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Amazon Echo Hub review: Alexa finally puts smart home first
7:30 pm | February 27, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Home Smart Home Smart Home Hubs | Tags: | Comments: Off

Amazon Echo Hub: Two-minute review

I’m a huge Amazon fan when it comes to smart home products. 'The variety of devices, and their affordability, the way they seamlessly with one another, and their seriously impressive Alexa capabilities won me over as soon as I started getting into smart home technology, and there’s a reason why Echo devices feature prominently on our list of the best smart speakers.

Overall, Amazon’s smart home devices offer excellent performance across the board, except for one vital area: smart home control. Don’t get me wrong, Alexa is a strong contender for the best smart home ecosystem, but generally speaking, control functions are the most under-serviced aspect of Amazon’s entertainment-first smart speakers and displays – or at least it was until the release of the Amazon Echo Hub. 

It’s an interesting move from Amazon; the Echo Hub blends some great features and functionalities that are already found in other Echo devices but adds a more sophisticated and stripped-back UI and some quality-of-life adjustments that make it one of the most attractive products in Amazon’s range of smart home controllers, and certainly one of the best smart displays available now – and I think that’ll be especially true for people who aren’t already onboard with Alexa-enabled devices.

Amazon Echo Hub showing the main UI

(Image credit: Future)

In part, it’s due to the device’s design and UI, which feel distinctly more Google than Amazon. At a time when we’re potentially witnessing a slow and very quiet demise for Google’s smart home products, that’s a real boon for Amazon, and features like the soon-to-be-released Map View will also serve to delight smart home fans.

The product design sees Amazon leaning even further out of its comfort zone; it’s inoffensive but doesn’t look cheap, which is certainly more my speed compared to the Amazon Echo Pop I reviewed last year.

The whole purpose of the Echo Hub feels distinctly more techie, which will likely appeal more to smart home enthusiasts than the more entertainment-led Echo Show devices. Plus, with Matter, Thread, Zigbee, and Bluetooth support, and power-over-Ethernet possibilities, it’s got a lot to offer owners of homes with a large number of connected devices.

It’s a smart move from Amazon to create a true smart-home hub, and it’s also executed it pretty well. Despite some slightly laggy and glitchy interactions with the UI, which I hope will be resolved over time, overall I had a great experience with the Echo Hub. 

Amazon Echo Hub

(Image credit: Future)

Amazon Echo Hub: Price and availability

  • How much does it cost? $179.99 / £169.99 / AU$329.00
  • When is it available? Available now
  • Where can you get it? Available in the US, UK and Australia

The Amazon Echo Hub was released in February 2024, and costs $179.99 / £169.99 / AU$329.00. It’s available directly from Amazon; it’s not yet listed at third-party retailers.

Considering that it’s comparable to the Echo Show 8 in size and specs, I was a little surprised initially to discover that the Echo Hub is more expensive. The Show 8 comes in at $149.99 / £149.99 / AU$229, despite offering superior speakers to the Hub, a built-in camera, and great streaming chops; however, it’s just not capable of running a smart home as speedily and responsively as the Echo Hub is. 

That’s because while the Echo Hub uses the same baseline OS as the recent Show devices, it’s powered by a MediaTek MT 8169 A processor. Plus, it packs a lot of connectivity tech into its very small, wall-mountable frame, so it does make sense for the Hub to cost a bit more than the Echo Show 8. Both devices are a little overpriced for what they offer, but Amazon has the smart display market pretty much to itself, with Google having released no new Nest Hub products since 2021, so it’s unsurprising that it’s shooting for higher list prices – and generally speaking, Amazon’s own devices are very well discounted during sales events like Black Friday and Prime Day.

It’s worth noting that the Echo Hub is very much intended to be a wall-mounted screen, but if, like me, you’re a renter or otherwise don’t want to damage your walls you can also buy a separate stand from Sanus for $29.99 in the US, or Amazon’s own stand in the UK for £29.99; I’ve not been able to find an equivalent that’s available in Australia. 

  • Value: 4 / 5

Amazon Echo Hub: Specs

Amazon Echo Hub: Design and features

  • Slimline, simple design optimized for wall mounting
  • Neat inbuilt cable management
  • Side-mounted physical controls 

The Amazon Echo Hub isn’t much to write home about when it comes to design – and that’s exactly what I love about it. 

Designed to be tablet-like, the Echo Hub is 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.5 inches / 202 x 137 x 15mm (w x h x d), with a 14mm bezel. The bezel is white, which can easily look a bit tacky but actually rather suits the intended purpose of the device; it’s able to seamlessly blend in with most light-colored walls, and with the white UI.

There’s no camera, but that’s okay – the Echo Hub isn’t for video calls or home surveillance; it’s simply a control interface. There are three microphones on the front of the hub for voice activation, as well as two speakers on the top, and the physical volume and privacy controls are on the right-hand side of the screen.

Amazon Echo Hub with its added Sanus stand

(Image credit: Future)

On the back of the device is a nifty cable organizer for the singular USB-C input, and the Echo Hub also offers PoE (power-over-Ethernet) charging. The cable is as discreet as a cable can be, but some still may prefer to not see wires running down their walls; still, it’s not too hard to DIY a passthrough solution.

I’d have liked to see even just a small, flimsy Nintendo Switch-style kickstand included for those who don’t want to wall-mount the device, rather than them having to shell out for a  separate and pretty pricey stand, but I can understand Amazon’s efforts to keep the Echo Hub streamlined and secure. And to be fair, the separate stand is very robust.

  • Design: 5 / 5

Amazon Echo Hub showing the active media list

(Image credit: Future)

Amazon Echo Hub: Performance

  • New UI offers great smart home control…
  • …but it’s slightly buggy and slow at times
  • Value-adding features like Adaptive Content are nice additions

Considering that I live in a pokey one-bed apartment I have a fair number of smart home devices, and trying to control them all can sometimes be a frustrating experience. Using voice control can become downright irritating – the novelty, I’m afraid, has worn off for me – while the Alexa app just doesn’t offer the granularity of control I’d expect, nor is it particularly intuitive. So I’ve spent a fair amount of time yelling at Alexa to try to get my smart home in order.

The Echo Hub, however, removes that pain point almost entirely. Yes, Alexa is in there, but this touchscreen titan pretty much reinvents the Alexa smart home experience – though you will still need to use the Alexa app, much to my chagrin. Thankfully, the Echo Hub offers Matter, Thread, Zigbee, and Bluetooth support. 

While the Echo Hub runs the same OS, supports the same features, and has a near-identical 8-inch, 1280 x 800-pixel resolution screen as its Echo Show siblings, its interface is entirely different; it’s pared back, smart home-focused, and stuffed full of useful widgets. 

These widgets form the backbone of the Echo Hub experience, allowing you to quickly control your smart home devices and routines. On the left of the screen is the navigation menu, in which you can switch between the main dashboard, your routines, and whatever rooms you have set up in your Alexa app. 

Amazon Echo Hub showing the main UI

(Image credit: Future)

If you use security cameras in and around your home, you can also use the Echo Hub to check in on your live feeds, viewing up to four at once with the Multiview feature. Ring cameras, being Amazon devices, get a little added benefit in that you can also get snapshots of your feed from the camera widget.

I also appreciate some of the quality-of-life features offered by the Echo Hub. The Adaptive Content feature, which is also in the Echo Show 8, uses infrared sensors on the top of the device to detect your proximity to it, simplifying the display when you’re further away and adding more detail when you’re closer. I also love the fact that the UI is stripped back and free from clutter; it’s not filled with Amazon’s bloatware or invasive advertising, and I really hope it stays that way. 

Sounds great, right? And that’s what makes it all the more frustrating that Amazon wasn’t able to nail it on the software side. The Echo Hub is by no means an abject failure, but the one thing it needs to be as a smart home controller is fast, but due to some slight lag issues when using widgets (and one small bug I encountered which rendered the lighting widget unusable for a few minutes) it’s a little disappointing at times.

It mainly seems to struggle if you try to swipe or use any gestures other than tapping, which is a little counterintuitive if you’re used to the touchscreens of any of the best phones or best tablets. The disappointment is only intensified when you consider that early hands-on reviews from a variety of outlets in September 2023 reported lag issues, so there’s been enough time for Amazon to tweak the software – though there’s every chance that its MediaTek MT 8169 A processor just isn’t up to the job. 

There’s also some really simple stuff that we know, at the very least, Alexa can do, but which the widgets can’t. For example, I can ask Alexa to make the lights in my living room red, and despite those lights all being from different manufacturers, the smart speaker can unify the command. However, other than setting up a routine for a specific color, there’s no way to do this using manual controls on the Echo hub. 

Amazon Echo Hub showing the color changing options on a smart light

(Image credit: Future)

Its customizability isn’t quite as good as I’d hoped for either; you can only configure the home page, but not the ordering or layout of devices in your different rooms and routines, which default to alphabetic ordering. That’s fine if you’ve only got a few devices or you use most of them daily, but I’ve got some rogue devices that I use maybe once a month that are much more easily accessible than others that I’d need more often. You also can’t customize the favorites bar, so you’re stuck with Lights, Smart Plugs, Cameras, and Active Media as well as the Other menu, which for me brought up a really random array of devices and scenes.

I do appreciate the library of widgets available, though this feature isn't really utilized as well as it could be. The widgets operate mostly as shortcuts with little-to-no programmability, which leaves the Echo Hub a little vulnerable to being overtaken in the software department if Apple does come out with its rumored smart display.

Amazon Echo Hub showing the widget library

(Image credit: Future)

Still, I imagine that the OS is a work in progress – we know that Map View is yet to come, for example, so we might see future improvements in the speed and reliability of the Echo Hub. I really hope Amazon gives the Echo Hub even greater control; it’s still not a full replacement for the app, and certain settings and configurations can still only be done in the app. Plus, and predictably so, it still gives preference to Amazon devices.

Outside of its use as a smart home controller, there’s not much to say about the Echo Hub’s performance. While it does have two speakers, these are mostly so that Alexa can respond to you; they’re certainly not high-quality enough for music or entertainment, but once again, that’s not what the Echo Hub is for.

While I do have the above gripes with the OS, I’m nitpicking somewhat. Broadly speaking, the Echo Hub is an excellent device that, if nothing else, shows Amazon pushing out of its comfort zone; and I’m thrilled that it’s dropped some of the more irritating things about Echo devices, like the bloatware and incessant advertising. 

  • Performance: 4.5 / 5

Should you buy the Amazon Echo Hub?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Amazon Echo Hub: Also consider

If the Amazon Echo Show 8 (3rd gen) isn't for you, why not consider other smart displays?

How I tested Amazon Echo Hub

  • I tested it for a week
  • I used it as my main smart display at home
  • I tried all its different features and functionalities and stress tested the nw UI

I had a week to test the Amazon Echo Hub in my home, bringing it into my smart home ecosystem and using it as the main smart display to control my various smart home devices. In my home, I use everything from smart security cameras and air purifiers to smart lights and smart plugs, so there was plenty for the Echo Hub to play with. 

I opted to use the Echo Hub with a Sanus stand, however from looking at the provided installation kit I was able to assess how easy the wall-mounted installation process would be. I primarily used the device  to control my smart devices, but I also tried some of the widgets available in Amazon's fairly extensive library. 

I've been testing and reviewing smart home devices for several years, and come from a background of writing about IoT devices and network infrastructure. I'm also a massive smart home nerd outside of work, 

Read more about how we test

First reviewed February 2024

UserWay review: a web accessibility solution with an easy setup, great results
6:01 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Pro | Comments: Off

As a website owner, you must ensure your website is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. It is not only about promoting inclusivity but also a legal requirement. This is where UserWay comes in. It's a web accessibility solution that helps to make your site compliant with several accessibility regulations, such as the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).

UserWay is an artificial intelligence (AI)--powered solution that provides a widget that can be seamlessly integrated into your site, enhancing website accessibility without modifying its code. With a range of features tailored to assist users with disabilities, including vision impairments, cognitive disabilities, motor skills issues, and much more, UserWay ensures your website is accessible to everyone.

Website owners who want to make their website accessible to all should consider using UserWay. It helps you comply with legal requirements and provides a range of useful features to aid users with disabilities. However, weighing its pros and cons before deciding is essential, like any other solution.


Features

UserWay is a platform designed to assist website owners in making their websites accessible to all individuals, regardless of their abilities. To utilize UserWay, you must integrate a line of code that works seamlessly with popular content management systems like Shopify, WordPress, and Wix. Once implemented, the AI-powered widget immediately begins adjusting your website by enabling keyboard navigation, adjusting color contrasts, modifying text spacing, and more. 

While the UserWays widget automatically handles all the accessibility requirements for your website, it also provides customization options. You can adjust the settings to ensure that the accessibility features align with your website design and functionality.

UserWay widget

(Image credit: UserWay)

UserWay offers a lot more than just a web widget. In addition to the widget, the platform provides a comprehensive web accessibility scanner, monitor, check solution, and an audit tool. By simply entering a URL, the UserWay Accessibility Scanner can read your sitemap and automatically scan individual pages, which reduces the time and effort required. Moreover, the Accessibility Scanner can identify issues that may only appear on specific screen sizes and devices. It can scan 30,000 pages on mobile and desktop sites in less than an hour and deliver quick results in just a few minutes. 

The UserWay Audit feature, on the other hand, is a manual tool where experts assess your digital assets manually for WCAG 2.1/2.2 AA compliance levels. By doing so, you will receive a full report that can help your team meet U.S., Canadian, European, and international regulations for websites, apps, and designs. With UserWay's comprehensive suite of accessibility tools, you can ensure that your digital content is accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

How does UserWay use AI?

a robot hand being extended.

(Image credit: Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash)

AI technology has been a topic of debate in recent times. However, it is widely acknowledged that AI plays a significant and primarily positive role in various industries. At UserWay, AI is utilized to improve real-time web accessibility in several ways.

One of the ways UserWay's AI helps is by detecting and correcting accessibility violations in a website's code. This automation saves time and resources compared to manual coding fixes. It also provides users with personalized browsing experiences, such as adjusting font size and color contrast.

Although UserWay's AI reduces the need for manual work, it still requires human expertise to enhance the system. UserWay refers to this as a "Human-in-the-Loop" system, where people play a crucial role in training, monitoring, and refining the AI's capabilities.

Installation, setup, and compatibility

UserWay's comprehensive service revolves around its widget, which is the core of the company's offering. The widget is designed with simplicity, ensuring easy integration for users. UserWay offers native integrations with various CMS platforms, including WordPress, Shopify, Duda, Squarespace, Magento, Joomla, Drupal, BigCommerce, and SharePoint. These platforms offer a seamless integration process, often featuring a dedicated button within the platform to connect with UserWay.

Moreover, UserWay's solution can also work with other platforms, albeit not natively. These include Wix, Weebly, GoDaddy, Webflow, and GitHub Pages.

The UserWay Accessibility Widget is packed with over 50 innovative accessibility features that provide a high degree of control over the experience on your site, web app, or platform. The widget's features include voice navigation, an integrated screen reader, accessibility profiles, site translations, usage statistics, and advanced customization capabilities. These features empower users to optimize their website's accessibility and cater to a broader audience.

UserWay screenshot showing sample installation instructions.

(Image credit: UserWay)

Adding the UseWay plugin is crucial for making your site more usable for every visitor, irrespective of their capabilities. However, the process may differ slightly depending on your CMS. But the good news is that the UseWay website contains easy-to-follow training tools to guide you through installation. 

For this review, I worked with the UseWay widget with WordPress. And I must say, it was truly a breeze. The first step is downloading and installing the UseWay Accessibility plugin from WordPress. You can enable this feature by navigating to the Plugins area within your WordPress administration panel and looking for the plugin called "UserWay Accessibility Widget."

Once you have installed and activated the plugin, choose it, then create a new installation. From there, you must register this installation with your UserWay account. Don't worry; the registration process is straightforward to follow.

After that, you can enable the widget and customize its size, color, and position. You can also create an accessibility statement for the website, which is performed through the widget's settings page. By making this statement, you are informing your users about your dedication to ensuring that your website is accessible to all individuals and describing your actions to accomplish this objective.

If you aren’t using WordPress, there’s nothing to worry about. UserWay has installation instructions via its website.

Plans and pricing

UserWay pricing.

(Image credit: UserWay)

UserWay's pricing is based on the monthly page views a website receives. The pricing plan offers two options: the first is for websites that receive under 100,000 page views per month, with an annual fee of $490. The second option is for websites receiving up to 1 million page views per month, which has a yearly cost of $1,490. Custom pricing is available if your website receives more than 1 million page views per month.

While the starting price of UserWay is under $41 per month, it's important to note that the prices are per website. This means that the cost can add up quickly if you have multiple websites that require compliance. Additionally, prices increase significantly as you add extra features such as accessibility scanning and audits. However, UserWay offers bundles that can slightly reduce the prices.

Luckily, UserWay offers a 10-day free trial, allowing you to test the solution for your organization.

Final verdict

UserWay is a powerful tool that can enhance website accessibility and improve user experience for individuals with disabilities. By utilizing this solution, website owners can ensure that their websites meet the standards set forth by regulatory bodies like the ADA and WCAG 2.1. This can help make the website more accessible to a wider audience, including users with visual impairments, hearing impairments, and other disabilities. 

In addition to meeting regulatory requirements, having an accessible website can also lead to increased user engagement and potentially reduce legal risks. By making your website accessible to everyone, you can reach a wider audience and potentially increase your customer base. 

Given the benefits of inclusivity and the importance of meeting accessibility standards, opting for UserWay is a decision that many website owners find valuable. With its expertly crafted features and user-friendly interface, UserWay can help make your website more accessible and welcoming to all users, regardless of their abilities.

More from TechRadar Pro

Rainbow 2 Pro wireless controller review – a superb Pro Controller alternative
5:46 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Gaming | Tags: , | Comments: Off

BIGBIG WON may not be the most well-known gaming hardware manufacturer in the West, but in the Rainbow 2 Pro, it’s been able to provide what I strongly believe to be one of the best Nintendo Switch controllers you can buy.

Almost everything about the Rainbow 2 Pro is of excellent quality, from its comfy textured grips and Xbox-like shell to the near-immaculate face buttons, bumpers, and ancillary remappable buttons. With Pro-adjacent features like Hall effect sticks, trigger locks, and full gyro support, the Rainbow 2 Pro absolutely gives the Nintendo Switch Pro controller a run for its money.

It’s also in a similar price bracket to Nintendo’s official gamepad, coming in at $64.99 / £64.99 for the controller by itself. A more fleshed-out package that adds an alternative D-pad, swappable thumbstick caps, and a charging dock is also available to purchase for $79.99 / £79.99.

Design and features

Rainbow 2 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

At first glance, the Rainbow 2 Pro strongly resembles the Xbox Wireless Controller, or indeed the Nintendo Switch Pro controller with its similar semi-translucent finish. Its face buttons match the layout of Xbox’s pad, which you’d think would be a strange choice for a Switch-focused gamepad. However, this is likely to cater to folks playing on PC as well as Android and iOS devices. Smartly, the Rainbow 2 Pro does feature the Switch layout notation via small text graphics in the center of the face buttons.

The controller feels fantastic to hold right away. A slightly compact chassis and textured grips allow the Rainbow 2 Pro to rest firmly in the hands. This is doubly crucial given the controller’s support for gyro aiming; you’ll never once feel the controller slip or lose grip as you play titles like Splatoon 3 or The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, which both strongly feature motion-based input.

The real winner here, in terms of design, is the placement of the four remappable buttons. There are two placed on the back where you’d typically find them on Pro-adjacent gamepads. But an additional two are situated up top, between the triggers. I find this to be an ingenious placement, freeing up the rear of the controller from too much clutter and rendering it easy to click with your index fingers. They’re mechanical, too, offering a delightful clicky feel.

There’s a row of functions at the bottom of the controller, allowing players to access additional convenient features. These include being able to access a Turbo function for swifter inputs, and a button that, when held, lets you assign inputs to those remappable modules.

Unfortunately, there are a few odd quirks to keep in mind. While the thumbsticks are perfectly fine and responsive in movement, clicking them in for L3 and R3 inputs feels uncomfortably mushy, almost like there’s something sitting beneath them. Furthermore, the default four-way D-pad can be inaccurate; I preferred to use the Xbox-like eight-way model that’s included in the box, which I found to be much better overall. 

Lastly, swapping from XInput (used for PC) to Nintendo Switch input is a little awkward; you’ll need to firmly hold down the pad’s Home button, along with a face button, to switch between them. This is something that’s buried in the instruction manual, and won’t be immediately clear to those who plan on using the Rainbow 2 Pro for both PC and Switch. 

Performance and battery life

Rainbow 2 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Said design quirks don’t stop the Rainbow 2 Pro from being an absolutely fantastic controller to play with. First off, it’s got robust connectivity options. You can, of course, hook it up via USB-C to your console or device. And for wireless players, a 2.4GHz dongle is included in the box. As for Bluetooth, once I’d figured out how to enable Switch mode, the controller connected wirelessly to the console noticeably quicker than other Bluetooth-ready gamepads.

The play experience with the Rainbow 2 Pro is also sublime. Hall effect sticks and triggers are incredibly responsive and sturdy. Meanwhile, its ancillary buttons, such as Start, Select, screenshots, and Function buttons, are all easily within reach. The trigger locks are also an excellent touch for Switch users, as the console typically relies on digital inputs for the majority of the best Nintendo Switch games.

Battery life isn’t quite the best, however. Playing wirelessly, you’ll get roughly 15 hours on a full charge. This falls behind the 20-30 hours offered by the 8BitDo Ultimate and the absurd 40+ found with the official Nintendo Switch Pro controller. Still, 15 hours is far from bad. And if you opt for the model that comes with a charging dock, you’ll have a convenient and bespoke way to charge your controller in just a couple of hours.

Should I buy the Rainbow 2 Pro?

Rainbow 2 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

The Rainbow 2 Pro is a phenomenal gamepad for both Nintendo Switch and PC, with just a small handful of design oddities muddying the waters. However, these quirks are nothing deal-breaking. And if you’re looking for a controller that’s comfortable, responsive, and features a lovely RGB profile within its semi-translucent design, it’s an easy recommendation from us. 

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

How we reviewed the Rainbow 2 Pro

I tested the Rainbow 2 Pro across Nintendo Switch and PC. Through playing Splatoon 3, I was able to appreciate its responsiveness and high level of accuracy with the gyro aiming. The controller felt at home with other titles, too, including Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Tears of the Kingdom, and Final Fantasy 14 Online. All of which have decently complex control schemes that the Rainbow 2 Pro handled with ease.

For more coverage on Nintendo Switch hardware, consider browsing our guides to the best Nintendo Switch accessories and best Nintendo Switch controllers. 

FiiO R9 review: a supremely gifted, just-add-speakers, hi-res music streaming box of joy
3:25 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets | Tags: | Comments: Off

The FiiO R9 is a trailblazer; a singular and unique proposition. It's a Wi-Fi-enabled headphone amp with all of the connections you could want and all of the hi-res protocols and streaming services under its belt. It feels for all the world like an Android smartphone (devoid of annoying phone number) on the front of a high-end hub ready to accept practically any of the best headphones or active speaker you want to hook it up to – I logged into Google during setup and downloaded the Tidal and Qobuz apps from the Google Play store.

Yes, the FiiO R9 is basically twice the price of the R7 that went before it, and given FiiO's enviable run of form over the last few years, you'd be forgiven for thinking the Chinese audio specialist's likeable – and largely affordable – output was due a rare misstep. But that hasn't happened here. Simply put, the R9 is a triumph.

Where the R7 didn't have an HDMI ARC in (to receive audio from one of the best TVs or best 4K Blu-ray players, and from there to send it to a set of active speakers via the R9's dual RCA or XLR outs, for added hi-res audio in your content), the R9 does. Also, its larger six-inch Full HD touchscreen display easily beats the R7’s five-inch screen for both size and snappy speed of use – and although you may initially have to cradle it on your knees with said screen pointing up when using Android mode to log in to your streaming services (if that's the route you choose to go), once up and running it's a breeze to use. 

The R9's eight-channel THX AAA-788+ onboard headphone amplifier and dual eight-channel ESS Sabre ES9038PRO DACs are a huge step up from the smaller R7's spec sheet – specifically, you're getting 7300mW of power, up from 3000mW. Essentially, the R9 is the finished article as a powerful amp for the best wired headphones, or a digital source to rival the best music players, and however I chose to use it during testing, it shone.

Fiio R9 on a hi-fi rack with active speakers

It's like a smartphone on a piece of hi-fi – but it does the job better (and frees up your actual phone for other things). (Image credit: Future)

I used the R9's AirPlay Mode to feed it Apple Music Hi-Res Lossless files from my iPhone; I hooked it up to the Audio Pro C20 using just an RCA cable (although you do have to provide your own) and the line-in function; I paired a Marshall Middleton Bluetooth speaker to the R9 just because I had it to hand (thus freeing my phone up for other things and creating a standalone music hub with the R9 at it's beating heart); I plugged the excellent FiiO FT5 planar magnetic headphones into the 4.4mm port on the front of the R9 and listened to hi-res audio files from an SD card. Whatever I did, it calmly accepted the challenge and delivered zealous, crisp, detailed, dynamically agile and yet meaty music to my ears. Velvet Underground's There She Goes Again is beautifully layered and emotive, with backing vocals, rhythmic syncopated guitar chords and timing shifts expertly relayed as the track progresses. 

Some will scratch their heads while viewing this thing of beauty, because you will need some other kit to get it singing. But hi-fi is all about compatible products and proper amplification. Audiophiles will find endless opportunity – have you ever seen a smartphone with a true hi-res DAC and headphone amp squirrelled away inside it, plus 6.35mm, 4.4mm and 4-pin XLR balanced headphone outs? Because that's just one way to use the R9.

Fiio R9 held in a hand to show the back of the unit, with a brown table in the background

A thing of cleanly organized beauty, even on the back. (Image credit: Future)

I feel duty bound to tell you what the FiiO R9 can't do, because the list of what it can handle is extensive: it won't play music on its own from the box, unlike the Naim Mu-so Qb or Sonus Faber Omnia for example. No, it needs you to supply at least one speaker driver (whether in your headphones or in a separate speaker box – or boxes) and it cannot be hooked up to a set of passive speakers. FiiO would doubtless point you towards its own SP3 active speakers as the ideal marriage, which are a similar size to the R9 and make for a svelte desktop setup – but as I've just explained, you don't have to have those. You could choose almost any active speaker from our best stereo speakers guide (or our best wireless speakers guide, for that matter) or any of the best Bluetooth speakers we recommend, although even with the best-quality Bluetooth codec support you could wish for (including LDAC) that does seem a shame given the plethora of hi-res friendly ports on the back of the R9. 

Fiio R9 and Fiio FT5 headphones on a hi-fi rack

Hook the R9 up to FiiO's own FT5 you've got an exceptional desktop audio system. (Image credit: Future)

It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that FiiO's self-titled "flagship all-in-one digital media streamer" R9 is a big hit, just see my odes to the firm's BTR7 Bluetooth DAC, the Fiio M15S hi-res audio player, the Fiio M11S or even the novel FiiO KB3 audiophile keyboard. What you need to know is this: FiiO isn't messing around when it comes to connectivity and music quality here.

Okay, the shiny top plate (which carries on to the left side of the unit) gathers my fingerprint smudges a little, but FiiO has provided a cloth to help with that – and a Bluetooth remote so you won't touch it as much. Also, while you get two rubberized plinths to sit the R9 on (one of which angles it up nicely) it is occasionally difficult to tap your details in on the screen, because typically you cradle your smartphone in your palm and type with your thumbs, rather than stabbing at it with an index finger, as you have to here.

I strongly suggest you persevere though. The FiiO R9 is a great little music streaming solution and one I really do not want to have to give back (and I do have to return it, reader). It is relatively expensive for FiiO, yes. But just look at it – it's worth it. 

FiiO R9 connected wirelessly over Bluetooth to a Marshall Middleton speaker

If you have a beefy Bluetooth speaker kicking around, the FiiO R9 will happily oblige. (Image credit: Future)

FiiO R9 review: Price & release date

  • Officially priced $1,499 / £1,399 (so around AU$2,660)
  • Launched January 2024

One of the reasons the R9 is such a refreshing product is that you almost certainly have the kit at home to get it up and singing (or get it bettering what you have) – and even if you just pair it to a Bluetooth speaker, it offers baked-in access to all of your streaming services and thus it completely frees your phone up from having to do the job. 

That said, the Naim Mu-so Qb noted above, which does have speakers under the hood, can be found for around half the price of the FiiO proposition these days. Then again, the land-yacht styled Sonus Faber Omnia, which also sports a speaker array under the bonnet, is a more expensive $2,000 / £1,600 / AU$3,500. Ultimately, it depends what you're looking for. 

Want power coupled with a small footprint and the option to plug any of the best wired headphones and audiophile-friendly cans in directly – as well as whichever active, wireless or Bluetooth speakers you prefer? The FiiO is unrivalled here. 

FiiO R9 and an Audio Pro C20 connected

The Audio Pro C20 (connected via RCA and in 'line' mode) and Fiio R9 sound splendid together…  (Image credit: Future)

FiiO R9 review: Specs

Should you buy the FiiO R9?

Fiio R9 from the back, showing the various connectivity ports

It's incredibly well-specified around the back (and on the front) for wired connectivity too. (Image credit: Future)

Buy it if...

You have limited space and want a hi-res hub
The FiiO R9 is about the size of a box of tissues with your phone rested on the front – but it sounds much bigger.

You have a set of active speakers kicking about
If you want something to handle your tunes but prefer to make use of a wireless speaker or set of desktop speakers you've already got, this is the product.

You pay for a top-tier music subscription
With hi-res chops (both wired and wireless) this good, Spotify isn't going to do this all-in-one system justice – especially if you want to plug your new audiophile-friendly  headphones into the front.

Don't buy it if...

You want something with speakers already built in
This isn't it – look to the Naim Mu-so Qb or Sonus Faber Omnia

You don't really care about hi-res audio
We're not judging, that's just fine! But this is one of those products that is golden if you want better sound quality than the stuff your TV or smartphone is currently able to supply. 

FiiO R9 review: Also consider

How I tested the FiiO R9

  • Tested for five days, listened with several Bluetooth speakers, the Audio Pro C20, a set of active desktop speakers, and various wired headphones including the planar magnetic Audeze Euclid and planar magnetic open-back FiiO FT5
  • Used at home
  • Listened to Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless tracks using AirPlay from an iPhone 12 Pro, Qobuz and Spotify, stored music on an SD card

Following a thorough 24-hour run-in period, the FiiO R9 has been playing in my home for five days. 

And I've thoroughly enjoyed it. It's impossible not to enjoy audio of such high quality – and with such malleability. To deep-dive into its plethora of connectivity options is to immerse yourself in new hi-res audio realms. I spent a day simply switching out headphones (both wired and wireless) and found new details and depths in even my heavy-rotation testing tracks. 

When testing the audio quality across the frequencies, I listen to myriad playlists (spanning everything from acoustic remixes to heavy metal) on Apple Music, Qobuz and Tidal, podcasts and albums on Spotify, and TikTok videos on my MacBook Pro. 

I’ve been testing audio products for five years. As a classical dancer, aerialist, and musical theater performer in another life, sound quality and user experience have always taken priority for me.

Questyle NHB15 review: wired earbuds for the high-res audiophile
1:08 am |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Televisions | Comments: Off

Questyle NHB15 wired earbuds: Two-minute review

Questyle NHB15 on table with laptop

The NHB15's USB-C connector allows for hookup to a computer or phone (Image credit: Future)

The Questyle NHB15 is phenomenal in a very specific way. It’s essentially a pair of wired IEMs (in-ear monitors) with a built-in DAC, which means you’re going to skip out on the kind of features we usually expect in the best earbuds while prioritizing crystal-clear lossless audio.

If you’re looking at these earbuds, things like active noise cancellation and an ambient mode are probably not top priorities, otherwise, you would probably be reading up on the Sony WF-1000XM5 by now. That’s not what the Questyle NHB15 is competing with. Instead, these are for people who value performance over convenience or extraneous features.

If you’re in this camp, the high price tag is probably more of a concern, especially with the explosion of IEMs that offer quality audio at a lower cost. Of course, the Questyle NHB15 has that integrated DAC, which is going to add to the price. However, if the cost doesn’t bother you, you’ll enjoy using these for listening to music and for other media.

Looking closely at the Questyle NHB15, it’s clear that it’s incredibly well-made. The earbuds themselves have a chrome-like covering that oozes elegance. And, the cable with its wrap-around design – they’re made to go over and behind the ears – is not only high-quality but can be detached from the actual earbuds.

The Questyle NHB15 is made specifically for sources with a USB-C connection. However, Questyle does include a cable to use with analog sources.

The most important part here is the DAC, which sits right in the middle of where it transitions from one to two cables, and is most likely the reason why the Questyle NHB15 is expensive. The DAC can handle up to 24-bit/192kHz high-res audio, and it will let you know if you’re listening to audio that detailed. If you’re listening at 48kHz or below (44.1kHz is CD quality, and where Spotify tops out), one red indicator light on the DAC will illuminate. If you’re listening to a higher-quality file or stream, then two will light up.

Questyle includes five different-size ear tips as well as a leather storage pouch with the NHB15.

Questyle NHB15 in package with accessories

Premium accessories include a leather storage pouch and five eartip options (Image credit: Future)

Now, it’s clear that this is a premium product that delivers quality from the source to the ears. But, will you find it to be an improvement over wireless earbuds? The answer: It depends.

Some of the best earbuds out there sound great, cost less, and come with the kind of features that you won’t find in the Questyle NHB15. Also, if you only listen to music through Spotify, which doesn’t offer higher resolution files like Apple Music, Tidal, Qobuz, or Deezer do, you probably won’t benefit much from the Questyle NHB15.

But, if you’re looking to up your audio game, you might enjoy the NHB15 more than a pair of Apple AirPods Pro 2. Now, these aren’t exactly neutral sounding as there is a low mid-bump in the frequency range. This boost is particularly noticeable with vocals and mid-range instruments as they seemed to have more body than they otherwise should when I listened to Kacey Musgrave’s Deeper Well, Childish Gambino’s 3005, or V.A.N. by Bad Omens and Poppy.

Beyond that, the bass is full and the highs are clear and detailed. The soundstage is also wide with good imaging, meaning I could easily place all the elements on that soundstage whether I was listening to music, watching a movie, or playing a game.

Also, since it can handle such a high bit-depth and bitrate, issues with distortion are non-existent. Essentially, the Questyle NHB15 will let you hear everything that your audio source can provide (though with a little bit of a low-mid bump).

Questyle NHB15 on table close-up of DAC

Red indicator lights on the DAC will tell you if you're listening to standard or high-resolution audio (Image credit: Future)

Questyle NHB15 wired earbuds: Price and release date

  • Price: $399 (about £315 / AU$610)
  • Released January 2024

The Questyle NHB15’s biggest downside might be its price. Considering that there has been a proliferation of wired earbuds known as IEMs offering very good performance, with many of them coming in at a cheaper price point, the NHB15’s price of $399 (about £315 / AU$610) can be hard to stomach.

That said, IEMs typically use an analog connection and don’t come with a built-in DAC with the capability of handling up to 24-bit/192kHz audio. To do that, you would have to invest in a portable DAC that can handle a similar or higher resolution such as the iFi hip-dac 3 ($199 / £199 / AU$349), though that would be a bulkier portable option than the NHB15.

There is an argument to be made that, at least for non-audiophiles, high resolution is not that important so keep that in mind when comparing the Questyle NHB15 to the competition. Also, keep in mind that you can purchase a standalone mobile headphone amp/DAC from Questyle called the Questyle M15i for $299 (about £238 / AU$459).

Questyle NHB15 on table in box

The complete Questyle NHB15 package (Image credit: Future)

Should you buy the Questyle NHB15 wired earbuds?

Buy it if...

You want crystal-clear audio
The Questyle NHB15 provides distortion-free audio quality with the ability to reproduce very high-resolution audio sources.

You don’t like your phone’s audio conversion
Most phones and computers don’t do as good of a job converting digital information into audio as a standalone DAC. Thankfully, the Questyle NHB15 comes with a high-quality DAC.

You care about premium quality
Everything about these headphones is premium, so if you’re comfortable with the form factor and the price, know that you’re getting quality.

Don't buy it if...

You’re strapped for cash
Let’s be real – a near-$400 price tag is painful to most people these days. If you’re limited on funds, check out the multitude of cheaper but well-reviewed IEMs.

You need the features of TWS earbuds
While it’s beside the point with a product like the Questyle NHB15, you’re not going to get active cancellation, ambient mode, or any of the other features that TWS earbuds offer.

Questyle NHB15 wired earbuds review: Also consider

Questyle NHB15 earbud on table

(Image credit: Future)

How I tested the Questyle NHB15

  • I used the Questyle NHB15 for a couple of weeks
  • Tested with music, movies, and games

I used the Questyle NHB15 regularly for a couple of weeks. I listened to a lot of music of all sorts of genres. I also watched some movies and played games just to see how the Questyle NHB15 translated across mediums. On top of that, I listened in both standard and high-resolution audio formats.

After spending time with the Questyle NHB15, I found these headphones to be of very high quality but with appeal only for those who lean in a more audiophile direction. 

I’ve tested a lot of tech gear over the years from laptops to keyboards and speakers, and so have been able to use my expertise towards giving an honest and fair opinion, not to mention a critical eye, to any product I test.

Read more about how we test

First reviewed February 2024

BenQ PhotoVue SW272U review
7:24 pm | February 26, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Pro | Comments: Off

27-inch 4K monitors aimed at pro and semi-pro content creation workflows are awfully common these days and span a wide range of price points. So, what makes the new BenQ PhotoVue SW272U stand out in this crowded segment?

The core panel specs look pretty standard at a glance. IPS, 4K, 60Hz, 400 nits, you've seen it all before. However, the 99% coverage of both Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 hint at something at least a little bit special, as does the guaranteed sub-1.5 DeltaE factory calibration. Actually, so does the pricing, which is rather high at around $1599 / £1199.

That pricing is particularly painful given this isn't a true HDR monitor. It does support HDR10 and HLG. But with that 400 nits peak brightness and no local dimming, the actual HDR performance on offer is extremely limited.

It's also conspicuous that monitors like the Asus ProArt PA348CGV offer seemingly the same broad specs and feature set for one third of the money. Ouch. However, the difference here is that the BenQ PhotoVue SW272U is pitched as a true pro-level display at a relatively low price, while that Asus is more prosumer or semi-professional. Whether the extra precision, features and performance this BenQ delivers are worth the money, well, at least in part that comes down to your workflows and requirements. 

BenQ PhotoVue SW272U: Design & features

BenQ PhotoVue SW272U in an office at Future HQ during our review process

(Image credit: BenQ)
  • Very solid build quality
  • Slightly dowdy design
  • Strong overall feature set
  • But limited HDR support
  • Great usability features
Specs

Panel size: 27-inch 

Panel type: IPS

Resolution: 3,840 x 2,160

Brightness: 400cd/m2

Contrast: 1,000:1

Pixel response: 5ms

Color coverage: 99% Adobe RGB, 99% DCI-P3

Refresh rate: 60Hz

Vesa:  100mm x 100mm

Inputs: DisplayPort 1.4 x2, HDMI 2.0 x2, USB-C with 90W power delivery

We’ve reviewed plenty of the best business monitors, and there’s no hiding it: the BenQ PhotoVue SW272U doesn't exactly turn heads for sheer design flair. For the most part it's a fairly dowdy all-grey display, albeit the slim bezels on three sides of the panel keep things reasonably contemporary. The stand in particular is very nicely engineered and supports height, swivel, tilt and rotate into portrait.

It's also worth noting that the shading hood bundled with the display and designed to reduce ambient light glare includes attachments for both landscape and portrait viewing, which is unusual.

BenQ PhotoVue SW272U in an office at Future HQ during our review process

(Image credit: BenQ)

Another notable design feature is the flat base with an inlaid leatherette pad. The pad itself is a little hard and feels cheap. However, the ergonomic benefit of the flat base is that you reclaim usable desktop space where conventional stands simply eat it up.

The 27-inch 4K IPS panel ticks the usual boxes for resolution, contrast and refresh rate for this class of display. However, the finer details place it in a much higher class than more affordable competition.

The full list of features is phenomenally long. However, highlights include 99% coverage of both Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 hint, sub-1.5 DeltaE factory calibration, a 16-bit LUT, both Calman verification and Pantone validation, plus support for 24, 25 and 30fps video to allow smooth playback with no jitters. Like several BenQ displays we’ve tested, these specs point to one of the best monitors for photo editing or other creative workflows. 

BenQ PhotoVue SW272U hotkey puck in an office at Future HQ during our review process

(Image credit: BenQ)

However, it’s not perfect, and not professional-grade. The panel supports 10 bits per colour channel, however that is achieved via 8-bit native panel support plus dithering. That's one measure by which even more expensive pro displays are typically superior, offering native 10-bit colour without dithering. Rounding out the specs are support for both Calman and Lightspace hardware calibration, along with BenQ's own calibration app.

As for connectivity, you get dual HDMI 2.0 ports, DisplayPort 1.4 and USB-C with 90W power delivery. There's also an SD card reader and a dual-port USB-A hub. As handy as the SD card reader sounds, bandwidth to it is limited when using the USB-C interface to drive the display.

Final flourish is the hotkey puck. The basic idea isn't novel. Chiefly, it allows easier access to the OSD menu, plus three quick-jump calibration slots. The novel bit is that it's wireless and communicates over IR. That's a genuine benefit in terms of minimising cable clutter.

The puck also ties in with BenQ's Palette Master Ultimate or PMU hardware calibration app. One of the cleverer upshots of this combo is that, in MacOS, when you switch profiles with the hotpuck, MacOS automatically switches colour spaces to match. Nice. The info button on the puck is handy, too. That shows the current configuration information so that you can easily see what calibration you are running without the need to dig down into multiple layers of OSD menu. Useful if you regularly swap between workflows and calibrations.

BenQ PhotoVue SW272U: Performance

BenQ PhotoVue SW272U in an office at Future HQ during our review process

(Image credit: BenQ)
  • Beautifully calibrated
  • Novel anti-glare coating
  • Limited HDR performance

Make no mistake, this is a beautifully calibrated display. Out of the box, it's one of if not the most accurate displays we've seen. Colors are crisp and vibrant, but the balance is bob on with no hint of oversaturation, banding or really any calibration flaws.

Of course, this is an IPS display with a monolithic backlight, so it does have limitations. So, there's inevitably a degree of light bleed. That said, the contrast is about as good as we've seen for this class of monitor, albeit it's well behind an LCD monitor with local dimming, much less an OLED display. The viewing angles are also excellent.

On a related note, the SW272U has a new anti-glare coating design to reduce unwanted reflections even further compared with existing matte coatings. It genuinely does and without impacting perceived contrast. It's a definite will.

BenQ PhotoVue SW272U in an office at Future HQ during our review process

(Image credit: BenQ)

Less successful is the panel's HDR performance. With no local dimming and a peak brightness of 400 nits, this monitor was never going to be a true HDR display. But it's worth reaffirming that this isn't the monitor you want if grading HDR content is a significant part of your workflow.

However, what is impressive is SDR content rendering in HDR mode. As with every other mode, the HDR mode is brilliantly calibrated for both HDR and SDR content. In terms of SDR content accuracy in hDR mode, this monitor is perhaps the best we've ever seen.

Speaking of modes, the OSD offers most of the key colour spaces pre calibrated, including Adobe RGB, Rec. 709 and DCI-P3. And like many of the best monitors for MacBook Pro, there's also an "M-Book" mode, designed to match the factory calibration of Apple's MacBook monitors. 

Beyond that, you get the usual upsides of a 27-inch monitor with 4K resolution and consequent 163DPI pixel density. Fonts look crisp and clear, especially in macOS but also in Windows, and there's plenty of image detail on offer.

BenQ PhotoVue SW272U: Final verdict

BenQ PhotoVue SW272U in an office at Future HQ during our review process

(Image credit: BenQ)

The BenQ PhotoVue SW272U is an excellent monitor with one obvious problem, cost. Depending on how you look at it, this display is either very much worth the money or very hard to justify.

In particular, the Asus ProArt PA279CRV - our pick for best video editing monitor on a budget - makes for an uncomfortable comparison. That's another 27-inch 4K panel aimed at content creators. It matches BenQ's monitor with 99% coverage of both Adobe RGB and DCI-P3. But it cost one third the price.

What the Asus can't do is compete with the PhotoVue SW272U outstanding calibration accuracy or some of its features. For the serious content creator, it’s one of the best monitors for graphic design, photo editing, and video work. Features like the shading hood, hotkey puck and multiple calibration profiles can make all the difference to effective and efficient execution of workflows.

Likewise, compared to true professional class monitors, the BenQ PhotoVue SW272U arguably isn't that expensive. Ultimately, then, it comes down to the sort of content creator you are. More casual, semi-professional creators are probably better off with the likes of the cheaper Asus ProArt PA279CRV. But for really serious professionals, there's an awful lot to like with this BenQ. It's almost certainly worth the extra investment.


Pair the BenQ PhotoVue SW272U monitor with the best business computers - tested, reviewed, and rated by us 

Kensington SD5800T docking station review
6:41 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Pro | Comments: Off

As someone who loves using laptops, I frequently face the frustrating challenge of needing more or the proper ports when needed. Depending on your needs, this lack of ports can slow down tasks and affect the laptop's usability. 

Now, with the standard moving closer and closer to Thunderbolt 4, while some devices are still utilizing the slower, though now standardized thanks to the EU, USB-C protocol, I have found myself with some of the best laptop docking stations of varying kinds strewn about my workspaces at all times.

Some of these docks are USB-C, and some are Thunderbolt. Some have a plethora of ports, and some are minimal. What's great about the Kensington SD5800T is that it sits in the middle of all my docks. It's powerful enough to run the majority of even my most complex setups, but it's also minimal sufficient that it doesn't take up a ton of space. It can run my Thunderbolt devices at Thunderbolt speeds, but it can also run my USB-C devices without any problems.

Kensington SD5800T: Unboxing and First Impressions

Unboxing the Kensington SD5800T was straightforward. The box was the docking station, a power adapter, and a Thunderbolt 4 cable were in the box, along with the appropriate documentation. Kensington neatly packaged all of the gear, and the included graphics on the dock made it so that I did not have to consult the paperwork to understand where to plug the Thunderbolt cable to run to my laptop (something that changes on almost every docking station). This unboxing was simple and minimal - precisely what I hoped for when I opened a docking station.

Kensington SD5800T

(Image credit: Collin Probst // Future)

Kensington SD5800T: Design and Build Quality

I care a lot about my desk's aesthetics - admittedly, perhaps too much. Anything I deem necessary on any of my desks/workstations must also fit the style of the workplace. For a desk to work well, it must also look great. Thankfully, the Kensington SD5800T is a simple dock that can slide under a shelf, mounted beneath the desk, or neatly tucked away.

Specs

Ports: 1x Thunderbolt 4 host port, 1x USB-C, 3.5mm Headphone Port, 6x USB-A, 2x DisplayPort, 2x HDMI port, DC power in, Ethernet, MicroSD slot, SD Card slot, 

Compatibility: Windows, macOS, iPadOS, 

Power Delivery: Up to 100W of laptop charging, 98W Certified

Overall, the shape, build, and construction are unassuming and can go unnoticed, which is the point of many of these docks. I rarely want a dock to be a focal point of a desk build. That said, I like the dock to be durable and capable of heavy work. There are days I am a lighter user of technology, though those days are few and far between. Most days, I push my devices to run many things simultaneously at high speeds and work immediately without friction. 

The last area worth mentioning regarding the design would be the port layout. In the docks I have reviewed, I have seen a fair split between putting the host port in the back or the front. I prefer the host port in the back, much like my desk, where I run my CalDigit TS4 Dock. However, on another one of the desk setups I use daily, I have a much smaller Thunderbolt dock with the host port in the front, which is visible. Host ports on the front are accessible, visible, and helpful if you plan on switching out host cables, have a reasonably modular desk (meaning you switch gear out regularly or change how you use the desk), or just like the look. The Kensington SD5800T has its host port in the front, so keep that in mind while considering this dock for your setup.

Kensington SD5800T

(Image credit: Collin Probst // Future)

Kensington SD5800T: In use

So far, this dock has stood up to the test. One of the biggest issues with even the best business laptops we've tested is the port selection limiting workflows. That's not the case here. 

I have been able to run an entire workstation through this dock without the dock taking over the dominance of the desk itself. The standout feature by far has been the seamless integration with any USB-C, USB-4, Thunderbolt 3, and Thunderbolt 4 device. This flexibility gives access to just about any modern or near-modern device. I can run my MacBook, iPad Pro, older iPad Pro, Windows laptops, and more all off the same dock due to its ability to host such a wide range of USB-C protocols. When working on bigger projects, transferring large files, or working directly from an SSD Drive, I have noticed that the 40GB transfer speeds work wonderfully. It's quick enough to work on most things from the drive (some video files still stuttered), and even if you are not working directly from the drive but instead transferring files, these transfers are quick.

My primary laptop is an M2 MacBook Air. For those who have M-series Macs and are trying to run multiple displays, you know I need help running multi-output natively. Sadly, unlike when running Intel chips, the baseline for the best MacBook Pro laptops these days are the Apple Silicon chips (M1, M2, M3). So, there is only an opportunity to output those laptops to a single external display. Only when you jump to the M Pro chips or M Max chips, do you gain the ability to multi-display on newer Apple laptops. That's where DisplayLink comes in. So far, it's the best way to get around this and output to multiple displays even when your laptop cannot natively handle this. However, the dock you are using has to have a DisplayLink chip integrated into the components to pair with the DisplayLink tool on your laptop.

Sadly, this dock does not have the DisplayLink chip. So, what this means is that the baseline M1, M2, and M3 MacBook cannot push out to multiple displays. It can, however, push a single 4K display at 60Hz. You can run up to dual 6K monitors at 60Hz if you have the Pro or Max series M Chips. For Windows, this dock can power up to four 4K monitors at 60Hz, a single 8K monitor at 60Hz, or dual 6K monitors at 60Hz. An ideal companion, then, for the best business monitors and the best monitors for a dual screen setup

Another element that makes this dock stand out (literally) is that it can sit horizontally or vertically on your desk with help from a base included in the box. For my setup, I chose to lay it down so it was shorter and wider. Positioning the dock this way also made it easier to hide it under my desk shelf. However, if you had a different setup, knowing that you could throw this dock vertically and put it in a different position could be helpful and potentially even a selling point for some.

Kensington SD5800T

(Image credit: Collin Probst // Future)

Kensington SD5800T: Final verdict

The Kensington SD5800T is a great dock. The biggest miss on this dock is the need for Thunderbolt ports, which reflects how I use docks and what gear I usually use throughout my day. However, this dock is fantastic if you don't need Thunderbolt ports but need USB-A, USB-C, Ethernet, video ports, and SD card readers. I currently use this dock at a desk where I do exactly that. My team uses this desk dock to edit SD Cards' content. It's an excellent dock for them as they can plug in their laptop, run one or two monitors, connect to Ethernet for high-speed uploads and downloads, and access the SD Card. We also have some additional peripherals connected to the USB-A slots. If you're looking for a dock for similar use, this is an excellent option, as it will meet your needs perfectly.


Kitting out the office? See the best standing desks and the best office chairs as tested by TechRadar Pro

Adobe Acrobat Reader (2024) review
4:20 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Pro Software & Services | Tags: | Comments: Off

The PDF format was created by Adobe Systems, and introduced at the Windows and OS/2 Conference in January 1993. It became an open standard in 2008, which enabled other companies to make PDF-compatible software. However, Adobe Acrobat Reader remains the venerable original - but is it still one of the best free PDF readers we’ve tested? We’re going to take a look.  

Adobe Acrobat Reader: Price & plans

  • It’s totally free, but there’s a price to pay in the form numerous prompts urging you to try out Acrobat Pro

There are multiple versions of Acrobat: Reader, Standard, and Pro. Each offers an increasing number of features, each comes in its own dedicated application, and we’ll therefore review them separately. 

Reader is the simplest of the bunch, offering the most basic functions, and is designed to be accessed by as many people as possible. As a result, it is offered completely free of charge. Shame about the constant prompts to get you to upgrade, though. It does distract from the otherwise pleasant workflow.

  • Pricing & plans: 3.5/5 

Adobe Acrobat Reader: Interface

Adobe Acrobat Reader screenshot during our review

The software’s main window is clean and simple showing you a handful of tools, while reminding you to upgrade to Acrobat Pro (Image credit: Adobe)
  • A large clear interface offering you tools which you can’t actually use unless you log on or pay

The interface looks clean and simple. To the left you’ve got a sidebar showing links to various functions, such as any recent documents you’ve worked with within the app, access to your Adobe Cloud Storage, any Agreement documents you’ve dealt with, and links to file storage, either on your hard drive, or via many of the best cloud storage providers, such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and SharePoint.

The bulk of the interface to the right will depend on which menu is selected in the sidebar, with ‘Recent’ offering you some tools such as adding comments to a PDF, request an e-signature, or fill and sign a document yourself. You can also open a PDF and simply read it.

The ‘Online Cloud Storage’, which takes up a fair chunk of the sidebar, is actually useless if you haven’t logged in with your Adobe ID. Top right and lower left are also permanent adverts for you to “try Acrobat Pro, free for 7 days”. You’ll also find a small ‘Create’ tab, top left. This is where you’ll find one of the best Word to PDF converters - but it also works with images. It’s a great tool, for sure… except this isn’t actually available for free: you would have to upgrade to either Standard or Pro to take advantage of such a feature.

But that’s not the only hidden prompt to upgrade you’ll find dotted around the interface. There are many enticing tools offering you to Convert a PDF into a Microsoft format, or Edit a PDF for instance, but none are actually available unless you pay for Standard or Pro.

All of this must be great from a marketing point of view, but is far from user friendly. In fact, the interface feels way too big for the small amount of features you actually have access to with Acrobat Reader.

  • Interface: 2/5

Adobe Acrobat Reader: Online advantages

Adobe Acrobat Reader screenshot during our review

Once you’ve logged in, you can easily set up documents and send them for others to fill in and sign - all for free (Image credit: Adobe)
  • A generous amount of online storage, and an easier way to request e-signatures. What’s not to like?

Adobe Acrobat Reader really wants you to sign in, so let’s sign in. This can be done any time you select a tool that cannot work without being online, or simply by clicking on the ‘sign in’ button, top right of the interface, just above the large blue ‘Try Acrobat Pro’ button.

The most obvious bonus is gaining access to your ‘Adobe Cloud Storage’. Adobe very generously offers you 2GB of free storage. It’s yours forever. No need to pay for anything in order to get it. So that’s great.

We have to say, though, this is some of the best eSignature software in a PDF reader. Once you’ve signed up and signed in, it’s really easy to add text and signature fields to a document which can then be sent to other people, all handled through Adobe’s Cloud Storage. The recipients do not need an account themselves. This can be most useful. 

  • Online advantages: 4/5

Adobe Acrobat Reader: Free tools

Adobe Acrobat Reader screenshot during our review

Reading a PDF, annotating it, drawing on it, inserting notes, it’s all very easy to achieve (Image credit: Adobe)

Let’s take a look at what you can actually do with Adobe Acrobat Reader. You can of course open and read a PDF. This is a very simple function, which offers you the ability to scroll through the document and even search for specific words.

On top of that, you can add comments, make annotations, draw on the page, add shapes, that sort of thing. It’s all incredibly easy to use. You’re even able to change the colour and thickness of what you’re applying to the page.

To the left you’ll find a sidebar, containing tools, most of which you can’t use without paying - again. The little blue asterisk is there, but only when you hover over the menu you’re interested in, so as to hide the fact you can’t actually have access to what’s on offer.

Adobe Acrobat Reader screenshot during our review

Acrobat Reader can detect fields that need to be filled in, making it easy for you to complete and sign a digital form (Image credit: Adobe)

When it comes to filling in and signing a form yourself, Adobe Acrobat Reader will automatically highlight the sections that are designed for you to fill in, and if they haven’t been set for you by the sender, you can click on a button and Acrobat Reader will detect the fields automatically. We found this saves a lot of time - your mileage may vary, but we found that automatic detection to be almost flawless.

It’s a shame that many of the other best free PDF editors and readers offer more tools without charge. Apple Preview for instance allows you to combine PDFs, reorder pages, take pages out, place pages into new documents, and convert any file it can open into a PDF. These should be seen as basic functions, not premium ones. Sadly, Adobe thinks you must subscribe in order to gain access to those. 

  • Free tools: 4/5

Adobe Acrobat Reader: Paid tools

  • Why offer tools you can’t actually use unless you upgrade to a different piece of Adobe software?

Adobe Acrobat Reader showcases 28 different tools, which sounds fantastic, but the vast majority of these can only really be accessed by upgrading the app to Standard or Pro. Very useful tools like ‘Scan & OCR’, ‘Convert to PDF’, ‘Redact a PDF’, ‘Combine Files’ and many more are there for you to look at, but not for you to use. This is exceedingly frustrating.

Thankfully, those ‘premium’ tools have a small blue asterisk next to their icon to help you discern them. Puzzlingly, ‘Request a Signature’ has such an icon, yet you can use it for free. This leaves 7 tools (8 if you count ‘Request a Signature’) free for you to use. It is frustrating to see this, especially since Adobe’s professional tools are so exceedingly good. Such tactics shouldn’t be needed.

  • Paid tools: 2/5

Adobe Acrobat Reader: Scorecard

Should I buy?

Adobe Acrobat Reader screenshot during our review

The activity, linked to a document, will show you who has read it and signed it - an easy to follow digital paper trail (Image credit: Adobe)

Buy it if...

You want a PDF reader that offers you a few basic functions that work well, while constantly reminding you its paid-for alternatives have more advanced tools available.

Don't buy it if...

You don’t want to be constantly reminded of other Adobe apps you can purchase that would allow you to use most of the tools Acrobat Reader displays, but restricts.

Adobe Acrobat Reader: Alternatives

We've tested a number of the best PDF readers for Windows, the best PDF readers for Android, and the best PDF readers for Mac. So, if you're looking for an alternative to Reader, we know what to look out for. 

In our experience, the closest competition - a free PDF reader with a good set of tools - we recommend checking out our Apple Preview review for macOS users and our PDF24 Creator review - it's one of the best PDF editors on the market and doesn't cost anything. 

Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 (2024) review
3:03 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Pro | Tags: | Comments: Off

Velocity Micro Raptor Z95: Two-minute review

The Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 is the well-respected custom-builder's gaming PC model that is effectively a budget workstation in disguise, offering the latest premium components in the consumer market with options for professional optimizations and other frills thrown in for good measure. Want a T-shirt showing how much you love Velocity Micro, they'll throw one in, free of charge.

Not only that, they'll extensively custom test the stability of the system they've built before they send it out as well as perform advanced tuning on your machine at no extra charge so you can have your video card and processor professionally overclocked so that you'll get the best performance from your system without running the risk of fiddling with the BIOS on your own and find you can't boot back into your PC and you don't know why.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry, I hope you never do. As TechRadar's Components Editor, I've spent an uncountable number of hours staring at a PC test bench praying to the digital spirits to please just let me boot into Windows after installing a new RAM kit I'm reviewing. The a black monitor display staring back at me like the essence of the void itself. Believe me, you don't want to go through that kind of frustration as a several-thousand-dollar PC simply refuse to work because you changed one setting in the BIOS and you have no idea how to fix it.

That is what custom builders like Velocity Micro, Maingear, Puget Systems, and Maingear are here for, and they let you actually build the system you want or need without having to worry that you're going to invest several thousands of dollars into a PC build that won't turn on when you push the power button.

Of course, this doesn't come cheap, and the Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 can get very expensive as you add-in additional components, but the the Raptor Z95 isn't outrageous as far as custom builds go, starting at $2,509 (about £2,000/AU$3,500) and topping out just shy of $8,000 (about  £6,400/AU$11,200).

While this is branded as a gaming PC, the top-line specs on the Raptor Z95 are prosumer workstation-level kit, so if you're a professional user who needs a new PC for running the best 3D modeling software work, or one of the best video editing PCs, this can easily give you what you want without totally wrecking your bank account.

What the Raptor Z95 won't give you though is the best workstation hardware, high-end components like AMD Threadripper processors with half a terabyte of RAM and a couple of Nvidia Ada GPUs. For that, you'll have to look to Velocity Micro's ProMagix line, but if you're just looking for something more robust than what prebuilt OEM PCs have to offer but don't want or need to spend tens of thousands of dollars, than the Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 is a perfect compromise.

A Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 PC on a desk

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)

Velocity Micro Raptor Z95: Price & availability

The Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 is available anywhere in the world that UPS can ship to, including the US, UK and Australia, though additional shipping charges will apply to shipments to Hawaii, Alaska, and overseas.

As far as price goes, that will be entirely determined by the build you create, but the lowest possible configuration will cost you $2,509 (about £2,000/AU$3,500), while the most expensive configuration I was able to build was $8,000 (about £6,400/AU$11,200), not including any non-component options like software or custom etchings into the aluminum case. Fortunately, any advancing tuning of the PC you order will be included in the price. 

A Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 PC on a desk

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)

Velocity Micro Raptor Z95: Specs

The configuration options available for the Raptor Z95 are genuinely vast, so it's not useful to list them all here, but you can check out the Raptor Z95 build page and tinker with the configurations to see how much specific builds will cost you.

The system I was sent to review was definitely one of the more high-end builds, but it could have gone higher, especially if you're a content creator and you need a lot of storage.

A Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 on a desk

(Image credit: Velocity Micro)

Velocity Micro Raptor Z95: Design

There is only one PC case available for the Raptor Z95, and it is a fairly standard affair with a tempered glass panel showing off the interior and all the very expensive components you just paid for.

The Velocity Micro SX3 chassis has two huge 180mm fans behind the mesh of the front panel, ensuring adequate airflow for cooling your components. The system is also well planned in terms of cable management so that there are no noticeable stray cables poking out to disrupt either the PC's aesthetics or its air flow.

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A Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 PC on a desk

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)
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A Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 PC on a desk

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)
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A Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 PC on a desk

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)
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A Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 PC on a desk

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)

On the front panel's I/O ports, located along the corner trim of the case, make accessing the ports and power button a snap whether the case is sitting on the floor or a desk. Meanwhile, the back of the case reveals support for vertical graphics card mounting so you can show off that $2,000 graphics card you opted for when you configured the machine.

Otherwise, the design of the Raptor Z95 is a good mix of the bare aesthetics of a Dell Inspiron with the heart of a gaming rig, complete with RGB interior sported by many of the best gaming PCs out there.

A Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 on a desk

(Image credit: Velocity Micro)

Velocity Micro Raptor Z95: Performance

Performance on the Raptor Z95 is obviously going to depend very heavily on what specs you configure it with, so talking about the raw performance of my particular review unit may or may not be helpful if you're considering the Raptor Z95, but we can dig into the numbers anyway.

The CPU peformance is as good as it gets without making the leap to AMD Threadrippers, Intel Xeons, or Apple M-series Ultra chips. In every test, the Intel Core i9-14900K scored at or very near the top of reported results, which isn't surprising since it's the best processor you can find on the consumer market right now.

The Nvidia RTX 4080 GPU in my review unit is also a powerhouse component that will chew through both gaming and creative workloads better than just about any other GPU out there not called the Nvidia RTX 4090 or Nvidia RTX 4080 Super.

Both the CPU and GPU performance really shines when it comes to creative workloads, the kinds of applications that the Raptor Z95 is built for in all but name. Whether it's working with Blender or Maya, or doing video editing with Adobe Premiere Pro, your workflow is going to be about as smooth as you're going to get without spending tens of thousands of dollars, making the Raptor Z95 one of the best video editing PCs and best PCs for photo editing going.

You also have the option of loading up on memory and storage, include super fast PCIe 5.0 SSDs like the Crucial T700. Your memory options max out at 64GB in the builder app, but Velocity Micro says that if you want some custom memory configurations, they can help you get it done (so long as the motherboard and processors support it, obviously).

Of course, this is only a snapshot of the kinds of performance you can get with the Velocity Micro Raptor Z95, and opting for lighter specs will naturally mean lower performance. But in my time with the Velocity Micro, I never had any issues with stability or random crashes as can often happen when dealing with custom PCs, and even if you opt for lower specs, you can probably expect to get the most out of that hardware thanks to the fine tuning that goes into the PC build before the desktop leaves the factory.

Should you buy the Velocity Micro Raptor Z95?

Buy the Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 if...

Don't buy it if...

Also consider

If my Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 review has you considering other options, here are two more custom PCs to consider.

  • First reviewed February 2024
Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC review: a flashy makeover for those who want that RGB
5:00 pm | February 25, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Computing Computing Components Gadgets | Tags: , , | Comments: Off

Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC: Two-minute review

Following years of anticipation, Intel jumped into the GPU market dominated by AMD and NVIDIA with some respectable results last year. 

Both the Intel Arc A750 to the Intel Arc A770 showed real promise and managed to undercut the best graphics cards both chipmakers had to offer despite, at least on price if not necessarily matching performance benchmarks. 

Regardless, the A770's price just kept it from being one of the best cheap graphics cards for those looking for a GPU that could provide good ray-tracing alongside hardware-accelerated AI upscaling. Though it couldn’t match the sheer raw 1440p power of an AMD Radeon RX 7700 XT or Nvidia RTX 4060 Ti, general performance was more than respectable for the $349 launch price. 

With third-party variants of the A770 available, the Acer BiFrost Arc A770 OC might be a more attractive buy, especially now that the Intel Limited Edition cards are no longer being manufactured. There are a few things that lean in its favor including customizable RGB lighting through the Predator BiFrost Utility and overclocking capabilities. 

Sure, the lighting that comes with the BiFrost Arc A770 OC looks more attractive than the original A770, but that’s pretty much the biggest plus when it comes to this GPU over the Intel reference card. Performance power doesn’t increase much even with overclocking, which means that the dual-8-pin connection pulls even more power for no real reason, but you can make adjustments to its power draw if that's an issue. Be sure to make sure Resizable BAR is activated through your motherboard's BIOS settings as well because performance will absolutely tank if you don't. 

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An Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC on a gray deskmat

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)
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An Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC on a gray deskmat

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)
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An Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC on a gray deskmat

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)

As mentioned previously, the Acer BiFrost Arc A770 OC comes feature-packed with ray-tracing and AI upscaling capabilities. When it comes to ray-tracing, it’s not going to deliver performance that matches AMD let alone Nvidia, but that doesn’t mean that ray-tracing performance wasn’t good. 

When tested with the Dead Space Remake and Cyberpunk 2077, framerates stayed within the 30 fps ball-park. On the other hand, Intel’s XeSS AI upscaling technology is as good as DLSS and AMD FidelityFX in games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III (2023), Forza Horizon 5, and Hi-Fi Rush. Though 1440p performance is generally great, for more fps, brining it down to 1080p delivers better overall results.

There are around 70 games that support XeSS so far with more popular games like Fortnite, League of Legends, and Counter Strike 2 missing from the list. During playtesting some games performed horribly including Crysis Remastered and Forza Motorsport (2023) even when dropped down to borderline potato settings. 

An Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC on a gray deskmat

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)

As in TechRadar's original A770 review, older games may have performance issues due to driver compatibility, since games developed with DirectX 9 and Direct X 10 were not made with the Arc GPUs in mind, meanwhile, AMD and Nvidia drivers have over a decade of legacy support for these games built-in since earlier versions of the drivers were developed back when those games were first released. That said, DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 performance is much better, and Intel's drivers are being actively improved to support these games.

One thing that surprised me is that the A770 provides pretty decent performance when using Adobe Suite software like Premiere Pro and Photoshop if your project scope is kept reasonable. In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see Adobe provide official support for the graphics card in the future.

Acer does have a Predator BiFrost Utility that allows users to change RGB lighting within its card, but outside of that, it’s not as useful as Intel’s own Arc Graphics utility driver. Both allow users to have various system overlays alongside overclock power limit, temperature limit, and fan speed. One thing's for sure, even when running at full power, the Acer BiFrost Arc A770 OC wasn’t incredibly loud compared to other power-hungry GPUs available.

An Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC on a gray deskmat

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)

Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC: PRICE & AVAILABILITY

  • How much does it cost? US MSRP $399 (about £320 / AU$560)
  • When is it available? Available now
  • Where can you get it? Available in the US, UK, and Australia

The Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC is currently available now in the US, UK, and Australia. Right now, there are ways to get around the $399 MSRP with some stores like Newegg selling the GPU for around $279. With the original A770 going for as high as $429, the BiFrost Arc A770 OC could be considered a better buy. 

For gamers on a more restricted budget looking for the best 1440p graphics card capable of playing many of the best PC games of the past couple of years, the BiFrost Arc A770 is definitely more accessible than comparable Nvidia and AMD graphic cards. Individuals who are working with a higher budget should definitely consider getting the AMD Radeon RX 7700 XT, which is just $50 more at $449 and provides much better 1440p performance. 

An Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC on a gray deskmat

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)

Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC: Specs

An Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC on a gray deskmat

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)

Should you buy the Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC?

Buy the Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC if...

You need for budget level price with nearly mid-tier performance
With solid ray tracing and AI upscaling capabilities, the 1440p performance on the BiFrost A770 OC is commendable.

You require a GPU to match your RGB ready desktop’s flyness
The dual fan design and RGB lighting does look cool compared to the original A770.

Don't buy it if...

You want the best midrange GPU
Due to developer support at the moment, the A770 lags behind AMD and NVIDIA, which means performance won’t be the best for many of the top-tier games.

You want a GPU that uses less power
The Acer BiForst Arc A770 uses a lot of power but the performance doesn’t really reflect that.

Also consider

If my Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC review has you looking for other options, here are two more graphics cards to consider...

How I tested the Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC

  • I spent around two weeks with the Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC
  • I used the Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC for gaming and creative test

Testing with the Acer Predator BiFrost Arc A770 OC happened over a two-week period on a second home computer where I split between gaming and creative tasks. On the gaming side, titles played during testing included Crysis Remastered, Call of Duty Modern Warfare III, Forza Horizon 5, Forza Motorsport (2023), and Dead Space (2023)

Creative usage was split between Premier Pro and Photoshop.  I’ve been testing gaming desktops alongside components for around three years for TechRadar and fully understand how GPUs are supposed to perform compared to similar tech. 

We pride ourselves on our independence and our rigorous review-testing process, offering up long-term attention to the products we review and making sure our reviews are updated and maintained - regardless of when a device was released, if you can still buy it, it's on our radar.

Read more about how we test

First reviewed February 2024

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