Posts with «author_name|james trew» label

Keychron's Q1 Pro is a wireless version of its best mechanical keyboard

Keychon has been an ascending name in the mechanical keyboard world for a while now. The company strikes a good balance between features and price and it’s also not shy about releasing new models meaning whatever you’re after it likely has a solution. Unless you wanted a premium aluminum deck with a wireless option that is. Finally, that gap has been filled by the Q1 Pro - a flagship, fully customizable 75% keyboard complete with Bluetooth connectivity.

Surprising as it may seem, higher end, customizable keyboards often don’t offer wireless thanks to their tendency for metal housings. Keychron’s Q1 Pro, then, will be of great interest to those who want to fully configure their own keyboard but also want the convenience of Bluetooth.

As the name suggests, the Q1 Pro is heavily based on the original Q1 model which Keychron launched in late 2021. Like its predecessor, the Pro model features a gasket design (a double gasket in fact), hot-swappable switches and QMK/VIA compatibility (open source software for easy remapping of any key). There’s also the option of an aluminum rotary knob for things like volume control (or zoom, or brightness or whatever else you might want it for) and the obligatory RGB. As with all Keychron models, it’s also compatible with Mac, Windows and Android - or all three at the same time thanks to the option to connect to multiple Bluetooth devices.

We were big fans of the original Q1 which offered a relatively affordable entry point into the fully customizable keyboard world. And it’s a bit of a weird world at that, with configurations, price and availability varying wildly. Perhaps two of the higher profile competitors for the Q1 are the GMMK Pro (starting at $170 barebones, or $350 pre-built) and the recently released Sense75 from Drop (starting at $249 barebones, or $350 pre-built).

James Trew / Engadget

In a slight break from tradition, the Q1 Pro is being launched via Kickstarter. The benefit here being the chance to grab one at an early bird price. The barebones model is available for $174 if you already have your own switches and keycaps. Or, for $194 you can get the pre-assembled kit. Given that a set of keycaps or switches often cost more than $20 on their own, the complete kit does represent a pretty decent value.

Once you have everything setup, or out of the box if you go fully-assembled, Bluetooth pairing is merely a key-combo away. As noted earlier, you can connect the Q1 Pro to up to three devices of any type thanks to the switch around the back for Windows/Android and MacOS. There are even spare key caps in the box for the differing keys on Microsoft vs Apple layouts. Of course, if you want to connect over USB-C instead, that’s still an option.

Battery life will largely depend on how ham you go with the RGB. With no backlighting at all, Keychron claims you can expect about 300 hours of use on a full charge. If you’re demure with it, that number drops to 90. Keychron doesn’t give an estimate for hardcore full-power RGB but expect it to be less.

With the model Keychron sent for testing, the gasket design appears to have a bit more flex in it than the original Q1, but that doesn’t translate to a softer typing experience thankfully. The supplied red switches are comparable to Cherry reds in resistance, but of course you can choose whatever you want, in fact it’s encouraged. It’s hard to make a like-for-like comparison without having a rival product with the same switches and keycaps, but, overall, the Drop Sense75 and GMMK Pro feel a little stiffer on the gasket side of things resulting in a snappier type. As always, your mileage and preferences will vary.

Regardless, if you wanted a premium aluminum, customizable keyboard with Bluetooth connectivity, the Keychron Q1 Pro is likely your best (if not only) choice right now.

The adorable Loona petbot is ready to roll into even the coldest of hearts

Humans, we’re a sociable bunch. To that end, we’re pre-programmed to develop technology that helps us stay connected with others. Sometimes, though, the connection can be with the technology itself. Enter Loona, the adorable pet robot that will either melt your heart or, at the very least, serve as a loyal smart home companion (or hopefully both).

Loona appears to be the exact halfway point between the adorableness of Anki’s Cozmo and Amazon’s high-end Astro homebot. There’s definitely a focus on younger users here, but kids of “all ages” might find themselves sucked in by her charms. Loona has apparently also been designed to interact well with any analog pets you may already have.

Armed with a 3D camera and edge sensors for navigating your home, Loona also has a regular camera for face detection and object recognition. There are four microphones that provide Loona the ability to locate you as you beckon her and touch sensors so she’ll lean into your head-strokes with eerily biological authenticity. At launch it’ll respond to a slew of verbal commands and gestures, and the company claims new ones will continuously be added. There will also be a graphical programming tool so you can create your own interactions and a community to share them with.

KEYi Robotics

One of the more endearing features is Loona’s expressive personality. Loona’s digital eyes are surprisingly articulate and feel like they are right out of a Disney movie. The company indicated that there could also be the option to add custom expressions and emotions further down the line.

Beyond being a digital pet, Loona can also double as a home security and monitoring system. The benefit being you can direct her around your abode and find where your IRL cat is hiding unlike static pet-cams where you (and I say this from experience) might ruin a weekend away driving back because you haven’t seen your cat appear for two whole days and you’re worried but it turns out she was just sleeping in one spot the entire time. With Loona, not a problem.

Loona was originally launched on Kickstarter securing over three million dollars in backing which, if nothing else, shows that there’s a lot of interest in this category. The robots are now shipping to backers with general availability on track for the end of this month at the company’s website where it will retail for $449. If you’re extra keen you can pick one up now via the Kickstarter page for $359.

Sennheiser's Conversation Clear Plus are hearing aids in disguise

It’s taken longer than we’d hope, but since October, the FDA finally established a framework for new category of hearing aids that don’t need a medical exam, prescription or a fitting by an audiologist. Unsurprisingly we’re seeing the first OTC products being announced at CES. Sennheiser, a mainstay of the consumer audio world, is tossing its proverbial hat into the ring with the Conversation Clear Plus.

As the name suggests, the focus appears to be on dialogue (rather than the holistic hearing experience). Sennheiser says the earbuds will make it easier to understand conversations in noisy environments. This, the company claims, is achieved in a number of ways. At the heart of the device is a Sonova chip. Sonova is behind some of the legacy names in hearing aids such as Phonak and Unitron and it also bought Sennheiser's consumer audio business about 18 months ago.

The Conversation Clear Plus looks a lot like a pair of regular true wireless headphones which will go a long way to removing any stigma or association with conventional hearing aids. Unsurprisingly, they do share a lot of features with regular headphones too. That includes active noise cancellation, even if the application here is more focused on reducing background noise in relation to dialogue.

Sennheiser

Like most wireless headphones you’ll have the option to adjust the amount of noise reduction and there’s a companion app for further tuning your hearing experience. Sennheiser says there are three main prestets: Relax, Communication and Streaming. Those are all fairly self explanatory, but the last one marks a key difference between this category and legacy hearing aids — the ability to stream music and audio from your phone. Some hearing aids can do this, but it’s often a sub-optimal experience given that it’s not what they were primarily designed for. Given Sennheiser’s credentials in the headphone world, it seems likely streaming will be comparable to its consumer headphones.

On a more practical note, the Conversation Clear Plus offers a nine hour battery life per charge, with an additional 27 hours/three charges available via the case.

One of the big promises with OTC hearing aids was a significant reduction in cost. Typically a set with a fitting from an audiologist would cost several thousand dollars, the Conversation Clear Plus will retail for $850. The experiences between the two different product categories will obviously be somewhat distinct, given the different form factor, but the modern, gadgety design will appeal to a lot of folks that might otherwise be turned off by the clinical design of classic hearing aids.

The Conversation Clear Plus will be available for pre-order starting Jan 5 and will go on general sale Jan 20.

Driver-X's gloves are a cheaper way to get hands on in the metaverse

There are two words that will make gamers of a certain age go weak at the knees: Power Glove. We’re not saying Driver-X was inspired by the legendary Nintendo accessory when conceiving its “Contact Glove” VR controller, but the comparisons are going to be inevitable.

Driver-X’s haptic VR gloves do double duty as both a sensory feedback tool for “grabbing” objects in a virtual world and a VR controller. The company claims it’s the first VR glove that uses micro coils to deliver a more authentic tactile experience. The coils surround your fingers and when a current is applied they contract a connected film to provide, hopefully, a more realistic sensory experience.

James Trew / Engadget

The controller part uses hand “poses” and gestures to mimic the buttons and triggers found on conventional controllers. It’s a logical way to add extra functionality, especially as the whole point is to not be holding something (not something in the real world at least).

Perhaps the more interesting “feature” is the price. The Contact Glove starts at around $1,850 which is considerably less than some of the current alternatives (although each approach is quite different and maybe not directly comparable).

Either way, if you’re interested in getting your palms in a pair, it’s worth knowing that the gloves are currently being crowdfunded on Kickstarter. At the very least, the goal has already been reached, and we did see a working demo here at CES but the usual caveats apply.

Roland's first gaming product is the Bridge Cast streaming mixer

Roland may be a mainstay in the electronic music world, but it also dabbles in the occasional creator product, too. This year at CES the company has unveiled an audio interface aimed squarely at streamers and it’s called the Bridge Cast ($299).

Like rival products such as the GoXLR or Rode’s Rodcaster Pro II, the Bridge Cast offers a way to pipe different audio feeds (chat, music, game audio, browser sounds and so on) to different destinations - usually your local mix and the one your audience hears.

As you’d expect, there’s an input for an XLR mic and options for dual/submixes along with a selection of vocal effects. There are four channels with rotary controls for mic, aux, chat and game. Each channel also gets a mute button for quickly removing unwanted audio without diving into settings. An intersting touch is the ability to customize the faceplate so if your channel, stream or team has a logo you could add some branding into your Twitch or YouTube feed.

Deeper control will apparently be available via the companion software to fine tune the mic sound or even the EQ of your game audio.

The streaming space has become a massive opportunity for legacy audio companies, and it’s good to see Roland furthering its commitment to this space. How it stacks up to its rivals though, remains to be seen, but if your new year’s resolution was to finally get that stream off the ground then it looks like you have one more option to consider.

The Evercade EXP handheld brings key improvements but it's still a curious concept

When we tried the original Evercade handheld, it was a fun-but-curious concept. Old games on a new handheld with cartridges? Nostalgia squared, basically. Whether you thought it was a good idea or not, there are now almost 40 collections available totalling hundreds of games. There’s also the VS home-console for playing against friends on the big screen. Now, there’s the Evercade EXP ($130/£150), a revamped handheld that improves on the original in some key ways. Evercade’s wacky idea, then, seems to be working.

In a curious turn of events, and potential further proof of its popularity, it seems a literal truck-load of EXP consoles have been stolen. Blaze, the company behind Evercade, has stated that it's working to restart production to replace the missing handhelds, so if you preordered one, you might want to check the company website for more information.

The EXP brings with it an improved, 800×480 display - more than double the resolution of the original (480x272). Games look much sharper this time around, though it’s still 4.3-inches diagonally which feels a little undersized for really any type of handheld device in 2022. Though there literally is more actual power with a new 1.5Ghz processor and a larger battery that’s good for about five hours of play.

James Trew / Engadget

The new all-white design gives the EXP a bit more of a grown up vibe than the original which looked a little toyish. The D-pad is particularly eye-catching, as it’s a large disc and almost looks like it protrudes from the casing a little too much. In use it’s fine, but something a little smaller and lower profile might add to the quality feel. The buttons, for example, are nice and clicky and are just the right height. It’s a slightly mixed combo but functional though moves in fighting games can be a little tricky to pull off sometimes.

One of the main perks with the EXP are the built-in games from Capcom. The console also comes with the Irem Arcade 1 collection which features six games (including R-Type) but the real fun is among those Capcom classics such as Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting, Mega Man, Ghouls and Ghosts and Breath of Fire (among others). These are some solid titles that mean there are 24 games available to play right out of the box.

If that’s not enough for day one, there’s also a way to expand this number even further to 29 thanks to a large banner on the home screen titled “HIDDEN GAMES” (it’s in all caps yep). This is a carry over from the VS that introduced a “Secret” menu option – which, despite the name, is not hidden, it’s right there in the main menu and it’s literally called “Secret.” Here, you can enter some codes and unlock even more games. No spoilers here, but a bit of googling around might turn up some clues.

Unfortunately, even though you can connect the EXP to a TV over HDMI and there’s a USB-C port on the bottom, you can’t connect a controller – not even a VS controller – to enjoy two player mode on the built-in games. This is a real shame with Street Fighter II sitting right there, begging to be played as nature intended. Blaze told Engadget that it’s something being explored but there’s nothing immediate to share. Games on the VS console can all be played in 2-player mode, but the license with Capcom only really allowed the company to include the games on the EXP itself, not as cartridges.

James Trew / Engadget

The final main update on the EXP over the original is the inclusion of “Tate” mode. Many of those early arcade games were played in portrait, rather than landscape mode and the EXP has a pair of extra buttons beside the D-pad so you can flip the console 90-degrees and play these titles vertically just like back when quarters were required. Some of the included Capcom titles, such as 1942 and Commando, use this mode, as do many on the bundled Irem Arcade cartridge. It’s nice to see these games with the option to play them in the right orientation and will be of particular appeal to fans of vertical scrolling shooters (of which there are plenty on the Evercade platform).

Finally, the EXP sports a newer user interface than the original. In fact, it’s borrowed almost directly from the VS console. The original handheld was updated to bring a similar-looking interface, but it’s a little lacking compared to that on the VS and EXP. It’s simple and easy to navigate but also has some useful added data in each game’s menu where you can see the how often and for how long you’ve played a game among other information. You can also set a “coin” limit here for truly re-creating that ‘90s arcade experience where you only had seven quarters and had to use them wisely.

James Trew / Engadget

Most of all, the EXP maintains the same authenticity and nods to the retro era that made the original and the VS more fun. Things like secret games and things to unlock were a mainstay of that era, so combined with the nostalgia of cartridges it all goes a long way to making the Evercade platform something beyond just another way to play old titles. There’s even a “game of the month” program that offers the chance to play forthcoming releases for a limited time free of charge.

It’s not all about vintage games, though. Evercade already has an indie collection of modern retro games, including the very recommendable Game Boy game Deadeus. There’s a second collection on the way, too. Old classics are one thing, but there are many ways to play them. Evercade provides a nice, legal option and one that compensates the rights owners appropriately, but it’s also well positioned to become a destination for modern retro and lighter indie titles.

There are a lot of options for retro games, whether that’s other handhelds, things like Nintendo’s virtual console/Switch online or the semi-recent trend of “mini” consoles. Evercade’s approach is unique but obviously requires a bit of a collector’s itch or a penchant for the lesser-known gems for it to really make sense. One thing’s for sure, there’s already a community gathering around the platform and for them and the like, the EXP elevates the handheld experience nicely.

Ayaneo’s Air Pro is a taste of the portable PC gaming future

It’s been a bumper year for gaming on the go. For a spell, it kinda felt like Nintendo was the only name in town, but it’s since become one of the more exciting corners of gaming. Today, there are handheld options for everything from AAA to Indie to retro and beyond. Whatsmore, the current generation of mobile processors means we’re seeing surprisingly capable hardware. The main problem, now, is that the software side of things hasn’t quite caught up. There’s perhaps no better demonstration of this than the Ayaneo Air Pro: a stellar example of what can be done, and what needs improving, in the burgeoning handheld PC world.

If you’re not familiar with Ayaneo, that’s understandable. The company hasn’t been around all that long, but it’s already making a name for itself thanks to remarkably good hardware that brings PC gaming into the portable realm. If you imagine a Steam Deck, but with Windows and a fraction of the size, you wouldn’t be far off.

Before we dive into the gaming experience, the hardware itself is worth a closer look. The Air Pro is impressively well made. It has a similar footprint to Nintendo’s Switch Lite, but it’s thicker (.85 vs .55 inches) and heavier (.88lbs vs .55). In terms of build quality, honestly the Ayaneo feels far superior. The Hall effect analog sticks and triggers are smooth with a nice amount of travel. The D-pad is responsive and the buttons are the right kind of snappy. The centerpiece is the stunning 5.5-inch OLED display - a first on Windows gaming handheld Ayaneo is fond of reminding us. It’s a delight to hold and feels premium in almost every regard. Even the fingerprint reader in the power button somehow adds a dash of sophistication.

James Trew / Engadget

As this is basically a PC, there are quite a few different configurations available. Some using AMD’s 5560U chipset and others running the 5825U with assorted amounts of RAM and storage depending on your budget. And you will need a sizable budget as you’ll soon find out.

The Air Pro doesn’t quite have the grunt of Valve’s venerable Steam Deck, but it does run Windows 11 out of the box and can run a surprising amount of high-end games in a more-than-playable fashion. And while the Steam Deck outguns it in terms of processing power, the Air Pro is legitimately portable without too much of a performance tradeoff.

Beyond size and the internals, the other main difference is price. Valve’s handheld tops out at $650 for the 512GB version while the Air Pro starts at $699 (5560U/16GB RAM/512GB storage). You can bring that figure right up to $1,399 if you want the faster silicon, 32GB of RAM and 2TB of storage - that’s obviously quite spendy. The model we tested was somewhere between middle and top with the superior processor, 16GB of RAM and 1TB storage (though all models have expandable memory via a microSD card slot).

There are other gaming handhelds that run Windows, but many are too underpowered to handle a lot of bigger games. Anbernic’s Win600, for example, runs on an older AMD Athlon Silver 3050e chipset with Radeon Vega 3 graphics. This is a significant step down, but then the Win600 only costs $375. Ayn’s Odin can also run Windows, but the ARM-based version which brings with it some compatibility issues. GPD has been in this space for a while, but its Win 3 is looking a little underpowered now (though its Win 4 is coming this month and it looks suitably beefy).

Perhaps most tellingly there are manymore handhelds in the works from companies like Ayn, the aforementioned GPD and others. There’s even a new flagship from the company itself, the Ayaneo 2, that really should cause potential Steam Deck buyers some headaches. These un-released models all have something in common: AMD’s 6800U chipset. It seems there was always an appetite for PC gaming on the go, just we didn’t quite have the required hardware to run it. Until recently.

Technical limitations are one thing, but there’s another more philosophical question that needs answering: Why make a pocketable PC when you can stream a lot of AAA games without the need for expensive, power hungry dedicated hardware? While it’s true streaming is more viable than ever, that approach requires that you have a console or gaming PC in the first place or a subscription to something like GeForce Now or Xbox Cloud which isn’t economically favorable for many folks (not to mention the libraries might not have what you want). Not to mention its dependence on a network connection - good luck with that on in-flight WiFi.

James Trew / Engadget

Which brings us back to the real issue: Windows isn’t ready to be used on tiny screens and neither are many of the games that run on it. Ayaneo has tried hard to ameliorate this issue by adding its own launcher called Ayaspace. It serves as a front-end for all your games and manages to provide a vague console-like experience. But it’s not long before the spell is broken and you find yourself using an analog stick as a mouse trying to log-in to Steam and then using a tiny onscreen keyboard to peck out your credentials.

Ayaneo has at least tried to solve some of these inevitable problems. The Air Pro, for example, has two buttons along the top (between LB and RB) that will pull up the onscreen keyboard, double for ESC and other essential Windows shortcuts to make navigating bearable. But you will likely need to plug in a mouse and keyboard at some point just to get something simple done.

It’ll also soon become apparent that AAA games weren’t necessarily made with a small screen in mind. For the most part, games look incredible on the Air Pro’s OLED display. Even when playing games at 720p (the display is 1080p) they still look incredible - but it’s often a necessary tradeoff for performance. You will likely find yourself wishing that display was just a little bit bigger. Not least to get rid of those bezels, but just for general quality of life.

Not least for games where there’s a lot of text. Titles like Disco Elysium, for example, have a lot of written dialog - and while it’s easy enough to read for the most part, it’s noticeably more fatiguing than if you were on a desktop. Thankfully, the display is sharp and the resolution is high enough that it’s all still very legible, but there’s just that vague sense of a UI that wasn’t built for a display of this size.

James Trew / Engadget

If you’re thinking “Why not just run SteamOS on it” you wouldn’t be alone. It’s been done with varying degrees of success. The bigger issue might just come down to the practicality (millions of games available, wide hardware support) and reach of Windows. There are some more mundane challenges with SteamOS that don’t make it a shoo-in replacement for these handhelds. Primarily, game compatibility. If it’s not available on Steam, you can probably still install it on SteamOS but it might involve flipping to desktop mode or other workarounds which breaks the “console” experience you might have been seeking in the first place.

More importantly, some users are actually reporting better battery life with Windows on the Steam Deck despite expecting it to be worse. The claims are that it’s broadly equivalent but in some cases even better than Valve’s native operating system thanks to a combination of factors. PC gaming has a lot of variables, so this isn’t necessarily that surprising. This isn’t always going to be the case, but it’s at least not a strong incentive for making SteamOS the go-to platform for portable PC gaming.

Battery life is especially important with a handheld and it would be a lie to say it’s something that the Ayaneo Air Pro excels at. Or even does adequately at. Depending on what you’re playing and the power drain - usually called TDP – required for it to run satisfactorily. More demanding games will need a TDP of 12 Watts or above and you can hope for about an hour and 45 minutes battery life at this intensity. Some games can run just fine at 8W which will extend play time to around 2.3 hours. You can get over three hours of life on the lowest 5W setting but this won’t be enough for anything but the lightest of games but it’s good for general setup tasks and the like.

Needless to say, this isn’t ideal for a handheld, especially as your battery pack likely won’t cut it - unless it can deliver 65W, which most can’t.

In short, the Ayaneo Air Pro represents a lot of hope and shines a light on some challenges. Hope in that true PC gaming on the go in a pocket-friendly format and on fantastic hardware, feels like it might finally be here. It’s the challenges that are a little more complicated. Windows has a lot of advantages, but also plenty of practical drawbacks. Whether it’s a case of adapting the hardware around these, or just a matter of a smart software overlay is being figured out in real time it seems.

James Trew / Engadget

Making a truly “console” experience will require some clever thinking and equally clever software. Ayaneo, for its part, is also working on its own Ayaneo OS that’s Linux-based like SteamOS. Whether this will resolve some of the challenges remains to be seen, but it’s clearly something that’s being worked on. But that just accounts for one company. With other manufacturers with ties to Windows like GPD there’s a risk of ending up with a mishmash of approaches. Hopefully, though, with more competition comes more innovation (or more ideas to be “borrowed”).

For some, the exciting part is to finally have more options to enjoy high-end gaming away from the PC. Not everyone is looking to spend more time at a desktop, or maybe you just want to scratch that Elden-itch while waiting for a flight. Whatever your preference, things are about to get a lot more interesting.

GoPro's Hero 11 Black Mini fills a small niche

GoPro’s annual Hero Black update came with a small surprise this year. Instead of just the usual flagship camera, a “Mini” version was also unveiled. Alas, only the regular Hero Black was available when they were announced, so if the diminutive version caught your eye you had to wait until Oct 25th. And then you had to wait just a little bit longer. But finally it’s here and it’s an interesting proposition.

Of course, the pitch is simple: A Hero 11 Black but smaller. The Mini is about 3/4 of an inch narrower than the regular Hero 11 Black when you look at it head on. But it’s also a teensy bit taller and about 5mm deeper. It’s obviously smaller overall, but there’s much less of a difference than there was with the Session cameras and the flagship of the time. As with that camera, though, the main trade off is the lack of viewfinder/displays. That’s a big deal, so that reduction in size really has to appeal to your use case. And I can say right up top here, for most people, it likely doesn’t.

To put things in perspective, at the time of writing, the Mini sells for $299.98 with a GoPro subscription, while the regular Hero 11 Black is listed for $349.98 with the same deal ($449.98 / $549.98 respectively if for some reason you can’t take the subscription offer). That’s either a $50 or $100 difference, depending, for the overall compromises and relatively minor difference in size. And there are additional differences beyond the lack of screen that you’ll want to consider. For example, there's no photo mode this time around.

James Trew / Engadget

To be clear, yes you can get photos out of the camera (there’s one right above this sentence) but you’ll be pulling frames from video. And while that’s pretty easy, it’s definitely not as simple as choosing photo mode and pressing a button (also your photos might end up 16:9 if that’s what the source material is). Taking photos is definitely something you might assume you can do natively and I am obliged therefore to tell you that you cannot.

Of course, as mentioned, there’s no touchscreen which affects how you access the menu. You can navigate the settings via a small display on the top that will send GoPro veterans right back to the Hero 4 (and earlier) days. The options here are slightly limited, with just shooting mode, mode settings and some (but not all) general settings up for grabs. Everything else you’ll be doing through the app.

I personally prefer doing most things on the camera itself, and then use the app when the camera is mounted out of reach, but I didn’t find it hard to transition to doing most everything in Quik. This only really becomes an issue if you’re doing something where your phone isn’t nearby. Surfing, for example, might need a little bit of pre-planning to make sure you’re set up before you get in the water.

James Trew / Engadget

Relatedly, I noticed the camera goes into standby very quickly. After just eight seconds of inactivity the Mini will turn itself off (15 if you’re in the settings menu). This is obviously to save battery life, but it also means if you were just pausing for thought, you have to turn the camera back on, and possibly re-connect to the camera over WiFi and then pick up where you left off. It feels like an easy fix to add an option to change the amount of time, but for now, that’s how it is.

If you are used to using GoPro’s video presets, it’s worth knowing there’s only one here on the Mini. Unlike the regular Hero 11 that offers many along with the option to create your own for different shooting scenarios, the Mini has the essentials and not much else. It just means you need to change your video settings on a per-shot basis (like life before GoPro introduced presets) but it was something I found myself missing.

As for battery life, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that the sealed-design means you can’t swap out a new cell should you run out of juice. The better news is that the Mini uses the new longer-lasting Enduro battery. GoPro claims you should get about an hour of continuous recording at the highest quality, or nearer to two hours are less demanding settings. This feels about right based on the short time we’ve had with the camera and also inline with the Hero 11 Black, which uses the same battery.

Since the latest redesign and addition of 5.3K video modes, some people had issues with the camera overheating while recording indoors, with the camera in a fixed position. The company issued a software update in response including a new “stationary/tripod” mode.

James Trew / Engadget

When we tested our Hero 9, 10 and 11, we didn’t experience that issue, but with the Mini, it happened pretty quickly (in under 10 minutes) when recording at 5.3K/60fps. In less power-hungry modes the issue disappeared, so anything 1080p, for example, was fine. GoPro’s messaging here is that the Mini is an outdoor camera, designed for mounting on you or your gear. So, if you were looking at this for a potential static/indoor application, it’s not the camera you want, even according to GoPro.

If that seemed like a lot of words about things you can’t or shouldn’t do, then the good news is that, from here on out, it’s all about what the Mini can do. The short version of that is, mostly everything it’s bigger sibling can. But it’s worth calling out some specifics, and even a couple of things that are unique to the smaller camera.

The first thing I wanted to confirm was that the Mini had full 360-degree horizon lock. This was something new to the Hero 11 Black and it was one of the standout features this year. There was no reason why the Mini wouldn’t be able to do this, with it having the same sensor and all, but consider this confirmation of that nonetheless.

The same goes for the new Hyperview mode, which squeezes every pixel from the sensor into a 16:9 video. It’s incredibly immersive and makes even the most mundane of activities seem surprisingly dynamic. And of course, full-frame shooting is also here, so you can grab everything the sensor sees and then punch out different mobile-friendly or desktop videos from the same source file.

James Trew / Engadget

Where the Mini excels, unsurprisingly, is with anything body mounted. The smaller form-factor and lighter weight make it a much nice experience for head or helmet mounting. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the Mini is all about being a helmet cam. Not least because of the second pair of mounting fingers on the rear that make it easier to fix in a forward-facing position.

And this really feels like what the Mini is all about. If you don’t want all the bells and whistles and just want an honest-to-goodness action camera with all the Hero 11 Black video credentials, then the Mini is it. It also feels like it would make a good secondary camera for a different angle. Similarly, if you use a full-size GoPro for drone FPV footage (rather than the dedicated “Bones” camera) then the Mini is also a great option for that - plus you get a camera you can use elsewhere, too (unlike Bones).

Rode's gaming sub-brand debuts with 'Unify' streaming software and two familiar mics

Gaming creators and streamers will already be familiar with Rode. The company’s microphones and podcastingproducts make good options for those plugging into OBS, YouTube, Twitch and anywhere else you might “go live.” But as of today, there’s a whole new sub brand specifically catering to their needs: Rode X.

The first three products under the new mark include two microphones and a comprehensive desktop app for stream routing and mixing. The mics will look eerily familiar to fans of Rode products, but the company assures us they have been “redesigned internally for optimal performance for streaming and gaming.”

The new mics are the XDM-100 ($249) and XCM-50 ($150). The clue to the difference between them is in the name - D for dynamic, C for condenser (you can read about the difference here). The XDM-100, at least physically, looks like Rode’s Podcaster with a dash of red at the top. The XCM-50 is a condenser microphone that appears to be built on the same platform as the NT-USB Mini and features a distinct red button on the front.

James Trew / Engadget

Both microphones are USB only (no XLR), which means you won’t need an audio interface to use them, and they have built-in headphone ports for latency-free monitoring. Which of the two might interest you most will depend on both your preferences and the room where you stream from.

The XCM-50 has a bright sound that will work well for those in acoustically treated, or “softer” rooms. When tested side by side with its NT-USB Mini doppelganger, they do sound incredibly close, but to my ears the XCM-50 is a tiny bit brighter sounding. The NT-USB Mini sounds a shade “closer” by comparison.

The XDM-100 has a more classic “dynamic” microphone sound. While perhaps not quite as well rounded as something like the Shure SM7B or even Rode’s own Podmic, it feels cleaner than the Podcaster that it shares its physical appearance with. If you want a good USB dynamic option, this feels like a competitive choice for the price. Especially once coupled with the new Unify software.

The one thing that a lot of gamers and streamers really need isn’t so much a microphone – there are many options for that – it’s a reliable tool to route all the sounds in your stream, usually some mix of game sounds, chat, music and effects. With Unify, you have a simple software solution that is similar to the routing matrices you find with the GoXLR, the BEACN Mix Create or Elgato’s Wave Link.

Rode

Unify creates a couple of virtual audio interfaces on your PC and you can then control which app uses what, and where that sound goes. For example, you probably want your intro music to go out on the stream, but maybe you don’t want it in your headphones? Or maybe you want your audience to hear a YouTube video you’re playing, but not the music you’re streaming. With Unify, you can pipe most things to most places, and then change the levels, or “mix” for each destination also.

Rode has added the ability to record all your audio directly within the app, too. This makes it appealing to more than just streamers. For example, you could use it to record both sides of a Zoom call and be able to feed audio into that call that would otherwise be tricky. The fact that Unify has sound pads for intros and effects means it also works quite well as a software “Rodecaster Pro.”

Unify looks most similar to Wave Link but offers much more fine-grained control. The app isn’t quite as simple as BEACN’s, which lets you access each mix matrix at all times and has a slightly clearer UI. BEACN also benefits from the hardware mixer, too, but there’s no option to record within that app or trigger sound effects.

Where Unify differs from most of its rivals is that you don’t have to buy the company’s hardware to use it. If you just wanted the software features you can pay $5 a month or $45 a year for the app alone. This means you can easily use it with any microphone you have, you’re not beholden to using a Rode (unlike, Wave Link that requires an Elgato mic). If you do buy a Rode X mic, then the software is free. Sadly, if you already own a Rode USB mic, it won’t unlock the software, you'll be paying like everybody else.

Urtopia's tech-heavy ebike is only as good as its software

At the tail end of last year, a curious new entry into the ebike market emerged: Urtopia. The company’s mission seemed pretty clear, to make the most feature-rich, connected bike the world has ever seen. And with a built-in 4G SIM, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, a fingerprint reader and mmWave sensors for collision detection, it was likely accomplished. Except, the model we tested was a prototype leaving us unable to evaluate some of the more interesting features. Until now.

The retail version of the bike is almost identical to the pre-production version we tested at the end of last year bar a few minor cosmetic details. The D-pad on the left handle has been slightly redesigned and the fingerprint reader on the right is also now a button. The only other visible change is the dot-matrix display, which is now flat and easier to read.

Perhaps one of the main features we couldn’t test wasn’t available at all – the app. With so much going on in the bike, it’s more important to have a companion tool on your phone to confirm settings and to extract more use out of some of the sensors (ride tracking, for example).

James Trew / Engadget

All I’ll say is, the bike might be the final hardware, but the software side of things started out a little... less complete. But in the space of a few weeks, the app has been redesigned and there have been a couple of firmware updates for the bike itself and the experience feels much less like a work in progress.

But first a little reminder. The Urtopia bike is a fixed-gear (Gates carbon belt), single hub-motor ebike with three levels of speed assistance (20MPH in the US, 15MPH in Europe). The 30lbs/15Kg city bike offers approximately 60 miles of assistance out of the 360Wh battery. That’s a fairly common spec for an ebike, but one look at the Urtopia will tell you this isn’t really a normal bike.

Last time around I was able to test Urtopia’s cred as a general road bike, and despite a slightly stiff ride (there’s no suspension) it performed well, with smooth pickup from the torque-based motor. The voice control for changing speed, locking the bike and more was also fun but perhaps not the smoothest experience (and even if it were, I’m not sure we’re collectively ready to be speaking to our bikes in public yet).

The first thing I wanted to try here was the 4G connectivity. Utopia isn’t unique in having a cellular connection (newer VanMoofs, for example, also offer connectivity), but the 4G here is behind a few interesting features. For once, you’ll (theoretically) get a log of your ride in the app every single time you go out. I say theoretically as it often didn’t work for me. Then sometimes it did. I couldn’t quite pin down what caused it to work sometimes and not others, but I suspect it’s to do with whether you leave the bike in standby while at home, or if you power it down (thus fully resetting the sensors).

After one of the firmware updates this feature became more reliable. Which is good, because it was frustrating to put in double-digit miles only to come home and find your ride wasn’t logged. Right now, there’s not a lot you can do with the data other than see where you went and how fast in a slick animation. It, of course, logs all your miles and… as I went to check the app for what other data it records there was an app update (duration, calories, average speed and even CO2 saved is the answer). Right now, you can only share the rides with the in-app “community” but the option to share to services like Strava would be a real positive.

James Trew / Engadget

In a similar way, the app can also tell you exactly where your bike is at any time, as long as the battery is connected and has enough power to ping the network. It will stop working once the battery totally dies, of course, but if someone steals your ride, you should have plenty of time to ping it and locate it before they realize it’s the world’s most connected bike and what a fool’s errand stealing it was. 

Another security feature is the fingerprint sensor. This was physically present on the prototype, but without the app, there was no way to set it up. It works surprisingly well and allows you to turn the bike on or to disable the alarm quickly. You can still ride the bike without assistance without unlocking the bike with your finger, but it’s effectively a cumbersome fixie at this point. Unless you turn the alarm on, then it’ll start sounding an alert at the slightest, and I mean slightest movement which can only be disabled with a registered digit.

One of the more intriguing additions to the Urtopia’s spec sheet are the mmWave sensors. These are designed to detect vehicles approaching from behind on either side. If something is detected, you’ll be alerted through a visual signal and vibrating handlebars. In practice, it’s a little hard to test without deliberately endangering yourself, but it does seem to work. Although, I am not sure whether, if faced with a truck coming up behind, you might be more distracted by the alerts than the traffic itself. That’s to say, this is clearly a valuable feature, but the outcome of it is hard to quantify at this time.

James Trew / Engadget

Something much easier to evaluate is the onboard navigation. Or rather, the ability to punch a destination into the app, and then have visual and audio turn instructions via the speaker and display on the handlebars. There are, of course, other ways to do this - either with a phone in a mount or maybe just in your pocket with audio instructions via headphones. But having it here right in the handlebars feels a lot more futuristic and means you don’t have to expose your phone to the elements/thieves.

The dot-matrix screen does have a bit of a retro vibe to it, and makes it feel a bit more like KITT (especially when it speaks to you). For the navigation, this works well enough as the arrows/directions are shown clearly enough that you can glance at them without being distracted.

Urtopia calls this screen and speaker combo the “smart bar” and it has other plans for it beyond serving up data and other visual feedback. One example is using the bike’s speaker as a Bluetooth speaker for music. This may have accidentally been my idea. I suggested it to them the first time we tested it, and now it’s part of the app. It’s kinda fun, though I have never felt quite so self conscious as I did riding through a busy park with phonecall-quality Drum & Bass playing from my bike. Podcasts might be a bit more its speed, but happy to see the feature here nonetheless.

James Trew / Engadget

There is… more. Another addition that was conceived after our initial testing is “game” mode. It’s not quite what you’re likely imagining. Or at least, what I was imagining. I assumed it might be some sort of virtual race where you have to “catch” up with a ghost rider like in a Mario Kart time trial. Or maybe some sort of way of making training/intervals fun? But no, it’s actually a game of Snake you can play on the display using the control buttons which, to be fair, are basically a D-pad. Obviously, not to be played while moving.

Perhaps the biggest chance since we last looked at the bike is the price. Now that the crowd-funding campaign is complete and the bikes are made and ready to ship, the $2,000 early-bird price has given way to the regular $2,799 retail price. That puts it in a similar category to something like the Cowboy C4 which has fewer high-tech features, but does have the important theft detection and locating capabilities.

All to say that, the Urtopia definitely has a lot of tech appeal, but it still feels like the software and features are settling into themselves. If they can continue to make that side of the experience as comfortable and as exciting as it is to ride, this will be a solid choice for those that want a capital-E e-bike.