The Drop ALT V2 is part of a recent refresh of the original CTRL, ALT, and SHIFT series of mechanical keyboards that were first released in 2018. Drop has made several improvements to the beloved line, adding highly requested features such as stabilizer upgrades, improved sound dampening, new switch options, improvements to lighting, and more. The result is an even higher-quality mechanical keyboard that feels luxurious in every sense of the word, and is easily one of the best mechanical keyboards and one of the best keyboards all round.
I received the Drop ALT V2 low-profile unit, a TKL (TenKeyLess) board that's sufficiently weighty that it could be used as a weapon in an emergency. Crafted from a solid block of aircraft-grade aluminum, this is absolutely a keyboard made to last – which, considering the cost of entry, makes this an investment for the long haul. The chassis and keys are meant to last for millions of clicks over a period of years.
The ALT V2 also features north-facing RGB lighting that glows through the keycaps as well as around the base of the keyboard. Unlike the original Drop ALT, the LED lights are a bit dimmer here, which could be a positive or negative, depending on your preference. In my experience, at times I found it difficult to see the lit letters while typing, but I appreciated the base lighting effect.
That said, the overall typing experience has definitely improved over the older model. The additional layers of foam throughout the keyboard – including Poron top case foam, IXPE switch foam, Poron hot-swap socket foam, and bottom case Poron foam – really do go a long way to improve the typing feel. And thanks to the upgraded stabilizers, the sound has changed as well. While I prefer the sharper keystroke of the older model, others may welcome the more subdued sound this model offers.
I’ve loved the smooth feel of the keycaps, as if my fingers are gliding on air as I type. However, they can feel a bit narrow, which could be an issue for those with thicker fingers or shaky handsI was able to adjust to them relatively quickly and with minimal typos.
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There are two switches to choose from, the Gateron Yellow KS3 Linear switches or Drop Holy Panda X Clear tactile switches. My own keyboard came with the former, and although I’m not the biggest fan of linear switches (my true love lies in tactile), these have felt amazing – the usual mark of quality in Drop switches that I believe only Cherry MX switches can rival.
Since the keys are hot swappable, changing them is much easier too. This means you can customize these keyboards to your heart's content, with the built-in switch plate and hot-swappable PCB. Drop has also upgraded its already great QMK firmware, which already offers programable macros and customized key mapping. Now, Vial and QMK expands compatibility options, with support for the former coming later this year.
Speaking about customization, it's also now possible for hardcore mechanical keyboard enthusiasts to purchase the barebones version of each keyboard, to create a version that's tailor-made to their exact specifications. And if you own the original version of the CTRL, ALT, and SHIFT keyboards, the more cost-effective option would be to order the PCBA + foam kit and Phantom Stabilizers and update your unit to the V2 model without wasting materials.
Like most of Drop’s other keyboards, the ALT V2 comes with two USB Type-C ports: one for the wire to connect to your PC; and the other to connect any other hub device. I'd say the removable cable increases portability, but this isn't entirely accurate when you consider the keyboard's heavy weight.
Drop ALT: Price & availability
How much does it cost? $200 (around £164 / AU$311)
When is it available? Available now
Where can you get it? Available in the US
There are two kinds of Drop V2 keyboards available, the fully assembled unit and the barebones edition. The former ranges in price between $180 - $250, while the latter costs $140 - $190. If you own the older versions of the CTRL, ALT, and SHIFT keyboards, the PCBA + foam kit and Phantom Stabilizers are available for purchase starting at $105, allowing you to upgrade your keyboard to the V2 version.
Regardless of which option you choose, these keyboards are expensive, coming at a prices you'd usually associate with high-quality and fully customizable mechanical keyboards made for more serious of enthusiasts. If you’re not someone who likes to tinker with a keyboard to achieve the best possible fit, then you might be better looking elsewhere. There are plenty of options that offer a similar level of typing quality and tactile feedback without making such a dent in your wallet.
The Drop ALT V2 can be picked up via the company's online store. However, both the UK and Australia are out of luck, unless buyers are willing to pay the steep price of importing.
Drop ALT: Specs
Should you buy the Drop ALT?
Buy it if...
You want a high-quality mechanical keyboard Drop is well known for its impeccable keyboard quality, and the ALT V2 is no exception, from its aluminum chassis to its switches and keycaps.
You want a fully customizable keyboard If you're looking for a mechanical keyboard that you can customize to your heart's content, then this model is for you.
Don't buy it if...
You're on a budget If you can't afford to drop two hundred bucks on a single keyboard, then look elsewhere. There are plenty of cheaper models on the market offering similar quality for less.
You live outside the US Unfortunately, Drop's only really retails in the US, so if you're in the UK or Australia, then you'll have to import a unit with all the associated costs.
Drop ALT: Also consider
How I tested the Drop ALT
I spent about a week testing this keyboard
I used it for both work and gaming
I used it extensively in a home-office environment
I tested the Drop ALT keyboard in a home-office environment, evaluating how well it functioned for both work and gaming. I also carried it around in various bags to test its portability.
The Drop ALT is a mechanical keyboard that's meant for extensive use over a period of years. I made sure to assess its quality to see if it held up to those standards, while also reviewing how easy it was to switch out the keycaps and reprogram the RGB lighting.
I've tested a wide range of keyboards over the years, including mechanical units, and understand how to rate and test them out to ensure that they reach a certain level of quality.
We pride ourselves on our independent and rigorous review-testing process, paying long-term attention to the products we assess, and ensuring our reviews are updated and maintained. Regardless of when a device was released, if you can still buy it, it's on our radar.
Samsung’s QN85C is the company's entry-level Neo QLED series. It has this name because it features a QLED display with a mini-LED backlight, the latter being a feature Samsung's standard QLED models lack. The benefits of mini-LED backlighting are typically higher brightness and more refined local dimming, although both those factors can vary from model to model.
The good news with the QN85C series is that it’s packed with many of the same features found in the step-up Samsung QN90C series. These include a Neural Quantum Processor to upscale HD images to 4K resolution and support for the HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG HDR formats (but not Dolby Vision, which has historically been the case with Samsung TVs). There’s also the Samsung Gaming Hub for cloud-based gaming and four HDMI 2.1 ports to plug in multiple next-gen game consoles.
The less good news with the QN85C is that it lacks the high peak brightness that QN90C TVs deliver along with those models’ anti-glare screen. Both of those factors make Samsung’s step-up series a better option for daytime sports viewing in bright rooms, though the QN85C’s performance with the lights dimmed is very good, letting it hold up well against both its pricier sibling and the best 4K TVs in general.
Another area where the QN85C holds up against pricier TVs is its design. With such a slim profile (around 1-inch), the set looks good from all angles and comes with a sturdy and attractive hexagonal stand. It has the same solar-powered remote control (no batteries required!) as other Samsung Neo QLED models and its built 2.2.2-channel speaker system has Dolby Atmos support and can work in tandem with Samsung soundbars for a more immersive audio experience.
As far as value goes, you’ll only have to spend a bit more for Samsung’s more feature-packed and better-performing QN90C, and you can easily spend less for a mini-LED TV from a budget brand like TCL or Hisense. This makes the QN85C sort of a straggler when it comes to value. But the QN85C’s solid overall performance, along with its superior smart TV interface and excellent gaming features still make it well worth consideration.
Samsung QN85C TV review: price and release date
Release date: February 21, 2023
QN43QN85C: $1,099 / AU$1,999
QN50QN85C: $1,199 / AU$2,499
QN55QN85C: $1,299 / £1,299 / AU$1,999
QN65QN85C: $1,699 / £1,599 / AU$2,499
QN75QN85C: $2,199 / £2,799 / AU$3,299
QN85QN85C: $2,599 / AU$4,499
QN85C TVs are Samsung’s entry-level Neo QLED series. They use a mini-LED backlight, which is a feature that distinguishes them from the company’s regular QLED offerings. The level up series is the QN90C, which is priced slightly higher and provides a number of picture and sound quality enhancements along with a built-in ATSC 3.0 “NextGen” TV tuner.
The QN85C series comes in a wide range of screen sizes, starting at 43 inches and scaling up to 85 inches. You’ll only find the full range available in the US, however, with UK offerings currently limited to 55, 65, and 75-inch options. Pricing for the series has dropped anywhere from 15% to 30% depending on screen size since the TVs first became available in February 2023, and if history is any indication, are likely to drop lower as we push toward the end of the year.
Samsung QN85C TV review: specs
Samsung QN85C TV review: features
Mini-LED backlight with local dimming
Native 4K with HDR10+ dynamic range
Gaming Hub for cloud gaming
Samsung QN85C series TVs feature a QLED display with mini-LED backlighting and full-array local dimming. They use the same Neural Quantum Processor found in the step-up QN90C series models to upscale HD images to 4K resolution and Neo Quantum HDR+ to dynamically process images with high dynamic range. Like other Samsung TVs, HDR support is limited to the HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG formats, with no provision for Dolby Vision. A Wide Viewing Angle feature helps to improve picture performance when watching from off-center seats, though it’s less effective than the Ultra Wide Viewing Angle feature found on the step-up QN90C.
Samsung’s Tizen smart TV interface is used for streaming and smart home control, and the TV has built-in Alexa and Bixby voice command support along with support for Google Assistant devices. An Ambient mode can be activated that offers a wide assortment of still and moving images for display when the TV isn’t actively being used, and you also have the option to upload your own pictures.
The QN85C series sports Samsung’s NeoSlim Design and has a built-in 2.2.2-channel Dolby Atmos speaker system. An Object Tracking Sound feature helps lock effects in movie and TV soundtracks with the onscreen action and Q-Symphony 3.0 lets you combine the TV’s speakers with an external Samsung soundbar for even bigger and more immersive sound.
Gamers will appreciate Samsung’s Gaming Hub, which offers a central location for accessing Xbox, Nvidia GeForce Now, Amazon Luna, Utomik, and other cloud gaming services. Support is provided for a wide array of Bluetooth game controllers on QN85C series TVs, and there are four HDMI 2.1 inputs that support 4K 120Hz input from a PS5 or Xbox Series X game console.
Features Score: 4.5/5
Samsung QN85C TV review: picture quality
Average peak brightness
Deep blacks with detailed shadows
Some backlight blooming
The 65-inch QN85C TV Samsung sent me to test had a peak HDR brightness of 955 nits in Standard picture mode and 853 nits in Movie mode when measured on a 10% white window pattern. A Filmmaker mode is also available on the TV, but Movie turned out to be the brighter and more accurate option. While that brightness level falls short of the 1,787 nits I measured on the Samsung QN90C, it was more than sufficient for viewing in dim or dark room lighting conditions.
Similar to the QN90C, the QN85C’s full-array local dimming backlight lets it display full black at 0 nits, resulting in “infinite” contrast. Movies I watched with dark scenes showed very good shadow definition, and the TV has a Shadow Detail adjustment that lets you fine-tune the level of near-black detail to taste.
TVs that use local dimming tech to enhance contrast are prone to backlight “blooming” effects and the QN85C was no exception here. It was most noticeable on white-on-black movie titles, where the blooming appeared as a faint halo at the black/white transition, but could also be seen to a lesser extent in more typical images and on widescreen movies with black letterbox bars.
The QN85C’s color balance in Movie picture mode with the default Warm color temperature setting active skewed slightly toward red, with Delta E values averaging 3.1 across the full grayscale (we typically look for these to land below 3), though color point Delta E values averaged out to 1.2. An easy correction could be made by changing the TV’s gamma setting to 2.2, which dropped the grayscale Delta E average to well below 3.
Measurements made with Portrait’s Calman color calibration software showed coverage of DCI-P3 (the color space used for mastering 4K movies and digital cinema releases) to be 93.5%, and BT.2020 to be 70.1%. Those results closely match what was measured on the Samsung QN90C, though it’s also an average performance level that’s been equaled or even bested by budget mini-LED TVs we’ve tested from TCL and Hisense.
Unlike the step-up QN90C, the QN85C lacks an anti-glare screen coating. Between this and the set’s relatively limited peak brightness, it isn’t the best choice for daytime or bright room viewing, where you’re likely to get contrast-limiting screen reflections. The QN85C does have a Wide Viewing Angle feature, and while this didn’t prove to be as effective as the QN90C’s Ultra Wide Viewing Angle feature, it still allowed for pictures to retain good contrast and color saturation when watching from off-center seats.
As usual, I started out my viewing tests with the Spears & Munsil Ultra HD Benchmark disc. Images of nature in the montage section looked clean and had strong contrast, and when I switched from an HDR10 version graded at a standard 1,000 nits peak brightness level to one graded at 10,000 nits, images came across with good highlight detail due to the TV’s high-quality HDR tone mapping. I did note some backlight blooming artifacts towards the end of the montage reel, specifically in an image of a honey dripper against a black background.
When I reviewed the Samsung QN90C, I was very impressed by the TV’s motion handling, which was shown to positive effect when I checked out a reference scene from the 2021 James Bond film No Time to Die on 4K Blu-ray disc. A shot of a cemetery on a rocky hillside looked solid and retained detail as the camera panned across it, and the same shot looked equally good on the QN85C without having to turn on its Picture Clarity setting. There was a slight degree of judder visible in the image, but that could be easily reduced by applying a degree of judder reduction in the Picture Clarity menu’s Custom mode.
Moving on to other reference clips from 4K disc, scenes from Dune (2021) came across as noise-free and had excellent shadow rendition and strong HDR highlights. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was displayed with its rich, near-psychedelic color palette intact, and there was a high level of detail visible in the finely textured images. Even older movies like Boyz n the Hood that I streamed in HD quality looked punchy and crisp on the QN85C, with the TV’s Neural Quantum Processor upconverting images in a clean and noise-free manner.
Picture quality score: 4/5
Samsung QN85C TV review: sound quality
2.2.2-channel Atmos speakers
Spacious sound but limited bass
Q-Symphony feature combines TV’s audio with soundbar
Samsung’s QN85C has decent built-in sound for such a slim TV. Its Dolby Atmos-compatible 2.2.2-channel speaker system is powered by 60 watts, and there’s also a Bluetooth headphone output option for private listening.
When watching movies, there was a good sense of spaciousness to the sound, and the TV’s Object Tracking Sound Plus feature added definition to dialogue and the trajectory of sound effects across the screen. You can push the volume to a relatively loud level before hearing any compression, though doing so won’t help compensate for the built-in TV speakers’ relative lack of bass.
Instead of the typical range of TV audio modes such as Movie, Music, Sport, Samsung limits your options to two: Standard and Amplify. While Standard should be fine for most situations, Amplify boosts the sound across the full frequency range to make it louder and clearer. Of course, you’ll get much better results by pairing the QN85C with one of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars, and if you opt for a Samsung Q- or S-Series model you can take advantage of the TV’s Q-Symphony feature, which combines the set’s built-in speakers with the soundbar for an enhanced presentation.
Sound quality score: 4/5
Samsung QN85C TV review: design
Center-mounted hexagonal plate stand
Solar-powered remote with built-in mic
The QN85C series has the same NeoSlim design as Samsung’s QN90C series models along with the same center-mounted hexagonal plate stand. At approximately 1 inches deep, the TV is appealingly slim when viewed from the side and the stand lends firm support along with a ‘desktop monitor’ look.
A side-mounted panel houses the TV’s inputs section, which provides 4 HDMI 2.1 ports (one with eARC), along with USB, optical digital audio, and RF antenna connections. Unlike the step-up QN90C series, which has a built-in digital TV tuner that supports ATSC 3.0 ‘NextGen TV’ broadcasts, the tuner on QN85C series sets is ATSC 1.0-only.
Samsung’s compact remote control is a solar-powered handset that doesn’t require any batteries, and can also draw power from your home’s wireless network if stashed away in a dark drawer. With no backlit buttons, it can be frustrating to use in dim room lighting conditions, though many controls can be carried out onscreen using the remote’s central trackpad. A built-in mic for voice commands provides further control options.
Design score: 4.5/5
Samsung QN85C TV review: smart TV & menus
Samsung Tizen interface
Bixby voice command, but works with Alexa and Google
Comprehensive, easy to navigate menus
Like most other smart TV interfaces, Samsung’s Tizen is busy, but it also offers multiple customization options. Specifically, you can edit the horizontal row of streaming apps that occupies the home screen’s center to highlight ones you’ll use most frequently. Scrolling down reveals a range of movies and TV show recommendations bunched in categories like recently added, trending now, and free to stream, with numerous options directing you to a Samsung TV Plus portal that combines live broadcast TV and free streaming channels.
Other options on the Tizen home screen include Samsung Gaming Hub and Ambient Mode, with the latter providing a range of images and abstract designs to display on your TV when it’s not in use. You can upload your own images as well via the Samsung SmartThings app which offers further control options for both the TV and supported smart home devices.
To switch inputs on the TV, you select the Connected Devices tab from the home screen and scroll through a row of icons depicting HDMI-connected sources. Selecting the Settings tab directly below calls up a different row of options for adjusting picture and sound modes, including an All Settings menu with more extensive adjustments. Selecting any of these will involve an extended sequence of button pushes, though basic controls such as brightness, contrast, and color can be more easily accessed.
Smart TV & menus score: 4.5/5
Samsung QN85C TV review: gaming
4K 120Hz with VRR and FreeSync Premium Pro
Low 9.8 ms input lag
Samsung Gaming Hub for cloud-based gaming
Samsung Neo QLED TVs frequently rank among the best TVs for PS5 and Xbox Series X and the QN85C series is no exception. All four of its HDMI 2.1 ports handle a 4K 120Hz input from a next-gen game console and there’s also support for VRR and FreeSync Premium Pro. With the TV’s Game mode enabled, I measured input lag at 9.8ms – an impressively low number and a match for the step-up Samsung QN90C.
When in Game mode, you can press the Play/Pause button on the remote control to call up a transparent Game Bar menu with options to adjust a range of game-related settings, as well as monitor resolution and frames per second.
A distinguishing feature of Samsung TVs is the Gaming Hub, which serves as a portal to access a range of cloud gaming apps including Xbox, Nvidia GeForce Now, Amazon Luna, Utomik, Anstream Arcade, and Blacknut. Gaming Hub is also where you can connect a Bluetooth gaming controller to the TV, as well as view recently played games and game suggestions based on previously played titles.
Gaming score: 5/5
Samsung QN85C TV review: value
Not much cheaper than Samsung’s step-up mini-LED
Can buy budget mini-LED models for less
At $1,699 / £1,599 / AU$2,499, the Samsung QN85C represents a just-average value when compared to the company’s step-up QN90C Neo QLED, which is currently priced only slightly higher than the entry-level mini-LED. In that case, spending a bit more will get you pictures with higher peak brightness and an anti-glare screen – both factors to consider for daytime sports viewing – and it also has more advanced built-in audio and an ATSC 3.0 digital TV tuner.
The QN85C also faces stiff competition from budget mini-LED models like the Hisense U8K and TCL QM8 Class, both of which sell for substantially less than the QN85C and have a mainly similar feature set, though they lack Samsung-specific features like Wide Viewing Angle and Gaming Hub and only provide two HDMI 2.1 ports. Having reviewed both of those budget options, I’d be inclined to pick either one over the Samsung based on price alone, though I’m not a big fan of the Google TV smart interface that both use and I find the QN85C’s overall design to be superior.
Value score: 3/5
Should I buy the Samsung QN85C TV?
Buy it if...
Don't buy it if…
Samsung QN90C mini-LED
Samsung’s step-up Neo QLED model also features a mini-LED backlight and has better brightness plus an anti-glare screen. You’ll pay more for those performance-related features but they’ll pay off when viewing in bright rooms.
I spent about 15 hours in total measuring and evaluating
Measurements were made using Calman color calibration software
A full calibration was made before proceeding with subjective tests
When I test TVs, my first step is to spend a few days using it for casual viewing for break-in and to assess the out-of-box picture presets. The next step is to select the most accurate-looking preset (typically labeled Filmmaker, Movie or Cinema) and measure the white balance (grayscale), gamma, and color point accuracy using Portrait Displays’ Calman color calibration software. The resulting measurements provide Delta-E values (the margin of error between the test pattern source and what’s shown on-screen) for each category, and they allow for an assessment of the TV’s overall accuracy.
Along with those tests, I make measurements of peak light output (recorded in nits) for both standard high-definition and 4K high dynamic range using 10% and 100% white window patterns. Coverage of DCI-P3 and BT.2020 color space is also measured, with the results providing a sense of how faithfully the TV can render the extended color range in ultra high-definition sources.
For the Samsung QN85C, I used the Calman ISF workflow, along with the TV’s advanced picture menu settings, to calibrate the image for best accuracy with SDR and HDR sources. Once done, I watched a range of reference scenes on 4K Blu-ray discs that I’ve gathered after years of TV and projector testing to assess the TV’s performance, as well as new Dolby Vision-encoded material streamed from sources like Netflix and HBO Max.
Today’s cameras are so good, and so serious, that it’s proved cathartic to review the Instax Pal, a camera that’s seriously enjoyable and no more.
This fuss-free ball of fun – it's about the size of a golf ball, to give you an idea – is suitable for all ages, and the closest a camera can be to a digital pet; it lights up and emits a happy jingle when powered on, and a sad sound when inactivity sends it to sleep, while the compatible Instax Pal app gifts you digital rewards for your activity. Tamagotchi, eat your heart out.
As a self-respecting adult I didn’t fall for such blatant manipulation to motivate me to use the app (okay, I did). And you only have to make the Pal available to the whole family – which you can, because you don’t need to be precious about this low-cost snapper – to appreciate that it speaks to all ages.
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This is an Instax camera that might actually be used day-to-day, and not stowed away in the cupboard once your film supply has run dry, as is so often my experience with analog Instax cameras.
The Pal might well have the Instax name, but it’s not an instant camera as we know it. It’s a digital-only camera that fits better in the hand, printing via one of Fujifilm’s Instax Link printers, which come in ‘Mini’, ‘Square’ or ‘Wide’ formats; directly via a Bluetooth connection; or through the new Instax Pal app.
So while you don’t get the analog-only experience of traditional Instax cameras, which can be a wonderful remedy in this digital world we live in, you're more likely to take your tiny Pal with you everywhere, and you’ll also print your candid moments with one of Fujifilm’s portable Link printers more often than you would with a desktop printer.
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To me, the Pal feels like the best of both worlds; it’s a camera that’s not weighed down by a built-in a printer, while the shoot-to-print experience – either directly, or through the app – is seamless.
You can print blind the old-school way, directly to a Link when the switch on the underside of the camera is set to ‘L’, or be selective via the convenient app, and not waste your expensive film by using the ‘F’ setting instead. That’s not the analog soul, but these days I’d rather have the control.
I’m a big fan of Fujifilm’s Instax Link portable printers – and it was the Instax Square Link printer that really completed my Pal experience. You can also use this printer to print the higher-quality photos in your phone’s gallery using the relevant Link app.
The Pal doesn’t even have a screen on which to compose and view your ultra-wide angle snaps, like the Instax Mini Evo hybrid Instax does, and nor does it produce technically excellent image quality images – this is essentially a basic 2560 x 1920 pixel stills-only camera, clothed in cuteness.
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As a camera, the Pal isn’t great. But what it does bring to the table is a fine-tuned experience with the app and printer, in colorful packaging for all to enjoy, and it has one or two surprises up its sleeve.
Selfies and group shots are made easy via the self timer on the app, with the camera supported by the included detachable ring (that you’ll need as a kind of wrist strap if you don’t want to keep dropping the ball-like camera). The Pal even has a tripod thread that's compatible with small table-top tripods.
Also, it was a real curveball to discover that the Pal is a discreet snapper; no one batted an eyelid as I took candid street photos around London with the Pal nestled into the palm of my hand (although the automatic fill-in flash caught me out a few times).
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Fujifilm has put a lot of thought into the new app, too. Automatically wiping photos from the 50-shot internal memory once they’ve been uploaded to the app is a smart move, while there’s also a micro SD card slot for those that want to double up on storing their photos.
In-app images filters, basic edits, plus output to the various Instax Link printers cover your bases and ensure that you remain active, provided you don’t run out of paper. And the beauty is that when you do run out you can keep using your digital Pal until you top up your supply again.
The Fujifilm Instax Pal is not one of the best instant cameras – it’s not even an instant camera, technically – and on paper it can’t compete with the Instax Mini Evo. However, sometimes you’ve just got to go with the feeling, and Pal gives all the feels.
Ultimately, Pal isn’t a technically great camera, but it is one that I want to use more than most others, and that says a lot.
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Fujifilm Instax Pal: Price and release date
Available in the US, bundled with the Mini Link printer only, for $199.99
Available in the UK and Australia as the camera only, from £89.99 / AU$149
The Instax Pal is available in five exotically named colorways: Milky White, Powder Pink, Pistachio Green, Lavender Blue, and Gem Black.
In the US the Instax Pal is bundled with the Instax Mini Link printer only, for $199, while in the UK and Australia you buy the camera separately, for £89.99 / AU$149 respectively (while the Gem Black version with a shiny, reflective surface costs £104.99 in the UK).
In the box you get a detachable ring that can act as a support to rest the Pal on, or slide onto the top as a 'viewfinder' (you don't need to do that), or, most helpfully, use as a kind of wrist strap.
As for the cost of paper, that depends on which format printer you're outputting to; Mini, Square, or Wide. Twin packs of 10 sheets of Instax Mini film start from $14.99 / £14.99 / AU$34.95
Fujifilm Instax Pal: Should I buy?
Buy it if...
Don't buy it if...
Fujifilm Instax Pal: also consider
If our Pal review has you interested in instant cameras, here are a couple of other options to consider...
Fujifilm Instax Pal: How I tested
All the family played with our new Pal
Printing directly to portable Link printer, and via the app
I had the Instax Pal in my pocket for over a week, and in my family home with two generations getting to grips with it. Throughout this time, I've became very familiar with the accompanying Instax Pal app, through which you can access most of the Pal’s functions. The camera device itself is super-simple, and I also operated it bypassing the app altogether and making direct-to-Link prints, for a more ‘authentic’ Instax experience.
I’ve used the camera for family snaps, as a discreet street photography snapper, and for all-round every day moments. I played around with the in-app editor, and made lots of prints from the Instax Link Square printer, which is my favorite size of Instax print, collecting plenty of in-app rewards in the process.
The SweetNight Original Cooling Gel Foam Pillow is a fat pillow. Honestly, I've hugged humans that didn't seem to be this substantial. It's thick and chunky – and I love it. Admittedly, I'm a big fan of tall, soft, high-loft pillows. However, if you prefer a medium or low loft, you can zip it open and remove as much of the gel memory foam stuffing you need to until it's the perfect height for you. This makes the SweetNight Original pills suitable for back, stomach, and side sleepers, as well as various builds.
The gel memory foam and breathable cover also combine to help with temperature regulation, which is important to hot sleepers. While this pillow isn't 'cool to the touch' per se, it didn't make me hot, either, in the more than two weeks that I slept on it. In addition, the outer cover is hypoallergenic, antibacterial, and dust-mite resistant, and can be removed and washed, which is a win on the hygiene front.
Keep reading to see how the pillow matches up to the rest of the on the market. And if you're looking for ways to really boost your sleep comfort further, take a look at our guide to this year's best mattress for all budgets.
Having tested plenty of other other options, I think the SweetNight Original Cooling Gel Foam Pillow is one of the very best pillows on the market right now. It's ultra-comfortable, effectively temperature regulating, and reasonably-priced. Plus, the adjustability means it can suit any type of sleeper. Read on for my full SweetNight Original Cooling Gel Foam Pillow review.
SweetNight Original Pillow review: Specs
SweetNight Original Pillow review: Price and deals
Currently the SweetNight Original Cooling Gel Foam Pillow is the only pillow in the SweetNight range, and it's available in three sizes. It's available to purchase directly from SweetNight but also might be available via Amazon – although the stuffing on that version looks different in the photos, so it might not be exactly the model I reviewed. Regular sales mean you should be able to avoid paying full price.
Here's a look at the official pricing and the discounts available on the SweetNight site at time of writing:
Standard: MSRP $75 (on sale for $60)
Queen: MSRP $80 (on sale for $64)
King: MSRP $85 (on sale for $68)
View the SweetNight Original Pillow from $75 now $60 The SweetNight Original pillow comes stuffed with cubes of cooling gel foam, which can be removed to achieve the perfect loft. It's available in three sizes (although the standard seems to be perpetually out of stock) and all are discounted at time of writing.View Deal
SweetNight Original Pillow review review: Design and materials
Gel-infused, cubed memory foam stuffing
Stuffing can be removed to adjust loft
Outer cover is waterproof and machine-washable
The SweetNight Original Cooling Gel Foam Pillow is made of gel-infused shredded memory foam filling. With all the cubes inside, this is a seriously thick pillow. However, they can be removed to adjust the loft to the sleeper's exact preferences.
This pillow actually has two covers. The cubes of foam are encased within an inner cover, and then there's a second, outer cover, made from a rayon and polyester blended fabric. The outer cover can be removed and tossed into the washing machine, making it easy to keep this pillow clean. SweetNight recommends tossing the pillows into the dryer every two months (with the zippered covers on) to keep them from going flat.
There are three sizes to choose from. At time of writing there were no dimensions listed on the SweetNight site, but the PR provided sizes as follows:
Regular: 62cm x 45cm (out of stock at time of writing)
Queen: 70cm x 45cm
King: 91cm x 45cm
The pillows are also OEKO-TEX certified to be free of harmful chemicals, and the foam is CertiPUR-US certified, which means it meets certain environmental and health standards (all the best memory foam mattresses will have this certification for their foams).
Design score: 5/5
SweetNight Original Pillow review: Comfort and support
Gel-infused cubed foam stuffing is comfortable and supportive
Can be adjusted to suit all sleep positions and body types
When full, this pillow is very thick
The SweetNight Original Cooling Gel Foam Pillow is a thick pillow that provides a comfortable – actually huggable – experience. It's one of those pillows that encourages you to sleep face down simply so you can hug it. And let's be honest, that's actually the best position for the best sleep! (ed's note: this is actually not the best position to sleep in, as it's not good for your back in the long run – you're better lying on your side).
The SweetNight Original Cooling Gel Foam Pillow comes filled with cubed foam stuffing, designed to make the pillow supportive yet comfortable. Zips on the inner and outer covers enable you to remove as much stuffing as you want, to achieve your perfect loft. If you leave all the stuffing inside, this is a seriously thick pillow, but you could make it a medium loft or even a low loft if you prefer. All this means it can be adapted to suit pretty much anyone, of any build and sleep position, and ensure your head is at the perfect height to ensure correct spinal alignment.
My preference is for a thick, high loft pillow that's huggable, so I never removed any of the fill. It's hard to imagine a better sleeping experience – I would liken it to sleeping on a cloud, but a supportive cloud that could be hugged.
Many memory foam pillows are made from a single block of foam, which can feel overly firm or solid. The cube-shaped memory foam filling here makes the SweetNight pillow incredibly soft and fluffy. It contoured comfortably around my head when lying on it, but there was none of the slow-moving, quicksand feel traditionally associated with memory foam – instead, the SweetNight pillow is springy and bounces back immediately when pressure is removed. It also kept its shape extremely well, and I never had to refluff it.
For me, sleeping face-down was the absolute best position with the DreamFoam pillow. Sleeping on my side was also comfortable, as was propping the pillows behind my back when sitting in bed to watch TV. When sleeping on my back, the pillow wasn't uncomfortable, but my body tended to transition into the other two positions – partially because they were more comfortable, and partially because I only sleep on my back when in testing mode.
Firmness and support score: 5 out of 5 stars
SweetNight Original Pillow review: Temperature regulation
Not cool to the touch, but the general temperature regulation is good
No issues with this pillow trapping body heat
Cubed memory foam offers better breathability
The memory foam stuffing in the SweetNight Original pillow is infused with gel (referred to as 'icy particles'), which is designed to help with temperature regulation. Gel-infused foam is used regularly in memory foam mattresses, but in reality, industry insiders will tell you that the gel is added in such small quantities that it won't make an appreciable difference to how the foam feels. Nevertheless, some foams do sleep cooler than others, and I found the SweetNight offered decent temperature regulation.
The fact that the foam is cubed will also help boost breathability compared to if it were a solid slab, because there's space for air to circulate within the pillow.
The SweetNight Original Cooling Gel Foam Pillows weren't cool to the touch, but neither are the vast majority of 'temperature-regulating' pillows that I test. However, the pillows did provide a relatively cool sleeping experience. Since I have central heat and air, the temperature doesn't change much in my home, so I'm never hot in the summer or cold in the winter. However, during testing phases, I sometimes get hot in any season if the pillows or bedding is hot. I didn't have any issues with the SweetNight pillow trapping heat or getting warm overnight.
Temperature regulation score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
SweetNight Original Pillow review: Setup and extras
Arrive shrink-wrapped, 1-2 hours to expand
SweetNight warns there can be off-gassing
... but I didn't have an issue with this
The pair of SweetNight Original Cooling Gel Foam Pillows arrived in two branded boxes. I'm not a fan of branded boxes, since they tend to advertise what's inside. So I'm always thankful when these boxes safely reach their destination.
Admittedly, the boxes were a little beat up, but had been thoroughly taped, and the contents were in good condition. Inside each box, the pillows were individually wrapped in one layer of plastic, and shrink-wrapped in a second layer of plastic.
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SweetNight recommends allowing 1 to 2 hours for the pillows to fully inflate, so I tore open the plastic wrap, and then left them for 2 hours to expand. The brand also warns that it's normal for new pillows to have a slight odor, but by letting the pillow air out for 1-2 days, the smell would dissipate. This is know as off-gassing and it's harmless but can occasionally be unpleasant. To be on the safe side, I moved my SweetNight pillows to another location for two days, although I never smelled any off-gassing odors – and my nose is sensitive.
In terms of extras, you've got a 30-day full refund period (there aren't many details at all about what kind of returns will be accepted during this period). The pillow comes backed with a three-year warranty.
Setup and extras score: 4/5
SweetNight Original Pillow review: Customer reviews
At time of writing (Sep 2023), on Amazon, the SweetNight Original Cooling Gel Foam Pillow has 603 ratings with an average rating of 4.3 stars. Many reviewers highly recommended the pillow, said they absolutely loved it, finally found the right pillow, and were glad it relieved shoulder and neck pain and supported their neck region. Among the handful of negative reviews were comments that the pillow was too flat, hard as a rock, and produced a chemical smell.
On SweetNight, the pillow has 382 reviews with a 5.0 rating – and 100% would recommend the product. There were only 5- and 4-star reviews. Buyers found the pillow very comfortable, and noted that they had less neck pain when sleeping on it. Among the 4 star ratings, some buyers said they wanted more filling, or thought the pillow was too big, but still loved it.
Should you buy the SweetNight Original Pillow?
The SweetNight Original Cooling Gel Foam Pillow is one of the best memory foam pillows that I've tested. It's supportive while also being soft and luxurious. The ability to remove some of the fill makes the pillow a good choice for side, back, and stomach sleepers. Also, the gel foam filling and outer cover are temperature regulating to keep the pillow cool. And since the outer cover is machine washable, it's easy to keep the pillows clean. An excellent all-rounder that will suit almost anyone.
SweetNight Original Pillow review: Also consider
How I tested the SweetNight Original Pillow
For over two weeks, I slept on a pair of SweetNight Original Cooling Gel Foam Pillows to see how they fared in performance, testing for setup, comfort, support, and temperature regulation. I also lay in side-, back-, and stomach-sleeping positions to see if the performance was the same.
Shure's Aonic 50 Gen 2 look the business. And not only that, they back up their not-here-to-mess-around aesthetic with Qualcomm's Snapdragon Sound support, so aptX Adaptive, aptX HD, regular aptX and LDAC are all here – aka all of the current top-tier wireless audio coding.
But there's more! The Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2's bid for inclusion in our best wireless headphones guide culminates in a special USB-C port not just for charging. It means hi-res USB audio is also on the menu (look over here, iPhone 15 and Apple Music users!) thus completing a veritable banquet of connectivity options, from wireless Bluetooth audio pinged from your phone, older sources in a more traditional wired hi-fi system, right up to USB-C audio from your MacBook Pro at work. If that sounds good to you, add these headphones to your list.
However, the star feature of these hotly anticipated second-generation Shure cans (let's be clear here, the three years and five months since the originals is eons in the world of headphone iterations) is Shure’s new spatialized audio technology. The feature provides three distinct modes: Music, Cinema, and Podcast. And the good news is that these are a delight across the board, offering oodles of separation and crispness to vocals during movies and podcasts especially, but unearthing extra sonic articles in even your heavy-rotation music playlists too.
To stake a claim for the best noise-cancelling headphones currently on the market, Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 feature advanced hybrid active noise cancellation. As you'd expect, mics inside and outside the earcup allow the Aonic 50 Gen 2 scope to fine-tune your auditory environment, but you can also help it along thanks to four selectable modes: Light, Moderate, Max, and MaxAware.
For us, the performance here was just a shade under excellent. On the one hand, the clamping force is strong with this one (possibly even a little too forceful for those blessed with larger skulls) and levels of passive isolation are top-notch. But on occasion we found the more ambient-aware options (MaxAware aims to offer the best of both worlds – blocking unwanted noise and maintaining awareness of your surroundings) added warmth to our music and a marginal sweetness to the upper mids. Essentially, the overall efficacy of the noise-nixing here can be beaten by the class-leaders at the level.
Picking up on the comfort, at 340g they feel just a tad heavy over longer listening sessions, despite the ample padding. For reference, the Edifier Stax Spirit S3 weigh 329g they're comfortable for all-day use. OK, Apple's AirPods Max weigh 44g more than the Shures at 384g, while Sony's WH-1000XM5 are quite a bit lighter at 249g – so depending on what you're used to, there may be an adjustment period here.
When it comes to sonic performance, Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 is a set of over-ears for the EQ curious. There is very good sound to be had here, if you're prepared to work for it just a little. Those with neither the time nor the inclination to play with those presets might find the sound out of the box a little light on lower mids, treble-heavy and even a fraction cluttered timing-wise, albeit expansive and detailed.
The ShurePlus Play app is your friend here and honestly, I'd go in to battle for this companion app – it is slick, easy to navigate and makes more sense than several offered by rival products. It'll even corral your music under one tab, for easy streaming across various services. Pairing is also a breeze and these headphones skip happily from one device to another thanks to multipoint connectivity that really works.
In summary, the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 are solid all-rounders. If I'm nitpicking (and it is my job to do so), those who want perfect sound quality from the box may not have the patience for these headphones and the ANC is fine rather than fantastic – but those who love immersive spatial audio during movies, podcasts or playlists are well served here. And if you want USB-C hi-res headphones with the option to go wireless? They're an excellent choice.
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Price & release date
Released in September 2023
Priced $349 / £349 / approx. AU$540
The Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 arrived in the third week of September 2023, having been announced on August 31.
They are priced aggressively for the elite over-ear headphones sector. To explain, that MSRP is actually cheaper than the launch price of the inaugural April 2020 Shure Aonic 50, which were aimed very much at the upper end of the consumer market and evaluated accordingly at $399 / £359, around AU$580.
This clever new pricing strategy from Shure undercuts the asking fee of some of the best and most notable over-ear headphones in the business by a tidy $50 – see the Sony WH-1000XM5 ($399 / £380 / AU$649), the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 ($399 / £379 / approx. AU$575) and the Edifier Stax Spirit S3 ($399 / £330 / approx. AU$640) for starters.
The Illinois audio specialist has put the Aonic 50 Gen 2 right in the way of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless too, which will set you back $349.95 / £300 / AU$549.95 too. Smart – if the performance is good enough.
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2: Specs
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Features
Excellent spatial audio processing options
Very useful EQ presets
USB Audio supports up to 32-bit/384kHz
Firstly, stamina: 45 hours is very good (although not as good as the 80-hour staying power of the Edifier Stax Spirit S3, granted, but the comparison is skewed since the Edifier headphones are devoid of ANC) and I can confirm that this battery claim holds true.
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 headphones are a walk in the park to pair, too. Multipoint? Easy – and once you get used to that fact that the physical buttons are all on the right earcup, altering volume, playback and ANC profiles works a charm.
One lovely little perk here is PausePlus. Imagine you're listening to death metal at the office with Max ANC deployed and your boss approaches (just a random example, no reason). If PausePlus is toggled to on, simply pressing the multi-function button to pause the music also deploys ambient sound, so you can hold a polite conversation with your superior and pretend you were only listening to the latest episode of Revisionist History podcast.
Next up, Shure's Spatializer – no, nothing to do with turning vegetables into edible ribbons. In the app, under the device tab (see? It makes sense, it's a feature on the device) you can select spatial audio processing optimized for music, movies or a podcast. I found they brought all of these sources to life, adding depth, value and enjoyment to the whole testing process.
The EQ presets are a similar story – in fact I suggest using both EQ and spatial audio liberally. There's a dedicated Equalizer tab, and although you can go manual if you want, Shure has sensibly opted to call its presets names such as Bass Cut, Bass Boost, Treble Cut and Vocal Boost. My particular favorite is Treble Cut for music, since I do find these headphones a little heavy-handed through the higher frequenciess, but the point is that Shure has bucked the trend of creating profiles for specific music genres (how often have you wondered whether 'jazz' is the correct preset for the acoustic mix you're listening to, or whether soft-rock is really the same as 'rock'?) and it's an excellent move.
Now, ANC. It's acceptable. It isn't a complete bubble of silence. You deploy it by moving a physical slider all the way up on the right ear cup for ambient, or all the way down for ANC. But you can also open the app to select either the Environment Mode Level on a slider, or Light, Moderate, Max, or MaxAware ANC options. I was unable to perceive a lot of difference in the ANC options during the course of my testing save for MaxAware, which also filters in ambient noise. For softening the extraneous sounds of the office, they do a job – but the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 or Sony WH-1000XM5 still do that job a fair bit better.
Call quality is aided by a "Hear myself on calls" toggle and it does exactly what it says on the tin, making calls feel a lot less like your head's stuck in a bucket as you speak.
Features score: 4.5/5
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Sound quality
Expansive and revealing separation and clarity
Can come off treble-centric on occasion
Not the most musically cohesive listen
Kicking off with Ritchie Sacramento by Mogwai on Tidal (a FLAC file) with a wired USB-C connection to my Mac, the twinkling chimes and expansive ambient soundscape is pensive and more detailed than I remember it through lesser headphones. The driving beat underpins everything and as sonic articles jangle and dart between each ear, a rare talent for clarity through the mids is revealed.
Paolo Nutini's Loving You is a delight, with Nutini's textured voice held centrally among agile guitars and easy drums.
Switching to an Apple Music file on iPhone, Jamie T's Sticks 'n' Stones is energetic and immersive to the point that I feel Jamie and friends all congregating around me at Hampton Wick Station. It's here I notice the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2's tendency to over-celebrate the treble though – and as a result, the mix can sound a touch disorganized and jumbled on occasion; the placement of each musical strand seems as if it relies on the frequency being played. Here, female backing vocal "ah"s come forward a little too readily when T's lyrics should be the star of the show, for example.
It's a relatively minor issue and one only noticeable in direct comparison against the likes of the Focal Bathys and Edifier Stax Spirit S3, but it's our job to notice. Otherwise, we're treated to a detailed mix with plenty of dynamic rise and fall through the mids and a decent serving of snappy bass weight.
Deploying the Treble Cut EQ option is the panacea for the upper registers, but it really is worth switching out these profiles depending on your music. If you're someone who believes headphones should just sound good without having to lift a finger, you may not like this solution – and it's a fair point.
Sound quality score: 4/5
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Design
USB port on the right earcup, 3.5mm jack on the left
Design lies flat, but doesn't fold
Longer hair can get caught in the hinge points when fitting them
Do you miss foldable headphones – the kind that concertina up for easier portability? Well, you won't get them here. The large Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2's earpieces here lie flat in the same way that the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, Focal Bathys or newer Fairphone FairBuds XL do, and the hard-shell case is a little more svelte than the Focal's, but it'll still take up a bit of room in your bag – unless you want to use the strap to latch it to a carabiner on the outside of your backpack, perhaps.
The build here is classy and the hinges rotate silently and at a glacial pace (be careful; the anchor point is towards the back of the headband and I caught my hair a few times) which is why it's a little strange that the headband itself is a little noisy if you need to alter the sizing.
The padding on both the earcups and headband is ample and personally, I love that the physical buttons are all one earcup, since I'm right-handed, although those with larger fingers (or lefties) may find this a little fiddly.
What is a little strange is the location of the cable ports, with one on each earpiece – but this is a relatively small issue.
There's hardly any sound bleed; people on desks next to me couldn't hear my tracks at 50% volume in the office unless I lifted an earcup away from my head. On this, the clamping force is relatively strong; if you're running for a train you'll be glad of it, if you're relaxing in a comfy chair, perhaps not so much. There's no IP rating for water resistance here, so try not to wear them to the shower.
In summary, the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 are a handsome, sleek – if marginally heavy, at 340g – set of over-ears. They're not winning any design awards for originality, but the branding on each earcup is classy and if you prefer physical controls and sliders over touch capacitive functions (I do) you'll enjoy them.
Design score: 4.5/5
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Value
Spatial audio is a high-end option
USB-C audio connection adds flexibility
The merely acceptable ANC may not be what you want
First off, these headphones are not particularly expensive given their features and the price of competitors. That said, if you want the best ANC over-ears money can buy, spend it elsewhere, on the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless or the Sony WH-1000XM5. There is active noise cancellation here, and the presets are fine, but it isn't a class-leading experience.
Buying headphones almost always involves a compromise somewhere (omission of a particular hi-res codec, poor call quality but great sound, lack of water resistance), but for the wealth of connectivity supported both with wires and without, the spatial audio profiles and the outstanding EQ tweaks, Shure's Aonic 50 Gen 2 are almost impossible to equal.
The battery level is more than sufficient at 45 hours, the build is classy, the companion app is excellent and the multipoint pairing experience has never let me down.
The flies in the ointment? Occasionally the treble is a little forward in the mix and the ANC is a shade off excellent. Depending on your priorities, this either doesn't matter or is a deal-breaker. It's up to you.
Value score: 4.5/5
Should I buy the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2?
Buy them if...
Don't buy them if...
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Also consider
How I tested the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2
Bulk of testing done using an iPhone 12, running ShurePlus PLAY app, firmware version 184.108.40.206
Tested over two weeks, listened against the Edifier Stax Spirit S3, Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless and Focal Bathys
Used on long walks on public streets, at work in a busy office, on a train, and at home
Listened to Tidal Masters, Apple Music, Qobuz and Spotify on an iPhone 12, a Sony Xperia 1 V, and via USB-C connection on MacBook Pro
To test headphones is to invite them into your life – how the case fits in your bag is just as important as how they slip onto your head. These cans became my daily musical companion – after a thorough run-in period. And just as Shure is a trusted name in audio, I now trust these headphones to work every day, regardless of how you're connecting to your music source, without fail.
The Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 accompanied me to work on busy weekdays (walking brusquely to the station; boarding a train and the London Underground; at the office) and walking along the blustery seafront on the UK coastline – a great way to test any wind-interference from mics during calls.
To check the audio quality across the frequencies, I listened to various playlists across various music genres (spanning everything from grime to classical) on Apple Music and Tidal, but also to podcasts and albums on Spotify – plus of course YouTube tutorials (on how to change my car's brake light, mostly) from my MacBook Pro.
I’ve been testing audio products for over five years now. As a dancer, aerialist and musical theater performer in another life, sound quality and the user experience have always taken priority for me personally – but portability, security and comfort come a close second.
Sony’s 50th full-frame lens, the FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS II, is a comprehensive update of the (almost) 10-year-old Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS stalwart. It’s part of a recent wave of smaller and lighter second-gen Sony lenses, in this case, it's 15% smaller and lighter than its predecessor, weighing 794g / 28.1 oz, and measuring 149mm / 5.8in long.
Lens size is a big deal when you shoot with Sony cameras – they are smaller than most and can feel off-balance with a big chunk of glass on the front. I paired the 70-200mm F4 II with the Sony A7C R, which is one of the best travel cameras, plus the crop-sensor Sony A6700 (with which the lens focal length is increased 1.5x), and both cameras proved an excellent fit with the lens.
If this mark II version of the lens was only smaller and lighter it could be worth an upgrade for that reason alone, but it’s also the beneficiary of a total redesign, which has given it sharper image quality, faster autofocus and next level macro focusing. Yes, it’s smaller, lighter, sharper, quicker and more versatile than the original, and one of the best Sony lenses around.
The 70-200mm lens is already a versatile focal length – my own Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 G DSLR lens was my most-used lens for many years for portraits, weddings and events, and also proved to be an adept tool for sports, wildlife, landscape photography and more. Sony’s 70-200mm F4 II happily works in these fields, but also adds class-leading macro focusing capability, up to 0.5x magnification at any focal length, with a minimum focus distance of 0.26m / 0.86 ft at 70mm, and 0.42m / 1.38ft at 200mm.
Add the 2x teleconverter with an unchanged minimum focus distance and the macro capability is doubled to 1.0x magnification – that’s 1:1 life size. I’m generally not a fan of teleconverters; even the very best soften the image and can affect color rendering. In fact, you can see the minimum focus distance in action, plus the color shift of the same scene shot with and without Sony's 2x teleconverter, in the sample images below. In any case, the 0.5x magnification without teleconverter beats any other 70-200mm lens and adds another string to the bow of this versatile zoom lens.
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This is also a well-made and complex lens, with customizable function buttons and no fewer than five switches covering features such as a focus range limiter (including a new macro setting), full-time direct manual focus, SteadyShot optical stabilization and a zoom-lock that fixes the lens in its closed position when not in use – otherwise the lens barrel extends when zooming.
Sony also says its new linear XD focusing technology, comprising four ‘high-thrust’ focus motors, increases autofocus tracking precision, even while zooming, and ultimately achieves what is 20% faster focusing than in the 2014 version.
Camera tech has moved on in the 10 years since the original 70-200mm F4, too, and when you use the 70-200mm F4 II’s new focusing skills with a Sony camera equipped with the latest Bionz X processor and AI-autofocus chip, focusing is super intelligent, quick and reliable. For this review, the 70-200mm F4 II and A7C R have given me lightning-quick and reliable autofocus for photos and smooth video autofocus.
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Sony FE 70-200mm F4 Macro G OSS II: price and release date
The Sony FE 70-200mm F4 Macro G OSS II lens costs $1,699 / £1,749 / AU$2,699 and includes a lens hood and removable tripod collar. It was available from August 2023. That's an understandable price increase given the improvements in this second-gen model, somewhere between the F4 original version, and the current pro-level Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 II version.
Sony FE 70-200mm F4 Macro G OSS II: Image quality
An array of advanced aspherical and extra-low dispersion elements suppress lens distortion and render sharp detail, while the 9-blade aperture produces what Sony describes as ‘exquisite full-frame bokeh’.
You can see from my self portrait below (taken remotely using the Sony Creators' app, at the lens' widest possible F4 aperture) that bokeh is smooth with no aberration or onion-ring distortion, while the shape at F4 is fairly round in the center of the frame, yet distinctly cat-eye in the corners. I’ve included cropped areas of the picture for a better look.
If I were to take the exact same picture under identical conditions with Sony's 70-200mm F2.8 lens instead, or a prime lens with an even wider aperture, then bokeh would appear larger, and most likely even rounder. For an F4 lens, bokeh is actually very pleasant, but portrait specialists would choose an F2.8 or wider for that 'exquisite' bokeh.
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Flare is also really well controlled in this backlit scene, and I’ve included a different macro photo of a spider and its web (in the same gallery) with stronger backlighting, and flare is mostly absent in that example, too. The included lens hood helps to reduce flare in these kind of scenarios.
A close look at the detail in the eye of the same self portrait reveals super-sharp detail, right where it matters. This single portrait photo alone displays many excellent attributes of what is an impressive telephoto zoom, paired with a reliable autofocus system in the latest Sony mirrorless camera.
Cast your eye over a wide range of photos, some of which are included in the gallery below to show the breadth of subjects you can capture, and it's clear the 70-200mm F4 II is a highly capable all-rounder. Image sharpness is maintained from the center to the edges of the frame, there's virtually no barrel or curvilinear distortion (the 70-200mm lens isn't known for either), and even in the corner of woodland photos with bright background light punctuating the tree cover, there's virtually no chromatic aberration. Put simply, there's very little fault to pick at in this excellent lens.
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The image quality disparity between the pricier and heavier Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 pro lens and this second-gen F4 model has diminished somewhat and arguably the choice isn’t about overall image quality anymore – or even depth of field, because the F4 aperture gives an extremely shallow depth of field with a full-frame camera. Instead, it comes down to whether or not you need the extra stop of light, or particularly big bokeh.
Personally, I regularly rely on the wider F2.8 aperture for events and wedding photography in particular, where light is often dim. However, that Sony F2.8 lens is much heavier, and if you mainly shoot in daylight and would prefer a travel-friendly lens, then the F4 II is a no brainer.
Overall, the second-gen 70-200mm F4 lens is notably better - and more versatile - than its predecessor in almost every regard. The sting is the costlier list price, although it’s worth the extra money if you want a lighter lens better balanced with your Sony camera, together with its refined image quality and closer focusing.
Should I buy the Sony FE 70-200mm F4 Macro G OSS II lens?
Buy it if...
Don't buy it if...
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How I tested the Sony FE 70-200mm F4 Macro G OSS II lens
I've had my hands-on the Sony FE 70-200mm F4 lens on several occasions, for short and extended periods of time. I used it extensively while I was writing my Sony A7C R review, in a generous variety of scenarios that allowed me to fully test its capabilities.
At a pre-launch event I was able to test its close-up photography opportunities with the 2x teleconverter that increases its maximum 0.5x magnification to 1.0x. I've also happily used the lens for macro shots without the teleconverter at my own leisure.
It's been attached to the travel-friendly A7C R and A6700 cameras, making for an ideal size-match, and I've shot everything from portraits to landscapes with it, plus low light sequences that push the lens' AF motors. I've also used it for general travel photography, for which this lens is a lovely companion.
Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
Release date: October 3, 2023
After you’ve beat up enough jackbooted thugs in an alleyway, the brilliance of The Lamplighters League reveals itself. The turn-based strategy game comes from Harebrained Schemes, better known these days for their work on stompy mech-’em-up BattleTech, but the scuffles here couldn’t be further from BattleTech’s city-leveling conflicts.
Here the fighting jumps from the pages of pulp adventures, where your cast of daring scoundrels biff, pow, and blast baddies in a variety of locations: a winding alleyway, a hotel in the desert, or a snowy forest. While the stakes are the same - the end goal is to save the world from a horrible fate - the methods in which you try to seize victory often involve a poison dagger, a hand grenade, or even just a pair of revolvers.
The change is a good one. Bringing the camera in close lets us see the characters, and it’s these that make The Lamplighter League shine brighter than many other entries in the turn-based tactics genre. The writing is top-notch here, and characters will react to each other's triumphs and mishaps with lines that hint at the growing relationships between the rogue’s gallery that join you on missions.
While the mechs that inhabit Harebrained Schemes’ BattleTech are sterile and unknowable, these heroes are the beating heart of The Lamplighter League.
Some smart design decisions mean you’ll often rotate the agents you take on missions, particularly because when a character is downed they’ll often need time to recover. However, you’ll mostly switch up your A-team operatives regularly because every character is brilliant, hewn roughly from archetypes you might see in any tale of derring-do. The Lamplighters League makes itself clear early when you start with the stealthy Lateef, punchy Ingrid, and pistol-toting Eddie, but I was most fond of Ana Sofia, who gets a ton of killer voice lines, is well-acted, and also has a submachine gun despite her official role of team healer.
In play, most of these characters will feel distinct. Ingrid is a close-range behemoth, with the ability to dance through a crowd of enemies, knocking one over as it hits the wall before pirouetting into the middle of a brawl to unleash her ultimate ability; a sweeping leg and a high roundhouse kick, damaging everything around her. Eddie can put out a nearly unlimited amount of damage with his revolvers, and every character has their own “engine”, a unique mechanic that lets them be good at the thing they’re supposed to be good at.
This is classic turn-based strategy, so there’s a grid and you’ll rattle around it burning AP (each character starts with two, but it’s a fluid resource, and many buffs or skills will give characters more) to move or perform actions. Once your heroes - there’s usually three but some missions can give you more - have acted, then the enemy will take their turn. So far, so turn-based. The addition of stealth makes things a little more interesting, but stealth here isn’t a viable option for the entire game but instead a chance, Indy-style, to bop a few guards before a big scrap.
The violent stealth kills available to all Bruiser characters has them charge into a crowd of enemies killing everyone they touch. As The Lamplighters League points out, it’s hard for anyone to raise the alarm when they’re all dead.
The meta-game and size of conflicts bring to mind a different turn-based tactics game. XCOM: Chimera Squad feels like a close fit style-wise, with small-scale movement-focused warfare as you seek to stop three powerful enemies working for ultimate baddies - The Banished Court - from gaining too much power. This is represented by little gauges and as they fill up this trio will gain extra abilities and be more of a pain in your behind. So, you juggle missions to try and keep them from gaining too much power, and then you take the fight to them with a mission that knocks them off the board entirely. If you’ve seen this before in XCOM 2’s stellar War of the Chosen expansion, no you didn’t.
Sadly, the push and pull of this in addition to the several different resources you need to keep on top of to upgrade your weapons or healing abilities while also recruiting new members to the League, means that the metagame is often the most stressful part of the experience. There are just a lot of urgent issues that need your time and attention and while this does create tension it often goes right past that, until it’s something akin to the game smacking you upside the head, demanding you to make an impossible choice.
This will keep you engaged - especially when these demands start forcing you to go toe to toe with the dangerous scions just so you can delay their plans a little, even at the cost of your own agents - but it’s at odds with the rest of the game which is mechanically lightweight.
Still, there’s a strong chance if you’re into strategy games you’ll find something to love with The Lamplighters League, even if, due to the lack of replayability, you’ll probably only enjoy it once.
Subtitles and a few graphics options are your lot here. You can change the opacity of text boxes and change the size of text boxes if needed, but there’s very little else on offer. However, due to its turn-based nature, this may be enough accommodations for many.
How we reviewed The Lamplighters League
I played The Lamplighter League for 20 hours, which was enough to wrap up around two-thirds of the game’s story. I did this with a keyboard and mouse and think it would be better to do it that way.
I’ve played a lot of turn-based tactics games, and have reviewed the likes of XCOM 2, Jagged Alliance 3, Marvel’s Midnight Suns, and XCOM Chimera Squad. I beat XCOM 2 on Legendary without losing a single soldier, which doesn’t impact my review but isn’t something I can brag about usually so give me my moment, yeah?
CDNetworks CDN Pro (previously known as CDN360) is a powerful and professional CDN from cloud computing experts CDNetworks, who also offers a host of other high-end cloud services (object storage, media streaming, edge computing, web application firewalls and more.)
CDN Pro scores an immediate thumbs up from us for its vast network of 250+ Points of Presence (PoPs) located all around the world. There's decent coverage for North America and Europe, not so much for Africa and South America, but the real highlight is Asia, Oceania and CDN Pro's extensive China coverage of 70+ cities (even a giant like Cloudflare 'only' has 37.)
CDNetworks uses QUIC (HTTP/3), GZIP and Brotli compression and its own custom technologies to accelerate all kinds of content, from simple static downloads, to dynamic traffic, video streaming and more.
If you're using CDN Pro in a business, it's likely you'll want several users to have access to the service. We were happy to see that we could add multiple additional users to our account, and assign them custom roles (Admin, Viewer, Operator.)
You can even enforce two-factor authentication on some or all accounts, though only by using an authenticator app (there's no support for the more convenient, though also less secure SMS or email notifications.)
CDNetworks doesn't try to catch you out with hidden or unexpected charges, unlike some of the competition. You can create as many self-signed or Let's Encrypt TLS certificates as you need, for instance, or use custom certificates of your own.
Support isn't a paid extra, either, as it is with AWS CloudFront: every customer can ask for help to get the CDN set up, configure it for the best results, or get troubleshooting advice 24/7 via email, telephone or ticket.
CDNetworks CDN Pro pricing is partly based on your use of four groups of servers. 'Standard' servers charge a low $0.04 per GB; 'Premium' server traffic is $0.08 per GB; the 'Deluxe' server group costs $0.158 per GB, and the premium 'Ultra' servers cost $0.237 per GB. (The official CDNetworks CDN Pro Pricing Page explains which locations are in which groups.)
There's a second set group of servers covering China. 'Standard in China' traffic charges $0.043 per GB; 'Premium in China' costs $0.079 per GB, and the 'Near China' servers are a significantly more costly $0.938.
Don't be put off by those higher prices. Enabling Ultra servers gets you the best coverage worldwide, but you're only charged the higher rate if a visitor is served content from those Ultra servers. When visitors are nearer Standard group servers, they'll use those, and you'll pay the far cheaper Standard rates.
CDNetworks also charges a 'CPU Usage' fee of $1.95 for hour. That's unusual, but it's also fairer than the flat per-HTTP-request fee you'll pay with the likes of AWS CloudFront, because customers running complex edge scripts pay more, and if you're just running a simple CDN, you'll pay less.
There's a lot to think about here, and getting even an estimate of your eventual costs can be a challenge. CDNetworks could be significantly cheaper than some providers, though (even Fastly's cheapest North America region costs $0.12 per GB for the first 10TB of traffic) - and we think it's good value overall.
The best way to get a feel for costs is to sign up for the free trial, which gives you up to three months or $50 traffic usage to see exactly how it works.
There's another cheap starter offering with CDNetworks' Professional plan. Sign up and you'll still pay only for the traffic you use, with a minimum monthly charge of $50. But as we write, you'll get $500 off for each of the first three months, so if your bill comes to $550, you'll only pay $50. That's what we call a good deal.
Getting started with CDNetworks CDN Pro is easy. We clicked the Free Trial button, and handed over a few very basic details (name, email address and company name, but no credit card or other payment information.) The company sent us a verification email, we clicked the link, and completed the signup process by choosing a username and password.
The CDN Pro dashboard is relatively simple, little more than some empty areas where your CDN reports will eventually appear, and a left-hand sidebar with various options. We found that far less intimidating than the cluttered consoles of some competitors.
The language used on the dashboard – about creating ‘properties’, ‘test suites’, ‘secrets’ - didn't give us many clues on what to do next. Fortunately, a 'View Tutorial' button pointed us to a detailed (though complicated) text guide, and a more novice-friendly video tutorial. We tried the setup process ourselves, and it turned out to be relatively straightforward.
We first created a Property, which specified the origin domain for our content (mysite.com) and the hostname for CDN Pro to accelerate (cdn.mysite.com.)
We added a self-certified TLS certificate, then deployed the Property to a Staging environment for testing.
In real-world use, we could then add a Let's Encrypt certificate, deploy the Property to CDN Pro's production servers, update our domain DNS to point the hostname at CDN Pro's servers, and see our website accelerated only a couple of minutes later.
(Check out CDNetworks CDN Pro Support Site for a full description of how this works. If it feels too technical for you, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the Video Tutorial link. Even if you've no knowledge of CDNs right now, this clearly shows how little work you have to do to create a basic setup.)
Once you're up and running, the dashboard begins to display reports showing bandwidth use and how well the CDN is performing.
If you need to know more, a very comprehensive Reports page produces useful charts on traffic, CPU requests, RAM usage, storage and more. You can analyze data in intervals of anything from a month right down to a minute, and we particularly liked the ability to export your data as an image (JPEG, PNG) or PDF.
Elsewhere, simple management tools include options to prefetch content (pre-populate the cache on a schedule, rather than waiting for user requests) or purge it (delete or invalidate cached objects to ensure visitors get the latest version.) Purging isn't 'instant', but we found it typically took only a few seconds, and support for specifying files with regular expressions makes it more flexible than most.
CDNetworks CDN Pro Configuration
CDNetworks sells CDN Pro as a 'programmable CDN', which is great if you need flexibility, but might be a little worrying, if, like us, you've no knowledge at all of NGINX scripting.
The good news is that you don't need any scripting experience at all, at least initially. A Wizard allowed us to choose from a couple of common situations (to optimize for general websites, or downloads/ VOD); we could tweak key values, such as the time to cache objects, in a dialog box, and the Wizard then generated the necessary code. It took us three clicks and maybe five seconds to accept the defaults and set this up.
But, what if we wanted to do something more complex? Look at compression, make sure GZIP was enabled for these file types, disabled for those, and we were using the extra-efficient Brotli compression in the right places?
With most CDNs, you browse down the dashboard, exploring each screen. That makes it easy to discover features like compression, the ability to block requests by country, whatever else the CDN does, and explore those options to find out more.
CDN Pro has very few configurable settings in its dashboard, because it assumes you broadly know what you want to do. That's a problem if you're an inexperienced user, because you may not even know about compression or other features, and CDN Pro doesn't make it easy to discover them.
If you're an old hand with CDNs, though, or you're happy to spend time browsing the documentation and figuring out how the service works, it's a different story. Rather than being forced to wade through multiple screens to find the settings you're after, CDN Pro allows you to create concise code which precisely matches your requirements, and has the flexibility to be easily adaptable in future as your needs change.
Comparing CDN speeds is a tricky business, as there are so many factors involved. Performance might vary depending on the type of website you have, the platform you're using, the mix of files, your server location, the locations of your target audience, and more.
Fortunately, CDNPerf offers a great starting point, by taking real user monitoring data from billions of tests and calculating average response times in locations around the world.
As we write, CDNetworks is placed eighth out of 19 contenders for worldwide response times. Although that might sound disappointing, keep in mind that CDN margins are very, very small. CDNetworks is only a tiny fraction behind big names like Fastly (7th with 27.55ms), Google Cloud CDN (6th with 27.13ms) and Cloudflare CDN (5th with 27.03ms.) You're unlikely to notice any difference in real-world use.
Worldwide speeds are only the start of the story, and CDNPerf also gives speed results for multiple regions. CDNetworks rated below par in Africa (13th), and an ordinary 8th-10th place in North America, Europe, Oceania, and South America. That's not bad at all, but the real highlight is Asia, where CDNetworks scored second place with an average 23.55ms query speed, leaving providers such as AWS CloudFront (25.71ms), Google Cloud CDN (30.52ms) and Fastly CDN (37.58ms) trailing in its digital dust.
CDNetworks CDN Pro could be a smart CDN choice for demanding users who need maximum control over its traffic handling, and its vast presence in China is another big plus. But it's not easy to configure, and you'll need technical expertise (or a lot of time spent reading the manual) to get the best results.
The Nanoleaf Matter Essentials smart bulb is a minor update to the original bulb that was launched in 2021. Not a lot has changed with the new smart bulb, with the sole exception of the addition of Matter connectivity. This makes Nanoleaf’s new light a more futureproof option for a smart home setup.
Before I go into the smart bulb review itself, let’s quickly run through why Matter matters. It’s a connectivity protocol that allows devices from different brands to interact with one another. This makes things like lightbulbs, appliances and other smart gadgets compatible with more brands, and in the case of the Nanoleaf Essentials smart bulb, means it can be controlled with more smart home hubs – Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Apple Home and Samsung SmartThings. If you ever decide to switch platforms, you won’t have to replace any gadgets that are Matter-enabled.
Physically, the Nanoleaf smart bulb hasn’t changed – the Matter Essentials smart bulb keeps the unique polyhedron design from the original version, though there are a few changes to help differentiate it from the older bulbs, like the Matter symbol stamped onto the side.
It’s the software that really counts here, a change that allows the bulb to integrate into your smart home ecosystem, or start a future-proof automated home from scratch. When initially connecting the smart bulb to the app, Nanoleaf will scan for any firmware updates and prompt you to get them. There’s four in total as of the end of September 2023, each improving the reliability and response for Matter pairing, and also adding Circadian Lighting to the Matter-compatible Essentials range (which includes an updated lightstrip as well).
Nanoleaf Essential’s Matter upgrade wasn’t as seamless as it claimed when I first tried adding the A19 | E26 bulb (or A60 | E27 as the fitting is denoted in Australia where the light was tested) to my smart home – there were initial issues connecting the bulb to my Google Nest Hub 2, which was already connected to its iOS app on an Apple iPhone, which felt counterintuitive to how Matter is supposed to work. However, as of August, that issue has been resolved thanks to further firmware updates that were rolled out from both Nanoleaf and Google, and now I can control the bulb with my iPhone and the Nest Hub 2.
Speaking of the Apple ecosystem: it should be noted that not all features of the bulb will work, like Apple Adaptive Lighting, as it’s not HomeKit certified. While the bulb will connect to Apple Home via Matter, you will need a dedicated hub for HomeKit control.
You’d think that an updated smart bulb with new connectivity protocols would warrant a higher price tag, but it’s great that Nanoleaf has kept the price of its Matter Essentials smart bulb the same as the original model. So it’s the same affordable bulb we previously reviewed, but with some nice updates whose value will only become apparent when there are more Matter-enabled smart home devices available.
Prices start at $19.99 / £19.99 / AU$39.99 per bulb
Bundle packs available directly from Nanoleaf
Announced earlier this year alongside the updated light strip, the Nanoleaf Essentials smart bulb is available to purchase right now directly from Nanoleaf and from third-party retailers in most markets. In the US, you can grab the A19 bulbs for $19.99 individually, or $49.99 for a three pack. In both the UK and Australia, the A60 is the equivalent standard, and has a starting price of £19.99 / AU$39.99 for the single bulb, and £49.99 / AU$99.99 for a pack of three.
The price has remained the same as the older Apple Home Nanoleaf Essentials smart bulb, which has now been discontinued by Nanoleaf but will be supported for the foreseeable future.
The Matter Essentials smart bulb is available in large Edison screw and bayonet fittings at the same price, so you will need to make sure you purchase the correct option for your lamps. A Matter-enabled downlight is also available if you want to change your ceiling lights.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Nanoleaf’s smart bulb is one of the most affordable on the market, coming in cheaper than a similar Philips Hue color globe where prices start at $54.99 / £54.99 / AU$119.95 (with varying availability on products, packs and brightness options in each region) for a single smart bulb with the full color spectrum. That’s a massive price difference, and Signify (the makers of the Hue range) is yet to adopt Matter connectivity.
Still the same, unique rhombicosidodecahedron shape
Available in Edison screw and bayonet fittings
Nanoleaf hasn’t made any changes to the design of its Matter Essentials bulb from the previous Apple Home version. It still features a rhombicosidodecahedron shape that makes it stand out on a shadeless, industrial-looking lamp even when switched off.
If you compare the two generations of bulbs with the Edison screw (E26/E27), you’ll notice two minor changes – the tip of the connector is now green instead of white, and the graphics around the base of the bulb have changed. On the side of the newer bulb, there’s a new logo for Matter next to the QR code. Having the latter stamped on the bulb is handy as it means you won’t have to hold onto the information booklet if you need to re-pair your Essentials bulb when moving or swapping them around your house.
Connects to Apple, Google and Amazon smart home devices
Requires Nanoleaf app for firmware updates
There’s a couple of ways to connect the Nanoleaf Matter Essentials smart bulb: through the Nanoleaf app, or via a smart home hub’s app (Google Home or Amazon Alexa). For the former, you simply scan the QR code on the side of the bulb or printed in the booklet, while for the latter you just search for the bulb once you’ve switched it on. You’ll need to have a compatible home hub to connect it to the corresponding apps, so that’s something to keep in mind if you have a preference.
As simple as that sounds, I initially had issues with the bulb refusing to connect to Google Home via the app on my iPhone. I had to use an Android handset (a Google Pixel 7a in this case) to get it working with my Google Nest Hub 2. However, the August update that Nanoleaf rolled out changed this and the Google Home app on my iPhone is now able to control the bulb. That has given me the option of controlling the Matter Essentials bulb with Google Assistant voice prompts. Though, as I don’t have an Apple HomePod, I can’t use Siri as you can’t connect the bulb to Homekit without it, nor can I use my iPad as a home hub since it's not part of the current Home architecture offered by Apple.
It’s important to note that you only get a 15-minute window to connect your Nanoleaf Essentials smart bulb to a Matter-enabled device after being powered up. After this time has lapsed, you’ll need to unplug the bulb from its power source, plug it back in and wait 30 seconds – if you don’t wait, you’ll be met with a security prompt.
Considering the Nanoleaf Matter Essentials bulb also still features Thread and Bluetooth connectivity, Matter doesn’t really, well, matter right now. It’s more about futureproofing your setup wherein you can connect multiple Matter-enable devices around the home and control them all with just one hub. If you do have a Matter (or Thread) router, your control options open up. For example, using a Matter hub means you can control your lights remotely or set up schedules. Nanoleaf handily lists all the different routers you can use as a control hub for this bulb, and it’s good to know it extends across different platforms (see the specs list above for a full list of Matter routers).
While you can forgo using the Nanoleaf app after the initial pairing and setup, you will need it for firmware updates and to access specific features like Circadian Lighting and creating custom color scenes, however these can essentially be copied through other apps, but I’ll go into this more in the performance and features part of this review.
The app itself is simple to use, with easy-to-navigate tabs and the ability to group lights together by rooms. Through it, you can download scenes and set schedules, though if you set up a schedule through a different way, like through Google Assistant, this will override the schedule you set up in the Nanoleaf app.
Setup and app score: 4/5
Nanoleaf Matter Essentials smart bulb review: performance & features
Voice control works almost instantly
Screen mirroring still only available with Nanoleaf desktop app
Supports 16 million colors, including cool white
With the Nanoleaf Matter Essentials smart bulb, you can add it to schedules, adjust its color, control it via voice commands and have it mirror your PC or Mac screen so long as you have the desktop app.
The colors on offer with this bulb are spectacular, with vibrant reds, deep blues, both cool and warm whites, and every color in between. I’d go so far as to say that the colors are more vivid than on a Hue light. With the Nanoleaf app, you can create or download scenes made by other users which will make the bulb switch between colors with different transition options available to adjust to your liking. If you’re really happy with any scene you’ve created, you can make them available for other Nanoleaf users to download too.
It also has the ability to get brighter or dimmer, and you can even set it up to automatically adjust its brightness during the day using the Circadian Lighting feature. The Nanoleaf Matter Essentials A19 smart bulb dimming and brightness are also still fantastic, with the option to go all the way to 0%, and all the way up to the full 1100 lumen it's rated for. It doesn’t quite match the Philips Hues 1600 lumen, but it’s still really impressive, and will easily light up a small bedroom on its own, so long as you’re not using a lamp with a thick shade.
As a low-powered device, there is a small delay when taking voice prompts on the Google Nest Hub 2, but after the hub has registered the prompt, the Nanoleaf Matter Essentials bulb responds almost instantly. You can also make adjustments directly on any touch screen if your home hub has one, and I found any changes I made this way were also incredibly fast to take effect on the bulb itself.
This also means that if you include the bulb as part of any schedules, it will efficiently follow them at the allocated time. With automations through Google Home, you can set the bulb to turn on, change colors, brightness or follow Sleep or Wake lighting effects where the bulb will adjust brightness to simulate a natural sunrise or sunset.
Effectively, I found that I could mimic color scenes or Circadian Lighting this way, but it takes a few more steps to set it up. This does make the Nanoleaf app a little more redundant, though these features are much more intuitive through the app.
Performance and features score: 4/5
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Should I buy the Nanoleaf Matter Essentials smart bulb?
Buy it if…
Don’t buy it if…
How I tested the Nanoleaf Matter Essentials smart bulb
Tested with Google Nest Hub 2, iPhone XR and Google Pixel 7a
Kept up to date and tested with each update - latest September 18, 2023 (update 3.5.41)
Disconnected and reconnected into smart home system several times and in different ways
Initial testing of the Nanoleaf Matter Essentials A19 smart bulb involved the Google Nest Hub 2 and the iPhone XR back in late June. At the time, the bulb had issues connecting through the Google Home app on an Apple device, and required an Android handset.
In a bid to troubleshoot, I disconnected and reconnected periodically (both physically and in the app), using a different combination of phone and app each time. In my tests following the August 17, 2023 updates, I found that both the iPhone and the Google Pixel 7a are able to seamlessly pair the device to the Google Nest Hub 2, through the Google Home app.
I used the bulb in a floor lamp for both my bedroom, and used both in-app controls and voice commands to switch it off and on. I also added it to automations within the Google Home app, and synced it to my alarms on the Nest Hub 2 itself to see how it interacted with these settings.
The Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses Collection aren’t officially called the Ray-Ban Stories 2, but they might as well be. They take everything that made the original Meta and Ray-Ban collaboration stand out, while improving upon those glasses to become worthy successors.
You’ll find improved design options, with two frame styles, five frame colors, and a slew of lens options that allow you to customize your glasses between over 150 different combinations. The charging case, meanwhile, looks more classically Ray-Ban without losing any of the functionality of the case that came with the Ray-Ban Stories.
The cameras get a resolution bump up to 12MP, and image stabilization has been improved to help keep your recordings from looking too shaky. The built-in speaker’s audio has also been given a boost, and there’s a handy voice assistant that lets you control the glasses hands-free.
I had the chance to try out the new Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses ahead of their launch, and while I want to spend more time with them before passing a final verdict, I’ve been impressed by the improvements I saw. That said, I feel these glasses won’t be a good fit for everyone – especially at $299 / £299 (Australian pricing to be confirmed). Unless you can think of a reason why you need these glasses yesterday, you might want to pass on them.
Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses: Price and availability
The new Ray-Ban Meta Collection Smart Glasses are on preorder from September 27 until their October 17 release date, and they’re available for $299 / £299 (Australian pricing to be confirmed). If you want to pick up a pair with Transitions or Polarized lenses this will cost you a little more, at £379 (US and Australian pricing to be confirmed) and £329 (US and Australian pricing to be confirmed) respectively.
This price is the same as the launch price for the Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses, which were the first collaboration between Meta (then Facebook) and Ray-Ban, and is roughly on par with other smart glasses I’ve seen and tested. Just note that these are a very different kind of smart glasses to something like the Xreal Air glasses, so make sure you investigate your options before you order a pair.
Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses: Design
The Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses come in two shapes, and a range of different color options to suit different tastes.
Fans of the iconic Ray-Ban look can pick up a pair of Wayfarers (in standard or large sizes), or you can opt for the brand-new Headliner style that’s been created specially for this collaboration. Both styles come in matte or glossy black, or you can choose a translucent material that comes in black, turquoise, or orange so that you can show off the technology inside your new specs – kind of like that translucent purple GameBoy you always wanted.
You can also outfit the glasses with a massive variety of lenses, from clear to prescription to polarized and a bunch more. All in all there are over 150 different combinations of frames and lenses, so you should be able to find one that suits you perfectly. No matter which combo you choose, the glasses have an IPX4 water resistance rating and boast 32GB of storage, which is enough for roughly 500 photos, and 100 30-second videos.
The camera is positioned on the right edge of the frame, just in front of the right arm. It also has a fairly large and noticeable light next to it, which activates whenever you’re recording a video or taking a picture so that people around you know when the camera is and isn’t on.
Best of all, the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses feel just as lightweight as a regular pair of glasses. The Wayfarers come in at just 48.6g (or 50.8g for the large frames) and the Headliner frame weighs 49.2g, so it shouldn’t be a challenge to wear these for long stretches.
Before I round off the design section of this hands-on review, I need to highlight the charging case – I love it. It looks just like a classic Ray-Ban case, but it has a USB-C port on the bottom and it can provide your smart glasses with an additional 32 hours of use thanks to its internal battery. It only takes 75 minutes to charge the glasses from 0% to full, or you can reach 50% in 22 minutes, which isn’t too bad.
On their own, the smart glasses can hold four hours of charge. This isn’t particularly impressive compared to smartwatches, for example, but considering the small size of the glasses it’s not a huge surprise.
Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses: Performance
Smart glasses aren’t just a fashion accessory, they need to be functional too – and based on my brief demo session with these Ray-Ban spectacles I’d say they do a good job of being a useful gadget.
Its 12MP cameras won’t produce images as crisp as the 50MP snappers found on most mid-range smartphones, though I found that images and 1080p video captured on the glasses looked fine. There’s also a huge advantage over your phone in that you don’t have to hold a phone while recording, which allows you to take a more active part in the footage you’re capturing.
And you can seemingly get involved without too much fear of creating a super-shaky video. While I didn’t give the glasses a massive challenge in the demo, I wasn’t focused on keeping my head still either, yet I noticed that video playback looked reasonably steady for a camera worn on my face.
Audio from the glasses’ speakers also sounds pretty good. I didn’t have the chance to listen to the full range of tracks I normally rely on to get a feel for a gadget’s audio chops, but what I heard didn’t sound half-bad, and best of all audio leakage doesn’t seem to be much of a concern.
I tried out the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses at the same time as someone else, and I couldn’t hear their music while I was standing fairly close to them (and it was apparently playing at moderate volumes).
I need to spend more time with the glasses before I issue my final verdict on their performance. Beyond giving the camera and speakers a more in-depth test, I also want to put the microphone array through its paces. While the audio I recorded did sound clear, I was testing the glasses out in a room with very little noise – I don’t know how well they'll fare outside if I’m trying to record on a windy day or while I’m doing something active and breathing hard.
Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses: Features
The Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses have two new features that you won’t find on the Ray-Ban Stories that came before them.
The first is a simple voice assistant that allows you to record videos or snap pictures by speaking (using the wake word ‘Meta’). If you’re connected to your smartphone you can also ask the assistant to start a call with someone in your contacts, or send them a picture of where you are.
The second is the ability to easily set up an Instagram or Facebook livestream that shows viewers a live feed from your glasses. I was able to set up a test livestream on Instagram, and literally at the push of a button I could swap from the smartphone’s camera to the connected Ray-Ban Meta glasses I was wearing. I hope this feature is extended to other services like YouTube and Twitch too.
Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses: Initial verdict
The Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses Collection offers solid improvements over the Ray-Ban Stories in every single way. That said, I’m still not sure how comfortable people will feel about having a camera always on their face, or how those around you will feel about the camera either.
I need to test them further, but based on my demo I feel like these glasses exist to serve a specific use case. If you can think of ways in which these will enrich your life then the $299 / £299 (Australian pricing to be confirmed) might seem reasonable. However, if you like the idea of smart glasses, but don’t have an immediate idea of how you might use these glasses, you might want to think twice about putting in a preorder.