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As you’re likely well aware of by now, Microsoft dropped Office Mobile for iPhone today. The actual name of the app is Office Mobile for Office 365 subscribers, which is a crazy mouthful, so I’ll be referring to it as Office Mobile throughout this write up.
So with all of this in mind, I’m approaching this review as someone who’s mainly interested in editing and creating new documents on the iPhone. If the iPhone version is superior to the current iWork experience, then I may be interested in making the switch to Office 365 beyond the scope of my free 30 day trial. Take a look inside as I break it down further on video.
The reason why Office Mobile is so interesting, is because its the first time we truly have the ability to create and edit native Office documents on an iOS device. Yes, there are other apps that support various Office formats, yes there have been workarounds, but these are all just that. Now we finally have an official app from Microsoft that allows us to interface directly with our Office documents. Exciting times, indeed.
To use Office Mobile, you’ll need to be an Office 365 subscriber. The actual app is free on the App Store, but you can’t login without subscribing in some fashion. That means you can either use the $99 in app purchase for one year of access, or login with your already existing Office 365 account for access. You can actually sign up for a $9.99 a month plan, and it includes a free one month trial, which is what I used for this review.
Once you’ve gotten the sign-up process out of the way, you can login and start editing and creating content. Microsoft provides three sample documents for Word, Excel, or PowerPoint to give you a taste of what documents look like on the small screen. If you already have content in the cloud, then all of that content will be available and accessible from Office Mobile. The sample documents, while nice, are a bit misleading, because you can’t actually replicate the style of the document using Office Mobile alone. For instance, I found no way to insert photos, tables, or graphs into a word document, yet Microsoft’s sample document contains all three.
By far, the most disappointing aspect of Office Mobile is the creation of new documents, and the barebones editing and formatting features. Okay, get this — there’s currently no way to use spell check in Office Mobile. Yes, you heard me right, there’s no spell check in Office Mobile. In fact, you can’t even use the built in iOS suggestions (the little red squiggly lines at the bottom of a misspelled word) with Office Mobile. If that isn’t backwards, then I don’t know what is. System Autocorrect is there, but no document editing app should ever be released without some sort of spell check and suggestions feature.
Then there’s the fact that formatting documents might as well not even be a feature. It’s so gimped and so bare bones, that you’ll hate yourself for even trying to use it. To format text you must double tap on a word, and use the drag handles adjacent to the word to select the text you wish to format. Next, you must tap the paintbrush button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. If you don’t select text first, then opening the format page won’t allow you to do anything. It’s weird, but you can’t select any additional text once the format section is open. Worse yet, you can’t even scroll through your document while the format section is open. That’s not the frictionless experience that I was hoping for from a derivative of Microsoft’s flagship product and key money maker.
The actual formatting experience, once you get there, isn’t much better. You can do the standard bold, underline, italics, and strikethrough, but that’s about where the fun ends. True, you can highlight colors, or change text color, but it’s limited to red, yellow, and green; there is no color palette to speak of. As if that wasn’t insulting enough, the size option for resizing text has no numerical value. You can make text smaller or larger, but you have no idea how big or small the text is from a point value perspective. There are a few other items like outline view, search, and sharing options — which is another name for sending an email with a document attached. Nothing else is really worth mentioning here, you probably stopped reading when I talked about the lack of spell check anyway.
I hate to continue piling on like this, but there’s also an issue with the fact that Office Mobile requires an Internet connection to work. Yes, it’s true that you can technically save items locally on device until you have a network connection, but I found this to be inconsistent, and I lost three or four test documents while putting the offline capabilities through its paces. Needless to say, I definitely wouldn’t trust Office Mobile with my data at this early stage in the game.
At the end of the day the verdict is quite a predictable one. Office Mobile is an app that I could only see myself using if I was a dedicated Office 365 subscriber. Even then, I don’t think I’d bother with editing documents. It’s a decent viewer for current customers of Microsoft’s cloud document service, but it’s the furthest thing away from a killer app.
Microsoft has miles to go before Office Mobile can even be uttered in the same breathe as other document apps, most notably, iWork. iWork in itself has its fair share of flaws, but Office Mobile makes it look like an absolute renaissance masterpiece. Until Microsoft can get its act together, there’s still no real way to reliably manage and edit Office documents in the cloud on iOS. With Apple’s new iWork for iCloud beta currently in testing, and looking like a solid effort in the process, and Microsoft’s lack of an iPad client (which they shouldn’t even be thinking about until they fix the iPhone version), the distance between the two Office apps will continue to grow on iOS.
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As a gaming device, the GPD WIN’s performance is of the utmost concern. All the special controls and portable design isn’t going to matter much if the device can’t handle the games that you want to play. Mind you, it’s definitely not going to play everything. There are games, even those on PC, that just aren’t designed to run on limited resources and, even in their lowest settings, will drag the GPD WIN to a crawl.
There are a few surprising titles that you won’t expect to run on the little thing at a bearable, not ideal, frame rates. And, of course, there will also be desktop software that won’t take kindly to having not much wiggle room to move in.
The benchmark scene on PCs are far more mature than on mobile, and FutureMark’s 3D Mark is perhaps the household name for gaming-related benchmarks, with the company’s PC Mark for more general purpose computers. So naturally, we had to put the relatively tiny gaming PC to the test.
Unsurprisingly, the results aren’t that encouraging. It shouldn’t be surprising considering the hardware we’re dealing with. Of course, these are just benchmark tests and, while interesting and telling, these ideal, controlled processes don’t accurately reflect real-world scenarios. And the best way to test that is to actually use the GPD WIN for what it was meant to do: gaming.
The best way to approach the GPD WIN is to set your expectations appropriately. That is, rather low. Despite designed and promoted as a gaming device, it is hampered by components that are not exactly considered the best in gaming. Again, it’s a compromise and one that is surprisingly easy enough to live with.
For these round of tests, two games were played, both installed from Steam: the rather contentious DmC Devil May Cry and Skyrim Special Edition. Neither are the latest or the heaviest games to date, though both do offer a level of resource usage enough to see the hardware in action. (For reference, the on-screen stats come from a combination of HWiNFO and MSI Afterburner)
When running DmC under high settings, the FPS during battle scenes peaked at 16 fps, sometimes dipping even lower down to 10. Setting graphics quality to low does improve things but only by little, peaking at 21 fps at times. During cutscenes, frame rates sometimes reached 30 fps, but not often.
Skyrim, on the other hand, was almost a disaster. Framerates barely went above 15 FPS, even during cutscenes. Actually it was during cutscenes that the system crawled the most. That said, Skyrim’s default “Low” settings are largely unoptimized for low settings, and there are reported successes in running the game on meager hardware, though the process is a bit more involved. Gamers, however, will be well used to it.
One way to get around the rather sub-par frame rates while still enjoying a bit of freedom of movement is game streaming. Steam and Xbox both offer such an experience, where you can run games on beefier machines but view and control them on another device. You are, however, limited by your home network’s bandwidth and won’t be able to take the game out with you.
The GPD WIN got quite warm during all these tests, somewhere along 63 to 66 C. Only once did it become somewhat too hot to touch above 74 C, and that was when running Skyrim under the default low settings. The device comes with a fan and a three-way switch to turn it off, mid, and high. While running it at high does make you feel like you have a permanent but subtle vibration feedback enabled, it’s going to be necessary when using the GPD WIN for anything non-trivial.
Unlike a gaming desktop or laptop, which usually stays inside rooms, the outdoor visibility of the GPD WIN’s screen is of utmost importance. After all, the goal is to have you playing whenever the urge, and opportunity, rises. Sadly, that screen isn’t exactly the brightest in its class and is easily rendered useless even under overcast weather.
When trying to play outdoors, it is best to find some shade to play under. Surprisingly, the screen does have great viewing angles, so you can watch your friends drool while they watch you play. Under a shade, of course.
Touch sensitivity on the display is nothing spectacular. There were fortunately no dead spots within the area of the display except at the edges, where swipe gestures usually start. A rather confusing aspect of the screen is that it sometimes boots in portrait orientation. That’s because, despite its use, it is actually a smartphone screen.
The audio is loud but trebly. Given the size of the thing and the changes GPD had to make, it’s a miracle it even came out that way at all. The placement of the speaker grills, however, is a bit puzzling. They’re at the sides, exactly where your palms would cover them when gripping the GPD WIN like a controller. On the one hand, it does muffle the sound a bit compared to when it’s blasting wide open. At the same time, however, the sound bounces inside your hand, creating a speaker effect not unlike some DIY or wooden speakers. Chances are, however, you will plug in (or wireless connect) your favorite pair of gaming speakers.
Battery life is going to be your biggest concern. The best that the GPD WIN can offer outside of standby is 5 hours. And that’s for ideal scenarios involving light use. Under constant gaming, you shouldn’t be surprised to get a warning near the 3-hour mark. Fortunately, the GPD WIN uses a standard USB-C type connector for charging. In theory, this means you can quickly top off from a power bank rather than scrambling for a wall socket. That said, it charges at 5V/2.5A, so you’ll need a battery pack that delivers that.
Overall, the GPD WIN’s performance can’t exactly be described as rock solid, especially considering how some hardware components are reported to be rather unreliable, depending on who you ask. That said, it isn’t terrible either, and the actual gaming performance isn’t gut-wrenching. Again, expectations are key.
Office 2013 introduces design refinements and usability improvements for connected users, but the price of upgrading may put off Office 2010 users who can get similar cloud functionality with free third-party services.
Although consumers and businesses are turning more often to Web-based software and mobile apps, many millions still depend on Microsoft Office to get their work done every day. The folks in Redmond want you to use Office wherever you go—on your PC, your tablet, and your Windows Phone handset. To that end, Microsoft is pushing deep integration between its desktop applications and your data, stored on Microsoft servers.
Office 2013, the next edition of Microsoft’s flagship productivity suite, is available for business customers but won’t go on sale to consumers until the first quarter of 2013. This review focuses on the desktop applications, which you’ll be able to buy either on their own or as part of the cloud-connected Office 365 suite next year. We’ll review Office 365 when it becomes available.
Both the Office 2013 and Office 365 packages provide online document storage and collaboration. The primary difference between the two? Office 365 is constantly updated, and it lets you run Office away from your main PC via an Office on Demand virtualization tool. Office 365 users get extra online storage and, for the Small Business option, add-ons such as shared calendars and HD videoconferencing.
In addition to the highly touted cloud features, the new Office desktop applications look sleeker and deliver several useful improvements.
Here’s how the Office 2013 icons appear within Windows 8’s Modern interface.Pricing
Unfortunately, the suite also costs more. The $140 Office 2013 Home and Student version includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. The $220 Home & Business edition adds Outlook, and the $400 Office 2013 Professional package throws in Publisher and Access. Not only are those prices a bit higher than for comparable versions of Office 2010, but they also cover just one installation–and Microsoft isn’t going to offer discounted prices for multiple stand-alone installations. (Right now, for example, you can still get a three-license version of Home and Student 2010 for $150, or only $30 more than a single-license copy.)
If you need Office on only a single PC, an Office 365 subscription quickly costs more after a year or so. On the other hand, if you use Office on multiple PCs, you’ll find that Office 365 subscriptions—which include five Office 2013 installations and start at $100 a year for Office 365 Home Premium in a single household—are cheaper over several years. The $150 Office 365 Small Business Premium (which is licensed to individual users, not businesses) may be worthwhile for larger businesses that can use its extras. You’ll have to do the math for your situation.
Word introduces a Navigation pane for skipping through long documents.Redesign
Microsoft’s Office redesign uses white backgrounds pretty much everywhere, and the net effect is less clutter. A more subtle innovation is the use of animation that can make normal transitions look more fluid (you can disable these effects if you wish). And Microsoft has made several routine operations easier to perform from within the apps.
Word, Excel, and PowerPoint no longer show a blank page at launch. Instead, a landing screen presents templates and other options for creating or reopening a document—that’s basically the screen you used to get when you wanted to open an existing document or create a new one from a template. This screen exposes ready-made design options that you might not otherwise consider. Word’s new Read Mode can make documents easier on the eyes.
The suite also offers easy integration with Microsoft’s online storage options, through the free SkyDrive or, in corporate settings, via commercial SharePoint server accounts. This arrangement makes documents available wherever you may need them. Microsoft has also worked on making Office more tablet- and touchscreen-friendly.Word for reading, not just writing
One of Word’s most visible innovations is a new Read Mode that dispenses with the ribbon toolbar and lets you see documents as though they appeared within a printed book. In this mode, you can’t edit, but you do have access to find and search tools, so you can perform lookups related to highlighted content. Another new mode provides a navigation pane, useful for getting around in lengthy documents.
You can collapse or hide the ribbon toolbar entirely.
If you’re using a connected PC or device, you can watch video embedded in a Word document without even leaving Word.
You can also search popular photo-sharing sites for images and add the ones you like to your documents from within Word—no need to save them to your computer first. The same goes for screenshots: The new Insert Screenshot command brings up thumbnails of all currently running apps on your computer, and then inserts the one you choose (after which you can crop it). When you insert an image or other object, Word can reflow the text on the fly so that you immediately see what you’re getting.
Word’s Simple Markup view buries any redlined edits to allow for smoother reading.
The new Design tab gathers styles and other formatting options in one place, so you can easily try out different looks for your work. Word also now supports PDF editing (it converts PDFs to Word and then saves them back as PDFs). In my tests, regrettably, Word mangled the formatting somewhat on a complex PDF, but it fared better with simpler forms.
Next page: More about Word, plus Excel
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If the 2023s have taught us anything, it’s that the line between your home and office is blurrier than ever. It has become increasingly thoughtful to get someone a gift that can help reduce their list of chores, improve their productivity, or kick back and relax after a long day at the office (in-home or on-site). Gifts in this category run the gamut from incredibly practical to downright extravagant, so there’s something for everybody. We’ve also been conscious of making sure our gift recommendations work whether you’re shopping for someone who rents or owns their place, be it an apartment or house. If you’re shopping for someone you live with, some of our best home and office presents below will also benefit you, so consider that a holiday bonus.
One of the keys to a happy home during the holidays (or any other time) is a fast, consistent connection to the Internet. Eero’s latest Wi-Fi routers support the latest wireless standard (Wi-Fi 6E), supporting speeds of up to 2.3 Gbps. For reference, Netflix recommends just 15Mbps to stream video in 4K, which is only .006% of the routers’ total potential bandwidth. If you’re shopping for someone who pays for a fast internet connection but finds their devices don’t get the speeds promised—or they have places in their home where their wireless connection is spotty—this is the optimal solution. Amazon says this two-pack of Eero routers can cover an area of up to 4,000 sq. ft., which should be enough for most homes, and it can be connected to over 100 devices without slowing down.
Every home or office needs an all-in-one printer for when a document needs to be scanned, printed, or copied. This may only happen a handful of times a year (unless the printer is living in a house with school-age kids), but you’re guaranteed to get a “THANK YOU!” text each time it does. We like Epson’s ET-2400 because its ink tanks are more efficient and eco-friendly than disposable ink cartridges. We also enjoy this printer’s relatively small size and sleek look. The ET-2400 supports wireless printing, so whoever you gift it can keep it anywhere in their office, not necessarily right next to a computer.Best docking station: UGREEN Triple Display Docking Station
The downside to laptops getting thinner and lighter is the loss of ports, which makes it annoying to connect accessories to them. If you know someone who’s always carrying around a bunch of adapters, you can simplify their life significantly by gifting them UGreen’s Triple Display Docking Station. This tool has three USB-A ports, one USB-C port, a microSD card slot, one SD card slot, a headphone jack, two HDMI ports, a DisplayPort, and an Ethernet jack. Your friend and family member can use UGREEN’s hub to connect their computer to three external displays and nearly a dozen other accessories with a single USB-C cable. The hub can even recharge their laptop while connected, which is an excellent bonus.
Just need a power present? UGREEN makes numerous recommendable solutions, including the 100W 7-in-1 DigiNest charging station, which uses GaN II technology to offer better conversion efficiency and heat dissipation in a compact form featuring 3 USB-C ports, 1 USB-A port, and 3 AC outlets.Best office chair: Boulies Master Neo
Nobody thinks about ergonomics until their body starts hurting, so this gift serves two purposes. Yes, Boulies’ Master Neo was designed for gamers, but the chair is so comfortable that we can recommend it to anybody who works at home. The chair has ample padding on the back and bottom, height-adjustable arms, and a satisfying swivel. Most office chairs look boring, but the Master Neo is available in blue and pink colorways, which can add a nice pop of color to a plain-looking workspace.Best mouse: Logitech MX Master 3S
Logitech’s MX Master 3S is the tech accessory office workers don’t know they needed. The Bluetooth mouse is shaped so an entire hand can fit on top of it, with a dedicated thumb resting on its left side. The MX Master 3S’ design makes it much more comfortable to use over long periods. Additional buttons on the side and top of the mouse give users quick access to different apps or system functions, which can save the person you gift it to several minutes every day. One of this mouse’s coolest features is the ability to pair it with up to three devices, so your friend or family member can use it with their work and personal computer. Nobody thinks about the computer mouse they use, but once you gift someone the Logitech MX Master 3S, they’ll never return to a generic wired one.Best keyboard: Drop ENTR Mechanical Keyboard
If you’re already gifting someone an ergonomic mouse, pairing it with a mechanical keyboard makes sense. Drop’s ENTR is an old school-looking keyboard that’s easy on both the eyes and fingers. It has a Windows key, but the USB-C wired keyboard can also be connected to a Mac without any issues. The sensation of typing on a mechanical keyboard after years of using the slim ones built into laptops is revelatory. The office worker who keys the ENTR will probably feel the difference in the first day or two. They may need to adjust the way they type slightly, but the difference in comfort is completely worth it. Our favorite feature of the ENTR keyboard is its backlit keys, which make it easier to work in the dark.Best work desk: Hoek Home Office Desk Best wireless earbuds: Apple AirPods Pro 2
Let’s not beat around the bush here: Apple’s AirPods Pro 2 are arguably the hottest holiday gift this season. Apple’s latest earbuds sound better, last longer, and cancel out more noise than the pair they replace while keeping the same iconic look, feel, and shape. Active noise cancellation is the biggest feature for office workers, as it’ll allow them to concentrate on work instead of being distracted by the sound of typing keys, swiveling chairs, or idle conversation. One of the most underrated features of the AirPods Pro 2 is the microphones, which are surprisingly good at picking up a speaker’s voice without much room noise. At their price, you won’t find a more well-rounded, fully featured pair of earbuds than the AirPods Pro 2.Best headphones: beyerdynamic DT 700 PRO X
Need a gift for an audiophile who listens to music in their home office and continues their play session hours after logging off? Maybe someone you know is setting up a starter home studio but also games? Get them beyerdynamic’s DT 700 Pro X over-ear headphones, which come from the makers of our overall best mixing headphones. What separates the DT 700 Pro X apart from the pack is the extremely soft ear cushions, which make the headphones extremely comfortable to wear while simultaneously isolating a listener’s ears from unwanted outside sounds without any tonality-altering circuitry. Additionally, the headphones clamping force (how much pressure the headphones push against a listener’s head to keep them on) was also calibrated to optimize comfort without sacrificing performance. The headphones also sound excellent, with deep bass, wide midrange, and clear-but-not-crispy treble that lets you identify stray frequencies in the mix or threats in the game. And, as we said earlier, anyone who loves listening to music at home will really like these headphones.
If you know someone who’s been thinking about making their home smarter, but doesn’t know where to start, get them the Amazon Echo (4th Gen). Amazon’s latest smart speaker looks modern, has a surprisingly good dual-driver audio system, and will immediately become the hub of their smart home. Alexa, Amazon’s smart assistant, allows you to use the Echo hands-free, issuing voice commands to play music, get news updates, hear about the weather, play games, and even order products. Controlling smart-home accessories through the Echo is much easier using apps, which can be cumbersome and require your full attention. Saying, “Alexa, turn on the hallway light,” is a lot more intuitive. If you’re feeling extra generous, gift somebody two Echos so they can have this functionality in multiple parts of their home (plus an intercom system).Best smart lights: Nanoleaf Lines
Smart lights are the first smart home accessory we recommend gifting people if they already have a smart speaker, and Nanoleaf’s Lines are a lot cooler than a typical smart light bulb. The “lines” can be attached to one another and arranged in dozens of different configurations, and each one can be assigned a different color via an app on your phone. The Lines allow for a level of self-expression that makes them an especially good gift for children just beginning to have input on arranging their room. Nanoleaf’s Lines may also become a part of your friend or family’s holiday decorations, accenting other pieces they typically put up.Best monitor: Dell S2722QC
An external display will give your friend or family member a lot more digital space to work with, which can help improve their productivity or ability to multitask. There are a lot of monitors out there, but Dell’s S2722QC checks all the right boxes. The 27-inch 4K screen can display 1.07 billion colors and has HDMI, DisplayPort, and USB-C inputs so that you can connect it to any machine. The USB-C port should be of particular interest if you’re shopping for a MacBook owner since it’ll allow the display to charge their laptop while it’s connected. The S2722QC’s speakers aren’t anything to write home about, but they’re helpful in a pinch, especially if you’re gifting the monitor to someone who likes to keep their laptop lid closed while working. It’s a little more luxe than most monitors on the market, but the S2722QC is the one to get this holiday season.Best monitor riser: Grovemade Desk Shelf Best webcam: OBSBOT Tiny PTZ 4K Webcam
Webcams have become an essential home office accessory, and OBSBOT’s Tiny PTZ 4K Webcam is among the best we’ve seen. The camera can stream or record incredibly crisp video, and will automatically compensate for poor lighting conditions to help the person you gift it to look their best. What makes the Tiny PTZ 4K Webcam particularly distinctive is its rotating base, which allows the lens to track a person as they move up, down, left, or right. Free software provided by OBSBOT allows you to position the webcam perfectly and lock it in place, too. If you’re shopping for someone on a video call more than three times a week, this is a slam-dunk gift.Best digital picture frame: Aura Carver Wi-Fi Digital Picture Frame Best smart decoration: Twinkly Squares LED panels
Know someone who would want to automate some ambiance to elevate an environment? With the twinkly Squares, you can change the mood without changing location. These LED panels support 16 million colors and/or warm white light, and you can group them through an app for synced scenes of animated hues or 8-bit art. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi allow you to connect and control ON/OFF, dimming, timers, etc. Additional accessories like a USB sound sensor allow you to have your setup pulse and cycle to music. Other functions include integrating with Razer Chroma RGB or OMEN Light Studio for reactive lighting, and using voice commands via Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit. This starter set includes 1 master tile and 5 extension tiles (64 RGB pixels total), and someone can add as many as their wall and imagination allow.Best retro decoration: Lava Colormax lamp
The Lava Colormax is our best overall lava lamp because it fills your room with psychedelic nostalgia without overwhelming your space. The base, cap, and glass all sport a tri-colored design that would feel right at home in a wood panel & shag carpet rumpus room or maybe the back of a conversion van with a dragon painted on the side of it. Or just bring that vibe to your standing desk. At 14.5-inches tall, it’s not overwhelmingly huge, and the 25-watt bulb makes it glow without bathing much of your room in light. Because it gets its tint from paint on the outside of the glass, the colors look bright and vibrant. It takes a solid two hours to really get the lava moving around inside the glass container but, given the chance, will make video calls to video games way more groovy.Best TV: Hisense U8H
We can’t think of a better holiday gift than a new TV, and Hisense’s U8H is the gold standard in its price range. The set is available in sizes ranging from 55 to 75 inches, but the 65-inch model will be the sweet spot for most people. The U8H has four HDMI ports, two of which support 4K gaming at 120Hz with high dynamic range enabled. This is a big deal if the gamer in your life has a PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, as they’ll be able to play cutting-edge titles at their highest levels of fidelity. The U8H’s 336 local dimming zones allow the TV to offer incredible contrast, while support for Dolby Vision ensures colorful scenes look clear and natural rather than being blown out. If you’ve been saving up to set that special someone up with a really big gift, this should be your first (and arguably only) choice.Best soundbar: Sonos Ray
Need a gift for the person who’s already satisfied with their TV (or monitor)? The best answer is a soundbar, specifically the Sonos Ray. The Ray’s short size (only 21-inches wide) allows it to fit on any entertainment center without poking off the sides. Sonos designed the Ray’s drivers to point forward so that sound won’t reverberate off the sides of a shelf or a wall. Despite its small size, we were happy with how the Ray sounded in our tests. It wouldn’t distort during loud movie sequences with explosions or other sudden sound pops. You won’t find a better-engineered soundbar at the Ray’s size price, and avid movie watchers will immediately pick up on the audio upgrade.Best media streamer: Roku Stick 4K
If a less tech-savvy member of your friend or family group is trying to get into streaming the latest binge-worthy shows and blockbuster movies, there’s no better gift than a Roku Streaming Stick 4K. The ultra-slim media streamer is intuitive and has a simple remote plus dedicated buttons to take users directly to the most popular streaming services. The Streaming Stick 4K can playback video at its highest possible resolution, and supports every HDR (high dynamic range) standard to deliver vibrant colors. We can also recommend this accessory for people who often travel, as it’s easy to throw into a bag and hook up to a hotel or Airbnb TV, so you’re already logged into all of your streaming service accounts wherever you go.Best wireless charger: Twelve South PowerPic
Twelve South’s PowerPic is the most inventive wireless charger we’ve seen yet, and its unique design makes it an especially cool gift. The 10W wireless charging stand is built into a picture frame, allowing you to slip any 5×7-inch photo behind your phone’s resting spot. The picture will be revealed when the phone is not charging, so the PowerPic serves a dual purpose. If you know the person you’re gifting this to well enough, you can stealthily open the package, put in a meaningful picture, reseal it, then watch their face light up when it’s revealed.Best gadget charger: Satechi Dock5
Satechi Dock5 is a practical gift for anyone with several family members or roommates. The accessory has two USB-A ports and two USB-C ports, with dividers between each port so several gadgets can charge without looking messy. A Qi wireless charging pad toward the front of the Dock5 can recharge a pair of wireless earbuds or another small tech accessory. We all have someone in our lives with a messy, cable-filled section of their kitchen or living room, and this gift can resolve that issue.Best whiteboard: Quartet Glass Whiteboard
Quartet’s Glass Whiteboard is an unexpected gift that fully remote workers and students will immediately understand and appreciate. The large canvas is perfect for sketching ideas, collaborating on tough problems, or something as simple as a hand-drawn calendar. Most of us are used to having all this information on a screen. Still, something is satisfying about being able to directly write, slash, and erase your work immediately rather than fiddling with a mouse cursor or stylus. Plus, Quartet’s Glass Whiteboard looks so nice that it practically invites people to use it right out of the box.Best smart board: Vestaboard
We’ve never seen anything quite like the Vestaboard, which perfectly typifies the concept of ambient computing. The internet-connected smart board contains 132 “bits,” which flip to reveal different characters or colors. You can send messages to the Vestaboard through the company’s app, which is intuitive to use and comes pre-loaded with a few quotes and color patterns to show you its potential. A paid service called Vestaboard+ allows you to use applications to automate the board in even more creative ways, like displaying the current song you’re listening to through a streaming service, current sports scores, or playing a word game.
This is the ideal indulgent gift for someone who spends a lot of time in their home office or wants a fancy family bulletin board in their living room. Vestaboard owners can grant other people access to their board, allowing friends and family to send messages. The Vestaboard is a unique canvas for people to display meaningful quotes, words of encouragement, or mini works of art. We guarantee the person you gift it to won’t have seen anything like it.Best home gardening system: Gardyn 2.0 Hydroponics Growing System
In our tests, the Gardyn 2.0 has fulfilled the promise of being a (mostly) hands-free gardening tool for anyone who lacks a green thumb but wants to grow food. Once it’s set up, the Gardyn will automatically provide the correct amount of light (via LED light strips) and water (through a refillable tank), so there’s no room for error. It takes up to six weeks for plants to reach their full size, and it’s inspiring to see the plants sprout and grow over time. Two cameras on the LED light strips will automatically take pictures of your crops at regular intervals so that you can chart their progress at any time.
The Gardyn is a premium gift, but one that’ll quickly become the hit of your home. Children can learn about how food (and plant life in general) grows and the value of patience. After a few months, you can have a feast featuring fresh vegetables you’ve grown yourself—even if you live in a New York City apartment like I do.
Have a backyard or balcony and an interest in growing greens? Another option is the Lettuce Grow Farmstand starter set. This vertical hydroponic growing system starts with 12 pre-sprouted plants in a tower just under 4-feet tall, but can be customized to your space and budget. It only takes minutes each week to add the water and nutrients necessary and, within a month, you’re enjoying pesticide-free veggies, leafy greens, herbs, fruits, and lettuce.Best fire pit: Solo Stove Bonfire 2.0
If you’re shopping for someone who’s into backyard glamping , Solo Stove’s Bonfire 2.0 is the fire pit we recommend. It was designed to be “smokeless,” meaning a continuous flow of air, and an intelligently placed ash pan, prevent tons of smoke from billowing out of it constantly. There’ll still be some smoke but not enough to make your eyes water, which means campers can sit closer to it (but not too close) to enjoy its warmth. Solo Stove addressed our one complaint with the original Bonfire by making this model’s ash tray easily removable, which makes cleanup a breeze.Best trash can: Brabantia Bo Touch
Yes, we recommend you get someone in your life a trash can, but hear us out. Brabantia’s Bo Touch has a modern design that’s surprisingly eye-catching in person. Everybody needs a trash can, so why not gift them one they won’t mind looking at several times a day for decades? We also like the Bo Touch’s namesake feature: the ability to open and close its lid by lightly pressing it. Brabantia offers the Bo Touch in a handful of configurations, but the one we recommend has a single 9.5-gallon slot for trash. The person you gift this to may be confused initially, but they’ll quickly change their tune.Most practical tech accessory: SnapPower GuideLight for Outlets
We’ve all used a phone flashlight to navigate around the house, which is why we’re certain about gifting SnapPower’s GuideLight to just about anybody in your life. The plate attaches to any duplex outlet and has a couple of small, downward-facing LEDs, which get triggered every time somebody walks by. All you need to install the GuideLight is a screwdriver; no previous electrical engineering experience is required. There’s not much to say about the GuideLight, but it’s an incredibly practical tool that’ll fit in anybody’s home.Best desk lamp: Cricut Bright 360
With four points of articulation and 1,500 lux of adjustable brightness, the Bright 360 Table LED Lamp is a fabulous addition to your workstation whether you’re examining the accents of a project, taking pictures for an online shop, or trying to look less shadowy and/or sallow on a video call. It’s easy to maneuver, offers a range of color temperatures from warm to cool white, and is one of those quick and easy upgrades that make a world of difference. Whether you’re precision-cutting patches or copy-and-pasting paragraphs, you should be able to appreciate all the fine details of your work. And if you’re sitting through yet another online “face-to-face,” you should look your best. This light lets you do all of that and more. Speaking of more, there’s also a floor-lamp variant.Best under-desk seated elliptical: Cubii MOVE
Ever feel like you’re just shuffling your feet, waiting for people to get back to you or for everyone to join a video conference? Feel like you’re just spinning your wheels, waiting for tech support to figure out what’s wrong with your laptop? Well, you—or your gift recipient—can turn purgatory (or any other time) into a type of productivity with one of the many compact Cubii under-desk elliptical systems. Aimed to help folks “get fit while you sit,” the low-impact apparatus turns fidgeting into function as you activate multiple muscle groups at the pedaling intensity you prefer, thanks to six selectable resistance levels. Whisper-quiet, the MOVE can live underneath your desk for daily use without distracting others but, at under 20 lbs, can also be easily moved if needed.Best robot vacuum: ECOVACS DEEBOT X1 Omni Robot Vacuum and Mop
ECOVACS’ DEEBOT X1 Omni Robot Vacuum and Mop can do two annoying chores and does a surprisingly good job making your floors look neat. The vacuum’s sensors allow it to clean around obstacles like chairs, shoes, and walls without bumping into them and will prevent the DEEBOT X1 from falling down a flight of stairs. Additional sensors will know when the robot vacuum has hit a particularly dirty flooring patch and focus its energy there. Once done, the robot vacuum will return to its base to charge, emptying its dirt and dirty water into two chambers in its base. The DEEBOT X1 can be set on a schedule to clean when your friend or family member is out of the house, so they won’t have to hear the whirring sound of a vacuum ever again. Ultimately, this is one of the few smart home tools that will truly save your friend or family member time.Best over-the-top gift: Kül Water Dispenser
If you’re shopping for someone who’s really into health and hydration, or really misses the office experience of gathering around the water cooler to talk about the latest must-see TV, throw caution to the wind and get them the Kül Spark. The $1,500 water purification system can be hooked up to their plumbing and create cold, hot, ambient (room temp), or sparkling water free of over 80 contaminants. Don’t worry, there’s also the option to use a refillable water tank. We’ve tried the Kül Spark for ourselves, and the difference in taste is real. The Kül Spark’s ability to dial in the perfect temperature is equally impressive. A touch-sensitive control panel on the right-hand side of the machine makes it easy to choose which type of beverage you’d like to make or change certain settings. You can even see stats like how long it’s been since you’ve changed your filter, or how full your CO2 cartridges are. Yes, it’s luxe, but the Kül Spark is an incredibly generous gift for anyone who’s overly confident that their kitchen or home office has “everything.”Best for the bathroom: Kohler Moxie Bluetooth Showerhead
Do you know a bathroom karaoke superstar? Or someone who likes to start their day catching up on podcasts? No gift will make them happier than Kohler’s Moxie Bluetooth Showerhead. Installing it requires you just twist off your old showerhead and spin on the new one, a process that takes two minutes. A waterproof Bluetooth speaker sits in the center of the shower head, pumping out tunes or talk for several hours before needing to be recharged. The speaker was developed by Harman Kardon and sounds pretty good. Importantly, it’s easy to turn on and off with wet and soapy hands. This is one of those gifts they’ll never see coming, and will use every day.Best note-taking tablet: BOOX Note Air2 Plus
BOOX’s Note Air2 Plus is a large e-ink tablet for reading and note-taking. It’s expensive but well worth the price if you need a big gift for someone whose work or school program requires them to take copious notes. The 10.3-inch e-ink tablet runs Android, so the person you gift it to will have access to download specific apps for reading, note-taking, or opening specific file types like PDFs. Much of this functionality is built into the Note Air2 Plus, but, if they’re already familiar with an app, or need a specific piece of software as part of their workflow, the Note Air2 Plus will accommodate their needs far more than a Kindle or other e-Ink tablet. The tablet comes bundled with a stylus, which was remarkably responsive in our tests, allowing us to confidently write on it without worrying about missing a line or digital pen stroke. This is a very specific gift, but if you know someone who has filled up their fair share of notebooks, and wishes they could take all that information with them, this will become their go-to gadget.Best surge protector: Austere VII Series Power 8-Outlet
This gift may not immediately impress, but is incredibly important for the home office worker. Austere’s VII Series Power 8-Outlet will protect their equipment in case of a sudden power surge, which could fry their computer, monitor, and other expensive tech accessories. Gifting someone this surge protector could save them thousands of dollars in the long run. We like Austere’s VII Series Power 8-Outlet because of its sturdy construction, seven-year guarantee, and USB ports, which allow you to charge smaller devices without taking up one of the outlets with a power adapter. Is this gift practical? Extremely. But no home office is truly complete without one.
See also: The 5 best smartphone gimbals to spend your money on
Hohem iSteady Mobile Plus: $89/£109
The Hohem iSteady Mobile Plus targets the mid-end smartphone gimbal market. It’s not quite as expensive as premium products like the ZHIYUN Smooth 4 or the DJI Osmo Mobile 4, but it’s also not cheap at $89. At this price point, Hohem aims to find a balance between price and performance. This gimbal competes closely with the likes of the Moza Mini S Essential and the Feiyutech Vimble 2S.
This device is still graced by three-axis stabilization. This means the unit can keep tilt, roll, and pan smooth. It has a 1,800mAh battery that can keep the device alive for 12 hours, reaching full charge in approximately 3.5 hours. The product weighs 490g and measures 50 x 100 x 200mm. Its max payload is rated at 280g and the mount supports devices measuring 58-89mm in width. The Hohem iSteady Mobile Plus is available only in black.
See also: These photography tips will help you take your photos to the next level
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
The Hohem iSteady Mobile Plus looks very low-key, but it packs quite a bit of value under that modest design. Payload weight limit is usually a concern with stabilizers, but that’s not the case here. Devices like the ZHIYUN Smooth 4 and Feiyutech Vimble 2S struggle to hold heavier smartphones like the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The Moza Mini S Essential and the DJI OM3 (260g and 230g, respectively) are two off-the-shelf examples of smartphone gimbals that can take a fair amount of weight. Yet, they are both blown out of the water by the Hohem iSteady Mobile Plus’ 280g payload capacity.
I also loved that the stabilizer offered a lot of freedom of movement. Its mount can pan a mighty 600 degrees. Rolling and tilting are limited to 320 degrees, which is very good when stacked against most competitors. This level of versatility makes the accessory much more manageable, allowing you to capture more unique angles and scenes. Not to mention it’s something even the high-end smartphone stabilizers lack. The $100 ZHIYUN Smooth 4 is considered to be pretty good at this, with 300-degree panning and 240-degree rolling/tilting. These pale in comparison to Hohem’s specs.
Battery life is promised up to industry standards at 12 hours on a full charge. This was true of our testing as I used it for a total of eight hours across three days and still had some juice to spare.
The button layout is remarkably straightforward and functional. The joystick lets you move the smartphone camera around. There’s a zoom/focus rocker on the left. A couple extra buttons let you power/record and switch modes. There’s also a trigger button you can hold to enter sports mode or double press to re-center the phone. It’s a minimal layout to learn, and the most complicated part is likely memorizing the four shooting modes: Pan follow (PF), Pan and Tilt Follow (PTF), All Lock mode (AL), and All Follow (AF). All other functions are within the app.
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
I am not a huge fan of the app as it’s very temperamental. That said, the main layout is pretty clean and all features are accessible with a few taps. Some features are only accessible via the app, such as object tracking.
The facial recognition and tracking support works like a charm. The 600-degree panning capability made it very easy for the unit to follow me wherever I went. Other features within the Hohem Gimbal app include panorama, time-lapse, motion time-lapse, hyper-lapse, slow-motion, and more. There’s plenty to experiment with.
Stabilization is smooth and fast and up to par with the best out there. This comes as no surprise given it has motors powerful enough to carry 280g devices.
What’s not so good?
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
The most obvious downside is build quality. It’s made of cheap plastic with a rubberized palm rest on the front and a small and flimsy tripod. The entire experience just lacks the quality you come to expect from the main competitors. There’s also no lock for the arms and holder, so the arms will just swing and flap around. To put it simply, the design leaves a lot to be desired.
In addition, the zoom button feature doesn’t offer a smooth experience. Zooming is jittery and frequently lagged, which doesn’t look good if used mid-video.
Hohem iSteady Mobile Plus review: Should I buy it?
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
I came into this review with few expectations. I was left surprised by what the Hohem iSteady Mobile Plus can do for $89. It may look and feel like a low-quality product at times, but the device performs just as well as the most expensive smartphone gimbals. In fact, it trumps them in certain areas, such as payload, panning limits, and following performance.
The Hohem iSteady Mobile Plus performs like a high-end smartphone gimbal, but costs as much as the mid-tier ones.
There are plenty of fun features such as face tracking, object tracking, and plenty of shooting modes. Video quality is pleasant from the app too. Then there are filters, panorama, and multiple types of time-lapse options. It’s a very full package for the price. The Hohem iSteady Mobile Plus performs like a high-end smartphone gimbal, but costs as much as the mid-tier ones.
Hohem iSteady Mobile Plus
The Hohem iSteady Mobile Plus is a smartphone stabilizer to keep your videos smooth!
See price at Amazon
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The biggest sacrifice the iPhone XR makes to hit its price is on the rear. While the front gets the same TrueDepth camera array as the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max – including Face ID security, which is so much more convenient than Touch ID after you use it for a few days, and Portrait mode photos – the rear has a single camera, unlike the twin array on the more expensive handsets.
It’s the same 12-megapixel sensor with f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization as the primary camera on the iPhone XS. However, rather than the 2x telephoto camera you get on the more expensive phone, the iPhone XR makes do with a 5x digital zoom. I use the iPhone XS’ zoom a lot, so its absence was frustrating at times, and Apple’s upscaling algorithms don’t seem quite as polished as, say, Google’s on the Pixel 3.
As you’d expect, the photos the iPhone XR takes are effectively the same as those the iPhone XS captures. Whether you’ll like them depends on how happy you are with Apple’s Smart HDR.
Enabled by default, Smart HDR takes multiple frames at different exposures and settings and then builds a single image from them all. The promise is more highlight and shadow detail, for a more balanced frame, without blur from moving subjects. We’ve seen variations on the technique from Google, Huawei, LG, and others and, because the eventual picture each creates is dependent on how the software is tuned, the reality is that there’s no “right answer” for what the “best” photo is. In the photo below, for instance, I was standing in the shadow of the trees, looking through the dark overhang in the foreground through to the brightly-lit pond. Smart HDR has brought the periphery of the scene up to the same brightness as the distance, which is certainly clever, though it does flatten the image somewhat in the process: there’s less of a sense of looking through the foliage through to the vista beyond.
Generally, the iPhone XR takes a fairly heavy-handed approach to contrast. iOS 12.1 reduced some of the excessive smoothing that iPhone XS early-adopters complained about, which could leave faces looking as though they’d been run through a beauty filter, but shots still err on the side of an artificially even balance of light and dark areas. Whether you like that depends on whether you personally prefer Apple’s vision of consistency, or its rivals’ tendency toward greater extremes of contrast.
Without a second rear camera, the iPhone XR can’t use the same Portrait mode as the iPhone XS does. Instead, Apple turns to computational photography, much in the same way Google’s Pixel 3 does, figuring out the edges of your subject and then calculating the artificial background defocus from there. For the most part it works well: errant hair and other fine details can still confuse things, but generally the effect is solid, especially now you can adjust the degree of blurring used.
Notably, because the iPhone XR is using a sensor with more light sensitivity than Portrait mode on the iPhone XS (which uses the telephoto sensor) does, in some conditions the cheaper handset’s images can actually look a little better. The main camera only offers the Natural, Studio, and Contour effects – not Stage or Stage Mono – but since they’re the three that typically work best, that’s no great loss.
Unfortunately it only works on people, and depending on how you personally use Portrait mode that could be a big shortcoming. Point the iPhone XR at something other than a face – your cat, for example, or your dinner – and you’ll get a warning that it can’t see a person in the frame. In contrast, Google’s Pixel 3 doesn’t care what it’s faced with: it’ll do background deblur regardless.
It’s all the more frustrating because the limitation is all in software. Third-party camera apps like Focos and Halide have already released updates with more flexible Portrait mode options than Apple’s own camera app, using the depth map that the iPhone XR is creating to blur the background even if it’s a ham sandwich not your husband that you’re capturing. Sometimes they don’t look as good as what an iPhone XS will capture, a side-effect of the fact that the dual-camera phone is building a better depth map from which to work with, but I’m still happy to have the option, at least.
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