Album Review: COMEBACK KID Heavy Steps


The enduring might of Canucklehead hardcore heroes Comeback Kid exists because of a variety of factors. The quintet hails from Winnipeg where, when the temperature at the intersection of Portage and Main gets to 50 below (and it does!), you stay inside and rock n’ roll. And when you’ve had enough of the four walls and beer-and-black mold rehearsal room scent, one can choose to decamp to the four walls and fart-and-armpit scent of a tour van. Which is what Comeback Kid have done like clockwork since forming in 2002. Originally, coming together as a side project, the band has issued seven brick-solid albums and backed them up with an impressive ledger of touring that has spanned here, there and everywhere borders were open and visas could be applied for.

metal injection comeback kid band

If anything, you have to give them props for surviving being signed to Victory Records and their on-and-off-again business model for the time period from 2005’s Wake the Dead to 2014’s Die Knowing and the two albums in between. Looking at the chart numbers, in hindsight, their emerging relatively unscathed from that decade likely had much to do with them being one of the label’s cash-cows. And how did that come to be? By creating a perfect storm of thrash metal, melodic punk and NYHC all whipped together by Andrew Neufeld‘s unmistakable banshee with a pack-a-day habit rasp which he twists and turns into some of the most infectious, fist-pumping and euphoric vocal phrasing the genre has ever heard. 

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Heavy Steps is their second record for Nuclear Blast and continues the tradition of force feeding Slayer and healthy helpings of Bay Area guitar riffology into a melodic wringer kissed by the southern California sun and chewed on by New York City rats, with beats and rhythms patterns influenced by fellow warriors of ice Sacrifice and Propagandhi. And then there’s Neufeld, expressing the sort of irascibility you’d expect anyone who’s read the news at any point in the past 40 years alongside the sort of en masse joyous roar you hear from English football supporters when the World Cup final falls on a bank holiday. When the title track kicks in with a riff that’s shifty and clobbering at the same time before making the seemingly dichotomous leap to mellifluous two-step thrashing punk, it’s the frontman’s agile and seamless shift between hard charge and a welcoming vocal bear hug that helps the songs’ movement from post-Reign in Blood Slayer to Hatebreed to Sick Of It All to Strung Out as delivered by bassist Chase Brenneman, drummer Loren Legare and guitarists Jeremy Hiebert and Stu Ross. Not only does this track open the album, but it delivers a definitive parry distinguishing Comeback Kid from peers and pretenders. Together, the transitions are made smooth, natural and, ultimately, the sort of thing thousands will be bouncing and singing along to in European farmer’s fields and American dust bowls when that becomes a thing again.

Take a gander at the many videos posted online of the band’s set from the most recent Furnace Fest to pay witness to the fact that writing sing-a-long, pit-stirring anthems has long been part of the Comeback Kid methodology. Heavy Steps steers that ability into new directions. There’s a maturity to this album that sharp-eared listeners will cotton on to while thick-necked mosh pit denizens will continue to hear ripping musical accompaniment to the bouncing of their flabby, XXL-sized guts off of one another. “No Easy Way Out” does all of the above with the inclusion of a jazzy breakbeat breakdown and some crafty wah-wah pedal bluesiness that’s simultaneously blue collar rallying cry and raised pinky, sweater vest intelligence. Similarly, “Face the Fire” tempers it’s classic Bad Religion linearity with angelic backing vocals and “Crossed” appears to take lessons from its featured guest (Gojira‘s Joe Duplantier) as staccato pauses are massaged into its mix of Seasons in the Abyss, Destroy the Machines and Cause for Alarm, whereas “Everything Relates” brims with melodic warmth and a radio-ready chorus that will sadly never be heard on anything but college and internet radio. 

For those looking to strictly have their faces caved in without frills and diversions, more traditional fare exists throughout the album’s middle third with the mid-paced vintage Metallica-meets-vintage Epitaph Records stomp of “Dead on the Fence,” the coruscating, galloping riff work and gang vocals of the bruising “Shadow of Doubt” and the down-picked crunch and Italian punk references powering “True to Form” and “In Between.” 

Quite often, folks on the metal side of the extreme music spectrum undeservedly point fingers at the supposed limits of hardcore punk. Heavy Steps acts a beacon of how to bolster one’s own basics and starting points so as to inject new life into one’s own sound and the scene at large. All while staying true to both sound and scene.

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Ozark season 4 review: Things heat up for the Byrdes


Still from Ozark season 4 part 1 on Netflix, featuring Marty, Wendy, and Charlotte outside the family home.

A dark cloud hangs over the latest season of Netflix‘s Ozark. Part one of Ozark season four, which premieres January 20, launches right into the action, taking up where season three left off after a brief and grim flash forward to what’s to come.

One of the pleasures of Ozark is watching the stakes rise from season to season. The story of a white-collar criminal moving his family to the Ozarks to start fresh when he angers the wrong people has grown and shifted over the years. Left with a huge amount of debt to his former employer, accountant Marty Byrde begins money laundering in his new home to make good. The Byrdes all eventually get more actively involved in the family business, making tons of money and some enemies along the way, all while acclimating to their new home.

The new season manages to keep the pressure on, with a palpable sense that things are coming to a head. Netflix hasn’t yet announced when part two of Ozark season four will drop, but part one has left us plenty of questions that need answers. Netflix shared the latest season of Ozark with Android Authority ahead of its premiere. Below is our review and a glimpse of what to expect.

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Netflix

Netflix is still the leading premium streaming service, with over 200 million worldwide subscribers. It offers thousands of movies and TV shows to binge watch, including its always growing list of original films and series, including Stranger Things, The Witcher, Bridgerton, and many more.

What is Ozark season 4 about?

The new season opens with the Byrde family driving, cryptically discussing an upcoming move and meeting with the FBI, when they suddenly swerve off the road in a massive accident. Will they survive? Are they finally about to leave their life of crime behind them? We don’t know, because we jump right back from there to Marty and Wendy in Mexico, where we last saw them.

Check out: Shows like Ozark

The couple cleans blood off of their clothing at a party hosted by drug cartel boss Omar Navarro. With their former business partner and middle man Helen now dead, they’re still in the game, barely holding on for dear life.

We pick up right where season 3 left off.

The Byrdes are now working directly with Navarro, who wants out of the crime life and hopes to get help from the Byrdes. Meanwhile, Ruth and Darlene are in business together and at odds with the Byrdes, except for Jonah, who sees an opportunity to break off on his own and work for Ruth.

All of this is happening as the FBI closes in and a pesky P.I. asks around about Helen. Can the Byrdes stay ahead of everyone as the body count continues to rise?

The Byrdes are getting in deep

Ozark season 4 image of Navarro on the phone

The stakes are the highest they’ve ever been in Ozark season four. The Byrdes are working directly with Navarro now. One false move and he could have them killed with a single phone call.

See also: The best Netflix original series

They hold some cards as they work to help broker a deal between him and the FBI, but if they can’t keep both parties happy, it could easily spell their end.

Navarro’s overambitious nephew Javi isn’t helping matters, taking a hands-on approach as he tries to line up his own powerplay, making just about everything harder for the Byrdes.

Ruth holds strong as MVP 

Still from Ozark season 4 part 1 showing Ruth yelling at Marty.

Julia Garner has already won two Emmys for her performance as Ruth Langmore in Ozark. She’s become something of a fan favorite on the show. She deserves every bit of praise and every award for her work. Garner turns in an incredible performance.

Julia Garner is on fire as Ruth Langmore.

Ruth is also just a terrific character. While she clashes with the Byrdes, we can’t help but root for her. You’ll want to follow her every move with rapt attention. Her seething anger is understandable. She’s lost more than most in this show. Garner manages to imbue the character with a world-weariness and rage that still endears her to us. Ozark season four is no exception. Garner is on fire, and Ruth is a must-watch character.

Read: The best original streaming shows on every service

She’s not alone, certainly. Everyone is pulling their weight in season four, including all of the main cast. Felix Solis stands out in particular as Omar Navarro, along with Ozark newcomer Alfonso Herrera Rodríguez as Navarro’s ambitious nephew and loose cannon Javi Elizondo.

Verdict: Ozark season 4 review

Ozark season 4 still of the Byrdes eating dinner together.

Netflix is playing the long game here. In a lot of ways, part one of Ozark season four feels like all set-up and no payoff. Then again, the set-up is electrifying TV. Nothing is off the table, it seems, and that makes it riveting to follow.

As the pieces are set in place for part two, there’s a clear sense that the Byrdes are about to face some major challenges. And Ruth is on a seemingly unwinnable warpath that could upend everything.

Fans of Ozark have a lot to look forward to in season 4.

Fans of Ozark can rest assured that the show is as good as ever in season four. Part one offers real hope that the creators are set to stick the landing. Check it out January 20 on Netflix.



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Album Review: BORIS W


When it comes to confounding and overwhelming the listener with a discography littered with a dizzying myriad of full-lengths, compilations, splits, EPs, collaborations, and altered/enhanced versions of the band all issued on various labels big and small and anything else you care to imagine and throw into the mix, Melvins take the cake. Taking a not-so-distant silver medal is Japanese trio Boris, a band with a history dating back to 1992 and a sound and direction so difficult to put a finger on that Metal Archives officially denotes their genre as “various.” If you do a random search on Boris, you’ll find the internet describing them as everything from an “experimental band” to simply “a musical group.” 

Boris Wata
Photo by Yoshihiro Mori

Now is not the time or place — and yours truly is not patient or intelligent enough — to make sense of Boris‘ skyscraping release stack with the band’s 27th (give or take whatever’s available to give and/or take) full-length on the table. In true-to-form fashion, this latest album isn’t even a standalone work given that it acts as a companion to its predecessor from 2020. Written as a quick response to the initial havoc the pandemic and its politicization was having on lives everywhere, NO was Boris shaking out all their doom sludge and hardcore punk tendencies. W, written on the back end of almost two years of life at a standstill, is the comparative, soothing foil to NO‘s harshness. And if you haven’t yet caught on, together the two album titles combine to spell “NOW,” a cheeky affirmation that these releases are a product of unprecedented times and the rollercoaster of emotions and bullshit therein. 

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The final track on NO was called “Interlude,” which should have been the first hint something was up. What’s up is the melody from the closing moments of “Interlude” being shared with and opening W in the guise of “I Want To Go To The Side Where You Can Touch…,” an airy piece that floats between My Bloody Valentine soundscape and moaning Moog wash-outs. The ethereality of this track sets the tone for the majority of the rest of the record. Aside from the flourish of sprawling, Orange amp and pounding drum thunder that closed out “The Fallen,” the final Torche-like third of “Beyond Good and Evil” and the apprehensive stoner shuffle of “You Will Know (Ohayo Version),” this is Boris at their ambient, new age-y, humming, psychedelic, chamber orchestrated, chilled out-ness.  

There are moments where it feels like you’re being lovingly absorbed and enveloped by sound. “Icelina” combines Portishead sparsity with a dirty hippie pulling up a stool, an acoustic guitar, and a homemade pedalboard at a liberal arts college’s open mic night. “Drowning By Numbers” is reminiscent of Painkiller and Praxis exploring how to grate nervous systems with understated abrasion combined with insidious trip-hop rhythms. “Old Projector” conjures images of Enya jamming with Miranda Sex Garden. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are swaths of stark minimalism and emptiness where it feels like you’re sitting back and waiting for something to happen, the contrast making things appear that much more minimal and empty. A track like “Invitation” comes across more like random noises than organized sound and “Jozan” is simply a one-minute and twenty-five-second cover of John Cage‘s “4:33.” 

How W lands will depend on where it lands. The segment of the public experiencing this record will be as important to its success as the content itself. Boris super-fans will continue to experience the breadth of the trio’s journey and worship accordingly. People who find that minimalism doesn’t push enough air to be stimulating will likely find this to be sonic wallpaper. The opposite should be true for fans of ambient music and active listeners who enjoy discovering the different tones, forms, and textures sound can take. Here’s how we’re hoping it falls: somehow, the booking agent gods figure a way to get Boris on tour with Blood Incantation so that both bands can do split sets consisting of their quiet and minimal moments buttressed up against their loud and distorted bombast. The dynamics would be mind-bending, just like Boris themselves continue to be.



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vivo V23 Pro review – GSMArena.com tests


Introduction

We’re only a few days into 2022, and vivo is already on a roll with its announcements. January 5, in particular, saw both the unveiling of the vivo V23 5G and V23 Pro, as well the eagerly-anticipated iQOO 9 and iQOO 9 Pro. Seeing how they are an exciting flagship duo, the latter two naturally soaked up most of the spotlight. However, the two new additions to the V23 family are just as interesting, if not even more so, as solid mid-rangers with slick designs and a few particular tricks to make them stand out.

While we do plan on putting both phones through our in-depth review process, we’re kicking things off with the V23 Pro, which according to our statistics, seems to be the more interesting handset of the two. It is a little bigger than its sibling, packs a more powerful Dimensity 1200 5G chipset and a higher-resolution main camera. Other than that, specs-wise, the V23 Pro and V23 are actually surprisingly similar.

vivo V23 Pro specs at a glance:

  • Body: 159.5×73.3×7.4mm, 171g; Glass front (Schott Xensation α), glass back.
  • Display: 6.56″ AMOLED, 90Hz, HDR10+, 1080x2376px resolution, 19.8:9 aspect ratio, 398ppi.
  • Chipset: MediaTek MT6893 Dimensity 1200 5G (6 nm): Octa-core (1×3.0 GHz Cortex-A78 & 3×2.6 GHz Cortex-A78 & 4×2.0 GHz Cortex-A55); Mali-G77 MC9.
  • Memory: 128GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 12GB RAM.
  • OS/Software: Android 12, Funtouch 12.
  • Rear camera: Wide (main): 108 MP, f/1.9, 26mm, 1/1.52″, 0.7µm PDAF; Ultra wide angle: 8 MP, f/2.2, 120-degree, 16mm, 1/4.0″, 1.12µm; Macro: 2 MP, f/2.4.
  • Front camera: Wide (main): 50 MP, f/2.0, AF; Ultra wide angle: 8 MP, f/2.3, 105-degree.
  • Video capture: Rear camera: 4K@30fps, 1080p@30fps, gyro-EIS; Front camera: 4K@30fps, 1080p@30fps.
  • Battery: 4300mAh; Fast charging 44W, 1-63% in 30 min (advertised).
  • Misc: Fingerprint reader (under display, optical); Color changing back panel when exposed to sunlight.

In fact, oddly enough, the two devices seem to have some major differences, particularly in design, while also somehow managing to be quite similar to one another and pretty distinct from most other phones out there. Vivo deserves plenty of praise for that achievement alone.

Both the V23 Pro and V23 share a similar silhouette, including a recognizable camera island, despite the fact that the V23 Pro has a larger and quite curved AMOLED display that also necessitates thinner and curvier sides, while the vanilla V23 is rocking a much wider and bigger, nearly flat middle frame with a flat display.

vivo v23 Pro review
Left: vivo V23 * Right: vivo V23 Pro

Then there is the extra “flair” that is also shared between the V23 Pro and V23 and sets them apart in a crowd. It is actually twofold. First, there is the signature Sunshine Gold color variant. It features a special UV-reactive dye that noticeably changes color when exposed to sunlight or any other UV light. It ties together the overall elegant design vivo has going on and literally provides some unique flair. On the other hand, both the V23 Pro and V23 are clearly geared towards videography, particularly selfie vlogging. Both have the same dual selfie setup, featuring a high-resolution 50MP camera with autofocus and 4K video capture, as well as an 8MP ultrawide and two dedicated LED selfie lights.

Put the two together, and you get nothing short of a unique and distinct 2022 mid-ranger. In fact, vivo somehow managed to craft two “flavors” of essentially the same formula without taking away from either phone in any obvious way. Impressive stuff. Let’s dive into the V23 Pro first to see if it all works as well as it looks on paper.

Unboxing and accessories

The vivo V23 Pro comes in a thick and solid two-piece cardboard box. Vivo clearly didn’t skimp on the packaging, nor the accessories. Not only does the box offer great protection, complete with a solid plastic cradle for the phone on the inside, but it also looks eye-catching with a dark blue aesthetic and a bit of a sparkling coating on top.

vivo v23 Pro review

Inside the box, you get one of vivo’s 44W FlashCharge adapters and a USB Type-A to Type-C cable. Beyond that, you also get a full accessory package, including a plastic, transparent TPU case and a pair of nice, white, corded vivo earbuds with an inline microphone and button and a 3.5mm jack essentially. The keen-eyed among you might notice there is no 3.5mm jack on the V23 Pro. For that very reason, vivo has also thrown in a Type-C to 3.5mm audio dongle in the box.



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Album Review: TRENCHES Reckoner


Anyone with any interest in new Trenches material mostly likely ran out of Haste The Day puns after 14 years. Speaking of Haste The Day, Trenches originally formed after vocalist Jimmy Ryan left the aforementioned Christian metalcore band. The band’s 2008 debut The Tide Will Swallow Us Whole brought a hefty dose of post-rock and sludge metal to the metalcore style Ryan was known for. This was an uncommon sound for Tooth & Nail Records, essentially making these guys the equivalent of Isis or Cave In for youth group kids. Jokes aside, the record holds up after 14 years—certainly enough to keep fans clinging to every cryptic update about their second full-length. The release of Reckoner came like a thief in the night, and what a joyous return it is!

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As the first fully fleshed-out Trenches single released in over a decade, “Eclipse” shows that the band isn’t overly concerned with capitalizing on “Jimmy Ryan’s in a post-metal band.” Actually, the song’s skronky syncopation steers closer to new Zao (no, not just Ryan‘s Carcass-y vocal rasps), delivered in under two minutes! Actually, Reckoner is under 40 minutes long, surprisingly short after so long to amass material. This puts a lot of weight on the strength of the chosen cuts. To that effect, “Eclipse” succeeds with its memorable chorus and infectious anger. These tracks were chosen for good reason.

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Make no mistake, Trenches is still very much about the atmosphere. Opener “The Wrecking Age” may open with propulsive tom-toms and explosive riff changes, but the song’s unforgiving mosh part finds the perfect foil in a monolithic wave of sweeping chords and spacious precision. In the same way, “Horizons” comes off like the metalcore version of noisecore legends Today Is The Day, complete with a breakdown straight out of HTD’s 2004 album Burning Bridges, interspersed with noodling meditations more suited to math rock or even prog.

The charm of Reckoner manifests in that Trenches doesn’t sound like they’re trying to recapture their original sound. The combination of metalcore, sludge, and post-rock is there, but shorter cuts like “Ties That Bind” and “The Raging Sea” hit like a sucker punch for those expecting the moody dreariness of The Tide.

The former starts with ferocious blast beats and vicious quarter note triplet riffs, while the latter harks back to Ryan’s old “rock n roll with breakdowns” approach. Ryan balances his signature vocals with the more gravely howlings of guitarist/keyboardist Joel David Lauver. From melodic sing-screaming to hair-raising shrieks, the vocal chemistry is one layer of the artistic confidence Trenches has maintained in their absence.

Slow-burning dirges like “The Death of All Mammoths” displays more of Trenches‘ chemistry, as well as this album’s immaculate production. Dyllen Jerome Nance drums have a perfect balance of clarity and grit, while new guitarists Ross Montgomery and Carey Stilts mesh well with the styles established by Lauver and bassist Bill Scott. It all sounds so dynamic and gritty, leaving room for the vocal melodies of “Lenticular Clouds” to progress from soaring harmonies to low-key musings. Ryans screams prove their versatility, adding to the emotion of the song’s melodious section and playing off Lauver‘s own harsh vocals during its final crescendo.

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Trenches doubles down on their disdain for genre labels, imbuing the verses of “Empires” with an inexplicable combination of alt-rock grooves and an almost gothic gloom—in contrast to the lumbering dissonance of its central motif and a mosh part worthy the sludgecore elite (Admiral Angry style, baby!). Even a more straightforward number like “Stillness” maintains interesting songwriting chops. They know when to split their arrangements into multiple layers, and when to unite on one punishing riff. This happens without either overstaying their welcome, with multiple facets of Trenches‘ sound to manifest efficiently.

The title track’s immersive intro shows the benefit of having three guitar players, offering more ways to build upon a simple idea. It also makes the midpoint drop into a more stripped-back palm-muted riff command more attention. Trenches’ ability to keep their songs concise in their creativity makes it hard to realize the instrumental outro “Remnants” has laid the album to rest, because its echoing guitar licks and hypnotic percussion take hold so quickly.

It’s not often an album in this genre has such an easy replay value, and proves that atmospheric heavy music isn’t relegated to double LPs. Trenches didn’t need to make up for their absence with a massive undertaking. They let their songs speak for themselves, and they’re quite good! Here’s to hoping the wait for more Trenches is a bit shorter than the wait between The Tide and Reckoner.



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OnePlus Buds Z2 review – GSMArena.com news


Introduction and unboxing

OnePlus introduces the Buds Z2, a successor to the brand’s OnePlus Buds Z. For the most part, the design and overall look of the buds is the same as the Buds Z, but with overall enhancements throughout the product including larger drivers and improved battery life. These new Buds are rated for up to 38 hours of battery life in the best-case scenario.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review

Like the OnePlus Buds Pro, the OnePlus Buds Z2 have an in-ear fit and both use the same 11mm drivers. The Buds Z2 now feature active noise cancellation and pass-through sound, features normally seen on TWS buds at higher price points.

The bodies of the Buds Z2 are made entirely of glossy plastic and offer IP55 water resistance (in addition to nano-coating) while the charging case is rated for IPX4. They come in either Obsidian Black or Pearl White and the CD pattern makes its appearance here as spiritual successors to the OnePlus Bullets earbuds.

OnePlus Buds Z2 specs and features:

  • Dimensions and weight:Buds: (33 x 22.4 x 21.8 mm), 5g (each); Charging case: (73.2 x 37 x 29 mm), 42g (without Buds)
  • Construction: Glossy plastic, silicone ear tips (3 sizes), IPX4 (charging case only) and IP55 water and sweat resistance (buds only)
  • Hardware: 11mm dynamic drivers (emphasis on bass), triple microphones (per earbud); proximity sensor (in-ear detection); touch controls li>
  • Charging and battery life: Rated for 5 hours (ANC) or 7 hours (w/o ANC) on a charge; up to 27 hours total listening time with ANC or 38 hours without ANC; Charges via USB-C port; 10-minute charge yields total of 5 hours of listening time
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2; Voice assistant via touch control.
  • Miscellaneous: Active noise cancellation between 24 and 40dB; Android Fast Pair

The OnePlus Buds Z2 promise great sound quality and the triple microphones should make for clear-sounding calls. We’ll be putting these and other features to the test and we’ll compare the Z2 to their direct competitors, the Google Pixel Buds A-Series.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review

The OnePlus Buds Z2 include three pairs of silicone ear tips (small, medium, or large) and a short USB-C to USB-A charging cable. There’s also a helpful quick start guide in the package that shows how to pair and reset the Buds Z2.

Design and comfort

The design of the OnePlus Buds Z2 are reminiscent of the OnePlus Bullets. It has the same chunky shape that unexplainably works for some people’s ears (myself included) complete with the CD pattern synonymous with older-generation Bullets and the previous-gen Buds Z.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review

OnePlus managed to put more hardwareinto these buds while reducing the length of the stems by 15%. Each Z2 bud measures 33x 22.4 x 21.8mm while the case stands at 73.15 x 36.8 x 29.1mm. Each bud weighs 4.5g with the case adding 40.5g. The charging case is just a couple of millimeters taller and wider than its predecessor while still very compact and easy to carry. The charging case is shaped like a large pill with a flat bottom and is pleasant to hold.

There’s a battery LED indicator at the front. Around the back, there’s a pairing button and a USB-C charging port.

The hinge feels sturdy and solid. The lid doesn’t feel flimsy, nor does it wiggle around when carrying it. Though everything else is glossy plastic, the inside of the lid is where some of the trims are decorated with a matte finish.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review

The Buds Z2 themselves are rated IP55 for water and sweat resistance, while the charging case is IPX4 splash resistant.

Coming from the OnePlus Buds Pro, I have to say that the size of the OnePlus Buds Z2 is compact and more manageable for my ears. The main body of the Bud that sits on the ear is smaller and easier to wear for extended listening sessions. Keep in mind that everyone’s ears are different, and this may not be the case for you.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review

The OnePlus Buds Z2 are no problem to wear when staying busy for hours at a time. They are lightweight enough that you’d even forget you’re wearing them. I found that the most comfortable way to wear them is by inserting them into the ear and then slightly turning the stems forward to point towards the mouth.

They do stay in the ear quite well. I tested this during a sweat-inducing yoga session and the OnePlus Buds Z2 didn’t budge. I can’t comment on high-impact workouts like running, though.

They are comfortable to travel with thanks to the charging case’s compact size and portability. Plus, the noise cancellation works decently when flying. More on that in the Performance section below.

Software and features

The OnePlus Buds Z2 feature the Hey Melody app that’s compatible for both Android and iOS. If you are using a OnePlus phone, the integration is built-into the OnePlus’ firmware. There are also a few features that you’ll only find if you are pairing the Buds Z2 to a OnePlus smartphone.

If you aren’t using a OnePlus phone, the Hey Melody app will let you perform firmware updates, change the touch controls, perform an earbud fit test, and toggle through the noise cancellation/sound transparency settings. However if you need an equalizer or an option to adjust the bass levels you need to be using a OnePlus device.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review

You can ring an earbud if you can’t find it. Of course, keep in mind this means the bud should be connected to your device and it needs to have a charge to stay connected. The Buds aren’t trackable if they are inside the case and closed. The built-in Find my device feature will only show you the last place the Buds were connected.

Quick Switch for alternating between two devices is a great feature. It can be achieved by holding a bud for three seconds. The Buds will disconnect from a connected device and reconnect to the previouspaired device, whether it be a phone, tablet, or a computer.

Performance

Sound

The earbuds’ sound okay. Output is mostly good with powerful bass and loud mid-ranges. Bass booms strongly, which will resonate (hah) well with the average listener.

Treble, however, sounds blown out and borderline unpleasant. The Buds are tuned to crank up the higher range of the EQ that’s otherwise lost due to compression, thus giving the illusion that the sound is clear. This is most apparent in “esses” of the vocalists and high-pitched instruments like violins and cymbals. The Buds sound like they are tuned for loudness over well-balanced sound.

Transparency mode

When you remove an earbud, presumably to talk to someone or hear your surroundings, the remaining bud that’s in your other ear will automatically switch to transparency mode.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review

Transparency mode works well. It does what it’s supposed to do – funnel outside sound into the ears. It does something interesting when there’s wind – it will stop feeding sound through the mics temporarily until the wind stops. It then resumes Transparency mode.

Noise cancellation

The Hey Melody app lets you choose between a regular and “Max” noise cancellation level. I found that the regular mode performed better than “Max” with the roar of the jet engines. The latter produced a high-pitched frequency that could have resulted from aggressive noise cancellation.

In any case, noise cancellation was quite decent. Sound came through clearly and comfortably around the 45% volume level. 50% was enough to drown out whatever noise was left, and any noise that was left was easy to forget about after a few minutes.

Battery

In total, the OnePlus Buds Z2 are rated for 38-hours of total listening time with ANC turned off. The Buds themselves can last up to 7 hours on a single charge or up to 5 hours with ANC enabled. Each bud carries a 40mAh battery while the charging case packs a 520 mAh pack.

The Buds support OnePlus “Flash Charging” which is defined as a 10-minute charge yielding about 5 hours of listening time. This claim comes with a disclaimer: in addition to requiring 7.5W of current via USB, the 5 hours of listening consists of 2 hours from the Buds plus 3 hours from the charging case. This means the claim only applies when charging the case with the Buds inside it.

Compared to Google Pixel Buds-A

The OnePlus Buds Z2 are priced twice as high as the original Buds Z, but the added features make it a worthy competitor to the Google Pixel Buds A-Series, which cost the same.

The Buds Z2 are far more comfortable and secure in my experience. The Pixel Buds’ funky fit isn’t secure in my ear and the stabilizing arcs don’t even make contact with the conchs of my ears.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review

The feature sets are quite different between the two pairs of Buds. Although they have similar touch controls, the Google Pixel Buds A-Series don’t have any kind of noise-cancelling or pass-through audio functions.

The Buds Z2 have basic interaction with Google Assistant via a double or triple tap of whichever earbuds you program for Voice Assistant. The Pixel Buds A-Series will offer the most comprehensive integration with Google Assistant. The ability to quickly and conveniently press-hold to talk to Google Assistant, listen and respond to messages, and make phone calls from a tap or wake phrase is great.

OnePlus Buds Pro (top) versus OnePlus Buds Z2 (bottom)
OnePlus Buds Pro (top) versus OnePlus Buds Z2 (bottom)

Then there’s the matter that the Google Pixel Buds-A sound better. Although both have comparable drivers, the Buds Z2 peak too high in the upper range, giving the illsion of full-sounding range. In comparison sound is more balanced on the Pixel Buds-A.

As for comfort, the OnePlus Buds Z2 are significantly more comfortable than the Pixel Buds A-Series in my personal experience. Although the Pixel Buds have an interesting and unique design with the silicone arc stabilizers, they don’t work for all ear shapes.

Conclusion

The OnePlus Buds Z2 are an attractive pair of true-wireless earbuds for $99. Active Noise Cancellation and passthrough audio are popular features and it’s nice to see them arrive to this price point.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review

The case’s compact size and the Buds’ comfort make them a pleasure to carry and wear, but their sound tuning could be better. Bass can drown out vocals and high range sound overpowers music, although you can certainly make the buds sound better if you know your way around EQ settings on your device.

Pros

  • Small, compact case
  • ANC and passthrough sound is nice at this price point
  • Great battery life
  • Powerful Buds
  • Hey Melody is simple and straightforward

Cons

  • Sound quality is tuned for loudness





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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G review


Introduction

The Galaxy S21 series will not go gentle into the night. On the contrary, it will produce one last bang before the Galaxy S22 steals the spotlight. The last of the S21 series caters to the true fans of the brand and combines all Galaxy S21 essentials into one powerful no-nonsense smartphone. Yes, this is the Galaxy S21 FE 5G.

Samsung has focused on three fan-favorite features for this Fan Edition – display, performance, and camera. And it has tried to give more of those for less, a job best suited for the flagship-killer kind. We surely are not calling it that, but the S21 FE does sound quite promising as an almost-there-flagship.

The Galaxy S21 FE updates the display with the S21’s screen panel. It offers a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X with native HDR10+ support and a 120Hz refresh rate. The Galaxy S20 FE’s Super AMOLED had no HDR capabilities, and it was disappointing back then.

Then there is performance – quite expectedly, the Galaxy S21 FE offers the same hardware as the rest of the S21 series – either the Snapdragon 888, or the Exynos 2100 chipset. But the chipset segmentation is reversed here – the international model is the one with the Snapdragon, while Samsung’s silicon is limited to Australia (so far).

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5g review

Finally, let’s talk about the camera department. It looks like a copy-paste from the Galaxy S20 FE – a 12MP primary, another 12MP camera for ultrawide photos, and an 8MP tele for 3x optical zoom. The selfie imager is likely the same, too, a 32MP one. Samsung is not advertising the hardware as more capable, but it brags with better processing and cool features like Object Eraser – all possible thanks to the new chipset.

The stereo speakers and the UD fingerprint scanner are here to stay, too, but the microSD slot didn’t make the cut. It is one of these fan-favorite features that will not be accepted well among the community, that’s for sure. But on a positive note – the S21 FE now features a proper proximity sensor instead of a virtual one, something that should solve the numerous complaints.

Waterproofing is a vital part of the Galaxy S series, and the S21 FE is IP68-rated for dust and water resistance. Its design resembles the rest of the Galaxy S21 phones, and its build is a match to the vanilla Galaxy S21 flagship – a Gorilla Glass Victus front, an aluminum frame, and a matte plastic back.

Here is a rundown of the specs sheet.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G specs at a glance:

  • Body: 155.7×74.5×7.9mm, 177g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), plastic back, aluminum frame; IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins).
  • Display: 6.40″ Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1080x2400px resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, 411ppi; Always-on display.
  • Chipset: Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 5G (5 nm) – Version 1, Exynos 2100 (5 nm) – Version 2: Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 680 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 680 & 4×1.80 GHz Kryo 680) – Version 1, Octa-core (1×2.9 GHz Cortex-X1 & 3×2.80 GHz Cortex-A78 & 4×2.2 GHz Cortex-A55) – Version 2; Adreno 660 – Version 1, Mali-G78 MP14 – Version 2.
  • Memory: 128GB 6GB RAM, 128GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 8GB RAM.
  • OS/Software: Android 12, One UI 4.
  • Rear camera: Wide (main): 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm, 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS; Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 123˚, 1/3.0″, 1.12µm; Telephoto: 8 MP, f/2.4, 76mm, 1/4.5″, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 3x optical zoom.
  • Front camera: 32 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/2.74″, 0.8µm.
  • Video capture: Rear camera: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@960fps, HDR10+, gyro-EIS; Front camera: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60fps, gyro-EIS.
  • Battery: 4500mAh; Fast charging 25W, 50% in 30 min (advertised), Fast wireless charging 15W, Reverse wireless charging, USB Power Delivery 3.0.
  • Misc: Fingerprint reader (under display, optical); NFC; Bixby natural language commands and dictation, Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified).

The most notable omissions of this new Fan Edition are the 3.5mm jack (not available on the S20 FE) and the microSD slot (available on the S20 FE). We would have liked one of those 10MP AF selfies instead of the 32MP Quad-Bayer snapper, too, but we guess that’s going on the S22 FE wish list instead.

There is no cheaper 4G version of the Galaxy S21 FE, like it was with the S20 FE, which is possibly another bummer for some users. We guess the 5G has become the new norm and cheaper 4G versions in the future are highly unlikely.

Unboxing the Galaxy S21 FE

Apple has started something that Samsung quickly adopted, even though consumers don’t appreciate it. Yes, we are talking about the ‘eco-friendly’ cost-saving retail box, which contains only a cable and some paperwork.

That’s exactly what you get with each Galaxy S21, and that’s what the Galaxy S21 FE 5G retail box contains. The phone supports 25W fast charging, but if you want to enjoy that and you haven’t purchased such an adapter yet, now is a good time to do it.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5g review

The good news is that once you buy such a charger, you can use it for your next phone a year or two from now. Plus, it can charge plenty of electronics because of its USB-C port and USB-PD support.



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Week 2 in review: OnePlus 10 Pro, Honor Magic V announced


Last week was pretty busy with, Samsung announcing the much-anticipated Galaxy S21 FE, a few Chinese launches and the commotion around CES 2022. This week maintained the pace with a bunch of announcements from OnePlus, Honor and Xiaomi.

Arguably the highlight of this week is the OnePlus 10 Pro announcement in China. The rumors turned out to be true so along with the new design, the next-generation OnePlus sports an LTPO 2.0 screen, second-generation Hasselblad camera setup, 80W charging and, of course, a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC.

The Honor Magic V was the other major announcement this week. Not only it’s the first foldable handset from the company but it’s also the world’s first Snapdragon 8 Gen 1-powered foldable phone. Sadly, the company still hasn’t decided whether or not to offer the handset outside of China.

Speaking of foldables, Oppo’s Find N is facing shortages with more than a million registering for its sale. And interest in the segment is clearly growing as the detailed Motorola Razr 3 specs leak sparked some serious interest.

Realme 9i also debuted, becoming the first member of the 9 series. It runs on the Snapdragon 680 and offers a respectable 5,000mAh battery with speedy 33W charging.

There was something for Apple fans too as the company released iOS 15.2.1 and iPadOS 15.2.1 and we saw more reports that the iPhone 14 Pro will sport a 48MP main camera.

You can take a look at our most popular articles from this week and see if you missed anything. Until next Sunday when we will return with another weekly recap.

OnePlus 10 Pro is official: SD 8 Gen 1, 80W charging and LTPO 2.0 display

A new chipset, faster charging and a better screen are just some of the changes.


Samsung Galaxy M33 5G, A33 5G and A53 5G get listed on BIS

All three models are dual-SIM, at least two of them are supposed to use the yet to be announced Exynos 1200 chipset.


Samsung to announce the Galaxy S22 series on February 8, local media reports

Shipments will begin on February 24 according to the Korean press.


Google asks Apple to stop  green bubble bullying on iMessage

The Twitter account of Android says “the solution exists”, suggesting the multi-colored bubble solution should be axed.


Samsung Galaxy S21 FE hot take

The Galaxy S21 Fan Edition seems to be missing some fan-favorite features but it’s still a good phone.


Samsung Galaxy A52s 5G is the latest model to receive Android 12 update with One UI 4

It follows in the footsteps of the A52 which got it last week.


Honor Magic V is the first folding phone with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset

Open sales in China start on January 18.


OnePlus 10 Pro's new LTPO 2.0 display detailed

The new panel will finally bring the promised but hardly achieved feature of low-frequency refresh rate.


OnePlus launches new Mithril Buds Pro, rolls out update with Dual Connection feature

The new color option is only available in China for now. The update is for existing OnePlus Buds Pro units.


Oppo Find N faces shortages as 1 million people register to buy it

The foldable is in high demand due to its relatively low price of CNY 7,699 ($1,200).


Apple releases iOS 15.2.1 and iPadOS 15.2.1

The updates fix some nagging issues.


Watch the OnePlus 10 Pro announcement here

New cameras, new LTPO 2.0 display, Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset, and 80W charging.


OnePlus sells 20,000 10 Pro units in first flash sale

According to the brand, the batch went out in 1 (one) second.


A new report corroborates the iPhone 14 Pro will have a 48MP camera

Apple will use the higher resolution for some hybrid photo-taking and 8K video.


Xiaomi 12 Ultra to have the same camera hardware as the 11 Ultra

The 11 Ultra had a great hardware, but does Xiaomi risk losing its advantage?


Realme 9i is official with Snapdragon 680, big battery

The midrange phone is on sale in Vietnam now for 6,500,500 VND.


Alleged pricing for Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 lineup leaks

The base model may start between €680 and € 700.


Xiaomi Redmi Note 11S launch teased

It will feature a 108MP main cam.


Samsung will launch the Exynos 2200 alongside the S22 series, denies any issues

A Samsung official suggested that the issues that plagued the Exynos 2100 were caused by its Mali GPU.


Motorola Razr 3 specs leak

The fact that the phone is coming has already been confirmed officially.


Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G launches in India with Exynos 2100

Fits sales start tomorrow, January 11.


Oppo A36 announced with a 5,000 mAh battery, Snapdragon 680

The phone is powered by the LTE-only Snapdragon 680.


Xiaomi 11T Pro coming to India on January 19

The phone sports 120W fast charging.


Google’s Senior VP says he isn’t asking for iMessage on Android, but for RCS to work on iPhone

This follows a colorful conversation on Twitter over the weekend about iMessage, SMS, and RCS support for iPhone.




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Honor MagicBook View 14 review


Introduction

Last September Honor debuted its MagicBook View 14 in China powered by Intel’s 11-gen Core chipsets, NVIDIA GeForce MX 450 GPU and running Windows 11 out of the box. The same laptop (minus the dedicated graphics card) came to Europe later in Q4 and we are finally ready to give you our impressions after a test period where this reviewer used the MagicBook View 14 as his sole work machine for over two weeks.

Honor MagicBook View 14 review

Coming from MacOS to a Windows 11 laptop took some getting used to at first and while I am not fully converted to make the switch just yet Honor certainly made an appealing ultra-portable which covers all the major pillars of a good laptop – premium build, good screen and keyboard, decent performance and ample battery endurance. Should this be on your shortlist or are you better off with other similarly sized compact laptops?

Design, display, keyboard

MagicBook View 14 features an aluminum unibody design weighing just under 1.5 kg. The laptop is 14.5mm at its thickest point and all this translates to an easy everyday carry that fits any normal-sized backpack. Our review unit comes in the sleek Space Gray color, but Honor is also offering a more eye-catching dark blue option. One premium mark that always deserves praise is when you can open up the laptop lid with just one finger and I can gladly report this is the case here.

Honor MagicBook View 14 review

The star of the show is the 14.2-inch LTPS LCD touchscreen with its 2520 x 1680 pixel resolution, 90Hz refresh rate, and a 3:2 aspect ratio. The taller aspect ratio is a welcome productivity facet allowing for more vertical content on the screen which is handy if you rely on two side-by-side windows like a browser and word editor or are constantly digging through excel sheets. The panel is made by TCL’s Huaxing Optoelectronics and bears the MNE208UA1-1 part number.

Viewing angles are great with no noticeable shift in contrast. For color rendering, the display aims for 100% sRGB and 72% NTSC coverage. Honor claims 400 nits of brightness output and we measured a maximum of 405 nits, which is plenty for indoor use and usable outdoors too though the glossy surface is not ideal for this scenario.

Honor MagicBook View 14 review

The default screen refresh rate is 60Hz but it can be switched to 48Hz or 90Hz by pressing the Fn+R keys. I personally preferred the highest refresh rate setting with the UI feeling smoother. The bezels are quite slim and translate to a nice viewing experience and the 10-point multi-touch functionality is nice for the few occasions when you’d use your fingers instead of the glass trackpad.

One of the few times I preferred to use the touchscreen was while binge-watching TV shows in dimmer-lit rooms. It was much easier navigating the UI without having to use the trackpad or keyboard and Windows 11 seems better suited for touch controls than its predecessor.

The integrated 5MP camera with a 90-degree wide-angle lens and dedicated ISP chip is a clear step up from the world of 720p webcams on older laptops and does make a difference in clarity on Skype and Zoom calls. The laptop also comes with Windows Hello and has a dedicated fingerprint scanner embedded in the power button.


USB 3.2 port, Thunderbolt 4, headphone/microphone combo . USB 3.2 (type-A interface) and a full-sized HDMI
USB 3.2 port, Thunderbolt 4, headphone/microphone combo • USB 3.2 (type-A interface) and a full-sized HDMI

USB 3.2 port, Thunderbolt 4, headphone/microphone combo • USB 3.2 (type-A interface) and a full-sized HDMI

I/O is decent for an ultra-portable of this size. The right side boasts two USB 3.2 ports with the second one doubling as a Thunderbolt 4 connector. You also get a headphone jack/microphone combo. The left-hand side houses a single USB 3.2 (type-A interface) and a full-sized HDMI connector.

Honor MagicBook View 14 review

The keyboard is your usual chiclet affair with decent travel (Honor claims 1.5 mm) and you quickly get used to its dimensions. It offers a two-stage backlight which is good enough to use in the darker rooms. The only gripes I had with the keyboard are the lack of a full-sized enter key and the squished arrow keys which are too cramped and resulted in a fair share of mispresses. You also get four microphones and a quad-speaker setup that gets decently loud.

Performance

The base variant MagicBook View 14 comes with Intel’s 11-gen Core i5-1132H Tiger Lake-U processor while the higher end model we have brings a Core i7-11390H. The laptop comes with a 35W balance mode which draws less power and offers quieter operation. If you need more power you can enable the 45W performance mode (Fn+P) as we did during our benchmarking tests. Note that you need to be plugged into the power adapter for the high-performance mode.

Honor MagicBook View 14 review

There are four Willow Cove cores, each with two threads and a base frequency of 3.4Ghz in the 45W performance mode which can turbo boost up to 5Ghz when you only need a single-core. You get 12MB level 3 cache on the Core i7 chip and a regular TDP of 35W.

Let’s talk about benchmark scores. Starting off with Geekbench 5 – MagicBook View 14 manages 1,548 single-core points and 6,118 points on the multi-core test. A comparable AMD Ryzen 7 5800H would fare 8% worse off in the single-core test but would make up for that in the multi-core department with a 20% advantage over the Intel chip.


Honor MagicBook View 14 on Geekbench 5
Honor MagicBook View 14 on Geekbench 5

Honor MagicBook View 14 on Geekbench 5

Switching over to Cinebench R20 reveals a 2,523 point outing which is impressive for a thin and light laptop. The integrated Iris Xe graphics card is admittedly not your ticket to triple-A gaming but it gets the job done for casual titles and light video/photo editing. Honor equipped the laptop with dual fans and wing-shaped heat sinks which only kicked in during intensive benchmarking sessions while normal everyday tasks made the fan noise barely noticeable.


Cinebench R20 and CrystalDiskMark scores
Cinebench R20 and CrystalDiskMark scores

Cinebench R20 and CrystalDiskMark scores

MateBook View 14 comes with 16GB dual-channel DDR4 RAM and a 512GB WD SN730 PCIe NVMe SSD. Read and write performance here is respectable with 3,400 MB/s sequential read and 2,700 MB/s write speeds. A cold boot up takes just 10 seconds and Chrome remains responsive even with over a dozen tabs open.

Software

This is the first laptop we got with Windows 11 Home out the box and it’s a bit polarizing. The interface looks familiar yet feels dramatically different compared to Windows 10 and I found myself looking for certain UI elements in the wrong place more than once. Microsoft made some advancements in touch input recognition and the whole UI feels noticeably more touch-friendly which is a welcome addition.

Honor MagicBook View 14 review

The new personalization menus layout and detailed options are great as is the system-wide dark mode. The snap assist tool allows you to manage up to four apps on your screen without moving your cursor all that much. It took me a few days to get used to the new start menu and I didn’t make much use of the new widget panel but then again I wasn’t a fan of its live tiles predecessor either.

The new default apps settings are an unnecessary pain and if you want to set a third-party browser as your default you have to go through the process of selecting that one to open individual file types from HTML to HTTPS which just takes a needless amount of time. Despite some shortcomings, I found Windows 11’s refreshed visual identity a welcome change and had no issues with stability or performance.

Honor MagicBook View 14 review

Honor also has its Multi-Screen Collaboration tool which lets you hook up compatible Honor phones to the laptop. You can mirror your phone screen on the laptop, transfer files and pictures wirelessly and take audio and video calls on the big screen. I tested this out with a Honor 50 we had laying around at the office and while the pairing process was a breeze the actual screen mirroring was quite slow and laggy.

Battery life and charging

Honor managed to fit a decently sized 60Wh battery inside the MateBook View 14. The battery is rated at 15 hours of local video playback at 1080p resolution and 150 nits brightness and 11.7-hours of mixed usage again at 150 nits brightness. In our testing which consisted of playing a 1080p video in YouTube over Chrome with 75% screen brightness at 50% volume, we got 6 hours and 56 minutes which is quite respectable.

Honor MagicBook View 14 review

Honor is bundling a 65W USB-C SuperCharger that weighs 200 grams with the detachable USB-C cable included making it super convenient for traveling with one single charger for all your devices. Interestingly enough, you can charge the laptop via either of the two USB-C ports at the maximum 65W speeds. A full charge took 104 minutes with the laptop reaching 80% after an hour on the charger.

Verdict

With its MateBook View 14, Honor managed to reach an impressive mix of power and portability at a price point that is hard to be rivaled by competitors. Better yet some bundles include an Honor 50 smartphone which makes this an even sweeter deal if you can snag one up. At the moment the laptop is limited to China, Russia, Belarus and France where it retails for €1,099. There’s even a bundle that lets you get the Honor 50 for just €400 extra.

Honor MagicBook View 14 review

A quick comparison reveals few laptops that can match the excellent display, premium and light build, fast performance and long-lasting battery of the MagicBook View 14. Acer’s Swift 3 and 5 series come to mind as does Asus’s Vivobook S14 as potential competitors in the €1,000 price bracket. Lenovo’s IdeaPad Slim 7i Pro, MSI’s Prestige 14 Evo and LG Gram 14 can be had if you venture above the €1,000 threshold.

If you’re not tied to the Windows ecosystem you could spend a bit more – €1,200 can currently get you a 13-inch M1 MacBook Air with 8GB RAM and 512GB storage. Also, keep in mind that a barrage of Intel 12-gen CPU powered laptops are due to launch in the coming months.

MateBook View’s 14.2-inch QHD+ screen is an absolute joy to use with vibrant colors, spacious 3:2 aspect ratio and it even supports 10-point multi-touch. The keyboard offers decent travel and is nicely laid out and the glass trackpad is quite impressive.

Honor MagicBook View 14 review

Intel’s Core i7-11390H handles all office tasks with ease while the integrated Iris Xe GPU manages light games and content creation. Having a 60Wh battery on a thin and light laptop like this is a stellar move and it makes you forget about sitting next to a wall plug.



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Album Review: ENTERPRISE EARTH The Chosen


Enterprise Earth, which I learned a long time ago has nothing to do with Star Trek, seems to have gone through more lineup changes than the number of red shirts killed in all three seasons of the original Star Trek television series. Captained by lead vocalist, Dan Watson, Enterprise Earth has had a bit of a bumpy ride over the years, but certainly makes a strong statement with their newest record, The Chosen.

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“Reanimate-Disintegrate” immediately strikes me as a standout. This banger shows the band firing on all cylinders and using their musicianship to the best of their abilities. The chord progressions, the bass and the vocals are so cohesive, and that’s what’s needed in a 6+ minute deathcore song. Note also how the breakdown is not what listeners might be accustomed to – it’s a bit of a surprise in terms of how they carefully weave it in.  

Admittedly, I like this second track more than the first single, “Where Dreams Are Broken.” Not that it doesn’t grab you, because it does, but it doesn’t have quite as much depth and originality as “Reanimate-Disintegrate.” Personally, my dreams were broken a long time ago, so maybe it’s just me.

The title track, unleashes some absolutely beautiful soloing and breathtaking vocal harmonies. That sounds weird for this genre, especially for those of us over 40. But Enterprise Earth makes it work. The lovely outro that gives more low end than Snoop Dogg rollin’ in his ’64 further cements my adoration for this song. Some of the tracks following, however, are a bit more generic. It’s good to be familiar, but there also needs to be more nuance and texture to keep this band moving forward. “I Have to Escape,” for example, is a song we’ve really heard before. Not bad, but little in terms of surprise. Add this to the fact that there are a whopping 14 tracks on the record and one has to wonder if a slightly shorter, punchy record might have been a better strategy. Sometimes this record feels like sitting through Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. It’s a bit too much.

Now, there still are some surprises on the record, I do love the clean vocals and melancholy intro of “Overpass,” which then takes us into a slightly restrained breakdown. Four minutes in are some lush guitar solos. It all works musically and emotionally. This type of song is where Enterprise Earth shines, where the listener is given something surprising… something novel. I want to hear more of this.

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Those fantastic solos abound in other tracks as well, such as “You Couldn’t Save Me.” You might say it saves an otherwise lackluster song. My advice to Enterprise Earth is to take a page out of the K.K. Downing playbook and fervently embrace one of the things you do best – guitar solos!

Fans are going to love the signature heartfelt, emotive lyrics and the fact that there is some diversity on this record. Note that all three singles released so far definitely are unique and embrace a slightly different auricular composition. The latest single, “Legends Never Die,” exemplifies this.

Enterprise Earth fans are going to really enjoy this album and Dan Watson continues to grow as a vocalist in terms of both his delivery and range. This winter’s upcoming tour, where they’re featured with Fit for an Autopsy, is going to find many new fans beaming on board.



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OnePlus 9RT 5G hands-on review


Introduction

The OnePlus 9RT is the successor to the OnePlus 9R launched last year. Like its predecessor, the 9RT is largely an Asia-only device, being launched in China first and now in India.

The 9RT straddles the line between the premium OnePlus smartphones, like the OnePlus 9 and the 9 Pro, and the more budget-oriented Nord series. The reason why OnePlus chose to launch these phones in Asia only is anybody’s guess.

OnePlus 9RT hands-on review

The 9RT is a relatively modest upgrade over the 9R, which itself was mostly identical to the 8T. The biggest differences over the 9R are an updated Snapdragon 888 processor and a new triple camera system on the back. The display is slightly larger, and the phone now charges a bit faster. The overall product is very similar to the OnePlus 9 from last year.

While none of that sounds particularly exciting, the OnePlus 9RT is still a reasonably well-specced smartphone for the price. However, it remains to be seen if it works well in the real world. So setting aside our familiarity and preconceived notions of the device aside, we decided to take it for a spin.

OnePlus 9RT 5G specs at a glance:

  • Body: 162.2×74.6×8.3mm, 199g; Gorilla Glass 5 front and back, aluminum frame.
  • Display: 6.62″ AMOLED, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1080x2400px resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, 397ppi; Always-on display.
  • Chipset: Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 5G (5 nm): Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 680 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 680 & 4×1.80 GHz Kryo 680); Adreno 660.
  • Memory: 128GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 12GB RAM; UFS 3.1.
  • OS/Software: Android 11, ColorOS 12.
  • Rear camera: Wide (main): 50 MP, f/1.8, 24mm, 1/1.56”, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS; Ultra wide angle: 16 MP, f/2.2, 14mm, 123˚, 1/3.6″, 1.0µm; Macro: 2 MP, f/2.4.
  • Front camera: 16 MP, f/2.4, (wide), 1/3.06″, 1.0µm.
  • Video capture: Rear camera: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, Auto HDR, gyro-EIS; Front camera: 1080p@30fps, gyro-EIS.
  • Battery: 4500mAh; Fast charging 65W, 100% in 29 min (advertised).
  • Misc: Fingerprint reader (under display, optical); NFC.

Unboxing

The OnePlus 9RT comes in a typical OnePlus red packaging that is far taller than it needs to be. Inside, there is the smartphone with a 65W power adapter and a red charging cable. The charger that comes with the 9RT is the same as the one with the 9R and the Nord 2; it supports 65W Warp Charge with the proprietary cable but uses a USB-A connector and thus doesn’t support USB-PD fast charging for non-OnePlus devices.

OnePlus 9RT hands-on review

Aside from that, you also get a silicone case, which this time around is entirely black and opaque, unlike the clear or translucent models of the past. Then there’s the usual paperwork, stickers, and SIM eject tool inside a sleeve that is hidden under the lid.



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Album Review: SHADOW OF INTENT Elegy


The future is fun, isn’t it? Sure, we have a resurgent pandemic, global climate crisis, and a rapidly decaying social fabric, but we can also record epic symphonic music from home with nothing but a few cables and apps! Shadow Of Intent has kicked off 2022 with one of the most over-the-top symphonic deathcore albums of all time. Elegy is essential listening if you were one of those kids that spent high school rotating between Dimmu Borgir and Whitechapel. With flawless production and a masterful balancing of the two styles, it’s a way to great start the new year

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Symphonic deathcore never seemed like an obvious matchup. One of them calls for a gritty DIY approach, while the second demands for complete LARPing insanity. Hoodies vs. Helmets, Basements vs. Castles, etc. Shadow Of Intent shred the line perfectly on Elegy, managing to get the best of both styles in the bag instead of worst, as so many others have before. They fill Elegy with blastbeat breakdowns, then put them right up alongside soaring orchestral segments. Most importantly, it never gets boring or old. Certain songs just lean further each way along the hardcore/harpsichord scale, giving us some variety over the album.

Shadow Of Intent

Holding it all together is Ben Duerr‘s voice. Duerr has become something of an underground sensation over the past few years, scoring dozens of guest spots with everyone from Aborted to Brand Of Sacrifice. It’s not difficult to see why. He bounces between gut-churning lows, followed by high black metal shrieks. This performance helps tie the deathcore and symphonic styles together, meaning Elegy just wouldn’t be the same without him. When Duerr combines forces with Whitechapel‘s Phil Bozeman on “Where Millions Come To Die,” it feels like we are witnessing a passing of the torch.

“Intensified Genocide” is the closest it gets to outright deathcore on Elegy. The last third of the album is taken by the three-part “Elegy I – Adept,” “II – Devise,” and “III – Overcome.” This is one of the most ambitious things Shadow Of Intent have ever attempted, even including 2019’s “The Dreaded Mystic Abyss.” Part I is two-and-a-half minutes of progressive buildup before it drops into a Fleshgod Apocalypse meets Rivers of Nihil mashup. Piano flourishes, jazzy bass interludes and finally choral voices take over as the song reaches peak epic. Then, it drops back into deathcore. “Elegy III- Overcome” culminates with one of the lowest growls of Ben Duerr‘s career.

Bands like Shadow Of Intent give us hope for the future. They are completely past the era of petty genre bickering and proudly wear their influence on their sleeves. Moreover, they’ve matured from a group of Halo-obsessed nerds into one of the most exciting bands in deathcore today. In fact, between this and Lorna Shore’s upcoming LP, 2022 could be the year symphonic deathcore becomes a dominant style.



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Album Review: WORM SHEPHERD Ritual Hymns


Blackened deathcore is more recognized and accepted than ever, as new bands jump into the fray armed with spooky riffs, symphonic melodrama and crushing breakdowns… and very disturbing vocals. Speaking of vocals, they were the best and worst thing about Worm Shepherd‘s debut In the Wake Ov Sòl. There’s a lot to love about Devin Duarte‘s over-the-top delivery, from goblin-esque shrieks to vomitorial lows, but in some places he pushed the boundaries past the realm of articulation. In this regard, Ritual Hymns offer more tasteful execution. Duarte‘s vocals have more distinction in their viciousness, as does the instrumentation.

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The blackened side of Worm Shepherd has more in common with Dimmu Borgir than Darkthrone. Luckily, these guys avoid getting too campy with their neo-classical embellishments, as heard in the enormous buildup of opening title track. What’s even more impressive is how naturally the song transitions from a harrowing shred-fest to a gut-busting breakdown. These guys aren’t about to let Lorna Shore end the blackened deathcore arms race. Still, look no further than the groovy bass line that precedes the overwhelming wall of sound of “Ov Sword and Nail” to see how Worm Shepherd have honed their craft. There’s even some nasty tech-death riffage to balance out the customary bottomless pit of guttural debauchery.

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Worm Shepherd doesn’t hide how clean their sound is, especially by black metal standards. After all, the down-tuned devastation that closes out both “Chalice Ov Rebirth” and “The River Ov Knives” wouldn’t hit right without the 808 drops and gated snare hits. The former’s downtempo style (that is, multiple seconds between notes and eerie soundscapes) and the latter’s lopsided slams certainly hit hard when it counts, but the non-breakdown passages have a bit more disparity of outcome.

“Chalice” works out swimmingly when Worm Shepherd switches to grandiose synth arpeggios to nimble At The Gates-ish riffs, but it’s hard not to imagine how the gloomy death doom vibes of “River” would sound with a more earthy, rustic sound. Regardless, the song’s addition of forlorn melodic singing deepens the song’s atmosphere, and the band’s musicality as a whole. Indeed, surgically precise blast beats don’t hinder the impact of mid-tempo Dissection vibes of “The Ravens Keep,” a track that also sees the vocals become a little less punishing to fit the more straightforward vibe.

Where the ridiculous extremities of In the Wake Ov Sòl sometimes overstayed their welcome, a cut like “Wilted Moon” waits for the perfect moment to overturn the song into ultra-heavy madness. Said ridiculous extremities become a complementary facet of what’s essentially a symphonic black metal track with a tech-death rhythm section.

Worm Shepherd’s artful genre combinations help keep longer cuts like “Blood Kingdom” interesting, as it leans heavily on death metal axioms—whether that’s acrobatic fretwork and machine gun drumming or bone-snapping beatdowns. A lot of it surprisingly harks back to deathcore as it existed before the Myspace takeover, with black metal manifesting more through evil atmosphere, bombastic dynamics and witchy high screams than an overt musical signature. At the very least, it normalizes starting “A Bird in the Dusk” with mournful keys and rainstorm field recordings.

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In a genre often plagued with killing time before the breakdown, Worm Shepherd packs these more involved songs with memorable, lethal ideas. Knowing when to hold onto a tremolo-picked note, when to let synths handle melody, or when to let lose a terrifying rasp before the mosh part… that’s what brings Ritual Hymns to the forefront of the blackened deathcore movement.

Worm Shepherd certainly takes a more seamless approach, but the band plays up stylistic contrast on the closing cut “Winter Sun.” It starts with precision double bass/guitar bursts, and ends with a low-and-slow chug-fest, but both passages come with support from synths more suited for a Satyricon interlude. In the same way, gravity blasts find a home within catchy tremolo riffs, and a triumphant lead even finds a foothold in the sonic fray. There’s so much going on, but never without a motif to lead from beginning to end.

While it still technically falls under the blackened deathcore umbrella, Ritual Hymns finds Worm Shepherd proving how versatile this micro-genre can be. It’s more than tunnel throat vocals, dissonant riffs and stupidly heavy breakdowns. Sure, all of that manifests on this record, alongside a more holistic display of musical chops. It plays more like a unique take on extreme metal, untethered by what’s okay or not. For a newer underground uprising, Worm Shepherd’s approach represents a definite step in the right direction.



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Samsung Galaxy M52 5G review


Introduction

There are no less than four Samsung Galaxy *52 models, and we’ve already covered the three ones in the A series. On our quest to exhaust that list, we’ll now be showing you the Galaxy M52 5G – a slightly more budget-friendly alternative that misses out on some A-level goodies but still comes with a 5G-capable chipset, a large 120Hz AMOLED display, spec-heavy cameras, and a big battery.

The M52 5G is equipped with the Snapdragon 778G 5G SoC (same as the A52s 5G), so you’ll be getting great performance for the class, latest-gen connectivity, and potentially great battery life, an area where the 5,000mAh power pack certainly helps (4,500mAh on the A models). The M series can have 120Hz screens, too, and the M52 5G’s 6.7-inch AMOLED is also slightly larger than the 6.5-inch ones of the A trio – bigger is better, some say.

In the imaging department, Samsung has scrapped the 5MP depth camera, much to nobody’s objection. Fret not – the 5MP ‘macro’ unit is still here. More importantly, there’s a 64MP primary camera and a 12MP ultrawide, as well as a 32MP one for selfies.

Some concessions had to be made to fit the budget, naturally. The lack of an IP rating is a bummer indeed (the As are IP67-certified), and a single loudspeaker is undoubtedly one fewer than the stereo setups of the higher-priced phones. Whether you’d call the M52’s side-mounted fingerprint sensor a pro or a con compared to the under-display ones on the As, is entirely up to you.

Samsung Galaxy M52 5G specs at a glance:

  • Body: 164.2×76.4×7.4mm, 173g; Gorilla Glass 5 front, plastic frame, plastic back.
  • Display: 6.70″ Super AMOLED Plus, 120Hz, 1080x2400px resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, 393ppi.
  • Chipset: Qualcomm SM7325 Snapdragon 778G 5G (6 nm): Octa-core (4×2.4 GHz Kryo 670 & 4×1.8 GHz Kryo 670); Adreno 642L.
  • Memory: 128GB 6GB RAM, 128GB 8GB RAM; microSDXC (uses shared SIM slot).
  • OS/Software: Android 11, One UI 3.1.
  • Rear camera: Wide (main): 64 MP, f/1.8, 26mm, PDAF; Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f/2.2, 123˚; Macro: 5 MP, f/2.4.
  • Front camera: 32 MP, f/2.2, (wide).
  • Video capture: Rear camera: 4K@30fps, 1080p@30fps; Front camera: 2160p@30fps.
  • Battery: 5000mAh; Fast charging 25W.
  • Misc: Fingerprint reader (side-mounted); NFC.

Samsung Galaxy M52 5G unboxing

The presentation of the Galaxy M52 5G is in line with other mid-tier Samsungs. The two-piece white cardboard box has a likeness of the phone printed on the lid, and the phone’s name is above it.

Samsung Galaxy M52 5G review

Inside the box, a somewhat unpleasant surprise awaits – the charger is only rated for 15W output while the M52 5G can take up to 25W. There is a USB-A-to-C cable included in the box, and that’s about it.



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Week 1 in review: Galaxy S21 FE is here, CES 2022 in the books


Welcome back and Happy New Year! It may only have been seven days in but 2022 started off with a slew of announcements so let’s recap the most noteworthy ones.

Samsung finally unveiled the long-anticipated Galaxy S21 FE and it wasn’t that big of a surprise. It boasts a Galaxy S21 series-inspired design, Snapdragon 888 chipset in most regions (Australia being one of the exceptions) and One UI 4 with Android 12 out the box. The camera setup looks to be recycled from last year’s FE model as is the 4,500 mAh battery and 25W charging. Pricing is a bit of head-scratcher at €750/£700 but we’ll have to wait and see if it can come close to matching the sales results of last year’s FE model.

CES 2022 passed us by with a multitude of announcements from Intel, AMD, HMD and TCL among others. Another pair of new phones came from vivo which announced its V23 and V23 Pro with their color-changing backs. We got review units of both and were impressed with the Pro model’s design – head over to our in for review articles to read more about it.

Realme and its GT2 series also went official. The pair bring a newly developed bio-based polymer back design with a paper-like feel. The Pro model gets the fancy new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset while the vanilla relies on last year’s Snapdragon 888.

Xiaomi brought its 11i HyperCharge to India with 120W charging while OnePlus confirmed its launching the 10 Pro flagship on January 11. The iQOO 9 series also debuted with Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chips and BMW M styling.

That’s all the important bits from the first week of 2022, tune in exactly seven days from now to see what came to be in week 2.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is finally here with SD888, Android 12

The Galaxy S21 FE 5G comes in White, Graphite, Olive, and Lavender.


Mark Gurman: Apple is bringing a punch hole display to the iPhone 14

A new MacBook Air with M2 chip and iPad Pro with wireless charging is also incoming this year.


Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra to introduce a SuperClear lens

The tech is developed by Corning.


vivo V23 and V23 Pro can change color, have dual selfie cameras

The V23 and V23 Pro equip Dimensity 920 and 1200 chipsets and pack five cameras each.


Xiaomi 11i HyperCharge arrives in India with 120W charging, 11i tags along

These are the Indian names of the Redmi Note 11 Pro+ and Redmi Note 11 Pro.


Realme GT 2 goes official with paper-like back, Pro model adds SD 8 Gen 1

Both phones are going on sale in China from January 11.


OnePlus 10 Pro's specs detailed by TENAA

Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, 48MP + 50MP + 8MP 1x + 0.5x + 3x cameras, 5,000mAh battery with 80W charging.


HMD launches four new Nokia C and G-series smartphones at CES 2022

Coming to the US later in Q1.


OnePlus 10 Pro teasers confirm January 11 launch, design

The company has already set up a landing page on its website.


Xiaomi Black Shark 4S Pro keeps its AnTuTu title in December

Oppo Find N is the best-performing Android with a plain Snapdragon 888.


OnePlus 9RT is going global soon

The Indian division of OnePlus posted a morse code, which simply said “OnePlus 9RT”.


Lava is offering a free Agni 5G for everyone who returns their Realme 8s 5G

That’s right, the company is targeting one specific device of its more popular rival.


Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G infographic highlights key specs and design

The latest Fan Edition phone is scheduled to go on sale from January 11.


vivo V23 Pro in for review

vivo’s color-changing phone with the Dimensity 1200 SoC, 108MP camera, and 50MP selfie shooter has landed at our office for full review.


Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G will indeed have an Exynos 2100 in certain markets

Australia, for one, will get the Exynos variant.


iPhone SE (2022) will apparently still look like something from 2017

The previously rumored redesign has been delayed until 2024!


iQOO 9 and iQOO 9 Pro get official with Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, BMW M versions

The Pro has a curved screen and wireless charging.


Xiaomi 12 Ultra will stick to 50MP main camera, mold confirms design once again

The company is going to upgrade the sensors, but the resolution is likely to remain the same.


Oppo shares updated ColorsOS 12 rollout schedule

A bunch of Oppo phones will get the stable build in January, with more to follow in the coming months.


Honor Magic V officially arriving on January 10

The company’s first flagship will be unveiled next week.


AMD announces Ryzen 6000 mobile platform, Ryzen 5800X3D CPU, and Radeon 6500 XT graphics card

Also gives a quick look at the upcoming Ryzen 7000 series desktop CPU based on Zen4.




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Amazon Smart Plug review: Plug-and-play for Alexa diehards


Smart plugs are an underrated category in the smart home world. While they may not be as sexy as smart displays or color-changing light panels, they’re a quick and affordable way to bring on/off automation to devices that wouldn’t otherwise have it. The Amazon Smart Plug is meant to fit the bill for anyone decking out an Alexa-based smart home, and may be a default purchase for many people picking up Echo speakers. Find out if it’s worth adding to your collection in this Amazon Smart Plug review.

What you need to know about the Amazon Smart Plug

Amazon Smart Plug Top Down view

Roger Fingas / Android Authority

  • Amazon Smart Plug: $24.99 / £24.99 / €24.99 / Rs. 1,999.00

Amazon is pretty upfront about the Smart Plug’s focus: it’s built exclusively for Alexa. It doesn’t support Google Assistant or Apple HomeKit, or even standards like Zigbee or Z-Wave. You explicitly need the Alexa app for Android, iPhone, or iPad to connect it to your Wi-Fi network. This association is so close that if you shop for a speaker like the fourth-generation Echo, Amazon markets the Smart Plug as an add-on “accessory.”

Depending on where you live, the exact form factor of the product may vary due to alternate power standards. Our review unit was a bar-shaped North American model with 120VAC input and a maximum 15 amp output — that capacity can shrink to as little as 6 amps in India, limiting the appliances that will work with it.

Amazon Smart Plug is available from Amazon (of course) and comes in a single color option: white.

What’s good?

The Smart Plug lives up to Amazon’s promises of easy installation. It goes into pairing mode the moment you plug it in for the first time, and when I opened the Devices tab in the Alexa app, I got a pop-up offering to guide me through the setup process, including adding it to a room group for easier voice control. The most involved things got was scanning a QR code, and editing the plug’s name to be something other than “First Plug.” Don’t worry — if you lose the QR code, you can always add (or re-add) the plug by holding down its power button until the LED starts flashing, then using the Alexa app’s manual addition process.

See also: How to use Amazon Alexa

For what it is, the design of the Smart Plug is both slick and practical. The North American version is a matte white brick with rounded edges, and though it isn’t exactly svelte, it is shaped to avoid blocking other outlets in vertical layouts. Sure enough, it leaves plenty of space for cord plugs or similarly-designed smart plugs, and you can always turn the product on or off physically thanks to the side-mounted power button.

The design of the Smart Plug is both slick and practical.

The plug’s Alexa integration offers most of what you’d want and expect it to. For direct control, you can use either an Alexa speaker or the mobile app. The latter also enables automatic routines, triggered by custom variables like schedules, your phone’s location, or other smart home products. For testing, I plugged in a room heater and created one routine that would start warming up my bathroom an hour before sunrise, followed by a second that would shut off at sunrise exactly. Conceivably you could do things like have fans turn on when you arrive home, or set lights to turn on when an Alexa-compatible security system is triggered. For the most part, you’re limited only by whether connected appliances benefit from a simple on/off setting.

Related: How to use Alexa routines

What’s not so good?

A top-down view of the Amazon Smart Plug in a bathroom socket

Roger Fingas / Android Authority

While a number of conditions can trigger the Amazon Smart Plug via Alexa routines, you may find it missing some options. There’s no choice to use local weather, for example, which would be extremely handy for things like blinds, fans, heaters, and radiators. However, you can use data from select Alexa-compatible sensor sources, such as Ecobee thermostats, or the fourth-generation Echo speaker. Any gaps are a broader problem with Alexa, really, but relevant given the multi-purpose nature of smart plugs, and the absence of a third-party app solution.

Amazon promotes the ability to get tips and consumption estimates through the Alexa app’s Energy Dashboard, but if you read the fine print, this doesn’t actually work unless you reclassify the Smart Plug as a “light” in device settings. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason for this, and it’s a shame given that there are other plugs for the same price that track consumption without narrow categories, such as Kasa’s Smart Plug Mini with Energy Monitoring.

While a number of conditions can trigger the Amazon Smart Plug via Alexa routines, it’s missing some obvious options.

A couple of design quirks are more irritating than serious problems. The status LED on the Smart Plug is incredibly small, which can make it hard to tell if it’s on in a brightly-lit space. And while Amazon has made efforts to avoid blocking outlets, it’s still tough or impossible to use the plug next to some of the larger AC adapters out there. This could’ve been solved by thinning vertical dimensions, maybe making the product protrude elsewhere to compensate. You can work around this by buying third-party power strips.

Amazon Smart Plug review: Should I buy it?

A beauty shot of the Amazon Smart Plug on a couch

Roger Fingas / Android Authority

Ultimately, the Amazon Smart Plug accomplishes its mission, which is to provide an Alexa-based on/off control option for dumb devices that’s ridiculously easy to install and control. It’s not groundbreaking, but as a smart plug, it doesn’t have to be.

If you’re fully committed to Alexa and don’t mind paying a little extra for quick setup, the Amazon Smart Plug is a solid plug-and-play solution.

It is a tough sell, however, if you’re aware of some of the alternatives on the market. The aforementioned Kasa Smart Plug Mini ($23) is cheaper, even in its upper-tier version with energy monitoring, and supports both Alexa and Google Assistant, giving you the flexibility to switch or combine platforms. The Wyze Plug ($12) lacks an energy-monitoring option, but pairs Kasa’s platform flexibility with an even lower price — you can get two Wyze Plugs for less than the price of a single Kasa from Amazon.

If you’re already fully committed to Alexa, however, and don’t mind paying a little extra for quick setup, the Amazon Smart Plug is still a solid buy. If Amazon can improve Alexa’s routine options and change up the Energy Dashboard, it might become the automatic purchase the company wants it to be, but for now it’s only the best plug-and-play solution if you’re a true Alexa die-hard.

Amazon's Smart Plug

Amazon Smart Plug

The Amazon Smart Plug adds support for Alexa voice commands to any power outlet in your home.



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