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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

Holiday 2020: The Best Gifts for Musicians

Rock music band with lead electric guitar player and drummer behind drum set4 PM production/

Serious musicians live and breathe music, so it makes sense that they’d probably want a music-themed gift for the holidays. Fortunately, we rounded up a variety of gifts—like MIDI controllers and digital music lesson services—that will appeal to musicians of all kinds (and of all skill levels).

Learn How to Play Guitar: Jamstik Guitar Trainer

Jamstik Guitar Trainer on table with tablet and coffee mug and headphonesJamstik

If you’ve always wanted to learn how to play electric guitar, you can be up and running in a matter of minutes with the Jamstik Guitar Trainer. The travel-size, wireless, MIDI guitar lets you play at home or on the go, and is perfect for learning how to play guitar and write songs, as well as creating and producing your own music. Its included software has interactive teaching apps and options for introductory music production and composition.

FretTouch Finger Sensor technology and Infrasense Optical Pickups can sense where your fingers are on the Jamstik and provide accurate real-time feedback on a connected device. With these features, you’ll be playing your first guitar chords in no time. Built-in software provides on-demand guitar lessons, and you can plug in your headphones so you don’t disturb others.

Learn to Play Guitar

Jamstik Guitar Trainer

Learn to play guitar with this handy MIDI guitar and interactive learning software.

Listen to Streaming Classical Music: Idagio Subscription

Idagio classical music streaming service home pageIdagio

Sure, you can find classical music on standard streaming services, but none of them really understand it like Idagio ($29.99 per month) does. The music streaming service is dedicated to classical music and makes it easy to learn more about the genre (and discover terrific new pieces you like) with minimal effort.

You can save pieces you like, create playlists, browse new releases, and find beloved legendary records with ease. Plus, any time you click on an album, Idagio provides a blurb that tells you about the album, artist, or composer. You can even find curated classical playlists based on your mood.

Practice Guitar without Annoying Others: Vox AP2AC Headphone Amp

Vox AP2AC Headphone AmpVox

You might love practicing guitar (go you!), but others in your home might not appreciate it as much. Luckily, Vox’s AP2AC Headphone Amplifier enables you to practice quietly without disturbing others. Just plug in your guitar and some headphones, and start playing. You’ll be able to hear what you’d normally hear when connected to a regular amp, and everyone else will hear little to nothing.

The headphone amp works for both bass and guitar. It has built-in controls for tone, volume, gain, chorus, delay, and various reverb effects. And its small size easily fits in your guitar case or desk drawer when you’re done. Talk about a win-win situation!

Practice Guitar Without Annoying Others

VOX AP2AC amPlug 2 AC30 Guitar/Bass Headphone Amplifier

Plug your guitar and headphones into this headphone amp so you can practice without bugging others in your home.

Plenty of Songs for a Jam Session: The Ultimate Fake Book

cover of The Ultimate Fake BookHal Leonard

Fake books are essential for every gigging musician, and they’re fun to mess around with during practice and casual jam sessions as well. They’ve got all the melodies, lyrics, and harmonies you’ll need to play a gig or round out your repertoire.

The Ultimate Fake Book (for C instruments) is a perfect addition to virtually all musicians’ sheet music libraries. It contains over 1,200 songs across all genres, like jazz standards, country classics, and pop chart-toppers, with titles like Unforgettable, When I Fall in Love, Georgia on My Mind, Brazil, Friends in Low Places, and Let’s Fall in Love. There are different fake books for Bb instruments and Eb instruments as well.

Plenty of Songs for a Jam Session

The Ultimate Fake Book (for C Instruments)

This fake book has over 1200 songs across several genres, like jazz, country, and pop.

Stay in Tune and on the Beat: KLIQ MetroPitch

KLIQ MetroPitch joint metronome and tunerKLIQ

Tuners and metronomes are the cornerstone of any musician’s success. And when both can be combined into a single device, it’s a match made in heaven. The KLIQ MetroPitch is a tuner and metronome that works with all instruments and chromatic tuning modes. It even includes a carrying pouch and comes in four different colors.

The device’s small design will effortlessly fit in your instrument case when not in use. It supports a wide pitch range, from A0-C8, along with various tuning modes, transposition settings, pitch calibration, tap tempo, and even has a tone generator. It has a high-sensitivity microphone, input and output jacks, volume control, tempo dial control, and a low battery indicator. It’s the perfect musical accessory or stocking stuffer idea.

Stay in Tune and on the Beat

KLIQ MetroPitch – Metronome Tuner for All Instruments – with Guitar, Bass, Violin, Ukulele, and Chromatic Tuning Modes – Tone Generator – Carrying Pouch Included, Black

The KLIQ MetroPitch is a two-in-one tuner and metronome with pitch calibration, multiple tuning modes, and transposition settings.

For Digital Musicians: AKAI Professional MPD218 Controller

AKAI Professional MPD218 ControllerAKAI

If you’re more into making beats than playing them, you’ll want a good MIDI controller at your fingertips, like the AKAI Professional MPD218. The MIDI-over-USB pad controller blends MPC controls and technologies with USB connectivity to make it easy to create beats.

The controller is lightweight and portable, so you can easily move it around or take it with you on the go. The thick pads are highly sensitive and perfect for triggering drums, samples, effects, basslines, and more. Expandable banks, assignable controls, full level controls, and MPC note repeat puts all the music production options in your hands, as does the included comprehensive software suite: Ableton Live Lite, Sonivox Big Bang cinematic percussion, and Big Bang universal drums.

For Digital Musicians

AKAI Professional MPD218 | 16-Pad USB/MIDI Controller With MPC Pads, 6 Assignable Knobs, Production Software Included

The AKAI Professional MPD218 Pad Controller is lightweight and has expandable banks, assignable controls, and an included music production software suite.

Good Supplies Make for Good Practice: Manhasset Music Stand

Manhasset Model 48 Sheet Music StandManhasset

A music stand might not be exciting, but it’s still nice to have one that’s high quality. The Model #48 Sheet Music Stand from Manhasset is durable and easy to use. You can set it to any height, and its no-knob friction-tilt neck holds the tension. It uses solid brass bearings, and has a greaseless heavy-duty chrome inner shaft and a heavy-gauge steel welded base for sturdiness. (I’ve had mine for nearly 20 years and it still looks new and works perfectly.

Good Supplies Make for Good Practice

Manhasset Model #48 Sheet Music Stand

A durable music stand is a must-have for a home music studio and every practice session.

Get Digital Music Lessons: Yousician

Yousician app music exerciseYousician

Yousician (starts at $14.99 per month) is a great place for online music lessons for piano, guitar, ukulele, bass, and voice. Students of any skill level can sign up. Plus, with COVID-19 still at large, keeping music lessons online rather than in person is ideal.

The site has world-class educators, offers tailored lessons and exercises, and offers solid tools for learning how to master your instrument. You can explore thousands of exercises, lessons, and songs; set goals; track your progress; and monitor your improvement over time. You can also access step-by-step video tutorials and compete with other students for placement on the leaderboard. Yousician also has occasional sales, so be sure to double-check if it’s running any specials before signing up.

Practice Guitar with a Small Amp: IK Multimedia iRig Micro Amp

IK Multimedia iRig Micro Amp with guitar and smartphoneIK Multimedia

You don’t have to break the bank to find an amp for your guitar, and you don’t have to go all-out on a stage-worthy amp just for your practice room. The IK Multimedia iRig Micro Amp ($149.99) is compact yet powerful. The 15W amp covers a range of tones, with three custom-voiced analog channels: lead, drive, and clean. Plus, top-seated knobs for gain, bass, mid, treble, and volume let you control how it sounds. Plus, you can pair it with a smartphone or tablet and take advantage of apps like Amplitube or JamUp for an endless number of tones.

If you’re looking to round out your setup, consider picking up the iRig Blueboard ($99.99) as well. The Bluetooth MIDI pedalboard lets you control your favorite music apps (like AmpliTube) and more with your foot. The Blueboard makes it easy to do things like switch between presets, turn effects on and off, control volume, and change patches. Four backlit soft-touch pads are set in a sturdy chassis, and you have two TRS expansion jacks. It’s the perfect partner for the iRig Micro Amp when paired up with a smartphone or tablet.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Suzanne Humphries

10 Zelda-Inspired Games to Play Now that Age of Calamity is Out

Screenshots of Pine, Hyper Light Drifter, and Ittle Dew 2+Twirlbound, Heart Machine, Ludosity

The Hyrule Warriors games are great, but they’re definitely not the standard Zelda formula fans love. And with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity fresh off the presses, you may be craving a more traditional Zelda experience.  Fortunately, there are loads of great titles from other developers that take inspiration from the Zelda series.

RiME (PC/Switch/PS4/Xbox)

RiME is a peaceful title about exploring an ancient island full of ruins and secrets to uncover. Enjoy the beautiful world while interacting with the local fauna and solving puzzles scattered about. All the while, you get to learn more about the backstory of the unnamed boy you play through the various collectibles you’ll find during your playthrough.

RiME is available on PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox.

Pine (PC/Switch)

Taking its cues from Breath of the Wild, Pine drops the player into a massive open-world where humans are at the bottom of the food chain. You’ll explore a wide variety of biomes and structures, all while dealing with the other civilizations that inhabit the island. There’s plenty of items to collect and craft and secrets to uncover, and the story plays out in an interesting way while making sure you play an active role in it.

Pine is available on PC and Switch.

Hyper Light Drifter (PC/Switch/PS4/Xbox)

In this beautifully pixelated tale, you get to play a mysterious drifter exploring a diverse world full of intrigue. The storytelling is cryptic and told solely through the environment, and the Zelda inspiration becomes clear when you see the gameplay. The combat is fast-paced and based around quick sword strikes and smart dodging. All of this comes together to deliver a satisfying game with some of the best pixel art in gaming.

Hyper Light Drifter is available on PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox.

Hob (PC/Switch/PS4)

Hob follows the Zelda formula pretty faithfully, but it has enough of a unique flair to differentiate itself. The cartoony 3D visuals give the world plenty of character and also open the door for more vertical movement than most top-down games. In this game, you’ll explore, solve puzzles, and fight enemies—what could be more Zelda than that?

Hob is available on PC, Switch, and PS4.

Darksiders II (PC/Switch/PS4/Xbox)

While the Darksiders series certainly has a different tone than Zelda, it still takes plenty of cues from the series—most notably, the dungeon-based progression system that’s seen throughout the entire game. There’s also some excellent hack n’ slash combat and loot systems to keep you engaged as you progress through the game.

Darksiders II is available on PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox.

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King (PC/Switch)

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is immediately recognizable as a Zelda inspired title, with everything from the animations to how combat works paying homage to the series. But this isn’t some cheap copycat—Blossom Tales was praised for taking the classic Zelda formula and including many new ideas, along with some all-around great dungeon design.

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is available on PC and Switch.

Ittle Dew 2+ (PC/Switch/PS4)

As a sequel to the already critically acclaimed Ittle Dewit’s no surprise that Ittle Dew 2 is another faithful reinterpretation of the Zelda formula. With new items, a cutesy art style, and excellent level design, this game is sure to please fans of the Zelda series, both new and old. There’s plenty of content in the game, with seven dungeons you can tackle in any order, plus multiple unlockable dungeons that turn up the difficulty.

Ittle Dew 2+ is available on PC, Switch, and PS4.

Moonlighter (PC/Switch/PS4/Xbox)

Moonlighter is a beautifully detailed adventure with plenty of stuff to achieve—it even throws in some roguelite mechanics for good measure. You manage a small shop, selling loot from the procedurally generated dungeons you explore every night. There’s a large variety of weapons and items that you can obtain, either from the local townsfolk or treasure chests. Even the inventory system in Moonlighter manages to be unique, with an interesting puzzle element where you have to be careful about how items are stacked.

Moonlighter is available on PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox.

Collection of Mana (Switch)

The Mana series were revolutionary titles when they were first released, boasting impressive visuals and unique action-oriented RPG combat. And now you can play the whole series through the Collection of Mana on Switch. While the first game, Final Fantasy Adventure, is a bit dated, having originally been released on Gameboy, it’s still a solid game. And the other two games hold up excellently compared to modern top-down RPGs, so regardless of whether you’ve played these games before or not, this collection is a great pickup.

If you don’t own a Switch, then the Trails of Mana remake (the third and final game in the series) is available on PC, PS4, and Switch. It changes things up dramatically from the original title, turning the top-down adventure into a third-person 3D one, but the heart and soul of the game are still there and as great as ever.

Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Sea (PC/Switch/PS4/Xbox/Android/iOS)

Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Sea doesn’t do much to convince you it’s not a Zelda knockoff. Everything from the level design, perspective, and even the main character’s design make that pretty clear. Despite that, Oceanhorn still manages to be a game worth playing due to how effectively it recreates the Zelda formula. For fans of the series, this is a great title to play if you want to feel at home.

Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Sea is available on PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox, Android, and iOS.

Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Sea does have a sequel in Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm which focuses on third-person action and, on the whole, brings more fresh ideas to the table. However, it’s only available on Switch and iOS devices.

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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

Wyze Will Water Your Lawn With a New Smart Sprinkler Controller

A Wyze Sprinkler controller.Wyze

If there’s any doubt that Wyze wants to rule your smart home, both inside and out, then you can put those doubts to bed. The company is expanding, again, into a new segment of the smart home. This time Wyze will focus on your yard, thanks to its upcoming Smart Sprinkler Controller. And at $50, it seriously undercuts the competition.

The Wyze Sprinkler is an eight zone smart sprinkler system that works with existing irrigation systems. If you subscribe to the optional Sprinkler Plus service for $10 a year, you’ll get advanced features like insights into past, current, and forecasted future soil moisture levels. Subscribers can also enable Smart Schedules and Skips that use weather reports to determine when to water and when to wait.

A Wyze app with sprinkler controls.Wyze

“Innovations in smart technology for lawn care are few and far between – and those that do exist

are increasingly expensive” says Mike Sobaski, Wyze Sprinkler’s Product Manager. “Customers

new to the idea of smart sprinkler systems will fall in love with the ability to manually turn their

system off from the Wyze app without running to the garage. Better yet, if they’d prefer to

automate their system completely and have us do the thinking for them, we offer Sprinkler Plus,

a comprehensive and low-price service that syncs with hyper-local weather forecasts making

sure you never water your lawn in the rain again.”

A Wyze Sprinker controller attached to a wall.Wyze

If you pre-order the sprinkler for $50, you’ll get the first year of Sprinkler Plus for free. Even if you don’t subscribe, you’ll still get access to some smart features like app controls, fixed schedules, and more. You’ll need an irrigation system and strong enough Wi-F- to reach the controller, of course. But if you have existing sensors from another system, like Rainbird’s or Rachio’s, they should work with Wyze.

You can pre-order the Wyze Sprinkler controller today, and it will start shipping in January 2021.

Proactive Computing found this story and shared it with you.
The Article Was Written/Published By: Josh Hendrickson

The Best Tools for Building Your Own Desktop PC

Gaming computer filled with LEDsAlberto Garcia Guillen/

All you need to build a modern desktop computer is a screwdriver. That’s it. But if you want an easier or safer time of it, there are a few simple tools you can add on top to make things go smoothly. Once you have your parts selected and you know the fairly simple steps to take, you’ll be ready to go.

A Driver Kit

iFixIt 64-driver tool kitiFixIt

A single screwdriver will do for a PC build, but having multiple size options (especially of the near-universal X-shaped Phillips head screwdriver) makes things a lot easier. For this purpose, we’ve recommended the iFixIt driver kit for years. The primary screwdriver is a super-sturdy hunk of steel with kerning for grip, and this kit comes with 64 high-quality magnetized steel drivers to cover almost any kind of small screw imaginable. These kits are so good that Apple’s been known to use them to help design new computers.

By the way, if you’re thinking about using a drill or electric screwdriver, don’t: Using a lot of speed or torque for the screws inside a PC case might break circuit boards or thin steel sheets. Stick with your trusty fingers.

iFixIt Driver Kit

iFixit Mako Driver Kit – 64 Precision Bits for Electronics Repair

This excellent little toolkit should have a designated home in of every gadget nerd’s desk drawer.

An Anti-Static Wrist Strap

Anti-static wrist strapKingwin

A lot of modern builders consider anti-static equipment overkill—so long as you’re working in a cool, dry place, you probably won’t short any parts out with a static discharge. But if you want to play it safe—and if you’re building an expensive high-end rig, why wouldn’t you?—an old-fashioned anti-static bracelet is the way to go. Put one end around your wrist, clip the other to a piece of grounded metal, and you’ll be free from worry about static electricity.

A Silicone Work Mat

Ceatech Silicone Soldering MatCeatech

One thing that might surprise you about building a PC is how many screws you have to manage. You can use cups or bowls from your kitchen to keep them straight, but this handy silicone mat is even better: It has built-in dividers for keeping things organized, backed with magnets to make sure they don’t go flying. The silicone material means that you can rest components directly on the mat without worrying about static discharges, too.

A Telescoping Magnet

A telescoping magnet.Master Magnetics

We’ve all been there: getting a fiddly little screw down perfectly into a case goes wrong, and the screw is now lodged somewhere your pudgy fingers can’t reach. This telescoping magnet can grab them without the need to remove entire components … or abandon them to rattle around the bowels of your PC case forever.

Telescoping Magnet

Slim 25” Durable Telescoping Magnetic Grabber/Retrieving Magnet with Pocket Clip (07228)

This handy tool helps you track down lost screws without removing any components.

Some Cable Ties

AmazonBasics velcro cable tieAmazon

Things can get messy inside a PC case, with data cables going from your storage and disk drives to the motherboard, and power rails from the power supply to the motherboard, CPU, GPU, storage drives, and all fans. To keep things tidy, pick up a few of these reusable velcro straps. Not only will they keep cables out of the way while you’re building your computer, but the interior will look neat if your case has a transparent window. They’re also a better option than zip ties since they’re reusable.

AmazonBasics Reusable Cable Ties

AmazonBasics Reusable Cable Zip Ties – 8-Inch, 50-Pack

These little velcro ties will keep the power and data cables inside your PC nice and tidy.

A Set of Spare Screws

Computer screw kitHelifouner

A new case and fans should come with all of the mounting equipment you need. But if you manage to lose something, or if you’re upgrading an existing build, you might be short a screw or two. (Literally.) This kit includes spares of pretty much everything you could ever need, including the hard-to-find motherboard standoff pegs, fan mounting screws, and thumbscrews.

Space computer and case screws

HELIFOUNER 450 Pieces Computer Standoffs Spacer Screws Assortment Kit for Hard Drive Computer Case Motherboard Fan Power Graphics

This kit will give you spare copies of every one of the weird little screws you might use in your PC build.

Spare Thermal Paste

Arctic Silver 5 thermal pasteArctic Silver

If you’ve bought a new processor or CPU cooler, it should come with a small tube of thermal paste, a substance that helps dissipate the heat from the processor to the cooler. But if you lose it or you need some more, it’s easy to find. We recommend a trusty PC building favorite, Arctic Silver 5. If you don’t know how to apply it, check out this article over on How-To Geek.

A Canless Air Tool

Opolar canless air toolOpolar

Canned air is a favorite for PC builders who are upgrading or simply cleaning their machines. But it’s not ideal: Those cans are basically built to be disposable, and the chemicals inside are very unfriendly to the environment. Instead, use this tiny little electric “canless air” machine: it’s basically a leaf blower for the inside of your PC. It’s great for cleaning off your nasty keyboard, too.

Opoplar Cordless Air Duster

Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcoholMaxTite

If you need a more direct way to clean problem spots in your computer, especially the crucial electrical contacts on plugs and circuit boards, isopropyl alcohol is the way to go. Use Q-tips to gently apply the alcohol in a thin sheet. It’s sterile and will clean off any gunk, then evaporate, leaving your components ready for action.

Isopropyl Alcohol

MaxTite Isopropyl Alcohol 99.9% (16oz)

This cleaning agent is ideal for getting dust and other gunk off of electrical contacts and wires.

If you still need help selecting the actual PC components of the computer you want to build, be sure to check out these online tools to help you nail the compatibility and pricing. And of course, if you want a step-by-step guide on every single part of building the PC itself, check out How-To Geek’s exhaustive guide.

Proactive Computing found this story and shared it with you.
The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

The 4 Best GPS Running and Multi-Sport Watches

Young Woman Runner Using Multisport Smartwatch at Sunset on the Mountain Trail. Closeup of Hands with Fitness Trackermaxpro/

What’s the point of going for a run or a bike ride without tracking every performance metric you can? Seriously, if someone could explain why you’d do that to the exercise-mad team here at Review Geek, that’d be great; we can’t leave the house without hitting “Start Workout” on our GPS watches.

Though, if you want to join us in obsessing over split times, minutes-per, and power output, here are the best running and multi-sports watches you can buy right now.

What to Look For in a Running or Multi-Sport Watch

The running, multi-sport, and even sport-focused smartwatch category is increasingly stacked. There are lots of different options at all kinds of price points. We’ve pulled out the options that we feel are most suitable for most people, but if you want to dig deep in the catalogs or double-check our work, here’s what to look for.

  • Support for your sport of choice: There’s now less of a divide between running and multi-sport watches. All of our picks, and most GPS watches on the market today, can track a wide variety of different sports and outdoor activities. However, if you’re getting a watch for a niche sport, make sure it’s fully supported. Some watches have triathlon specific features, like open-water swim tracking and quick transitions, and continuous tracking between the swim, bike, and run, while others support backcountry skiing and mountaineering. It’s not that you won’t be able to do triathlon training or skiing with any of the watches, your tracking options will just be more limited.
  • Accurate heart-rate tracking: It’s not really an issue with any of our picks, but budget watches and some smartwatches can struggle to get an accurate heart-rate reading, especially when you’re working out. Of course, wrist-based tracking is inherently less accurate than upper-arm or chest-based tracking, though you can fix the problem with an external HR monitor.
  • Something you’re comfortable wearing: Most GPS watches are now designed to be worn all the time. They have smartwatch and fitness tracker features like notification support, steps tracking, and contactless payments. There’s a good chance you’re going to start wearing your GPS watch all day, every day. And since they all track sleep, probably all night, too. This means it’s super important to get a watch that’s comfortable on your wrist, both physically and stylistically. Most people will be better off with slimmer slightly less-featured watches than a ridiculously big top-of-the-line rugged model.
  • A good smartphone app: The user interface on most running watches is a bit rough and ready. To really drill into your performance stats, see how you’re improving over time, or configure things, you’re going to want a decent companion smartwatch app. Again, this isn’t something any of our picks lack, but if you’re going off-brand or looking at something crazy-niche, make sure the app is well designed.

Best for Most People: Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

garmin 245 music color optionsGarmin

Garmin’s Forerunner 245 is a great running watch that is thin and light enough to wear every day—it’s less than 1/2 an inch thick and weighs in at 1.36 ounces. While not a true multi-sport watch, the Forerunner 245 can track cycling, weights workouts, pool swimming, and a lot more (and of course, running).

We think you’d be mad not to upgrade to the music version, which enables you to store up to 500 songs for phone-free playback over Bluetooth headphones, and even sync them from Spotify. It means you can leave your phone at home when you hit the road or trails.

Battery life is good across the board: You’ll get a week when you use it as a smartwatch and up to 6 hours when you’re using the GPS tracking and blaring some music. The more you work out the more you’ll need to charge it, but, unless you’re deep in a marathon plan, it’s never going to need to be nightly.

And, speaking of nightly, the Forerunner 245 does a lot overnight. It tracks your sleep and blood oxygenation, and uses the information to calculate how recovered you are from your workouts and how much you should push yourself on a given day. It will even take into account your stress and non-exercise activity levels.

While the Forerunner 245 Music isn’t Garmin’s most advanced watch, best watch for triathletes, or even best smartwatch, it pulls a lot of great features together from across Garmin’s line and hits a really nice sweet spot for a lot of amateur athletes, and especially amateur runners. You certainly don’t have to go with the 245—but you need to have a reason not to.

Best for Most People

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music, GPS Running Smartwatch with Music and Advanced Dynamics, Black

The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music hits that perfect sweet spot of having enough features for most people—without being overkill.

Best Ultra and Outdoors Option: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar

garmin fenix 6 pro solar screen optionsGarmin

Most GPS running and outdoor watches have lost a little bit of their niche edge as they’ve added smartwatch features, fitness tracking, and otherwise become appropriate for weekend warriors to wear to the office. The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar, however, hasn’t given an inch. If you’re looking for the ultimate ultra-running, mountain climbing, backcountry skiing, and off the grid watch, it’s for you.

The problem with most GPS watches for a lot of extreme outdoor activities—and let’s be honest, even just a long hike—is that the battery life just doesn’t last. The Forerunner 245’s 6 hours, for example, is perfect for any amount of running training, but it won’t last a day in the hills. The Fenix 6 Pro Solar solves this problem in three ways: a bigger battery, more power management options, and a Power Glass solar charging screen. With GPS on, you’ll get up to 40 hours of continuous tracking with just a few hours sunlight a day. You can even put it into Expedition GPS mode if you’re, say, skiing across the polar icecaps and only need to occasionally register your position: that lasts for more than a month.

Of course, the Fenix 6 doesn’t just have great battery life. It’s also got a feature list that warrants keeping it charged up with built-in topographic maps; terrain-aware run coaching; ski, mountain bike, and altitude acclimation tracking; an altimeter, barometer, and compass, and a whole lot more. If you’re planning to run an ultramarathon, go on a multi-day backpacking trip, or get out at dawn to tour up some nearby mountains and ski back down, it’s got everything you need to track your activities, monitor your performance, and keep you safe.

And, look, while we’re reluctant to call the Fenix 6 a watch you’ll want to wear all the time, you can. It’s available in three case sizes from the merely large (41mm) to the extremely large (47mm) and gigantic (51mm), and has all Garmin’s regular sleep tracking, step tracking, and notification displaying smartwatch features. It’s even got Garmin Pay for when you forget your wallet and need to pay for some aprés beers.

Best for Ultra Outdoor Adventures

Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar, Premium Multisport GPS Watch with Solar Charging, features Mapping, Music, Grade-Adjusted Pace Guidance and Pulse Ox Sensors, Titanium

The Fenix 6 Pro Solar is a monster watch for monstrous adventures. If you like to vanish into the backcountry, it’s the one for you.

Best for Triathletes and Multi-Sport Enthusiasts: Garmin Forerunner 945

woman using garmin forerunner 945 on a bikeGarmin

While the difference between running watches and multi-sport watches has blurred, it’s not quite gone yet. The Forerunner 245, our pick for most people, for example, can track your swimming pool sessions with aplomb and all the metrics you could want, but it can’t track open-water swims. It’s not a problem for everyone—but gaps like this are a problem for someone who puts as much emphasis on their swim training as they do their bike, run, or strength sessions. If you want a watch that gives equal weight to every activity, it’s the Forerunner 945 you’re after.

With the Forerunner 945, you can happily track your open-water swims—but you can also track your triathlon and other multi-sport training as a single activity. Just select the right multi-sport option and bash the lap button when you transition from the water to the bike and again when you go from the bike to the road run. You can also track other multi-sport options, like a swimrun, or create your own if you’re training for a hike-cycle-kayak adventure race or the like.

And, if you’re looking for training data, the Forerunner 945 brings it in a major way. As well as the usual performance metrics and VO2 Max, it also tracks and calculates your current conditioning level, the effect your training is having on your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, your training load, and whether or not you’re training productively and optimally. If you’re balancing lots of different activities, it’s a great way to keep tabs on how you’re doing overall.

Rounding things out, the Forerunner 945 boasts all the usual high-end Garmin features: music playback, Garmin Pay, a pulse oxygenation sensor, and even topographic maps. It really is the complete multi-sports package.

Best for Triathletes

Garmin 010-02063-00 Forerunner 945, Premium GPS Running/Triathlon Smartwatch with Music, Black

Most sports watches are really running or cycling watches. The Forerunner 945 gives swimming and multisport training just as much focus.

Best Non-Garmin Watch: Polar Vantage M

polar vantage m front and backPolar

Garmin has the GPS running and multi-sport watch category thoroughly covered so it can feel, at times, like there are no other options. Thankfully, that’s not true at all. Polar, Coros, and Suunto all make great products. Though, if you’re looking for our pick for the best bang-for-your-buck non-Garmin GPS watch, it has to be the Polar Vantage M.

The Polar Vantage M is a great running and multi-sport watch. It can track 130 different activities—including that all important open-water swim—and has a great multi-sport mode that lets you switch back and forth between different activities. Interspersing swim and run intervals? It can track them perfectly.

Polar has a reputation for making great heart-rate monitors (the Polar H10 chest strap is one of the best regarded) so it’s no surprise that, even with all the caveats about wrist-based tracking, the Vantage M is among the best around. It’ll still be out by a few beats-per-minute especially at higher intensities, but reviews almost universally praise it.

The Vantage M harks back to older sports watches. It doesn’t have the same level of smartwatch features as most Garmin watches—it can display notifications, track your sleep and activities, and that’s about it—but it has a battery that lasts for 30 training hours. Sure, you can wear it all day if you want, but it’s not really meant for that, nor is Polar throwing in lackluster features to try and pretend otherwise. This the watch you wear when you workout—and it works great that way.

Best non-Garmin Option

POLAR VANTAGE M –Advanced Running & Multisport Watch with GPS and Wrist-based Heart Rate (Lightweight Design & Latest Technology), Black, M-L

Garmin isn’t the only GPS watch manufacturer. If you want to avoid the big G and get something just as awesome, go with the Polar Vantage M.

GPS running and multi-sport watches are great—if you’re looking for something that accurately tracks serious athletic activities. If you don’t quite need the crazy running metrics or recovery time tracking and want something that’s got more smartwatch and everyday features, check out the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2.

Proactive Computing found this story and shared it with you.
The Article Was Written/Published By: Harry Guinness

ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 Review: Power, Beauty, and Brains

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 on white desktopKevin Bonnett

Over the years, I’ve worked on a wide variety of computers. From top-of-the-line MacBook Pros and custom gaming PCs to my current (albeit modest) Microsoft Surface Pro 6, I’ve bounced around brands and operating systems alike exploring what’s out there. But after testing the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3, I no longer care about other computers. Only this one.

It’s lightning fast, has a smart and durable design, and oh baby, that wondrous 15.6-inch 4K UHD OLED HDR display. Talk about eye candy! The laptop’s 32 GB of RAM and powerful Core i7 processor effortlessly kept up with everything I threw at it day after day. And after spending two weeks with the X1 Extreme, I can definitively say that its only real drawbacks are the disappointing 720p webcam, the lackluster battery life, and the steep price tag.

The laptop is genuinely awesome and a pleasure to use. It has all the features I could ask for, and it never gets in my way. It’s perfect for anyone looking for a dependable, hardworking, and easy to use laptop.

Specs as Reviewed:

  • CPU: 10th Generation Intel Core i7 10850H vPro (2.70 GHz, up to 5.10 GHz with Turbo Boost, 6 cores, 12 threads, 12 MB cache)
  • RAM: 32 GB DDR4 (2933 MHz)
  • Display: 15.6″ 4K UHD OLED Touchscreen with HDR 400 and Dolby Vision, 400 nits
  • Storage: 1 TB PCIe SSD
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q 4 GB
  • Cameras: Hybrid IR & 720p HD
  • Ports: 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1, 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C with Intel Thunderbolt 3 (PD, DP, DT), DisplayPort, 4-in-1 SD card reader, Headphone/mic combo, HDMI 2.0, Kensington lock slot
  • Connectivity: Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 802.11AX, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Audio: Dolby Atmos Speaker
  • Dimensions: 14.24 x 9.67 x 0.74 inches
  • Weight: 4 lbs.
  • Price: $2,182.95

After seeing those specs, it’s understandable why the laptop costs so much; but after using it for two weeks, I don’t even care because I love it. Of course, that’s easy for me to say since it was just shipped to me for testing and I didn’t actually have to pay for it, but I am now considering saving up to buy one of my own, for what it’s worth.

The Design

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 carbon fiber lidLenovo

The X1 Extreme is a big laptop, but that’s not a bad thing. It means there’s plenty of room for all of its hardware, ports, and its large screen. Despite measuring 14.24 x 9.67 x 0.74 inches and weighing 4 pounds, the laptop still doesn’t feel gigantic. It has plenty of powerful features, but can still be stowed away in your backpack or messenger bag if you need to use it on the go.

It boasts an array of ports that are actually useful. It has two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports (always on), and two USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports with Intel Thunderbolt 3 for Power Delivery, Data Transfer, and DisplayPort. It also has a full size 4-in-1 SD card reader, much to the delight of photographers everywhere, an HDMI 2.0 port, a headphone/microphone combo, and support for an RJ45 via Type-C Ethernet adapter that’s sold separately, which is good since it lacks any on-board Ethernet.

Opening up the back of the laptop reveals it has two M.2 SSD drive slots—one empty and one full—so there’s room for you to upgrade or add more storage, should you want to. Both RAM DIMM slots are accessible from the back as well, and you can swap them out easily without a screwdriver. It’ll also be a cinch to repair or replace the battery if needed.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 inside bottom panelKevin Bonnett

The X1 Extreme also has a few nice extras like a backlit keyboard, a self-healing BIOS, and a Kensington lock slot. It also uses an IR camera and a fingerprint scanner for Windows Hello, for those who are concerned about security. Plus the laptop’s sturdy, high-quality build is solid from every angle. It doesn’t flex or distort, and it’ll stand up to wear and tear over the years.

The laptop follows the lead of its predecessors, keeping the muted ThinkPad aesthetic. The carbon fiber design on the lid has a nice subtle look and it adds some structural integrity, which is always a good thing. And although not everyone is a fan of the way ThinkPads look, I am personally a huge fan. I don’t want a laptop that’s full of flash, I want a laptop that’s powerful and durable. And besides, it’s hard to even think about how the laptop looks once you open the lid and see that beautiful, beautiful screen….

The Screen

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 screenKevin Bonnett

The X1 Extreme’s 15.6-inch 4K OLED HDR touchscreen display is nothing short of delightful. If I didn’t have a big flatscreen in my living room, I’d be perfectly content watching my shows on it because it’s just that good. The bright OLED reaches 400 nits in SDR and 540 nits in HDR. It looks colorful, rich, and gloriously detailed no matter what I’m watching or playing. In fact, I found that both Netflix’s Dolby content and 4K content from The Slow Mo Guys, looked especially remarkable on its Dolby Visual display.

The screen is made of anti-reflective glass and looks bright and crisp in all lighting scenarios. It also has an anti-smudge coating, which is really great considering it’s a touchscreen. Color accuracy is stellar, and color gamut is also decent for the most part. It covers 100% of sRGB, but just 96% of AdobeRGB. This is a negligible detail for most users, but it is noteworthy for creative types.

The screen’s only downside is its 60 Hz refresh rate. This won’t affect most users, but it does mean that the computer isn’t the best choice for serious gamers. Though it handles gameplay just fine, it isn’t the best choice for those wanting a display with a high refresh rate.

The Keyboard and Trackpad

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 keyboard and trackpadKevin Bonnett

The laptop’s backlit keyboard has a fantastic travel distance and a nice tactile feel. The keys are a little too spaced out for my comfort, at least compared to what I’m used to (Logitech’s MX Keys). But that aside, the Lenovo keyboard feels nice to use. It’s pleasantly quiet and perfectly responsive.

It’s also spill resistant, which is great for clumsy types (or those with kids or pets). I love that it features three super convenient Unified Communication keys (F9-F11), as they allow me to access the notification center and start or stop a call with the press of a button. My only gripe is that the Fn key and Ctrl keys are switched, though you can easily swap them in the BIOS or with a Lenovo driver program.

Staying on brand, the Lenovo X1 Extreme Gen 3 maintains its infamous TrackPoint “nipple mouse” in the center of the keyboard. It’s nice to have for those who like it, and it beats carrying around an actual mouse in your bag.

The glass trackpad is also great. The surface has a nice feel to it, but much of its real estate is taken up by the dedicated buttons, which I don’t think are totally necessary since you can still click or tap on the trackpad. It’s also off-center (to the left), which might bug some, but it’s not so far off center that it’s unusable. It works just fine.

The Camera, Microphone, and Speakers

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 fully extended laid flatLenovo

The X1 Extreme’s unenthusiastic 720p camera barely qualifies to be called high-definition and just seems out of place for the laptop, given how well it delivers on pretty much everything else. During the video calls I made on the laptop, everyone I talked with said it looks blurry. If you’ll be on video calls all the time on this device, you should consider using a separate webcam.

However, the hybrid infrared camera works with Windows Hello biometrics if you want to have some login-based security on your laptop. There’s also the ThinkShutter webcam privacy cover, which is small and never gets in the way. It offers you some peace of mind anytime you’re using the laptop and saves you from having to buy a separate webcam cover.

My coworkers and friends said the laptop’s dual far-field microphones sounded good when used in video calls. You won’t need to buy a separate microphone to use with this laptop, unless you’ll be recording studio-grade audio. The included Lenovo Vantage app also lets you optimize your microphone for (Cortana) voice recognition, and for multiple voices.

The X1’s Dolby Atmos Speaker System is pretty dang nice as well. I spent weeks listening to tunes, playing video games, and watching movies with the downward-firing speakers and was never disappointed. Vocals always sound clear and crisp, as do most genres of music (especially EDM and metal). That said, it could stand to have a heartier bass response and more balanced treble, but overall the audio sounds great for a laptop.

The Performance and Power

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 on white desk next to mouse and coastersKevin Bonnett

Allow me to cut to the chase: I love how powerful this laptop is. It handled everything I threw at it without so much as breaking a sweat. At one point, I had Slack, Spotify, Netflix, YouTube, and Adobe Photoshop all open and running, along with a whopping 32 tabs open in Chrome. It never stuttered for a moment, and the fan never kicked on. The Core i7 just kept up with my ridiculous antics without complaints.

The X1 Extreme’s 10th Generation Intel Core i7 10850H vPro processor is terrific both on paper and in actual use. And paired with 32 GB of memory, it’s up for any task, even those that are fairly processor-intensive. I ran it through the gamut of processor-heavy activities, like editing photos in photoshop, playing a sandbox explosion simulator video game, and playing multiple 4K videos at the same time without a single issue. It was really nice.

And if you don’t mind its limited 60 Hz refresh rate, the laptop is also plenty sufficient for use as a gaming laptop. Otherwise, it handles gaming and other similar tasks with ease. In fact the one singular thing that made the fan kick on in all of my tests was resizing photos and doing more intense stuff in Photoshop. At no point did the laptop ever feel like it was overheating or struggling.

The Battery

Side of Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 to see portsLenovo

Oh how I wish the X1 Extreme’s battery was better. On days where I had two or three tabs open in Google Chrome along with a chat client, I got an average of just five hours out of it. But its underwhelming battery performance isn’t uncommon for this line of laptops. It seemed to have fared only slightly better than its Gen 2 predecessor, and they both have the same battery.

Under my standard pass-out test—which consisted of running a chat client, a looping YouTube video, 15-20 open Chrome tabs, and Spotify and Adobe Photoshop open—it just barely passed three and a half hours. I kept the screen at medium brightness and the volume in a low to medium range.

Battery life for less demanding users will likely improve by an hour or two, but I’d like to see it be able to keep up with heavier workloads for those who don’t want to be tethered to an outlet all day. But as it is, it’s barely enough to get me through half a work day or a short flight. With all of its high powered components, this shortcoming isn’t shocking, but bad battery life is always disappointing to see on any device.

The included 135-watt slim AC adapter can recharge the battery to 80% capacity in 60 minutes and fully in 90 minutes, which is appreciated. But its proprietary port means you can’t just plug in any old battery bank—you’ll have to use the charger that comes with the laptop. I attempted to charge it with my fastest USB-C battery bank, but the X1 never recognized it.

I Don’t Want to Send This Laptop Back!

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 closed and sitting on white deskKevin Bonnett

After spending two weeks working off of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3, my sentiments echo those of my coworker Michael when he tested the 2nd generation version of this laptop: Please Don’t Make Me Say Goodbye! The laptop’s stellar hardware handled every task (or fleet of tasks) I threw at it, and I love that it never got in my way at any point.

Sure, the laptop lacks the flashiness found in other models, and the webcam quality and weak battery life are off-putting, but the Extreme Gen 3 is the perfect choice for general home office use, as well as for casual gaming and watching videos. Plus it’s not too heavy or bulky, and will easily fit in your bag if you need to take it on the go. I’m gonna have a hard time going back to my Surface Pro 6 after this.

Proactive Computing found this story and shared it with you.
The Article Was Written/Published By: Suzanne Humphries

Holiday 2020: The Best Portable Battery Packs

RAVPower 20000 mAh Charger on a desk connected to a laptopRAVPower

No one likes a dead battery, so a portable battery is an excellent tech gift for everyone on your list. But one thing that will be different from person to person is what type of battery they need, so we found battery packs that cover everyone’s needs to fill out your shopping list this holiday season.

What to Look for in a Battery Pack

While a battery pack may appear simple on the outside, there are some key things to consider when selecting the right one.

  • Portability: We want these battery packs to be nice and portable, so their weight and overall size are a big concern. Of course, the more a battery can charge, the larger it needs to be, but there are plenty of high-capacity batteries that keep a compact form factor.
  • Capacity: Speaking of capacity, this is one of the major factors that determines the price. Naturally, the more the battery can charge, the more it will cost—but that also translates to how much peace of mind it can provide. Nearly any portable battery can charge your phone, but some of the battery packs on this list are capable of charging anything up to a laptop, so you’re going to need to figure out how much power the person you’re shopping for needs. 
  • Ports: You need to keep a close eye on what types of and how many output ports a battery pack has. The two main types of ports to look out for are USB-A and USB-C—as most modern portable devices can charge with either one, and most batteries support charging multiple devices simultaneously. How much power each port can deliver is important when it comes to charging more power-hungry devices, so we’ll make sure to note that as well for the higher-capacity batteries on this list. As a side note, most of the batteries on this list also have a USB-C input for fast charging speeds.
  • Fast Charging: This is just plain useful to have, and we made sure all the battery packs on this list feature it to some capacity. 

Best Overall: RAVPower 20000 mAh Charger

RAVPower 20000 mAh ChargerRAVPower

This straightforward pack has all the features you need in a charger. It has a 15W USB-A and 60W USB-C port with Power Delivery for power-hungry devices such as laptops. The 20,000 mAh capacity means it can charge and fast-charge any portable device, and the LED lights on the side let you know how much power is left in it. Wrap all that up into a sleek package and you’ve got a great battery pack on your hands.

Best Budget Choice: AUKEY 8000 mAh Power Bank

AUKEY 8000 mAh Power BankAUKEY

If you’re looking for something in the lower price brackets, then you’ll want to direct your attention to this power bank from AUKEY. The 8,000 mAh capacity is enough for phones and tablets, and it has two USB-A ports and a USB-C. Fast charging is still here, and it even works as a wireless charger with built-in Qi wireless charging as well. The lack of Power Delivery and small size makes it a poor choice for larger devices like laptops and tablets, though.

Nice and Convenient: Heloideo 10000 mAh Slim Charger

Heloideo 10000 mAh Slim ChargerHeloideo

If you don’t want to lug around cords with your charger, then this model from Heloideo will be your saving grace. It has a USB-C, micro USB, and Lightning cable built into the charger, and also has one USB-A and USB-C port. Throw in a fold-out wall charger and this battery pack just screams convenience. However, like the AUKEY above, this isn’t a great choice for larger devices.

Plenty of Juice: Anker PowerCore+ 26800 mAh

Anker PowerCore+ 26800 mAhAnker

The PowerCore+ holds plenty of juice with its 26,800 mAh capacity while still keeping a portable-friendly design. With two 15W USB-A ports and a 45W USB-C with Power Delivery, it will more than cover your portable devices, and even hungrier devices like laptops shouldn’t have any issues (although it’s worth noting that this charger can’t power up the most powerful laptops). The included PowerPort Atom III wall plug charges the whole battery to full in only three hours, so this will be easy to top-up whenever you’re at home.

Plug-in Anything: RAVPower 20000 mAh Portable Charger

RAVPower 20000 mAh Portable ChargerRAVPower

Sometimes simple ports aren’t enough for specific devices—you occasionally require the freedom of a wall plug, which is exactly what this charger from RAVPower has. With a full AC port on the top of the charger, you can plug anything into this battery pack. Besides that, the charger still includes an 18W USB-A and 30W USB-C Power Delivery port alongside a capacity of 20,0000 mAh. With only 30W charging, the Power Delivery port won’t be able to support high-end and power-hungry laptops, but it should work fine for lower-end laptops and tablets.

If you need even more power, RAVPower has another battery pack with a capacity of 30,000 mAh that also features an AC port. However, it’s important to note that this battery pack is significantly bulkier than the one featured here.

Emergency Charger: Anker Roav Jump Starter Pro

Anker Roav Jump Starter ProAnker

No battery will make your heart sink more when it dies than your car battery. But this pack from Anjer will save the day in that situation. On top of the two USB-A ports, one USB-C port, and 12,800 mAh capacity, this battery features car jumpers for those difficult moments. It even includes an emergency light in case you find yourself in a real bad spot. It can also easily fit into a glove box.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Eric Schoon

iPhone 12 Pro Review: Everything Old is New Again

iPhone 12 Pro in Pacific BlueJustin Duino

Not to say something that has been repeated time and time again, but you know that it just works when you buy an iPhone. The iPhone 12 Pro, Apple’s 2020 flagship smartphone alongside the Pro Max, keeps everything that makes the iPhone loved by so many while bringing back a popular design that makes it the total package.

Here’s everything you need to know if you’re thinking about picking up an iPhone 12 Pro for yourself.

Hardware: Square Edges and Flat Screen

Most premium phones on the market in 2020 are rectangular, feature two glass pieces that sandwich a metal frame, and have curved edges. Even Apple has used this basic formula for its last half dozen iPhones.

Thankfully, the iPhone 12 Pro (and the rest of the 12 series) brings back the tried and true design first introduced with the iPhone 4 in 2010. Instead of rounded sides, the 12 Pro is (almost) completely flat with edges that come up to meet the front and back pieces of glass at 90-degree angles.

Although retro, Apple has made the design feel extremely premium and modern. As the headline says, everything old is new again.

But before moving forward, let’s get the iPhone 12 Pro’s spec list out of the way:

  • Display: 6.1-inch OLED, 2,532 x 1,170 resolution, 60 Hz refresh rate
  • Processor: Apple A14 Bionic
  • RAM: 6 GB
  • Storage: 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB
  • Rear cameras: 12 MP Wide (main), f/1.6 aperture; 12 MP Ultra-wide, 120-degrees, f/2.4 aperture; 12 MP Telephoto, f/2.0 aperture, 4x optical zoom range, LiDAR sensor
  • Front cameras:12 MP, f/2.2 aperture; TrueDepth camera for Face ID
  • Ports: Lightning
  • Headphone Jack: No
  • Battery: 10.78 Wh (~2,814 mAh)
  • Fingerprint Sensor: No, Face ID
  • Connectivity: Wi‑Fi 6 (802.11ax) with 2×2 MIMO; Bluetooth 5.0; NFC; Ultra-Wideband chip for spatial awareness
  • 5G Compatibility: 5G (sub‑6 GHz and mmWave); Gigabit LTE with 4×4 MIMO and LAA
  • iOS version: iOS 14.2
  • Colors: Silver, Graphite, Gold, Pacific Blue
  • Price: $999

Beyond hand-feel, the squared-off and flat build provides more screen real estate. Even though the iPhone 12 Pro is slightly larger than the iPhone 11 Pro, you’re getting a 6.1-inch display (versus 5.8-inch) thanks to reduced bezel sizes that were required by the previous round design.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 ProLeft: iPhone 11 Pro; Right: iPhone 12 Pro Justin Duino

It’s hard to describe how the iPhone 12 Pro feels in hand. I have started to refer to it as dense. Although it doesn’t weigh much more than other flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S20 (164 g vs. 163 g), the 12 Pro has a solid and balanced weight that’s just about perfect.

The back of the 12 Pro consists of a very family matte finish that’s both grippy and fingerprint resistant. The front, though, is made out of something named Ceramic Shield. Partnering with Corning, Apple made a transparent and color-free glass-ceramic that’s supposedly four-times greater resistant to damage from drops.

And speaking of the screen, despite early rumors that Apple might adopt a 120 Hz display, the iPhone 12 Pro maxes out at 60 Hz. I personally don’t have an issue with this and think the OLED screen looks gorgeous. But when similarly priced (and cheaper) Android smartphones are shipping with high-refresh-rate displays, I understand the complaint.

The worst part about the iPhone 12 Pro’s design is the stainless steel edge. It’s not terribly slippery, but it is a fingerprint magnet. Strike that. I wish it were only a fingerprint magnet. The only time you will see the mirror finish is when you take the phone out of the box.

The iPhone 12 Pro's fingerprint magnet stainless steel sideJustin Duino

The glossy edge honestly drags the excellent hardware down. If the handset had the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Mini’s matte edge, I wouldn’t feel inclined to stick the 12 Pro in a case.

Software: It’s iOS, But Now with (Some) Customization

iOS: You either love it or you don’t. Apple prides itself on making a simplistic yet powerful mobile operating system that anyone can pick up and use. Unlike some Android manufacturers, you aren’t encouraged to change the iPhone’s interface vastly. If you’ve seen one iPhone, you’ve seen them all.

iPhone 12 Pro in handJustin Duino

That changed a bit with the release of iOS 14. Literally 12 years after Android, Apple introduced widgets and an app drawer (in the form of the App Library).

These new features don’t remotely bring iOS close to the amount of customization offered by Google’s mobile OS. Still, you do get more control over glanceable information and a place to hide unused (or rarely used) apps that don’t involve endless home screen folders.

iOS App Library on the iPhone 12 ProJustin Duino

But stepping back, these new features aren’t limited to the iPhone 12 Pro. If you have even a five-year-old iPhone, you have these features. And thus the beauty of owning an iPhone. Each year, there’s a faster and more powerful processor in the latest handset, but the overall experience isn’t going to change.

The iPhone 12 Pro is no different. Equipped with the A14 Bionic processor, I never experienced lag or had apps forced closed in the background due to a lack of memory. A perk of Apple owning the entire stack (CPU, iPhone, and iOS) is that there are very few bugs or hiccups during the day-to-day.

Cameras: Apple Is Fighting for Gold or Silver

Apple has always focused on the iPhone’s cameras, but that hasn’t stopped Google and Samsung from owning the top spot in the image quality category. The tides started to turn in 2019 when Apple focused more on computational photography.

Let’s say that Apple has spent the last year refining its tech and is quickly encroaching on Google and Samsung’s territory.

The iPhone 12 Pro's camerasJustin Duino

As with the iPhone 11 Pro, the 12 Pro includes three cameras: a wide, an ultra-wide, and a telephoto. New this year is the addition of a LiDAR sensor.

Although the sensor can be used to measure depth and improve AR experiences, it’s primarily used to help the iPhone 12 Pro’s three cameras. For example, having depth information allows for cleaner Portrait Mode shots and even allows for portraits at night or low-light situations.

Below are a couple of photo samples taken with the three lenses. Click on any of the images to view the full-size file.

iPhone 12 Pro ultra-wide camera iPhone 12 Pro main cameraiPhone 12 Pro telephoto camera iPhone 12 Pro main camera with Portrait ModeTop left: ultra-wide; Top right: main camera; Bottom left: telephoto; Bottom right: main camera with Portrait Mode 

As you can see, there isn’t any color shift between the sensors, and all three shoot true-to-life color tones. Unfortunately, it does look like the ultrawide and telephoto cameras take softer images. They’re an improvement over the iPhone 11 Pro’s, but they’re still not as sharp as the wide lens.

Speaking of, Portrait Mode on the primary sensor (with the help of the LiDar sensor) creates beautiful shots. Using my pupper as a model, you can see a smooth transition from her face to the blurred out background. There aren’t any harsh lines between the subject and the fake bokeh.

The same can be said for the iPhone 12 Pro’s front-facing camera. Obviously, it’s not as sharp as the device’s primary shooter, but there’s still plenty of detail when you want to snap a quick selfie. Portrait Mode isn’t as smooth, but that’s expected as there’s no LiDar on the front of the phone.

iPhone 12 Pro selfie camera iPhone 12 Pro selfie camera with portrait modeLeft: Selfie camera; Right: Selfie camera with Portrait Mode

As is tradition, the iPhone is still the champ for capturing video on your smartphone. This year, Apple took it up a notch by including Dolby Vision HDR recording without any special hardware. On the iPhone 12 Pro, you can use the new technology and record colorful and bright 4K video at 60 frames per second.

I haven’t included a video sample because you can only experience the HDR video on a compatible Dolby Vision display (such as new iPhones and iPads that support HDR). If you have one such device (or even a newer Mac running Big Sur), I recommend checking out these video samples provided by David Imel of Android Authority. Download both files to your compatible device and see the difference that Dolby Vision HDR brings.

Moving on to Night Mode, I will say that the iPhone 12 Pro does an okay job. Every phone is different in how it processes low-light situations, and Apple’s isn’t my favorite.

You can see the difference between the Pixel 5 and iPhone 12 Pro’s Night Modes below. The Pixel’s (the top two images) try to keep the scene’s overall look without over-processing. The iPhone’s (bottom two photos) allows you to see more, but things are unnaturally bright.

Pixel 5 vs iPhone 12 Pro night shot. There’s a clear winner.

— Justin Duino+ (@jaduino) November 5, 2020

Before proceeding, I should also mention the handset’s bigger brother: the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Although almost every spec is identical between devices (other than the larger screen and bigger battery), Apple includes a slightly better camera sensor in the Pro Max.

First, as is common in most modern smartphone cameras, the wide and telephoto lenses on the iPhone 12 Pro are optically stabilized. But on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the actual sensors behind those lenses are stabilized.

You probably won’t notice too much of a difference between the two. Still, sensor-shift optical image stabilization will help when taking pictures in situations that include extreme motion (such as running, sitting in a moving vehicle, etc.).

Second, the Pro Max includes a physically larger main sensor. Although both Pro models sport an f/1.6 aperture, the bigger sensor is capable of capturing more light. The difference is negligible in most situations, but at night and in dark scenes, the larger sensor tends to take sharper photos.

I recommend watching The Verge’s review to learn more about the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s improved camera quality.

Accessories: MagSafe Is Back and Better Than Ever

Apple (seemingly) retired the MagSafe branding roughly five years ago when it brought USB-C charging to its MacBooks. Now, the company is using the name for its line of magnetic iPhone accessories.

Apple MagSafe leather wallet on iPhone 12 ProJustin Duino

The premise is simple. With the help of a ring of magnets built into the iPhone 12 Pro, you can magnetically secure cases, wallets, wireless chargers, and other accessories to your phone. The company opened the spec up to everyone, so expect the market to be flooded with MagSafe-compatible accessories.

Apple and some third-party products include an NFC chip that helps the handset identify what item you’ve attached. For example, when I throw my 12 Pro into Apple’s blue case, a blue dialog appears on the screen. It’s more of a party trick, but I’m not complaining.

There is a pretty big downside with MagSafe, though. First, you can only get 15 W wireless charging using Apple’s MagSafe charger. If you use any other Qi wireless charger, you’ll drop down to 7.5 W.

Oh, and don’t forget that the iPhone and the MagSafe charger don’t come with a power adaptor, so you’ll have to pay Apple another $19 or buy something like Aukey’s GaN charger.

Apple's MagSafe charger, leather wallet, and case for the iPhone 12 Pro MagSafe charging indicator on the iPhone 12 Pro

Apple’s ecosystem of accessories can get pricey, but I can vouch for their quality. Things will start to show wear over the span of a couple of months, but they shouldn’t break or become defective. But if they’re not for you, there are hundreds if not thousands of third-party companies willing to offer you a case or wireless charger for your iPhone 12 Pro.

Connectivity: 5G Is All Hype (For Now)

I’ll keep this brief. If you live in the U.S., 5G isn’t nearly as exciting as your carrier wants to make you believe. I live just outside of downtown Charlotte, a pretty tech-focus city, and I never once saw my iPhone switch over from LTE to 5G.

LTE symbol on an iPhone 12 ProJustin Duino

And even if I did see 5G, there’s a good chance that the iPhone wouldn’t have used the advanced network. To save battery life, Apple designed the handset to continue using LTE unless whatever you were doing required faster speeds or a better connection.

So unless you routinely walk around outside downloading an entire series from Netflix or a 5GB game from the App Store, 5G will probably never get used.

5G antenna bands on iPhone 12 Pro5G Ultra Wideband antenna bands Justin Duino

Once things are normal again and we start attending events such as football games with a large number of attendees, 5G will become more important. 5G is capable of handling 10 times the traffic compared to LTE and 4G. Basically, the next time you’re crammed into an arena with thousands of others, you’ll still be able to upload photos and videos while surfing the web.

Conclusion: iOS Fans Will Love the iPhone 12 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro laying on shelfJustin Duino

It comes down to this: If you don’t like Android, you can’t go wrong with the iPhone 12 Pro (or any of Apple’s iPhone 12 series handsets, honestly). It’s a rock-solid device that will last you more than two years and won’t stop receiving firmware updates for as long as you own it.

Customization isn’t a huge thing on the iPhone, but it doesn’t have to be. You pick up an iPhone and you immediately know that it’s just going to work. You also know that it’s going to work the same 12 months down the line as it did when you first took it out of the box.

The redesigned hardware and improved camera quality move the iPhone 12 Pro up a step, even compared to last year’s iPhone 11. Sure, you don’t get a high-refresh display, but after routinely getting more than eight hours of screen-on time a day, I didn’t care.

Whether you need a new phone or want the latest and greatest, you can’t go wrong. $999 is a lot of money, but the iPhone 12 Pro is probably the best value compared to 2020’s other flagships at similar price ranges.

Proactive Computing found this story and shared it with you.
The Article Was Written/Published By: Justin Duino

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