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Category: #Reviews (Page 1 of 16)

Galaxy Tab S7 and S7+ review: Samsung’s best can’t fix Android’s flaws

7b2a6510-f94f-11ea-ae77-8d4e7219b35cFor years, Samsung has been trying to make the perfect 2-in-1. It seems to have given up on the Windows-based Galaxy Book line to focus on the Galaxy Tab. That probably has something to do with Android’s far larger app library. But Google’s OS is not…

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The star of Netgear’s first WiFi 6 gaming router is its software

c0692b30-f863-11ea-8ed7-5d4807369790The PlayStation 5 will support WiFi 6 upon its release this November, but it won’t mean much if gamers don’t have a router that also supports the standard. There are some good models on the market from companies like D-Link and Linksys, with great ge…

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OLED vs. QLED, and More: Which TV Should You Buy?

Want a new TV, but confused by the barrage of acronyms and jargon manufacturers love? One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is whether you want a traditional light-emitting diode (LED) model, or a set that features the newer organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Tim Brookes

X-Sense Mini wireless interconnected smoke detector review: This tiny alarm networks with up to 24 others


The X-Sense Mini isn’t a smart smoke alarm, but it is very affordable, especially if you buy in bulk. And its ability to interconnect means if one goes off, they’ll all go off, increasing the chances that everyone in the home will be alerted to escape. 

Don’t get us wrong, smart smoke detectors offer major benefits; namely, the ability be informed if there’s a fire in your house when you’re not there. But do you really need a phalanx of them?

Outfitting a typical three-bedroom home with our favorite smart smoke detector—the Nest Protect—will run you around $465 for a three-pack on Amazon. If budget’s an issue, one smart alternative is to install a single smart smoke detector in central location, and then use less-expensive interconnected detectors in the rest of the house.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Christopher Null

AMD Finally Proves Its Laptop Prowess With the Incredible Lenovo Slim 7


There’s a lot to love about Lenovo’s laptops. They’re designed well. They’re reasonably priced for the specs. They’re reliable. I’ve tested a few and owned a few over the years, and it seems like every new model improves on the last. All that definitely applies to this IdeaPad Slim 7. It takes some of the best…

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Joanna Nelius

Plastic Phones Are the Best Phones—Here’s Why

A photo of the Google Pixel 4a.Justin Duino

Plastic’s got a bad rap. We fool ourselves into thinking that plastic phones are cheap and ugly, but they’re just as good as a glass-backed and aluminum devices. In fact, you might prefer a lightweight and durable plastic phone over the greasy glass sandwich that’s weighing down your pocket.

Glass Sandwiches Are Heavy and Fragile

The Google Pixel 3a---a plastic phone that hardly weighs nothin'.The Google Pixel 3a—a plastic phone that hardly weighs nothin’. Google

I’m currently using a Pixel 3a, and for all of its standout features, I’m constantly impressed by its weightlessness. It’s one of the lightest smartphones I’ve ever used, and a far cry from the weighty gigantic glass-backed phones that Samsung and Apple are releasing today.

Some people may argue that the Pixel 3a is lightweight because of its small 5.6-inch footprint. But size ain’t everything; the Pixel’s weightlessness is all because of the plastic! Just look at the new Pixel 4a, which weighs a paltry 5.04 ounces despite its 5.8-inch display. That’s significantly less weight than the new 4.7-inch iPhone SE, which pushes the scale to 5.22 ounces and feels like a shiny $400 bludgeon.

Not that I would use the iPhone SE as a weapon—it’s too fragile! There’s no landing on your feet with a glass-backed phone. If it drops hard enough, you’re gonna end up with a cracked display or a shattered backside (or both). A plastic phone that lands on its back probably won’t need any repairs, although it may come out with a scuff or a scar.

Lots of Plastic … Looks Fantastic!

The Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact, a plastic phone from 2017.The Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact, a plastic phone from 2017. Sony

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 marks a turning point for phone design. Not because it was especially attractive or ambitious looking, but because critics thought that its dimpled plastic backside looked cheap. Complaints were so bad that Samsung replaced its design chief and spit out the S6 and S6 Edge, two phones that set today’s design standard for glass backs and curved displays.

Phone critics were probably envious of the aluminum-wrapped iPhone 6, which looks futuristic next to the Galaxy S5. But the complaints about plastic suddenly extended to every device from 2014 onward. Even phones that look modern today, like 2014’s Nexus 6, were criticized for their “cheap” plastic appearance.

But we both know that plastic looks fine. Ugly phones don’t look that way because they’re made of plastic; they look that way because of poor design choices. Plenty of phones rock the plastic look, and even years-old devices like the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact look futuristic thanks to a satin finish and smart color design.

Speaking of satin finishes, don’t you hate the fingerprints and smudges on your glass-backed phone? Plastic phones are perfect for people who like to go without a phone case, as they’re (mostly) fingerprint-proof and resistant to unsightly cracks or blemishes. (And if you use a phone case … then why do you care what the back of your phone looks like?)

Plastic Doesn’t Interfere with 5G or Wireless Charging

Samsung's Galaxy Note20, a plastic 5G machine.Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20, a plastic 5G machine. Samsung

One of the difficult things about 5G phones and wireless charging technologies is that they don’t have a lot of range. They’re also easy to obstruct, which is just one reason why manufacturers like to make their phones out of glass instead of aluminum. But it just happens that plastic is perfect for wireless charging, and it may be better suited for 5G than glass.

You know the white or gray lines that run on the top and bottom edges of your phone? Those are antenna bands—although they aren’t actually antennas. Instead, they’re strips of plastic that allow your cellphone’s antenna signal to slip past the metal frame that holds all that glass together.

But plastic is practically invisible to radio waves. Phone manufacturers don’t need to worry about antenna bands or signal strength while working on plastic phones, which makes it a lot easier to deal with sensitive 5G technology. It’s also (maybe) the reason why both the $1,000 Galaxy Note 20 5G and the sub-$500 Moto G 5G Plus rock our favorite material—plastic! Turns out it’s not just budget phones, even in 2020.

Repairs Are a Breeze! (Kinda)

When the lead designer behind Samsung’s Galaxy S5 was asked why the company stuck with plastic, he answered that it makes battery-swaps and repairs easier. You can open the back of an S5 and replace its battery using just your fingernail, which is a far cry from the hour-long process of replacing the glass-backed Galaxy S6’s battery.

While plastic phones aren’t as repairable as they used to be, they’re easier to fix than their glass-backed counterparts. Take the Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a—two phones that are easy to open and secured by light manageable adhesive. The newer Pixel 4a is also notable for its accordion design, which allows you to quickly navigate the phone’s internals by removing the display and taking out a single midframe screw.

Repairing a plastic phone is still a frustrating time-consuming process that most people won’t (or shouldn’t) bother with. But hey, at least you know that your Pixel 4a will be refurbished and resold after you’re done with it. Phones that are more difficult to repair don’t always enjoy the same fate.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you shouldn’t buy a phone based on its backside. Plastic phones have a lot to offer. They look fantastic with satin or matte finishes, they don’t screw with 5G signals, they’re practically weightless, and they’re slightly easier to repair than your average glass-backed phone.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Andrew Heinzman

MOGA XP5-X Plus Review: A Premium Mobile Controller for the Game-Streaming Future

While most mobile games are designed with touch screens in mind, we’re starting to see more console/PC games playable on mobile devices through streaming platforms like Google Stadia and GeForce NOW. When it comes to those types of games, you’re going to need a controller to properly play them, and the MOGA XP5-X Plus from PowerA was specifically designed with these platforms in mind.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Eric Schoon

Windows Me, 20 Years Later: Was It Really That Bad?

Twenty years ago, the turn of the millenium saw some serious software bugs. No, we’re not talking about Y2K here: We’re talking about Windows Me. Dubbed “Windows Mistake Edition” by PCWorld, Windows Me is not remembered fondly by many.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Chris Hoffman

The Best Affordable Windows Laptops (That Don’t Suck)

Acer Swift 3 promotional image.Acer

You can get a good laptop, or you can get a cheap laptop. That’s the general wisdom, at least when it comes to something powerful enough to run Windows. At any budget under about $800, you’re looking at a bare minimum machine full of plastic and bargain bin parts.

But the laptop market is changing. With competition from cheaper low-power Chromebooks, and more flexible options thanks to AMD’s low-cost Ryzen chips, there are more choices in the lower price ranges than you might think.

What Makes a Laptop Not Suck?

That said, you can’t perform miracles. We’ve selected the best options in several categories at the lowest price for laptops that we’d consider using in our own work or leisure. While there were many choices at lower price levels, we knocked off any models that got notably poor marks from users or professional reviewers, and made other distinctions based on less obvious differences.

We also started with just one minimum specification. While a low-power processor, a low-res screen, or a plastic body aren’t necessarily deal-breakers, we think that trying to run Windows 10 on any machine with less than 8 GB of RAM is gonna be a bad time. Chromebooks can do with less, like the wonderful and extremely affordable Lenovo Chromebook Duet, but Windows has a lot more going on under the hood.

You can find some older models for less than the ones we chose, and a few currently produced ones at 4 GB or (shudder) 2 GB of memory. But we think these are the best in Windows laptops on the market that don’t suck.

The Best Standard Laptop: Acer Swift 3

Acer Swift 3Acer

If all you need is a regular laptop for browsing the web, reading email, and maybe watching the occasional movie, Acer’s Swift 3 is hard to beat. It comes in AMD and Intel varieties, but the SF314-42-R6YC variant packing a Ryzen 4500U is the one we recommend for those on a budget. It uses in a 14-inch, full HD IPS screen, a generous 256GB of SSD storage, and some surprising extras, like an illuminated keyboard and built-in fingerprint reader.

You won’t get a touchscreen in this price range, but the laptop does come loaded with a full-sized HDMI port for easy output to a monitor or TV, and USB-C charging along with two standard USB A ports.

Best General Cheap Windows Laptop

The Best Affordable 2-in-1 Laptop: HP Pavilion x360

Hp Pavilion x360HP

It’s hard to find an inexpensive laptop with decent specs and a fold-back 2-in-1 touchscreen design. The best one on the market is the Pavilion X360 from HP. We’re recommending the 14t-dw000 variant, which comes with 128GB of SSD storage. It’s using an Intel Core i3 10th-gen processor—something of a luxury in this category—though the 14-inch touchscreen is only “HD” at 1366×768.

The Pavilion X360 has a few premium touches, like a metal lid, integrated fingerprint reader, USB-C charging, and—a rarity on pretty much all laptops now—a full-sized SD card reader. While it’s compatible with an active stylus, one does not come in the box. Reviewers say the battery life isn’t great and the keyboard isn’t anything special, but performance, fit, and finish are well above expected in this price range.

The Best Affordable Big Screen Laptop: Dell Inspiron 17 3793

Dell Inspiron 17Dell

If you don’t often move your laptop around and prefer a big machine with a big screen, Dell’s got you covered. The latest generation of the Inspiron 17 (3793 model) packs a lot more of the comforts of a desktop while still being capable of travel (though it’s not coming out on any domestic airline flights). The base model on Dell’s website starts with a 10th-gen Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a huge (but slow) 1TB hard drive.

But the real draw here is that 17.3-inch 1080p screen (non-touch in the entry model) and the variety of ports on its big body. You get a full-sized SD card reader, three USB-A ports, HDMI out, and, surprisingly, both a full Ethernet port and a DVD drive. (Remember those?) The drawback is there are no USB-C ports, and one of the USB-A ports uses the slower 2.0 standard. Also be aware that at over six pounds, this machine is more “luggable” than portable.

The Best Affordable Ultraportable Laptop: ASUS Zenbook 14

Zenbook 14ASUS

For those who want a svelte laptop that will turn a few heads in an airport gate, the Asus Zenbook 14 will fit the bill. This little aluminum alloy machine is more expensive than others on this list with comparable hardware, but it weighs just 2.65 pounds and it’s only .7 inches thick. Bargain hunters should seek out the Q407IQ version with an AMD Ryzen 5 processor—it’s considerably cheaper than the Intel version of this laptop.

The Zenbook 14 uses a discrete GeForce MX350 GPU for a little extra graphical power, which you’ll be thankful for on the 14″ 1080p display with thin bezels. It has 256GB of SSD storage and a MicroSD card reader, with both HDMI and USB-C ports, but sadly it doesn’t charge from the latter. Surprisingly, it’s the only laptop on this with a Windows Hello-compatible IR camera.

The Best Affordable Gaming Laptop: Acer Nitro 5

Acer Nitro 5Acer

Trying to find an inexpensive laptop that can hold its own in 3D PC games is a herculean task—the “budget” category for gaming laptops tends to start at four figures. But Acer’s Nitro 5 in its cheapest configuration is surprisingly affordable for a 15-inch machine packing a 10th-gen Core i5 processor and a mid-range GTX 1650 graphics card. That won’t be enough to play the latest games at full quality, but with a few compromises you should be able to use the laptop’s 1080p screen at 60 frames per second.

Other charms include a red backlit keyboard with tenkey area, 512GB of SSD storage, and dedicated HDMI and USB-C ports. And because this thing is bigger and more generous with space than most laptops, you should be able to upgrade the memory and storage with only basic tools, if you’d like a little more performance later.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

External PC Drive Bays Are Dying, And That Sucks

Two 5.25-inch drive bays: one a standard DVD drive, the other a 3.5-inch card reader in an adapter.bump Michael Crider

Even now that PC gaming is a bigger market than ever, those who build their own desktops are niche customers. So when I talk about desktop PC cases, I do so knowing my position represents a niche of a niche, and one that might fairly be criticized as old-fashioned. That said: Let’s talk about external drive bays!

Even more specifically, about the 5.25-inch external drive bay—the one that holds a CD DVD Blu-ray removable disc-based media drive. Please don’t kill it, PC case makers. I’m begging you.

Hard to Find

A couple of months ago, deep in the work-from-home malaise of the pandemic, I decided to upgrade my desktop PC’s case. I’d been using the Fractal Design R4 for my desktop for almost eight years, carrying it across three major system rebuilds and more individual parts than I can remember. I wanted something with a more modern internal layout for better cable routing, maybe easier-to-access bays for my hard drive and SSD, and—the real draw—a fancy USB-C port on the front panel.

So, I got to looking. In order to keep all of my current hardware, I’d need to find a case with two external drive bays, because I use a standard 5.25-inch DVD drive (the oldest dustiest piece in my case, which has been pulling sterling service since my very first PC build 12 years ago) and a camera card reader, which is technically a 3.5-inch drive in a 5.25-inch adapter. A 3.5-inch bay is the one you might remember as the “floppy drive.”

So, I plugged my needs into Newegg’s handy search filters: full-sized ATX motherboard case, at least one USB-C port on the front, two 5.25-inch drive bays. Here’s what I got:

Newegg screenshot

“Alright,” I thought, “External drive bays have kind of gone out of fashion now that everyone’s streaming movies and downloading games from Steam. I’ll have to settle for just one, and pick between my DVD drive and my card reader. Let’s drop the 5.25-inch bay requirements down to one.”

Oh dear.

Newegg screenshot

As it turned out, I could find precisely one modern ATX case with both a front USB-C port and one (and only one) 5.25-inch bay: the Fractal Design Define 7, the spiritual descendant of my own Define R4. So, I ordered it … and found out that, while my 1.5-year-old motherboard can handle the USB 3.0 connector necessary for some USB-C ports, it doesn’t have the 3.1 gen 2 connector that the R7 case uses.

So, in order to use this very fancy very expensive case, I’d need to ditch either my trusty dusty DVD drive or the camera card reader that I use on a regular basis, and I’d have to go without access to the USB-C port I wanted in the first place. Alternately, I could replace my motherboard, for something approaching a full PC rebuild—for another $300 or so.

Fractal Design Define 7There’s a 5.25-inch bay in there somewhere. If you look. Really hard.

I sent the Define 7 back, and shoved all my parts back into my old R4. I could find a similar case to the one I’m using now, but it wouldn’t have access to USB-C, and my current case isn’t so useless that I’m ready to ditch it. I’ll upgrade my PC case eventually, but it looks like this one’s going to make it to double digits in years.

Discs Aren’t Dead

As someone who hasn’t bought a physical game in years, I’m an odd champion for the physical disc drive, if not the disc itself. But it’s worth pointing out that physical media, while absolutely on the decline, still has some utility left.

The most obvious application here is movies. Cinemaphiles still demand Blu-ray for their gigantic uncompressed video files, especially now that more and more are coming in 4K: That’s why you shouldn’t watch a movie like Into the Spider-verse on a streaming platform (if you can help it). To say nothing of the arbitrary and somewhat random nature of actually buying movies on streaming—if a movie I want isn’t available on a platform I’m currently paying for, it’s often much cheaper to buy the DVD or Blu-ray than to buy it (or even rent it!) on a streaming platform.

Blu-ray discsOngala/

Which brings up another point: for some people, getting shipped physical media is the best option! When I was living in rural Texas, streaming a movie for two hours was less than a given on an unlimited LTE connection. Getting a 50GB Steam game might take a week or more. Going to the store or ordering something off of Amazon made more sense on a regular basis. Even Microsoft acknowledged this, offering the massive Flight Simulator 2020 in an admittedly unwieldy 10-DVD physical edition.

And that ignores the vast libraries of music and movies that many people already own in disc format. Plenty of people like to digitize that—bloated Plex libraries are an indication—and need a disc drive to do so. Sure, it’s possible to do that with an external disc drive, but then what’s the point of having a gigantic ultra-customizable desktop PC in the first place?

More Options Are Better

I’ve already said that my situation—needing or at least wanting a weird combination of the latest ports and compatibility with older equipment—is niche. But catering to niches via flexibility is what building your own PC is all about!

Multi-card readerStarTech

Take that card reader, sitting in the second 5.25-inch bay via a 3.5-inch adapter. I have to take photos for reviews on a regular basis—my photos need to be higher-quality than my phone can handle, and my camera’s old enough that Wi-Fi transfers are achingly slow. So a dedicated gadget inside my PC is great, both for the standard SD card and the occasional microSD transfer for fooling around with phones.

But that’s hardly the only use for a full-sized drive bay. Another common alternative for this space is a hot-swap hard drive bay, which allows users to insert and remove massive amounts of storage for high-speed transfers instantly. Gamers and enthusiasts like to use this space as a dedicated fan or light controller. If nothing else works, you can add just tons and tons of USB ports, connected directly to your motherboard.

A full-sized hard drive bay.Kingwin

More creative uses for the space include an unobtrusive reservoir for liquid cooling, or a handy little hidey-hole for your screws and tools, secondary status screens, or even a cup holder. (Okay, maybe not that last one.)

Admittedly, some of these uses for the 5.25-inch drive bay are more practical than others. But in a product category that includes pyramids and cruise ships and whatever the hell this thing is, I think a modern case with modern ports and the option for some old-school expansion isn’t too much to ask for.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

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