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Stellar Blade review – Near Automata
5:00 pm | April 24, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Gaming | Comments: Off
Review info

Platform reviewed: PS5
Available on: PS5
Release date: April 26, 2024 

Stellar Blade is an immensely impressive game that presents slick, sublimely animated combat, jaw-dropping environmental design, and one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in years. Despite some irksome omissions, occasionally abstract quest design and wonky platforming sections, it’ll undoubtedly be a game-of-the-year contender for many. If you have a PlayStation 5, then Stellar Blade is an essential play.

This PS5-exclusive action game comes courtesy of Shift Up, a relatively new Korean developer. The team was previously responsible for the hugely popular mobile game Goddess of Victory: Nikke and consists of staff that worked on MMO Blade & Soul. There’s some serious talent at the studio, then, and that really shows with its first AAA console endeavor. 

Parasite EVE

Stellar Blade: EVE and her drone look across the dangerous wasteland

(Image credit: Sony / Shift Up)

In Stellar Blade, you play as EVE, an ‘angel’ (read: elite combat specialist) fighting for an entity named Mother Sphere to reclaim a post-apocalyptic Earth from a hellish force known as the Naytiba. After a particularly strong ‘Alpha’ Naytiba kills EVE’s closest comrade, she’s rescued by Adam (yes, the religious overtones are quite apparent in Stellar Blade), a freedom fighter who guides her to the city of Xion.

The restoration of Xion - the last bastion of humanity - and the eradication of the monstrous Naytibas form the backbone of Stellar Blade’s narrative. There’s a good amount of lore and backstory throughout, but none of it really amounts to much until the final third of the game. Until then, EVE, alongside Adam and cheery engineer Lily, is largely tasked with gathering important resources for Xion in exchange for information on where they can find the especially threatening Alpha Naytiba variants.

It’s not quite accurate to say that nothing happens in the game’s earlier hours - some segments do hint at grim truths as to the nature of Stellar Blade’s near-hopeless world - but even after rolling credits, I felt I still had several questions unanswered when it came to the story.

While EVE is the star of the show, there are plenty of side characters that resonate with their own stories and sidequests. Kaya, for example, runs a junk shop in the hopes that it’ll help her track down her missing sister. There’s also an android-like singer that lacks a body whom EVE will help to rebuild over the course of a few sidequests.

To address the elephant in the room, much has been made of EVE and her provocative design. For those curious, she’s rarely - if ever - outright objectified by cutscenes, narrative beats, or camera angles. The game is more than comfortable in giving the character room to breathe, and typically avoids outright flaunting her. Yes, there’s a handful of revealing costumes you can unlock for her, but plenty are more conservative, ultimately offering a good variety of cosmetics.

She’s also incredibly cool both in and out of combat; always maintaining a level head and remaining deeply empathetic to those she’s charged to protect. I found that the game’s pre-launch marketing did something of a disservice to the kind of character EVE actually is, and you may be surprised by how well-rounded she becomes throughout the course of the narrative.

Style and substance

Stellar Blade; EVE faces off against the powerful Abaddon boss

(Image credit: Sony / Shift Up)

Stellar Blade is an action game first and foremost, so it’s unsurprising that EVE is kitted out with a wealth of attacks and abilities to make her fight against the Naytiba as effective - not to mention as stylish - as possible. For starters, light and strong attacks are bound to Square and Triangle respectively. 

One look at EVE’s moveset menu shows that she has access to a broad list of combos that employ a mix of both. And while it’s tempting to pick a couple of favorite combos, true mastery of Stellar Blade’s combat comes in learning which combos are best for any given situation. For example, light attack combos are good for dispatching smaller grunts, while more advanced strings are better for destroying shields or handling crowds effectively.

EVE also has access to Beta skills - and later Burst skills - which both have their own gauges. These are especially powerful attacks, but you’ll only gain access to them by routinely charging up each gauge, which is done by attacking as well as successfully parrying or Perfect Dodging enemy skills. 

That’s much easier said than done on the standard normal difficulty. The window of time you have to parry or dodge perfectly is fairly slim. Some stronger attacks also require perfect timing to counter, so you’re strongly encouraged to learn enemy move sets to in turn gain access to EVE’s best skills on the regular.

This comes to a head in the game’s many boss fights. While I’ve not found them as soul-crushingly difficult as those in Lies of P, Stellar Blade’s bosses - for the most part - are far from a cakewalk. Smart skill usage and expertly-timed evasive maneuvers are always required in these fights. Thankfully, dying in Stellar Blade is a minor inconvenience; you won’t lose any form of currency and, at worst, you’ll just have to deal with some respawned enemies to get back to where you left off.

Best Bit

Stellar Blade

(Image credit: Sony / Shift Up)

I was consistently blown away by Stellar Blade’s incredible soundtrack. From mellow, vocal-driven overworld themes to punchy rock tracks for the bosses, there’s a ton of variety and it all goes immensely hard, complementing the slick combat and epic fights perfectly.

Where Stellar Blade differs is in a handful of areas that break from a typical soulslike structure. There are a couple of open-exploration zones where EVE can tick off side quests and collect powerful upgrade materials (not to mention collectible cans that gradually allow her to carry more items). There’s also a handful of areas where EVE’s combat abilities are largely disabled, and she needs to rely on the projectiles offered by her companion drone.

There’s much variety in combat, level design, and exploration, then. And you’ll be able to add even more to EVE’s repertoire through skill points, which can unlock entirely new combat moves, dodging abilities, and Beta and Burst skills to make her even more formidable.

On top of all that, you're also getting a New Game Plus mode upon completion. In addition to one unlockable outfit, your entire progress (including skills, items, cosmetics and more) carries over into your second playthrough. That’s awesome news, as you'll get to keep EVE’s powerful arsenal for the earlier game, which in turn makes obtaining Stellar Blade’s multiple endings all the easier. 

May your memories live on… forever

Stellar Blade; an Alpha Naytiba boss makes its appearance

(Image credit: Sony / Shift Up)

An area where Stellar Blade rarely puts a foot wrong is in its presentation. It’s an utterly gorgeous game filled with brilliantly realized environments. Nier Automata’s inspiration rings very clearly here, especially with levels set in ruined, overgrown cities and sprawling deserts.

The game runs excellently across all three graphics modes too. The highest fidelity option, Resolution, locks the game to 30fps while offering supreme-quality visuals at 4K resolution. Performance, meanwhile, offers 60fps at 1440p resolution. The Balanced graphics option, then, targets 4K 60fps, but makes use of dynamic resolution to keep gameplay smooth and stable.

One of Stellar Blade’s more surprising aspects has to be its show-stopper of a soundtrack. Simply one of the best of this console generation, it’s an eclectic mix that leans heavily on vocal performances. Once again, the Nier vibes are strong, but Stellar Blade’s soundtrack manages to carve its own memorable identity. Boss fights are a particular highlight here, too, opting for fast-paced electronic scores or full-on heavy metal. Meanwhile, levels and larger zones dial things back and bring the vocals to the forefront, giving you an entrancing audio companion with which to explore Stellar Blade’s world.

Overall, Stellar Blade is essential if you're looking for a highly polished character action game with some light soulslike elements sprinkled throughout. Its gorgeous visuals, soundtrack, and unique atmosphere elevate the game to being perhaps the most unique PS5 exclusive since Returnal. 

Accessibility

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Stellar Blade accessibility 1

(Image credit: Future)
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Stellar Blade accessibility 2

(Image credit: Future)
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Stellar Blade accessibility 3

(Image credit: Future)
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Stellar Blade accessibility 4

(Image credit: Future)

Stellar Blade’s accessibility options, as we’ve come to expect of PlayStation-exclusive titles, are plentiful. If you’re not overly familiar with action games and feel you’ll struggle with the pace of combat, the Story difficulty offers an assist that slows time, allowing you to more easily react to incoming attacks with parries or dodges.

Beyond difficulty settings, you’re able to resize HUD elements, access three colorblind settings (protanopia, deuteranopia, and tritanopia), and reduce motion blur and camera shake. Lastly, you can apply different levels of auto-aim to EVE’s ranged abilities and set it so that QTEs (quick time events) complete without the need for inputs.

Should I play Stellar Blade?

Play it if...

Don't play it if...

How we tested Stellar Blade

I played Stellar Blade for just over 30 hours on PlayStation 5 for this review, using a DualSense Edge controller. This playtime included completing the main story and ticking off the vast majority of side quests and collectibles. 

I tested each of Stellar Blade’s graphical options (Resolution, Balanced, and Performance) during this time, eventually settling on the Balanced setting which provided a stable halfway house between visual fidelity and rock-solid performance. In fact, rarely did I notice any significant frame drops even during more hectic encounters while playing on my LG CX 4K OLED TV. Throughout my playtime, I paired Stellar Blade with the excellent JBL Quantum 910P gaming headset, which allowed the game’s exceptional soundtrack and audio design to really stand out. 

SurferSEO review: a comprehensive optimization solution for your business
3:59 pm |

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

Having a solid online presence has become essential for businesses to succeed. One effective way to achieve that is using search engine optimization (SEO) tools that help your website appear higher in search engine results, particularly on Google. 

SurferSEO is a cloud-based tool designed to assist digital marketers, SEO experts, and content creators in optimizing their content and improve their search engine rankings. It uses data-driven analysis to provide valuable insights and recommendations that align content strategies with SEO best practices. In this article, you will learn more about SurferSEO and determine whether it could be the right solution for your business.


Features

SurferSEO keyword research

(Image credit: SurferSEO)

SurferSEO enables you to analyze your content and make necessary tweaks to ensure it ranks well in search results, increasing visibility among your desired audience. 

A standout aspect of SurferSEO is its content editor tool, a resource for businesses aiming to enhance their SEO efforts. This tool offers an analysis of your content and recommends optimal keyword usage, content length, and article structure by examining top-performing pages within your industry. This tool guarantees that your content stands out in search results and becomes more noticeable to your target audience. 

Furthermore, a key element in SEO success is understanding your competitors and the landscape of search engine results pages (SERPs). SurferSEO's SERP analyzer tool provides insights into the pages currently ranking for your target keywords, outlining their content strategies, backlink profiles, and other essential SEO metrics. With this information, you can compare your content against competitors' strategies. Adjust tactics accordingly to enhance the likelihood of achieving rankings in search results.

SurferSEO content editor example

(Image credit: SurferSEO)

Besides these functions, SurferSEO offers a keyword research tool that identifies keywords and assesses their relevance, potential traffic, and competitiveness. This assists you in selecting the keywords to concentrate on and enhances your chances of SEO success.

Moreover, the audit tool provided by SurferSEO thoroughly evaluates your webpage against factors to pinpoint any issues hindering your page from achieving higher rankings in search results. This tool provides recommendations for on-page optimization, including speed improvements, structural modifications, and more. 

In addition to the premium tools mentioned above, SurferSEO presents two absolutely free and equally beneficial tools. The first is the keyword surfer Chrome web extension that enables you to conduct searches within your browser and view search volume data along with a comprehensive list of keyword suggestions paired with their scores and search volume. The second free tool is an AI-powered article outline generator designed to help you create SEO content based on your needs. This tool can streamline brainstorming sessions, research activities, and writing tasks and save time.

How does SurferSEO use AI?

AI plays a significant role in SurferSEO that extends beyond the AI text generator. Additionally, Surfer AI analyzes top-ranking content for your target keywords. It then uses this analysis and natural language processing (NLP) to generate content outlines, suggest headings, and write drafts optimized for search engines.

Additionally, Surfer AI goes beyond just drafting content. It analyzes your existing content or drafts and offers suggestions to improve its SEO performance. This can include optimizing content length and keyword density and ensuring you cover the topics that users searching for your target keywords are interested in.

In essence, SurferSEO's AI acts as an assistant that helps you create informative content that is likely to rank well in search results.

Installation, setup, and compatibility

SurferSEO can be accessed through any web browser on any device. You must create a SurferSEO account and log in to use the tool. In addition to the keyword Chrome extension, SurferSEO offers a paid plugin for WordPress. This plugin provides comprehensive SEO features, including content planning, on-page optimization, and content audit tools. 

To install the SurferSEO plugin on your WordPress website, log in to your WordPress admin panel, go to the plugins section, and search for "Surfer." Then, follow the instructions on the screen to install and activate the plugin. 

There are also integrations for Jasper, Google Docs, and Contentful. 

SurferSEO academy

(Image credit: SurferSEO)

Whether you're a beginner or an advanced user, the company offers a variety of tools to help you and your team maximize SurferSEO's capabilities.

Firstly, the company provides an extensive knowledge base that covers all aspects of SurferSEO's features and functions. This resource is an excellent starting point for beginners, as it explains how to use the tool. Additionally, it's an excellent resource for advanced users, as it will enable them to find answers to specific questions they may have quickly.

Secondly, the company has a rapidly growing community group, which is a fantastic resource for users to connect. It's a place to ask questions, share tips, and learn from others' experiences. The community group is an excellent place to network with other professionals in your industry and get insights into how they're using SurferSEO.

Thirdly, the company's blog offers a wealth of information on SEO, keyword research, and content optimization. The blog is regularly updated with new articles and tips, making it an excellent resource for staying up-to-date with the latest trends and best practices.

Lastly, the best tool for learning how to use SurferSEO is Surfer Academy. This resource offers both onboarding training tools and continuing education programs. The onboarding training tools provide a step-by-step guide on how to use SurferSEO, while the continuing education programs help users stay up-to-date with the latest features and functions.

As you can see, the company offers a range of comprehensive resources to help you and your team make the most of SurferSEO. Whether you're a beginner or an advanced user, these resources will provide you with the knowledge and support you need to succeed.

Plans and pricing

SurferSEO pricing

(Image credit: SurferSEO)

Unlike other SEO optimization tools we’ve reviewed, SurferSEO is very open about what it charges for its services. The prices are prominently displayed on the SurferSEO website. The essential package is priced at $89 per month and is suitable for small business owners and freelancers. This package allows two team members to optimize up to 30 monthly articles using the SurferSEO content editor and includes a keyword research tool. Additionally, you get beta access for ten auto-optimize runs, which helps you improve your existing content with just one click and rank higher on SERP.

For $129 per month, you can write and optimize up to 100 articles per month, receive audit and keyword research access, and 20 auto-optimize runs for up to five team members. The $219-per-month Scale AI plan is also for up to five team members and includes 100 monthly articles, 40 auto-optimize runs, audits, keyword research, and personalized onboarding. Custom plans are also available for large agencies and marketing teams. 

Setting up a free SurferSEO account takes about one minute. You can get started immediately through the content editor or keyword research. One-week free trials do not include access to the company’s audit tool or SERP analyzer. After the trial, you can close your account or choose among the three SurferSEO packages. 

SurferSEO often offers special promotions for new customers. For example, at the time of this writing, it provided three-month discounts across all its plans. 

Final verdict

When searching for SEO optimization tools, you'll notice they are similar. They all come equipped with keyword research tools and content editors, and many are now incorporating AI technology. However, a few, like SurferSEO, go above and beyond by offering additional features such as audio tools and a SERF analyzer. 

If you're searching for a comprehensive SEO optimization tool, SurferSEO is a reassuring choice. It offers a seamless setup process, is available at various price points, and is enriched with a growing list of AI-based features, which are increasingly vital in the industry. It also provides a comforting array of training tools, including a blog, knowledge base, private SurferSEO community, and live training from the Surfer Academy. 

By providing detailed insights and clear guidance, SurferSEO empowers marketers to optimize their content effectively and compete successfully in search engine rankings. Whether you're a seasoned SEO professional or just starting, integrating SurferSEO into your SEO strategy could significantly enhance your online presence and drive more organic traffic to your site.

More from TechRadar Pro

Lomography Lomomatic 110 review: Brand-new 50-year-old technology
12:27 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Cameras Compact Cameras Computers Gadgets | Comments: Off

One-minute review

With simple-to-use controls and easy-to-load film, the Lomography Lomomatic 110 camera is a fun introduction to the world of shooting film. The retro bright-orange design, or the more stylish silver option, will appeal to those who shoot on film as much for the retro-trend factor as for the aesthetics of the images.

The camera comes with limitations, though, and these come down not to the camera itself, but from the use of 110 film. The small format is half the size of a 35mm film frame, which means even a 6 x 4-inch print severely magnifies the limitations of the format. 

So while the camera itself is hard to fault, the film format to which it's intrinsically linked means it's hard to recommend unless the extremely low-fidelity aesthetic is what you're looking for. 

A shot of the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera in hand

(Image credit: Future)

Lomography Lomomatic 110 Camera: design

Taking the Lomomatic 110 out of my pocket and raising it to my eye caught people's attention wherever I was. The vivid orange and taupe color combination was as equally eye-catching to my children as it was to complete strangers, with a few staring and wondering what the strange-looking contraption was.

Lomography Lomomatic 110 price and release date

The Lomography Lomomatic 110 has a list price of $99 / £89 without the flash unit, and is available now on the Lomography website. The version with the flash module is available to pre-order and costs $119 / £109. The metal-bodied version is only available with the flash module, and is also available to pre-order, priced at $150 / £149. 

For Australia and other regions, prices are as quoted in US dollars. Delivery charges will vary depending on location. 

That said, to anyone who remembers 1980s 110 cameras, the design, if not the color scheme, will be familiar. Back then the design was heralded as a pocketable everyday camera for the masses that was simple to use, and the Lomomatic 110 still easily fits in the pocket of a pair of jeans, even if that's not such an impressive feat these days, when the move to digital has made many cameras, as well as other tech smaller. Measuring approximately 1.6 x 1.4 x 5.5 inches / 40 x 35 x 140mm, the camera is about the same size as a Kit Kat Chunky (sorry non-UK readers, but think big chocolate bar). It can be made shorter by unscrewing the flash unit, which takes it down to about 4.3 inches / 110mm. 

Loading the 110 film cartridge is simple: the back of the camera swings open, you slot the film in place, and you can then start taking photos. There's no manual or automatic film wind-on – instead, you extend the camera and close it again, which advances the film to the next frame.

A close up image of the different focus distances that can be selected on the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera

(Image credit: Future)

Extending the camera effectively turns it on (it's powered by a CR123A battery), uncovers the 23mm lens (more on this later) and reveals the simple controls. On top of the camera there's a shutter button, a button to activate Bulb mode, and another to cycle through the film ISO options: 100, 200 and 400, which are about the only speeds you'll find available at the time of this review. 

Focusing is done via manual scale control, and there are four options: 0.8m, 1.5m, 3m and infinity. Underneath these is the option to switch between Night and Day mode, which switches the aperture of the lens between f/2.8 and f/5.6. The shutter speed is then calculated automatically by the camera's built-in light meter, which has an exposure time range of 30 sec to 1/250 sec. 

The flash module is similarly simple to use, with a thumbwheel allowing it to be easily screwed and attached to the main camera. There are three power options: daytime, night and off. The daytime option adds a touch of fill-in flash for portraits on sunny days, while for night shots the flash will be the main light source. If you want to get retro with your camera there's a selection of tiny color filters that you can slide into a slot in front of the flash to tint your images. 

Once you've put your film in and are set up, the only real consideration before you take each image is to remember to set the focus distance. This was a lot easier to remember than I thought it would be; with each roll of film only having 24 images on it, you naturally slow down and think before you take a shot.

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A close up image showing the controls of the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera

(Image credit: Future)
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A close up image showing the controls of the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera

(Image credit: Future)
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A close up image showing the controls of the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera

(Image credit: Future)
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A close up image showing the controls of the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera

(Image credit: Future)
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An image of the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera extended to reveal the lens

(Image credit: Future)

Lomography Lomomatic 110 Camera: performance

As this is a film camera, there's not much to say about image quality, as this is to a large degree dependent on the film you're using, as well as the limitations of the lens. However, we can talk about the 110 film format. It is a very simple-to-use format, with the cartridge slotting in very easily, and winding on achieved by taking a shot, then compacting and then expanding the camera. There are still a handful of companies producing 110 films, including Lomography. Expect to pay a heavy premium for those 24 exposures, though, with a 110 cartridge cost between £8-12/US$8-12. Then there is the size of image 13 mm × 17 mm (0.51 in × 0.67 in), which is roughly half the size of a 35mm film frame. 

As the film frame is half the size of a 35mm, or full-frame, camera, the 20mm focal length lens has the same field of view as a 40mm lens if you were using a full-frame camera. This is quite a standard focal length for a 110 film camera, as it offers a fairly natural field of view in comparison to human vision, but you can struggle a little if you want to take in broader vistas.

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A scan of a print that was made using 110 film taken with the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera

(Image credit: Future)
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A scan of a print that was made using 110 film taken with the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera

(Image credit: Future)
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A scan of a print that was made using 110 film taken with the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera

(Image credit: Future)
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A scan of a print that was made using 110 film taken with the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera

(Image credit: Future)
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A scan of a print that was made using 110 film taken with the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera

(Image credit: Future)
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A scan of a print that was made using 110 film taken with the Lomography Lomomatic 110 film camera

(Image credit: Future)

Developing the film was straightforward. There are still numerous postal processing services in the UK, and I was even able to drop my film into my local photo lab for next-day development and printing – it's been a while since I experienced the excitement of picking up a roll of film and seeing my images for the first time.

Sadly, while the camera is very good, the 110 film format isn’t, and it never has been. The size of the negative is too small to produce a good print. Producing a standard 6 x 4-inch print from 35mm film is not problem, but for 110 it's pushing the small film to its limit. I could see that the Lomomatic lens is sharp enough in the centre, but the film can’t keep up.

An image of a roll of 110 film and a strip of 110 developed 110 film negatives

(Image credit: Future)

The other downside is that the magnification factor also magnifies any dust that's on the negative, so tiny specs are rendered as huge marks on your images. Some labs may be able to account for this, and many will offer an additional dust and scratch removal service, but if you want to scan your prints for use on social media, expect to spend a lot of time retouching them.

Of course, if you want a very retro-looking image then 110 film delivers, but it delivers too well. Yes you have the character of shooting on film that's so popular in 2024, but you also need to be prepared for how huge the drop-off in quality is, and all the time spent dealing with dust and scratches.

Should I buy the Lomography Lomomatic 110 Camera?

A shot in hand of the Lmomography Lomomatic 110 film camera

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Lomography Lomatic 110 flatlay in both color options

(Image credit: Lomography)

How I tested the Lomography Lomomatic 110

  • I travelled with the camera through an airport x-ray machine
  • I had a roll of film developed and prints made
  • I tried shooting at different focus distances

I tested the Lomography Lomotatic 110 film camera by shooting in a variety of different situations. I used it on a long weekend away in the sunshine, snapping a variety of typical tourist-type images. This involved taking a roll of undeveloped film twice through an airport X-ray hand-luggage scanner and the film, encased in a plastic cassette, survived with no evidence of scan lines once developed.

I also used it at home, taking a few photos around my local area in rather more overcast conditions. This helped me to test how the automatic shutter speed coped with the different lighting situations. I tested the flash by using it as a fill-in light when taking some photos of my son playing around the house and garden. 

With there being few manual controls, even given the limitations of shooting just 24 exposures on a roll of film, I was able to test the camera from the point of view of someone using it for casual family and travel images. 

My film was developed at a local mini-lab. While the lab you choose to develop your film will play a part in the quality of the prints, the overall sharpness and detail that 110 film produces will not differ from lab to lab. 

First reviewed April 2024

Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX review: a keyboard for the sophisticated gamer
7:17 pm | April 23, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Computing Gadgets Keyboards Peripherals & Accessories | Tags: | Comments: Off

Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX: One-minute review

Asus’ ROG Strix Scope II RX is nothing short of impressive. It’s the perfect culmination of clever design decisions and the latest precision switches, and is arguably one of the best-looking keyboards on the market right now. All the bells and whistles are there that you’d expect, and it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to performance either, with impeccably accurate and rapid linear optical switches.

It’s not flawless, however. It lacks the 8,000 Hz hyperpolling that we’ve seen across a number of competing keyboards, even at this price point, and the fact that the majority of its configuration options are still tied to Asus’ Armory software is a detriment.

Don’t get us wrong, it works - you can tweak things there, but it’s very much a one-and-done experience. Armory still lacks the finer software polish of some of its rivals from the likes of Razer, Steelseries, Corsair, and Logitech. Despite this, it's still a truly stellar piece of hardware that is difficult not to recommend.

The Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX gaming keyboard photographed on a wooden desk.

(Image credit: Future)

Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX: Price & Availability

  • How much does it cost? $140 / £150 (around $210 AUD)
  • When is it available? Available now
  • Where can you get it? Available in the US, UK and Australia

Asus’s ROG Strix Scope II RX comes in at just shy of $140 / £150 (around $210 AUD) at retail, although you can find it for less than that, particularly around Prime Day and Black Friday. The cheapest we’ve seen so far is around $110 in the US. In the UK it typically hovers around the £150 mark or so. 

That’s a pretty sweet investment for what you’re getting. There are very few keyboards that match it on price, spec-for-spec, with NZXT’s Function 2 and Razer’s Huntsman V2 and V2 Analog being the only boards that come to mind.

Corsair has its K70 RGB Pro as well, priced similarly, which does feature some more advanced hyperpolling features, but it lacks optical switches, giving the ASUS Rog Strix Scope II RX a significant edge in that arena.

  • Value: 4.5
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The Asus ROG Strix II RX gaming keyboard photographed on a wooden desk.

(Image credit: Future)
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The Asus ROG Strix II RX gaming keyboard photographed on a wooden desk.

(Image credit: Future)
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The Asus ROG Strix II RX gaming keyboard photographed on a wooden desk.

(Image credit: Future)
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The Asus ROG Strix II RX gaming keyboard photographed on a wooden desk.

(Image credit: Future)
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The Asus ROG Strix II RX gaming keyboard photographed on a wooden desk.

(Image credit: Future)

Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX: Design

  • Incredible aesthetic style
  • Full-sized keyboard
  • Sound-dampened optical switches

The Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX is something else. This is one clean-looking board. Composed of a mix of sandblasted aluminum and plastics, the overall design is stunning. Each key switch is an optical RX linear variant of Asus’ own design, complete with a square-mount design, central RGB LEDs, and an incredible amount of sound dampening thrown in the mix.

It’s those RX switches that are the real stars of the show though. With a 1ms response, and a 100 million key switch life cycle, the top-line stats are impressive enough, but the stability provided is second to none. These are clean, quiet, and incredibly reactive to your touch. In use, it’s unlike anything we’ve tested to date. That’s no doubt thanks to Asus pre-lubing each and every switch on the board. Combine that with the in-built sound-dampening foam as well, and you’re very quickly on to a winning combo here.

Each switch itself has a transparent housing, with a small red accented scissor mechanism inside. The RGB LED sits in the middle, giving it a very unique look. When in use, and set to white, there’s a fleck of red that sparks out at you, providing a very unique look to the overall feel of the board.

The Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX gaming keyboard photographed on a wooden desk.

(Image credit: Future)

Outside of the switches, there’s an integrated media scroll wheel, along with a dedicated “multi-function” button as well, that swaps the scroll wheel’s control between the different modes. You can control volume, media playback, keyboard brightness, and a third option configurable in Asus’ Armoury software. All of which are clearly highlighted in the small LED illumination above the arrow keys. There’s a number of function keys built into the board as well. Although they’re not exactly out of the ordinary.

All the keycaps are PBT double-shot by design, and Asus also includes an additional ROG-style spacebar for you to swap out instead (if you don’t like the stock standard one). Connectivity is handled by a single USB C to USB A cable, and there’s multi-point adjustable feet in the back of the board, to help elevate the unit as well, if you need to.

  • Design: 4.5

Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX: Performance

  • USB connection only
  • Incredibly smooth RX switches
  • Hamstrung by software

We’ve already waxed lyrical about just how good these switches are to use. The RX switches come pre-lubed, and feature an impressive 1ms response time as well. Asus is keeping fairly tight-lipped on all the details here, but they feel about as easy to actuate as a Cherry MX Red, but far quicker on the press. Travel distance seems to be somewhat shallower too, similar to a low-profile switch, but with far less tactile response.

Stability is impressive, and the sound-dampening removes practically every errant ping or mechanical sound you’d otherwise expect to hear. We’re using the RX Linear variant here, so there’s far less audible feedback than with the Tactile version, but there’s still that tell-tale feedback you’d expect to hear if you bottom the key switch out, however, it’s a far softer, far more muted affair than what you’d see from some other competing boards on the market.

For the price, this board is stunning - and it easily keeps up with and often surpasses the likes of Corsair’s K70 and K100 boards, even giving Razer’s excellent Huntsman V2 a run for its money. Just bear in mind that it's not wireless, so you'll need a free USB port to connect it.

The Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX gaming keyboard photographed on a wooden desk.

(Image credit: Future)

The one area that does let it down somewhat however is software configuration. Armory Crate is just incredibly clunky to use. Even a basic install or update takes far too long to get on your machine, never mind navigating to the keyboard options in the app itself. It’s incredibly tedious, and a bit of a shame, particularly given how smooth Asus's own AI Suite is by comparison.

Combine that with the constant barrage of Asus Wallpaper, and login requests to access all the features, and it’s considerably off-putting as an end user. That said, although less sophisticated than its rivals, it’s still plenty usable. With lighting, multi-wheel control, and macros all easily configurable once you’re in the right place, and once you’re done with your initial setup, you can close down the program and head on out of there. There are no hardcore device settings or game-by-game auto-switching profiles to think about (although Asus does include up to 6 profile configurations if you include the default one).

  • Performance: 4

The Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX gaming keyboard photographed on a wooden desk.

(Image credit: Future)

Should You Buy the Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX?

Buy it if...

You want an incredible typing and gaming experience
The RX linear switches are phenomenal. Combine them with an impressive sound-dampening design and you’re on to a winning combo.

You love that ROG design language
The ROG Strix Scope II’s aesthetic is nothing short of awesome. The mix of metals, plastic, and impeccable RGB lighting really makes it stand out from the crowd.

Don't buy it if...

You need wireless connectivity
The ROG Strix Scope II RX features USB wired connectivity only. If you need Bluetooth or Wireless you’re better off looking elsewhere.

You want a TKL-style board
The Scope II RX is a full-size board only, although Asus does have a similar Scope II 96 wireless that’s a touch smaller - though without those RX switches.

You need 8,000 Hz Hyperpolling
Unfortunately, the Strix Scope II is limited to the standard 1,000 Hz hyperpolling. So if you’re a serious competitive gamer, this might not be the board for you.

Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX: Also consider

If our Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX review has you looking for other options, here are two more keyboards to consider...

How I tested the Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX

I used the Asus ROG Strix Scope II RX for several days, replacing my usual at-home desktop keyboards (and now I'm a bit reluctant to let it go). I used it for everything I would normally do: typing documents and responding to emails, with some gaming sprinkled in there to get the full experience.

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 April 2024

Nikon Z 40mm f/2 review: this cheap, modern ‘nifty forty’ has been my every day lens for over a year and it hasn’t let me down
10:00 am |

Author: admin | Category: Camera Lenses Cameras Computers Gadgets | Comments: Off

Two-minute review

Nikon's Nikkor Z 40mm f/2 is one of two lightweight, inexpensive prime lenses for the Z-mount - the other being the wider 28mm f/2.8. 

At 40mm, it’s currently the closest match to the ‘nifty fifty’ lenses of old, aiming to provide a lightweight lens with a compact footprint, flexible focal length, and a relatively fast aperture. Above all, it’s cheap - really cheap for a proprietary lens sitting at just £259 / $289 /AU$310 new. Compared to the Nikon S 50mm f/1.8 or the S 35mm f/1.8, the 40mm comes in at under half the price while still offering some form of weather sealing and excellent performance.

Optically, this lens has a few idiosyncrasies - namely corner sharpness and coma - but the 40mm is innately usable in a wide range of situations. It’s wide enough for some landscapes and close enough for most portraits. Personally, I find the 40mm focal length more usable than 50mm for a walkabout lens - and f/2 is plenty outside of extreme situations.

Nikon Z 40mm f/2 specs

Type: Prime
Sensor: Full-frame
Focal length: 40mm (60mm APS-C)
Max aperture: f/2
Minimum focus: 11.8in / 30cm
Filter size: 52mm
Dimensions: 2.8 x 1.8in / 70 x 45.5mm
Weight: 6oz / 170g

I tested on a full-frame Nikon Z6 but the lens is also compatible with the 'DX' APS-C Nikon Z-mount cameras. In this case, the focal length becomes 60mm. It’s getting into portrait lens territory for APS-C here although it would also be a good choice for a shy street photographer who wants some distance from their subject.

Nikon Z 40mm f/2: design

The Nikon Z 40mm f/2 features an entirely plastic build that feels well engineered and deceptively robust in the hand. Overall, it’s a solid and well put together lens but the plastic thread and mount do cheapen the overall feel somewhat. You’re never tricked into thinking this is a premium lens, even though its output is excellent. 

The Nikon Z 40mm f/2 is, however, extremely light - weighing just 6oz / 170g. Pairing this lens up with my Nikon Z6 results in a package that weighs just over 21oz / 600g, which rivals crop sensor setups for sheer portability. While I’d never call this pairing ‘pocketable’, it’s a featherweight combination for a full-frame system and perfect for every day shooting.

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Nikon Nikkor Z 40mm F/2

(Image credit: Future / Alex Whitelock)
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Nikon Nikkor Z 40mm F/2

(Image credit: Future / Alex Whitelock)
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Nikon Nikkor Z 40mm F/2

(Image credit: Future / Alex Whitelock)

And, I have to say - the 40mm pairs nicely with the Z6’s relatively minimalist, being workmanlike in its design since there are no external AF switches, custom control rings, or any other kind of outward flare to speak of. I'd say it looks decent enough on one of Nikon’s more modern bodies. Is it boring? Maybe, but it doesn't look out of place. 

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Nikon Nikkor Z 40mm F/2

(Image credit: Future / Alex Whitelock)
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Nikon Nikkor Z 40mm F/2

(Image credit: Future / Alex Whitelock)
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Nikon Nikkor Z 40mm F/2

(Image credit: Future / Alex Whitelock)

It’s worth noting here that the Nikon Z 40mm f/2 comes in two variations - the standard version that I tested and a more retro-themed ‘SE’ variant. If you're looking for a prime to pair up with the much more old-school-looking Nikon Zf or Nikon Zfc then you'll want to make sure you're checking out the SE for maximum retro effect.

Neither variant ships with a first-party lens hood but both are dust and drip-resistant, which is a major selling point for a lens this inexpensive. In recent years, third-party manufacturers (most notably Viltrox) have started to offer compelling budget alternatives to entry-level first-party lenses but weather sealing is one area where most are severely lacking. And, I can personally attest that the splash resistance of this lens is fantastic - having been soaked from head to toe on Dartmoor during field testing.

Nikon Z 40mm f/2: performance

Thanks to built-in lens corrections on Z-mount bodies, you'll get extremely good results out of camera with the 40mm. For the price, the lens is impressively sharp even at f/2 and exhibits minimal chromatic aberration or vignetting. Flare is also controlled - despite this lens likely not featuring Nikon’s higher-end coatings. 

I’ve shot thousands of images with the 40mm and I’ve come to appreciate how it renders a scene. I've read some describe this lens as 'classic' in character and while its sharpness is certainly more akin to a modern lens, colors certainly do pop under the right circumstances. Bokeh-wise, the 40mm is also relatively circular/puffy in the center but becomes less bloomier and more defined around the edges. 

As with most lenses, the sharpness sweet spot for the 40mm is around f/5 to f/8 but even at these optimal apertures the 40mm is notably sharpest in the centre. Depending on what you're shooting the 40mm will exhibit some softness at the extreme corners - as with this sample image of a dock leaf taken at f/5.6.

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Nikon Nikkor 40mm F/2 sample image of a dock leaf

Full image taken at f/5.6 (Image credit: Future / Alex Whitelock)
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Nikon Nikkor 40mm F/2 sample image of a dockleaf

Cropped image of bottom left corner (Image credit: Future / Alex Whitelock)

Despite having a minimum focus distance of 11.8in / 30cm the lens is also quite soft when close focusing. You can narrow down the aperture for more sharpness but you’ll miss out on that creamy DoF (depth of field) up close, which means the 40mm can suffer for specialized applications like floral photography. Just below you can see a specific example of a flower taken at around a foot distance, where the focus point was set directly on the central bud.

Nikon Nikkor 40mm F/2 sample image of a flower

The Nikon 40mm f/2 exhibits some softness up close, even central in the frame. (Image credit: Future / Alex Whitelock)

The 40mm also exhibits some coma, which can result in noticeably smeared lights during night photography towards the extreme edges of the frame. In real-life testing, I found this to be an incredibly minor issue that only cropped up on a few niche cases such as the attached scene just below. Astrophotographers will likely skip this lens over in favor of the wider (and similarly priced) 28mm but note that this lens does feature some astigmatism if you're deadset on edge-to-edge clarity. 

Nikon Nikkor 40mm F/2 sample image of a skylight

The Nikon 40mm f/2 renders some coma on the extreme edges of the frame. (Image credit: Future / Alex Whitelock)

That’s where my criticisms end, however. In practical use the 40mm performs admirably. Autofocus is extremely quick and minimal focus breathing means this is a versatile lens that can also handle video. Note, however, that my lens has a slight whirring sound when focusing - an absolute non-issue for me as a photographer but videographers may notice. I wouldn't rule out copy variation here since it's not a widely reported issue, though.

Nikon Z 40mm f/2: sample images

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(Image credit: Future / Alex Whitelock)

Should I buy the Nikon Z 40mm f/2?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

How I tested the Nikon Z 40mm f/2

  • Regular use for over a year and counting
  • Used in fair and inclement weather
  • Day and nighttime use

I've had the Nikon Z 40mm f/2 in my kit for over a year now; in which time I've used it extensively for general purpose photography both home and abroad. Subsequently, I've been able to thoroughly test the lens in a variety of situations to determine its strengths and weaknesses.

Since Nikon openly advertises this lens as weather-sealed, I've made sure to test this lens in adverse conditions, particularly in rainy environments. I've also extensively tested this lens at night, making use of its wide aperture of f/2. 

Instant Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone technology review: competent, but not flawless
4:24 am |

Author: admin | Category: Air Fryers Computers Gadgets Home Small Appliances | Tags: | Comments: Off

Instant Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone Technology: One-minute review

Instant has long been a leader in the air fryer space and its latest model, the Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone Technology (also called Vortex Plus VersaZone Air Fyer 8.5L in the UK and Vortex Plus Versazone XXL Air Fryer 8.5L in Australia) aims to make air frying even more versatile, thanks to a large capacity basket that can be divided into two separate sections. 

A large 9-quart / 8.5L basket makes it an obvious choice for families, with plenty of capacity to comfortably feed four, but singles and couples will also appreciate the compartments – which are 4.5q / 4.25L each – to cook mains and sides in one go. Moreover, the intuitive cooking programs ensure everything finishes cooking at the same time. 

I found Instant’s latest air fryer a joy to use and it made me fall in love with cooking again. It does most of the grunt work for you with consistently good results… just as long as you know how to use some of the dedicated programs. I had to go through a bit of trial and error with my first few cooking sessions, but once I learnt them, there was no stopping me.  

The expansive cooking basket does mean it’s a physically imposing air fryer of course, so if you lack kitchen counter space or don’t have much in the way of storage, you may struggle to find a proper home for it. I do think it’s attractive though, as much as an air fryer can be, so I had no issue leaving it on my kitchen counter. If you do need to store it away, I found it to be relatively lightweight, so moving it in and out of cupboards shouldn’t prove too much of an issue. 

Instant Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone Technology: Price & availability

  • List price: $199.95 / £199.99 / AU$399
  • Available directly from Instant Brands and third-party retailers
  • Regular sales and bundles

Considering its size and raft of features, the Instant Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone Technology is competitively priced in my opinion, especially when compared to its closest rival in the Ninja Foodi FlexBasket 11qt / 10.4L dual air fryer. It’s available directly from Instant in the UK and Australia along with a host of third-party retailers. While it is listed on the US website, you’re not able to buy it directly. Instead you can find it from retailers such as Walmart. 

It was launched in July 2023 and, since then, has gotten some discounts – directly from Instant and at third-party retailers. The offers tend to change, but if this air fryer is of interest, I'd recommend waiting to pick it up during a big sale like Black Friday, which makes it even better value than it already is.

Instant Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone Technology: Design

  • One 9qt / 8.5L basket that can be divided into two zones
  • Large enough for a family of four
  • Simple touchscreen and manual controls

Instant Vortex VersaZone Air Fryer

(Image credit: Future)

The Instant Vortex VersaZone is a large machine, make no mistake, although with its dimensions coming in at 15.9 x 12.5 x 15.1in / 40.3 x 31.7 x 38.4cm, it is smaller than its Ninja competitor. However, the Ninja Foodi FlexBasket does have a larger capacity for the individual compartments to justify its size. The VersaZone is lighter too, tipping the scales at 7kg, meaning most people shouldn’t have too much of a problem manoeuvring it around their kitchen. 

You do of course need to factor in extra space for airflow at the rear, as well as in the front so you can actually open the basket to get your food in for cooking. I was able to find a perfect permanent spot for it in my kitchen, but those with smaller counters and who are limited on space may have to carefully consider if this is the best air fryer for you. 

I feel the Instant Vortex VersaZone to be quite an attractive air fryer – as attractive as air fryers can be anyway – employing just a single physical button in the form of a control dial on its front surface. All other controls are handled via a touch-sensitive panel on the front. When not in use, all you see is the shiny black top section, the basket handles and the silver control dial. This, coupled with the angled design of the top section, make it a slick-looking machine, and certainly helps to disguise its size compared to if it was a large black box. 

Instant Vortex VersaZone Air Fryer

(Image credit: Future)

Do note that the shiny nature of the top section does mean the Instant Vortex VersaZone is a serious fingerprint magnet. When you’ve been handling food before putting it into the cooking basket and using the touch control panel, you’ll soon find it builds up a large fingerprint collection, so you’ll be spending a lot of time keeping it clean. 

The main basket has a removable tray and a divider, the latter fitting into the former to split the compartment into two equally sized cooking sections. There are some rubber grips on the cooking tray and divider that help them to stay in place during cooking, but they do provide a fair amount of friction, so be prepared to use a little more force than you may have initially assumed to get them into place.

The air frying basket, cooking tray and divider are all dishwasher safe, making clean-up relatively easy. However, if you don’t have a dishwasher, then you’ll need to factor in the sink space required to wash the whole basket. 

Instant Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone Technology: Performance

  • Large basket makes cooking a meal a breeze
  • Good results achievable once you learn the functions
  • Pre-heating times can be annoying

The Instant Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone Technology can air fry (obviously), roast, bake, grill, dehydrate and reheat various foods. Each program has its own default settings, including the minimum and maximum temperatures they reach. The grill program reaches the highest maximum temperature of 450°F / 232°C for a maximum of one hour. Air fry, roast and bake can all reach a high of 401°F / 205°C for an hour also. 

Anytime you wish to use the Instant Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone Technology, it needs to spend a few minutes preheating before it notifies you when to add food. While I can appreciate this is needed, it became increasingly annoying that the air fryer needed to preheat when I went to make a second dish immediately after a cooking program had finished. I found this a bit strange, since the cooking basket would surely have still been hot. I also noticed the preheating time for the second cooking session wasn’t that much quicker than the initial preheat from cold. 

The Instant Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone Technology also has SyncCook and SyncFinish modes to help streamline your cooking and to ensure certain dishes don’t go cold while you wait for something else to cook. SyncCook allows you to use both cooking compartments and have them cook with the same time and temperature settings. SyncFinish is used when you have two separate dishes on either side of the divider that require different cooking times, but you want them to finish at the same time. 

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Instant Vortex VersaZone Air Fryer

(Image credit: Future)
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Instant Vortex VersaZone Air Fryer

(Image credit: Future)
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Instant Vortex VersaZone Air Fryer

(Image credit: Future)
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Instant Vortex VersaZone Air Fryer

(Image credit: Future)

I used the SyncFinish mode the most, as I would cook a chicken breast or a piece of salmon, for example, on one side and some green beans or asparagus on the other. Setting up SyncFinish is simple: a quick double press of the control dial puts it into dual cooking mode and from here you can adjust the time and temperature individually for both sides. Once you’ve made your adjustments, just press the SyncFinish button, followed by Start, and you’re away. The side with the shortest time will remain on hold while the other preheats and begins cooking. The Instant Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone Technology will then begin preheating the second cooking section so that it’s ready to begin cooking when the time remaining aligns on both sides. 

Instant Vortex VersaZone Air Fryer

(Image credit: Future)

The aforementioned chicken breast came out juicy and tender, while the salmon was buttery soft and fell apart when I cut into it with a fork. I did have a few teething problems when cooking some hand-cut sweet potato wedges however. I hoped they would come out crispy but, upon my first try, they did seem a little raw still. I put this down to both shortening the cooking time I would normally use for an oven, and the wedges themselves being relatively thick in size. 

Throwing some chicken tenders into the basket also proved successful. What was especially handy (and as I've been noticing more and more with food packets lately) is that they had specific air frying instructions on the pack. I followed these to a tee and the results were sublime. They were hot, the breadcrumbs had a great crisp to them and they were juicy inside. 

It did take me a bit of time to adjust to cooking with an air fryer compared to a conventional oven or frying pan, predominantly with cooking times as opposed to temperatures. I had expected the Instant Vortex VersaZone to cook food slightly quicker than the old-school method but, in reality, it took the same amount of time or occasionally longer. I found this to be a fair compromise as the cooking results were superb. 

I also tried out the bake function to make some chocolate chip cookies. I loved the fact the basket was big enough to cook what most people would call a batch, but what I would call a single serving. I've made these cookies before, using a fan-forced oven to bake. I followed the same recipe, cooking time and temperature using the bake function on the Instant Vortex VersaZone air fryer but found they came out slightly under baked. If I were to bake them again, I would keep the temperature the same but leave them in for a few minutes longer. 

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Cookie dough before and after being baked in the Instant Vortex VersaZone Air Fryer

(Image credit: Future)
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Cookie dough before and after being baked in the Instant Vortex VersaZone Air Fryer

My batch of cookies needed a bit longer to bake compared to a fan-forced oven (Image credit: Future)

The only niggle I found with the SyncFinish and SyncCook functions were that they won't allow you to change temperatures and cooking times midway through the program. During an instance when I was cooking a chicken breast on one side and broccoli in the other, I wanted to adjust the temperature of the meat, but with the SyncFinish function activated, this wasn’t possible. You first have to cancel the program, make your adjustments and then start it again – this also causes the air fryer to preheat again. 

My advice here would be to make sure you know the exact temperature and time you want before pressing the all-important start button.

Should I buy the Instant Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone Technology?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Also consider

How I tested the Instant Vortex 9-quart Air Fryer with VersaZone Technology

  • Used air fry, roast and bake presets
  • Cooked salmon, chicken, fries and vegetables
  • I used both the dual zone and the large single basket 

I used the Instant Vortex VersaZone air fryer to cook a variety of food. I would most often cook some meat or fish in one side of the basket and some accompanying vegetables or potatoes in the other. I also attempted to bake some cookies. This allowed me to test the various synchronised cooking functions of the air fryer, as well as determining how well it actually cooked food. 

I also used it for more basic cooking tasks, such as air frying hash browns or fries for a quick hot snack. 

Square Online review 2024: Top ecommerce platform pros, cons, and features tested
5:48 pm | April 22, 2024

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

Square Online stands out as one of the best website builders, offering a hassle-free solution for setting up and managing an online store. Created from the fusion of Square point of sale (POS) software and Weebly in 2018, Square Online stands out as a rock-solid fit for small businesses seeking a powerful online presence without the headache of hefty monthly fees.

With its intuitive setup process and simple-to-use interface, even novices can navigate it without much effort. Whether you're a traditional retailer stepping into the digital world or a service-based business expanding your reach, Square Online can support you.

What makes Square Online stand out among many competitors is its ease of use. Seamlessly integrating with Square POS, it caters to businesses needing both an online store and a point-of-sale system. Plus, with its simple and functional store layout, you can start selling online in minutes - no coding skills needed. While it may lack some advanced features, Square storefront builder provides everything you need to launch your online store journey swiftly. 

In our Square Online review, based on extensive research and hands-on experience, we'll delve into key features, including the setup process, interface, integration with Square POS, and overall usability. We'll explore its strengths and weaknesses to help you make the right choice for your business.

Square Online stores: Ecommerce tools

Square Online has become a popular choice among online sellers for its user-friendly interface and pocket-friendly plans, including the Square’s free online store option. 

The platform's forever-free edition allows you to start selling online without upfront costs, although transaction fees apply. While there are no restrictions on the number of products you can sell, the free plan limits you to a Square-branded site or social media platforms. Plus, bandwidth and storage are capped at 500 MB, which will cripple the scale of your online operations sooner or later.

Square Online's seamless integration with Square payment processing is a standout feature, ensuring smooth transactions for sellers. However, it's important to note that, unlike many other of the best ecommerce platforms, that offer a whole variety of popular payment processing options, Square Online primarily relies on Square for payment processing.

So, while Square is a reliable choice for handling online transactions, the limited choice of payment processors may be a drawback for some users. Fortunately, Square Online users can integrate PayPal and Google Pay into their payment options if they have the “Plus” or “Premium” plan, providing a bit more flexibility in payment processing.

Square offers a complete set of features fit for small online stores, including unlimited item listings, multiple product types, age confirmation, password-protected pages, and item quick view. For those seeking more advanced features, such as product reviews and abandoned cart recovery, higher-tier plans are available.

Additionally, Square has recently introduced a new feature that allows customers to use Afterpay for their purchases. Now, customers can buy now and pay later in four interest-free installments, while sellers receive payment right away. It's a win-win situation that adds a new level of flexibility for both sellers and buyers.

Moreover, Square simplifies shipping management with customizable shipping rates, free shipping options, local delivery, and pickup services. The platform also provides reporting and analytics tools to track site performance and customer behavior, helping businesses make better decisions to boost their online presence. With Square's efficient shipping label printing capabilities, sellers can simplify their shipping processes and deliver products promptly to customers across the world.

Square also offers a set of convenient AI-powered tools within its online store features. These tools are made to simplify marketing tasks by automatically generating copy for various campaigns, such as emails, and even suggesting replies to customers via Square Messages. So, whether you need catchy email subject lines, engaging website content, or compelling product descriptions, Square's AI features have you covered.

Other ecommerce features locked behind Square Online's paid plans include customer accounts, password-protected pages, and custom site icons - all created to upgrade your online store's functionality. With customer accounts, your clientele is encouraged to sign in, access their order history, redeem loyalty rewards, and manage gift card balances seamlessly. Password-protected pages provide added security by concealing specific sections of your site from public view. 

Additionally, the option to create a custom site icon ensures your online store remains easily accessible to customers, allowing them to place orders with just a couple of clicks from their smartphone screens.

Other Square Online features and tools

Beyond its ecommerce capabilities, Square Online offers a wide variety of features and tools to enhance your website-building experience. Let's explore some of these below:

Square Online themes

As we write, Square Online offers a range of 28 free themes to choose from, with three of them available on the free plan, while others are accessible through free trials. When you first start with Square Online, picking a theme is your first step in tailoring your website using the editor. While you can't switch themes once you've made your choice, you have the freedom to tweak any part of your site post-selection. To further simplify the customization after picking out a theme, you can explore selecting styles that suit your site.

Once you've settled on a theme, you can dive into customization. You can tweak colors, fonts, shapes, images, individual elements, and section and page layouts to your liking. While you can't change the theme of an existing site on Square Online, you still have the freedom to alter its overall appearance by updating multiple design elements simultaneously through site style updates.

screenshot of square online template page

Square Online offers a range of stunning templates, but there aren't that many to pick from. (Image credit: Square Online)

While Square Online provides an alright selection of themes to choose from, we must note that there aren't a massive number of templates overall. Also, upon exploring the themes, you may notice that many of them share similar layouts, with variations primarily in color schemes and font styles.

Screenshot of square online website editor

You can customize your templates to make them your own.  (Image credit: Square Online)

The platform offers both desktop and smartphone previews for themes, giving you the ability to visualize your website across different devices and ensure an enjoyable browsing experience for your visitors.

Square Online website editor

screenshot of square online photo editor

Square Online offers one of easiest to use website editors on the market.  (Image credit: Square Online)

Square Online's block-based editor, powered by its acquisition of Weebly, offers a hassle-free setup process with helpful video tutorials and step-by-step guides. While the drag-and-drop functionality is extremely limited, it's super easy for beginners to dive in and start building. However, if you're aiming for complete customization, you'll likely find the options rather restrictive.

Unsurprisingly, tinkering with the code is mostly off-limits, which means you can't make any complex custom changes. Still, Square's editor provides a sufficient range of pre-made content blocks that you can easily plop onto your pages, from images and text to galleries and forms. Plus, integrating social media feeds and Google Maps is only a few clicks away.

Screenshot of square online mobile editor

Ensuring your website looks great and works well on mobile is easy on Square Online.  (Image credit: Square Online)

Although Square's selection of themes is a bit on the slim side, the theme customizer packs a solid punch, giving you plenty of control over your site's look and feel. You can play around with colors, fonts, headers, footers, and more to make it look truly yours. Plus, you can create custom pages using the available sections to add that personal touch.

Let's not forget about the blog feature, or as Square likes to call it, "stories." It's surprisingly easy to add and customize your posts right within the site editor. Plus, there are built-in SEO tools to help boost your site's visibility across search engines.

While Square's design palette might feel a bit constrained, its website editor is equipped with practical features that can swiftly spruce up your site's appearance.

Domains

With Square Online's forever-free plan, you're stuck with Square Online advertising on your site's footer and a domain ending in “.square.site“. So, if you're eyeing a custom domain and advanced features, you'll want to consider upgrading to one of Square Online's paid plans.

Registering a new domain on Square Online happens on a yearly basis, with no monthly options available. To purchase your perfect domain, navigate from your Square Online Overview page to “Website“ and then to “Domains“. Next, select “Connect“ domain and then “Find a custom domain”. Enter the domain name you want into the search box to kick off the purchase process.

Screenshot of square online SEO tools

If you want to connect a custom domain to your website you will need to opt for a paid plan.  (Image credit: Square Online)

Custom domains start at $19.95 annually, and with annual plans, you even get a free domain for the first year. But if you're aiming for a fully-branded online store free from Square branding, you'll need to opt for the “Plus“ or “Premium“ plan. Considering this step is essential for driving sustained business growth and building a recognizable online brand.

Square Online app marketplace

Screenshot of square online website

You can easily integrate business tools with your website via the app marketplace.   (Image credit: Square Online )

Square Online offers an extensive App Marketplace, where you can choose from over 200 third-party apps to add some serious power to your website. These apps cover everything from keeping your books to running marketing campaigns and managing your schedule.

Now, while some of these apps are built to supercharge your online store, others are designed to work seamlessly with the POS system. You'll find a whole lot of options in there, from apps that pep up Square's core features (such as Mailchimp's marketing automation) to ones that connect you with external platforms and services (like Shippo for easy end-to-end shipping). 

Adding apps to your website is as easy as it gets. Just browse through the marketplace, find the ones you like, and with a few clicks, you're good to go. However, keep in mind that some apps might ask you to upgrade to a paid plan before you can unlock all their features. Also, since Square's central feature is handling payments, you might not find every payment gateway under the sun in the app marketplace.

Website security

Square Online has your back with security measures like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates, ensuring that your data transfers are encrypted and safe from prying eyes. Additionally, when you use Square Online, your credit card payments are encrypted too, providing an extra layer of protection. As expected, Square meets Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance standards across the board, ensuring secure handling of your payment information.

Square Online provides free SSL certificates for all the domains you add to your site. Whether you're on their free plan or a paid subscription, your payments are kept secure. For added peace of mind, you can set up two-step verification for an extra layer of security, control who has access to your account, and receive tips on creating a strong password.

All in all, you can trust that your online store and transactions are in good hands, allowing you to focus on growing your business.

Square Online pricing and plans: Is Square Online good value for money?

Square Online’s pricing structure is simple to understand with options to suit different business needs and budgets. Whether you're just starting out or looking to scale up, Square has you covered with a forever-free plan that includes essential features like site-building tools and integration with Square POS. To get the best deal, go with annual billing, which includes perks like a free domain.

As shown above, there are three main Square Online pricing tiers: “Free“, “Plus“, and “Premium“, each tailored to different business needs. The “Free“ plan is a solid choice for those starting out, but keep in mind it comes with transaction fees and severely limited customization. 

If you're eyeing an introductory rate, remember it may only last for a limited time.

Screenshot of square online pricing

The free plan is a great option for getting started, but to grow your store you will likely need to purchase a premium plan.  (Image credit: Square Online)

Free plan

Perfect for getting started without breaking the bank, the “Free“ plan provides essential website-building tools, integration with Square POS, and options for pickup, local delivery, and shipping. However, customization options are seriously limited, and standard transaction fees apply.

Plus plan

The next in line is the “Plus“ plan. Designed to drive online growth and streamline operations, it provides expanded site customization, self-serve ordering, customer accounts, personalized ordering experiences, and much more.

Premium plan

Tailored for high-volume businesses, the “Premium“ plan includes somewhat lower processing rates, real-time shipping rates, premium customer support, and waived in-house delivery fees.

Restaurant Essentials Bundle

In addition to these three plans, Square offers a so-called “Square Restaurant Essentials Bundle“. This comprehensive, cloud-based solution is designed to streamline operations and enhance customer experience for restaurant businesses. With tools like Square Payroll, Square for Restaurants Plus, and Square Online Ordering Premium, you can efficiently manage payroll, streamline in-person and online ordering, and optimize scheduling for your team. Also, you can currently take advantage of this special offer and save 20% as a new Square customer.

Square Online: Help and support

Screenshot of square online support page

Knowing the type and level of support you can access will help make building and managing your website much easier.  (Image credit: Square Online)

Square Online has your back with a solid support system in place to help you tackle any technical issues or questions you may encounter along the way. Whether you're a well-versed user or just getting started, Square has enough self-service resources to guide you through troubleshooting and problem-solving.

You can reach out to Square's support team via phone, email, or live chat during specific hours on weekdays. However, response times for email inquiries may take up to 48 hours. Additionally, there's an active community forum where you can seek advice from fellow sellers.

During our experience with Square's live chat support, we found the process to be pretty smooth. After a quick chat with a helpful chatbot, we were connected with a support expert in about five minutes, and they took the time to address our questions and even threw in some handy resources for good measure.

Before signing in, however, don't expect expedited support. All in all, while there are some limitations to Square's customer support options, the help we received was pretty satisfactory.

Screenshot of square online support

We found Square Online's chat to be helpful.  (Image credit: Square Online)

Square Online: What’s not included? What could be better?

Despite its user-friendly design, Square Online still has room for improvement in certain aspects.

First, users could find themselves unable to access code for custom changes on Square Online. While some customization is possible with paid plans, editing template code to modify CSS is off-limits. Design flexibility is also severely limited compared to platforms like Shopify, and Square branding is unavoidable on the site footer for those on the free edition.

You can read our full Shopify review here. 

Another notable drawback lies in its selection of themes, which, while functional, may lack the visual flair and diversity found in other platforms. While this may not be a deal-breaker for some, businesses seeking a unique, eye-catching design may find themselves wanting more.

Additionally, the transaction fees associated with Square Online can quickly accumulate, especially for businesses with high sales volumes. While the platform offers convenience and ease of use, the cost-effectiveness of Square Online may decline over time as these fees begin to take a toll on profitability.

If these limitations are a deal-breaker for you, consider Shopify, which offers a free three-day trial and is ideal for businesses seeking an all-in-one solution with POS, social selling, and inventory management. Still, some will prefer Square Online due to its ease of setup compared to Shopify's more complex customization process. BigCommerce, another alternative, lacks a point-of-sale system but offers powerful analytics, terrific marketing tools, and interconnected sales channels.

You can read our full BigCommerce review here. 

In short, while Square Online is a solid choice for businesses needing a simple payment solution without long-term contracts, users seeking more comprehensive features and customization options may want to check alternatives like Shopify and BigCommerce.

Square Online review: Final thoughts

After conducting an in-depth Square Online review, it's clear that this platform is designed for beginners and small businesses venturing into the online world. Its simplicity and budget-friendly plans make it a solid choice, but there's still room for improvement.

While it stands out with seamless payment processing integration and multichannel tools, its scanty customization options and transaction fees may give some users pause. However, if you give priority to ease of use and straightforward payment solutions, Square Online could be the full-on fit.

For those ready to get started, the next step is to sign up and explore Square Online's features firsthand. Take advantage of the free plan to get a feel for the platform and see if it lives up to your expectations. If you require more advanced features and a bit higher level of customization, consider upgrading to one of Square Online's paid plans or exploring alternatives like Shopify or BigCommerce.

Ultimately, it all boils down to what suits your business best.

Square Online review: FAQs

What is the difference between Weebly and Square Online?

Weebly and Square Online are both excellent website builders, but they each have their strengths and weaknesses. Weebly, acquired by Square in 2018, focuses on site creation first, with ecommerce features coming as an add-on. In contrast, Square Online, built using Weebly technology, focuses on ecommerce functionality, smoothly integrating with Square's payment processing for an easy-going online selling experience.

In short, while Weebly is excellent for building websites with optional ecommerce capabilities, Square Online is better for businesses primarily focused on online sales.

Is Square Online good for selling online?

Yes, Square Online is highly recommended for online sales, particularly for small brick-and-mortar businesses. Its integration with Square's POS system makes setup easily done. However, for larger stores with more complex demands, exploring popular platforms like Shopify or BigCommerce might be a smarter choice. 

What can you sell on Square Online?

In short, you can sell almost anything you can think of. With Square Online, you can sell physical products, digital goodies, online services, and even accept donations. It's a fairly flexible platform that's perfect for expanding your business online, whether you're selling clothes, ebooks, or homemade treats. It also supports multiple payment methods to ensure smooth transactions for both sellers and customers.

Withings ScanWatch Nova review: analog looks with exceptional digital brains
11:28 am |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Health & Fitness Smartwatches | Comments: Off

Withings ScanWatch Nova: Two-minute review

Smartwatches have become ubiquitous in society. Certainly spearheaded by the arrival of the Apple Watch, you now can’t go anywhere without seeing a digital display on someone’s wrist. It could be argued that until we had the smartwatch, we didn’t know we needed it and we were perfectly content with a classic analog wrist watch to simply tell the time. 

Withings has championed a combination of past and present with all of its watch releases – something it has dubbed as a ‘hybrid’ design – and the ScanWatch Nova is the latest model (alongside the ScanWatch 2) that combines analog looks, health and fitness tracking and a few smartwatch niceties into one elegant package. 

Using the previous ScanWatch Horizon as its starting base, the ScanWatch Nova takes what we considered to be a winning formula, and makes aesthetic and technological improvements to make this one of the best smartwatches for those who prefer classic looks, but who are also intrigued by sensors to track their overall health. 

As with its predecessor, a quick glance at the ScanWatch Nova doesn’t immediately give away the fact it has digital sensors for a brain instead of a traditional watch movement. Its polished chrome body, analog hands with glow-in-the-dark LumiNova coating and rotating crown, give the impression this could be something straight out of Switzerland. 

Look a little closer though, and instead of a traditional chronometer or seconds-hand ticker, you’ll notice a small OLED display at 12 o’clock and a second dial at 6 o’clock that displays your progress towards your health goal in the form of 0 to 100%. The previous ScanWatch Horizon exhibited essentially the same design, but Withings says the resolution of the OLED display has been improved this time around and the watch itself is sleeker in design. 

I’d have to agree. Having worn both (and still owning the Horizon) the Nova’s case has more rounded edges and the lug around the crown has been reduced. When wearing the Horizon, I found it could occasionally dig into my wrist when I bent my hand, but with the Nova, that’s been resolved. The display is definitely a tad sharper as well, and scrolling text across the display moves at a readable speed and is clearly legible. 

On the rear is a quartet of sensors to track your heart rate, 24/7 temperature, ECG and blood oxygen levels. As before, interacting with the crown doesn’t adjust the time or date, but instead brings the OLED display to life, whereby you can then scroll through the various menus and data. 

In the ScanWatch Nova, Withings is once again putting a firm focus on your health. You can use it to track workouts and it will display notifications from your smartphone apps, but this is a watch that ultimately wants to keep an accurate record of how your body is performing and all data is presented in the thoughtfully designed HealthMate companion app. It can also be exported to (and imported from) your phone’s native health app. 

Battery life is once again excellent with Withings accurately claiming 30 days of use, and what I particularly love about this new model is the charger. The charger that came with the ScanWatch Horizon was terrible; it didn’t magnetically attach to the watch which meant it could easily fall off. The new charger is like a cradle you have to physically insert the ScanWatch Nova into, where it’s held in place. 

As my US colleague Lance Ulanoff said of the ScanWatch Horizon, the ScanWatch Nova is the perfect smartwatch for those who don’t want one, or who at least want to be more inconspicuous in owning one. It collects a vast amount of data with accuracy, presents it well in a companion app and lasts forever on a single charge. For me it’s the perfect smartwatch and so I encourage everyone to give it a try. 

Withings ScanWatch Nova: Price & availability

The Withings ScanWatch Nova launched on December 5, 2023 and was available from Withings in the US and UK directly on the same date for $599.95 / £549.95. It arrived in Australia in March 2024 for AU$799 at third-party retailers. 

This does make it more expensive than the Apple Watch Series 9 and not a huge amount cheaper than the Apple Watch Ultra in comparison. iPhone users will get more use from the Apple Watch and there’s a huge amount more in the way of customizing how it looks, but the Apple Watch’s battery doesn’t last nearly as long. 

  • Value score: 3.5/5

Withings ScanWatch Nova: Specifications

Withings ScanWatch Nova: Design

  • Slimmer than previous ScanWatch Horizon
  • Improved display resolution
  • Looks and feels like a traditional diver’s watch

The Withings ScanWatch Nova employs a 42mm watch face and a design reminiscent of traditional diver’s watches. If you’ve always looked at other smartwatches but haven’t admired their use of all-digital displays then a hybrid smartwatch such as the Nova is ideal. I’m personally in this camp myself. 

I used to own an Apple Watch Series 3 about five years ago, but stopped wearing it because I wasn’t using it to its full potential, and preferred to wear a traditional watch instead. Because the Withings ScanWatch Nova combines this traditional look with health-tracking capabilities, it makes it the perfect smartwatch in my opinion. 

While the Nova employs a similar design to the Horizon, Withings has made some notable improvements. It’s slimmer in the body (and 1mm narrower on the watch face) and has gone on a weight loss kick, shaving its weight down from 72g to 52.6g. This makes a huge difference for everyday wear. The ScanWatch Horizon didn’t necessarily feel heavy, but in comparison it’s like wearing an anvil tied to your wrist compared to the featherweight nature of the ScanWatch Nova. The lighter design also makes it more comfortable to wear to bed at night, which is something you should do, since it can track your sleep and present you with a sleep performance score the next morning (more on that later). 

Withings ScanWatch Nova in box with accessories

Withings shipings the ScanWatch Nova complete with a second sport strap and tools to add or remove links. (Image credit: Future)

Withings ships the ScanWatch Nova with everything you need to get the perfect fit too, including spare links for the oyster metal bracelet should you need to make it larger, and a plastic holder and metal hammer to help you in adding or removing links as required. Finding the perfect fit is paramount to ensuring the ScanWatch Nova records accurate data. When we reviewed the ScanWatch Horizon we found this tricky to do, especially with the metal bracelet. I don’t think anyone should have too much issue getting a good fit with the Nova though as you’re able to remove full-size or half-size links from the bracelet.

There’s also a fluoroelastomer sport brand included which matches the color of the dial – it’s available in black, green and blue – which is soft and flexible and should provide a more secure fit if you struggle with the oyster metal bracelet. Both wristbands have a quick release function to make switching easy, although I found them easier to remove than to put back on, since they require you to compress some tiny pins that my chubby fingers had a bit of trouble with. In the UK and US you can choose from a variety of other sports and leather wristbands when buying directly from Withings, but customers in Australia are limited to just the two that come in the box.

Withings ScanWatch Nova

(Image credit: Future)

At 12 o’clock you’ll find a 0.63-inch digital display which is the clearest indicator that this isn’t a traditional analog watch. It’s slightly larger than the Horizon’s 0.5-inch screen and Withings says it has increased the resolution to improve legibility too. I have to agree, as comparing the two side by side does reveal a clear improvement in the Nova’s display. Text is that little bit clearer, sharper and more legible. I certainly had no issues reading the display and thanks to an ambient light sensor, it will automatically adjust the brightness when required. If you want to view the display but the hands are covering it, a press of the crown will see them both immediately move out the way and settle at the 10 and 2 positions. If neither of the hands are covering the display, they’ll remain where they are when you press the crown.

The way you interact with the ScanWatch Nova is similar to how you would an Apple Watch in the fact that you scroll the crown to cycle through menus. But there’s no touchscreen option here and the menus are black and white only. I like this more basic approach, I found it to be incredibly intuitive and there’s no risk of selecting the wrong app or option.

  • Design score: 4.5/5

Withings ScanWatch Nova: Features

  • Sensors to track a range of health metrics
  • Automatic sleep and workout detection
  • Single-line app notifications

There are four sensors on the back of the ScanWatch Nova for heart rate, SpO2, electrocardiogram (ECG) and a new TempTech24/7 module which is the main upgrade over the previous ScanWatch Horizon. You’ll find the same set of sensors on the recently released ScanWatch 2 as well. The main difference between the ScanWatch 2 and the ScanWatch Nova is their design, with the former taking on a more dress watch style appearance.

Using these sensors and obtaining data is incredibly easy and when you first connect the ScanWatch Nova to your phone and the companion HealthMate app, you’re presented with tutorials for each to get you up to speed. 

Your heart rate and 24/7 temperature run continuously in the background and you only need to scroll to either of them in the menu to view the current reading. For SpO2 and ECG readings, you need to cover the watch face with your other hand for 30 seconds since the watch face doubles up as a sensor. Naturally, you’re not going to be able to see when the 30 seconds is up, so the ScanWatch Nova provides a rather lovely vibration to let you know the time is up. As soon as a reading is taken, you’ll get a pop-up notification on your phone directing you to view the results. 

 

Withings ScanWatch Nova

(Image credit: Future)

I had no issues obtaining an ECG result (mine was normal) but on the first few tries the Nova wasn’t able to record an SpO2 reading. I have to put this down to me not putting my hand on the watch face correctly (somehow) as on the third try it worked fine (and I was normal, again).

The Withings ScanWatch Nova isn’t the only smartwatch to offer this functionality of course – although it is the first health wearable to offer the 24/7 temperature tracking – but it is one of the few that is clinically evaluated and developed in collaboration with doctors and health professionals (Withings does say the SpO2 sensor is non-medical grade). Withings claims the 24/7 temperature tracking, which provides “baseline fluctuations of day and night body temperature,” can help to indicate the onset of an illness or other health conditions. You can also share your health reports directly with doctors via the HealthMate app.

More features are due in 2024 including irregular heart rhythm notifications and your respiratory rate.

Data recorded is displayed clearly in the HealthMate app although it somehow recorded two sets of sleep data on the first night I wore it to bed. One gave a sleep score of 20 and the other a score of 89. I’m taking the latter as being the more accurate. The ScanWatch Nova automatically detects when you go to sleep by the way, so no need to activate any settings before you nod off.

Withings ScanWatch Nova

The Withings ScanWatch Nova's screen (top) is much clearer than the ScanWatch Horizon's screen (below) it replaces (Image credit: Future)

If you want to use the ScanWatch Nova to its full potential then it can also track a range of workouts. Your options are limited to running, walking, swimming, cycling and “other”. New for the Nova is the ability to automatically detect workouts – something the Horizon couldn’t do – but if for whatever reason it doesn’t, you’ll need to navigate to the workout type and press the crown to begin. A long press of the crown will pause the workout and a further long pause will restart, or you can scroll to the square stop icon on the screen and long press to end.

When you start a workout, you’ll also find start and stop actions, along with live data in the app. The ScanWatch Nova doesn’t have built-in GPS either, but can use the GPS capabilities of your phone to accurately track your workouts. This of course means you can’t leave your phone at home, but if you workout with music, you’ll likely have your phone with you anyway.

I don’t mind this stripped back approach, not least because I’m not exactly the workout type but because when I see other fitness trackers offering support for things like yoga and pilates, I have to wonder exactly what they’re tracking. But, it would be fair to say that the ScanWatch Nova is a health tracker first and a fitness tracker second. If you’re a triathlete or ultra marathon runner, then this likely won’t be the watch for you, although you will no doubt benefit from the accurate and insightful health data.

Finally, because it is also a smartwatch, the Withings ScanWatch Nova will display messages and notifications from apps installed on your phone. You can choose which apps you do and don’t receive notifications from within the HealthMate app. I personally just kept notifications from messaging apps turned on and everything else turned off. When I receive a message, it’s displayed on the small OLED screen, with text scrolling across in a single line.

Some people may prefer to see an entire message and also to be able to reply to messages from their watch. That’s not possible with the ScanWatch Nova, but again for me, I like it. My opinion towards smartwatches is that they’re simply an extension to a phone, not a replacement for one. If I see a message come through on my watch, my first instinct is to then get my phone out of my pocket to read it fully and respond, I’m not going to be someone who speaks into their watch to dictate a message. It could well be this interaction, or lack thereof, that will persuade someone to buy the Withings ScanWatch Nova. It is a totally different product to something like the Apple Watch, which does offer a lot more in terms of interactivity.

  • Features score: 5/5

Withings ScanWatch Nova: Performance

  • Accurate measurements from sensors
  • Impeccable battery life
  • A few niggles with automatic sleep and workout detection

In relation to its fitness tracking capabilities, the Withings ScanWatch does a very good job of recording accurate measurements when you select a workout as well as automatically recording when you go to sleep. I say very good, rather than great, because there are a couple of niggles. 

Starting with sleep, in general the Nova does indeed notice when I’ve gone into full sleep mode and the morning after it displays the various stages of sleep in the HealthMate app. However, the night before writing this section, I happened to get very lucky and fall asleep at 4.30pm. I woke up at around 12.30am before managing to get back to sleep for another few hours. Following on from my initial observations earlier, the ScanWatch Nova once again only tracked the first period of sleep but for some reason didn’t pick up the second stage. The most recent tracked sleep falls under a “Last Night” banner, as opposed to the day of the week it occurred, so I have to wonder if it only assumes there can be one period of “Last Night’s” sleep. 

With regards to workouts, the ScanWatch Nova does automatically detect when you’re performing an activity, although when I looked in the app to view data, it had detected seven cycling sessions which is strange, since I don’t even own a bike, let alone cycle. All it could show was the duration of time and the day they occurred. No distance or speed. This is, however, likely because at the time I didn’t have GPS enabled on my phone. 

The morning of writing this section of the review I decided to walk to work, since I was feeling so refreshed from the 16 hours or so of sleep from the night before. To ensure it would accurately record my walking data, I selected ‘Walking’ from the workout menu on the watch itself and enabled GPS. When you have a workout mode enabled, the screens you scroll through change from the default options. The first screen still shows the time in digital format, but underneath you’re also shown the distance travelled.

Withings HealthMate app screenshots

(Image credit: Future)

Interestingly, the map data recorded within the app showed a black screen with the route I took. Selecting it did bring up a view within Apple Maps and my walking workout data overlayed, so I'm going to put this down to an app issue. Also interestingly, walking data recorded later the same day by automatic detection didn't show any GPS map route. It seems the only time you'll see that kind of data is when you actually select a workout on the watch.

When you scroll, you can view your heart rate, pace and body temperature. Of course, on something like an Apple Watch, you can view multiple metrics of data on one screen which will undoubtedly be more useful for real fitness fanatics. But for someone like me who doesn’t pour blood, sweat and tears into keeping fit, I was still grateful for the accurate tracking.

As for health tracking, all recorded data is presented neatly and efficiently in the companion app. Understanding that the average person is unlikely to know what a good or bad ECG or oxygen saturation reading is, the app gives a green tick of approval if you’re in good shape.

Generating data is simple too, as both the watch itself and the app give you instructions for how to record an ECG and SpO2 reading. You’re required to put your hand over the watch face, since this doubles up as a sensor, and the watch will give off a vibration when the 30 second recording period is up.

Withings ScanWatch Nova

(Image credit: Future)

Along with choosing which apps you want to display notifications, you can also customize other aspects of the watch from within the app, such as the order of workout options or the order of screens that show up when you scroll through with the crown. I chose to move Walking to the top of the list, since this was the one I was going to be using the most.

The app also lets you know how much battery the ScanWatch Nova has left – after wearing it almost constantly for a week, I still have 54% at the time of writing – and you can also set an alarm to wake you up in the morning. What you can’t do with the app or the ScanWatch Nova, is activate any kind of Find My feature. This means if you lose the Nova somewhere, or simply forget where you put it at home, you can’t enable it to play any sounds to help you locate it. While it could be fair to assume that Withings expects the ScanWatch Nova will be on your wrist almost 24/7 (especially if you want to constantly track sleep) the fact remains you will likely take it off on occasion.

Finally, switching the wrist straps around is a simple affair and I did ultimately find the fluoroelastomer sport band to be the more comfortable of the two, especially for wearing to bed at night. With this strap attached, coupled with the lightweight build of the ScanWatch Nova, I barely noticed it was on my wrist, it was that comfortable.

  • Performance score: 4.5/5

Withings ScanWatch Nova: Scorecard

Withings ScanWatch Nova: Should I buy?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Withings ScanWatch Nova: Also consider

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: budget headphones that are all about that bass
3:00 pm | April 21, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Headphones Wireless Headphones | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Jlab JBuds Lux ANC: Three-minute review

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC's sound is more bass-heavy than most over-ear headphones. It's something I've come to expect with most JLab products and means your mileage will depend on how bassy you want your music to be. 

JLab is mostly known for its budget headphones and earbuds, but with the JBuds Lux ANC it’s making inroads into the ‘luxury’ headphone market – that descriptor is a word JLab chose, and not my verdict, for reasons we’ll get into later. That’s not to say that the JBuds Lux ANC are premium devices – they cost less than $100 / £100. The brand's just trying to give buyers on a budget something to buy that feels like a top-end rival.

In some ways, it’s a successful venture. As with most other JLab audio devices, these headphones pack a bassy punch, with the 40mm drivers treating your ears if you’re a fan of thumping tunes. 

The JBuds Lux ANC also pack lots of features you’d expect from premium alternatives. As the name suggests, they have active noise cancellation (that’s the ANC) which works very well in its standard setting (although the ambient mode leaves something to be desired). They also have Bluetooth Multipoint so you can jump between different devices, spatial audio for improved movie or TV show watching and Google Fast Pair so you don’t have to spend ages setting up the device.

That’s not to mention the 70-hour battery life (when ANC is off, it’s reduced to 40 hours when it’s on), handy on-cup button controls and the ability for you to fold them down. These are all handy quality-of-life features that we like to see.

There are a few rough edges though. As previously stated the sound is bass-heavy, but this is at the deficit of other aspects of the sound – treble and especially the mid-range felt a little bit lacking. Your music preference will dictate whether these are great for you, or a poor choice, and in the interest of fairness it’s worth mentioning that I’m not a huge fan of this bass-heavy approach to sound.

Something which is less dependent on taste, and more on the shape of your head, is the fit and comfort of the JBuds Lux ANC. I personally found them rather uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time, and also a little less grippy than many of their close rivals – they were fine when sitting still or even walking, but they wobbled on the many occasions I found myself running for a bus. As I write this, I’m having to have a little break from the JBuds Lux due to my ears aching from wearing them. Like I said, ‘luxury’ is JLab’s description, not mine.

Overall, these are decent for their price, undercutting even our top budget pick for the best over-ear headphones, but your taste is a more important factor when it comes to buying them. That’s unless you like to judge a product based on its name: the JLab JBuds Lux ANC aren’t buds and aren’t luxury, so they only score 2/4 for that metric!

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Price and release date

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC close-up on the JLab logo

The signature JLab logo is very prominent on the JBuds Lux ANC. (Image credit: Future)
  • Released in February 2024
  • Priced at  $79.99 / £79.99 (roughly AU$120)

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC were announced in January 2024, and went on sale during the month afterwards. You might have trouble buying them though. At the time of writing, two months after their release, they’re already sold out in some regions.

The JBuds Lux ANC sell for $79.99 /£79.99 (roughly AU$120). That’s pricier than almost every other pair of headphones sold by JLab and is in line with the Studio Pro ANC, which will set you back $80 /£80 / AU$99 at the time of writing. The brand sells plenty of wireless headphones for less, though.

The sub-$100 / £100 / AU$130 headphone market is a fiercely competitive one, with many other brands trying to convince you that you don’t need to pay top dollar for great headphones. At the bottom of this review you’ll find some of our favorite similarly-priced headphones that you should consider alongside the JLab JBuds Lux ANC.

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Specs

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Features

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC's port and buttons.

On the side of the JBuds Lux ANC, there's a USB-C port, as well as buttons for power, volume and noise cancellation.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Battery life reaches 70 hours, 44 with ANC
  • Three ANC modes, standard works but ambient doesn't
  • App brings some handy extra features

As the name suggests, a key feature of the JLab JBuds Lux ANC is the active noise cancellation, which blocks out surrounding sounds while you’re listening to music. This isn’t a given in the best cheap headphones, so it’s welcome here, but even more welcome is the fact that it’s actually good!

The standard noise cancellation mode is great at isolating and removing background sound, great for if you’re sick of the inane chatter of nearby teams in the office or the rumble of the bus every day on your commute. You can turn it off if you want to hear these sounds, plus there’s a third option called Be Aware.

Be Aware is effectively an ambient mode, so that annoying noises (babies crying) are removed while important ones (large vehicles bearing down on you) remain audible. Unfortunately this didn’t work too well: I found that sounds Be Aware let in were given a tinny make-over, so they were even more annoying to hear than if I’d just turned ANC off. I didn’t use this for long.

The JLabs have a fantastic battery life, you love to see it. With ANC turned off, they’ll last for up to 70 hours without needing to be charged, though with ANC or Be Aware turned on that drops to a still-impressive 44 hours. You can charge them via USB-C cable.

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC with a phone running the JLab app.

You can completely customize the sound performance of the JBuds Lux ANC via the JLab control app.   (Image credit: Future)

Downloading the JLab app onto your smartphone offers a few extra features. You can control the noise cancellation and change what the buttons do, but you can also set a volume limit, changing between ‘movie’ and ‘music’ modes and also fiddle around with an equalizer. 

This latter lets you jump between three presets: ‘JLab Signature’, ‘balanced’ and ‘Bass Boost’, but there’s also a custom mode for if you feel comfortable messing around with sliders to personalise the tone.

Most headphone smartphone apps tell you the battery percentage, so you can accurately gauge how long they’ll last for before needing a charge. Curiously, the JLabs one doesn’t, beyond showing you a vague battery icon, which is an annoying omission. 

  • Features score: 4/5

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Design

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC laying on a textured surface

You can pick up the headphones in four colors: Graphite (black), Cloud (white), Sage (green) or Mauve (uh… mauve). (Image credit: Future)
  • Handy on-cup controls
  • Uncomfortable to wear for long periods
  • Folds up but no IP rating

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC are supposedly comfier to wear than most budget headphones, hence the ‘lux’ in its name. This adjective is exhibited by the use of soft fabric at the arch of the headband, and soft foam ear cups to settle on your ears.

Several people who’ve used the JBuds Lux and reported back online have called them comfortable to wear, but I don’t concur – no matter how much I extended or retracted the band to adjust its size, I found that they pinched a little too much. It wasn’t too noticeable in the moment, but wearing them for more than an hour in one sitting brought about mild earaches. The fact that not everyone has found this issue suggests that it depends on your head size, though I must point out that it’s not something I often find with headphones.

The headphones didn’t sit totally still either. When I was relatively inactive – say, relaxing on the grass in the warm sun, or sitting at a desk to write this review – there were no issues, but vigorous movement caused them to wobble and sometimes resulted in a cup falling off my ear. By ‘vigorous movement’ I mean running for a bus or jumping down stairs, and I daren’t not even attempt to use them for runs or workouts. Again, I can see this as being a head size issue, but I’d be remiss not to point it out. 

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC held above on a textured surface

The JBuds Lux ANC fold up, making them ultra portable and perfect for travel.   (Image credit: Future)

Weighing 235g, these aren’t too heavy, though they’re not among the lightest headphones we’ve seen either. Like the best travel headphones, at least you can rotate the cups, extend the band and fold in the cups to make the JLabs more portable, which is a little more versatility than we see in all pairs of wireless headphones. There's no IP rating though.

On the right cup you’ve got the USB-C port for charging as well as a power button, a volume rocker and a noise cancellation toggle (between off, on and Be Aware mode). Each of these was easy to locate and press when wearing the headphones, though when I first started testing the headphones, I did mix up the power and noise cancellation buttons a few times.

As mentioned, there are four color options, and our review unit was mauve. All four options are fairly subdued, so you’re not getting anything too lurid whatever you pick.

  • Design score: 2.5/5

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Sound quality

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC on someone's head.

Unfortunately, for me, the fit was a little too tight.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Bass-heavy sound
  • Treble lost in the mix
  • Lots of peaking at high volumes

When going into the sound section, it bears repeating that the JLab JBuds Lux ANC are low-end headphones, and as such the best they can aim for is ‘decent’ or another similar synonym. And that target is basically hit, although more so than for most headphones, taste will be the most important judge.

Headphone or earbud fans probably know JLab’s reputation for creating bass-heavy audio devices, which is either draw you or put you off depending on what you like in your music. 

If you want as much bass as possible to enhance your music, you’ll get on well with the JBuds Lux; it’s clearly the focus of the sound mix of the headphones and it pounds through in all the songs it can. It can provide a nice warm sounds if you listen to the right type of music.

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC laying on a textured surface

(Image credit: Future)

This all comes at the cost of balanced audio, though, with treble lost in the mix, even when you try to eke out as much as possible from the app equalizer. I frequently struggled to hear, say, rhythm guitars, piano countermelodies or vocal harmonies that are usually fairly audible.

Like an unsuccessful mountaineer, the JLabs often felt close to peaking, especially when you turn the volume high. However at medium and low volumes I didn’t often hear noises get outright distorted.

I did miss the soundstage and bright audio of some of the JLab’s rivals when testing these, but then again I’m not one who prefers a bass-heavy sound. Your mileage will vary.

  • Sound quality: 3.5/5

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Value

  • Affordable over-ear headphones
  • The ANC is competitive 

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC close up on the JLab branding.

(Image credit: Future)

You’re getting what you pay for in the JLab JBuds Lux ANC. These are some affordable headphones that deliver the kind of sound quality and feature set that we often see in similarly-priced products.

The noise cancellation does compete with higher-end headphones, so if that’s your metric for value, you’re getting it here. But in most other categories, the JBuds Lux basically match the price.

  • Value: 3.5/5

Should I buy the JLab JBuds Lux ANC?

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC's side buttons.

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Also consider

How I tested the JLab JBuds Lux ANC

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC laying on a textured surface

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested for two weeks
  • Tested at home, in the office and on walks

I used the JLab JBuds Lux ANC for roughly two weeks prior to writing this review. They were the latest in a string of budget headphone reviews I've done for TechRadar, so I compared them directly to a few close rivals.

Testing was largely done at home or in the office, with some listening done while on walks in both busy and quiet areas. These all provided different tests for the ANC as well as the quality-of-life features for the headphones. To give the JLabs a fair shake, I tried to listen to a diverse range of music on them including rock, pop, classical, country, jazz and streamed TV shows from Prime Video.

I've been writing about tech for six years now including five for TechRadar, so I'm well versed in the headphone and tech space. As stated I've reviewed other similarly-priced headphones and I've also tested other JLab products.

  • First reviewed in April 2024
iFi iDSD Diablo 2 review: the red DAC’s more devilishly good second time around
1:00 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi | Comments: Off

iFi iDSD Diablo 2: Two-minute review

There’s an iFi headphone amp/DAC at every price-point – but there was a strong case to be made for the original iDSD Diablo being the most cost-effective of the lot. So the iDSD Diablo 2 has a lot to live up to if it wants to become one of the best portable DACs around…

The design is tidier and more thoughtful than before. Specification has moved on a little, too, thanks to new facilities with Bluetooth 5.4 and xMEMS headphones. What hasn’t changed, though, is the iFi’s need to be paired with similarly upmarket headphones in order to do its thing to its full potential.

It’s worth it, though, because when partnered with some of the best wired headphones in the business, its 'full potential' is very impressive indeed. It’s a rapid, fully detailed and nicely balanced listen, able to organise a soundstage or a complicated mix until these sound as natural as can be. It communicates fluently, controls rhythms and tempos well, and can extract every scrap of information from your digital audio files without apparent effort.

Some listeners will hanker after greater low-frequency impact, and others (or maybe the same ones) will recognise that the iDSD Diablo 2 could have greater dynamic headroom. Despite this, though, the iFi is an admirable device and one that will take some shifting from very near the top of your wish-list.

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 seen from above, on a wooden table

Oh, it's red and no mistake  (Image credit: Future)

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 review: Price and release date

  • Release date: November 2023
  • Price: $1,299 / £1,299 / AU$2,199

The iFi iDSD Diablo 2 is on sale now, and in the United Kingdom it sells for £1,299. In America you’ll have to part with an only slightly more palatable $1,299, while in Australia it’ll set you back AU$2,199. 

No matter where you’re shopping, this is serious money for a piece of desktop equipment. 

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 review: Features

  • Balanced and unbalanced outputs
  • Dual-core Burr Brown DAC chipset
  • Bluetooth 5.4 with aptX Lossless compatibility

Both the price-point and iFi’s sense of itself within the market insist that the iDSD Diablo 2 be exhaustively specified, groaning under the weight of its list of features. And so it proves.

It’s not an especially small device, the iDSD Diablo 2, but nevertheless each end is crammed with connections and controls. At the front, there are 6.3mm unbalanced and 4.4mm balanced outputs – the latter is recommended for use with xMEMS solid state driver headphones, and there’s a switch directly above it to let the iFi know if it’s connected to xMEMS headphones or not. A three-position switch allows you to select a power mode – ‘normal’, ‘turbo’ and ‘nitro’ are available, and these are very excitable ways of describing the additional power output that might be required to drive headphones of particular sensitivity. An LED lets you know what’s going on as regards file type and size (if you’ve made a wired connection) or codec type (if you’re using Bluetooth). A relatively large analogue volume control (with sliding lock) completes the front fascia line-up.

The rear panel, meanwhile, features a button to initiate Bluetooth pairing (the iFi has Bluetooth 5.4 on board, and is compatible with every codec from SBC and AAC to LDAC and aptX Lossless – although, as we shall see, getting confirmation that you’re streaming aptX Lossless is considerably more of a palaver than it should be). There’s also a 4.4mm balanced line-level input, and a hybrid 3.5mm input for either optical or coaxial digital information. Two USB-C sockets complete the set – one if for connection to mains power or to charge the internal battery, and the other is for data transfer. This last is a big improvement on the original iDSD Diablo, which required an infernal (pun very much intended) arrangement of USB extension cables to make a connection. Although received wisdom says the battery is the cleaner and more effective way to power the Diablo 2, iFi also provides its iPower 2 power supply – it’s claimed to be ten times quieter than regular mains power supplies.

On the bottom of the chassis there’s a ‘IEMatch’ switch for use with in-ear monitors – the available positions are ‘4.4’, ‘6.35’ and off.

On the inside, the iDSD Diablo 2 is fitted with a dual-core Burr Brown digital-to-analogue chipset, providing support for digital audio files of every worthwhile type up to 768kHz and DSD512 as well as full MQA decoding. iFi has allied this formidable processing power to features it calls (with typical understatement) ‘PureWave’ (balanced dual-mono analogue amplification architecture), ‘Servoless DirectDrive’ (as direct and uncorrupted a signal path as possible) and ‘OptimaLoop’ (minimisation of distortion and phase sound).

iFi suggests the iDSD Diablo 2 has an enormous five-watt output, which would be more than enough to drive even the most recalcitrant headphones without any of the gain intervention options iFi supplies. Like so much in life, though, iFi’s claims for the power that’s on tap here are the subject of some debate. These five watts are a peak power measurement, rather than RMS continuous power – and iFi’s measurement window is not open for as long as is standard around the wider industry. Still, at this point the argument is academic – the way the Diablo 2 performs will dictate whether or not we should all get hung up on power ratings… 

Features score: 5 / 5

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 closeup, showing headphone jacks

Note the 'wings'  (Image credit: Future)

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 review: Design

  • 29 x 85 x 166mm (HxWxD)
  • 455g
  • Multiple positioning options

In absolute terms, the iDSD Diablo 2 isn’t an especially large device, but at 29 x 85 x 166mm (HxWxD) it still takes up valuable desktop space. So iFi has wisely made positioning it as flexible as possible, thanks to a reworked chassis that replaces the original Diablo’s smooth casework with an arrangement of 22 ‘rails’ that help cooling. Eight of these rails can each accept one of the four ‘wings’ supplied with the product, which allows it to be positioned either vertically or horizontally.

As well as these supporting ‘wings’, the iDSD Diablo 2 also comes with the iPower 2 power supply, short and long(er) USB-C cables, short USB-C / Lightning cable, USB-C / USB-A adapter, Toslink optical adapter and a 3.5mm / 6.3mm headphone adapter. It’s also supplied with an ‘iTraveller’ soft carrying case, into which almost all of these accessories will fit without problems.

Design score: 4.5 / 5  

iFi iDSD Diablo 2's underside, detailing the ports

Everything in its right place…  (Image credit: Future)

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 review: Sound quality

  • Direct, unequivocal performance
  • Detailed, quite lean sound 
  • Could conceivably be more dynamic

A desktop device like this requires a desktop, so the iDSD Diablo 2 is connected via USB-C to an Apple MacBook Pro (2020) running Colibri software in order to deliver properly high-resolution digital audio files. It’s connected to several pairs of headphones – the majority of this testing is conducted using Sennheiser IE900 in-ear monitors and a pair of Austrian Audio ‘The Composer’ over-ears, both using their 4.4mm cable. For the sake of good form, both iOS and Android smartphones are used to check out the iFi’s Bluetooth capability, too. 

But it’s safe to say that no matter the headphones or the source device, or in fact the sort of music that’s on the go (and my testing includes everything from 16bit/44.1kHz files of Doris Troy’s What-cha Gonna Do About It and Lambchop’s The Daily Growl to a 24bit/192kHz file of David Bowie’s Be My Wife and a DSD64 copy of Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City), the attitude and character of the iDSD Diablo 2 doesn’t really alter all that much. This is a swift, articulate and detailed listen, with the sort of muscle-mass of a distance runner and similar manoeuvrability. If you came for vaulting dynamism and/or overtly stocky low frequencies, you might want to look elsewhere. Everyone else, though, should listen long and hard…

At every turn, the iFi keeps a close eye on the fine details and the broad strokes, and manages to put every element of a recording into proper context. It travels from the bottom of the frequency range to the top in a smoothly convincing manner, and is able to generate a genuine sense of unity and ‘performance’ from a recording. It’s possible to tilt its frequency response just slightly towards the top end if you use unsympathetic headphones, but in almost every circumstance the iDSD Diablo 2 is a confident, balanced listen.

It creates a big, open soundstage and organises it well. It’s able to find space for the most transient aspects of a recording even in the busiest mixes, keeps every element of it at arm’s length from the others in order for it to have the necessary space to express itself - and yet ties it all together almost effortlessly. It’s almost fanatical in its attention to the small harmonic variations that lesser amplifiers are happy to overlook.

Control of the lowest frequencies is absolute – and the alacrity of their attack and decay means the iFi gives good expression to rhythms. There’s a lack of bulk or substance to the bottom end it produces, though – there’s no shortage of bass extension, but there’s not a huge amount of weight to the low end, and the iDSD Diablo 2 can sound relatively lightweight as a result. When it comes to the biggest dynamic shifts in volume or intensity, it doesn’t seem to have all that much reach either – possibly because this is a very loud amplifier even when it’s playing quietly. 

For all of its gain and sensitivity controls, the iFi sounds like it’s giving you everything it’s got right from the off – which just doesn’t leave it much headroom when the going gets louder still.

Sound quality score: 4.5 / 5 

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 and Sennheiser iE900, on a wooden table

The bulk of my testing was done with the Sennheiser IE900 or the Austrian Audio 'The Composer'  (Image credit: Future)

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 review: Usability & setup

  • Simple to operate
  • Some mild Bluetooth weirdness 
  • Short cables can be an issue

On a fundamental level, the iDSD Diablo 2 is a piece of cake to operate. Its controls are all physical, its volume dial operates at well-judged increments and the volume dial lock is a nice touch too. If you can plug a source of music and pair of headphones in, you’re in business.

The length of cables supplied are a minor irritation, though. To connect my MacBook Pro (2020) to the iFi, the USB-C / USB-C is required – but the braided cable is so short that there’s next-to-no ability to adjust its position on the desk. I have numerous USB-C / USB-C cables of various lengths in my home, I’ll admit, and iFi supplies a more useful length of much less impressive quality – but I can’t imagine it would carve into iFi’s profit margin too much to supply a braided cable, say, twice as long as this one.

Both my iOS and my Android smartphones see, and pair with, the iDSD Diablo 2 quickly enough. Once the connection is made, the LED on the iFi’s fascia glows yellow to indicate the AAC codec – because that’s iPhones for you. But an Asus smartphone gives every impression of streaming aptX Adaptive (green LED) even though it’s able to deal with aptX Lossless (white LED).  

Usability & setup score: 4/5

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 on its side, showing the file indicator light

This white light (for aptX Lossless) was oddly hard to come by when using sources able to handle it…  (Image credit: Future)

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 review: Value

It’s nigh-on impossible to suggest the iFi iDSD Diablo 2 isn’t a profound improvement on the sound to be achieved by plugging your headphones directly into a smartphone, say, or a laptop. 

As a desktop audio device, then, it makes a lot of sense if you’re the sort of person who takes listening this way seriously enough to have invested in capable headphones and a lot of high-resolution digital audio files. For ‘casual’ or ‘recreational’ listeners, though, a device that demands such equally accomplished (and correspondingly expensive) partnering equipment has to be considered overkill. 

Value score: 4/5

iFi iDSD close-up of the front fascia, on wooden table

Note the new 'rails' on the casework to help with cooling (Image credit: Future)

Should you buy iFi iDSD Diablo 2?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 review: Also consider

iFi iDSD Diablo of the branding on the casework, silver on red

iFi makes strong design choices and you love to see it (Image credit: Future)

How I tested the iFi iDSD Diablo 2 review:

  • Various headphones
  • Various audio file types and sizes
  • Various sources of music

For an almost-unbroken week, the iFi iDSD Diablo 2 sat next to my laptop, and played music either from the machine’s memory (using a wired connection) or from one of a few smartphones (using Bluetooth). Music stored as MP3, FLAC and DSD files was used, and headphones from ‘moderately pricey’ to ‘extremely expensive’ were plugged into both the balanced and unbalanced outputs…  

First reviewed April 2024

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