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The Canon Ivy Rec Is A Capable $130 Action Cam

Like it or not, Canon’s still very much in the game, despite the fact that film format’s heydays are long gone. To keep a firm foothold in the modern market, the company has introduced the Canon Ivy Rec. It’s a $130 action camera with waterproofing, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi — basically all the typical adventure-proof stuff found on cameras in its category.

The portable shooter, out Oct. 16, started life as an Indiegogo project back in July. The main appeal here, compared to other action cameras, is that it’s got a clippable carabiner clip, perfect if your clumsy but also can’t be bothered with fishing it out of your bag each time you want a shot. Don’t worry if it falls — the Canon Ivy Rec is also shockproof.

We can’t determine if the Canon Ivy Rec takes good shots, though, but the specs sheet portend good things. It boasts a 13-megapixel ⅓-inch CMOS sensor in a fixed-focus lens, which sounds okay, but the lack of autofocus may irk some people. It shoots in 4:3 or 1:1 aspect ratio. For video, it takes 1080p footage up to 60fps in 16:9, though each recording has a 10-minute limit.

As mentioned, the Canon Ivy Rec features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which allows you to send photos or videos to a smartphone via Canon’s Mini Cam companion app. If you prefer it old-fashioned, the device saves content onto a microSD card, which you can connect to a computer to offload your shots. The camera comes with a 660mAh battery, and whether or not this is enough has yet to be tested.

MORE HERE

Photos courtesy of Canon

7 Google Chrome Settings You Should Change Right Now

Google Chrome is a powerhouse of a browser that’s been with us since it launched way back in 2008, ushering in a new era of speedy, simple tab-based browsing. These days its not quite as lean as it once was, but it’s risen to be the most popular browser out there.

In the usual course of day-to-day life, you don’t need to spend much time messing around with browser settings: You just open up a tab and off you go. Dive a bit deeper into Chrome though, and you can tweak its settings for a more secure, streamlined experience.

These options, unless stated, can be found on the Settings page inside Chrome on the desktop: Click the three dots to the top right, then choose Settings.

0. Clean up after yourself

Before you get down to tweaking, it’s important to clean up the cruft that’s built up already. If you click Advanced from the Settings page then choose Clear browsing data, you can wipe out all the cookies stored in Chrome, as well as other images and temporary data stored on your local computer.

Use the Advanced tab for more control over what gets deleted, then use the Time range drop-down to choose how far back the clear-out goes. If you want to remove all traces of your browsing on your current computer without affecting the historical browsing history Google has logged for you, click the Sign out button first.

It’s good to do periodically, but especially before you get down to business with other tweaks.

1. Set your browsing data to self-destruct

Google uses the data it collects about you in Chrome to know what you’re going to search for next, or to decide which restaurants it should recommend to you, or to help you get back to something you were looking at weeks ago. It’s up to you how much you trust Google with your data and how you want to balance privacy with convenience.

You can now tell Google to automatically delete your browsing history after three months, so its recommendations and other algorithms are only running from recent data. From the Settings tab, click Sync and Google services, then Control how your browsing history is used, then Manage activity—the three month auto-delete will be one of the options at the top.

2. Control what Google gets to know

Also on the Sync and Google services page from Settings, you can control how much diagnostic data and other information gets sent back to Google for analysis—Google wants this data to spot bugs in Chrome, and to make it easier for you to browse the web (with auto-complete search suggestions) and so on, but you can stop some of this feedback if you want to.

Toggle any of the switches on the right to Off to limit what Chrome is sending back to home base. For example, you can stop sending the URLs of the pages you visit to Google, and turn off the feeding back of statistics about how you use the browser.

3. Sign into Google without signing into Chrome

By default, whenever you sign into a Google service like Gmail, Chrome now also signs you into the browser itself (to sync passwords, browsing history, bookmarks and so on between devices). This is helpful if you’re jumping between different computers and phones a lot, but you might also want to use Gmail or Google Docs without attaching your identity to the Chrome browser you’re using.

The answer is in Settings, under Advanced and then Allow Chrome sign-in. With the toggle switch turned to Off, you can sign in and out of your Google account on the web, but avoid signing into Chrome and linking the browser to your account as well.

4. Turn off annoying notifications

The days of websites being static pages are long gone, and plenty of sites and online apps are going to want to access your webcam and microphone (for video calls perhaps) and your location (for maps and deliveries and so on). These permissions are granted on a site-by-site basis as they’re needed, but you can edit them from a master list too.

On the Settings tab, click Advanced then Site settings. Choose a permission to see which sites have access, then revoke any permissions one by one, or block all requests of a certain type in one fell swoop. The same page lets you control which sites can display notifications on the desktop.

5. Stop certain sites from tracking you

Like other browsers, Chrome lets sites store cookies on your system: These small files keep logs of who you are and your preferences. Cookies might be used to remember your location on a weather site, for example, or to keep you signed in somewhere. Cookies known as third-party cookies can also be used by advertisers to track your browsing across multiple sites (which is why you might see ads for trainers or another specific product everywhere you go).

Head to the Site settings screen (under Advanced from Settings), then click Cookies and site data: From here you can block cookies completely, or just block the more invasive third-party cookies.

If you really want to get extreme, you can toggle the Clear cookies and site data when you quit Chrome switch to On, and the browser effectively gets reset every time you close it down, so you get a clean slate in terms of site logins and targeted ads.

6. Prevent web apps from running in the background

A lot of websites want to keep running in the background even when you shut down Chrome—to keep files syncing to the web, for example, or to alert you the next time you get a tweet.

If you don’t want this to happen, and would rather sites and apps didn’t run when Chrome was closed, open up the Settings tab then click Advanced, and turn the Continue running background apps when Google Chrome is closed toggle switch to Off.

7. Search multiple sites more quickly

Chrome can support multiple search engines and sites very easily, so you can switch between searching Google, Amazon, Wikipedia and other places with just a few taps on the keyboard. To set this up, click Manage search engines from the Settings tab—you can use the search engines already listed or click Add to add a new one.

You’ll see available search engines and sites listed together with what are called keywords: To run a search on this site, type the keyword then the search term into your browser address bar. For example, you could set up Wikipedia with a “wki” keyword for fast access to the Wikipedia search.

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The Woman Behind Some of the Most Beautiful Handcrafted Cameras

A version of this article originally appeared in Gear Patrol Magazine with the headline “In Good Hands.” Subscribe today

The camera is not a device normally associated with artisanship. Almost invariably, buying a decent camera means choosing a comprehensive ecosystem carefully managed by the likes of Sony, Nikon or Canon. Once you pick your body and lenses, there’s little room for creativity or building out a bespoke setup. Right?

“You’d be surprised how many people modify their cameras,” says Dora Goodman, an Austria-based builder of beautiful, handcrafted cameras. “Many like to customize their old and even new [cameras]. This ‘let me change this’ and ‘let me improve that’ has always been part of photography. I find it inspiring that photographers have the need and motivation to customize their gear.”

Making a camera from scratch is normally a long, complicated process, but Goodman has created something of a wormhole for avid photographers and made it much easier for them to build their own cameras. All her creations are open-source, meaning anybody can download the blueprints for free and create their own version. If that person doesn’t have access to a 3D printer (which, to be fair, most people don’t), Goodman also sells preprinted camera kits.

“The customer only has to buy the magazine and the lens, and it’s all ready to be assembled.”

“I print the whole body, provide all the necessary elements for assembling it, with all the instructions, packed in together in a stylish box,” she says.

Her first open-sourced modular camera, the Goodman One, was designed for 120-format film. It’s just the framework, of course: photographers can easily add their own lenses and bellows for focusing, as well as a digital or analog back. But while her open-sourced designs vary in complexity and assembly time, all of Goodman’s cameras are similarly medium-format and modular, to give the owner creative control over the type of lens or the back, and whether they want to shoot digital or film.

Aside from being more affordable, Goodman’s modular printed designs are more lightweight than conventional medium-format cameras, and easier to carry on the shoulder; mainstream models are clunky, heavy and expensive — a bad combination for portability and spontaneity.

“You feel much more at ease with them than with [a camera] that costs a fortune,” Goodman says, “but the pictures are of equal quality.”

Microsoft’s New Surface Earbuds Are A Premium Audio Delight

Rumours were circulating about Microsoft’s new Surface lineup for 2019. Insiders have been claiming that there would be dual-display devices joining the annual product refresh. Surely enough, at the big reveal, the Surface Neo and Surface Duo made a huge impact. People can’t seem to stop talking about the two upcoming gadgets slated for release next year. However, another surprise reveal was a pair of true wireless earphones. The Surface Earbuds is a premium audio device designed to blend with other Surface products.

The form factor is simple, but stylish, nonetheless. We noticed that Microsoft intentionally gave it a large flat area for a particular purpose. The touch-sensitive area responds to tap, touch, swipe, and other gestures to control the playback. According to the manufacturer, the audio-quality and precision-tuning of its custom drivers will even impress audiophiles. Meanwhile, the dual-microphone layout on each earbud offers superior call quality and voice recognition.

Despite being its first attempt with true-wireless technology, Microsoft seems to be getting everything right. The company claims users can keep the Surface Earbuds on longer than others. The ergonomic shape of the devices should make it feel non-intrusive to our ears. However, the large circular touch area could make it look too big on some individuals.

As expected with most Surface devices, it features some cool functions that allow you to interact with Microsoft Office applications. A swipe of your finger can move through slides in PowerPoint and so much more. The Surface Earbuds come with a charging case to give it a 24-hour boost on top of the 8-hour battery life. It will carry a retail price of $249 and will be available soon.

Order yours now: here

5 High-End Audio Companies Making Products You Can Actually Afford

It’s easy to understand why consumers look at the sky-high prices of high-end audio electronics and loudspeakers and immediately switch gears – they opt instead for something well-reviewed and affordable, like a Sonos or Bose speaker. There’s also the fact that high-end components and speakers tend to require a little more out of the consumer; the setup process tends to be more complicated and there’s more research required (you need to make sure whatever you’re buying will work with what you already have, after all.)

You’d think that the resurgence of vinyl and mainstream adoption of music would hurt high-end audio companies, but it’s actually created an enormous opportunity. It’s given them the chance to appeal to a new generation of listeners who want something better than just an average sounding smart loudspeaker as their stereo. (Especially, now that more streaming services are expected to release high-end lossless versions. Case and point, Amazon Music HD.) The problem is that most of those consumers don’t want to spend upwards of $5,000 on an entry-level audio system.

Fortunately, there are high-end audio brands that understand that quality needs to be affordable.

Cambridge Audio AXA35 Integrated Amplifier

Cambridge Audio recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with the launch of its Edge A integrated amplifier which retails for $5,000, and the $1,700 Alva TT turntable that wirelessly streams your records to any amplifier that can decode Bluetooth aptX HD. For the rest of us with smaller budgets, the AXA35 is a very worthy alternative with a number of features that make it one of the best affordable integrated amplifiers on the market. Its 35-watts-per-channel may not sound like a lot of power, but the AXA35 can drive most bookshelf loudspeakers with very little effort and a surprising degree of low-end control. The internal phono section works like a charm with high-output moving magnet cartridges, and the build quality is second to none at this price point. There is no internal DAC but connect your laptop with an AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt and you have a $650 set-up that takes a backseat to nothing at this level.

Dali iO-6 BT Headphones

Dali is one of the last premier European loudspeaker brands to enter the luxury personal audio category. Its iO-6 BT are active noise-canceling headphones that deliver excellent sound quality with support for both Bluetooth aptX and aptX HD. They utilize a 2-inch paper cone driver that sounds very natural across the entire frequency range, and there is a lot to like about the durable, yet lightweight design that has one of the most flexible headbands we’ve tried so far. Dali has clearly designed the iO-6 for the commuter or business traveler who is concerned about durability and battery life; 30 hours with ANC and the ability to switch to a wired 3.5mm connection at any time.

Klipsch RP-600M Loudspeakers

The legendary brand that brought us the Klipschorn, La Scala, Cornwall and Heresy horn-loaded loudspeakers is suddenly popular again in the world of high-end audio (a reality that has some of its competitors a tad concerned). The Heritage series loudspeakers start at $3,000 for the brand-new Heresy IV, but the model garnering the most attention these days is the RP-600M. These bookshelf speakers offer a glimpse of the Heritage experience but at a much more affordable price; they deliver with better dynamics, presence and pace than any other speaker in its class. If you’ve avoided loudspeakers like the RP-600M because you read somewhere that horn-loaded tweeters can sound too forward, you will be quite surprised by the top end of this loudspeaker that is quite restrained for a Klipsch. The RP-600M are lively transducers, but not fatiguing at all with a warmer sounding amplifier.

PSB Alpha P5 Loudspeakers

Paul Barton has been designing award-winning loudspeakers for almost forty years; earning PSB a global reputation for excellence at prices that are considered affordable in the high-end category. PSB doesn’t refresh its product line-up every year to look trendy – making products like the Alpha P5 newsworthy because of its remarkable performance for the price. These two-way bookshelf loudspeakers look minuscule next to the Klipsch RP-600M or ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2, but there is no question that they offer a more balanced sounding presentation that would work for most people with something like the Cambridge Audio AXA35 integrated amplifier. The Alpha P5 do not require a lot of power and have an excellent bass response for such a small loudspeaker. Pull them out from the wall on a solid pair of stands, and they disappear in your room; leaving you alone with the artist and their music.

Yamaha WXA-50 Streaming Amplifier

If you’re old enough to remember integrated amplifiers like the Yamaha CA-2010 (1977-1980) which delivered power, layers of resolution, and had one of the best internal phono pre-amplifiers around – the WXA-50 Streaming Amplifier is going to be a huge letdown. If you’re looking for an inexpensive desktop amplifier that is powerful (55 watts per channel), compact, and offers access to your favorite streaming services through Yamaha’s MusicCast app, the WXA-50 will be exactly what you’re looking for. Spotify Connect and Apple AirPlay are both supported (using your iOS device or Spotify Premium subscription), and the amplifier features a 24-bit/192kHz DAC for high-resolution audio playback using music stored on a USB thumb drive or networked music server that you can connect via an Ethernet port on the rear of the amplifier.

Samsung Galaxy Fold Review: A Futuristic Phone That Made Me Nostalgic

A version of this article originally appeared in Gear Patrol Magazine with the headline “Samsung Galaxy Fold.” It has been updated to reflect the Galaxy Fold’s redesign and subsequent commercial release. Subscribe today

The Galaxy Fold made me nostalgic. Not because a folding phone is old-fashioned, but because it’s a novel design at a time when smartphones have become anything but — typically nothing more than the same functionalities ported to ever-thinner slabs of screen. But every time I pulled the Fold from my pocket on the subway and opened the already huge, bright screen to the size of a small tablet, I noticed more than a few double-takes. It’s been years since a new smartphone has been able to turn heads.

But if the Fold’s defining feature is an eye-popper, it’s also been a mitigated disaster. You’ve likely read the story: As soon as the $1,980 smartphone made its way into the world, its signature 7.3-inch folding screen, well, broke — either from over-eager prodding, the stresses of daily use or both. Those problems, though, aren’t universal; my Fold showed no signs of coming undone during the week I lived, commuted and worked with it. Nonetheless, Samsung recalled all review loaners early, pushed back the release date and offered refunds to pre-orderers. (Fortunately, it wasn’t literally dangerous, as with the company’s exploding Note 7.) In September, with a handful of minor design changes and reinforcements aimed at durability, the Fold finally made it to market.

Screen snafu or no, the Fold was always going to be a niche product. A foldable smartphone isn’t something everyone needs, or can afford. But the form factor has its appeal among inveterate multitaskers salivating at that truckload of RAM — and the expansive screen that lets you run three apps at once — as well as early adopters who want a conversation piece in their pocket.

The novelty is appealing. Yes, the Fold sports all the best features from Samsung’s flagship S10, but any amount of capability bows to the Fold’s originality. There’s never been a phone quite like this; my hands were drawn to playing with it, exploring the phone’s sheer usability, like being able to watch YouTube videos while perusing my Gmail inbox and Spotify playlist.

The ultimate multitasking potential, though, was limited by drawbacks, like only supporting one audio stream at a time. But that giant, beautiful OLED screen is meant for more than just multitasking. The Fold is essentially a tablet for your pocket: watching Game of Thrones was certainly an upgrade from viewing on an iPhone XS. And with over seven inches on which to play, the ever-more impressive roster of mobile games — especially battle royales like PUBG and Fortnite — have more room to unfold, with more space for on-screen controls that could give a (small) competitive advantage to players better than myself. Plus, the signature crease comes in handy when reading anything actually shaped like a book.

Screen snafu or no, the Fold was always going to be a niche product.

The Fold’s front screen is a bit lackluster compared to the full article, its main purpose seemingly to goad you into opening the full screen. But common apps like Gmail and Google Maps seamlessly jump from the front to the main screen when you unfold — wandering my way through Manhattan I was able to keep tabs on my general location with a glance at the front, while unfolding when necessary for greater context.

These features might seem like small change relative to the Fold’s exorbitant price, and for the most part that’s true — especially because the phone’s far from perfect. The crease down the center is still visible under some light, and it’s roughly twice the thickness of every other smartphone, which makes it a pain to slide into your pocket. Also, I was never really able to open the Fold one-handed; the magnets were too strong.

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Despite the kinks and the price, my time with the Fold convinced me that the premise of a folding phone remains sound. Shrinking a tablet-sized screen down to smartphone dimensions, allowing it to fit in your pocket, is extremely cool. That’s why everyone is trying to get it right. Huawei’s Mate X, also scheduled for release this summer (trade wars notwithstanding), sports its main screen outside a clamshell fold, rather than inside; it’s an interesting alternative, but given the fragility of Samsung’s folding screen you’d be right to be nervous about shelling out for one just yet. There’s still a lot of experimenting to be done.

iPhone-level sales were never in the cards for the Galaxy Fold, even before the screen issues. It’s too expensive, and its flagship tricks aren’t quite life-changing enough to justify the price tag. But it looks and feels like a radical departure from the endless parade of identical smartphones. That’s key: the Fold itself might have stumbled, but the concept has promise. It’s just a question of who will execute it best.

Samsung provided this product for review.

The Steel Speaker Is Handcrafted Perfection

Remember the super awesome Transparent Speaker? Well, the folks behind that made another jaw-dropping product — the Steel Speaker. It comes part of an extremely limited range of handcrafted speakers called Upcrafted, which consists of three speakers.

One in wood, one in ceramics, and one in steel, with each crafted from recycled materials. The Steel Speaker is arguably the most awe-striking of the three. Jonas Majors did the dirty work for this slick-looking speaker. It was made with only the most essential elements and showcases the raw metal texture of aged steel, here repurposed to perfection.

The limited-edition piece comes with offers high-fidelity sound via two 3-inch drivers. Also here to beef up sound quality? A 6.5-inch woofer and a built-in amplifier. The Steel Speaker also features Bluetooth, which means you can connect it to phones, tablets, and computers. It even supports all the major casting platforms like Apple AirPlay, Sonos, plus digital assistants including Amazon Echo and Google Assistant.

Design comes courtesy of Transparent Sound, the genius folks behind the aforementioned Transparent Speaker. The clean-lined Steel Speaker features a highly minimal look, but not minimal sound quality. If you’re into brutalist interior design, this would make a perfect addition to your living room. The black metal accents shine as the cherry on top of an already gorgeous unit.

Check out the Steel Speaker’s specs when you hit the link below. May we remind you that this doesn’t come cheap. Expect to shell out a couple of thousand dollars to get this bad boy.

CHECK IT OUT

Is This Still the Perfect Entry-Level Smartwatch?

Last fall, Fitbit released the Fitbit Versa – and I loved it. It was a simple-to-use smartwatch that was slim and bespoke, relatively affordable, an excellent fitness tracker and it had a battery life that lasted nearly a week. It was a great entry-level smartwatch for basically anybody, but especially casual smartwatch wearers, and it worked equally well with both iPhone and Android.

The next generation of that smartwatch, the Versa 2, doesn’t mess too much with last year’s success. It has the same relative look and feel of the original Versa, but Fitbit updated in nearly every way. It has an even simpler design, a better processor, a new OLED display (a welcome improvement over the Versa’s LCD display), and improved sleep tracking. The most “touted” new feature is the addition of Alexa integration, so you can tell the smartwatch to do things like set alarms and control your other compatible smart home devices. Lastly is price: the Versa 2 comes exactly the same as last year’s Versa.

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The Good: The Versa 2 is a better entry-level smartwatch than last year’s Versa, which is something you’d both expect and welcome. The two most important upgrades are that the Versa two now has an always-on display (if you select it) and superior sleep tracking feature, called Sleep Score, which gives you a nice little rating out of 100 – the higher the number, the better your sleep. If you’re fine wearing a smartwatch to bed and you want to track your sleep, the Versa 2 is exactly what you want.

As was true with the Versa, a huge selling point of the Versa 2 is its battery life. If you elect to not have an always-on display (it’s off by default) the Versa 2 can last between five and six days on a single charge; if you have the always-on display, it lasts around three days. Either way, this battery life which is huge, especially when you consider an Apple Watch lasts roughly 18 hours and is not designed to wear while you’re sleeping.

There are two other big reasons to buy a Versa 2. First, it’s solid and intuitive fitness-tracking abilities. It has an always-on heart-rate monitor and can accurately track things like steps and calories. It also, like the Apple Watch, has automatic workout detection, so if you forget to start a walk, run, bike ride or pool workout, the smartwatch won’t skip a beat. And secondly, the Versa 2 is very slim and lightweight, and it’s one of the most comfortable smartwatches that I’ve ever worn.

Who It’s For: The Versa 2 is an entry-level smartwatch designed for anybody who wants a good fitness tracker with some smartwatch-y features (like see call and text notifications, and control music). If you’re somebody who wants to keep track of your sleeping, the Versa 2 is particularly good. It works equally well for iPhone and Android users.

Watch Out For: The new Alexa integration might come as a welcome addition for some, but it really shouldn’t be the main reason to buy this smartwatch. The fact is that most people don’t really need (or want) to talk to Alexa when they’re outside the house. Also, talking to Alexa on the Versa 2 isn’t like talking to Siri on the Apple Watch. For instance, you can’t tell Alexa to send text messages, open certain apps or even play/pause music; all it can do is answer specific queries (“Alexa, what’s the weather?”), set timers and alarms, and control some of your connected smart home gadgets. The other thing is that there’s no speaker, so you won’t be able to hear Alexa and all its answers will just appear on the screen – it’s far from a seamless experience.

As was true with the Versa, the Versa 2 lacks a dedicated GPS, meaning if you want reliable workout data you’ll have to have your smartphone nearby. This is a big bummer for runners. There’s also no LTE model available for the Versa 2.

There’s a new Spotify app that’s available on the Versa 2, which isn’t available on the Versa, but it’s not super helpful. Like with the Apple Watch, the Spotify app on the Versa 2 doesn’t let you download anything (playlists, albums, songs, podcasts) for offline listening. If you’re a Spotify Premium subscriber, only a select few Garmin and Samsung smartwatches do this.

Also, the Versa 2 still comes with a proprietary charger. The annoying thing is that it looks and feels just like the proprietary charger that came with the original Versa, which I didn’t like to begin with, but it’s actually not the same and won’t work with previous Versa smartwatches. I still have and use my Versa, and mixed up the chargers on several occasions, which was obviously frustrating.

Alternatives: Fitbit has a right to feel frustrated after the latest Apple hardware announcements. That’s because, in addition to announcing new high-end Apple Watches, Apple also dramatically reduced the price of its two-year-old smartwatch – you can now buy an Apple Watch Series 3 for $200, which is the exact price of the Fitbit Versa 2. Basically, if you have an iPhone and you want an entry-level smartwatch that works well with it, the Series 3 is probably a better bet.

Verdict: The Versa 2 is a better version of last year’s Versa, which was the best entry-level smartwatch for most people, Android or iPhone owner, who just wanted an easy-to-use smartwatch to track fitness. A year later, the Versa 2’s main problem is that there’s more competition, especially within its $200 price range. The Versa 2’s best qualities are its 6-day battery life, its great fitness and sleep tracking, and it’s super-slim design. If you those things are important to you, then the Versa 2 remains one of the best – if not the best – entry-level smartwatches you can buy. However, the reality is that the Versa 2 will feel more like a glorified fitness tracker than an actual smartwatch, especially if you have an iPhone or Samsung smartphone.

What Others Are Saying:

• “If you’re not wedded to Fitbit’s platform, the Versa 2 is a harder sell when you compare it with other $200 smartwatches, such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active and the Apple Watch Series 3, which both have GPS, onboard music storage and contactless payments. One feature that could set the Versa 2 apart is Fitbit’s new subscription service, but it will take a lot to convince me to spend $80 more per year. Still, the Versa 2 is a very good fitness-focused smartwatch that offers plenty of insights into your overall health, subscription or not.” — Mike Prospero, Tom’s Guide

• “Overall, the Versa 2’s fitness tracking features are the best and most comprehensive you’ll find on any smartwatch, even though it doesn’t have a dedicated GPS radio and relies on your phone for GPS tracking.” — Dan Seifert, The Verge

• “If not for its connectivity problems, the Versa 2 would be an excellent smartwatch. It offers accurate, comprehensive fitness features and a nice design for a reasonable price. It’s also one of the longest-lasting smartwatches around, while the Alexa integration makes it more useful than its predecessor. I just wish Fitbit would get its Bluetooth act together already, and give me a better OS.” — Cherlynn Low, Engadget

Key Specs

Display: 300 x 300 pixel touchscreen AMOLED
Water resistance: swimproof; up to 50 meters
Sensors: 3-axis accelerometer, optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, ambient light sensor, vibration motor, NFC
Battery life: up to 6 days; ~3 days with always-on display

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Fitbit provided this product for review.

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The 8BitDo Lite Bluetooth Gamepad Will Match Your Nintendo Switch Lite

Gamers holding off from buying the original Nintendo Switch are finally getting a slightly better one this year. The new version pretty much offers the same thing as the original but boasts a better battery life. Moreover, those who were hoping for a smaller and cheaper option purely for handheld use can grab the Switch Lite instead. The latter is the most recent one to hit retailers and comes in three stunning colorways. Now, 8BitDo is offering a new set of controllers that will match the latest hybrid game system. Hence, it’s time to check out what the 8BitDo Lite Bluetooth gamepad brings to the table.

For those of you that are unaware of what the Switch Lite is doing differently, should know that the Joy-Cons are now built-in. It means that playing local multiplayer games on the game system requires another unit or controller. We know it’s a bummer, but at least all of the first-party and third-party controllers are still compatible.  8bitDo is known for the retro aesthetics of its products and the Lite Bluetooth gamepad oozes with an old-school flavor.

8BitDo made sure to slather the new wireless controllers in the same shade as the console. This is a big plus for certain gamers who want their accessories to match their new handheld game system. Moreover, you’ll notice that the in place of the analog sticks are directional pads instead. This adds an old-school vibe and makes it easier to navigate some classic games available on the system. Its currently up for preorder and should drop before October 2019 ends. It is a solid wireless gamepad that is compatible not only with the Switch Lite but also works with PC, Android, and other Switch models.

Proorder it now: here

Images courtesy of 8BitDo

The Samsung AirDresser Is A Closet That Cleans Clothes

You know Samsung makes some of the best phones of this generation, but did you know it also has other cool stuff as well? Its latest smart product is the Samsung AirDresser. Is it a closet? A mirror? Is it a steam pressure? Well, how about all of the above?

The Samsung AirDresser is a standalone closet that not only stores your clothes, but also cleans and straightens them out. Just hang them up inside and walk away. Simple as that. Much like the LG Styler, the idea is you hang your shirts, pants, sweaters, and other articles of clothing, and leave them to be heated and steamed as you attend to other tasks.

The Samsung AirDresser debuted at the IFA 2019 consumer trade show. It should appeal to business yuppies pressed for time each day when it comes to neat clothing. The fact that it looks and feels like a closet is one of the greatest factors of the Samsung AirDresser. No need to hide it in the basement. It’ll blend perfectly inside any chic bedroom.

As for the specs, you get a JetAir system and Air Hangers to blast your clothes with rapid-moving air. You’ll also find a Jet Steam system that sanitizes your clothes, plus various filters and dryers for the complete experience.

Samsung has yet to announce a price point for this bad boy, though based on similar devices, expect somewhere between $1,00 to $2,000. The LG Styler cost $1,999 when it came out in 2015, and the Samsung AirDresser appears closest in terms of form and function. Expect a price tag hovering around that mark.

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5 Affordable Turntables Than Even Audiophiles Would Want

When discussing turntables, audiophiles tend to bristle if you utter the expression “entry-level.” But the reality is that the brands offering turntable packages understand that the vast majority of first-time buyers see $500 as their ceiling. And that $500 turntable is expected to plug-n-play, be reasonably well made, and sound phenomenal as well.

Established high-end audio brands like Pro-Ject, Rega, and Audio-Technica have decades of experience building high-performance turntables and wisely chose to embrace this new generation of listeners with entry-level packages that can stand the test of time. Affordable audiophile-grade turntables have taken massive strides in both build and playback quality – making them worthy analog sources that will bring justice to your record collection at a price that won’t break the bank.

U-Turn Orbit Custom

This turntable is upgraded with a Grado Black cartridge and a Pluto Phono pre-amplifier, both of which can be added when purchasing from U-Turn Audio’s website.

U-Turn Audio was one of the first American turntable manufacturers to take advantage of the resurgence of vinyl with affordable tables hand-built in Massachusetts made from American-sourced parts. Fast forward seven years to 2019, and we find this upstart brand offering entry-level turntables priced below $500; that have real hardwood plinths, acrylic platters, and their internal Pluto phono stage which can be bypassed if your existing amplifier already offers a phono pre-amplifier. U-Turn offers a limited selection of moving magnet phono cartridges from Ortofon, Audio-Technica, and Grado Labs to finish off your table. The Grado Black1 keeps this remarkably confident-sounding entry-level turntable affordable and audiophile approved.

Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

Pro-Ject Audio Systems are the leading manufacturer of audiophile turntables in the world; their brand-new manufacturing facilities in Slovakia and the Czech Republic produce 100,000 audiophile tables a year for both the Pro-Ject brand and many others. That level of volume allows them to offer turntables like the T1 Phono SB which includes electronic speed control, dustcover, built-in phono pre-amplifier, and Ortofon OM5e moving magnet phono cartridge for only $349. It’s rare to find a heavyweight glass platter on an entry-level turntable, but Pro-Ject has provided the T1 SB with that added level of performance that makes it stand out against the competition. The one-piece aluminum tonearm is not as fancy as the carbon fiber variety that Pro-Ject supplies on its more expensive tables, but it works well with the supplied cartridge.

Rega Planar 1 Plus

Rega have been building audiophile-approved turntables in the United Kingdom for more than 40 years; the RB-300 series tonearms are one of the best-selling high-end audio components in history. The Planar series turntables are considered a benchmark in affordable high-end design – products that are known to play nicely in the sandbox with a wide range of cartridges, and big on what the Brits call “PRaT’ (Pace, Rhythm and Timing). Rega tables run a little fast creating that boogie factor, something that you’ll notice about the Planar 1 Plus that includes a Rega Carbon cartridge, internal phono pre-amplifier based on their excellent FONO stage and RB-110 tonearm. Some Rega fans view the entry-level package as a step-down in quality from a basic Planar 1, but it’s hard to dismiss the quality of the overall package that is true to the Rega creed.

Fluance RT85

Audiophiles often dismiss entry-level tables for using MDF plinths, cheap tonearms, and bargain-basement cartridges, but none of those criticisms could be leveled at the Fluance RT85. With a solid wood plinth, acrylic platter, 9-inch aluminum tonearm, and pre-installed Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, the RT85 is a genuine audiophile turntable that delivers speed stability, a dynamic sounding presentation, and a lot of performance for the money. The only item not included in the box with the Fluance RT85 is a phono pre-amplifier which will run users between $130 for a Schiit Audio Mani or Moon by SimAudio 110LP V2 which retails for $399. Both work exceptionally well with the Ortofon 2M Blue and would elevate the sound of the RT85 to end-game table performance for most people assembling an entry-level high-end audio system.

Audio-Technica AT-LP5x USB

Audio-Technica turntables are very popular for a simple reason; they offer great bang for the buck. They may not offer the construction quality of the better entry-level tables from Pro-Ject or Fluance, but they come standard with quality moving magnet cartridges that can be upgraded for a small increase in price. Audio-Technica makes uber-expensive phono cartridges like the AT-ART1000 which retails for $4,999.95 so the brand is not without high-end credibility. Just released at IFA 2019 in Berlin, the AT-LP5x USB turntable is a direct drive turntable equipped with a die-cast aluminum platter, external power supply, pre-mounted AT-VM95E cartridge, support for 78 RPM playback, internal phono pre-amp, and USB output for those who want to digitize their vinyl. The AT-LP5x USB is well-built, quiet in the groove, and sounds balanced and forceful at a very affordable price.

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The Chromecast and Fire TV Just Lost Their Biggest Downsides

For far too long, Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV devices have each had a significant flaw: neither could use the competitor’s streaming service. No Prime Video on the Chromecast, no YouTube on the Fire TV. Now, thanks to a hard-won truce between Google and Amazon, the battle is over and both gadgets will benefit.

The streaming slapfight dates back to 2015, when Amazon stopped selling Google’s streaming devices on its website, which lead to a back-and-forth escalation that ultimately lead to the stalemate of incompatibility. Now, after an announcement earlier this year, the thaw has finally arrived and both devices support the services they’ve been missing.

The result is that Google’s $35 third-generation Chromecast and Amazon’s $40 1080p Fire Stick are now effectively do-it-all devices, though the $30 Roku Express still has both beat on price. (For 4K compatibility, Google’s offering is $69, Amazon’s is $50 and Roku’s is $40.)

The fight isn’t totally over yet, because the dueling streaming services still aren’t available for a few of their competitors’ smart devices, namely the Google Home Hub and Amazon Echo Show. But this is progress.

Amazon’s New Echo Studio Smart Speaker Actually Sounds Good

As much as we’ve grown to rely on the convenience and the myriad of features available with Amazon Echo devices–you know what we’re talking about if you’ve ever attempted to yell at Alexa to set…

The Skullcandy Crusher ANC Is For Bassheads

Skullcandy is back in the game. Not that it really left, just that other names became bigger while it receded a bit in the background as we began transitioning to the wireless era. The Skullcandy Crusher ANC brings back the brand’s famous Crusher headphones, which has been offering thumping bass tones since 2013.

Then, in 2016, Skullcandy introduced a wireless version and followed that up with “an ultra-realistic sensory bass experience” on the Crusher 360 just last year. The latest model, called the Crusher ANC, comes with a radical new feature: active noise cancellation.

Like the predecessors before it, the Crusher ANC offers adjustable haptic low-end tone, the trademark feature of this headphone series. Dubbed as “adjustable sensory bass,” this new feature allows you to control the level of bass. With an actual slider built right into the headphones, that is.

According to Skullcandy, the Crusher ANC features the “broadest range of adjustable sensory bass” of any model in its collection so far. You can make the sound even more personal using the Skullcandy app, too. It allows you to toggle a few switches and apply itty-bitty tweaks. So you can adjust the sound profile exactly to your liking. You can also set sound profiles so you don’t have to go through all those settings again.

As for the active noise cancellation, here, according to Skullcandy, it works through “actively” monitoring your environment to block out any noise. The Crusher ANC also has a functionality typical of modern headphones: ambient sound mode. This disables the noise cancelation with a tap, useful for certain situations like quick conversations with people.

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Continental Teases The Future Of Mobility With Its Conti C.A.R.E. Smart Tire System

Over the years, automobiles have seen a big jump in innovation. These upgrades make modern vehicles safer, drive faster, handle better, and reduce environmental impact. All the aforementioned elements can be found on most EVs and improvements are not stopping anytime soon. The humble tire is often a neglected piece of modern technology that plays an important role while we drive. It’s responsible for transferring all that power into traction as it pushes our machines forward. Continental is hoping to make some cutting-changes with the Conti C.A.R.E Smart Tire System.

Getting a flat tire is never a fun situation during your travels. Replacing the deflated one with a spare is not an easy task. Under the blazing sun or in a freezing snowstorm, nobody wants to be outside servicing their vehicles. In hindsight, there are innovative concepts out there that have great potential to replace the classic pneumatic rubbers. However, these have yet to undergo a lot of testing before any of them become the new standard.

The industry is likewise exploring the feasibility of self-driving vehicles. And a flat tire is one of the many problems that impede implementation. Requiring passengers to step down and manually replace the wheels ruins the futuristic experience. Thus, Continental wants to help by automating the process. The Conti C.A.R.E Smart Tire System will feature sensors that can detect tire pressure and use a pumping system to regulate everything to recommended specifications. Just remember that properly inflated tires are safer, lasts longer, and boosts fuel economy on the road.

More information here

Images courtesy of Continental

Amazon’s New Noise-Canceling Earbuds: Here Are My First Impressions

One of the star products to be announced at Amazon’s big hardware event today was the Echo Buds ($130), the company’s first true wireless earbuds. Not only do they undercut the cost of most true wireless earbuds, including AirPods, but Amazon revealed that they’ve partnered with Bose to integrate its noise-canceling technology into the Echo Buds. That’s right, these are noise-canceling wireless earbuds that cost just $130.

After the event, I was able to get a little hands-on time with Echo Buds and was even able to listen to two songs (“Trampoline by Shaed” and Bruce Springsteen’s “For You”) and here are my initial thoughts.

The sound quality of the Echo Buds immediately impressed me, especially considering that they are $130 earbuds. It was loud with good mids and strong bass. I’ve tested many affordable true wireless earbuds in the past two-plus years and these were right in the middle of the pack.

The noise-canceling ability was also good, but I think I’m still skeptical about it. I tested the Echo Buds in a crowded room with many journalists and product managers, and I could barely hear the noise around me – which is exactly what you want. That said, these earbuds fit really snug, meaning I’m not sure if it was Bose’s noise-canceling technology that was working its magic or it was just the natural noise isolation of the earbuds pressing right against in my ears. I’ll have to wait until I get to test the Echo Buds for a bit longer to confirm.

If sound quality and noise-canceling abilities of the Echo Buds were the two good things that jumped out at me, there were a few other things that gave me pause for concern.

First, the Echo Buds require you to download and use the Alexa app to get the most out of them, which I’m not sure many people actually want to do. You need the Echo Buds setup properly in your Alexa app to enable the noise-cancellation and the “Hey Alexa” features. That said, if you use them straight out of the box without using the Alexa app, they’ll still work just like traditional Bluetooth earbuds.

Second, why micro-USB? Almost every company making new true wireless earbuds now have gone with a USB-C port. It charges the case (and, thus, the earbuds) faster. It also allows you to charge your earbuds with the same charger you use with a new laptop, Nintendo Switch or even a new pair of headphones. Everybody is using USB-C and Amazon should have too.

Third, I’m not sure that many people want Alexa to be integrated in their wireless earbuds. Most headphones are already compatible with the virtual assistant on your smartphone, to do things like play/pause music or call people in your phone book, so there’s really little need to have another virtual assistant listening to you. (Although, you can of course stop Alexa from listening to you within the Alexa app.)

Lastly, the Echo Buds are priced affordably because they don’t exactly look premium. They’re nowhere near as good looking as Master & Dynamic MW07s or Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless. And they also feel pretty inexpensive, too (plastic).

I can’t help but be impressed by Amazon’s first true wireless earbuds. They have Bose’s noise-canceling technology, after all, even before Bose has been able to put noise-canceling into their own true wireless earbuds, which is just crazy to think about. Then again, there might be a reason for that. Bose is gearing up to release the Bose Noise Cancelling Earbuds 700 in early 2020, and they’re likely to be much better (and much more expensive) than Amazon’s Echo Buds.

The Echo Buds ($130) are available for pre-order right now. Amazon will release them by October 30.

Amazon’s Echo Buds Sound Great But There’s a Catch

One of the star products to be announced at Amazon’s big hardware event today was the Echo Buds ($130), the company’s first true wireless earbuds. Not only do they undercut the cost of most true wireless earbuds, including AirPods, by a ton but Amazon revealed that they’ve partnered with Bose to integrate its noise-reduction technology (which is a little different than its noise-canceling technology) into the Echo Buds. And these earbuds cost just $130.

After the event, I was able to get a little hands-on time with Echo Buds and was even able to listen to two songs (“Trampoline by Shaed” and Bruce Springsteen’s “For You”) and here are my initial impressions.

First and foremost, they sound great, especially for $130 earbuds. It was loud with good mids and strong bass. I’ve tested a boatload of true wireless earbuds in the past two-plus years and these are right in the mix with the better ones.

The noise-reduction ability also seems good at first blush, but I’m not ready to say its perfect just yet. I tested the Echo Buds in a crowded room, and while I could barely hear the noise around me, these earbuds fit really snug, and it’s hard to tell which of these two things was primarily responsible for the effect. Still, there’s plenty to be hopeful for here so far. (It’s also worth noting that, to my understanding, noise-reduction technology isn’t as Bose’s full-fledged noise-cancellation technology.)

But there are a couple of catches. The biggest is that the Echo Buds require you to download and use the Alexa app to get the most out of them, which is at best a hassle. You need the Echo Buds setup properly in your Alexa app to enable the noise-reduction technology and the “Hey Alexa” features, and Amazon still has a ways to go in proving that these added Alexa features will actually be useful. If you don’t want to deal with the app, you can use them as standard Bluetooth buds, but you’ll be missing out on the noise-reduction technology.

They also charge with micro-USB, a style of charger that’s rapidly phased out and can’t deliver the kind of quick charge power that USB-C can. But mostly it’s frustrating you won’t be able to charge your earbuds with the same charger you use with a new laptop, Nintendo Switch or Android phone.

Lastly, the plastic Echo Buds do feel a little bit cheap compared to headphones like Master & Dynamic MW07s or Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless. But at the price point, you can’t really complain too much.

All in all, Amazon’s first buds are certainly impressive, and it’s a real surprise that they’ve got a type of Bose’s noise-canceling tech before Bose’s true wireless buds have even come out. But with Bose is gearing up to release the Bose Noise Cancelling Earbuds 700 in early 2020, it seems more that the headphone maker has plenty more in store for its own product, which will no doubt cost a lot more.

The Echo Buds ($130) are available for pre-order right now, for a ship date of October 30th.

Amazon’s First True Hi-Fi Speaker Is Giving Sonos a Run for Its Money

Amazon just announced two better-sounding Echo smart speakers for your home. The first is a third-generation Echo speaker – simply called the Amazon Echo – and it looks strikingly similar to last years Echo; it has improved drivers to help up its sound quality, and it still costs $100.

The more interesting new Echo smart speaker is undoubtedly the brand-new Echo Studio. That’s because it’s the company’s first true high-end speaker that also delivers 3D immersive sound and supports Dolby Atmos. The speaker has a total of five drivers: three midrange, a downward-firing woofer, and a front-firing tweeter. It’s designed for music lovers who want to get the most out of Amazon’s new lossless streaming service, Amazon Music HD.

This new high-end speaker is also priced to make it competitive – really competitive. At just $200 it’s significantly undercuts what its competition, Apple’s HomePod and the Google Home Max, are going for. And it’s the pretty much the same price as the Sonos One, another speaker that can be integrated with Alexa.

If there’s one issue with the Echo Studio, from what I can tell, it’s that it still looks like an Amazon Echo. Sure, it’s beefier, but if Amazon truly wants to take the step into the world of hi-fi it’s going to make a truly good-looking speaker. And the Echo Studio isn’t quite that.

Because audiophiles demand great sound, but they also want to know whatever they’re buying compliments their media console and whatever else is in their home.

The Amazon Echo Studio is available for pre-order right now.

The 3 Best Cameras to Buy Under $1,000

Which camera to buy? When my editor challenged me to come up with the three best cameras for under $1,000, I somehow thought it would be the easiest assignment in the world — just pick the most expensive model under $1,000 from the top three makers, Canon, Nikon and Sony. Right?

But as I mulled the prospect, a multitude of variables emerged. I wanted to ensure that every camera could be purchased at that price with a good lens; it’s a decision that essentially took most pro-level full-frame cameras out of consideration. I also wanted to be sure that several user types would be considered – serious amateur photographers who don’t mind larger rigs and might upgrade their lens options later on, or trigger-happy enthusiasts shooters who want a compact camera, equipped with easy Wi-Fi transfer capability to smartphones. (“Easy” being the keyword here.)

On this hunt, I couldn’t ignore my own experience. First, I tend to believe that if you’re investing more than $500 in a camera, you should really consider an interchangeable-lens model rather than a point-and-shoot, even if the latter comes with a big zoom. This allows you to expand your capabilities with a few extra lenses as your interest grows, but it still leaves you with a perfectly great camera if you use the same lens for the rest of your life. There are exceptions: If you know you want great image quality but need a compact form, any point-and-shoot from Sony, Leica, Panasonic, Fuji, Canon, Olympus, or Nikon that costs at least $400 will likely be great for you.

Word of warning here, however: Be extra careful of those big zooms. The greater the advertised optical zoom in a camera, the smaller the sensor that’s needed to accommodate it. For some folks, it may not matter – and it’s hard to argue that the Queen Mother of optical zooms in point-and-shoot cameras, the Nikon P1000 with its 3000mm zoom lens, isn’t an extraordinary achievement. But the bottom line is that that camera and others with big on-board zooms use tiny sensors – often the size of smartphone camera sensors – thereby diminishing image quality across the full range. Alternatively, you can make up a lot of ground here simply by cropping in images taken with a camera equipped with a larger sensor and smaller zoom, and have a better overall product.

This brings me to my second bias: Sensor size. Try, if at all possible, to buy a camera with a sensor that’s at least one-inch in size. Unfortunately, the photography industry uses the most illogical, random, and, frankly, utterly asinine labeling system for sensor sizes (1/2.3-inch, Full-Frame, APS-C, Medium, for example, along with the worst of them all, micro four-thirds), but generally you want to target micro four-thirds, 1-inch, APS-C, or full-frame sensors. These generate the best image quality and give you the most data to work with while editing.

Okay, so at long last, what are these three mythical beasts I deem so worthy in my unassailable wisdom?

Sony a6400 (w/ 16-50mm Lens)

Why we picked: Sony’s sensors are unmatched in the industry, so that’s my first motivation for choosing this model. The A6400’s 24.2-megapixel sensor produces outstanding images, thanks to its robust image processor. (It also cranks out great 4K video.) The second reason I chose it is that it’s mirrorless, meaning it has no mechanical mirror that flips out of the way with every shot. As a result, it’s more compact and has a digital viewfinder that shows the scene as it would be captured in the shot. Finally, it uses E-Mount mirrorless-specific lenses, so if you eventually upgrade to a full-frame Sony, you’ll still be able to use those lenses, as well. But ultimately, this is an incredibly versatile and capable camera with automatic eye-tracking to ensure people are in focus, fast autofocus, and 11 frames-per-second shooting for action sequences. It’s a great camera, and the best camera you can buy short of a full-frame model.

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Fujifilm X-T30 (w/ 14-45mm Lens)

Why we picked: Camera aficionados revere the Fujifilm brand with good reason: The cameras continue a rare tradition of stellar mechanical build quality, even when the mirror action is replaced with a mirrorless configuration. The smartly organized and tactilely satisfying dials provide instant access to key setting controls that you can usually manipulate without looking. It’s a classic form-follows-function design, and the overall look and feel of the Fuji is fantastic. It will make you shoot more just so you can experience holding the thing in your hand. When you actually look at your images, you’ll be just as thrilled. The quality from its 26.1-megapixel APS-C sensor is top-notch, and it has such photographic grace-notes as a rear touchscreen that helps not just navigate menus quickly, but also set exposure and focus. It’s kind of a pity that the best-designed products are the ones geared for professional users, but this is a great example of a camera that delivers that quality for non-pros, too.

Nikon D5600 DSLR (w/ 18-55mm and 70-300mm Lenses)

Why we picked: Sometimes you just want to tell camera critics to stick it in their sensor holes. I get that. Snooty writeups can be off-putting when you’re really looking for a great value and a great range of capabilities—nuances of button placement and mirror use be damned. Having used this camera extensively, I can attest to its raw potency as great, versatile, and affordable camera. It has a solid 24-megapixel sensor, Wi-Fi connectivity for quick mobile transfers and even remote camera control, a swiveling touchscreen, and a huge range of lens options. In fact, you can buy this camera body and two key lenses (18-55mm and 70-300mm) for less than $800. That initial versatility in its own right makes it a huge win.

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