Raise your hand if you’ve ever completed a Rubik’s Cube. Yeah, there aren’t too many of us out there who can do it, much less in a timely manner.On the other end of the spectrum are people who compete to see who can complete one in the quickest time possible. We’re talking a matter of seconds.If you’ve ever asked someone to help you figure out how to solve the twisty-turny colorful square, you probably found yourself confused by what should be a few simple rules. Once you get it, you get it, but until then, it can be maddening.The GoCube ($99) is smart version of the popular cube that pairs to your phone. And while it can walk you through the process of solving it, there’s more at play. After its popular Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign saw it raise more than $1.1 million dollars, it’s available for the masses.We’ve had one of these in the office for a few weeks, picking it up, playing with it, and trying to get better at solving the puzzle. While we’ve gotten better, we’re nowhere ready to compete against friends or family.The first impression of the cube was that it was buttery smooth and easy to articulate. There was no ratchet-y plastic sound of the gears in the Rubik’s Cube. This was quiet stuff that moved quickly and easily.Paired with your phone over Bluetooth, the GoCube’s sensors are able to show you exactly what each color and square looks like. Even as you flip the cube over in your hand you can see it moving in real time on your phone. And as easy as tapping a button you’ll have a literal turn-by-turn walk through of steps to solve.If you’re already adept at completing a cube you’ll find it can time and encourage you to get better. The app makes a game out of learning how to master the GoCube and there are plenty of fun challenges to keep things fresh. Players can even play against others whether in-person or globally.You wouldn’t know it from feeling the GoCube but there’s a battery tucked inside with the six-axis sensors. Moreover, the app provides the remaining battery level in the corner.Charging is done by a proprietary plug that can snap directly into a particular square; the other end simply requires a USB port. Included in the box are a base and a dock that can hold your cube. If you like to show it off, or keep it on the desk, you’ll appreciate the ease in which you can charge.We’ve enjoyed our time with the cube and have gotten better. Admittedly, we’re still to reliant on watching the phone tell us the steps instead of us learning the algorithms and ways to see it on the cube itself. Fortunately, there are plenty of steps and games left to help.With a road trip coming up and two teenagers in the car we’re definitely packing the GoCube. That is, of course, provided we’re able to find it in time. For some reason, it has grown legs and began traveling between family members and friends.In all seriousness, we appreciate the GoCube and think it’s a really cool toy or gadget. And while it does lend itself to fans of the original Rubik’s Cube and the speed cubing community, the app widens the demographic. It’s one of those “fun for all ages” sort of things.Learn more about the GoCube at Particula’s website where the unit appears to be on sale. For a limited time you can purchase the GoCube for just $79.95. You can also find it at Amazon where it’s also listed for the same price.
Truly wireless headphones are pretty commonplace in 2020 as they come in all shapes, sizes, and unique designs. I’ve taken a look at many of the AirPods-styles units, but Soundcore (Anker’s audio brand) was kind enough to let me test out the company’s latest sport earbuds, the Soundcore Spirit X2.Let’s take a look at them.DesignThe Spirit X2 is a new form factor of wireless audio for me. The buds fit in your ear much like the older neckband style buds but are supported by a plastic loop that then spins around your ear. This makes them bulkier than other wireless earbuds, but thankfully, doesn’t lead to any decrease in comfort.It does lead to a learning curve on putting them on. After a few tries, you kind of get the hang of it. Soundcore even has a tutorial both in the manual and on its website, but it’s not the easiest fit to immediately handle.Each earpiece has a button rocker. The right allows for volume up at the top and play/pause on the bottom. Much in reverse, the left side controls volume down and play/pause. Hold the right volume button for one second and you’ll skip forward a track, and conversely, the left side sends you to the previous playlist selection.And you can’t have audio controls these days without consideration for voice assistants. Well, Soundcore has you covered on the Spirit X2. A long press of one second on the play/pause button of either earbud will activate Siri, Google Assistant, or even Bixby (if you’re that person I want to hear it in the comments).The exception of this long-press is phone calls. An incoming call will be rejected on the extended press of play/pause. And while on a call it has a neat little trick of swapping the call from the Spirit X2 output back to your phone speakers. One press of the play/pause will also answer and end phone conversations.AudioThe playback audio of the Spirit X2 is pretty solid. There’s a good mix of highs and mids. Bass is punchy but not overpowering. I like balanced earbuds on audio levels. I hate having one that sounds great on music listening but makes podcasts sound like they were recorded in a barrel.Qualcomm’s aptX audio codec is present and creates much of this superior balance. You don’t have active noise cancellation on music. This only presents passive cancellation through the earbud fit and design. You do get cVc active cancellation while on phone calls.These headphones are never going to make a true audiophile happy, but if you want them for casual listening you’ll be fine. Cubicle tunes or workout jams can easily be managed. Also, the looped design makes them great, and functional, for running.Battery LifeThis is another home run by Soundcore. That giant earloop also houses a much larger battery than most wireless earbuds. The Spirit X2 is estimated to last 9 hours on 50% volume and it’s dead on the money.I’ve consistently gotten a full workday in my home office with the Spirit X2 pumping out music and podcasts. Pair the great onboard battery with the charging case and you will get a maximum of 36 hours of total playback.The said case has a great design and magnetic charging system. When you do deplete the battery banks, you can recharge via USB-C. At the $80 price point, I’d love to also see wireless charging, but sadly, it’s missing.Final ThoughtsMy favorite earbuds by far in 2020 are the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro. With a balance of comfort, great audio, and all-day battery life it’s hard to beat. However, the Spirit X2 is now in the running. They fall short on wireless charging and slightly weaker audio playback.Despite this, they beat the Liberty 2 Pro in battery life and offer a unique fit for more active consumers. If you are a runner or workout gym-rat, then the Spirit X2 could definitely be the wireless audio solution you’ve been searching for online.I’d also argue it’s a great value over offerings from big-box brands like Apple and Beats. The Souncore Spirit X2 is available in black with a price tag of $80. You can snag these earbuds from Soundcore’s website directly or its Amazon storefront.
The search for a new headset can really get frustrating. Sure, there are a million options on Amazon for under $50, but when you want something premium, where do you start? If you’re looking for the best possible audio quality, you start with the Sennheiser GSP 670 and hope you can find it on sale because these things don’t come cheap.The GSP 670 is a premium headset with sound quality and a price tag to match. Launching at $350, you’re paying for the Sennheiser name and quality. We’ve tested multiple Sennheiser headsets throughout the years and have almost always come away impressed. That’s the same story here.The first thing you may notice about this headset is just how big it is. It looks big before you pick it up and it feels big once you put it on. Coming in at just shy of 400g, it has the weight to make those extremely long gaming sessions taxing, but luckily Sennheiser included one of the best headbands I’ve seen in a headset yet. It’s big and comfortable without looking too ridiculous.The earcups are equally nice with large plus fabric cups that will keep your ears away from the driver covers. If you prefer leatherette cups you’ll want to find another option, but I did find these to be one of the most comfortable headsets to just sit and listen to music on. The clamping force is just right (although uneven; more on that later) and the earcups provide a wonderful seal to keep the noise of the world away from your ears.One the outside of the headset, there’s a small tactile wheel to adjust chat volume if you’re using a gaming console, a large volume knob, and a multifunction button that will provide audio prompts for battery level and put you into pairing mode when you hold it down. The only thing we’re missing here is a physical switch to move between Bluetooth and 2.4ghz connection standards, and we’ll tell you why that matters in a bit.The microphone is on the left side of the headset and provides a nice tactile click when you flip it all the way up. This is how you mute your microphone and comes in handy when you need to have a quick conversation and get back to whatever you were doing before.I wish I could report that the microphone provided better audio quality but I was pretty disappointed. It’s been a struggle to find a wireless headset that really gives great performance in this area (I’m guessing there’s a bandwidth issue) and the Sennheisers fall disappointingly short. I think they sound much the same as every other headset released in the last decade, which isn’t saying a lot.Both Bluetooth and 2.4ghz connection standards are here. Plugging the USB dongle into my computer, the headset paired almost instantly and opened up a world of opportunity to tune through the Sennheiser app. There are options to tune your EQ, how the microphone sounds, and even provide a noise gate in case you have a noisy background. I didn’t find much difference in how the microphone sounded using these options so hopefully, they continue to be tuned in future updates.The sound that comes through these headphones is a completely different story. This has been one of the best audio experiences I’ve had in my time reviewing tech. I’d put it up there with the Sony WH-1000xm3 in terms of enjoyment. Where Sony offers amazing noise cancelation, the Sennheiser GSP 670 takes the crown in terms of audio quality.I found music pleasingly bass-y without feeling like I’m slogging through the mud just to listen. Mids are very clear while highs are crisp without being piercing.I just wish I enjoyed wearing these more. I can’t overstate how heavy these things are. At just under 400g, they’re one of the heavier headsets I’ve tested and it can be exhausting during long sessions. With 16 hours of battery life, those sessions can last all night, but you’ll need breaks.Additionally, I don’t like wearing these because of how the cups sit on my head. While the cups themselves are large enough that my ear doesn’t touch anything, the clamping is uneven and annoying. You can use the sliders in the headband to adjust your clamp, but I always end up with more pressure on the bottom of the cups than at the top.Frankly, these don’t look great and certainly don’t look like something I’d pay over $300 for. They’re big and bulky with muted colors and an … aggressive? design. I’m not entirely sure what to call this design language but there are definitely better-looking options on the market. This won’t matter to some, but for those who do care, it’s a bit of a killer and makes the cost harder to justify.ConclusionThere are always trade-offs when you’re using a wireless headset. Sennheiser smartly did not skimp on the audio quality and if you’re looking for a wireless headset that sounds great, this is definitely where you want to start. I put it at the top of the list in that respect.But, where it falls apart is pretty much everywhere else. Tradeoffs become pretty obvious when you use these for more than a few hours.Yep, they’re built solidly and the plastic design means they’ll hold up to some abuse. But, these look cheaper than competing options like the Astro A50s and Arctis Pro Wireless. Plus, as I’ve said a few times, they’re heavy.It’s awesome that they have both 2.4ghz and Bluetooth standards. But there’s no way to manually switch between them and the second that your computer plays audio via the USB dongle, the Bluetooth cuts out completely. If you’re using these to take a phone call or listen to music on your phone and you accidentally click on a YouTube link on your computer, say goodbye to your audio. This would be an easy fix with a manual switch and we hope to see that in a future revision.Best over-ear headphones (spring 2020)I can’t state enough how crappy the audio from the mic is. Maybe I’m spoiled by streamers who invest hundreds and hundreds of dollars into their audio equipment, but this sounds like every headset I’ve heard the last decade of gaming and that’s pretty disappointing.If your voice quality matters to you at all, I’d suggest getting a standalone mic. But you have to ask yourself if you’re grabbing something like a Blue Yeti, is there a justification for the GSP 670 when you can buy a wireless headset for far cheaper?I know it probably looks like I hate the Sennheiser GSP 670 but I don’t. In true dad fashion, I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. While they’re best in class in terms of audio quality, the things they miss on are a killer and make them harder to recommend over other competitors.After a bit of searching, I’ve found the Sennheiser GSP 670 around $300 and sometimes cheaper on sale. I think if you can find these cheaper than that, go for it. Your ears will thank you. At full price, they’re a tough sell.Buy the Sennheiser GSP 670 at Amazon
The Nixplay Smart Photo Frame, available in a variety of sizes, is a Wi-Fi digital picture frame that displays your favorite images. Similar to traditional picture frames you can hang it on a wall or prop it up on a table. Unlike the one on your grandmother’s wall, it can cycle through more than 2,000 pictures.This is the sort of product you’d gift to parents and grandparents as you can send photos or playlists directly to them. Additionally, it might be a good product for new parents, newlyweds, or college students who might want to keep an eye on things back home. It works just as well to give one of these to someone as it would be to receive on.There are a different sizes and finishes available so it ought to be no problem finding the right fit for your home. And because of its flexibility, you can move it to different rooms or environments without hassle.The 10.1-inch version features a 1280 x 800 HD image that’s bright, easy to see from a variety of angles, and works in both landscape and portrait orientation. As one might expect from a device like this in 2020, there is support for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.The built-in motion sensor is able to identify whether there are people in the room which means it automatically turns itself off.Configuration and SetupSetting up the Nixplay Frame includes creating an account, pairing your frame to it, and adding photos. Using the mobile app you can manually add photos, but we found it easier to manage it from the website.Once logged in, you can pair your social media accounts with their respective library or albums. That includes Google Photos, Facebook, Instagram, Dropbox, Flickr, and Verizon Cloud.It’s also in this dashboard where you can set up timers to turn on and off the frame. Additionally, you can shuffle the playlist, opt to display a clock, adjust the transitions between photos, and more.If you’re purchasing one of these for a family member or friend, you’ll be able to set it all up and essentially make it a turn-key gift. All you’ll have to do is set it on the right Wi-Fi network.We appreciate that you can make as many adjustments that you can, especially to keep things updated. There’s no need to insert a microSD card or plug into the frame. Anything done in the cloud is automatically updated.As for the Google Assistant stuff, it’s more or less just being able to turn the frame on and off using your voice. It’s handy, but not necessary. Amazon Alexa appears to have a little deeper integration with options to pull up specific playlists. 1 of 4 The viewing angles on the frame are really good and we found it to provide sharp color and high contrast. Some of the transitions do feel a tad dated, however, they are quick. Fortunately, you can opt for longer delays between changing and decide which transition you want.Where to BuyYou can learn more about the Nixplay Smart Photo Frame at the company’s official website. There, you’ll find it available to purchase for about $180. A limited time discount sees the company taking $27 off, bringing the total to just $153.There are also other sizes to choose from, ranging from 9.7-inches up to 15.6-inches. From the looks of it, there are often chances to save on your frame. Be it centered around a holiday or just an instant discount, it pays to look.
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