Reviews

Peak Design’s Travel Duffel 35L is as simple or as powerful as you need it to be

Posted by | BackPack, bag week, bag week 2019, Clothing, consumer goods, Gadgets, luggage, Reviews, TC | No Comments

A good, solid duffel bag is a mainstay for many travelers — especially those who like packing up a car for a weekend away, or frequent flyers who disdain the thought of checking a bag. Peak Design introduced its own take on the duffel bag this year, with a couple of different twists on the concept. The Peak Design Travel Duffel 35L is the most fundamental of the company’s options, and it delivers a lot of packing space and support for Peak’s packing tools if you want to get real serious about space optimization.

I’m an unabashed fan of Peak Design’s Everyday camera bags, its capture clips and basically its entire ecosystem. This is a company that you can tell things deeply about the problems it’s aiming to solve for its customers — because they’re the problems shared by the company’s founders themselves. The Travel Duffel is actually probably a bit more mainstream and less specialized than most of their offerings, but that only makes it more appealing, not less.

Peak Travel Duffel 35 2

You’ll find the same weatherproof nylon coating in this bag that Peak uses in its other packs, and it’s a very durable material that also looks great both up close and at a distance. If there’s a complaint here, it’s that the black color I prefer tends to pretty easily pick up dust, but it also wipes or washes off just as easily. The heavy-duty nylon canvas shell should also stand up to the elements well, and the zipper is the especially weather sealed kind, plus there’s a waterproof bottom liner in case you’re less than careful about where you drop your pack while en route.

Peak Travel Duffel 35 3

Peak Travel Duffel 35 4

The Duffel includes both hand straps and a longer padded shoulder strap, and the unique connector hardware system means you can reposition the straps in a number of ways to suit your carrying preferences. The hand straps double as shoulder straps for wearing it like a backpack and though this is a bit tight for my larger frame, it’s still a way to quickly alleviate shoulder or hand strain for longer treks with the bag in tow. The connectors here are also super smart — there are no moving parts, they just snap on and off the sewn-in loops placed around the bag — which means added durability and ease of use.

Plenty of pockets inside and out give you lots of divided storage options, and there’s also a security loop feature on the main zipper to make it much harder for someone to quickly yank the bag open and grab what’s inside if they’re targeting a quick theft opportunity. A dedicated ID card holder is a nice touch that tells you exactly who this is ideal for, too.

As I alluded to above, there’s also support for the rest of Peak’s packing tools. I’ve got their small camera cube in the bag width-wise in the photo below, and it should be able to fit up to three of these in this orientation. Peak also offers packing cubes, dop kits and more, and you can use the slide hooks provided with those with internal elastic attachment points if you want to ensure things won’t shift around. But the best part about this bag is that it has everything you need in a straightforward duffel out of the box — the rest of the packing tools are totally optional and don’t take away form its fundamental effectiveness at all.

Peak Travel Duffel 35 6

The 35L carrying capacity of this bag is perfect for a weekend trip, or even a few days longer if you’re an economical packer. At $129.95, it’s actually very reasonable for a high-quality duffel bag, too, and definitely one of the better bargains in the Peak lineup when it comes to value for the money.

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Waxed canvas bags from Waterfield, Manhattan Portage, Saddleback and more

Posted by | bag week, bag week 2019, Gadgets, hardware, Reviews, TC | No Comments

It’s finally Bag Week again! The most wonderful week of the year at TechCrunch. Just in time for back to school, we’re bringing you reviews of bags of all varieties: from backpacks to rollers to messengers to fanny packs.

This year, like last year, I decided to focus on a specific niche in the bag community: waxed canvas. Last year I reviewed a handful of bags from Ona, Filson and other purveyors of fine waxed goods. But there are many more to choose from, so I’ve collected a second handful and used them all for long enough to get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses.

Waxed canvas is a wonderful material. The natural fibers infused with wax provide water resistance, structure, protection and a great look that only gets better with time as you use it. It’s my favorite material and it should be yours too. Only trouble is, it can be expensive. But keep in mind that these bags are the kind that you take with you for a decade or two.

For this post I focused on laptop bags, but later in the festivities I’ll have a couple more waxed bags more in the “messenger” style, so keep your eyes peeled.

Waterfield Bolt – $269

Pros:

  • Solid medium-weight material and construction
  • Good padding and leather protective layer
  • Surprising amount of space and pockets

Cons:

  • Somehow lacks panache
  • Leather thongs instead of metal zipper pulls not for everyone

Store link

Of all the bags I’ve looked at for this roundup, this one is perhaps the most straightforward, in that it isn’t convertible, super-heavy, super-light, blue or anything like that. It’s just a solid all-purpose laptop bag made of waxed canvas and leather, and as such makes for a sort of baseline with which to compare everything else.

The Bolt’s canvas isn’t as thick as that on other Waterfield bags, since it’s lined and padded on the inside. It still has a nice finish, though, and the leather base and trim are similarly high quality. The strap is, like the other bags from the company, nylon, where I would prefer canvas, but the grippy leather shoulder pad included is among the most practical and comfortable I’ve used.

Where the Bolt excels is not in sheer space, since it’s rather a compact bag (you can choose a larger size if you prefer), but in feeling that space is used well. There are snap pockets in the front and a larger zip one as well for quick access, all protected by a small flap but still easy to get at. On the back is a flap pocket and luggage strap so it can sit safely atop your roller bag.

And opening up the main compartment through its weather-proof zipper, the bag accordions open pleasantly to reveal laptop, tablet, notebook and other slots all easily accessible. I even like the color in there!

I only wish it inspired a little more love. It’s not a bad-looking bag by any means, but it feels very pedestrian — few stylistic choices seem to have been made. It’s practical but not individual. To some that won’t matter — this is a solid bag. But it lacks a certain je ne sais quois that the company has to spare in its other bags.

Waterfield Outback Solo – $159

Pros:

  • Great material and construction
  • Compact but not microscopic

Cons:

  • Awkward to carry without strap
  • Not a lot of room in there (by design, but still)

Store link

Sometimes you’re just going out with a tablet or laptop and book, and don’t feel like taking a whole messenger-style bag or briefcase. This little guy is sort of halfway between a laptop sleeve and a bag, and if you don’t mind its purselike nature, it’s a perfect companion for those more minimal trips.

The laptop compartment is snug and well-padded. The outside has a slip pocket with some nooks for pens and the like, big enough to fit an 8.5×11″ notebook or not-too-thick book. Just don’t try putting groceries or anything in there.

Closure is a magnetic snap that feels secure enough, but I’d just as soon have something a little more physical. I’d like to mention that the closure strap looks a little sloppy in the photos above, but it’s really not like that in general use and will wear in nicely. And although it feels great to carry this light little guy with the shoulder strap (which stows away decently well), carrying it like a sleeve or clutch isn’t so hot — a small handle or strap would make this much better.

I’d recommend this to anyone who has a larger bag for trips but doesn’t want to pack and unpack it every time they want to step out to the coffee shop. This would work well as a sub-bag or laptop sleeve if you have lots of room in the big one.

Joshu+Vela Zip Briefcase – $198

Pros:

  • Excellent lighter material that will age well
  • Straightforward style and solid straps
  • Great giant brass zippers

Cons:

  • Which side’s the front?
  • Unstructured interior can make stowage and retrieval annoying

Store link

Coming from a shop more known for totes and lightweight, fashionable gear for everyday urban living, this one is heavy duty for them but light compared with some others in this roundup. Its style is subtle and straightforward, but high quality.

The material is a lighter weight and color canvas with a crispy feel that will very quickly show patterns of use as, for example, one front pocket is habitually used for a book or keys. Empty it is possibly the lightest waxed bag I’ve used, which of course makes it good for anyone trying to stay minimal. The simple leather straps are sturdy and comfortable, though their springy, upright nature does mean they occasionally interfere with access.

I love the huge brass zipper and pulls, though I could do without the leather bits (you can remove them). I didn’t like the plain natural canvas strap at first, but it, like other aspects of the bag, has grown on me.

The simplicity of the design is good, but it also leads to some problems. Unless you look closely it can be hard to tell which side is the front — only the zipper flap and small label hint at it. Something to secure or differentiate the front or rear pockets, even as simple as removing the divider in the back, would be welcome.

Inside has three divisions, but the billowing, unstructured canvas plus the limited zip-top entrance can make stowage and retrieval a little awkward, more so than a flap-top bag, anyway. A tighter compartment for a laptop or tablet would be great in here rather than having it swim in a big undifferentiated section. There’s also no padding, so I’d recommend keeping your device in its own case (this also helps it fill out the space).

Manhattan Portage Cortelyou – $365

Pros:

  • Classy messenger/briefcase crossover style
  • Lovely blue color
  • Great handle, closure and straps

Cons:

  • Not particularly waxy or robust
  • Steel and brass? Sacrilege
  • Interior material not for everyone (also has a tacky watermark)

Store link

Waxed canvas is normally tan or brown, but that’s just tradition. I like the forest green of the Croots bag from last year or the Saddleback one below, but the rich navy blue of this Manhattan Portage Token bag is also excellent. The material is very light, with a fine weave and barely any wax. That means it probably won’t show the characteristic scuffs and patterns that give this type of bag its personality. (You can always wax it yourself.)

This bag, with its half-flap and top handle, straddles the line between laptop bag and briefcase. It’s not particularly thick but has lots of room for big documents, laptops and other long items. Its structure means it’ll stay relatively svelte even when full — this won’t get lumpy.

The leather straps and trim are a nice chocolate color and complement the blue well. It’s not heavy or stiff, and the shoulder strap in particular is very pliable — though so long I had to knot it to keep the extra out of the way (fortunately it looks cool that way). The snap closure can be a little tricky to get right by feel, but attaches solidly. The handle, which folds flat but pops up when you need it, is genius — probably the best handle of all the bags in this roundup, though not quite as robust as the Saddleback (but what is?).

The interior isn’t to my liking. The red nylon watermarked with a branded pattern seems sort of gauche compared to the refined outside, and at the same time it feels like this choice of material should have allowed for more small pockets. It should help keep things dry, though, which is good considering the thinness of the waxed canvas layer.

Manhattan Portage Saratoga

Pros:

  • Convertible style makes it a good companion for conventions, business trips, etc.
  • Plenty of handles and exterior pockets

Cons:

  • Not the best of both worlds (but not the worst either)
  • Straps make it feel bulky and lumpy if not stowed carefully

When I’m at CES or some other big show where I do a lot of walking but need to carry my basic loadout everywhere, I often wish I could transform my laptop bag into a backpack or vice versa. The Saratoga accomplishes this, and while it ends up compromising both forms as a result, it also fundamentally scratches an important itch.

The material is a soft-feeling canvas that doesn’t feel very rugged but is showing a nice wear pattern already. The weather-sealed zippers are good news for anyone who wants to take this out in the rain, but there are just too many of them. Six on the exterior, five visible on the front side! This thing jingles like a festive little elf.

The back of the bag is a large pocket in which the pack straps sit, providing extra padding while they’re in there. You pull them out and clip them onto some unobtrusive little D-rings, and boom, it’s a backpack. Doing the reverse is a little harder, as you need to make sure the straps don’t bunch up in their pouch.

I would have much preferred a more elegant pocket solution, not least because some of the pockets don’t make much sense while in one or the other configuration. And the leather bottom, while great in briefcase mode, makes it seem a little lopsided in backpack mode. Obviously these are drawbacks inherent to the switchable design, which brings its own benefits, but they’re worth considering. I might have liked a single big pocket on the front that can be opened from the side or top, and sub-pockets within.

The interior, while it’s the same watermarked red nylon as the one above, is populated with tons of little pockets and useful stashes that helpfully all close independently, meaning there’s no need to re-pack when you’re going from one mode to the other.

(I can’t seem to find this for sale any more — but keep your eyes open if you like it.)

Manhattan Portage Hewes – $265

Pros:

  • Pockets! So many pockets!!

Cons:

  • Maybe too many pockets

Store link

I’ll just say right off the bat that this one isn’t for me — I prefer a plainer exterior, and this thing does not have that. On the other hand, for the organized gadget fiend, this might be a fantastic match.

The front side is just pocket after pocket. There are two big enough for a small phone, another good for a notebook, pens or a power adapter, and a third with a removable divider that could hold all manner of things small and large. Nothing too bulky will fit in them, but any number of audio recorders, lens filters, earbuds and so on will go in there.

Then there are two totally separate full-size compartments, one with more organizing space inside and both with plenty of padding. The simple strap is easy to release and stashes inside nicely.

Saddleback Leather Co Canvas Messenger – $439

Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

Pros:

  • Built like a waxed tank
  • Seriously, this thing is a beast
  • Spacious and handsome

Cons:

  • Also heavy as a tank
  • Very basic pockets and interior
  • Price reflects its “for life” nature

Store link

This bag came with a label on it sporting the company’s motto: “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.” And I’m inclined to believe it. This is definitely by far the heaviest-duty waxed canvas bag I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, which may or may not make it to your taste.

The olive-colored canvas is very thick and stiff, and waxed all the way through, not just in a layer on the outside. The stitching is industrial-grade and probably uses half a mile of thread. Quarter-inch-thick leather plates stiff as a board protect the back and bottom of the bag, and another serves to connect with the handle. The strap is a kind of folded-over canvas that feels even tougher than the leather. On top is a unique and practical thick leather handle that folds flat if necessary but feels very robust.

The muscular materials and construction, however, preclude the inclusion of fine details like small pockets and pen sheaths. Instead there are two major exterior pockets that simply fold over themselves to close up, being held shut by the flap; there’s also room between them and the main compartment. Smaller side pockets under the massy strap hardware are good spots for flashlights but pens may disappear to the bottom.

This thing is also heavy as hell. Empty, it weighs as much as another bag with a light load. For some that weight will be reassuring, but for others it’s just too much.

Inside the main compartment is plenty of room but little organization; there’s a single flap that will hold a laptop in place (my 13-inch MacBook Pro fits perfectly), and beyond that it’s just a big empty space. This is the only briefcase-style bag that rivals Filson’s (in my last roundup) for overnight capability. This one is definitely going to get your stuff waxy for the first few trips, though.

That’s all for today, but keep an eye out for more waxed canvas bags later in Bag Week as well!

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RYU’s line of backpacks offer style and function for exploring the city or weekends away

Posted by | bag week, bag week 2019, Gadgets, Reviews, TC | No Comments

Yes, it’s Bag Week, where we celebrate all the best bags of the year here at TechCrunch. And there is little more satisfying than finding a basic black one that’s functional, stylish and unique. Luckily, Canadian urban athletic apparel maker RYU makes three such bags, and while each one has its own particular appeal depending on what you’re looking for in a backpack, they’re also all winners that elevate the basic black backpack to new heights.

Quick Pack Lux 18L ($185)

RYU bags 3 Locker Pack 18LRYU’s “just right” offering for me is the Quick Pack Lux 18L capacity bag that’s pretty much perfect as a general-use day pack in terms of cargo space, and that can also serve well for a one or two-night trip, depending on how lightly you pack.

The RYU’s signature feature, and what makes it my favorite day pack in terms of everyday use around the city, is its profile — a silhouette that is made all the better because RYU uses an internal molded shell to ensure that it never flattens down or loses its shape, regardless of how full or empty the bag actually is. This is actually a huge selling point for me, and one that makes the RYU Quick Pack Lux 18L almost certain to become my go-to daily bag. Inside, there are a few pockets, including a laptop sleeve that can fit up to a 15-inch MacBook Pro — another rarity in a day pack this low-profile.

In addition to the integrated frame, the Quick Pack Lux is kitted out with premium materials, like the leather accent patch on the top flap, leather shoulder straps, an outer layer of poly-cotton blend that covers a wax-treated canvas and nylon interior for water resistance and durability. The materials definitely feel premium, though the outermost layer resembles kind of a yoga pant material, and in my house definitely attracts and picks up my dog’s easily shed white hairs with reckless abandon. I’m more than happy to get out the lint roller once and a while as a trade-off for just how good looking the bag is, however.

It wears slightly long, but tight to the back (for reference when sizing up the photos above, I’m 6’2″ and quite a bit of that is torso). The removable chest strap helps keeps the profile pretty seamless, and there’s a handle on top for easy carrying when not on the back.

Another unique feature of the Quick Pack Lux is that it opens from the front, with the flap at the top unbuckling to reveal two zippers that run the length of the bag. Undo these, and you get basically a duffel-style cargo loading method, which is great for arranging your stuff without having to layer or dig down as you would in a top-loading pack.

Locker Pack Lux 24L ($215)

RYU bags 2 Locker Pack 24L 1The Locker Pack Lux 24L is the more spacious version of the Quick Pack Lux, with 6L extra volume for packing your gear. It’s designed more for those overnights or two-day trips, and yet it doesn’t really add that much in the way of bulk if you’re looking for something that can serve flexibly as both day pack and weekender.

The Locker Pack Lux has the same materials combination as the Quick Pack, but is a bit longer and so is probably better suited for taller people. It still offers a very slim profile, and has the same internal structural components, which means it’ll keep its shape, but it has a bit more leeway for expansion, too, letting you pack in a surprising amount of stuff via the front-loading, double zipper stowage and packing flap.

Unlike the Quick Pack Lux, you also get external access to the laptop compartment in the Locker Pack, which gives you an easy way to get at up to a 15-inch notebook. The leather-accented top flap closes down over this compartment, too, to give you some protection against the elements in the case of light showers (RYU also sells a dedicated rain hood separately).

Express Pack 15L ($90)

RYU bags 4 Express Pack 15L

The Express Pack is the smallest of these RYU backpacks in terms of packing volume, but it’s also probably the best option when it comes to an all-around city day pack that will fit you regardless of height and frame. The extremely minimal aesthetic is great for the city, especially with the polyurethane outer coating that wraps a middle canvas layer for the bag’s body.

This is a very lightweight bag, but the internal pocket can actually fit a lot of stuff when needed, and there’s a single woven pocket on one side of the exterior for stowing a water bottle. This adds an asymmetrical look, which is also pretty cool looking. Inside, there’s a zippered mesh block and a fully zippered front pocket for separating your sweaty gym gear, plus a laptop compartment that can fit a full, 15-inch MacBook Pro without issue.

The bag is comfortable to wear, but doesn’t have the internal structure of the other two, so if it’s empty it’ll hug a lot closer to the body. If there’s one thing I’d change about it, it’s the RYU branding — but it does actually recede to being barely visible in less direct lighting, and is more subtle overall than it looks here.

Overall, RYU’s bag lineup is impressive, and offers something for everyone. The Vancouver-based company has done a great job of delivering highly functional designs that also offer great style with pretty much universal appeal. The company also offers non-Lux versions of both the Quick Pack and the Locker Pack, which drop the leather accents and embedded waxed canvas, but which also offer some decent discounts if the prices above strike you as too high.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ review

Posted by | Bixby, galaxy note 10, hardware, Mobile, Reviews, Samsung, samsung galaxy note, samsung galaxy note 10, TC | No Comments

It’s true, you’ve got the Galaxy Note to thank for your big phone. When the device hit the scene at IFA 2011, large screens were still a punchline. That same year, Steve Jobs famously joked about phones with screens larger than four inches, telling a crowd of reporters, “nobody’s going to buy that.”

In 2019, the average screen size hovers around 5.5 inches. That’s a touch larger than the original Note’s 5.3 inches — a size that was pretty widely mocked by much of the industry press at the time. Of course, much of the mainstreaming of larger phones comes courtesy of a much improved screen to body ratio, another place where Samsung has continued to lead the way.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

In some sense, the Note has been doomed by its own success. As the rest of the industry caught up, the line blended into the background. Samsung didn’t do the product any favors by dropping the pretense of distinction between the Note and its Galaxy S line.

Ultimately, the two products served as an opportunity to have a six-month refresh cycle for its flagships. Samsung, of course, has been hit with the same sort of malaise as the rest of the industry. The smartphone market isn’t the unstoppable machine it appeared to be two or three years back.

Like the rest of the industry, the company painted itself into a corner with the smartphone race, creating flagships good enough to convince users to hold onto them for an extra year or two, greatly slowing the upgrade cycle in the process. Ever-inflating prices have also been a part of smartphone sales stagnation — something Samsung and the Note are as guilty of as any.

So what’s a poor smartphone manufacturer to do? The Note 10 represents baby steps. As it did with the S line recently, Samsung is now offering two models. The base Note 10 represents a rare step backward in terms of screen size, shrinking down slightly from 6.4 to 6.3 inches, while reducing resolution from Quad HD to Full HD.

The seemingly regressive step lets Samsung come in a bit under last year’s jaw dropping $1,000. The new Note is only $50 cheaper, but moving from four to three figures may have a positive psychological effect for wary buyers. While the slightly smaller screen coupled with a better screen to body ratio means a device that’s surprisingly slim.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

If anything, the Note 10+ feels like the true successor to the Note line. The baseline device could have just as well been labeled the Note 10 Lite. That’s something Samsung is keenly aware of, as it targets first-time Note users with the 10 and true believers with the 10+. In both cases, Samsung is faced with the same task as the rest of the industry: offering a compelling reason for users to upgrade.

Earlier this week, a Note 9 owner asked me whether the new device warrants an upgrade. The answer is, of course, no. The pace of smartphone innovation has slowed, even as prices have risen. Honestly, the 10 doesn’t really offer that many compelling reasons to upgrade from the Note 8.

That’s not a slight against Samsung or the Note, per se. If anything, it’s a reflection on the fact that these phones are quite good — and have been for a while. Anecdotally, industry excitement around these devices has been tapering for a while now, and the device’s launch in the midst of the doldrums of August likely didn’t help much.

The past few years have seen smartphones transform from coveted, bleeding-edge luxury to necessity. The good news to that end, however, is that the Note continues to be among the best devices out there.

The common refrain in the earliest days of the phablet was the inability to wrap one’s fingers around the device. It’s a pragmatic issue. Certainly you don’t want to use a phone day to day that’s impossible to hold. But Samsung’s remarkable job of improving screen to body ratio continues here. In fact, the 6.8-inch Note 10+ has roughly the same footprint as the 6.4-inch Note 9.

The issue will still persist for those with smaller hands — though thankfully Samsung’s got a solution for them in the Note 10. For the rest of us, the Note 10+ is easily held in one hand and slipped in and out of pants pockets. I realize these seem like weird things to say at this point, but I assure you they were legitimate concerns in the earliest days of the phablet, when these things were giant hunks of plastic and glass.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung’s curved display once again does much of the heavy lifting here, allowing the screen to stretch nearly from side to side with only a little bezel at the edge. Up top is a hole-punch camera — that’s “Infinity O” to you. Those with keen eyes no doubt immediately noticed that Samsung has dropped the dual selfie camera here, moving toward the more popular hole-punch camera.

The company’s reasoning for this was both aesthetic and, apparently, practical. The company moved back down to a single camera for the front (10 megapixel), using similar reasoning as Google’s single rear-facing camera on the Pixel: software has greatly improved what companies can do with a single lens. That’s certainly the case to a degree, and a strong case can be made for the selfie camera, which we generally require less of than the rear-facing array.

The company’s gone increasingly minimalist with the design language — something I appreciate. Over the years, as the smartphone has increasingly become a day to day utility, the product’s design has increasingly gotten out of its own way. The front and back are both made of a curved Gorilla Glass that butts up against a thin metal form with a total thickness of 7.9 millimeters.

On certain smooth surfaces like glass, you’ll occasionally find the device gliding slightly. I’d say the chances of dropping it are pretty decent with its frictionless design language, so you’re going to want to get a case for your $1,000 phone. Before you do, admire that color scheme on the back. There are four choices in all. Like the rest of the press, we ended up with Aura Glow.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

It features a lovely, prismatic effect when light hits it. It’s proven a bit tricky to photograph, honestly. It’s also a fingerprint magnet, but these are the prices we pay to have the prettiest phone on the block.

One of the interesting footnotes here is how much the design of the 10 will be defined by what the device lost. There are two missing pieces here — both of which are a kind of concession from Samsung for different reasons. And for different reasons, both feel inevitable.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The headphone jack is, of course, the biggie. Samsung kicked and screamed on that one, holding onto the 3.5mm with dear life and roundly mocking the competition (read: Apple) at every turn. The company must have known it was a matter of time, even before the iPhone dropped the port three years ago.

Courage.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung glossed over the end of the jack (and apparently unlisted its Apple-mocking ads in the process) during the Note’s launch event. It was a stark contrast from a briefing we got around the device’s announcement, where the company’s reps spent significantly more time justifying the move. They know us well enough to know that we’d spend a little time taking the piss out of the company after three years of it making the once ubiquitous port a feature. All’s fair in love and port. And honestly, it was mostly just some good-natured ribbing. Welcome to the club, Samsung.

As for why Samsung did it now, the answer seems to be two-fold. The first is a kind of critical mass in Bluetooth headset usage. Allow me to quote myself from a few weeks back:

The tipping point, it says, came when its internal metrics showed that a majority of users on its flagship devices (the S and Note lines) moved to Bluetooth streaming. The company says the number is now in excess of 70% of users.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Also, as we’re all abundantly aware, the company put its big battery ambitions on hold for a bit, as it dealt with…more burning problems. A couple of recalls, a humble press release and an eight-point battery check later, and batteries are getting bigger again. There’s a 3,500mAh on the Note 10 and a 4,300mAh on the 10+. I’m happy to report that the latter got me through a full day plus three hours on a charge. Not bad, given all of the music and videos I subjected it to in that time.

There’s no USB-C dongle in-box. The rumors got that one wrong. You can pick up a Samsung-branded adapter for $15, or get one for much cheaper elsewhere. There is, however, a pair of AKG USB-C headphones in-box. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Samsung doesn’t get enough credit for its free headphones. I’ve been known to use the pairs with other devices. They’re not the greatest the world, but they’re better sounding and more comfortable than what a lot of other companies offer in-box.

Obviously the standard no headphone jack things apply here. You can’t use the wired headphones and charge at the same time (unless you go wireless). You know the deal.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The other missing piece here is the Bixby button. I’m sure there are a handful of folks out there who will bemoan its loss, but that’s almost certainly a minority of the minority here. Since the button was first introduced, folks were asking for the ability to remap it. Samsung finally relented on that front, and with the Note 10, it drops the button altogether.

Thus far the smart assistant has been a disappointment. That’s due in no small part to a late launch compared to the likes of Siri, Alexa and Assistant, coupled with a general lack of capability at launch. In Samsung’s defense, the company’s been working to fix that with some pretty massive investment and a big push to court developers. There’s hope for Bixby yet, but a majority of users weren’t eager to have the assistant thrust upon them.

Instead, the power button has been shifted to the left of the device, just under the volume rocker. I preferred having it on the other side, especially for certain functions like screenshotting (something, granted, I do much more than the average user when reviewing a phone). That’s a pretty small quibble, of course.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Bixby can now be quickly accessed by holding down the power button. Handily, Samsung still lets you reassign the function there, if you really want Bixby out of your life. You can also hold down to get the power off menu or double press to launch Bixby or a third-party app (I opted for Spotify, probably my most used these days), though not a different assistant.

Imaging, meanwhile, is something Samsung’s been doing for a long time. The past several generations of S and Note devices have had great camera systems, and it continues to be the main point of improvement. It’s also one of few points of distinction between the 10 and 10+, aside from size.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The Note 10+ has four, count ’em, four rear-facing cameras. They are as follows:

  • Ultra Wide: 16 megapixel
  • Wide: 12 megapixel
  • Telephoto: 12 megapixel
  • DepthVision

Samsung Galaxy Note10

That last one is only on the plus. It’s comprised of two little circles to the right of the primary camera array and just below the flash. We’ll get to that in a second.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

The main camera array continues to be one of the best in mobile. The inclusion of telephoto and ultra-wide lenses allow for a wide range of different shots, and the hardware coupled with machine learning makes it a lot more difficult to take a bad photo (though believe me, it’s still possible).

The live focus feature (Portrait mode, essentially) comes to video, with four different filters, including Color Point, which makes everything but the subject black and white.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Samsung’s also brought a very simple video editor into the mix here, which is nice on the fly. You can edit the length of clips, splice in other clips, add subtitles and captions and add filters and music. It’s pretty beefy for something baked directly into the camera app, and one of the better uses I’ve found for the S Pen.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Note 10+ with Super Steady (left), iPhone XS (right)

Ditto for the improved Super Steady offering, which smooths out shaky video, including Hyperlapse mode, where handshakes are a big issue. It works well, but you do lose access to other features, including zoom. For that reason, it’s off by default and should be used relatively sparingly.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Note 10+ (left), iPhone XS (right)

Zoom-on Mic is a clever addition, as well. While shooting video, pinch-zooming on something will amplify the noise from that area. I’ve been playing around with it in this cafe. It’s interesting, but less than perfect.

Zooming into something doesn’t exactly cancel out ambient noise from outside of the frame. Everything still gets amplified in the process and, like digital picture zoom, a lot of noise gets added in the process. Those hoping for a kind of spy microphone, I’m sorry/happy to report that this definitely is not that.

Screen Shot 2019 08 16 at 5.43.43 PM 2

The DepthVision Camera is also pretty limited as I write this. If anything, it’s Samsung’s attempt to brace for a future when things like augmented reality will (theoretically) play a much larger role in our mobile computing. In a conversation I had with the company ahead of launch, they suggested that a lot of the camera’s AR functions will fall in the hands of developers.

For now, Quick Measure is the one practical use. The app is a lot like Apple’s more simply titled Measure. Fire it up, move the camera around to get a lay of the land and it will measure nearby objects for you. An interesting showcase for AR potential? Sure. Earth shattering? Naw. It also seems to be a bit of a battery drain, sucking up the last few bits of juice as I was running it down.

3D Scanner, on the other hand, got by far the biggest applause line of the Note event. And, indeed, it’s impressive. In the stage demo, a Samsung employee scanned a stuffed pink beaver (I’m not making this up), created a 3D image and animated it using an associate’ movements. Practical? Not really. Cool? Definitely.

It was, however, not available at press time. Hopefully it proves to be more than vaporware, especially if that demo helped push some viewers over to the 10+. Without it, there’s just not a lot of use for the depth camera at the moment.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

There’s also AR Doodle, which fills a similar spot as much of the company’s AR offerings. It’s kind of fun, but again, not particularly useful. You’ll likely end up playing with it for a few minutes and forget about it entirely. Such is life.

The feature is built into the camera app, using depth sensing to orient live drawings. With the stylus you can draw in space or doodle on people’s faces. It’s neat, the AR works okay and I was bored with it in about three minutes. Like Quick Measure, the feature is as much a proof of concept as anything. But that’s always been a part of Samsung’s kitchen-sink approach — some combination of useful and silly.

ezgif 1 f1b04b8e2ef9

That said, points to Samsung for continuing to de-creepify AR Emojis. Those have moved firmly away from the uncanny valley into something more cartoony/adorable. Less ironic usage will surely follow.

Asked about the key differences between the S and Note lines, Samsung’s response was simple: the S Pen. Otherwise, the lines are relatively interchangeable.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung’s return of the stylus didn’t catch on for handsets quite like the phablet form factor. They’ve made a pretty significant comeback for tablets, but the Note remains fairly singular when it comes to the S Pen. I’ve never been a big user myself, but those who like it swear by it. It’s one of those things like the ThinkPad pointing stick or BlackBerry scroll wheel.

Like the phone itself, the peripheral has been streamlined with a unibody design. Samsung also continues to add capabilities. It can be used to control music, advance slideshows and snap photos. None of that is likely to convince S Pen skeptics (I prefer using the buttons on the included headphones for music control, for example), but more versatility is generally a good thing.

If anything is going to convince people to pick up the S Pen this time out, it’s the improved handwriting recognition. That’s pretty impressive. It was even able to decipher my awful chicken scratch.

Note 10

You get the same sort of bleeding-edge specs here you’ve come to expect from Samsung’s flagships. The 10+ gets you a baseline 256GB of storage (upgradable to 512), coupled with a beefy 12GB of RAM (the regular Note is a still good 8GB/256GB). The 5G version sports the same numbers and battery (likely making its total life a bit shorter per charge). That’s a shift from the S10, whose 5G version was specced out like crazy. Likely Samsung is bracing for 5G to become less of a novelty in the next year or so.

The new Note also benefits from other recent additions, like the in-display fingerprint reader and wireless power sharing. Both are nice additions, but neither is likely enough to warrant an immediate upgrade.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Once again, that’s not an indictment of Samsung, so much as a reflection of where we are in the life cycle of a mature smartphone industry. The Note 10+ is another good addition to one of the leading smartphone lines. It succeeds as both a productivity device (thanks to additions like DeX and added cross-platform functionality with Windows 10) and an everyday handset.

There’s not enough on-board to really recommend an upgrade from the Note 8 or 9 — especially at that $1,099 price. People are holding onto their devices for longer, and for good reason (as detailed above). But if you need a new phone, are looking for something big and flashy and are willing to splurge, the Note continues to be the one to beat.

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The ClockworkPi GameShell is a super fun DIY spin on portable gaming

Posted by | Bluetooth, computing, electronics, Emulator, Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, linus torvalds, linux, microsoft windows, Nintendo Switch, open source software, operating systems, Reviews, Speaker, TC, vice, wi-fi | No Comments

Portable consoles are hardly new, and thanks to the Switch, they’re basically the most popular gaming devices in the world. But ClockworkPi’s GameShell is something totally unique, and entirely refreshing when it comes to gaming on the go. This clever DIY console kit provides everything you need to assemble your own pocket gaming machine at home, running Linux-based open-source software and using an open-source hardware design that welcomes future customization.

The GameShell is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, which began shipping to its backers last year and is now available to buy either direct from the company or from Amazon. The $159.99 ( on sale for $139.99 as of this writing) includes everything you need to build the console, like the ClockworkPi quad-core Cortex A7 motherboard with integrated Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 1GB of DDR3 RAM — but it comes unassembled.

GameShell Clockwork Pi 3

You won’t have to get out the soldering iron — the circuit boards come with all components attached. But you will be assembling screen, keypad, CPU, battery and speaker modules, connecting them with included cables and installing them in the slick, GameBoy-esque plastic shell. This might seem like an intimidating task, depending on your level of technical expertise: I know I found myself a bit apprehensive when I opened the various boxes and laid out all the parts in front of me.

But the included instructions, which are just illustrations, like those provided by Lego or Ikea, are super easy to follow and break down the task into very manageable tasks for people of all skill levels. All told, I had mine put together in less than an hour, and even though I did get in there with my teeth at one point (to remove a bit of plastic nubbin when assembling the optional Lightkey component, which adds extra function keys to the console), I never once felt overwhelmed or defeated. The time-lapse below chronicles my entire assembly process, start to finish.

What you get when you’re done is a fully functional portable gaming device, which runs Clockwork OS, a Linux-based open-source OS developed by the company. It includes Cave Story, one of the most celebrated indie games of the past couple of decades, and a number of built-in emulators (use of emulators is ethically and legally questionable, but it does provide an easy way to play some of those NES and SNES games you already own with more portability).

There’s a very active community around the GameShell that includes a number of indie games to play on the console, and tips and tricks for modifications and optimal use. It’s also designed to be a STEM educational resource, providing a great way for kids to see what’s actually happening behind the faceplate of the electronics they use everyday, and even getting started coding themselves to build software to run on the console. Loading software is easy, thanks to an included microSD storage card and the ability to easily connect via Wi-Fi to move over software from Windows and Mac computers.

Everything about the GameShell is programmable, and it features micro HDMI out, a built-in music player and Bluetooth support for headphone connection. It’s at once instantly accessible for people with very limited tech chops, and infinitely expandable and hackable for those who do want to go deeper and dig around with what else it has to offer.

Swappable face and backplates, plus open 3D models of each hardware component, mean that community-developed hardware add-ons and modifications are totally possible, too. The modular nature of the device means it can probably get even more powerful in the future too, with higher capacity battery modules and improved development boards.

I’ve definitely seen and used devices like the GameShell before, but few manage to be as accessible, powerful and customizable all at once. The GameShell is also fast, has great sound and an excellent display, and it seems to be very durable, with decent battery life of around three hours or slightly more of continuous use depending on things like whether you’re using Wi-Fi and screen brightness.

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Analogue’s Mega Sg is the Sega Genesis Mini alternative for the discerning retro gaming fan

Posted by | Analogue, controller, fpga, Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, HDMI, HDTV, LG, Nintendo, oled, Reviews, sega, sega genesis, sega genesis mini, sonic, Sonos, TC | No Comments

The official Sega Genesis Mini is coming in September and hopes to capitalize on some of the retro gaming hype that turned the Super Nintendo and NES Mini Classic editions into best-sellers. But there’s already a modern piece of hardware out there capable of playing Sega Genesis games on your HDTV — plus Mega Drive, Master System and Sega CD, too.

The Analogue Mega Sg is the third in a series of reference-quality, FPGA-based retro consoles from Analogue, a company that prides itself on accuracy in old-school gaming. It provides unparalleled, non-emulated gameplay with zero lag and full 1080p output to work with your HD or even 4K TV in a way no other old-school gaming hardware can.

For $189.99 (which is just about double the asking price of the Sega Genesis Mini), you get the console itself, an included Master System cartridge adapter, an HDMI cable and a USB cable for power supply (plus a USB plug, though, depending on your TV, you might be able to power it directly). The package also includes a silicon pad should you want to use it with original Sega CD hardware, which plugs into the bottom of the SG hardware just like it did with the original Genesis. It includes two ports that support original wired Genesis controllers, or you can also opt to pick up an 8bitdo M30 wireless Genesis controller and adapter, which retails for $24.99.

Like the Nt mini did for NES, and the Super Nt did for SNES before it, the Mega Sg really delivers when it comes to performance. Games look amazing on my 4K LG OLED television, and I can choose from a variety of video output settings to tune it to my liking, including adding simulated retro scaliness and more to make it look more like your memory of playing on an old CRT television.

Sound is likewise excellent — those opening notes of Ecco the Dolphin sounded fantastic rendered in 48KHz 16-bit stereo coming out of my Sonos sound system. Likewise, Sonic’s weird buzzsaw razor whine came through exactly as remembered, but definitely in higher definition than anything that actually played out of my old TV speakers as a kid.

Even if you don’t have a pile of original Sega cartridges sitting around ready to play (though I bet you do if you’re interested in this piece of kit), the Mega Sg has something to offer: On board, you get a digital copy of the unreleased Sega Genesis game “Hardcore,” which was nearly complete in 1994 but which went unreleased. It’s been finished and renamed “Ultracore,” and you can run it from the console’s main menu as soon as you plug it in and fire it up.

Analogue plans to add more capabilities to the Mega Sg in the future, with cartridge adapters that will allow it to run Mark III, Game Gear, Sega MyCard, SG-1000 and SC-3000 games, too. These will all be supported by the FPGA Analogue designed for the Mega Sg, too, so they’ll also be running natively, not emulated, for a true recreation of the original gaming experience.

Analogue Mega Sg 8

If you’re really into classic games, and care a lot about accuracy, this is definitely the best way to play Sega games on modern TVs — and it’s also just super fun.

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Sonos and Ikea’s Symfonisk wireless speakers are a symphony of sound and design

Posted by | albums, Assistant, audio equipment, energy consumption, ethernet, Gadgets, hardware, ikea, Philips, play:1, play:3, retailers, Reviews, smart speaker, smart speakers, Sonos, Speaker, Symfonisk, TC, wireless speakers | No Comments

Sonos and Ikea’s Symfonisk collaboration took a lot of people by surprise when it was announced earlier this year, but the match-up is less unlikely than it might appear at first glance. Ikea’s entire mission has been delivering practical, quality design concepts at price points that are more broadly accessible — and that’s exactly what it’s done with its collaboration with Sonos, albeit with sound instead of furniture. The new $99 Symfonisk Wi-Fi bookshelf speaker and the new $179 Symfonisk table lamp with Wi-Fi speaker both deliver the excellent performance and sound quality that’s expected from the Sonos brand, in beguilingly practical everyday designs created by Ikea.

Symfonisk bookshelf speaker

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 10The descriptor “bookshelf speaker” in this case means more than it usually does — Ikea has designed these to either blend seamlessly in with your actual book collection on existing shelf units, or to actually act as shelves themselves, using a simple add-on accessory kit that includes a flush wall mount and a rubber mat to protect its top surface while holding your gear (up to 6.6 lbs). They can also rail-mount on Ikea’s kitchen rail products for convenient kitchen installation, or they have rubberized pads on both the bottom and side surfaces for either horizontal or vertical surface mounting. Each speaker has two channels for cables to exit both vertically and horizontally for flush mounting, and there’s an Ethernet port on each and a cable in the box for hardwired connections to your home network.

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 12At $99, they’re the new most affordable way to get into the Sonos system, undercutting the Play:1 by $50. Leaving aside their utility as free-floating shelves (with a decent 12″ x 6″ surface area, likely suitable for bedside tables for many), they’re a perfect introduction to the Sonos ecosystem for anyone who’s felt that Sonos hardware is too expensive. And they’re almost tailor-made to act as rear speakers in a Sonos surroundsound home-theater configuration. I paired mine with my existing Sonos Beam soundbar and Sonos Sub, and they delivered to the point where you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the Symfonisk bookshelves and the Play:1 operating in that capacity.

That said, you do notice a difference between the Symfonisk bookshelf and the Play:1, or the Sonos One, when it comes to sound quality when they’re used on their own as individual or stereo-paired speakers. The bookshelf speakers contain entirely new internal speaker designs, as the form factor is nothing like any existing Sonos hardware on the market, and that means you end up with a different sound profile versus the more squat, rotund Sonos One and Play:1.

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 7To my ears, the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker sounds slightly worse when compared to the Sonos One and Play:1. This is not that surprising — those Sonos speakers are more expensive, for one, and they really out-punch their weight class when it comes to overall sound quality. And even if the Symfonisk shelves are not quite up to par, they’re still excellent-sounding wireless speakers for the price — without a doubt I would opt to pick these up in place of Play:1s for parts of my house where I don’t need the built-in Alexa or Google Assistant of the Sonos One, but want high-fidelity sound. In stereo pair configuration, the difference is even less noticeable.

The Symonisk shelf speaker design seems mostly focused on practicality, but it’s a good-looking speaker (available in both black, as tested, and white). The rectangular box look is a bit harder to integrate as flexibly with your decor when compared to the Sonos One, in my opinion, but, on the other hand, there are some settings where the Symfonisk shelf fits far more seamlessly, like when wall mounted behind a couch, or when acting as a bookend on an existing bookshelf. The fabric speaker grill is removable, and you can expect Sonos to look at aesthetic updates to potentially change the look in the future, too.

Because these are wireless speakers, there’s another aspect of performance that’s important: connectivity. Symfonisk’s speakers (both these and the table lamp, which I’ll talk more about later on) worked flawlessly during my multiple days of testing in this regard, with zero drop-outs that I noticed when it came to music playback, and flawless integration with my existing Sonos network of speakers. I’m also likely one of Sonos’ outlier customers in terms of the number of speakers I’m using — I have 14 active currently, including the Symfonisk speakers, all operating fully wireless and without the included Ethernet connection, and wireless playback has been rock solid during tests of this new Ikea line.

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 8Set up is also a breeze, whether you’re new to Sonos or an existing user, and is handled via the Sonos app (Ikea will also eventually add it to its own smart home control software, the company tells me, and you’ll be able to control it from both). Once added to your app, you can also use them via Alexa or Google Assistant if you have those linked to your Sonos system, and they show up as AirPlay 2 speaker for iOS and macOS users, too.

Symfonisk table lamp speaker

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 4Like the bookshelf speaker, the Symfonisk table lamp is incredibly easy to set up and manage using the Sonos app, and works with Alexa/Google Assistant and AirPlay 2. It was also outstanding in terms of performance with wireless connection and working with other speakers, and you can use Sonos’ TruePlay sound tuning feature to ensure that it provides the right sound profile for your space with a quick adjustment process using your phone’s microphone (this also works with the shelf speakers, by the way, and I recommend it for any Sonos equipment).

The table lamp really impresses in two ways, including sound quality and — this might seem obvious — by virtue of it also being a great lamp as well as a speaker. The base of the lamp is where the speaker resides, and it’s wrapped in a removable fabric cover that looks great from afar and up close. The shade is a single piece of handcrafted opaque glass, which provides a very pleasant glow when lit from within, and which uses a bayonet mount to lock into place.

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 13This mount and shade choice are not just about looks — Sonos and Ikea evaluated different options and found that this was easily the best when it came to minimizing reverb and rattle for a lamp that’s also capable of outputting a lot of high-volume sound. The choice appears to have been the right one — in testing, I never noticed anything that suggested there was anything rattling or shaking around as a result of loud music being played through the Symfonisk lamp speaker.

As mentioned, the looks benefit from this design decision, too. This table lamp at first struck me as maybe a bit too modern in photos, but in situ it looks great and is easily now a favorite item among my overall home decor. I do have a few small complaints, like that the large dial on the side is actually a simple on/off switch, rather than a dimmer or a volume knob like I assumed it would be. The controls are on the front of the saucer-like base instead, which is a clever way to make the lamp look less like a gadget and more like furniture.

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 14The light itself supports bulbs with E12-style threaded connectors and a max of 7 watts of energy consumption, which are more commonly seen in chandeliers. Ikea sent over one of its Tradfri smart bulbs, with wireless connectivity and adjustable white spectrum temperature control. It’s the perfect complement to the lamp, and I was even able to quickly connect it to my existing Philips Hue hub for control without an Ikea smart bridge. With a smart bulb, the Symfonisk speaker lamp offers voice-control for both the lightning and the speaker component.

Where the Symfonisk shelf speaker differs from its Sonos brethren a bit in sound profile, the Symfonisk lamp speaker is surprisingly similar to the Play:1 ($149) and Sonos One ($199) and sits right in between both at $179. The internals are largely leveraged from those devices, according to Sonos, which makes sense given its industrial design is also basically a somewhat squat cylinder. Regardless of how, the result is terrific — it’s a lamp that’s actually a fantastic speaker, and you can definitely pull a trick at parties of asking guests to try to figure out the source of your high-quality, room-filling sound if you pick up one or more of these. As rears, they blend away seamlessly with the decor, solving the age-old problem of having to choose between quality surroundsound and having a living room that doesn’t look like a Hi-Fi audio shop.

The Symfonisk lamp is big, however — it’s about two inches taller than a Sonos One without the shade, and wider both in terms of the base and the saucer-like bottom. The look, while appealing to me, also isn’t necessarily for everyone (though there are black and white versions depending on your preference), so that might be another reason to opt for other offerings in the Sonos line versus this one. But this particular light/Sonos speaker combo is unique in the market, and definitely a strong value proposition.

Bottom line

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 3With the Symfonisk line, Ikea and Sonos have really pulled off something fairly amazing — creating practical, smart decor that’s also great audio equipment. It’s a blending of two worlds that results in very few compromises, and stands as a true example of what’s possible when two companies with a focus on human-centric design get together and really focus on establishing a partnership that’s much deeper than two names on a label.

Sonos and Ikea’s team-up isn’t just a limited collection, either — it’s a long-term partnership, so you can expect more from both down the road. For now, however, the Symfonisk bookshelf and Symfonisk table lamp speakers go on sale starting August 1 at Ikea.com and Ikea stores, and are very good options if you’re in the market for a smart speaker.

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TwelveSouth’s StayGo is the last USB-C dock you’ll ever need

Posted by | Amazon, computing, ethernet, Gadgets, hardware, HDMI, iPad, Mobile, Reviews, TC, telecommunications, usb, usb 3.0 | No Comments

The TwelveSouth StayGo is a new USB-C dock from a company that makes a ton of great and unique Mac and iOS device accessories. True to the company’s track record, it offers a slightly different take on a popular accessory category — and ends up excelling as a result.

The StayGo’s unique twist is a short USB-C to USB-C cable that slots right into a dedicated compartment on the dock, offering portable connectivity without any awkward stubby permanently attached cord. It also avoids the problem that direct USB-C dock connectors have, where they stick out and can potentially get damaged in your bag or scratch other stuff. There’s a second, three-foot cable included in the box, too, which you can conveniently just plug into your Mac at home if you switch between a desktop and a MacBook, or a Mac and an iPad.

It seems like a pretty simple thing, but having these two cables instead of just one, and the stowable short cable, make this far more convenient for anyone who travels or who does any out-of-home work at all. I’ve used a ton of these things, and StayGo is my clear favorite after having used it on a couple of trips over a month or so of testing.

I haven’t even talked about the ports yet — TwelveSouth nailed the right mix there, too, with three high-speed USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, a USB-C connector (with pass-through charging at up to 85W), a 4K 30Hz HDMI port and both SD and microSD slots (which support UHS-I transfer speeds, and which can operate simultaneously). That’s just about everything a traveler or working photographer today needs, and nothing they don’t — all in a space-saving design that never makes you choose between it and other gear when you’re packing even the smallest bag.

In terms of performance, so far it’s been rock solid. There’s nothing worse than random unmounting of memory cards when you’re trying to transfer photos from a shoot, and the StayGo is definitely able to deliver solid, uninterrupted performance there. If I had any complaints, it’s that video output isn’t 60Hz, but that’s not really a necessary requirement for something that I’ll be using primarily to supplement my external monitor needs when I’m on the road, instead of a dedicated video connection for a video editing setup, for instance.

The StayGo can get a bit warm when operating, but it’s never been actually hot, and the aluminum case construction helps ensure it can shed excess temp quickly.

At $99.99 it may be a bit more expensive than some of the hubs you can pick up on Amazon, but in terms of reliability, specs, port load out and its interesting approach to blending portability and at-home convenience, TwelveSouth is more than justified in setting that price point for the StayGo.

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Petcube’s Bites 2 and Play 2 amuse pets and humans alike with Alexa built-in

Posted by | albums, cameras, Gadgets, hardware, laser, pet, petcube, products, Reviews, smart speakers, Sonos, sonos one, Speaker, TC | No Comments

Petcube’s original Bites smart treat dispenser and Play pet camera with a built-in laser pointer were great for pet parents who couldn’t always be around to hang out with their furry charges, but the new Bites 2 and Play 2 come with one big new upgrade that make them far more versatile than the original: They both double as Alexa-powered smart speaker devices.

Both the Bites 2 and Play 2 can hear and respond to Alexa requests, with a four-microphone array that in my limited testing actually outperforms the Alexa mics built into my Sonos One and Sonos Beam speakers, which is pretty impressive for devices whose main features are serving up treats and keeping an eye on your pets. That’s on top of the Bites 2 being able to remotely dispense treats for your pet, and the Play 2 providing playtime away from home with a built-in laser pointer you can direct from your phone.

The Bites 2 and Play 2 also feature other improvements, including new wider angle lenses that offer full 180-degree views of your home for more likelihood you’ll spot your pets wandering around, and better Wi-Fi connectivity support with additional 5GHz networking, plus night vision and full HD video. Currently, the field of view is limited to 160-degrees, with an update to follow that will unlock the full 180; for most users, the 160 FOV is going to show you an entire room and then some.

With the Bites 2, you can also initiate video calls and chat with your pet, though my dog Chelsea basically is just confused by this. It is handy if I need to ask my partner if there’s anything else I’m forgetting to pick up from the store, however. And the treat-flinging feature definitely does appeal to Chelsea, especially now that it’s Alexa-integrated so that I can easily issue a voice command to give her a well-earned reward.

This has actually proven more than just fun — Chelsea suffers from a little bit of separation anxiety, so when we leave our condo she usually spends a few quick minutes complaining audibly with some rather loud barks. But since getting the Petcube Bites 2 to test, I’ve been reinforcing good behavior by reminding her to keep quiet, waiting outside the door and then flinging her a treat or two for her troubles. It’s pretty much done away with the bye-bye barking in just a short time.

The Play 2 doesn’t fling treats, but it does have a built-in laser pointer (which the company says is totally safe for your pet’s eyes). Chelsea straight up does not understand the laser or even really acknowledge it, so that’s a bit of a miss, but with a friend’s cat this proved an absolute show-stopping feature. I’ve also known dogs previously who loved this, so your mileage may vary, but if you’re unsure, it’s probably worth picking up a dollar-store laser pointer keychain first to ensure it’s their jam.

The $249 Bites 2 and $199 Play 2 offer a ton of value in just the image and build quality upgrades over their original incarnations, and their basic features are probably plenty enough for doting pet parents. But the addition of Alexa makes these both much more appealing in my opinion, since it essentially bundles an Echo in each device at no extra cost.

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Twelve South’s HiRise Wireless is a super versatile wireless smartphone charger

Posted by | AirPods, Apple, computers, Gadgets, inductive charging, iOS, iPhone, mobile phones, PIXEL, pixel 3, Reviews, smartphones, TC, technology, usb, wireless charger, wireless chargers, Wireless Charging | No Comments

Wireless charging has been a wonderful addition to mainstream flagship smartphones including the iPhone, Samsung’s Galaxy lineup and Google’s Pixel phones. But there hasn’t been a really great option for bringing the benefits of wireless charging with you on the road, while keeping your desktop setup tidy until now, with TwelveSouth’s recently released HiRise Wireless.

The HiRise Wireless builds on the good reputation of the existing HiRise line from TwelveSouth, which includes the Duet, a great combo charger for both iPhone and Apple Watch. The Wireless version, as implied by the name, includes wireless charging of up to 10W, which means you get the fastest cable-free charging rate available for devices that support Qi charging, including the iPhone X, XR and XS, as well as the Pixel 3 and Samsung Galaxy S10.

The HiRise is unique in that it provides a charging puck that can both mount in the frame (which has a nice weighted base to stay rock solid on your desk) and pop out to either provide a lie-flat wireless charger (which will work with the new wireless AirPods charging case, for instance) or pack away in a bag.

The upright angle the wireless charger provides when mounted in the frame is perfect for registering Face ID unlocks when used with an iPhone X or later, and positioned on your desk. That’s a great way to give yourself access to phone notifications without distracting too much from your desktop work. And the puck itself is a lot smaller than most wireless chargers, which isn’t idea for typical at-home charging, but which is terrific for stowing it in a gadget pouch.

The puck also has a rubberized ring bordering the charging pad to prevent your device from slipping around, and it works with a detachable USB-C to USB-A cable that comes in the box which adds to the portability, and means you can easily use it with whatever USB-C charging cables you already have on-hand for your Mac or other devices.

If you’re in the market for a wireless charger and travel a decent amount, it’s hard to beat the value of the HiRise Wireless. It’s $79.99, which is more than you’ll pay for a lot of quality wireless chargers, but Twelve South’s unique design is worth the premium in this case for people looking for its unique flexibility.

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