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VLC 4.0 sneak peek—a look at its work-in-progress new interface

An orange traffic cone has been lodged in wall made of stone.

Enlarge / Without significant additional work, the new interface probably won’t please all of VLC’s existing userbase. (credit: CC-BY-2.0 Guilhelm Vellut / Flickr)

Last week, we mentioned that the extremely popular open source video player VLC is getting a brand-new interface in its upcoming 4.0 release, expected to debut later this year. VLC 4.0 isn’t ready for prime time use yet—but because the program is open source, adventurous users can grab nightly builds of it to take a peek at what’s coming. The screenshots we’re about to show come from the nightly build released last Friday—20210212-0431.

Goodbye file-opener, hello media jukebox

  • On the left, we have the version of VLC that ships with Ubuntu Focal— On the right, we see version 4.0.0-dev, current as of February 12. [credit:
    Jim Salter ]

When opening up the 4.0 dev version of VLC, the first change that leaps out is an interface shift from “file opener” to “media browser.” In older versions of VLC—from its beginnings in 2001 all the way through the 3.x version being distributed now—it opens to a blank player window, with VLC’s iconic traffic cone displayed in the center. The new VLC instead opens to a media-browser interface, showing thumbnails of all videos present in the user’s Videos folder.

This is the view associated with the Video view displayed along the new version’s top menu bar; it also presents Music, Browse, and Discover. Music offers a similar view into the user’s Music folder, Discover presents a network browser looking for shares and streams present on the user’s LAN, and Discover does not appear to have been fully implemented yet.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Jim Salter

Which Streaming Gadget Should You Buy: Roku, Fire TV, or Chromecast?

roku, Fire TV, and Chromecast

At this point, the set top box market has settled on three major choices—or rather, two major choices and a dark horse. For most consumers who want something besides their smart TV’s built-in interface, or who are shopping for a new TV and want a widely supported UI baked in, you’ve got a choice between Roku, Fire TV, and Chromecast.

All three are preinstalled on many televisions, mostly budget brands: TCL, Hisense, Element, and Philips, Toshiba, and Insignia all offer TVs with either Roku or Fire TV baked in. Sony, the one premium brand to buck the trend of custom-built operating systems, uses Android TV (aka Google TV, aka the new Chromecast, because Google sucks at branding).

But in various forms and flavors, all three of them can be added on to an existing TV, and there’s a good reason to do so: All of them are better-supported and more expandable than, say, the prebaked TV operating systems that come from LG, Samsung, and Vizio. And they’re all extremely accessible, with 4K streaming capabilities at the $50 level (or lower), so they’re a good add-on to even a budget TV.

To be frank, all three smart TV platforms are pretty good at this point, with years and years of development behind them and mostly universal support from the major streaming services. Trying to choose between them comes down to small details, but it’s hard to go truly wrong.

Roku: For Bargain Hunters and Fans of Simplicity

roku Ultra with remoteRoku

Roku gets our top spot for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the most widely available: In pretty much any electronics store, online or brick-and-mortar, you’re going to find both Roku streaming sticks and TVs preloaded with Roku software. You might even find a soundbar or two that runs it. And all of them are going to be inexpensive compared to other options in the same form factor.

But Roku is also the most focused of the popular smart TV platforms, if only because its approach is somewhat old-fashioned. Roku’s homepage is about the apps, just the apps, ma’am: Users see a grid of the services they can access, plus live TV and HDMI inputs if their TV is Roku-branded. You have to go into the apps themselves to start browsing content. And thanks to a recent update, Roku also finally has access to HBO Max.

In contrast, both Fire TV and Android TV/Chromecast tend to blast you with recommendations for individual shows and movies. There’s an argument to be made for putting the content front and center, but we still think dividing it into individual apps and services is easier to manage. That is an entirely subjective determination, by the way—if you disagree, you’re not wrong, and Roku probably isn’t for you.

Roku’s downside is performance. While Roku is dead simple, focusing on breaking that content into individual apps makes it slower, especially if you’re switching from one service to another. If you want to check and see if Netflix has more seasons of the show you’re watching than Hulu does, it’s going to take you a few more seconds on a Roku device. Roku is also less extensible than its competitors, with few options for non-TV apps, games, and tools, and voice control that’s limited to search.

Which Roku to Buy

For TVs with Roku built in, TCL is the pretty clear winner. They offer a variety of models at different price points, though they’re lacking the super-high-end option for those with an unlimited budget. The 5 series is a good middle ground.

The Best Roku-Powered TV

TCL 55″ 5-Series 4K UHD Dolby Vision HDR QLED ROKU Smart TV – 55S535

This midrange TV is affordable, gorgeous, and runs Roku for managing streaming apps, inputs, and over-the-air television.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive streamer, you can’t go wrong with the Roku Streaming Stick+. With a super-easy remote control, support for 4K HDR content, and an HDMI dongle that can be powered by the USB maintenance port on most TVs, it’s the simplest way to add tons of streaming apps to a big screen.

The Best Inexpensive Roku

Roku Streaming Stick+ | HD/4K/HDR Streaming Device with Long-range Wireless and Voice Remote with TV Controls

This super-cheap Roku will do everything you need it to, and do it in 4K.

For those who need a little more oomph with their stream, the latest version of the Roku Ultra is where it’s at. On top of all of the capabilities of the stick above, the Ultra adds an Ethernet port for hardwired stability, lost remote finder, compatibility with Bluetooth audio streaming, and support for Dolby Atmos. You can also plug wired headphones directly into the remote for private listening. Note that the Roku Streambar does all of that, too, with an included budget sound bar on top.

Fire TV: For All Amazon, All the Time

Fire TV Stick 4KAmazon

If you go with an Amazon-powered streaming device or TV, you’re not missing out on much in terms of content: It’s compatible with every major streaming service, even including Amazon’s hardware and content competition, YouTube and Apple TV.

What Amazon offers is integration with its corporate retail empire—which might be a good thing, if you’re already all-in on it. Those who subscribe to Amazon Prime Video and who already have tons of Alexa-powered smarthome gear are obviously the primary customers here, though you can use Fire TV to play video via subscription and free services all the live-long day. Just be prepared to see ads for Amazon’s video content more or less everywhere outside of those apps.

Amazon also has an advantage that Roku lacks: add-ons to its Prime service. If you like, you can treat Prime like a basic cable package, adding on extras like HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Stars, CBS All Access, PBS Kids, and many more, for between $5 and $15 a month. Nothing’s stopping you from subscribing to those services separately from Amazon and watching them in their own apps, but going through Amazon lets you get to them in the standard Fire interface, no extra apps required.

YouTube TV does this, too, but there are a lot fewer people that actually use that service. The add-on factor is a definite consideration if you’re already all-in on Amazon. Helpfully, all of those add-on subscriptions can be activated and deactivated at any time, just like their stand-alone versions. So you can binge a bunch of HBO shows one month, then go over to Starz for its shows the next.

Which Fire TV to Buy

At the time of writing, only Toshiba and Insignia include Fire TV as their television’s default operating system. Toshiba is the clear winner there, though bargain hunters might be tempted by Insignia (which is the “house brand” of Amazon’s competitor Best Buy, oddly).

Best TV running Amazon Fire TV OS

Toshiba 55 LED 4K UHD Fire TV Edition

This mid-range TV from Toshiba runs at 5K with HDR, and packs in the Fire TV operating system to boot.

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is almost the same device as the Roku Streaming Stick+, above, or at least the same form factor. It can handle 4K resolution and HDR, as even cheap TVs have now, with enough oomph in its processor to handle switching between multiple services. It also has a voice-powered remote, though you still have to press a button. It also supports Dolby Atmos and Dolby vision.

Best Budget Fire TV device

Fire TV Stick 4K streaming device with Alexa Voice Remote | Dolby Vision | 2018 release

The Fire TV Stick 4K can made the most out of your 4K TV, while supporting all the apps you want with Alexa smarthome integration.

Upgrading beyond the Fire TV Stick 4K isn’t really necessary. There is the Fire TV Cube, which adds on support for an Ethernet connection and a faster processor. But its big selling point is that it has an Alexa smart speaker built in … and if you’re set on Amazon as a smarthome platform, you almost certainly have one in your living room already.

Best Premium Fire TV device

Fire TV Cube | Hands-free streaming device with Alexa | 4K Ultra HD | 2019 release

The Fire TV Cube is only a necessary upgrade if you want an Alexa speaker in your living room and don’t already have one, or you demand an Ethernet connection for your content.

Chromecast: More Options, More Issues

Chromecast with remote and power cordJustin Duino

The newest version of the Chromecast isn’t really a Chromecast anymore: it’s “Chromecast with Google TV,” which is to say, Android TV, which is a full operating system. What does that mean? It means that Google is really bad at telling you what stuff does. But more actionably, it means that in addition to being able to “cast” video and music from your phone, laptop, etc., Chromecast has all the standalone app capabilities of its competitors.

That’s both a good and a bad thing. It’s great if you’re a fan of using a remote instead of your phone, for example: Now you can use a familiar “couch” interface instead of poking a phone screen (though the phone screen is still an option, too!). But the new Google TV interface is also a lot less baked than either Roku or Amazon, and has a tendency to try and get you to watch things from services you aren’t actually subscribed to. It’s not as good at learning your habits as Amazon, and not as focused on specific apps or services as Roku. That said, it has tight integration with Google Assistant, so you can use it for all of the normal searches and smart home control if you already have an Assistant-powered home.

But the new Chromecast gets some benefit from years of Android TV development, too. There are a ton of interesting apps for it, like the MX local video player or AirScreen for mirroring a Mac display. Android TV also has a much better selection of games than Fire TV, and it can connect to standard Bluetooth controllers, including the Xbox and PlayStation variety. That also means that you can play games remotely, through services like Steam Link, GeForce NOW, and Stadia.

Wait, Google launched its own new set top box platform with support for games, but without support for its own streaming game platform? Yeah, that’s kind of Google’s approach to its products in a nutshell. The new Chromecast is a lot more capable than the competition in terms of both hardware and software, but some odd choices mean that this only matters if there’s something fairly specific you want to do with that extra power. That said, Google confirmed that Stadia will be coming to the Chromecast with Google TV sometime in 2021.

Which Chromecast or Android TV to Buy

Only Sony offers a full Android TV operating system built into its televisions, but many lower-price smart TV systems (including Roku) are compatible with Chromecast streaming. Sony’s sets range from “expensive” to “ridiculously expensive,”  but the X800H series runs Android TV and is at least somewhat attainable.

Best TV with Built-In Android

Sony X800H 55 Inch TV: 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV with HDR and Alexa Compatibility – 2020 Model

Sony’s Triluminous displays offer excellent picture quality, and it’s the only major manufacturer that builds Android TV in as the base operating system.

For those on a budget and who want a great selection of add-on apps and games, the new Chromecast with Google TV is the best bet. It’s extremely affordable, though that little extra power means you’ll need an open wall outlet, even though it has a “dongle” form factor. It supports 4K HDR, comes with a remote, and can still handle casting duties from your phone.

Best Budget Android TV/Chromecast Device

Chromecast with Google TV

The new Chromecast is way more than a Chromecast, and its extra app and game capabilities make it worthy of consideration over Roku and Amazon.

If you want to really push your 4K television to the limit, for both streaming content and games, the NVIDIA SHIELD TV is the way to go. Not only does it have a surprising amount of power for games (it’s running on very similar hardware to the Nintendo Switch), its “AI” upscaling capability makes even older streaming content look amazing in 4K. Throw in a MicroSD card, or opt for the more capacious “Pro” model, and you can even use it as a Plex server.

Best High-end Android TV streamer

NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV 4K HDR Streaming Media Player; High Performance, Dolby Vision, Google Assistant Built-In, Works with Alexa

The SHIELD TV has long been the gold standard for high-powered set-top boxes, and the newest model is even better.

A Final Note: Apple TV

Apple TV and remoteApple

If you’re a fan of Apple’s mobile and computer hardware, you might be wondering: What about Apple TV? And if you’re already an Apple fan, then you’re probably already thinking about buying one. For you, and specifically you, it might be a good idea.

Apple TV is a lot like Android TV: It has all the basic capabilities of a standard streaming box, plus the ability to easily broadcast video from your Apple devices. If you’re already all-in on Apple, especially if you pay for the Apple TV+ service (which is available on other platforms) or Apple Arcade (which is not), it makes sense to get the official Apple TV 4K set-top box.

But with a starting price of triple most of the options on this list, despite offering little benefit beyond Apple integration, it’s a high cost to pay for integration. And even some Apple fans aren’t a fan of its overly simplified remote design. So unless you play a lot of Apple Arcade games, or you’re constantly streaming directly from your iPhone or MacBook, it’s probably not worth the splurge.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

The Best PC Games of 2020 (That Don’t Need a Graphics Card)

2020 PC game collage

2020 has been … a lot. Despite the release of some fantastic new PC gaming hardware, no one could blame you if you want to skip a new GPU or high-powered laptop this year. But that’s okay: Some of the very best games released on the PC this year don’t need any discrete graphics card at all, and they’re playable even on older or low-power machines. Here are our favorites from 2020, ready to delight you on almost any Windows (and for some games, MacOS) machine.

In no particular order, here are our 10 picks for the best of the year that can be played on low-power budget PCs and laptops. If you want even more options, check out our picks for 2018 and 2019, too.


Hades got the “best game of the year” nod (with or without a graphics card!) from a lot of people. Play it for a while, and you’ll be able to see why. On top it’s furious hack-slash-dash top-down combat with roguelike “runs” that almost inevitably end in death. And the combat is amazing, with varied weapons and powerups in admittedly repetitive randomized levels.

But the heart of the game is the characters, protagonist Zagreus, his surly dad Hades, and a host of gods, goddesses, and hangers-on that you’ll learn to love. The voice acting is amazing (and so plentiful!), but my favorite part of the game is Supergiant’s amazing art direction. Hades is 3D characters over 2D levels and effects, so it will run a little hot on older hardware—you might need to bump it down to 720p to keep combat smooth. Oh, and don’t you dare disrespect poor Dusa.

Get the hell out


Available on Steam for $25

Yes, Your Grace

There are a lot of games in which you play a medieval fantasy hero, but the king is usually someone you have to save, kill, or petition. In Yes, Your Grace, it’s the opposite: You’re already the king, and it’s your job to keep this mess running. You’ll need to see to your people’s needs by holding royal court and answering the pleas of peasants, managing the royal family, and hiring your noble staff.

Simple pixelated graphics hide a surprising amount of deep systems, both dynamic and strategic, that are each shaped by your decisions. Compromise, and some light treachery, might be necessary to keep things in order. If you’ve ever wondered what happens after you win the game of thrones, this is the game for you.

After you win the game of thrones

Yes Your Grace

Available on Steam for $20

Exit the Gungeon

Enter the Gungeon was a beloved top-down roguelike in the vein of Binding of Isaac , but with an obsession for guns that would make a Texan blush. The sequel shifts the perspective to a side-scrolling shooter, and the setup into bite-sized stages.

Your weapon will shift with each one, so the roguelike “runs” are more random without being focused on randomized loot. Truly wicked difficulty combines with rapid-fire (pun absolutely intended) turnaround to create a game focused on twitchy skill. It’s a bite-sized experience, which is a nice reprieve if you’re tired of losing an hour or two to a roguelike run.

Bite-sized bullet hell

Exit The Gungeon

Available on Steam for $10


Amanita Design, they of Machinarium and Samarost fame, are back with another extremely atmospheric game. This one’s almost entirely puzzle-platforming, so it’s a little conventional by their standards. Creaks is about descending into a strange and disturbing world, meeting unique characters (lots of bird people), and figuring out what in the hell(?) is going on.

The art design is the big draw here, showing off hand-drawn and -painted elements that remind me of Hieronymus Bosch if he had grown up on Sesame Street. The design is technically a platformer, but don’t worry: you won’t need twitchy skills to get past the puzzles—just your brain. It’s also pretty short as these games go, so you may want to wait for a sale.

It’s beautiful below


Available on Steam for $20

Fae Tactics

Do you miss Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre ? So do Endlessfluff Games, the developers of Fae Tactics. A JRPG-inspired story and pixelated visuals are just the sprinkling on this turn-based strategy cake. But the game isn’t just trying to recreate the bygone era of tactical RPGs, it’s also innovating with an interface that emphasizes actions over menus and works great on controllers.

There are also shades of Pokémon in the setup, enabling you to summon creatures that you’ve defeated to beat up your current enemies. The game is also surprisingly long, ensuring that it’ll satisfy your fix for classic tile strategy games for quite a while once you finally take down the final challenge.

Seelie strategy sessions

Fae Tactics

Available on Steam for $20


Metroidvania games often task the player with killing various faceless monstrosities. But what if you were the faceless monstrosity instead, chomping down on levels full of hapless humans like they were disturbingly noisy Gushers ? Enter Carrion, a side-scrolling 2D action game that flips the script and makes you a tentacular horror.

Even in pixel art, the monster’s takedowns of humans are given visceral and disturbing detail, to say nothing of the screams. Get hurt and you’ll shrink your biomass, eat humans and you’ll gain it back and level up your abilities. The shrinking-growing mechanic and the monster’s unique movement help create some innovative fights and puzzles, and pixel art fans will love the undulating motion of the protagonist and the gloomy gore of the environments.

It’s a buncha muncha cruncha humans


Available on Steam for $20

The Solitaire Conspiracy

The name “Solitaire Conspiracy” is already pretty interesting, right? Sounds like some kind of 007 coded message. It’s a game about (wait for it) uncovering a conspiracy by playing Solitaire. Playing through the surprisingly intricate variations on “Streets and Alleys” lets an espionage story play out, punctuated by full-motion video clips, character art, voice acting, and some sweet spy movie tunes to heighten the experience.

At the end of the day, you’re still playing Solitaire with some extra bits on top, but it’s such a unique experience that it’s worth checking out for any fan of card games. Oh, unlike certain solitaire games we could mention, this one doesn’t come with a monthly subscription.

Spies in spades

The Solitaire Conspiracy

Available on Steam for $12

Spelunky 2

The original Spelunky was iconic, and it helped define the emerging roguelike genre, even using the rather simple tools available in GameMaker. The sequel takes all of those original elements and builds them out with the full power of a studio at designer Derek Yu’s command.

Spelunky 2 will feel very familiar to fans of the original randomized platformer, but its refined mechanics and huge visual facelift combine well with new treats, like the animal taming system. The characters are charming, even as they’re often getting the crap kicked out of them. The 2D platforming shouldn’t tax most laptops, but areas with flowing water and lava might make the framerate drop while you explore moon caverns.

Roguelike, reimagined

Spelunky 2

Available on Steam for $20

Streets of Rage 4

It’s rare that a game series can come back from multiple decades in hibernation and nail it right off the bat. Streets of Rage 4 does, delighting both fans of the original arcade beat-em-up series and new players who only grew up on the games that the originals inspired.

Combat is “chunky” in a way that feels familiar, while still being more smooth and varied than SEGA’s older games. The anime-inspired art is absolutely fabulous—these 2D visuals would have earned a king’s ransom in quarters in the arcade back in the day—and the music sets the retro vibe perfectly. If at all possible, grab a friend (or two or three) to take on the streets in a co-op, local, or online.

Bring back the beat-down

Streets of Rage 4

Available on Steam for $25


Spiritfarer is another frequent inhabitant of “best of 2020” lists that doesn’t need a graphics card. It’s innovative in a lot of ways: the lovely cartoon art style, the low-pressure gameplay, but mostly the way it asks the player to think and feel in equal measure.

You’ve been tasked with managing a barge of the dead—but not a dreary number like Charon takes across the Styx. Nope, your ferry is more like a luxury river cruise, and you get to meet and mingle with your appealing passengers as you take them to the great beyond, helping them come to terms with their life. Individual moments of this game are adorable, but learning about the characters can be so engaging that you’ll be genuinely sad to see them go on to the afterlife. Bonus: There’s also a local co-op mode where player two gets to be a cat.

Worth way more than two coins


Available on Steam for $30

Honorable Mention: Civilization VI

The latest entry in this long-running series technically came out way back in 2016, but it’s continually being updated with new content to this day. The turn-based country-builder Civilization VI added new DLC this year, including the Babylonian, Byzantium and Gaul, Maya and Gran Colombian, and Ethiopian factions, plus a ton of new strategic scenarios, all during 2020.

It’s continued to be the absolute top of its class in this niche genre, and it runs great on older hardware even with a full 3D map and faction leaders. Be prepared to pay quite a bit if you want all the content … and you just might, after getting hooked on the base game and its online cross-platform multiplayer.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

Holiday 2020: 9 Great Retro Tech Gifts

Fluance RT81 Elite sitting on a shelf playing a vinyl recordFluance

We all have nostalgic sweet spots, and for many, tech items of the era can be an immediate throwback to another time. While these products may be mostly for novelty or some quick fun, that doesn’t diminish the legitimate joy they can bring. And there are quite a few retro revivals kicking around that will make great gifts this year.

Micro Consoles

Sega Genesis Mini, GAME & WATCH Super Mario BrosSega, Nintendo

Micro consoles exploded with popularity after the release of the NES and SNES Classic, so it’s only to be expected that some other companies have released their own versions of this great idea.

  • Nintendo GAME & WATCHIt wasn’t a surprise to see Nintendo return to this formula, but most people expected the company to revisit the Gameboy era of handhelds before the GAME & WATCH. This handheld was released for the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros and as such, includes the original NES game. The design is faithful to the original GAME & WATCH systems and includes some extra fun doodads like a Mario clock app.
  • Sega Genesis Mini: Sega has been releasing plug n’ play versions of the Genesis for a while now, but the build quality, UI, and emulation were always subpar. Fortunately, the Sega Genesis Mini improves on those faults and delivers an excellent micro-console experience with 42 classic games loaded onto it. Whether it’s Sonic, Ristar, or Ecco the Dolphin, you’ll find it on this console. It also comes with two wired controllers out of the box for multiplayer titles.
  • The C64 MiniFor fans of the Commodore 64, the C64 Mini is sure to bring waves of nostalgia. The console comes with a joystick controller for playing the 64 included games. Unfortunately, the keyboard on the system is just for show, but there are USB plugs for keyboards/controllers on the side of the console to fix that. You can even write in the “BASIC” code language with this system if you want to mess around with that.

A Modern Arcade Cabinet: Arcade1Up’s Catalogue

Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga Arcade1Up CabinetsArcade1Up

Nothing screams retro gaming like an arcade cabinet. The problem is, genuine ones are pretty expensive and very large. That’s why Arcade1Up has become a favorite of many retro collectors over the years. Arcade1Up creates faithful scaled-down versions of arcade cabinets that are still large enough to feel genuine without being a pain to fit in your living room.

Some cabinets even slip in unique features like seats for Atari Star Wars or online play for NBA Jam. And there are many more cabinets than that available, so you have quite the selection to choose from. Whether the person you’re shopping for prefers classic Namco games like Galaga or fighting games like Mortal Kombatthere’s a good chance Arcade1Up has a cabinet to match their tastes. Arcade1Up also produces smaller countertop cabinets that are less expensive and ideal for homes without the space to spare for a full cabinet.

A Resurrected Keyboard: Unicomp Classic Model M

Unicomp Classic Model M KeyboardUnicomp

The IBM Model M was a revolutionary keyboard that’s still loved by many for its uniquely satisfying buckling spring key switches. Unicomp has now come out with a modern version of the Model M that’s outfitted with a USB cord and is easy to get your hands on. The exterior design is the same as the classic Model M, so it still has that iconic old-school computer look to it. Unicomp has also been releasing multiple versions of the board including new colors such as “black and gray“.

The Iconic Pet: Tamagotchi On

Tamagotchi OnTamagotchi

Tamagotchi is a pleasant memory from the ’90s, and now those memories can be relived with the recently released revival of the classic digital pet. All the classic mechanics of the Tamagotchi games are here, along with updated sprite work and new stuff to do with your Tamagotchi—like marriage. You can also connect it to the Tamagotchi app (Android/iOS) to access some unique multiplayer mechanics with other players.

While this isn’t 100% faithful to the original handhelds, the modern touches make for a fun toy that can still be enjoyed regardless if you’re nostalgic for the original systems or not.

The Iconic Pet

Tamagotchi On – Magic (White) Amazon Exclusive, Magic White

Take care of a brand new digital pet with this updated version of Tamagotchi.

A Turntable: Fluance RT81 Elite

Fluance RT81 EliteFluance

Vinyl has been making a strong comeback over the years, and the RT81 delivers excellent sound quality with a classic wood plinth—although, it’s also available in a standard black color as well. This turntable is expertly designed, and Fluance prides itself on delivering the most accurate analog sound possible without damaging the records. When it comes to turntables in this price range, this is the cream of the crop, and it still has enough retro flair to hearken back to the good ol’ days.

An Instant-Film Camera: Polaroid Originals Now

Polaroid Originals NowPolaroid

Instant-film cameras are plenty of fun to mess around with, and the Polaroid Original Now, with its classic exterior style, has the character of these cameras down pat. The accurate flash and auto-focus are nice modern touches, and it’s compatible with both i-Type and 600 film. It’s also available in eight different colors—there’s even one based on The Mandalorian.

An Instant-Film Camera

Polaroid Originals Now I-Type Instant Camera – Black (9028)

Have fun and take some great pics with this modern instant-film camera.

Some Classic Handhelds: Hasbro Tiger Electronics Handhelds

X-Men Project X Tiger Electronics HandheldHasbro

While LCD handhelds are certainly a thing of the past, they’re great for some nostalgic novelty nowadays. Hasbro decided to revive the Tiger Electronics handhelds from yesteryear to a T. There are four games currently available, all with unique artwork to really seal the deal: X-Men Project X, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Transformers: Robots in DIsguiseand Sonic The Hedgehog 3The games are simple, but it’s still a nice throwback to this old form of handheld.

A Bluetooth Boombox: GPO Brooklyn

GPO Brooklyn BoomboxGPO

Nothing says “funky” like a boombox, and the Brooklyn from GPO is a great blend of modern features with ’80s style. Not only does it have a cassette player, CD player, and FM radio, but you can also connect to it via USB or Bluetooth if you want full access to your music library. All the dials and buttons are fully functional and the handle is great for taking it on the move. It’s available in two colors: Silver and Black.

Some Fun Charging Stands: elago Apple Watch Stand

elago Apple Watch Standelago

Have you ever wanted your Apple Watch to look like a Gameboy? Because if so, elago has the product for you.

At the end of the day, these are just simple stands to put your Apple Watch on while it’s charging, but the fun designs make them great little stocking stuffers. elago currently has two stands with retro designs: one based on the original GameBoy and one based on an old iMac. These are fitted to neatly display the screen of the watch, so you can still view and interact with the screen while it rests on your nightstand charging.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Eric Schoon

YouTube Music’s ‘Mixed for You’ is the Killer Feature I’ve Been Waiting For

The "Mixed for You" option on YouTube Music on a Pixel 5. Phone leaned against a coffee cup with a smart display and POP doll in the backgroundCameron Summerson

Earlier this year, before the demise of Google Play Music, I moved to YouTube Music to see if had improved from the first time I tried it. It hadn’t, and I was disappointed. Fast-forward to today, and I’ve still been using YTM—albeit begrudgingly. But as much as I’ve trashed it as a pathetic streaming music service over the last half-year, it recently got a killer feature that I love: Mixes.

What Are Mixes on YouTube Music?

Back at the end of 2019, YouTube Music got curated Discovery Mix, New Release Mix, and Your Mix playlists. The idea was to offer personalized playlists geared toward music discovery. The “Mixed for You” playlists are an expansion of the Your Mix playlist, expanding it from just one huge playlist to multiple more defined playlists. The Your Mix playlist is still available, too, but is now called “My Supermix.”

A screenshot of My Supermix on the web.

If you load up YTM and scroll down the main page a bit, you’ll see the “Mixed for You” section. There are seven mix variations here, alongside the Supermix. In short, these are revolving stations/playlists that are specifically curated by your listening history.

Mine are broken up mostly by genre, though the overlap on some Mixes is the best part. I listen mostly to rock, hard rock, metal, bluegrass, and rap (I’m eclectic, y’all) for pleasure, but I often throw ambient, electronic, and binaural beats into the mix while I’m working if I’m having a hard time focusing. Each Mix plays off of my listening history, with each one either taking on a new genre or flowing between similar genres.

So, for example, My Mix 1 consists of artists like Ghost (rock), TOOL (rock), The Dead South (bluegrass), and Gojira (metal). It’s an excellent mix that’s perfect when I don’t know what I want to listen to. My Mix 2 is similar, but gets heavier with bands like The Devil Wears Prada (metal), Make Them Suffer (metal), Oh Sleeper (metal), and…well, you get the idea. That Mix is as heavy as a tank and I love it.

From there, my Mixes ebb and flow through the different genres I listen to most often, with each playlist offering a slightly different vibe from the last. Mixes are great when you can’t decide what to listen to, but the Supermix is perfect for when you can’t even decide between Mixes—it’s basically a mix of all your Mixes in one. If your listening tastes are anything like mine, some of the transitions from song to song will really throw the brain for a loop. I dig it so hard.

Okay, But Are They Actually Good?

My Mix 1.

This sort of automatic playlist curation isn’t new, of course—if you’ve used other music streaming services (like Spotify), then you’ve almost certainly encountered something similar. And while I can’t speak to how well YouTube Music’s implementation compares to any other service, I can tell you that it’s really good.

Mix after Mix, YouTube Music just seems to nail my taste. Each one is a…mix…of both artists and songs I’m familiar with along with plenty that I’m not. I’ve found all sorts of new tracks thanks to YTM’s brilliant algorithms. And it’s not just me, either—I’ve talked with several people on Twitter who told me the same thing.

Also, these playlists are dynamic (which is why I generally think of them as “stations” instead of direct playlists). By that, I mean they’re more like daily mixes—each Mix rarely plays the same tracks day after day. This keeps things fresh and constantly introduces new artists and songs, so there’s always something different.

I’ve been quick to snap at YouTube Music for being a lesser-than service compared to other music apps—and even the one it replaced (Google Play Music)—so I’m happy to finally have a truly killer feature here. After months of using YouTube Music and wishing it was just better, this is a step in the right direction.

Mixed for You is available on both the web and mobile app—check it out for yourself by hitting the box below.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Cameron Summerson

This $99 gadget helps you make music, no skill required

At CES back in January, I met with a handful of founders who were/are crowdfunding musical instruments. It’s a fascinating category and one to watch if you have a passing interest in either music or technology. Like a vast majority of hardware startups, most companies in the space will build one product if they’re lucky — and even that can feel like something of a long shot.

Coupling the Hail Mary pursuits of hardware development with an earnest attempt to reinvent the musical wheel feels like an act of futility. And honestly, it is. But every so often, something breaks through in an exciting way. Roli is probably one of the best examples of the phenomenon in recent years. The company’s Seaboard was a clever take on the synth — and the U.K. company has continued to release clever music products.

Nashville-based Artiphon managed to capture the imagination of online music lovers as well, with the simply named Instrument 1. The hybrid guitar/piano-style device pulled in a wildly impressive $1.3 million on Kickstarter back in 2015. I spoke to the company’s founders about the project at CES this year, but it was their second device that really interested me.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Last year’s Kickstarter campaign for the Orba bested its predecessor, raising $1.4 million. And it’s easy to see why. The company describes it thusly on its campaign page:

Hold out your hands and meet Orba, a new kind of musical instrument. It’s a synth, looper, and MIDI controller that lets anyone make music immediately. Orba’s minimalist design resembles a cross between a gaming controller and a half a grapefruit, and its feather-touch sensitivity translates gestures from your fingers and hands directly into sound. Orba introduces a new and fun way to make music anywhere, even if you’ve never played an instrument before.

It’s that last bit in particularl that caught my attention. The thing that united most of the devices I looked at in January is some kind of base-level requirement of musical skill. Which, understandable. But as an overzealous music fan with — let’s just say limited — ability, I’ve been looking for something that might scratch that musical itch. Honestly, I was pretty hopeful for Roli’s Blocks, but ultimately found their appeal for novices to be overstated.

I’ve been asking after the Orba since January. I doubled down in March/April when the COVID-19 shutdown really hit us in earnest here in New York, thinking it would be a good way to pass some of the time that didn’t involve rewatching Tiger King. Initially planned for an April delivery, founder/CEO Mike Butera notes that things like COVID-19 and the ongoing trade war put a damper on those plans.

“Despite that, we started shipping to our 12,000+ Kickstarter backers first this summer, and we’re now 95% shipped globally (100% in the countries where we’ve opened sales),” he says. “All remaining backers are already in logistics.”

Image Credits: Brian Heater

It took a while for the device to finally come through, but I finally got my hands (well, hand, really) on it — and so far I’m pretty into the thing. I can’t promise my attention span is going to hold up beyond a week or two, but I’m really digging it right now. As you’d expect, having some musical skill is certainly helpful, but it’s not a prerequisite. The learning curve is surprisingly small, and the thing, quite literally, works out of the box. Hooking it up to a computer (via USB-C) or smartphone (Bluetooth) enhances the experience, sure, but it’s not necessary.

The easiest way to think about the peculiar little object is as a kind of compact, pre-programmed MIDI controller you can use to build songs by layering loops on the fly. The “grapefruit” comparison is pretty apt (especially if you get the citrusy silicon cover), with each of the “slices” representing a different element of an instrument. In “lead” or “chord” mode, they generally represent different notes. With “drums” they’re different pieces in a kit or other percussion instruments.

Holding down the big “A” lets you switch between instruments, adjust the BPM (tempo), record a track or play it back. I’ve found the easiest way to approach it is laying down a rhythm track with the drums (to the built-in metronome) and then layering chords over that. Here’s a Day One attempt. It’s not Bach or Wendy Carlos, but you get the picture:

I should add the software doesn’t currently support saving/exporting songs, which is a big bummer. The above recording was jury rigged in a very lo-fi way by holding the instrument up to a mic during playback. There are other methods, including using the headphone jack as audio out, but the above was honestly just the easiest method at the time. The feature is included in the instructions, but not the app. Butera has since confirmed with me recording/sharing is, indeed, coming soon.

For the time being, the app is mostly good for switching sounds. There are about 10 sound packs per instrument (with considerable overlap between them). It’s a pretty good start, though most tend toward the electronic and ambient, with drum sounds that more closely approximate an 808 than a proper analog drum kit. It makes sense. Again, this thing is a MIDI controller at its heart and will never be able to sufficiently approximate a chamber orchestra.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The chords/leads are in a scale, so it’s impossible — or at least difficult — to hit a wrong note. Artiphon is working to expand the library of sounds. There are no plans to let users contribute to the library, though they can alter the sounds themselves by using the system as a MIDI controller.

The current level of customization leaves a little to be desired. Though that’s certainly to be expected from a first-gen product from a small startup. And, honestly, there’s something to be said for keeping things relatively simple when it comes to appealing to beginnings. It also warrants mention that the little hunk of plastic is surprisingly versatile when it comes physical interaction. The “keys” don’t have give, but the company has added a number of clever ways to alter the input. It takes some getting used to and can sometimes lead you to trigger an accidental result, but over all, it’s a nice feature.

Stealing the graphic from the Kickstarter page:

Image Credits: Artiphon

I’m not ready to classify the Orba as a serious musical instrument — and honestly, I don’t think that’s really the point. I have no illusions of becoming the next Flying Lotus or Dan Deacon here, but damn if the $99 gadget isn’t fun to have lying around to blow off steam, kill some time and keep myself occupied during boring conference calls — on mute, of course.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Brian Heater

AfterShokz Aeropex Mini Promise a Smaller Set of Bone-Conducting Headphones

A set of Aeropex Bone conducting headphones.AfterShokz

If you’re looking for bone-conducting headphones, we consider the $160 AfterShokz Aeropex among the very best examples available. One of the set’s few problems is the size, thanks to a large band designed to accommodate a wide variety of heads. The new $160 AfterShockz Aeropex Mini promises to offer a better fit, and you can buy them today.

We still like the original AfterShockz Aeropex, and the company isn’t taking them off the market. But for some people, the band is just a little large, and that can be a problem. The new Aeropoex Mini feature a 9.5 mm shorter frame for a snug fit.

A side by side comparison of the AfterShokz Aeropex and Aeropex MiniAfterShokz

Bone Conduction headphones should make running and bicycling a better experience. You get to listen to music and maintain situational awareness. That’s because they have an open style that let sound in so you can hear what’s around you.

But the larger band featured in the original Aeropex can lead to discomfort; instead of a snug fit, you get a pair of headphones that can bounce off your neck and shoulders depending on the size of your head. For some, that’s no big deal—until you wear a shirt with a collar and the band gets trapped in it. The Aeropex Mini shaves a little off headband to provide that missing snug fit.

A man wearing the AfterShokz Mini headphones and a bike helmet.AfterShokz

You can put them on and go for a run without worrying the Aeropex will bounce up and down along the way. The company announced them back at CES 2020 and promised it would release them in Q2 of this year. That time has come and gone, and we never saw that happen. Now the new set is finally ready.

Like the original Aeropex headphones, the Mini set uses Bluetooth 5.0 to connect and are IP67 water resistance rated. That’s good enough for exercise, though you wouldn’t take them for a swim. And since only the band is smaller, AfterShokz promises the same eight hour battery life.

You can buy the $160 Aeropex Mini from the AfterShokz site today or from Amazon, and if you do prefer something a little larger, you can still get the original Aeropex too, which also comes in more colors.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Josh Hendrickson

Snapchat launches its TikTok rival, Sounds on Snapchat

Snapchat this summer announced it would soon release a new music-powered feature that would allow users to set their Snaps to music. Today, the company made good on that promise with the launch of “Sounds on Snapchat” on iOS, a feature that lets users enhance their Snaps with music from curated catalog of both emerging and established artists.

The music can be added to Snaps either pre or post capture, then shared without any limitations. You can post it to your Story or share directly with friends, as you choose.

At launch, the Snapchat music catalog offers “millions” of licensed songs from Snap’s music industry partners, the company says.

When users receive a Snap with Sounds, they can then swipe up to view the album art, the song title, and the name of the artist. There’s also a “Play This Song” link that lets you listen to the full song on your preferred streaming platform, including Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud.

This differentiates Snapchat’s music feature from rival TikTok, where a tap on the “sound” takes users to a page in the app that shows other videos using the same music clip. Only some of these pages also offer a link to play the full song, however.

To kick off the launch of the new Snapchat music feature, Justin Bieber and benny blanco’s new song “Lonely” will be offered as an exclusive in Snapchat’s Featured Sounds list today.

Music makes video creations and communication more expressive, and offers a personal way to recommend music to your closest friends,” notes the company, in announcement about the feature’s launch.

Snap had said in August it would begin testing the new music feature and detailed the deals that made the addition possible.

To power Sounds on Snapchat, the company forged multi-year agreements with major and independent publishers and labels, including Warner Music Group, Merlin (including their independent label members), NMPA, Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Kobalt, and BMG Music Publishing.

The move to introduce a music feature is meant to counter the growing threat of the ByteDance-owned TikTok app, which has popularized short-form video sharing with posts set to music from a large catalog.

Though TikTok’s future in the U.S. remains uncertain due to the ever-changing nature of the Trump administration’s TikTok ban (and an election that could upset those plans), it still remains one of the top U.S. apps, with around 100 million monthly active U.S. users as of August. (TikTok is currently engaged in a lawsuit to challenge its ban, so the app remains live today.)

Social media companies have capitalized on the chaos surrounding a possible TikTok U.S. exit to promote their alternatives, like Triller, Dubsmash, Byte, and others, including, of course Instagram Reels.

Snapchat, meanwhile, touts its traction with a younger user base as its new music feature goes to launch.

In the U.S., Snapchat now reaches 90% of all 13-24 year-olds, which the company notes is more than Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger combined. It also reaches 75% of all 13-34 year-olds and, o average, more than 4 billion Snaps are created every day.

The feature is live now on iOS to start.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Sarah Perez