, are clearly better than ever. Graphics and physics and everything else has come a long way over the past decade or so. But that doesn't mean that it isn't important to stop and enjoy the classics once in awhile, and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit is surely a classic -- a classic that's about to get a reboot.

In November, EA will release Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch and PC. It is, by and large, the same game that you probably fondly remember from 2010. I know I played the hell out of it back then and I was mighty happy to get an early opportunity to break a few laws in the new version.

What's changed? The graphics, primarily. While still perhaps not quite up to par with current-gen racers like your Forzas and Gran Turismos, Hot Pursuit Remastered looks decidedly modern and won't leave you wanting for more.

nfs-hot-pursuit-remastered-04

Yeah, I miss seeing these around too.

EA

What isn't so modern? The car selection, and frankly that's perhaps my favorite thing about Remastered. It's actually refreshing to take a step back and get behind the wheel of 2010's hottest cars, like the Porsche Boxter Spyder, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X and the Subaru WRX STI -- in its dearly departed hatchback flavor.

Mind you, some of the offerings are a little less memorable, like the Nissan 370Z, but that's only because it's still on sale today.

The game now has a custom vinyl wrap editor, an improved photo mode and "multiple quality of life updates" that I didn't get a chance to iterate through in my brief (24-hour) period behind the wheel.

nfs-hot-pursuit-remastered-08

Seriously, just pull over. 

EA

What struck me most is just how modern this game still feels in terms of its gameplay. Hot Pursuit had a really compelling, cinematic chase feel to it that still works as well as it did 10 years ago, and the Autolog system (no, not Autoblog) pioneered many of the asynchronous online multiplayer features we've come to know and love in modern racers.

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered drops on Nov. 13 on Nintendo Switch and Nov. 6 everywhere else. No plans on native support for next-gen consoles yet, but $40 on consoles and $30 on PC means this dose of drift-heavy nostalgia at least won't sting your wallet too badly.

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Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered drifts home in November – Roadshow

nfs-hot-pursuit-remastered-07

Maybe not next-gen graphics, but far better than last-gen.

EA

Today's driving games, whether competition-heavy sims like iRacing or downshift-and-chill haulers like SnowRunner, are clearly better than ever. Graphics and physics and everything else has come a long way over the past decade or so. But that doesn't mean that it isn't important to stop and enjoy the classics once in awhile, and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit is surely a classic -- a classic that's about to get a reboot.

In November, EA will release Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch and PC. It is, by and large, the same game that you probably fondly remember from 2010. I know I played the hell out of it back then and I was mighty happy to get an early opportunity to break a few laws in the new version.

What's changed? The graphics, primarily. While still perhaps not quite up to par with current-gen racers like your Forzas and Gran Turismos, Hot Pursuit Remastered looks decidedly modern and won't leave you wanting for more.

nfs-hot-pursuit-remastered-04

Yeah, I miss seeing these around too.

EA

What isn't so modern? The car selection, and frankly that's perhaps my favorite thing about Remastered. It's actually refreshing to take a step back and get behind the wheel of 2010's hottest cars, like the Porsche Boxter Spyder, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X and the Subaru WRX STI -- in its dearly departed hatchback flavor.

Mind you, some of the offerings are a little less memorable, like the Nissan 370Z, but that's only because it's still on sale today.

The game now has a custom vinyl wrap editor, an improved photo mode and "multiple quality of life updates" that I didn't get a chance to iterate through in my brief (24-hour) period behind the wheel.

nfs-hot-pursuit-remastered-08

Seriously, just pull over. 

EA

What struck me most is just how modern this game still feels in terms of its gameplay. Hot Pursuit had a really compelling, cinematic chase feel to it that still works as well as it did 10 years ago, and the Autolog system (no, not Autoblog) pioneered many of the asynchronous online multiplayer features we've come to know and love in modern racers.

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered drops on Nov. 13 on Nintendo Switch and Nov. 6 everywhere else. No plans on native support for next-gen consoles yet, but $40 on consoles and $30 on PC means this dose of drift-heavy nostalgia at least won't sting your wallet too badly.

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Best work light for mechanics in 2020 – Roadshow

I have quite a few lights hanging in my garage, but no matter how bright they are, they never seem to shine exactly where I need them to. Whether I'm reaching down in an engine bay or hunched inside a fender liner, a little extra illumination can make a miserable car repair job... well, a little less miserable anyway.

There are plenty of options out there that address a lot of different needs. What follows are my top 10 picks for the best work light for mechanics.

Read more: Best headlight restoration kits in 2020   

Harbor Freight

The shop light I found myself reaching for most often is actually one of the cheapest here, this $35 folding unit from Braun (Harbor Freight's house brand). While its length makes it difficult to throw in a toolbox, the strong magnet on the base means you can just pop it onto any metal surface -- like, say, the side of your toolbox. The LED light bar throws off plenty of light output for bigger jobs, while the LEDs on the tip meant I could easily inspect down in the fuel tank of my tractor. I got 2 hours on a charge with the LED work light bar on full blast, so it's maybe not the best work light for mechanics who need it for longer jobs. But it's a great, affordable rechargeable LED work light choice for most tasks. And, if you catch it at the right time, you can get it for $27 -- before the ubiquitous HF coupon!

Harbor Freight

If you're looking to spend a little more on a portable rechargeable work light, the $50 Braun 3-In-1 Quick Connect Light Kit comes with replaceable attachments, giving you a more powerful flashlight and a snake light as well. It's a great portable work light kit, but that means you'll need to also keep the case and all accessories around. I much prefer the cheaper, integrated lighting option.

Harbor Freight

Another win for Harbor Freight here, with the Ultra Bright portable LED work light and flashlight. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if you've ever visited a Harbor Freight, you probably walked out with one of these portable LED flashlight and work light units for free. And, if you're a frequent shopper, you probably have a half-dozen scattered around your house and garage. Even at the full price of $4, it's hard to ignore the value here. Whether you want focused or broad LED light, an underhood light, or a powerful flashlight, this will deliver. My only complaint is that the AAA batteries inside are too difficult to replace and the whole thing has a tendency to fly into pieces when dropped on a concrete floor, as mine have been. Repeatedly.

Black Diamond

When I asked for work light suggestions, a number of you indicated you prefer to use headlamps when working on your cars, and I definitely can see why. My choice is the $50 Black Diamond Storm, because it throws out a lot of light for such a small thing, and its multicolor light bulb capability means it has dozens of uses. I used mine to get across Italy in the 2019 Mille Miglia. Headlamps are particularly good when you're working in a tight work area like wheel wells, and when you're moving around a lot. Complex brake job? Get you one of these.

GoPro

What's a lifestyle work light? A work light that'll keep up with your 'Gram-worthy deeds, naturally, and where else would you turn but GoPro? The $50 Zeus Mini portable LED light isn't necessarily designed for shop use, but its strong clamp and magnetic base meant it easily went from the brim of my baseball cap to sticking on the side of my tractor's fender when I was pulling off a troublesome air filter. I later put it on blink mode and clipped it on the front of my bicycle and even used it as a fill light for a late-night Zoom meeting. Plus, the 360-degree swivel hook helps you get the right lighting angle. 90 minutes of battery life on max means again short pursuits only, but this cordless work light gets bonus points for charging over USB-C.

Dewalt

If you need extreme brightness, look no further than the usually $92 Dewalt 12V/20V Max Compact Task Light. This bright light comes with a warning about being careful not to look directly into it, and it's not kidding. Three brightnesses are on offer and the maximum is truly sunlike, but despite that the 20V rechargeable battery powers it for 4.5 hours. Mind you, the cost of the garage work light doesn't include the battery, and the batteries require a proprietary charger, but if you're already in the Dewalt ecosystem that won't be a problem. It's big and heavy, but the chunky handle makes it easy to carry and threaded receivers mean it's even tripod-mountable if you're so inclined.

Ryobi

Another great LED lighting option with super bright intensity is the $60 Ryobi 18-Volt One+ Hybrid LED Color Range Work Light. It's a little lighter in weight than the Dewalt and its integrated stand/handle is easier to position as well, but the killer factor here is that you can change the LED bulb color temperature. This is key if you're doing any paint work -- or working late and trying to avoid excessive blue light.

Eastwood

If your needs are complex and many, check out the comprehensive ecosystem of lighting systems that Eastwood offers. At its core is a little light with a repetitive name: the $35 Modular Light Module. It's shaped like a little steering wheel, but more importantly the integrated swivel base features both a strong magnet and a threaded receiver to potentially use with a telescoping tripod stand. A battery life indicator on the back is a nice touch, but relying on a proprietary charger instead of USB cable is a bit of a bummer. Still, 2.5 hours of battery life at maximum brightness doesn't disappoint, and it's a very bright light. The little light throws out a lot of lumens (1,000 to be exact) but, if that's not enough, there's a 3,000-lumen model for $90. From there, you can add everything from custom tripod stands to underhood work light clamps, making this the ultimate lighting system setup for your ultimate garage.

Ryobi

I have fluorescent lights mounted right on my workbench, but even with that on I was struggling to see inside my tractor's carburetor when I was rebuilding it a few weeks back. Enter the $55 Ryobi 18-Volt One+ Cordless LED Workbench Light. This LED shop light changes shape like a Transformer, unfolding and concealing a series of hidden hooks and recesses for mounting. But, for me, it was best used sitting on my bench, unfolded so that it shone LED light from the side and from above, obliterating any shadows in my carb. And, unlike a lot of the other lights here, the output from this was soft enough that it didn't hurt my eyes up close. Three hours of battery life is more than solid, too, but again we're looking at proprietary batteries and charger for this portable work light, and they aren't included in that $55 price.

Comparison of best shop lights


Brand Name Price
Best portable shop light overall Braun 390 Lumen Magnetic Slim Bar Folding LED Work Light $27
Best reconfigurable shop light Braun 3-In-1 Quick Connect Light Kit $50
Best cheap/free portable shop light Harbor Freight Ultra Bright LED Portable Worklight $4
Best portable shop light for tight spaces Black Diamond Storm Headlamp $50
Best lifestyle portable shop light GoPro Zeus Mini $70
Best big and portable shop light Dewalt 3-In-1 Quick Connect Light Kit $99
Best big and portable shop light runner-up Ryobi 18-volt One+ Hybrid LED Color Range Work Light $60
Best portable shop light system Eastwood Modular Light Module $37
Best portable shop light for your workbench Ryobi 18-Volt One+ Cordless LED Workbench Light $55

Some notes on the best work light for mechanics

  • Battery life matters: Almost all of my picks for the best work light for mechanics are rechargeable, and while I much prefer something with an integrated battery that's easy to juice up again, something with swappable batteries may be better if you have a long, tough job ahead. However, units with integrated batteries tend to do better at maintaining bright illumination and light intensity all the way until their battery is completely dead.
  • Connections matter, too: Being able to recharge is nice, but having to keep track of proprietary chargers is no fun. The options from DeWalt and Ryobi may be no problem if you've already bought into their battery ecosystems, but the Eastwood lights all relied on proprietary plugs usable only for them. Lights that charge over an USB power cord are much more convenient, but only the GoPro Zeus relied on the current USB-C standard!
  • Think mobility and mounting: A big part of getting the most out of these portable work lights is making sure they are where you need them. If you're moving around a lot, like for a full brake job, then the Black Diamond headlamp may be best. If you're instead doing a lot of work on a wide area, something like the DeWalt floor lamp puts out a lot of light from a single location.
  • Flexibility is key: The Harbor Freight lighting options are so inexpensive it can make sense to dedicate them to be used only for specific tasks. But options like the Black Diamond headlamp or GoPro Zeus are easily repurposed for all sorts of jobs. This means you'll get a lot more use out of them -- but also might mean they aren't readily at hand next time you're out in the garage. It's no fun rummaging through the house when you just want to get those brake pads out.

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Touring Superleggera Aero 3 melds modern with retro – Roadshow

Discuss: Touring Superleggera Aero 3 melds modern with retro

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Touring Superleggera Aero 3 melds modern with retro – Roadshow

Discuss: Touring Superleggera Aero 3 melds modern with retro

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How Lamborghini created the ultimate V12 track toy, the Essenza SCV12 – Roadshow

Lamborghini

While many of us honor and revere the V12, Lamborghini has taken that love to new heights with the creation of this, the Essenza SCV12. It is Lamborghini's take on the ultimate track-day toy, a car that exists as much to celebrate an engine as to give 40 well-heeled, very lucky owners the ride of their lives.

I spoke with Lamborghini CTO Maurizio Reggiani about the genesis of the SCV12, a car that he said is "a tribute to V12." The V12 in this case is the same 6.5-liter unit found in the current Aventador S, but with some significant upgrades -- and a major repositioning.

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"What my team, at SC, did was take the engine, turn it around 180 degrees," Regianni told me. Yes, the engine now faces the other way, meaning the output, which drives a central differential in the all-wheel-drive Aventador, now comes out the back. "The turning of this engine allowed us to have the gearbox in the rear," Regianni continued. "It's a structural gearbox, six speed, no synchronizer."

The SCV12, then, has a six-speed sequential gearbox that drives only the rear wheels and, impressively, that gearbox acts as a stressed member of the car. The rear pushrod suspension that featured so strongly in the teaser video is mounted directly to it.

And what about the engine itself? In the Aventador SVJ, the 6.5-liter V12 makes a very healthy 759 horsepower. Here? Try 830, making it the company's most powerful naturally aspirated engine yet. And, with the onrush of forced induction and electrification, it might just stand as the most powerful ever.

Regianni said "what will come after Aventador will use a V12 naturally aspirated engine, [but] it will be different. It will be state of the art and coupled with a hybrid system because of the rule, the necessity to have the reduction of C02 and capacity. To have some possibility to move in full-electric will become mandatory."

No such augmentation in the SCV12, though the performance is as much about weight as power. The SCV12 weighs just 3,036 pounds, which is more than a 300 pound weight savings over the Aventador SVJ -- itself 100 pounds lighter than the Aventador S.

That savings comes thanks to extreme use of composite materials, as you'd expect, but also thanks to Lamborghini engineers doing something pretty remarkable: creating a crash structure strong enough to meet FIA regulations without the use of a metal cage.

Regianni told me this is "the first FIA monocoque for GT fully homologated for competition without metal." That's doubly impressive given the monocoque is largely the same as in the Aventador.

So, given it's up to FIA specs, will the SCV12 be turning laps in your favorite GT racing series? Not exactly. Regianni said this car was built to fulfill a "different mission" than FIA racing, but that these cars will likely hit the track as part of a one-make series. This is something Lamborghini is already quite familiar with in its Super Trofeo series, but Regianni assures me the SCV12 will be much, much faster than the Huracan GT3 Evo. "Not some tenths," he said, "seconds."

Lamborghini Essenza SCV12

This looks like a fine place to run some laps. 

Lamborghini

For similar reasons, Lamborghini doesn't plan to set a lap time on the full Nurburgring, the place that has long-since been a benchmark for performance. Regianni told me that, since this car doesn't really fit into an established, road-going category, it'd be difficult to know what to compare it to. With the Huracan Performante's blistering lap time, that was "a way to compare us to the other." Setting a time with the SCV12 would "only confusion with your customer. And with this kind of car, it's really important for us to put the customer at the center."

And that lucky customer will find themselves at the center of a very privileged circle of attention. Given the complexity of operating a machine like the Essenza, you won't simply trailer it to your local track. Instead, owners will either have their cars included in one of Lamborghini's established events, or request a private one at a track of their choosing. Lamborghini will send a team of engineers and even a driver coach who will handle everything. Well, everything but the driving. "Our customers need only to fly in, enjoy and then fly home," Regianni said.

And what will owners do with their cars when not running at a track? "We have organized a kind of super warehouse where they can store their car in Sant'Agata," Regianni said. "They can put their baby to sleep and whenever they want to see the baby, they can call and it will arrive."

This is similar in concept to programs run by Ferrari for track-only machines like the FXX-K, but with one crucial difference: Those who really want to take their cars home will actually be allowed to do so. "We want to be different," Regianni said. "Our customer is the boss."

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Nissan Ariya is an EV concept brought to life – Roadshow

No word on pricing or specific availability yet, but the Ariya is definitely looking like it has strong potential. 

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With the Ariya, Nissan is bringing its EV stakes upmarket – Roadshow

The Ariya is about the size of a Nissan Rogue.

Nissan

"The story is a bit complex," Nissan's senior vice president of design, Alfonso Albaisa, told me of the creation of the Nissan Ariya, the company's upcoming, all-electric SUV that made its debut Tuesday. While building on the know-how that came since the introduction of the Leaf a decade ago, the Ariya elevates the emission- and stress-free motoring concept to a new level.

The numbers at least are straightforward, and impressive. When released, the Ariya will offer two battery packs: 63 or 87 kilowatt-hours. The smallest is equivalent to the current top-spec battery available in the Leaf Plus, while the larger pack will offer an estimated 300 miles on a charge. Yes, Nissan tells me that's on the US EPA cycle, meaning roughly 75 more miles than the Leaf.

The Ariya will also offer optional all-wheel drive and promises engaging handling, with a 50:50 weight distribution and a low center of gravity thanks to its skateboard-like battery pack, an arrangement Nissan fancifully calls Magic Carpet. It's that flat surface, full of possibility, that led the design team to do something radically different. "Ariya was our opportunity to express a purity, because the magic carpet in a sense is a blank slate," Albaisa said.

That purity references a core element of Japanese culture that Albaisa wanted to return to the fore in the Ariya: "How can we bring back this cutting-edge side of Japan, the hyper-clean modernism, the undeniable difference but at the same time natural? This is one of the key aspects I believe of Nissan history, that we can innovate with things that don't shock."

There is plenty of innovation to be found built atop that Magic Carpet, starting with the usually boring topic of climate controls. Since there's no engine block here or any of the associated plumbing, Nissan was able to totally rethink the dash, creating a slender, hidden panel for climate functions. The haptic controls, which vibrate when you touch them, completely disappear behind a mock woodgrain panel when the car shuts off.

And then there's the digital ribbon -- what Albaisa calls a "Salvador Dali kind of bent screen" -- that merges gauge cluster and central infotainment displays. These are physically connected, meaning if the passenger finds a restaurant they like, for example,  they can literally fling it over to the driver to start navigation. And, with ProPilot Assist 2.0 onboard, the driver can enjoy the view a bit more with their hands off the wheel.

This open, comfortable interior is wrapped by an exterior that is damn-near indistinguishable from the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show concept of the same name. It's a striking thing, especially in the hero color you see here, a two-tone copper and black combination that delivers the aspirational aura Nissan wants you to feel.

Nissan Ariya

The Ariya's interior is dark, but clean and striking.

Nissan

The shape is significantly different than the Leaf, with more advanced aerodynamics needed to make up for a significantly larger (similar to a Rogue) and taller machine. Part of that is the dramatic, integrated rear wing that ducts air down over the rear of the car. The front and rear details are connected by a dramatic, sweeping side profile, which Albaisa says is like "sheets on a clothesline."

The net result is an SUV with a familiar silhouette and with striking details inside and out, a look that Albaisa says is loaded with significance. "We have a lot of pressure in Nissan design because we are full of kind of historical cars that have great meaning, and the way they lived was not just under mechanical greatness, but they lived in a bit of a cultural breakthrough," he said.

Albaisa references the iconic 240Z as the thing that democratized the European-style sports car in the '70s, the implication being that the Ariya will have a similar impact at bringing a premium electric SUV to the masses. Of course, a lot of that success will depend on the price, and with Nissan saying the Ariya will start at "around" $40,000 -- about $10,000 less than Tesla's Model Y -- that definitely seems like a good start. Look for more details soon ahead of a late-2021 release.

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