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What You Need Know About Sonos’s Big Hi-Fi Upgrade

In the past three-odd years Sonos has undergone some pretty significant changes. A new CEO in Patrick Spence has come in. The company has announced its first smart speakers in the One ($199) and Beam ($399). It released its first portable speaker in the Move ($399). And, with Ikea, it released its first collaborative speakers in the Symfonisk ($99+) line. But Sonos is about to roll out what is arguably its most significant change this June. It’s calling it “Sonos S2.”

According to the press release that Sonos issued at the end of March, Sonos S2 will be an entirely new app and operating system (OS) that will power the next generation of products and experiences.” The ultimate goal of Sonos S2 is to enable Sonos’s products, some past and all future, to be able to play higher-quality audio and support more advanced technologies (such as Dolby Atmos). That said, Sonos S2 could have a big impact on people who use Sonos speakers and audio components every day.

Here’s what you need to know.

Folks with older Sonos speakers are the most affected

Not every Sonos product will support the new Sonos S2 app and operating system. If you’ve been a Sonos user for ten years or more and you still use some of those original speakers or components, there’s a good chance that they won’t support Sonos S2. These speakers will not support S2:

• Zone Players, Learn More
• CR200, Learn More
• Bridge, Learn More
• Connect (Gen 1), Learn More
• Connect:Amp (Gen 1), Learn More
• Play:5 (Gen 1), Learn More

To update your newer Sonos speakers and components, you’ll have to cut the old ones out of the group.

Most Sonos speakers and components will support the S2 update. When it becomes available this June, the Sonos app will tell you via push notification or within the app. This will be a fairly simple thing for most Sonos users, but it gets a bit complicated if you have an older Sonos product that doesn’t support S2 integrated into your system.

If you have a Sonos speaker or component that doesn’t support the S2 update, then the rest of the Sonos products its grouped with won’t be able to get the update either. You’ll have to degroup the component or speaker that doesn’t support the S2 update in order to upgrade the rest of the system. For instance, if you have two Play:5 (Gen 2) speakers and one Play:5 (Gen 1) speaker, you’ll have to de-group the older speaker to update your two newer Play:5 speakers.

You Don’t have to get the new app

Your current Sonos app will prompt you to download the new Sonos S2 app when it becomes available, but you won’t be required to download it. In case you don’t download it, you should know that your current Sonos app will be renamed “Sonos S1 Controller.” This name change could be a little confusing if you didn’t know the update if coming.

There are two main reasons why you should want to download the new app, however. First, the Sonos speakers and components will have to be updated with the new software and use the new app in order to support future, higher-resolution audio technologies. And two, all Sonos speakers that are released after May 2020 will come with the S2 update preinstalled and will not be able to be controlled with the Sonos S1 Controller app.

In a nutshell: if you want to add new speakers to your current Sonos system, you’ll have to have them updated.

Sonos will continue to support its older products, in a limited capacity

If you’re worried about your old Sonos speakers getting totally left in the dust — fear not. Sonos will continue to support its older speakers and components; you’ll be able to control them will the S1 Controller app; the S1 Controller app will still receive software updates of its own to fix bugs and security issues.

Sonos is, of course, heavily encouraging people with older products to upgrade them to new ones. It’s offering a trade-in program, called Trade Up, where you can save 30% on new products by trading your older non-compatible products in.

The update gets you HD streaming and Dolby Atmos

As Sonos explained in its press release, the main reason for the S2 update is so that its current and future speakers and components can play better audio. To date, Sonos has been able to support lossless audio that’s about CD quality. It’s good, but more and more streaming services are actually able to super even higher resolution audio — services like Tidal and Amazon Music HD — and Sonos wants their system to support those, too.

The other big thing is support for Dolby Atmos. Now Sonos has not gone out and officially stated that its home theater speaker systems will be able to support Dolby Atmos when they’re upgraded with S2, but it’s a pretty safe bet. Sonos has been making a big splash in the home theater realm for several years, with three soundbars and several bundle deals, and increasing the bandwidth so that it can support more immersive sound technologies makes sense. Plus, it gives movie buffs even more reason to buy Sonos.

And big improvements to speaker grouping

The S2 update is expected to be a big improvement for people who have several different groups of Sonos speakers placed around their homes. It’s expected to come with a new feature called ‘Room Groups,’ which will effectively allow users to create more longer-lasting groups of speakers, and then control them all more easily, within their home.

For instance, if you have two Sonos speakers in your kitchen and three Sonos speakers in your living room, and another two in your bedroom, the S2 app will allow you to control them without you having to constantly “regroup” them individually.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

From Film to Digital: The Gear Patrol Staff’s Favorite Cameras

Here at Gear Patrol, we specialize in all sorts of topics from tech to style to cars, and cover our beats using words, pictures, and video. But one common thread that connects every desk and department is an abiding love of all things photography. We rounded up some of the cameras that our staff — some professional photographers, some jubilant amateurs and some in-between — use to capture the world around us and make art, on the clock and off.

Leica M10

In an age of high megapixels, fast autofocus and faster burst rates, shooting with a Leica rangefinder is slow, deliberate and, frankly, a bit of a pain in the ass. That is to say, it’s a great vacation when your work is modern editorial photography. The M10 is reductionist photography at its finest — no autofocus, no video, just what you’d need to take a singularly great photo. — Henry Phillips, Deputy Photo Editor

Fuji X-T3, Mamiya C330, Yashica T3D

The camera I use the absolutely most is probably the Fuji X-T3. I’ve easily taken more photos with it than any other camera and it also does great video too in 4K60, 1080, or slow-mo. The lens I use most of the time is a 16-55mm F2.8 that’s great for walking around with but pretty massive and bigger than the camera, so I also have a tiny 35mm F2 that’s really tiny if I’m trying to keep it low profile.

I got the Mamiya C330 always wanted a twin reflex camera. I love the way it looks, and I love medium format. It is beefy, way bigger than a Roliflex in part thanks to its actual interchangeable lens, which probably accounts for a lot of the bulk. I got it for really cheap and it definitely likes to act up. It’s an old camera, so while it’s great, it’s just like an old car in that you have to remember there’s going to be problems.

The Yashica T3D is an amazing point and shoot that doesn’t break the bank. It comes with a Zeiss 35mm f2.8 which is surprisingly sharp and coupled with Portra 400, the resulting photos are some of my favorite I have ever taken. I did a photo shoot where I used a disposable point and shoot and missed not having any settings to look at and just work on composition, so I did some research and landed on the Yashica — chiefly as a way to avoid breaking the bank on a Contax T2 or Leica Minilux. Given the form factor and price, I think it’s a no brainer. — Andrew Siceloff, Director of Video

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Yashica Mat 124G

I bought this camera back when I was in college as an entry into medium format film. It was affordable, and offered a really sharp 80mm lens. It isn’t without its quirks (shooting with the waist-level finder and looking through the framing lens instead of the taking lens can be cumbersome), but it produces some great results. — AJ Powell, Senior Content Manager, Gear Patrol Studios

Canon 6D

The Canon 6D was my first DSLR, and so far I haven’t found a good enough reason to upgrade. I’m very much just a hobbyist, but I’m consistently impressed by the image quality of the photos I take with my 6D. A feature that I really love is that it can connect to your phone through Wi-Fi, so you can quickly edit photos on the fly if you’re in a pinch. — Scott Ulrich, Editorial Associate

Voigtländer Bessa R2M, Pentax 67,Ricoh GR1S

The Voigtlander Bessa R2m is essentially a Japanese Leica. It’s a rangefinder that takes Leica M mount lenses. This, however, is much more affordable than a Leica and also has a little bit of hipster appeal since not too many people use them. I’ve always wanted to try shooting a film rangefinder and this Bessa R2m just happened to pop up used for a very good price. It’s got an excellent light meter and I’ve been happy with the results.

The Pentax 67 is, to my mind, the best way to create images on large negatives, bar none. It’s easy to load, easy to shoot and produces beautiful results. The negatives measure roughly 6 cm high by 7 cm wide, and capture great amounts of detail. And you also just can’t deny the vintage appeal.

Unlike almost all point and shoot film cameras from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, the Ricoh GR1s isn’t ugly as sin. This camera has some of the best industrial design that I’ve seen, and has aged so well. The electornics inside, by contrast, have not aged well, and are notorious for failing. Folks will say that the Ricoh GR1s is one of the best lenses paired with the worst camera body, and as the pixels on its LCD screen just keep dying, I can’t help but agree. — Hunter Kelley, Associate Designer

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Leica Minilux, Mamiya 645 Pro, Mamiya RZ67 Pro 2, Sony A7R III

The Leica Minilux point and shoot is fantastic. I particularly enjoy the the 40mm 2.4 lens as it makes for some fantastic portraits. Their going price tends to be pretty steep and I’d probably say it’s not totally that typically large chunk of change, but if you score one for a little cheaper, its hard to go wrong.

Like a true millennial, I’ve only just started shooting on film within the past year or so. The medium format Mamiya 645 Pro was my first film camera and I truly enjoy it. The modular system is fantastic as I have a few attachments that allow me to improve my film workflow.

The Mamiya RZ67 Pro 2 is too old, too big, too slow and heavy as hell but damn it, I love it so much. I saved up and finally pulled the trigger on this brick of a photo device about a month ago and cannot wait to use it for years to come. The bellows focus system, precise focus knob and half stop adjustment options are just a few of the reasons I can’t put this beast down.

Most of my photography is shot on my Sony A7R II. It’s been absolutely amazing and I really love it. I’ve put to through hell and back and I think I’ll continue to use it for years to come. The 42 megapixels have been a true game changer for me as I’m able to scale in photographs as well as make larger prints. — Brenden Clarke, Multimedia Producer

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Canon EOS Rebel T5i

Two things I love about this camera: it’s super easy to use and it looks just professional enough to open a few doors when needed. I’ve very much in the amateur photographer category, and like Russell Westbrook, I’m a volume shooter. So I can say with confidence that if you have this camera and you shoot enough, you’re almost certain to strike imagery gold, sooner or later. — Steve Mazzucchi, Outdoors & Fitness Editor

Fuji X100F

I could sit here all day and tell you about the weird film cameras I’ve owned, or the mountains of work I’ve shot on the 5DIV, but I would much rather talk about this little Fuji that’s actually not even mine (thanks Bex). It’s not new, it doesn’t have the biggest sensor or the craziest autofocus, and it’s definitely not weather sealed. That aside, I love it. It’s small, super portable, and it pushes out stellar RAW files with that Fuji color we all know and love. It’s my default walk-around camera, and I take it everywhere with me to use for snapshots and street shooting like I would an iPhone. The only flaw with the X100F is that I’m eventually going to lose it on a trip one day and I’ll be forced to buy another one. — Chandler Bondurant, Staff Photographer

Canon AE-1 Program

Before buying a used Canon AE-1 Program on eBay for something like $200, I learned to shoot film on a hunk of plastic that I found in a friend’s attic. It was a great camera to learn on, but came with its share of imperfections — but not the charming type that make film so fun — and was fully automatic.

The AE-1 Program, which Canon started manufacturing in 1981, does have automatic modes, but it also lets you adjust aperture, shutter speed and ISO to your liking. I bought mine before a ski trip to Kamchatka, Russia, and the developed negatives leave me with nothing to regret of the impromptu purchase. Now I bring it on nearly every trip I take. — Tanner Bowden, Staff Writer

Nikon EM

The Nikon EM was a pretty basic 35mm camera from the late 70s early 80s. That EM stands for “economy model.” It was my dad’s and he gave it to me when I took my first photography class in seventh grade. It’s been my go-to film camera ever since. Both sides of the body have these light leaks that I’ve learned to use to my advantage over the years, especially when shooting with something like Ilford HP5. When I want to trust that I’m going to get the shots I want wherever I go, this is my choice. — Ryan Brower, Commerce Editor

Olympus XA2

Three months ago, I didn’t know the first thing about film photography, but the delightful Olympus XA2 has been a terrific companion on the journey. A dead-simple point-and-shoot, the XA2’s only real setting is its zone-focusing slider, which takes a roll or two of trial and error to get used to, but makes this ridiculously compact (and affordable) camera an amazing EDC camera that is even faster to fire than your iPhone.

I’m sure you know the adage: “The best camera is the one you have with you.” And that is what I had in mind when I decided to go with the Olympus OM-D EM-10 MK2, a plucky Micro Four Thirds shooter, as my first halfway serious camera. I had reservations about the small sensor at the time, and still think about upgrading now and then, but just love the tiny size of this little guy. With a sizable suite of lenses and a truly compact footprint, the EM-10 has accompanied me on many a trip, and really let the photography bug bite by exposing me to all the variety a camera with interchangable lenses can offer.  — Eric Limer, Tech Editor

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

What’s the Difference Between a $69 and a $2,000 Phono Preamp?

Your phono preamp is a vital component of your turntable system, even if you don’t know it. Generally the smallest and most affordable, it may be built into your turntable itself. Owing to its relatively low cost, its likely the most easily upgradable components in your whole system, and can potentially have a big impact on its sound.

But before you upgrade, there are some questions you need to be able to answer. What does it actually do? How does it affect sound quality? And, maybe most importantly, what are you paying for when you are deciding on a price range?

To help answer these questions, we’ve asked Charlie Randall, the co-CEO of the McIntosh Group, which is also the parent company to other well-known hi-fi companies such as Pro-Ject, Sonus Faber and Audio Research.

Budget or luxe, every phono preamp does the same job: amplification.

Every phono preamp takes the tiny, weak signal from the phono cartridge and amplifies it so your speakers can play it as a reasonable volume. Of course, that is not quite as simple as it sounds. A phono preamp also has to also equalize the signal so that the record sounds as true as possible to the original recording.

“The actual signal on the record is not flat but follows an agreed-upon equalization curve that allows deep bass and extended high frequencies to be cut into the record groves,” says Randall. This curve is called the RIAA playback equalization curve. The phono preamp essentially needs to apply the opposite EQ, as well as drastically boosting the signal’s lowest frequencies and attenuating the higher ones.

Entry-Level: The Pro-Ject Phono Box E ($69) is an example of a great entry-level upgrade. If you have want to upgrade from your turntable’s built-in phono preamp, this is an affordable option.

But cheaper preamps can lose details and introduce noise.

The cheaper the phono preamp, the less accurate it corrects for the RIAA curve and the worse the record will sound. “Cheap, poor-performing phono preamps don’t convey the magic of music on vinyl,” says Randall. “They sound flat, lifeless and don’t provide the wonderful warm experience that people covet with vinyl playback.” Owing to cheaper components and less engineering care, less expensive preamps may also introduce noise as they do their job of increasing the signal.

“The best phono preamplifiers, such as the McIntosh MP100 ($2,000), will precisely amplify and equalize the very small phono signal to duplicate the original recording without adding any noise or distortion,” Randall explains.

And more expensive preamps bring customization to the table.

With a more expensive preamp, you’re also paying for versatility. Higher-end phono preamps, according to Randall, are “also capable of accurately amplifying a wider range of cartridges.” In particular, they can more adeptly handle rarer Moving Coil (MC) cartridges, which require much more gain and have different electrical requirements than their more common Moving Magnet brethren.

Where the $69 Pro-Ject Phono Box E ($69) requires little more interaction than plugging your wires straight in and only supports Moving Magnet cartridges, the McIntosh MP100 has individual inputs for both cartridge types, with adjustable loading for each. But you can get the bulk of that versatility amps like Pro-ject’s Phono Box S2 Ultra ($299), that are a fraction of that sky-high price.

The Upgrade: The Phono Box S2 Ultra ($299) is one of Pro-ject’s higher-end phono preamps. It has more advanced tech and features, and is compatible with turntables using MM or MC cartridges.

An external phono preamp is an upgrade, even if it isn’t expensive.

Today, many entry-level turntables have a built-in phono preamp which makes for a convenient “plug-and-play” machine that, paired with powered speakers, is ready to go. But an integrated preamp can pick up noise from other nearby components. An external preamp, then, can often upgrade by virtue of adding some distance alone. There is also the flexibility to upgrade as you learn what you like.

Fortunately, many integrated turntables, like Pro-ject’s Essential III Phono ($389), have toggleable phono preamps, meaning you can turn on and off its built-in phono preamp. Basically, if you decide you want to add an external phono preamp to your setup, you still can. And should!

The Ultimate: The McIntosh MP100 ($2,000) is jam-packed with features, such as switchable inputs for MC and MM cartridges, balanced XLR outputs, and a built-in 24-bit/96kHz ADC so you can digitize your records.

The difference is there, but slight compared to the impact of your system’s other components.

The phono preamp is just one component in your hi-fi system and it is nowhere near the most important. Your speakers and turntable both should command a much larger chunk of your hi-fi budget. You could (and perhaps should) spend 50 to 60% of your budget on speakers alone. But even if you have an entry-level hi-fi system, a dedicated phono preamp has the potential to make a dramatic difference.

As a general rule, Randall recommends investing about 20% of your budget on the phono preamp, splurging for flexibility in terms of adjustments like gain, loading and compatibility with Moving Coil cartridges if you’re looking to mess around.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

This Hack Makes This $20 Home Security Camera Even More Valuable

<!–How to Turn Your Wyze Camera Into a Webcam<!– –>

Do You Own a Wyze Camera?


Wyze, the maker of some of our favorite affordable security cameras, just rolled out a neat software update that effectively allows you to turn your Wyze Cam v2 ($20) or Wyze Cam Pan ($30) into a webcam. Not everybody is going to want to turn their little camera into a webcam, obviously, but given the current webcam shortage and the fact that we’re all spending so much time on video calls, this little hack could come in handy if your laptop camera isn’t working.

If you have a Wyze Cam v2 or Wyze Cam Pan and you want to turn it into a webcam, Wyze just released instructions on how to do just that. The process requires you to have a camera, a microSD card and a USB cable so you can physically connect the camera to your computer to download the firmware update. It feels a little old school, but then again these are strange times.

As a webcam, the Wyze Cam’s video, speaker and microphone should all work properly, so you should have no problem using it with Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype calls. It’s important to note that when you turn it into a webcam, it will effectively stop working as the security camera that you’re used to. It won’t connect to the Wyze app. However, Wyze promises that you’ll be able to reverse the process once you’re done using it as a webcam.

If you’re interested in turning your Wyze camera into a webcam, you can read the how-to guide by clicking the button below.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

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What It’s Actually Like to Be on 5G

This story is part of our Summer Preview, a collection of features, guides and reviews to help you navigate warmer months ahead.
On paper, 5G will make your jaw drop. Its highest speeds beat most home broadband connections by orders of magnitude. With it, YouTube videos load in a snap, entire seasons of TV download in seconds. More crucial than any anecdote or benchmark, however, is the answer to a simple question: How will this technology change the way I live my life?

After spending some time surfing 5G’s futuristic airwaves humming with hype, I can tell you with firsthand knowledge: it probably won’t. At least not yet.

Officially, in its broadest definition, 5G stands for fifth-generation cellular wireless. It’s the successor to 4G and a cousin to LTE. New phones will support it and older phones will not. As far as the marketers are concerned, 5G is synonymous with speed. But under the hood, 5G is a digital chimera — a marriage of two different technological means suited to a similar end.

One half, known colloquially as “sub-6,” is quickly blanketing the nation. In large part a software upgrade, this flavor of 5G operates on the same general airwaves your phone currently uses and shares the same general characteristics, spreading far and wide from tall, distant towers that combine to cover a large area.

The other half, often called “millimeter wave,” is the sexy bit. Utilizing extremely high-frequency airwaves never widely used by mobile devices before, it delivers blistering speeds of 1,000 megabits per second or higher. But it comes with significant downsides: these waves don’t travel far, and they are easily blocked by walls, buses and trees; and for now, they’re only pumped out of little black antennas on top of streetlights in a handful of cities across the country.

When 3G and 4G rolled out, they were a revelation because they offered access to something cable connections had created years before: an internet built for broadband. In 2020, 5G is pushing unprecedented speed, so the cart is leading the horse. When I booted up my 5G phone, I excitedly benchmarked its speed, downloaded a few large files … then went about my day as faster speeds hummed imperceptibly in the background. Millimeter wave, which packs almost all of 5G’s significant punch, is much more like Wi-Fi than the all-encompassing “mobile” networks we’re accustomed to. They act as a series of high-speed islands you need to seek out and find reason to stand in.

In my time testing 5G around New York — primarily with a Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ on AT&T’s network — my experience was almost entirely with sub-6, as your first dabbles with 5G will be, too. That initial test revealed that 5G is still impressive … if not life-altering or consistent.

My daily trek home from midtown Manhattan to the west side of the Hudson River weaves through the heart of one 5G’s beachheads in New York City. With my eyes glued to the signal icon on my phone’s status bar (with admittedly little regard for my own safety), I’d catch the signal flicker between 5G and LTE a dozen or more times. On trips using my phone like a normal human being would — reading Twitter, checking Instagram, streaming music, watching the occasional YouTube video — I never once noticed any change in performance the way I do when, on the bus home along rural stretches to my parents’ house in upstate New York, I instantly detect the occasional downtick to 3G load times and the relief of return to LTE.

I noticed 5G most when I was explicitly running the numbers: standing on the corner of 5th Avenue and 28th Street in the bustle of Manhattan, holding two phones for comparison and watching a Netflix video load slightly faster on the futuristic network. Quantitative metrics were more definitive: running seven speed tests in a row while sitting in the Lincoln Tunnel or walking along the edge of the Hudson River, the advantage for 5G made itself plenty clear in the numbers. But aside from edge-use cases like downloading entire discographies, multiple seasons of a television series or high-definition mobile games (all of which will absolutely demolish your data cap if you have one), the difference between 20 megabits of download speed and 200 is like the difference between a Porsche 911 and a V12 Ferrari. One’s faster than the other, but most people would ever notice.

I can imagine a future where this is no longer true — and so can carriers and tech companies. It’s a world where airports and bus stops are blanketed with millimeter-wave radio waves as a matter of course, and you can seek out a hotspot to download four gigabytes of video before you take off, or stream 4K PC-grade video games to your phone through a service like Google Stadia or Microsoft Project xCloud. Or, looking even further down the road, loading a terabyte of augmented reality apps onto your iGlasses. But we aren’t there yet. And the arrival of robust 5G doesn’t bring us there; it just sets the stage.

While 5G’s potential is undeniable, the current coverage situation leaves a bit to be desired. Sometimes your connection is just going to be mediocre.

In the meantime, 5G charges on. Samsung’s new flagship S20 is among the first crop of phones to support both flavors of the technology by default (previous handsets focused on one or the other and cost a premium for the privilege). There’s a good chance Apple’s next iPhones will as well. Carriers are beginning to roll out 5G data plans using a variety of strategies, from offering 5G access for free on existing unlimited plans to offering it at a monthly premium. All, of course, are designed in part to lure you off any particularly affordable plan you may have found yourself grandfathered into.

My advice for the meantime? Resist the 5G temptation, insofar as you have no particular use in mind. Its most impressive advantages are, for now, few and far between. Once superfast millimeter wave blankets public spaces as a matter of course and data caps inflate to allow monstrously huge files, the calculus will assuredly change. For now, however, 5G is a fabulous foundation still waiting for the house to be built on top.
A version of this story originally appeared in a print issue of Gear Patrol Magazine. Subscribe today.

Fitbit’s Popular Fitness Trackers Just Got the One Upgrade They Needed

The Charge series is one of Fitbit’s most popular fitness trackers and today the company introduced the latest addition to the series. The all-new Charge 4 is a fitness tracker that looks almost identical to its predecessor, the Charge 3 (which Fitbit has just stopped selling on its site), but it has a couple of key features that promise to make a big difference.

First and most significantly, the Charge 4 is Fitbit’s first fitness tracker to have a built-in GPS. (The only other Fitbit device to have a built-in GPS is its robust smartwatch, the $250 Fitbit Ionic.) This means that runners, bikers, hikers and other athletes wearing Charge 4 will be able to get an accurate mapping of their workout without having to carry their smartphone.

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Second, the Charge 4 is Fitbit’s first wearable outside of the Fitbit Ionic to work well with Spotify. You’re now able to download the Spotify app on the Charge 4 and control music playback directly on the device. The catch is that the Charge 4 doesn’t have built-in LTE, so in order to control playback from your wrist, you’ll need to have your smartphone nearby to stream music to your wireless headphones. Still, if you’re a Spotify listener this is a convenient upgrade.

And third, the Charge 4 can automatically detect when the wearer is being active or not. It’s the first fitness tracker that’s able to record “Active Zone Minutes,” which is a proprietary name for Fitbit’s newest metric that tracks your activity based on your age and resting heart rate. The metric is designed to automatically detect the minutes that you are “active” throughout the day, as well as help you reach daily and weekly activity goals.

Like previous Fitbit devices, the Charge 4 is also able to track sleep as well as female health tracking. It has a 7-day battery life and is waterproof up to 50 meters.

The Fitbit Charge 4 costs $150 and is available for preorder right now, with units expected to be available everywhere in the US on April 13.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

The Best External Monitors for Your Home Workstation

If you’re looking for an external monitor for your home workstation, you should probably look into getting a USB-C monitor. They connect easily with the newest Apple and Windows laptops, while also providing some key benefits such as passthrough charging (no need to connect your laptop into a separate power source) and delivering a higher-resolution picture.

USB-C monitors are a tad on the expensive side and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one under $400. If that’s out of your price range, don’t worry. You can still get a good monitor that’s more affordable, but you’ll likely just need to invest in an HDMI adapter or dock.

Best for Amateur Photographers

BenQ SW270C: This is the best option for work-from-home creative professionals who don’t want to spend over $1,000. The SW270 is the QHD alternative to BenQ’s more expensive SW271. Even though it’s not a true 4K monitor, it’s great for photographers and photo editors because of its superb color reproduction. It’s able to deliver 99-percent of the Adobe RGB color space, which is huge, and 100-percent of the sRGB color space.

Size: 27 inches
Charging: 60-watts passthrough charging
Resolution: 2560 x 1440
Ports: HDMI 2.0 (2x), DisplayPort, USB Type-C, USB-A (2x), USB-B, USB Mini-B and headphone jack

Best for Creative Professionals

BenQ SW271: You can think of the BenQ SW271 as the 4K upgrade to the previous BenQ SW270. It delivers exceptional color accuracy — 99-percent of the Adobe RGB color space — and it’s simply of of the best professional-grade monitors for photo and video editors. Gear Patrol‘s creative team uses these monitors in our NYC offices.

Size: 27 inches
Charging: 60-watts passthrough charging
Resolution: 4K (3840 x 2160)
Ports: HDMI 2.0 (2x), DisplayPort, USB Type-C, USB-A (2x), USB-B, USB Mini-B and headphone jack

The Spreadsheet King

Dell UltraSharp 38: If you’re looking for an ultrawide monitor, the Dell UltraSharp 38 is a great combination of looks, resolution and price. At 37.5-inches, it’s far from the widest ultra monitor on the market, but it’s still a great multitasking machine, easily allowing you to have five-to-six windows open at the same time. And its 178-degree curved screen make it easy to see everything.

Size: 37.5 inches
Charging: 100-watts passthrough charging
Resolution: 3,840 x 1,600
Ports: HDMI 2.0 (2x), DisplayPort, USB-A (4x output, 2x input), USB-C and headphone jack

Best for Budget 4K Monitor

HP Envy 27: If you’re for a good 4K monitor that’ll work with your MacBook Pro or USB-C Laptop, but you also don’t want to drop the $700 on a LG UltraFine display, the HP Envy 27 is a great option. It has a sleek minimalistic design with very thin bezels. Best of all, it’s a true 4K monitor that delivers a sharp, bright and colorful picture.

Size: 27 Inches
Charging: 60-watts passthrough charging
Resolution: 3840 x 2160
Ports: HDMI (2x), DisplayPort, USB-C

The Apple Option

LG UltraFine 4K: Apple has been selling the LG UltraFine 4K for years and for good reason. It works seamlessly with any MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models, and you can adjust the monitor’s settings within the Settings menu in macOS. The display has five USB-C ports in total, two are Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, which allow you to easily connect another LG UltraFine 4K monitor to your setup, and three charging USC-C ports.

Size: 23.7 inches
Charging: 85-watts passthrough charging
Resolution: 4K (3840 x 2160)
Ports: 5 USB-C (2x Thunderbolt 3)

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

A NYC Hi-Fi Shop Owner Shares His At-Home Setup

When the owners of record stores and hi-fi shop go home at the end of the day, what kinds of hi-fi systems are they going home to? And what kind of records are they playing? That’s exactly what we set out to find out. Peter Hahn is the co-owner of the Turntable Lab, a New York-based go-to music shop for professional DJs, musicians and audiophiles. Here, he talks home hi-fi systems, his first turntable and what his favorite records to listen to are. 

The Hi-Fi Setup

Audio System: Revo Supersystem, $600+
Turntable: Technics SL-1200MK2, $550+
Integrated Amplifier: NAD C316BEE V2, $449
Cables: Kimber Kable 4TC, $285
Speakers: Dali Zensor, $349

What kind of hi-fi setup do you have at home?
I have two setups because I prefer to keep my analog setup separate from my streaming setup. I have a Revo Supersystem for internet radio, FM radio and Spotify connect. For my analog setup, I have a Technics SL-1200MK2 fitted with an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge. I run that through a NAD C316BEE V2 integrated amplifier with Kimber Kable 4TC cables and Dali Zensor speakers.

I’ve had the 1200 for over 20 years since I DJ’ed in college. Everything else has been added in the last year. My analog setup isn’t the most expensive, but I chose everything for the purity of the components – from the 2M Blue’s nude diamond stylus to the all-analog circuitry of the Nad amp to the gorgeous USA-made Kimber Kables.

As for the Revo, it allows you to access internet radio streams through a traditional button interface. I like being able to listen to KTUH (Honolulu) by pushing one button. I also hate Bluetooth or being forced to use a third party WIFI app, so the Spotify Connect is key. The Supersystem is a hefty piece of gear, very heavy and gets loud.

What was your first turntable?

My first turntable was a Pioneer PL that I co-opted from my parent’s rack system. I still have it at home. That thing was built like a tank.

What’s your “grail” turntable (or system) if the price were no object?

A customized Linn Sondek or Clearaudio Concept with moving coil cartridge.

The Vinyl

The Records:
Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works
The Cure, Disintegration
Voxtrot, Raised By Wolves
John Coltrane, Love Supreme
Bob Marley and The Wailers, Soul Revolution

What are your favorite 5 records to listen to and why?

• Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works: I could listen to this all the time, reminds me of high school. an album that truly sounds better on vinyl.
• The Cure, Disintegration: For moody days, love the order of the songs.
• Voxtrot, Raised By Wolves: I don’t own the vinyl, but I’ve listened to “The Start Of Something” over 200 times this year.
• John Coltrane, Love Supreme: This is my favorite jazz rec of all-time. It ascends time and place.
• Bob Marley and The Wailers, Soul Revolution: Lee Perry era Wailers is magical.

Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

How Do You Know if Your VPN Actually Works?

You may think you need to be a tech whiz to know if your VPN actually works, but that hasn’t been the case for quite a while. There are now plenty of free and readily available online tools to confirm the quality of your VPN provider.

Simply clicking here will take you to a leak tool that will expose the main flaws in your VPN client before your data is compromised. Which flaws exactly? Read on for the full details.

VPN Leaks Should Be Your Main Focus

As mentioned above, VPN leaks are your primary cause of concern (though we’ll get into a bit more advanced stuff later). Here’s what it means for your VPN to leak, and what you can do to patch things up – aside from switching providers, that is.

1. IPv6 Leaks

IP addresses, A.K.A. the main way devices are recognized on the Internet, come in two different flavors: IPv4 and IPv6. The pool of IPv4 addresses (which you may recognize by this example format: 172.16.254.1) has basically run out as of 2019 due to how many Internet-capable devices there are nowadays.

IPv6 is the newer standard and looks like this: 2001:db8:0:1234:0:567:8:1. The format allows for exponentially more variety in IPs, making it virtually impossible for them to run out any time soon. Unfortunately, slow adoption of IPv6 has caused a number of issues, including IPv6 leaks in VPN clients without leak protection.

Essentially, most VPN providers don’t feel the need to support IPv6 when most websites or ISPs don’t offer support for it either. As such, IPv6 leak protection usually means your VPN will block out that traffic entirely. Without this feature, your ISP and other online snoopers can see what you’re doing online, voiding the anonymity offered by your VPN.

If the leak tool detected an IPv6 leak, your only course is to disable IPv6 through your network adapter settings.

2. DNS Leaks

Another way your ISP could still spy on your browsing habits is through Domain Name System (DNS) requests sent to their servers. These DNS servers help translate human-readable website links like www.google.com into an IP address that can be read by a machine – and vice versa. Think of these DNS servers as phone books that help your device find out the “phone number” of the websites you access.

Now, VPN providers usually have their own DNS servers and automatically route traffic through them to prevent your ISP from reading your requests. Unfortunately, certain OS features (mainly Windows ones) can bypass that and still send DNS requests to your ISP.

Given that telecom giants aren’t exactly trustworthy, it’s worth patching up any DNS leaks detected by the tool above. Thankfully, the most common culprits can be easily disabled:

  • For Teredo, simply open up a command prompt (Windows + R, type in “cmd” and click OK), and type this in: netsh interface teredo set state disabled
  • Here’s a guide to disable Smart Multi-Homed Name Resolution on Windows 8 and 10.
3. WebRTC Leaks

What WebRTC actually does is allow audio/ video communication through your browser, exactly as if you were using a dedicated app (Skype, Slack, etc.) Of course, the browser feature could expose your IP address to any website through things called STUN requests. Yes, even if you use a VPN.

Again, the solution to this is as easy as entirely disabling WebRTC in your browser of choice. Alternatively, you can install a browser add-on that either:

  • Exclusively blocks WebRTC requests at the click of a button, such as WebRTC Control.
  • Gives you more fine-grain control over what scripts websites can run, such as uMatrix or NoScript. These script-blockers also prevent WebRTC requests and give you an upper hand in online privacy and security in general. Do be warned they have a bit of a learning curve.

As a final recommendation, don’t hesitate to re-use the leak test tool once a week just to be safe. And with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the slightly advanced tip we promised earlier.

Does Your VPN Obfuscation Work?

One of the primary functions of a VPN is to encrypt all network traffic to and from your device(s). Encryption basically means that people trying to snoop in on your online activity will just see a bunch of gibberish. This includes anyone from your ISP, to cyber criminals, to government surveillance agencies like the NSA.

For the average VPN user, this is nothing to worry about. Encryption is a VPN provider’s bread and butter, and they’d be out of business fast if it didn’t work for some reason. So how do you check that it works short of trusting some online reviewer? By using a packet sniffer such as Wireshark.

Packet sniffers capture the data packets sent over a network, analyze them and present the information in a human-readable form. They are used by network technicians to diagnose problems or cyber criminals trying to steal your data over an unencrypted Wi-Fi connection, for example.

If you want to see what your average hacker does at your local café, here’s a guide on how to use Wireshark to test your VPN.

Does Your VPN Contain Malware?

Sure enough, malware is serious business, with over 50% more mobile devices being affected in 2019 compared to 2018.  In the VPN sector, 20% of the top 150 free Android VPNs have been identified as potentially carrying malware, among other risk factors.

Your first thought was probably “Wait, what? Why isn’t this further up on the list, then?” Well, you’ll notice that it was mainly “free” VPNs that were untrustworthy, showing that there is always a price to pay for privacy.

Still, you can always verify the installation file of your VPN software (even paid ones) with some decent anti-malware. Alternatively, you can upload the installer to a service like VirusTotal which uses over 70 antivirus scanners for a more than thorough inspection.

Restore Your Files Fast: Tips on How to Retrieve Your Files and Use Data Recovery Software for Mac

If you have lost some of your files, it does not mean that you will never see them again. Usually, the problem is much smaller than we picture, and the problem can be solved in a few clicks. Here is a guide for you on how to recover files on Mac as well as some tips on what you should do if you lost all of your files and don’t know what to do. Learn more about effective data recovery here.

The Best Ways to Restore Your Data and Files

The situation in which you lose your files is not something you want to experience. But if you have such a problem, you can still fix it. Here are the steps to recover deleted files on Mac and forget about your problems with files:

  1. Check the trash bin. Who knows, maybe you were thinking about something else and did not notice how you deleted the files. There is always a chance of something like that happening, so even if you don’t remember how it got deleted, still it is best to make sure that the trash bin is empty.
  2. Search through other folders. Check every folder where you could have put your files without noticing it. Same as for the trash bin: you might not even remember that you did something, but it will turn out that the files were just moved to another folder.
  3. Back up your files. Before you do anything to restore data on Mac, first you should make sure that none of the files that are still saved on the computer are safe and sound. Save your data on Google Drive or another platform, and start working on solving the problem.
  4. Install special software. To retrieve data on Mac fast and easy, you can always use some special apps or programs that will help you do that. There is a variety of different options on the internet, so all you have to do is just to choose the right one. You can use some free mac data recovery software to get your files back. But keep in mind that you should always check if the app is fine to use before downloading it.
  5. Think about a situation in which you might have damaged your Mac incidentally. Sometimes, our devices stop working properly because of some bugs that are happening due to the recent damages. In such a case, the only thing you can do is just to turn for help to the special service that will repair your Mac for you.
  6. Talk to the technician. If you have no idea about what happened to your computer and how you can fix it, talk to the professional who will be able to share a piece of advice with you. The expert will also be able to help you out with installation of the special data recovery software for Mac, so you would be able to use such an app more effectively.

Step-by-Step Video Tutorial

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Keep Calm and Restore Your Files Easily

If you realize that some of your files are missing, it is not a reason to panic. There are good chances that all of your files can be recovered with ease, so instead of worrying and stressing out too much, try to take an action and do everything you can to get your private data back. There are many great apps and programs that can help anyone manage this problem, even if you don’t know a lot about such things.

Your Home Office Needs a Trackball. Here’s Why.

For decades, the standard set of tools for computing has been more or less set in stone. When you sit at a desk, you use a keyboard for typing in words and you use a mouse to point and click things. If you have a laptop, maybe you use its touchpad. If you’re really out there, you might use a Magic Trackpad or its equivalent. And that’s fine! It’s OK to be normal, but if you really want to the next level of comfort and productivity at your desk, it’s time to put away childish things and upgrade. My friend, you should be using a trackball.

Trackballs, while a little tough to get the hang of, are rarer than they should be. And they’re more comfortable, more useful, more efficient and dare I say cooler than every alternative, and now that I’ve seen the light after years of missing out, I’ll never go back. If you make the switch, and you should, you’ll see what I mean. Let me make the case.

The Case Against the Venerable Mouse

For all their popularity, there are a ton of reasons not to use a traditional mouse. First and foremost is the ergonomics. Do you ever get pain in your wrist after a long stint at the computer? I know I used to, and if you’re using a standard mouse, it’s no wonder. It might feel like you are in a resting state, but various parts of your hand and arm are actually tense. If you hold your mouse with a so-called “claw” grip, muscles on the back of your hand are too. Worse yet, standard mouse posture, with your palm parallel to the desk, keeps your forearm in a perpetually twisted state. Twisting your wrist to the left or right as you point and click can cause further stress. Also, you may not have it (yet), but “mouse elbow” is real.

One solution to this problem is a vertical mouse which holds your wrist in a better position like the Logitech MX Vertical. But even a vertical mouse requires precious acreage on your desk. Unless your sensitivity is through the roof, you’ll always need a decent amount of room to slide the dang thing around, lift it up, set it down and then slide it around again. And if a glass of water or can of soda encroaches on that space, you’re asking for trouble.

Standalone trackpads, with their stationary footprint, are an improvement and can offer some fun gesture controls depending on your computer’s operating system, but come with their own downsides. All that swiping and tapping can still tweak your wrist and, worst of all, clicking and dragging becomes a true nightmare. If only there were a way to solve all of these problems at once…Surprise, there is! It’s called a trackball.

Why You Should Try a Trackball Instead

Completely stationary, a trackball lets you dial in a comfortable, relaxed position and keep it all day every day while simultaneously freeing up your desk for mugs, post-its, chargers — whatever you want. There are a wide variety of vastly-different trackballs, so you have creative license to figure out which model works best for you.

The choice between designs that offer a small ball you control with your thumb or a larger ball you operate with your index or pointer gives you a variety of control options and ergonomic setups the world of mice just can’t match. What’s more, trackballs virtually all include a wealth of extra, programmable buttons to customize to your various needs. To top it all off, they’re uncommon, exotic and, by this nerd’s definition, even cool.

Kensington Expert Wireless

My first trackball

• Ambidextrous design
• Four programmable buttons
• Physical scroll wheel
• Included wrist wrest
• Wireless connection by Bluetooth or USB

Price: $75

I started exploring trackballs after a bout of ulnar wrist pain that dogged me constantly and would flare up after long days at the office. Sitting stationary at your desk all day isn’t ideal for fitness, but maintaining a comfortable and healthy posture is crucial to your arm and joint health while you are doing it. And if you don’t have a Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) or similar pain from your time with a mouse, good! But it’s worth being proactive to avoid. If you don’t believe me, just ask the guy who invented Kirby.

The first trackball that I bought was the Kensington Expert Wireless ($75), and it was for the extremely shallow reason that I liked the way it looked, but it turns out to have a whole host of other features that make it appealing. I’m righthanded, but its symmetrical design makes it a rare option that also works for lefties. And while folks swear by trackball models that put a smaller, marble-sized ball under your thumb, but I instantly fell in love with the cue-ball design that lets me pilot my pointer with my more dexterous index and middle fingers. Switching overtook a little bit of getting used to, a few weeks of minor fumbling with the cursor, but the improvement in comfort was immediate and extreme. It was love.

Once I got acquainted with my Kensington, I knew I would never go back, but I did want to go forward and explore more. For all its appeal, the Expert Wireless has a few flaws that were a particular problem for me. Chiefly, instead of any sort of scroll wheel, it has a scroll ring that loops around the ball. It’s a joy to spin around and around and around, but it requires just enough wrist movement that it still can cause me a bit of pain. And while its included wrist rest works well enough, its relatively flat design left a little to be desired. So I decided to dig a little deeper.

That’s when I discovered the Elecom Huge ($55), a common sight on Reddit’s haven for trackball nerds. With its mitten-shaped design, it’s almost obscenely comfortable to use, and the thumb-mounted left-click button and traditional scroll wheel mean that I never have to move my wrist at all — a small improvement that feels almost magical in practice.

Elecom Huge

My current trackball

• Hand-shaped ergonomic design
• Eight programmable buttons
• Physical sensitivity switch
• Wildly comfortable sculped palmrest
• Wireless connection by Bluetooth or USB

Price: $55

The buttons on the Elecom Huge are, frankly, a little bit overkill. In addition to left and right click, the Huge has three programmable function buttons, a scroll wheel that clicks in and tilts up and down and forward and back buttons for your browser. Without the help of third party software (I use a program called Steermouse), you won’t be able to reprogram them all, but you’d be hard-pressed to come up with uses for each. So far, having a copy and paste buttons within finger’s reach has been my particular joy.

But what I think I love most about the Huge is its amazing aesthetic. Your mileage may vary when it comes to style, but for my money, it’s a sharp, neo-Thinkpad antidote to the theoretically-all-white-but-eventually-dingy aesthetic of Apple’s hegemonic peripheral mice and keyboard. Its swooping palmrest and the ruby red crown jewel, which is surrounded by an army of buttons, make the Huge seem more like something you’d use to pilot a spaceship than a mouse cursor. It’s a visibly strange and specialized tool, but it’s one that I’ve learned to master. Also, it gives me a nerdy but endless sense of satisfaction whenever I lay hands on it.

That, I think, is perhaps my best argument for trying a trackball. Or at least it’s my favorite. For cubicle cowboys and desk jockeys, it’s easy for an unassuming computer to melt into the background with whatever mouse and keyboard you were assigned by IT. And if that’s not a problem for you, great! But the right keyboard, the right trackball, can give you a sense of ownership and agency that adds a spark of joy to your day when you sit down to get to work. You’re not just using any computer, you’re using your computer, tricked out just how you like. Yes, it’s a nerdy endeavor, but you’re sitting there all day either way. Might as well be comfortable, and maybe even have a little fun.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Eric Limer

Eric Limer is Gear Patrol’s tech editor. A resident of Weehawken, NJ, his current obsessions include mechanical keyboards, mechanical pencils and Formula 1.

More by Eric Limer | Follow on Instagram · Contact via Email

7 Simple Productivity Tricks to Get the Most Out of Your PC

In its more than three decades of development, Windows has packed in so many tools, features, and options, that you’d be forgiven for not knowing all the productivity tricks you can take advantage of. Here’s how to wring every last drop out of Microsoft’s flagship operating system.

1. Block the distractions


Do Not Disturb isn’t just a mode for your smartphone, because Windows comes with something very similar called Focus Assist. It quietens down notifications and postpones other interruptions so you can get on with some serious work, and the mode can be enabled manually or automatically.

Open Windows Settings via the cog icon on the Start menu, then choose System and Focus assist. Set the times when you want the mode to turn on automatically, or enable it using the check boxes at the top (you can still allow alerts from apps you give priority too, if you want). Focus Assist can also be switched on from the Action Center (click the notification button to the far right of the taskbar).

2. Pin websites and apps to the taskbar


Open applications appear on the taskbar but you can make it easier to get to the programs and the websites you use most often by pinning your favorite shortcuts to the taskbar permanently. Right-click on a program then choose Pin to taskbar to do exactly that.

To pin websites to the taskbar, fire up the Microsoft Edge browser that comes as part of Windows itself. When you’ve got the website you want to pin open on screen, click the three dots in the top right corner of the Edge interface, and choose Pin this page to the taskbar.

3. Keep more on the clipboard


The Windows clipboard now goes beyond the basics to help you juggle multiple images, text and website addresses at the same time. From the Windows Start menu, click the cog icon then choose System and Clipboard to set up the various available features.

Turn on Clipboard history to save multiple items to it, and by enabling Sync across devices you can access the same clipboard items from any device that you’re signed into using your Microsoft account. To see the contents of the clipboard, hit Win+V.

4. Talk it out


Windows now comes with a very simple dictation tool for inputting text via your voice wherever text input is accepted: Just press Win+H to start talking. To configure the feature, open Windows Settings via the cog icon on the Start menu, then select Ease of Access and Speech.

Cortana is around too, enabling you to run web searches, set reminders, check your schedule and much more. To turn on the “hey Cortana” voice shortcut, open up Windows Settings (the cog icon on the Start menu), then choose Cortana and Talk to Cortana, and turn the top toggle switch on. Alternatively, click the Cortana button by the taskbar search box and start talking.

5. Snap your windows in place


Keep your desktop windows organized and your desktop less cluttered by snapping open app windows into place: Try dragging the title bar of a window to the left or right of the display, and watch it snap to half the screen space (or use Win+Left arrow or Win+Right arrow to do the same trick).

It means it’s easier to compare documents or websites side by side, and saves you a lot of clicking between open windows. You can also snap windows into a corner of the display (add the Up arrow or Down arrow to the shortcuts we just mentioned to do this via the keyboard), and fit up to four on screen at once. Click in the very bottom right-hand corner to see the desktop again.

6. Expand your desktop space


Maybe you need a bit more room than one Windows desktop affords. You could plug in an external monitor, but you can also create extra desktops with Windows’ own multiple desktops tool: Click the Task view button (just to the right of the search box on the taskbar) or press Win+Tab, then New desktop at the top.

Open application windows can be dragged between desktops—just pick them up and drag them from the Task view screen—while the taskbar and desktop wallpaper gets shared across all your desktops. It’s a great way of getting more room for the jobs you’ve got to do, or separating out different programs for different projects.

7. Work faster with AutoHotkey

Free productivity utilities for Windows don’t come much better than AutoHotkey, which essentially enables you to program your own keyboard shortcuts and macros—launching particular actions using a few well-chosen key presses.

The program can take some getting used to, and requires a little basic coding, but the tutorial and Script Showcase are good places to start. You can launch programs or open folders with mouse gestures, type out your full address just by entering “myad”, log the time you spend in certain apps, and so much more besides.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

All the Games We’re Playing to Stay Sane This Weekend

The weekend is on the horizon, and thanks to COVID-19, you should probably be spending it inside. In order to try and stave off the cabin fever, a lot of us here at Gear Patrol have been getting back in touch with our gamer sides. Here’s what we’ve been playing, and what you might want to check out as well!

Stardew Valley

Quit your job, head to your grandfather’s farm and try and give purpose to your life. Doesn’t sound like the worst idea these days, right? Generally, think of Stardew Valley as a mix of Minecraft, Animal Crossing and Pokemon. Which is to say, it’s incredibly good at making the hours drift away. — Henry Phillips, Deputy Photo Editor

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Ori and the Will of the Wisps

This game literally just came out last week and I love everything about it. It’s a beautiful, challenging platforming game with an epic soundtrack. It’s also a sequel so if you haven’t played the first game, go treat yourself to Ori and the Blind Forest first, and get a double dose of fun. — Tucker Bowe, Senior Staff Writer

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Bleak Sword

I’m playing Bleak Sword now because my current gaming system is just my laptop with Apple Arcade. The game is lo-fi, easy to grasp, and challenging. — Joe Tornatzky, Creative Director

Far Cry 5

I was terrified of losing my mind in isolation, so I pounced on a great Xbox One S All-Digital deal and bought Far Cry 5 as well. It’s an open-world first-person shooter, so — not to go toooo dark – in case there is some sort of apocalyptic-cult scenario that goes down in the near future, let’s just say… I’ll be ready. — Nick Caruso, Coordinating Producer

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Apex Legends

Apex Legends is free to download, and is a whole lot of fun. It’s a pretty standard battle royale game, but the three person teams makes it great for playing with friends, and the 12 characters all have unique abilities that makes the meta really enjoyable. — Scott Ulrich, Editorial Associate

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Rocket League

This is easily the most played game in my inventory. I own it on Steam, Xbox and Switch, and I’m not nearly good enough for how much I play which is why I play more and round and round we go. — Andrew Siceloff, Director of Video

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Call of Duty: Warzone

COD is finally moving into the battle royale genre with Warzone, and it freaking rips! With 150 players and a stunning map bigger than anything I imagined was possible, I’m easily occupied for hours on end. If you told me 5 years ago that a game like this could exist, I would have told you to shut the hell up. — Chandler Bondurant, Staff Photographer

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Outer Wilds

What better way to escape a bleak reality than to play a sci-fi exploration game about… the end of the world. Whoops! Despite the thematic relevance, Outer Wilds is a charming space exploration game from the lineage of Myst where you explore the secrets of a strange, alien solar system in 22-minute bursts as time loops around and around for a mysterious reason. I’ve had so much fun exploring dozens of unreal worlds to uncover the reason that the sun keeps exploding, and if you like puzzle-y games, you will too. Better yet, it is currently available on Xbox Game Pass, one of the best deals in gaming right now. — Eric Limer, Tech Editor

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FIFA 20

Our office has a lot of soccer fans in it, and with the English Premier League falling victim to a coronavirus postponement, FIFA 20 is our way of warding off no-sports-sadness and the ill effects of social distancing. We’re playing Pro Clubs mode at the moment, which limits each user control to a specific player on the field, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s pure chaos. — Will Price, Assistant Editor, Home & Design

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Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Now’s The Time to Support Photographers By Buying a Print (or Three)

Here at Gear Patrol, we have been riding out the COVID 19 pandemic by working remotely, beaming into the “office” from everywhere from Florida to Vermont. It isn’t business as usual, but we’re still publishing. For millions, of course, this isn’t the case. And one group that’s particularly close to our hearts — and mine specifically as Deputy Photo Editor — is freelance photographers.

As purse strings tighten and travel restrictions continue, photographers have been left stuck scrambling to figure out what a 1099 livelihood looks like in April 2020. One answer is selling prints, which presents you with the opportunity to support quality art and quality artists while simultaneously sprucing the walls in your “home office” that you’ll be staring at quite a bit.

Here are some of our favorite photographers (including some Gear Patrol alums), who are selling prints of their stellar shots. And, of course, any photographer you admire will appreciate your support in these trying times. To top it all off, Simply Framed — our mail-in framer of choice — offers a 10 percent discount for Gear Patrol readers using the code GEARPATROL.

Amy Shore

A prolific, UK-based car photographer, Amy Shore is offering 10% off her huge selection of prints right now using the code NEWSHOP10 (but only until 4/29 so act quick). To learn more about Amy, read our profile on her here.

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Brenden Clarke

Formerly a multimedia producer at Gear Patrol, Brenden has a variety of prints as well as his recently published book “Above The Midnight Half” — diving into the world of unsanctioned running races in New York City — available for sale.

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Brett Curry

A Los Angeles based cinematographer and photographer, Brett has a whopping 60 prints up for sale shot on film and digital ranging from stark landscapes to more abstracted studies of architecture and neon.

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Chris Delorenzo

You’ve likely seen Chris’s work in Gear Patrol. He shot the cover for the second issue of our print magazine, among others. Head to his newly-minted print site for hydro-centric abstracts and landscapes available up to gigantic 40x60s.

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David Zhsu

David’s a New York City based photographer who fired up a print sale in response to current events. Head there for affordable prints of everything ranging from landscapes to motorcycles.

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Growl Bros

You’ve seen Justin Weaver and Chris McClure’s work on Gear Patrol when they shot a story on climbing (and biking down) the tallest volcano in the world. They’re running a print sale and will be donating $50 of each print to either the Atlanta-based The Giving Kitchen or No Kid Hungry.

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Jeremy And Claire Weiss

Claire and Jeremy, collectively known as Day19, are posting a print per day of their past work (think everything from David Lynch to Icelandic Horses) with each print sale’s proceeds going to a specific small business in need of help. Check out their Instagram feed for daily updates and support some local businesses!

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Lauren Segal

Lauren worked with Gear Patrol most recently when she shot a profile of polymath cookbook author Nathan Myhrvold for the magazine. Her recently-launched print shop has a wide variety of options, but we’re partial to the travel cityscapes.

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Megan Baker

Based in Austin, Texas, Megan Baker is going above and beyond and running a pay-what-you-can print sale whose proceeds are going entirely to Austin-based freelance artists and service industry workers affected by COVID-19 disruptions. Pretty much everything on her site/Instagram is available.

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Molly Steele

Molly is selling a variety of open- and limited-edition prints on her site but is also running a pair (currently) of flash sales on Instagram.

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River Jordan

River is a prolific photographer who’s shot for everything from Filson to Nike and is running a print shop full of insanely gorgeous landscapes.

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Roman Spataro

On April 6th, Roman Spataro is launching a publication called “Home Before The Harvest” and associated prints.

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Steven Clouse

Steven’s print shop is full of pastel, geometric prints but the real magic lies in the “Custom Print” option where you can head to his Instagram and pick anything that stands out.

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Wyatt Clough

Wyatt’s main work is video but he’s selling a photo zine shot in Tokyo exploring the city’s quiet suburbs. The zine’s the main attraction but there are four beautiful prints to compliment it.

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Bonus: Holly Tyler

While not a photographer, Holly’s outdoor (and cycling) specific illustrations are worth calling out as a fantastic way to commemorate a race or a favorite bike (or cyclist!).

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This $20 Smart Scale Can Just About Do It All

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It Measures Way More Than Weight


Wyze, the company best known for its incredibly affordable smart home cameras and security systems, is branching out further into the home and, for the first time, it’s getting into the smart fitness game. That’s right, smart fitness. Wyze just announced two products, a smart scale and smart fitness band, that are both incredibly affordable and can do, well, quite a lot.

First up is the Wyze Scale. It’s a smart digital scale that measures weight, body fat and lean mass. Heck, it can even measure your heart rate. These metrics are then tracked in the Wyze app, but the Wyze Scale is also compatible with the other health apps you likely already use, including Apple Health or Google Fit (with support for FitBit and Samsung Health expected to come soon). The best part is the Wyze Scale only costs $20, which is cheaper than most digital scales on the market that don’t have any “smarts.”

The Wyze Band is the company’s first wearable. It’s being advertised as an activity tracker (it can track steps, heart rate and sleep) and a smart home assistant (it has Alexa built-in), but the real reason you’d get the Wyze Band is if you have any of the company’s other smart home devices. For instance, if you have one of Wyze’s smart cameras you tell them you’re home (so they stop sending you notifications) with a tap of your wrist. The Wyze Band costs just $25, which is incredibly cheap, but it also has a lot of competition in the wearable market.

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Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

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What’s the Difference Between $300 and $1,000 Bookshelf Speakers?

People like good sound, obviously, but to different ends and different extreme. There’s upgrading to a soundbar or a two-channel home theater system so you can better hear dialog on TV. Then, there’s building a bonafide home hi-fi system and spending thousands on various speakers, connections, sources and other electronics.

Odds are, if you clicked on this post, you might have a set of bookshelf speakers. Maybe a $150-$300 setup, connected either an A/V receiver or a home turntable setup. Maybe you’ve also considered an upgrade. But what, exactly will that expense get you? Especially if you creep up into the $1,000 range?

According to Scott Orth, the director of audio and acoustic systems at Sound United, and a professor of Electroacoustics at the Johns Hopkins Peabody Instutite, there are a few angles from which to answer the question. First, the ojective and scientific. “The sources that you’re listening to have a certain amount of information and the better your loudspeakers are the more they can extract that information, the less error there is and the clearer it comes through and the more you get from it.” As your speaker quality improves, the better justice they do to high quality recordings. Literally. Objectively. Full stop.

But there’s also  what Orth calls “the emotional side.” Higher fidelity speakers are able to extract more information, so the sound is more realistic and the experience of listening is more engaging. Simply put: the more you hear, the more emotion you feel.

Polk Audio is a 50-year-old audio company based in Baltimore. They’re best known for making affordable hi-fi speakers. The Legend Series (picture) are the “best speakers Polk has ever made.”

Of course this is just a detailed way to state the obvious: A pair of lesser bookshelf speakers are going to sound worse than higher-end bookshelf speakers. How do they sound better? What specifically are you getting for your money. The truth is: it’s everything, it’s a little bit of everything.

“When you move up in price in speakers, what happens is that you are paying for not just the level of detail that you can hear, but the level of engineering that goes into the speaker,” says Michael Greco, a senior director in Polk Audio’s loudspeaker division. Better cabinets are going to be more expensive by their physical nature. They need to be heavy, thick or have bracing — anything that makes it rigid so it’s not vibrating anywhere but the transducers. The trick is to find something that’s not too heavy but still has all the properties of high stiffness and high damping to keep the panels from vibrating. “You’re buying that level of thought and that level of detail from the engineering team to give you that immersive experience.”

Size is also a big factor. According to Greco, a 6-inch driver in a small box might play loud, but it’s not going to go very low in frequency. A 5.25-inch driver in the same size box might not play as loud, but it will go low in frequency. So there’s this kind of trade-off and that’s part of what you pay for in some speakers. You’re paying for a larger box so you can have more bass. This is one of the main reasons why high-end bookshelf speakers are also bigger.

But making a bigger speaker isn’t as simple as just scaling up a small one. The larger the speaker — specifically, the speaker cabinet — the more difficult it is to keep its panels from vibrating. “A small box has less trouble than a larger one, but it’s all about the internal bracing that we do to try to keep the larger cabinets from vibrating like that,” Orth said. “So larger [isn’t always better], but this thicker is always better if you can afford to do that.” Thicker material will always be stiffer than thinner material.

The Legend Series consists of two sets of bookshelf speakers, the L100 and the L200, the latter of which are slightly bigger and higher-end.

So what does that look like practically? You can find an instructive example in Polk Audio’s lineup. Take Polk’s L100 ($1,199) a significant price bump from its $120 T15s. The extra order of magnitude in purchase price gains you improvement in materials, parts and other bits of engineering that add up to an objective improvement. “The T15 goes down to maybe 190Hz and the L100 goes down into the 50Hz ranges, so there’s a lot of difference there. On the high frequencies, I think we measured the pinnacle tweeter out to 50kHz, which is where dogs and bats hear.”

Of course, the speakers are just one link in the chain of an excellent audio system, and you have to have the right equipment to properly power them — you can’t just integrate hi-end speakers into your current system and expect them to sound their best. Yet, the speakers remain the foundation, if you find this audio quality worth the premium you’ll pay for it.

“The advice that I always give people is to buy your speakers first and spend as much as you can afford,” Greco said. “And then buy the electronics second.” Electronics will change over time, while speakers tend to last, which make them an excellent foundation that will only pay dividends as you upgrade the rest of your setup.

As for how much should you spend on speakers versus the other electronics in your system, Greco says it should be an even 50/50 split — maybe 60/40 in favor of the speakers. “I don’t think you’re going to be sorry if you spend a little bit more on the speakers because, after all, that’s what you hear. It’s the speakers.”

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

A Beginner’s Guide to Pro-Ject’s Excellent Turntables

Even if you only have a passing interest in vinyl and hi-fi, you undoubtedly have heard (or seen) a Pro-Ject turntable. They’re known for the distinct design, bright colors (sometimes) and excellent sound quality. Of course, the secret sauce of the Austrian company is its ability to keep such high-performing turntables at a relatively affordable cost. And it’s been able to do that by producing almost everything in-house.

Pro-Ject has engineering and manufacturing facilities in Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia. In addition to turntables, Pro-Ject makes a range of other hi-fi components, such as phono stages, DACs, preamps and amplifiers, many of which it integrates into its turntables. This practice has helped Pro-Ject keep its costs down and thus become a really successful hi-fi company.

“I started Pro-Ject to bring as many people as possible to the world of hobby hi-fi, especially in the 1980s when CD players were extremely expensive and generally inaccessible,” said Heinz Lichtenegger, the founder of Pro-Ject Audio. “At this time, I realized that a good turntable could sound even better than a CD, however, there were no quality turntables available that were low cost. So, in 1991 I decided I had to make one.” Nearly 30 years later, the company is still known for just that: audiophile-grade turntables at affordable prices.

Today, Pro-Ject makes many different turntables that are designed for every type of vinyl enthusiast, from beginner to seasoned audiophile. And these turntables can range anywhere from $300 to over $16,000. To help navigate the different lines of turntables, we had the man himself, founder Heinz Lichtenegger, to walk us through each line.

Just Getting Started

The Primary Line

What is it?
The Primary line is the most affordable line of turntables that Pro-Ject makes. Starting at $200, it borrows design elements from both the company’s Debut and Essential lines, and makes them out of slightly fewer materials. There are also fewer models to choose from within the Primary line, so instead of customizing the turntable to fit your needs, you’re basically deciding whether you want the Primary E or the Primary E Phono, the latter of the two has a built-in preamp.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The Primary Line is designed for people who have a limited budget (around $200) but want a real hi-fi turntable beyond a piece of plastic, this customer understands the complexities of setting up a turntable. [It’s] designed with a tonearm perfect for the high-quality Ortofon cartridge with preset tracking force and anti-skating, allowing users to just plug and play while remaining a handmade product made of quality materials without any resonating hollow spaces.”

T Line

What is it?
The T Line is one of Pro-Ject’s new lines of mid-range turntables. It’s priced between the Essential and Primary lines, so it’s still relatively affordable, but one of the biggest reasons why you’d buy a T Line over something else has to do with its visuals: It has a striking platter that’s made of tempered glass. It only comes in three models. There’s the baseline T1, which requires an external phono stage and a powered amplifier; the T1 Phono SB, which has a built-in phono stage; and the T1 BT, which also has a Bluetooth transmitter for connection to a powered speaker or AV receiver.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The tempered glass platter is not only a good solution to a resonance-free heavy platter, it also is more visually attractive than, for instance, the minimalistic designed MDF platter used on the Primary Line.”

The Essential Line

What is it?
The Essential line is made up of a variety of mid-range turntables, each of which is designed to work with a specific hi-fi setup. For example, the baseline Essential III is designed for those who want to use their own preamp and speaker, while the Essential III Phono has a built-in preamp so you can connect directly to a powered speaker (like a Sonos Play:5). There are several other models, including the Essential III HP, which is for customers who mainly listen through headphones, but the point is that you can match this turntable to fit your needs. And you can buy one for right around $300.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The Essential line was designed as an alternative to the feature-laden, low cost, low-quality turntables that began flooding the market several years ago. By allowing the buyer to focus on the features that they cared about, and not pay for features they wouldn’t use, we were able to design a very high-performance European-built player for music lovers on a tight budget.”

The Juke Box Line

What is it?
The Juke Box line is another one of Pro-Ject’s midrange line of turntables, but they’re specifically designed for people who want an all-in-one solution. The Juke Box E, for example, consists of record player, phono stage, Bluetooth receiver, line pre-amplifier and power amplifier. It requires you only to connect a pair of passive bookshelf speakers to complete the system. (The Juke Box S2 is essential an upgraded version of the Juke Box E.)

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The Juke Box package is also very cost-effective, for the price of a better streaming speaker or soundbar, you get a real HiFi, stereo system including a turntable and Bluetooth module to stream from an external music source.”

The Upgrade

The Debut Line

What is it?
The Debut line is the company’s other mid-range line of turntables, along with the Pro-Ject’s Essential line, but it’s a little nicer. While similar in looks and features, the Debut line has a couple of notable upgrades over the Essential line that are designed to reduce noise and distortion, such as a heavier platter, higher-quality feet and a motor that’s decoupled from the from the plinth. It’s worth noting that the Debut Carbon (DC), which starts at $399, is by far thecompany’s most popular turntable.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The Debut is our superstar. Revolutionary in its price range, the Debut boasts a heavy 8-coat lacquered MDF chassis, heavy platter, suspended motor, carbon tonearm, and an expensive (over $100 USD) cartridge from Ortofon. These are all features usually found in a higher-priced item. The first choice of any music lover who looks for an audiophile turntable at a low cost.”

The RPM Line

What is it?
The RPM Line is a range of higher-end turntables that are still relatively affordable. The have a distinct look, with a teardrop-shaped plinth. The RPM Line consists of five different models, ranging from the RPM 1 Carbon ($499) to the high-end RPM 10 Carbon ($3,499); as you go up in numbers, the turntable gets upgraded up with better materials, technologies and features.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The RPM Line is designed for audiophiles who want to have the best quality available within its price range and are happy to live with slightly unconventional product design. The RPM Line’s teardrop shape plinth and non-rectangular chassis cause less resonance (as in high-end speaker designs) and the motor is free standing and isolated at 100 percent to eliminate rumble or vibration. There are many little audiophile features (such as spiked cones and inverted bearing) that target the product to the discerned audiophile.”

The X Line

What is it?
The X Line is one of Pro-Ject’s most recent lines of turntables. You can think about the X1 as a high-end turntable that’s still relatively affordable. It starts at $899, but that price increases rapidly with the higher-end models that have more robust parts, such as a bigger chassis, better isolation feet, better bearings, heavier better platter, better tonearms and better cartridges.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The X Line is for people seeking the highest sound quality in a traditional design — including dustcover and hinges. From the X1, these units are ‘no compromise’ and 100-percent correctly designed turntables including all of the features an audiophile dreams of.”

The High-End

The Classic Line

What is it?
Now we’re getting into the “high end.” The Classic Line consists of two turntables, the Classic $1,099 $899) and the Classic Evo ($1,699), both of which are designed for hi-fi entusiants with a refined taste. The turntables have an elegant, retro design, such as a thick platter, and brushed metal top-plate that looks like it’s built directly into the wooden plinth.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The Classic is a traditional sub-chassis turntable designed for a user who needs to have their speakers close to the turntable, perhaps in a more restricted living environment. [It has] a nostalgic appearance with its retro design reminiscent of the 1960s and 70s, but upgraded with modern technology such as precision CNC’ed pulley, diamond knife-cut sub and main platters created for the highest precision, and sub-chassis isolation by modern rubber dampers (TPE, thermoplastic elastomers) instead of the traditional springs.”

The S-Shape Line

What is it?
The S-Shape Line is a range of high-end turntables that get their name from their “S”-shaped tonearm that’s made of aluminum. The aluminum is heavier than carbon, which is what Pro-Ject makes most of its other turntable tonearms out of, and this results in a softer; the result is that the S-Shape Line sounds different — softer, less open — than many of the company’s other turntables.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“Pro-Ject likes dynamic and openness, therefore, we use carbon tonearms which give you the highest speed and transparency possible. However, not everyone likes this feature and we aim to reach as many music lovers as possible. The heavier aluminum S-shape arms deliver a sound that’s rounder, more relaxed and softer. They also allow the use of a detachable headshell to choose a variety of cartridges, which can be changed quickly and easily.”

The Signature Line

What is it?
This is Pro-Ject’s pinnacle line. Both the Signature 10 and the Signature 12 are high-end turntables that compromise nothing. They each have mass-loaded sub-chassis, a floating turntable design and a unique S-shaped tonearm. They’re designed for a truly engaged audiophile.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The Signature 12 ($12,000) is unique in its ability to control motor resonances better by a flywheel drive. My personal problem in my system is that I have about 40 different cartridges and have my favorites for different music. I prefer the speed of my carbon tonearms, but I need the flexibility of an S-shape arm which allows fast change. By using an ultra-low friction uni-pivot tonearm bearing, I am able to reach a traditional aluminum close to the speed of a carbon arm.”

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

This e-Bulli from eClassics is an electrified 1966 Volkswagen T1 Samba

We have been featuring some of the most innovative electric vehicles (EVs) for a while now. As much as we love traditional rides with combustion engines, zero-emission alternatives are definitely much better. So far, there are only a few manufacturers aside from Tesla that have mass-produced EVs for consumers. Meanwhile, Volkswagen is one of many high-profile carmakers teasing several all-electric models down the line. To show off its capabilities the company is turning a 1966 T1 Samba into an environmentally-friendly microbus called the e-BULLI

While we are still eager to finally see VW’s I.D. lineup make their way to showrooms across the globe, this fancy project will do for now. Engineers from the German manufacturer are giving the iconic 1966 T1 Samba a substantial transformation. Those of you who love the classic look will find it intact albeit with a new paint job.

With a flashy new coat on, the e-BULLI is ready to flaunt its electrifying makeover. After gutting its petrol-loving drivetrain, Volkswagen is replacing everything with sustainable systems. Gone are the original instrument panels as digital versions take over. In place of its fuel tank now sits a 45-kWh battery pack to power the 61 kW electric motor.

The single-speed gearbox even features a B gear for regenerative purposes. The e-BULLI’s all-electric configuration gives it a top speed of 81 miles with a maximum range of 124 miles. Moreover, the CCS charging system can take it from zero to 80% in approximately 40 minutes. The interior likewise receives some subtle upgrades but generally looks as the 1966 T1 Samba did before the conversion. On the other hand, we would also recommend waiting for the Volkswagen I.D. Buzz releasing in 2022.

Order yours now: here

Images courtesy of eClassics

Here’s a No-Brainer Upgrade for Your Home Office

I get it. Your laptop already has its own keyboard attached. The computer at the office came with a flat little keyboard for you to use and it works just fine. Why would you want to spend potentially hundreds of dollars to replace something you already have and which works fine?

A mechanical keyboard isn’t strictly better than what you already have on your desk. It can’t instantly make you a better or faster typist. But the draw of mechanical keyboards isn’t about functionality or efficiency. These keyboards just feel better. They look cooler. You can trick them out in your own style. Because the device you surely use for so much of your working day should be more than just a tool. It should be a source of pleasure. Every cubicle keyboardist at least deserves the joy of finding the perfect weapon of choice and wielding it every day.

Great First Keyboards

Mechanical Keyboards 101

The Budget Starter: Qisan Magicforce 68

If you’re really on the fence, the Qisan Magicforce 68 is the keyboard for you. Chinese made, these boards are extremely cheap but punch well above their weight. Prices tend to fluctuate over time, as well as from model to model depending on what color and switches you’d like. But if you’re looking to get in on the cheap, there’s no better entry point. The best part about getting a cheap board for your first time out? It’s a great excuse to spring for something expensive the next time around once you have a handle on what it is you actually like.

The Upgrade Pick: Drop ALT

The Massdrop ALT is admittedly a bit expensive, but there is a good reason to shell out: it is, in a manner of speaking, an infinite number of keyboards at once. Most mechanical keyboards have switches that are permanently soldered in, so if you want to try a new kind of switch, you’ll have to buy a new keyboard that has them. The ALT, on the other hand, has “hot-swap switch sockets,” which means that you can replace both they keycaps and the switches with ease. That means that if you decide you want to try a new flavor of switches, all you have to do is buy a handful from a wholesaler and install them yourself, saving you a lot of money and space versus buying more keyboards. Its 65 percent design is also, to my mind, the perfect layout, though the larger and more expensive Massdrop CTRL can give you a tenkeyless option.

Made-to-Order: Custom WASD Keyboards

A slightly cheaper but still terrific option is a custom keyboard from WASD Keyboards. WASD offers full-size, ten keyless, and 60 percent sizes, along with the most popular flavors of switch, and case colors of black and white. But the best part is that these keyboards come with custom caps that you can design down to the individual key. While these caps are far from the highest quality and may show signs of wear pretty quickly if they feature printed legends, they are a terrific way to get your first taste of how addictively fun it is to trick out your own custom board. My very first mechanical keyboard (that’s it, right up there) was a 60 percent from WASD with brown switches, though if I could go back in time, I’d opt for a tenkeyless with clears instead.
Protip: Don’t pick an ISO layout with the big weird enter key. That makes finding custom keysets that fit your board much, much harder.

Great First Keyboards

Mechanical Keyboards 101


Selecting Switches

If you don’t know much about the keyboard that’s currently on your desk, it’s almost certainly what’s known as a “membrane” keyboard. These contain within them a layer of flexible rubber domes — almost like a layer of bubble wrap — between the keycaps you press with your fingers and the electronics underneath which send an electric signal to your computer. These domes are what give your keyboard that “snap” (at best) or “mush” (at worst), when you press the keys.

Mechanical keyboards, by contrast, have a discrete plastic mechanism under each key. These tiny devices, the switches, are what give a mechanical keyboard its feel, which can vary wildly depending on what kind of switches you choose to use. There are hundreds of varieties, many of which are hard for even aficionados to tell apart, but for a newb there are three main flavors to consider: “linear,” “tactile,” and “clicky.” Each of these three flavors tends to come in two varieties of stiffness, where a stiffer switch requires more force to press down.

Off-brand switches

Cherry is the brand-name keyboard switch manufacturer, but its patent on the iconic design has expired. “Clones” from Gateron or Razer are all functionally identical. Generally, colors also indicate the same sensation across brands, but double check for the universal keywords “tactile,” “linear,” and “clicky” when buying boards with non-Cherry switches.

Linear switches are switches that simply go up and down with no gimmicks. When you press a linear switch, you’ll feel it depress smoothly until it’s all the way down. This is the vanilla of mechanical switches: it is very good and very enjoyable but it is also very simple. If you see a switch called a “red” or a “black,” it is almost certainly a linear switch. Blacks are typically the stiffer of the two.

Clicky switches are the other end of the spectrum. Clicky switches have two parts inside of them that smack against each other as you press them down, which results in a satisfying sensation for your fingers as well as a clicky noise that you may enjoy but that other people in the room will almost certainly hate. If you see a switch called a “blue” or a “green,” it is almost certainly a clicky switch, and greens tend to be the stiffer of the two.

Tactile switches are something of a fusion of these two options. Tactile switches have “bump” on the way down, a small physical sensation that is reminiscent of a click, but much more subtle and, perhaps more importantly, entirely inaudible. Tactile switches are a little rarer than linear or clicky switches, but are very popular among enthusiasts for this best-of-both worlds-quality. They’re also, by far, my favorite. If you see a switch called a “brown” or a “clear,” it is almost certainly a tactile switch, and clears are generally the stiffer of the two.

Related Video: How to Build a Mechanical Keyboard

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There is also a flavor of switches called “Topre,” but that’s a whole other can of worms you can open on your own if you’d like.

Our recommendation: Your first consideration for your choice be sound. Don’t buy clicky switches if you work within earshot of family or coworkers!!! Their high-pitched clicks tend to be particularly irritating to bystanders. While linear and tactile switches lack an annoying “click,” they do still make considerably more noise than a membrane keyboard. If that prospect makes you self-conscious, my go-to solution is not to give up the dream but rather to convince a coworker to buy a mechanical keyboard as well so you are not alone. You can also opt for specialized keyboards that are designed to be quiet, but even these make noise.

The second consideration is feel. You can buy switch testers like this 9-Key Cherry Tester ($18) which will give you the opportunity to feel everything you’ve just read about, and for a reasonable price. But beware: pressing one switch with one finger is barely indicative of what it feels like to type on keyboard full of that switch. If you have a friend with a mechanical keyboard, certainly ask to try theirs. Otherwise, just take the plunge with whatever seems appealing. Personally, I prefer tactile, but enjoy linears as well!


Size and layout

Once you’ve settled on your switches, the hard part is over. But there are still a few more considerations. Keyboards come in a wide variety of shapes and designs. Some are truly wacky, but sticking with more traditional rectangular boards, you have three main options as to size and style.

But what about gaming keyboards?

So-called “gaming keyboards” from companies like Razer make up a huge part of the mechanical keyboard market, and are very competent boards even for non-gamers. Their general aesthetic is a little….polarizing, but that is about the only meaningful difference between them and non-“gaming” keyboards. Follow your bliss!

Full-size keyboards have all the keys you could ever want: a full suite of letters and numbers (obviously) but also arrow keys, a row of F1-F12 function keys above the numbers and a dedicated numpad. This is your safest bet, with a few minor downsides. Bigger mechanical keyboards are generally more expensive, and they have a larger footprint on your desk.

Tenkeyless boards are a full-size keyboard, but without the numpad. Simple! After all, you can just pick up a numpad separately if you really miss it.

60 percent keyboards dispense with the numpad, but also function keys and, most notably, arrow keys. In lieu of dedicated keys for these functions, 60 percent boards make use of a feature called layering. Just like you would hold shift to access the “layer” of keys where symbols like @ and * live on a normal keyboard, 60 percent keyboards use an additional “function layer” to give you temporary access to the keys it is missing. Some slightly larger keyboards known as 65 or 68 percent keyboards, find a way to cram in those arrow keys somewhere by getting creative with the size of certain keys.

There are also even smaller boards, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Our recommendation: Unless you use the numpad on a very regular basis, get a Tenkeyless. Smaller 60 percenters are very popular for their minimalism and portability, but I would advise against choosing any keyboard that does not have arrow keys. If you’re anything like me, you will miss them far, far more than you expected to.


What’s your next upgrade?!

Typing on a mechanical keyboard is a blast, but it is only half the fun. The other half, and the truly addictive (and expensive) part is tricking it out. Unlike membrane keyboards where the keycaps are typically permanently attached to the board, a mechanical keyboard’s keycaps are removable. This means that you can pull off that stock plastic and replace it with all manner of colorful alternatives. This is how you turn the mechanical keyboard you bought into your mechanical keyboard.

Budget sets of replacement caps can be found on Amazon in the $30-50 range. But while colorful and widely available, they’re generally made out of low quality plastic and a pretty limited variety of colors. More esoteric and high-quality keysets are generally produced in small runs, are only available for limited times through boutique websites and may cost as much if not more than what you paid for the keyboard itself.

For an idea of the range of options that are trendy with enthusiasts, scope out a mechanical keyboard haunt like r/mechanicalkeyboards on Reddit. For an idea of what is available for purchase at the moment, you can scope out reputable boutique retailers like Drop, Pimp My Keyboard, and Originative Co. Just be prepared to wait; orders for new keysets are often taken long before the keys themselves are actually in production.

For a smaller upgrade, you can also purchase custom keys one by one. Some novelty keys, like the ever-popular “Sadster” can be had for as little as a dollar. Other “artisan” keys are made by hand or produced using handmade casts. These highly collectible keys are truly stunning and unique works of art, but they’re also wildly expensive. Artisan keycaps from Jelly Key (some of the best in the biz) will run you $50 or more for a single key.

And then, of course, there is the matter of your next keyboard because, let’s face it, there will be another. While it is too much to go into right here right now, just know that there is a wide, wide world of tiny keyboards, strangely-shaped ergonomic keyboards and, of course, the prospect of building one yourself.

Our recommendation: Any, or all, of the above! Just do something, because otherwise you’re only having half the fun you could be.

Eric Limer

Eric Limer is Gear Patrol’s tech editor. A resident of Weehawken, NJ, his current obsessions include mechanical keyboards, mechanical pencils and Formula 1.

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The 2020 MacBook Air: Still the King of Lightweight Laptops

Last week, Apple announced a new MacBook Air. It’s more of an update to the previous model, really, because the new “2020” MacBook Air looks basically the exact same as the one that was released in 2018. It’s the same size and has pretty much the exact same display, but Apple did a couple of things to make the 2020 MacBook Air feel like a significant upgrade.

It doubled the base storage (now 256GB) and doubled the performance (thanks to Intel’s 10th-generation CPUs), and kept the price low. You can buy a new MacBook Air for just under $1,000 and it’s the model that most people should buy. (On the 2018 model, we recommended that most people go with 256GB configuration because 128GB probably wasn’t going to be enough, but that drove the price up to $1,399, which isn’t cheap.)

But the biggest improvement has to do with the keyboard. It’s a brand-new keyboard — or rather, it’s the same keyboard that Apple put into its recent 16-inch MacBook Pro, just without the Touch Bar — and it’s much “clickier.” The keys have been upgraded with scissor switches instead of the butterfly switches that all MacBooks have had for roughly the last five years, and these new scissor switches allow for more key travel. Basically, the keyboard feels like a real keyboard and less like a flat surface you are forced to stab your fingers into.

I’ve been using the new MacBook Air for the last four days and I’ve found that it’s a real pleasure to type on. And I don’t say that lightly. I own a 2017 MacBook Pro, which has the flatter keyboard, and I just can’t stand it. It’s unpleasant and my number of typos skyrocket. The only real solution I’ve found is to use a wireless keyboard at home and at work which, annoyingly, makes a laptop far less portable.

Working perpetually from home at my parents’ house in New Jersey, thanks to COVID-19, that standard laptop portability is more important than ever. I’ve got no external monitor. No wireless keyboard or mouse. And with this new MacBook keyboard, I’m barely missing the Logitech keyboard I use at the office at all.

If you’re looking for a new lightweight laptop, the new MacBook Air really feels like the one to beat.
Of course, if you need the extra horsepower of a MacBook Pro, the updated Air isn’t going to do you much good. It’s still a lightweight laptop after all and isn’t meant for the big demands of creative professionals. Fortunately, Apple is expected to release a new MacBook Pro sometime in the near-ish future. And you can expect it to have this same great keyboard.

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Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

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