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ICYMI: We listen to Yamaha’s latest headphones with 3D sound

As we get closer and closer to the end of the year, there are still plenty of interesting gadgets, instruments and devices to review. This week, we’ve got a new addition to the Halo series with Halo: Infinite, which Jessica Conditt says fits right in with the rest of the franchise. Terrence O’Brien played the Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster and reported that the hybrid instrument produces convincing acoustic sounds that echo the original guitar. James Trew used the Analogue Pocket and says it’s the best handheld retro experience available right now, period. And Billy Steele listened to Yahama’s YH-L700A, which he deemed a bit heavy-handed, albeit excellent for movie watching.

The Yamaha YH-L700A headphones have a unique aesthetic and a high price

Billy Steele/Engadget

Billy Steele likes the look of the Yamaha YH-L700A headphones: he says the combination of leather, fabric, matte black and silver accents makes for a refined look while the square fold-in ear cups make them easy to travel with. The noteworthy feature on these headphones is the 3D Sound Field feature, which consists of seven presets to enhance music and movies. There’s also a head-tracking feature which makes the sound appear to be coming from a stationary point.

Billy says this last feature added a cinematic element to movie watching, but he didn’t think it translated when listening to music. The seven presets of the 3D Sound Field likewise worked better for movies and television where they created a spacious sound. While testing the filters with music, Billy reports they felt heavy-handed and didn’t work well across genres. He says the active noise cancellation on these cans is sufficient if not impressive, and points out that the marquee features can be toggled on and off within the app. However, he was disappointed with the battery life – during testing, the headphones managed to last just under 11 hours, which is lackluster when most of the competition boasts closer to 30 hours of battery life. And at $500, they have a high price tag to boot.

The Analogue Pocket offers all the fun of ‘90s portable gaming

James Trew/Engadget

James Trew is a long-time vintage gaming fan and is quick to point out that while the Analogue Pocket is the best experience available right now, it’s also not for casual users. At $220, it lets you play most vintage portable titles from Game Boy, as well as Game Gear, while adapters for Neo Geo Pocket Color and Atari Lynx are on the way. It also has more modern touches, too, like a backlit display. And in addition to being a quality gaming device, the Analogue Pocket can also hook up to a TV and has built-in music making software.

Because of its FPGA “cores,” the Pocket can mimic vintage consoles at a hardware level – no more emulator quirks to suffer through. It’s also functional with original Game Boy accessories like the Game Boy Camera, printers or rumble packs. And it can connect to an authentic Game Boy for a multiplayer experience. James liked the 3.5-inch screen made with Gorilla Glass as well as the save states, but wished the shoulder buttons were better and said some of the display modes obscure on-screen messaging at times. Overall, the Analogue Pocket offers elevated retro gameplay with enough forthcoming additional features to ensure it will get better over time.

Halo: Infinite has fun new mechanics and tools

Engadget

Jessica Conditt had high hopes for Halo: Infinite, the first open-world game in the franchise’s history. And she admits that playing the new storyline brought back warm, gleeful feelings and a sense of familiarity. However, she also thinks the game lacks surprise and intrigue – much of the innovation into vertical space has been done by other, more recent games, and the cramped map made for contained and linear gameplay.

That being said, Jessica reports she had a lot of fun playing with the newly available mechanics and tools, in particular the grapple hook. From climbing mountains to scaling buildings, the grapple hook provides new vertical space for players to explore. Jessica says that while she expected a lot more from the pioneer FPS title, she also thinks it’s at its best when it gives users a rich environment full of grappling, shielding and in-air headshots. From the maze-like levels, military stereotypes and sarcastic robots, Infinite plays like a classic Halo game.

The Hydrasynth Explorer offers an endless array of synth options

Terrence O'Brien/Engadget

Terrence O’Brien admits up front that the Hydrasynth Explorer offers a remarkable array of features and options in a portable, well-built device. For $600, you get a wavemorphing engine with an eight-note polyphone, three oscillators per voice, a ring modulator, a noise source and over 200 waveforms. There are also two filters which can be in series or parallel to determine how much of each oscillator goes to each filter. He says that the 88-page manual feels like it’s just skimming the surface of what the synth is capable of.

However, you don’t need to master the sound design tools to get started with the instrument – just dig into the 640 presets spread over five banks of 128 patches. During testing, Terrence found the Explorer easy to use thanks to the neatly labeled sections on the front panel. A few things missing on the versatile device are a proper sequencer, full-sized keys, and touch strips instead of pitch and mod wheels. There are also only three filter knobs instead of five. Despite that, Terrence still feels that the Explorer is well worth its price tag given its great sound, solid build and plethora of tools to explore.

Fender’s Acoustasonic Player Telecaster is an (almost) perfect couch guitar

Terrence O'Brien/Engadget

Terrence O’Brien also spent some time with the new Fender Acoustasonic Player Telecaster, which slashes $800 off the price of the previous model. For $1,200, you get a mahogany and spruce satin finish with a rosewood fretboard, two pickups and a three-way switch with six sound options. Instead of a rechargeable battery, the Player runs on a standard nine-volt cell. Terrence reports it eats through the batteries surprisingly quickly, but remains convenient.

When it came to how the instrument sounded, Terrence reports that while there are fewer acoustic simulations on this model, the two offerings (Rosewood Dreadnought and Mahogany Small Body) cover a lot of ground. He says that he prefers the electric sounds of the Telecaster to the more expensive Jazzmaster, as it resembles the original guitar more and plays better with pedals. Terrence says the two acoustic simulations offer depth and character, and that overall, the hybrid guitar is a perfect couch instrument.

Universal’s Audio Volt is an audio interface ideal for a home studio

Terrence O'Brien/Engadget

Terrence O’Brien deems Universal Audio’s first foray into the budget space a success. The company’s Volt series, five models that run from $139 to $369, are affordable audio interfaces that share a core 24-bit/192kHz audio converter and a preamp with a “Vintage” mode that aims to recreate that classic tube preamp sounds. Terrence tested the $189 Volt 2 and the $299 Volt 276, which are both two-input interfaces.

The differences between the two models are slight: the Volt 2 is simple and utilitarian, but works well with limited space, while the “76” version has a built-in compressor and will require extra desk space as most of the controls are on the top. Terrence says the compressor makes a big difference as it’s capable of softer edges to tame the harsher frequencies. He also felt the metering LEDs on the 276 were easier to see and the wooden sides were a nice touch. While the base models were excellent interfaces at reasonable prices, Terrence said the 176, 276 and 476 stood out from the pack thanks to their compressors, style and ergonomics.

ICYMI: We check out Android 12’s visual refresh

This week, in addition to covering all the Cyber Week deals we could find, we also reviewed some unique gadgets. Steve Dent and a licensed drone pilot toured the French countryside with the help of the DJI Mavic 3 drone, while Terrence O’Brien played with the Animoog Z app, a sequel ten years in the making. Also, Cherlynn Low played around with Android 12 to check out its new Material You design.

The Mavic 3 is the easiest DJI drone to fly

Steve Dent/Engadget

Steve Dent spent some time with the DJI Mavic 3 and a licensed drone pilot in the French countryside to see what the new device is capable of. He reports that not only is the Mavic 3 the easiest DJI drone to fly, but the large 4/3 sensor and dual camera system produce incredible footage – and the 46 minutes of range is double the time that the previous model could capture. He tested the standard model in the $3,000 Fly More combo package, which includes three batteries, a charging hub, one set of ND filters and a carrying bag. The Mavic 3 is also available in a Cine mode with a built-in 1TB SSD and Apple ProRes 422 HQ video support.

While the Mavic 3 was easier to maneuver thanks to its improved obstacle avoidance, it was also easy to fold the 899-gram drone into a more compact size for storage and travel. Steve says the camera and video specs are impressive: the primary camera was built in collaboration with Hasselblad and has a 24mm f/2.8-f/11 lens with a color profile for accurate hues. The video camera can shoot 5.1K at 50fps or 4K at 60fps; Steve says the larger sensor provides better low light performance, more detail and great dynamic range. However, there are some downsides – namely the price, but also that the additional features that DJI promised (like ActiveTrack5 and QuickShots) aren't available now but will be released in January. Overall, Steve says the Mavic 3 delivers, but is best for professions and prosumers.

Google’s Material You design gives Android 12 a much-needed visual update

Google

Cherlynn Low knows that the many versions of Android make a review of the core features a bit difficult, but the upgrades on the operating system’s most recent release make for a refreshing experience and provide more transparency over data and privacy. That’s largely thanks to the new Material You design that has decluttered the UI and enlarged buttons and sliders, among other things. Cherlynn particularly liked the Privacy Dashboard that informs users when their camera and mic are activated, along with which apps require them. Android 12 also has new indicators for when the camera or mic are actively being used.

Cherlynn did note some aspects that disappointed her, namely the default way to summon the Google Assistant, and the confusing charts and graphs in the battery and privacy dashboards. She was also excited to try the audio-coupled haptic feedback, but wasn’t able to find any apps that supported it. Overall, she said that the visual updates in Material You and increased privacy tools made the system feel drastically different — in a good way.

The Animoog Z app is a proper sequel that took ten years to make

Terrence O'Brien/Engadget

Terrence O’Brien was looking forward to testing out Animoog Z, the follow up to Moog’s original software instrument which used wavetable synthesis. This sequel to the app has largely the same core Anisotropic Synth Engine, consisting of dozens of waveforms that you can choose from, ranging from samples of analog saw waves to more digital sounds. However, the new release adds a third dimension to the X/Y axis of the original — a Z axis that notes can move along.

Terrence says this gives the new app a bit more depth and room to evolve. He found that certain presets took advantage of the additional modulation path to make more complex and unique sounds. There’s also a new effects section with a looper, delay, filter and an arpeggiator, plus MPE support. Additionally, Terrence says the redesigned look that the new app has makes it feel more modern and easier to navigate. After testing, he declared the Animoog Z a worthy successor to the groundbreaking original. A limited version is available as a free download, with the full featured version going for a flat $10.

The best deals on baby gadgets we found for Black Friday

Parenthood, while constantly entertaining, is also one of the most eye-ball meltingly frustrating experiences I’ve personally ever had. At the end of the day, I do not have patience for any additional extra hassles, be it an unresponsive device, lagging apps or diaper wipes that come out 15 at a time. There are some parenting gadgets that are actually worth your money because they can make life with new babies much more convenient, and some of our favorites are on sale for Black Friday. We’ve tried out nearly every product below so we can vouch for their advantages, functionality and what really counts as a good deal for the holiday shopping season. That way you can save all your patience for the toy cars, houses and high chairs you're going to have to build after Christmas. 

Nanit Pro baby monitor

Nanit

Nanit earned a space in our best baby monitor guide because of the crisp, clear details provided by the 1080p birds-eye camera, day or night. The app provides detailed metrics about your child’s sleep habits, as well as video clips though some of that requires a subscription. And Nanit’s wearables — like the Breathing Wear or Smart sheets —measure additional data about your child like respiration rate and height, respectively. The Nanit Pro complete bundle, with the camera, wall mount, travel mount, Smart Sheet, Breathing Band and year of Nanit Insights, is 26 percent off, bringing it down to $280. The rest of Nanit’s products have been discounted as well, including smaller bundles and the wearable accessories.

Buy Nanit Pro bundle at Amazon - $280Shop Nanit Black Friday sales at Amazon

Eufy SpaceView Pro baby monitor

Amazon

Eufy makes reliable, uncomplicated baby monitors that use a wireless FHSS transmission to show a live feed of your kid’s room. Its lack of WiFi makes its feed more secure, though it does require you to carry around an external device. Eufy’s Spaceview Pro pans and tilts to show an entire room and the 5-inch display will last up to twelve continuous hours. The single camera package is $30 off with a coupon, knocking it down to $140, and a bundle that includes the camera, monitor and a crib mount is also discounted thanks to a $40 coupon, bringing it down to $155.

Buy SpaceView Pro monitor at Amazon - $140Buy SpaceView S monitor bundle at Amazon - $155

Cubo AI baby monitor

Cubo AI

While we haven’t finished a formal review of the Cubo AI baby monitor, our initial testing went well: The cute bird-shaped camera can be mounted to a wall or crib and provides a detailed, clear 1080p view. The system uses AI to determine if your baby’s nose or mouth are covered and will send an alert; it can also be useful for older children where it can be set to alert you if they cross into prohibited areas. The feed runs to a companion app that works with Google Home or Alexa, provides two-way audio or enables the night light or lullaby features. Right now, the Cubo AI camera with the wall mount is $30 off with a coupon, making it $170.

Buy Cubo AI at Amazon - $170

Hatch Baby Rest

Amber Bouman/Engadget

Time and time again, I’ve recommended the Hatch Baby Rest because it’s a product I use every single day. The minimalist nightlight-slash-noise machine can display a variety of colors, and sounds, and is controllable from your smartphone or by using the physical buttons. Favorite combos can be saved and programmed, or you can select from presets. The Rest is helpful in sleep training kids, or keeping babies asleep, and can grow with kids by being used to signal awake times. The basic Rest is 40 percent off, so you can snag one for only $60.

Buy Hatch Baby Rest at Amazon - $60

Withings Thermo smart thermometer

Amazon

Another product that quickly won me over during testing is Withings Thermo smart thermometer. I know, a $100 temporal thermometer seems like an unnecessary extravagance. But it’s small and discrete enough to carry on trips, easy and painless to use on squirmy kiddos and the app makes it easy to track the readings from multiple family members. It’s also currently down to $64, only a few dollars shy of its lowest price ever, which makes it even easier to recommend.

Buy Withings Thermo at Amazon - $64

4moms mamaRoo 4 baby swing

4moms

We put the mamaRoo 4 baby swing in our best baby gear guide thanks in part to its easy setup and the freedom it gives parents to entertain their kids without having them in their arms at all times. The swing mimics the things parents often do to soothe their kids with its five movement options, five speed settings and four built-in sounds. The best part? It's fully controllable via your smartphone, so you can easily change up the motion, speed or sound when your child gets bored and fussy. The mamaRoo 4 normally costs $250, but it's on sale for $200 for Black Friday.

Buy mamaRoo 4 at Amazon - $200

Miku baby monitor

Amazon

We haven’t reviewed the Miku yet, but it looks to offer many of the same advantages as the cameras we have spent hands-on time with: A birds-eye 1080p HD video stream of you child's crib that also measures respirations per minute, tracks sleep data, two-way audio, access from anywhere via the app and lullabies. The company is offering the camera with the wall mount for $300, which is $100 off.

Buy Miku baby monitor at Amazon - $300

Get the latest Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers by visiting our deals homepage and following @EngadgetDeals on Twitter.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

ICYMI: It’s finally time to test SharePlay on iOS 15.1

This week we’ve got a wide range of reviews on everything from mobile operating systems to craft cutting machines. First, Mat Smith checked out the new SharePlay feature on iOS 15.1 and determined it has potential. Next, Billy Steele listened to the Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones and found them to be just as comfortable as their predecessors, and with improved noise cancellation, too. Nathan Ingraham put the HP Chromebook X2 to the test and found the lightweight laptop has a stellar screen that’s ideal for travel. Steve Dent turned the dial on ASUS’s ProArt Studiobook 16 OLED laptop, which he says has an exceptionally color accurate screen and thoughtful features for creatives. Finally, Terrence O’Brien made a few stickers and decals with the Cricut Explore 3.

iOS 15.1 rolls out the new SharePlay feature

Mat Smith/Engadget

Mat Smith calls iOS 15.1 a relatively minor update when compared to the more drastic changes brought by iOS 14. A good bulk of the additions here come from the release of SharePlay, which allows you to do things like stream TV shows with a friend over FaceTime. Mat said that the shows were lag free in testing, the fitness apps were motivating and the free games were more fun than he expected. However, SharePlay isn’t available for all apps — for instance, YouTube and Netflix are not supported right now.

Mat also tested spatial audio, which gives callers directional sound, but he was more impressed by the new voice isolation and wide modes. He also played around with Focus modes, which help you track and limit your screen time via profiles and the ability to “lock” yourself out of your phone for set periods of time. Mat points out that these features, in addition to the machine learning improvements with Visual Look-up and Live Text, show that Apple is rededicating itself towards sharing.

HP’s Chromebook X2 makes a great first impression

Nathan Ingraham/Engadget

Nathan Ingraham found the hardware on the HP Chromebook X2 to be well built, sturdy and simple in design. He called the bright 11-inch, 2,160 x 1,440 touchscreen a standout that made work feel less cramped thanks in part to its 3:2 aspect ratio. The keyboard was responsive with good travel, and he liked that the included stylus attached neatly and magnetically to the side. When it came to performance, he found the X2 to do well for watching videos, browsing the web and playing games.

However, he found the Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c mobile processor struggled when it came time to push the machine with intensive tasks. Though he was able to run his usual programs, it wasn’t the fastest experience and he said he avoided playing music from the device while running a lot of other apps because it would cause slowdowns. That being said, its stellar battery life, size and lightweight design make the Chromebook X2 a solid secondary or travel device.

The ASUS ProArt Studiobook 16 OLED is a laptop for creatives

Steve Dent/Engadget

Steve Dent says the ASUS ProArt Studiobook is clearly intended to woo artists and creatives with its fast performance, gorgeous 16-inch 4K OLED screen and the “ASUS dial” for video and photo editing. The screen is factory-calibrated to Pantone and Calman color accuracy, and has a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio with inky blacks that make it good for content creation and streaming entertainment. It also features an “IceCool Pro” thermal solution to boost airflow while keeping noise levels minimal. Steve found this to hold true during testing, except for very GPU/CPU intensive tasks, which did bump up the noise levels.

He was also particularly impressed with the dial, which he says feels nice with a textured grip and smooth rotation. The location is convenient and the dial can be used to adjust volume or display brightness as well as to access menu options from four Adobe apps. Steve was also pleased with the number of ports on the machine, including a USB-C with DisplayPort support and an SD Express card slot. In testing, the laptop performed well during both gaming and editing tasks, thanks in part to a RTX 3070 GPU and AMD Ryzen 9 CPU. On top of that, Steve found it had a solid battery life, too, which lead him to declare the Studiobook 16 the best Windows 10 laptop for content creation.

Bose makes minor but appreciated updates with the QuietComfort 45 headphones

Billy Steele/Engadget

Billy Steele isn’t disappointed that Bose didn’t update the design of the QuietComfort 45 headphones. In fact, he was pleased that the company kept so much of what made the previous model popular, from the light weight to the physical buttons and cushiony pads. He reports that the new headphones keep the sound quality that Bose is known for, with crisp highs, robust mids and deep bass. The QC45 sounded good across multiple genres and the updated noise cancelling removed more background sounds than the last model.

New to the QC45 is an ambient sound or aware mode, which allows you to hear what’s happening around you. Billy said it’s serviceable but not the best he’s experienced. While testing, he managed to get 22.5 hours worth of playback before he needed to recharge the headphones. However, he did find the multi-device connectivity a bit frustrating as it required him to reconnect after ending a call. Overall, he still feels that the newest QuietComfort cans offer a lot for folks who travel frequently and need a comfortable set of headphones with exceptional noise cancelling capabilities.

Cricut’s Explore 3 cutting machine is for devoted crafters

Terrence O'Brien/Engadget

Terrence O’Brien admits he’s not the core audience for a Circuit craft machine. Designed to cut hundreds of different types of materials, the Circuit line can make vinyl transfers for shirts, 3D cardboard masks, stickers, decals, iron-ons and more. However, his beginner crafting level didn’t stop him from thoroughly enjoying the Cricut Explore 3, which he said felt like magic to use. In testing, he created a Spiderman emblem for a Halloween costume, several laptop stickers and (most of) a 3D cardboard fox.

Terrence said he found the companion app easy to use: it also offers access to over 1,000 free images and 250 projects. Even more are available via the $10 a month Cricut Access membership and you can upload your own designs. He appreciated the detailed instructions for the predesigned projects, but points out that projects often required a lot of additional add-ons like a scoring stylus or foil transfer tool. Overall, Terrence says whether or not the $300 Explore 3 (or $400 Maker 3) is worth it to you is going to depend a lot on how often you’ll use it — and what other materials you already have on hand.

ICYMI: The Beats Fit Pro are an intriguing AirPods Pro alternative

Engadget’s product reviews this week run the gamut from earbuds to e-readers. Billy Steele checked out the Beats Fit Pro and liked them for their improved fit and deeper sound. Next, a few items of note for photography enthusiasts: Steve Dent reviewed the Panasonic GH5 II to see the difference an all-new processor can make, while Mat Smith used the Sony Xperia 1 III and reported that the oblong smartphone has a slew of intriguing camera features to offer. Finally, Nathan Ingraham reviewed the Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition, which left him suitably impressed.

The Beats Fit Pro are packed with Apple tech

Billy Steele/Engadget

Billy Steele likes the more traditional fit of the new Beat Fits Pro earbuds. These are the newest true wireless buds in the company’s lineup and they have a slight design update with flexible wingtips, which bend to fit more ear shapes. Billy says this element helped keep the buds in place and he hardly noticed them in his ears. In addition to the hardware refresh, the earbuds also feature active noise-cancellation (ANC), adaptive EQ and spatial audio, plus other features integrated with iOS that make them an attractive option for iPhone users.

The $200 Beat Fits Pro also have an IPX4 rating, and their wingtips make them more secure during workouts. The upgrades the company made to the sound profile were immediately noticeable according to Billy, who reported a punchier bass with more depth, more room for vocals and other elements and more low-end tone. The buds have the same H1 chip found in the AirPods Pro, allowing them to access features like one-touch pairing and hands-free Siri. But the Beats Fit Pro weren’t without issue: Billy experienced a lot of accidental button presses and they don’t support wireless charging. But they still offer a good blend of features, sound and performance, making them a solid alternative to the AirPods Pro.

The Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition is better than ever

Nathan Ingraham/Engadget

Nathan Ingraham knows that an e-reader isn’t a gadget that most people upgrade often. However, a larger 6.8-inch screen, smaller bezels, 17 LED backlights, USB-C charging and 32GB of storage make for quite an update, and because of all that, Nathan calls the Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition the best e-reader he’s ever used. Those extra LEDs emit an adjustable warm light that should reduce eye strain at night, and Nathan says this was his favorite new feature on the device. He also said the hardware changes to the bezels and screen helped to make this feel like a more premium device.

The latest Kindle can also automatically adjust the backlight to reduce nighttime eye strain, plus it has wireless charging and won’t display ads on the lock screen. Like previous versions, the Signature Edition is waterproof, can play audiobooks using Bluetooth and has a battery life that lasts weeks. But it comes in at $190, which is $50 more than the standard Kindle Paperwhite. Nathan says that for most people, the extra storage isn’t worth the extra money — unless you plan on downloading a lot of Audible titles on your e-reader.

The Panasonic GH5 II runs on an all-new processor

Steve Dent/Engadget

Steve Dent found a lot to like about the Panasonic GH5 II. The refreshed design still has the same 20-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor, as well as the same 3.68 million dot resolution and .76x magnification. The body hardware is nearly identical with an excellent grip, logical control positions and a smaller but brighter rear display. However, the new version of the camera has a faster processor and double the refresh rate at 120Hz. The chip helps improve the AI autofocus, which can now double the face- and eye-tracking speeds as well as pick up focus on a face tilted away from the camera.

Steve also liked the menus better on the GH5 II, which are color coded and tabbed to help you find what you’re looking for. Panasonic also kept the info panel, which shows important settings at a glance. Another upgrade comes in the image stabilization system, which now delivers up to 6.5 EV of shake protection. Thanks to this, Steve said the GH5 II does a better job than competitors at smoothing out walking or running. But there’s still no external RAW video, and low-light shooting remains a weak point.

It's all about the cameras on the Sony Xperia 1 III

Mat Smith/Engadget

Sony’s Xperia 1 III closely resembles last year's smartphone with an unusual 21:9 screen ratio and an elongated design. Mat Smith says the addition of a matte finish helps to make it feel like a premium handset. The updated 4K 120Hz screen also helps make everything look quite crisp, and it runs smoothly thanks to a Snapdragon 888 chipset, 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Though Mat says the phone's 6.5-inch OLED screen is gorgeous, the Xperia can’t dynamically change refresh rates to maximize battery life — and that results in barely a full day of use, even with a 4,500mAh battery, if you keep the panel at 120Hz. He was pleased with the sound from the front-facing stereo speakers, which continues support for audio formats like 360 Reality Audio, Hi-Resolution audio and Dolby Atmos. And — shocker — the Xperia 1 III still includes a 3.5mm audio jack.

But the phone’s camera shines, courtesy of the three 12-megapixel shooters with varying focal lengths. The Xperia 1 III can track moving subjects and catch crisp shots in busy scenes because it’s capable of capturing 20 frames per second and has dual-phase-detection-autofocus pixels. Mat says it’s a more technical approach and it has a learning curve, but it makes the smartphone an intriguing prospect for photography enthusiasts.

ICYMI: Apple’s new MacBook Pros have (nearly) everything you’d want

This week, we tested out new flagship smartphones, high-powered laptops and much-improved earbuds. Devindra Hardawar reviewed the latest 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros and reports back that they provide almost everything one could want out of a powerful laptop. Billy Steele spent time listening to the third-generation AirPods and concluded they sound much better than the previous version. And Cherlynn Low used Google’s Pixel 6 and 6 Pro and found that the camera-heavy handsets have a lot more to offer, including a great starting price.

The new MacBook Pros have a ton of power (and ports)

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Devindra Hardawar says the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros are precisely what media professionals have been waiting for: speedy M1 Pro and Max processors, a comfortable keyboard, serious battery life and great speakers. They also feature most of the crucial ports MacBooks have been missing for years, including (finally!) an SD card reader, though the laptops are thicker and heavier as a result. And of course, all that comes with a high starting price of $1,999.

Devindra was particularly impressed by the Liquid Retina XDR displays, which come close to 4K resolutions, and have mini-LED backlighting to produce up to 1,600 nits of brightness. He was also pleased to find support for 120Hz refresh rates, and by the benchmark testing in which both MacBook Pros blew away competing Windows PCs. However, while the laptops were able to speedily convert a 4K video clip to 1080p, Devindra doesn't think they'd make the best gaming machines — trying to load Borderlands 3 produced an unplayable mess. Overall though, he says these computers have practically everything one, especially a creative professional, would want in a powerful notebook — as long as you can stomach the price tag.

The third-gen Airpods have a better fit and more features

Billy Steele/Engadget

Apple’s latest AirPods have been almost completely redesigned from the previous version; the buds themselves have a new look, courtesy of the contoured shape which reduces weight and features a tapered silhouette and an angle to increase comfort. Billy Steele says the company’s efforts to build better AirPods have paid off: the new buds are more comfortable and and have much better audio quality, with bigger and more immersive sound that remained open and airy. That’s thanks to a custom driver paired with a high-dynamic-range amplifier, as well as the new H1 chip and the inward facing mic. Billy says these changes made the AirPods something he actively wanted to listen to music with.

The new AirPods also have an IPX4 rating so they’ll survive sweaty workouts or small splashes. They can also detect skin which, combined with the built-in accelerometer, makes for more accurate pausing and extends battery life. The new chip means you can listen to tracks in Dolby Atmos on Apple Music, and the spatial audio is available with dynamic head tracking to change the position of the audio when you turn your head. However, the latest AirPods still lack active noise cancellation and Transparency mode as these features are still reserved for the pricier AirPods Pro. While Billy acknowledges that these earbuds aren’t for everyone, he says they continue to offer Apple users features that are well integrated with iPhone, iPad and Mac.

Google’s Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are excellent phones with great prices 

David Imel for Engadget

Cherlynn Low says the newest Google phones — the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro — are the most intriguing phones that the company has made in years. Featuring the first Google mobile processor, Tensor, the two handsets also have improved camera hardware, lovely OLED screens, speedy refresh rates (120Hz for the 6 Pro, 90Hz for the 6), and decent speakers. Cherlynn says the best feature is the surprisingly low starting price — only $599 — which makes some of the drawbacks more forgivable.

One of the issues she had with the phones was the laggy under-screen fingerprint sensor, which requires the display to be on before it unlocked — a process that she says doesn’t need to have two steps. She was more impressed by the new voice keyboard, which did an excellent job of transcribing speech, and the additional camera features. The sensors are sharper and bigger with larger pixels, producing bright, clean photos — and special camera features, like Magic Eraser and Face Unblur, give users a lot of control over their photos. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro excelled in our battery tests, too, lasting 20.5 hours and 17 hours, respectively. Overall, Cherlynn calls the handsets a superb return to form, showing off Google’s strengths in the software and photography departments.

ICYMI: Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 still needs some work

This week, we’ve got a handful of reviews across several categories. Devindra Hardawar reviewed AMD’s Radeon RX 6600 and determined that its lackluster performance and features made the GPU hard to praise, particularly when chip shortages have forced skyrocketing prices. Nicole Lee carried the Facebook Portal Go around her house and found its features don’t entirely outweigh the flaws. I tracked my twin’s daily habits with the Talli one-touch tracker and liked it more than I thought I would, plus Cherlynn Low found that she wasn’t totally sold on Microsoft’s latest Surface Duo 2 folding smartphone.

Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 is still struggling

David Imel for Engadget

Cherlynn Low admits right away that the Surface Duo 2 is a frustrating device, despite upgrades to the cameras, software and performance. At $1,500, it remains a pricey and niche foldable phone. The newest version offers a combined 8.3-inch screen and it runs Android 11. Cherlynn says the hardware is attractive with an impressively thin profile and a sleek silhouette. The unique 1,892 x 1,344 resolution produced some odd aspect ratios, but overall, apps expanded to cover the whole screen when the automatic-span setting was enabled.

While Cherlynn liked the 90Hz refresh rate, the lovely AMOLED panels and the video quality, she was disappointed that the Duo 2 didn’t have any functionality when closed since, unlike competing smartphones, it doesn’t have an external screen. She also experienced occasional software issues: the system periodically required repeated taps to register, and the UI was finicky with swipe-based navigation. But she was most let down by the camera, which disables the rear shooters depending on the position of the phone. In the end, she could only recommend the device to those who really need a dual-screen phone and have $1,500 to spare.

AMD’s Radeon RX 6600 shouldn’t be your first pick

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

In his review of the Radeon RX 6600, Devindra Hardawar wonders who this GPU is for. Although the card has speedy 1080p load performance, its ray tracing was lackluster at best, its upscaling abilities are limited and it has fewer features than competing cards from NVIDIA. This makes it difficult to recommend, particularly because there’s no way to estimate how much the card will cost due to the global chip shortage and ballooning prices.

During testing, Devindra found the RX 6600 to be a capable gaming card. It reached 120FPS in Destiny 2 with maxed out graphics, but stumbled when he pushed the game to 1440p. Similarly, during the Hitman 3 benchmark, the GPU reached a respectable 138fps in 1080p, but again faltered once Devindra pushed it to 1440p. He says the RX 6600 could be an upgrade for some because of its Smart Access Memory, which allows your CPU to directly address your video card's RAM. Otherwise, he says the GPU can only compete if the market stabilizes and the price drops below $300.

The Portal Go brings Facebook video chat all over your house

Nicole Lee/Engadget

Nicole Lee approves of the design updates made to Facebook’s Portal Go, which now features a grey fabric enclosure and rounded corners. The improvements make the Go easy to prop up on a lap or hold while you walk around the house. Part tablet and part smart display, the Go touts smart camera tracking via the 12-megapixel wide-angle lens that uses AI-powered technology to automatically pan and zoom to keep you in frame. This makes it easier to get several people in the picture on a call, and it works in third-party apps as well.

Nicole says she was impressed by the video capabilities of the 10.1-inch display, which has the same 1,280 x 800 resolution as previous Portal devices. She was particularly pleased by the adaptive lighting features like Night Mode, which reduces the amount of blue light in the evening. It also provides decent audio thanks to its two full-range speakers and subwoofer, so it can double as a portable speaker in a pinch. Nicole also managed to squeeze a little over six hours out of the battery — more than the company’s claims of five. Despite this, she says the Go is your best choice only if Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are your primary video call services.

Talli’s one-touch tracker makes it easy to log kids habits

Talli Baby

Although I like the app I use to track my twins' daily habits, I was curious about Talli’s dedicated hardware. A sleek box with eight buttons , the Talli is intended to help busy parents track their kids' stats with a single button press. I have to admit: I found it a lot more useful than I thought I would. Being able to push a button to log a medication or a bottle without having to open my phone, launch an app and enter in details was a welcome relief.

The Talli tracker also pairs with an app that records and graphs your child’s daily activities. The app is standalone, meaning you don't have to buy the physical tracker to use it, and there's no subscription required in order to access features or data. If you get the device, it runs on AA batteries and can be left freestanding or be wall mounted. I’ll admit I had a challenging time trying to find the exact right location for the Talli. Grabbing it often resulted in an accidental button press, but that didn’t diminish its usefulness. It can also work alongside an Alexa skill enabling parents to log events by saying “Alexa, tell Talli Baby that Sam had a bottle.” At $99, it’s a bit pricey for a single-function device, but if you’re looking to establish a routine of recording your baby’s habits, it can make things more convenient.

The Talli Baby tracker is a one-touch system for logging kids activities

Never in my life did I think it would be important for me to know when someone else had pooped, but then I became a mom and here we are. The amount of stuff that mom’s need to keep track of is, in a word, immense. Since I brought my twins home from the hospital, I’ve used an app to note every bottle, diaper change, nap, medication, bath time and more. That’s worked well so far, but now that my kids are older, I’ve had a harder time immediately logging their events. That’s partially because our routines were interrupted with a recent move and partially because they really want to play with my phone every time they see it. Regardless, I’m trying to get us all back into an established pattern of meals and nap times so I’ve been wanting to re-establish my habit of logging all their details.

Talli sells a $99 physical gadget for this purpose: a single-touch tracking device that lets busy, sleep-deprived parents push a button to log activities like bottle feeds and bedtimes. The Talli Baby one-touch tracker includes seven pre-assigned buttons and a miscellaneous eighth, and it pairs with an app to provide you the best of both worlds. A single-function device to track kids’ care may not sound like a big deal, but if you’ve ever tried to operate a touchscreen with diaper cream all over your hands, you may be able to see the utility here.

Hardware

Amber Bouman/Engadget

The Talli is a white and faux-woodgrain box with rounded edges, roughly the size of a small but stuffed wallet. It has two rows of four activity buttons with icons to indicate which action the button is assigned to: bottle feeding, solid food, wet diaper, dirty diaper, sleeping, nursing, pumping or “miscellaneous,” which can be customized within the app. Events that happen at the same time — say, a wet and dirty diaper — require simultaneous button presses. There’s also a small WiFi button on the lower right that’s used during setup, and the company says that WiFi is only used when the device is transmitting an event. The rear contains slots to wall-mount the Talli using the included hardware.

Setting up the Talli is fairly uncomplicated and follows the same steps as many other app-connected devices: download the app, create an account, add a device, connect to a WiFi network and you’re done. When I first set up the device, it kept flashing an error message, which the included start-up pamphlet instructed me was a WiFi connection issue likely due to an incorrect network name or password.

Only I hadn’t gotten to that step yet, I was only trying to sync the device. I contacted Talli support and tried again and was able to connect and set up the device without any further issue. It’s worked normally since then so I’m not certain what the issue was, but it did make me realize that adding a hardware device to my tracking process meant there would be another potential point of failure. Since Talli pairs with an app that can be used independently to track what you’re doing with your kids, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the hardware wasn’t working. However, it would detract from the main advantage of the system: the convenience of pressing a button on the tracker and continuing with your day.

Amber Bouman/Engadget

Taking out my smartphone, opening an app and typing in an entry isn’t exactly heavy lifting, but doing that while two toddlers wind themselves between my legs, grab at my phone, whine, harass the cat, throw everything out of the kitchen drawers and try to climb over child gates is another story. Being able to press a button and be done was an unexpected relief: My kid’s data was logged, so I knew when they were last changed and I could always flesh out the entries with more detail in the app later (though I’ll admit that rarely happened). It was extremely easy to use the Talli instead of my previous app, and it was oddly satisfying, too — not unlike crossing something off a to-do list.

Because Talli runs on four AA batteries, it has a portable design allowing it to be moved anywhere or handed off to any caretakers or babysitters. It can also be mounted on a wall, which has advantages and disadvantages depending on how you’ll use it. I kept my Talli untethered because my changing table area doesn’t have the best WiFi coverage, so I kept it on a nearby shelf where I could touch the buttons on my way in and out of the room.

Talli

Frankly, I would have preferred to mount the thing; when grabbing for the device, I would often accidentally hit a button and register an incorrect event, which I would then have to remember to delete later. But I also often had to move the Talli out of sight, because my son is particularly enamored with pushing buttons and things that light up, so the Talli was like forbidden candy to him. It was hard to find the perfect location where the device was connected to my WiFi network, easily accessible to me and didn’t draw his attention.

Each Talli device gets assigned to one child, that is to say you’ll need one Talli per child. But you can assign multiple devices to the same child if you end up getting more than one for different areas of your home. And Talli works with Alexa, so you can have the assistant log events for you if you say “Alexa tell Talli Baby that Sam had a dirty diaper.” You can also request that Alexa read you the most recent activity reports. I don’t currently have an Alexa-enabled device, so I wasn’t able to test this out yet. The company says Google Home compatibility is coming soon, too.

Software

Much like the device itself, the Talli app is simply designed and straightforward to use. The home screen contains the same icons as the device; when a button is active — it turns green for a pumping session or a nap time, for example. Near each button is a date and time stamp for the last logged event and tapping on the icon brings up an entry page to edit and add details. I sometimes had to tap commands a few times — say, to pause or start a sleep timer — but this otherwise worked fine.

Engadget

The rest of the app is organized into a Daily List, which is exactly what it sounds like: a list of your child’s daily events. There’s also a Details view which provides an hour-by-hour graph of events and can be toggled to show any of your child’s metrics over a time period. My favorites were the Averages view, which shows totals for each event, and the More tab, which has selections for account sharing, reminders and children’s profiles. I’m trying to switch the twins over to all solid foods and being able to track what they’ve eaten, how much and when has helped me establish routines and menus. And because it was easy to press a button on the way in or out of the room, Talli made it possible for me to log how often my son woke in the middle of the night and how long before he went back to sleep.

However, the app frequently (albeit briefly) flashed a “Refreshing your data” screen when I navigated around the options. I had to wait an extra beat or two for the data to refresh when I did almost anything in the app: changed screens, edited data, deleted an event and the like. I’m hoping this is due to my satellite internet connection, because it was one of my biggest pain points with the Talli system. I will say I appreciated that there was no subscription component: Talli offers all its information and your data without any additional fees, whether you purchase the tracker or simply use the free app.

Wrap-up

The Talli device offers something that isn’t otherwise available: a hardware device dedicated to tracking everything you do with your child on a daily basis. It’s nicely designed, easy to use and has an app that charts and graphs the data for you. I liked using it a lot more than I expected to, given that tracking all my kids’ various activities through an app had become a bit of a chore. But using the Talli tracker wasn’t a chore — and having a physical device (even more, a single button) that I could tap and walk away from did indeed help me stay more consistent with tracking habits.

I only wish that I had found a better location for the device in my kids’ room — and I wish that the app didn’t lag so much — but otherwise I was pleasantly surprised at how well the Talli Tracker fit into my lifestyle. I can see it being particularly useful for those who have family or multiple caretakers tending to children or for people who prefer physical logging methods like calendars or notebooks. But it’s also a $99 gadget — and when a free app just requires more work but will ultimately do the job, it makes the Talli a bit of a luxury.

ICYMI: The Apple Watch Series 7 makes the most of its bigger screen

This week, we’ve got our regular gadget reviews plus our thoughts on a forthcoming video game. Cherlynn Low strapped on the Apple Watch Series 7 to see how it compares to the previous version and to find out how much of a difference the larger screen makes. Igor Bonifacic tested the 2021 Motorola Edge smartphone and found it offers a lot of high-end features — including a 144Hz display — at a budget-friendly price. Terrence O’Brien played with the effects and inputs on the Roland SP-404MKII and reported that it makes chopping samples more fun. Finally, Jess Conditt sat in the virtual driver’s seat to play Forza Horizon 5, a game she declares a perfect getaway in a time of travel restrictions.

The Apple Watch Series 7 is bigger and better

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Cherlynn Low acknowledges that the main difference between the Apple Watch Series 7 and the previous model is the larger screen, but she’s adamant that even this small change makes a big impact. The Series 7’s display is 20 percent larger than that of the Series 6, and has significantly smaller bezels. It’s also the first Apple Watch to be IP6X certified for dust resistance, making it more durable. Cherlynn said the larger display made things easier to read and navigate, and the extra screen space made it easier to enter in the right keys and see more of messages.

Apple also debuted some additional watch faces and a full QWERTY keyboard on the Series 7. Cherlynn says the new faces are designed to display more information at once. The full QWERTY keyboard provided more flexibility, but since she only got roughly a 60-percent accuracy rate when tapping on the display, Cherlynn said she still preferred using dictation. Apple still doesn’t offer advanced sleep tracking, though this model will log your respiration rate while you sleep and report back the next morning. If sleep tracking isn’t your main reason for wanting a smartwatch, Cherlynn says the Series 7 will be a satisfying purchase.

The 2021 Motorola Edge is easier to recommend than its predecessor

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

Of the various upgrades to the 2021 Motorola Edge, Igor Bonifacic thinks the 6.8-inch LCD 144Hz screen is the stand-out feature. The flat edges made it easier to hold and the improved refresh rate makes the Edge feel smooth and responsive. The screen is vibrant, bright and has support for HDR10, plus Igor says the 19.5:9 aspect ratio works well for scrolling through vertical apps. He also liked the move to a capacitive fingerprint scanner on the side-mounted power button because it made unlocking the phone while wearing a mask significantly easier.

However, there are some tradeoffs for the $550 smartphone, notably the LCD screen, which lacks the power efficiency and deep blacks that OLED can offer. The 144Hz display also produced some slight glitching. In addition, the device’s single speaker produced tinny sound, and he found the ultra-wide camera mediocre. But he did like the battery life, which lasted a whopping two days, and the extended 2-year software support. If you don’t mind a few compromises, Igor says the 2021 Edge is well worth checking out.

Roland’s SP-404MKII sampler is a pleasure to use

Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

Though the new SP-404MKII sampler physically resembles previous versions, Terrence O’Brien says the new OLED screen and 16-pad layout are huge upgrades. The new display can show the actual waveform as it’s being edited, which makes recording and editing samples easier and more fun. And the 16-pad set up is not only more standard, but it also offers users more samples and patterns to make beats. Terrence also preferred the refreshed color scheme of grey and black with muted orange and white accents.

The SP-404MKII has a few more minor upgrades: it’s the first sampler in the line to feature velocity sensitive pads and it has MIDI out as well as MIDI IN connectors. This means the 404 can get hooked up to a PC via USB-C, or be used with external gear. Terrence played around with both the input effects, courtesy of the ¼-inch audio input and headphone jacks, as well as the bus effects and found that chopping samples on the machine is actually enjoyable instead of a chore. The SP-404MKII is also fairly portable: Terrence says it can fit in a bag easily enough and it can be powered with six AA batteries. And it's affordable at $500, which makes it a reasonable purchase even for those who are just looking to dabble in sampling.

Forza Horizon 5 is an enjoyable escape

Playground Games

Since she couldn’t get behind the wheel of a real-life 2021 Ford Bronco, Jess Conditt did the next best thing: she drove it around the race tracks and lush environments of Forza Horizon 5. Though she only had access to a preview build, she reports back that Horizon 5 is a mellower version of the motorsport game, spread across a fictionalized Mexico and featuring tricked out vehicles including a 2020 Corvette Stingray Coupe and a 1989 Porsche 911 Desert Flyer.

Regardless of which vehicle you choose, Jess says they’re all magical to (virtually) drive. They get window cracks and door dents but are largely indestructible and always land tires-down. She also appreciated the layers of customization within the game, from accessories to creating characters to upgrading vehicles with designs. On the Xbox Series S, the game ran smoothly and looked lovely at 1080p/60fps. Jess says even without ray-tracing, Horizon 5’s distinct biomes, weather and environments were all a treat to view, making it a perfect virtual escape.

ICYMI: Everything you need to know about Microsoft’s new Surface devices

It has been a busy couple of weeks at Engadget and we have many reviews to recap. Nathan Ingraham reviewed the newest base iPad as well as the Microsoft Surface Go 3, the latter of which he says lacks the processing power to be more than a secondary machine. Devindra Hardawar reviewed Windows 11, which he called both refined and frustrating, and the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio, which he enjoyed but found it to be underpowered for the price. Also, Dana Wollman checked out the Surface Pro 8 two-in-one, which solved some problems but created others with its new, higher price tag.

Microsoft's Surface Pro 8 still lacks an included keyboard

Dana Wollman/Engadget

Dana Wollman was pleased to see that the Surface Pro 8 addressed some of our complaints about the previous version. It has a redesigned, larger display with skinnier bezels, improved resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate, along with 11th-gen Core i5 and i7 processors and a slightly higher-res rear camera. But the detachable keyboard is still sold separately for $180, and the two-in-one starts off more expensive at $1,100. It’s also 15 percent heavier at 1.96 pounds without the keyboard. Dana says that’s lighter than her MacBook Pro, but that doesn’t make it an ideal mobile device.

The built-in kickstand seems to indicate the machine is best used when docked, not held. Dana said the kickstand is premium, albeit a bit awkward to pull out due to the narrow divots. She was underwhelmed by the images from the 10-megapixel rear camera, though it can record in 4K, and she was more impressed by the webcam that proved to be capable even in mixed lighting. The 120Hz refresh rate is a major improvement and she says you won’t want to revert back to 60Hz even if it helps save a bit of battery life. She also appreciated the Slim Pen 2, which has a haptic motor that made it fun to use. However, she admits that the higher price point makes the Surface Pro 8 even more of a niche item.

The Surface Go 3 still isn’t powerful enough

Dana Wollman/Engadget

Nathan Ingraham likes many of the features of the Surface Go 3: it’s well-built, has a lovely and responsive touchscreen, a strong kickstand and is extremely light and portable. However, like the Surface Pro 8, it doesn’t come with a keyboard and you’ll definitely need one as Windows 11 still doesn’t offer up a stellar tablet experience. The bigger issue for him was the underpowered specs and average battery life. The model he reviewed came with a 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

That makes for a mostly capable machine for basic tasks, but Nathan experienced occasional music stutters and had to reload tabs during his workday. He noticed lag while working in Adobe Lightroom, and had issues during video calls while jumping into other programs. During his normal work routine, the battery lasted five hours, which detracts from the device’s portability. However, he liked the 10.5-inch, 1,920 x 1,280 touchscreen and the 3:2 aspect ratio as well as the infinitely adjustable kickstand. While Nathan says he can see the Surface Go 3 working as a secondary machine for travel, it’s hard to recommend as a daily driver because of its performance and battery life issues.

The Surface Laptop Studio could use more cores

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

One of the first Windows 11 PCs, the Surface Laptop Studio has a 14.4-inch screen with a speedy 120Hz refresh rate and weighs around four pounds. Devindra Hardawar says while it’s clearly not trying to be an ultraportable, it is ultra-adjustable thanks to the display that tilts it into various angles. The display itself entranced him with its flexible hinge, fantastic Dolby Vision support and refresh rate, though it is surrounded by chunkier bezels. He said the speakers are surprisingly powerful thanks to the two subwoofers on the sides and the tweeters blasting through the keyboard.

While Devindra found the Laptop Studio to be a solid performer for everyday computing tasks — and fast enough to play Overwatch at 90 and 100fps — it has only a quad-core chip, and that makes it hard to recommend when so many similar machines feature more powerful six- or eight-core CPUs. He was also annoyed by the anemic port situation: two USB-C ports, which support ThunderBolt 4, and a proprietary Surface Connect slot, but there’s no longer an SD card slot, which would have been an opportunity to outdo the competition. At least Microsoft included the excellent keyboard from the Book 3 and the new Surface Slim Pen 2. While Devindra genuinely liked using the Surface Laptop Studio, he said he still wanted more power overall.

Windows 11 is polished and secure — but frustrating

Microsoft

Devindra Hardawar doesn’t think that Microsoft is trying to fix much with Windows 11. Although the new operating system is more of a coat of paint over Windows 10, he doesn’t feel that’s a problem. Devindra says the more he uses the OS, the easier it is to see how far the small design tweaks have taken the software. The taskbar now has centered icons, the Start menu has a redesigned look with pinned apps, windows have rounded corners and the icons, Explorer and Settings apps look sharp making for a more refined feel overall.

The system requirements are a bit more rigid: compatible Intel, AMD or Qualcomm processor, 4GB RAM, at least 64GB storage and you’ll have to enable Secure Boot and Trust Platform Module 2.0 which make it harder for spyware and malware to attack. This means there are some additional complications if you’ve got older hardware or if you’ve built your own PC. Windows 11 will also be the only way to use Microsoft’s DirectStorage technology, which Devindra says should dramatically speed up load times when it’s available. He says that the combination of a refreshed look, additional security and faster performance is a step forward — just not a momentous one.

The 2021 iPad is an incremental update

Nathan Ingraham/Engadget

The 2021 refreshed iPad isn’t for early adopters like Nathan Ingraham. The updated tablet now includes a 12-megapixel front camera with Center Stage support, double the base amount of storage, the new A13 Bionic chip and iPad OS 15. However, the hardware is largely unchanged from the previous two versions. It has basically the same size and weight and still includes a 10.2-inch, 2,160 x 1,620 touchscreen, an 8-megapixel rear camera and a Lightning port for charging.

That means that this is an iPad meant for those who want a tablet that’s fast, lightweight, easy to carry around and (relatively) cheap. For most standard iPad users — those who use a tablet primarily for things like playing games or browsing the web — the new chipset will provide more than enough power. Nathan didn’t notice any slowdowns while multitasking with several open apps, though he did notice that some apps needed to refresh more frequently during those periods. Also, while the screen was serviceable for watching videos and playing games, it can’t compare to the screens on the other iPads in the lineup. But for $330, as Nathan says, who cares? If your iPad is more than a few years old, you'll find some significant improvements in this one.

The Fitbit Charge 5 has a slick full-color display

Valentina Palladino/Engadget

Though the first thing you’ll notice about the new Fitbit Charge 5 is the 1.04-inch color AMOLED touchscreen. Valentina Palladino says that the changes made to the wearable — rounded edges and a 10-percent thinner body — made it more comfortable to wear as well. The fitness band also now has some more advanced features like ECG measurements and EDA monitoring for stress levels. The ECG measuring is coming soon and Valentina said that the EDA monitoring wasn’t intuitive and left her frustrated. She had better luck with the built-in GPS, which immediately picked up her location and accurately mapped her running route.

Valentina also liked the alarm and timer apps, which she found helpful throughout the day. However, she was disappointed that Fitbit removed some of the music-focused features, which meant she had to pull out her phone to skip a track or control playback. She was also a bit irked to see that some of the Charge 5’s more advanced metrics, like select sleep and exercise data, were part of Fitbit’s subscription service that costs $10 per month. But she did applaud the battery life and the inclusion of Fitbit Pay with NFC. She says if what you’re looking for is a low-profile wearable with a focus on fitness and a multi-day battery life, then the Charge 5 will fit the bill.

The updated Sonos Beam has immersive Dolby Atmos sound

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Devindra Hardawar says there was plenty to like about the first-gen Sonos Beam. When it comes to the Beam Gen 2, he says the addition of Dolby Atmos means the device can deliver a wider, more immersive soundscape. With largely the same hardware — a center tweeter, four mid-woofers and three passive radiators — this soundbar relies on more processing power to simulate the Dolby Atmos experience. Devindra says it worked surprisingly well during his testing, but wasn’t a replacement for having actual speakers dedicated to blasting height channels.

He liked that the Beam Gen 2 was still surprisingly compact at 25.6 inches wide and weighing six pounds, and that it has the same Ethernet, HDMI and power ports on the rear. And he appreciated how easy the set up was via Sonos’s app. In testing, the new Beam excelled during action movies: while watching Baby Driver, Devindra said it was a richer experience and even the dialog sounded clearer, too. However, music playback wasn’t as dramatically different and Dolby Atmos support for Amazon Music will come later this year. Sonos also makes it easy to synchronize audio throughout your home and the Alexa integration works well. Devindra says it’s a solid sub-$500 soundbar to take your movie-watching up a notch.

The Uno Synth Pro can produce glorious sounds

Terrence O'Brien/Engadget

With three oscillators, two envelopes, two LFOs, two filters, an analog overdrive and twelve digital effects, the Uno Synth Pro offers plenty of options for sound design. Terrence O’Brien tested the smaller $400 Desktop model, which features a set of touch keys and an all-plastic body (the synth also comes in a standard $650 Pro model with a 37-key Fatar keybed and a partially metal chassis). He said that the overall construction feels solid enough, the buttons are decent, the knobs offer good resistance and the screen, while small, provides all the information you need.

However, the gray, black and red color scheme made it difficult to quickly spot the controls, especially in darker environments. He also didn’t like the four top knobs that change all the parameters. But Terrence said his biggest issue was with the touch keys and strips — they felt unresponsive and would occasionally fail to detect touches, which was worse in three-voice paraphone mode. The pitch and mod strips behaved similarly. But his frustrations were largely forgotten once the synth started making noise: Terrence said the oscillators have body and grit and the saw wave just rips. Overall, he was impressed enough with the wealth of sound design tools and the quality of the oscillators and filters to call himself a convert.

Owlet’s Smart Sock Plus can keep monitoring older kids

Owlet

After using both the second- and third-generation Smart Socks on my twins, I’d grown accustomed to being able to check in on their stats anytime from my phone. When they aged out of their socks, it was an uncomfortable transition — for me. Owlet says I’m not alone: 72 percent of the users they polled indicated they’d like to keep using the device to measure their children’s heart rate and pulse ox levels. In response the company updated its algorithm and made the Smart Sock Plus, which can accommodate children up to five years old or 55 pounds.

Aside from the larger sock and better algorithm, the Smart Sock Plus is much the same as the standard, third-gen device. In testing, the Plus seemed to fit better but I had to employ work-arounds to keep my kids from taking them off. I also noticed fewer alerts about a misaligned sock, which was a welcome update. At $359 the Smart Sock Plus is pretty pricey for new users, but the $69 expansion pack available for existing customers is likely to do well as it extends the life time of the sock considerably.

The Nintendo Switch OLED edition is nice, but not necessary

Kris Naudus/Engadget

Kris Naudus is plain: the new Nintendo Switch OLED, while lovely, isn’t a must-have. Though the refreshed handheld system features a brighter, 7-inch OLED screen, a new stand ideal for tabletop mode, an Ethernet port and a new coating which feels good in hand, not much has changed under the hood. The CPU and GPU remain the same, ensuring the future game titles will be compatible with existing Switch and Switch Light devices, and the infamous Joy-Cons haven’t been redesigned (though hopefully the drift issues have been solved).

Kris was impressed by the new stand, which is a Surface-style panel that stretches the length of the entire unit and can be left in any angle you prefer. However, because the USB-C port is still on the bottom which means it can’t be charged while set in tabletop mode. She also liked the slimmer bezels and coating on the frame and said the new buttons look sleeker and feel better. It’s the same height and width as the original Switch, too, so it will fit with all existing accessories. And though the battery is the same, it appears to be more power-efficient thanks to the new OLED screen. Despite that, Kris says unless you’ve given up your original or really need the OLED screen, you’ll be fine sticking with your current system.

The Carol smart exercise bike is for big pocketbooks

Daniel Cooper

Daniel Cooper would tell you that he enjoyed his time with the pricey Carol smart exercise bike, a machine intended to be used in short workouts of eight minutes and 40 seconds. Using the methods employed by Reduced Exertion, High Intensity Interval Training (REHIIT), the bike features exercise videos that you can follow via the 10.1-inch color touchscreen if you subscribe to the company’s service. Because the screen is a Lenovo tablet, you can run third-party apps through it like Peloton’s so you could take classes from there, to. Daniel says the Carol app is clean and colorful: the UI flashes when you hit a high intensity phase and power output visualizations were particularly great.

The bike itself looks like any at-home exercise bike with a large, real-slung flywheel and a drive unit to house the system to electronically control the resistance. The short handles contain heart rate-monitoring electrodes and the height of the handlebars and seat height and distance are all adjustable. After spending time with it, Daniel admits he feels like his fitness and mood both improved, but the $2,400 price tag is especially hard to swallow.