HP Chromebook Plus 14 Review (14a-nf0050nr)

In my latest video, I take a look at HP’s Chromebook Plus 14. It is basic computing transportation but it’s decent basic computing transportation.

The laptop is priced at $529 (compensated affiliate link) and comes equipped with features that distinguish it from standard Chromebooks, including AI writing tools and advanced webcam controls. I covered those features in my prior Chromebook Plus videos.

A notable addition to Chromebook Plus is a one-year subscription to Google’s Gemini Advanced AI service, which typically costs $20 per month. This subscription includes two terabytes of cloud storage that works across any devices connected to the user’s Google account. This Chromebook will receive updates through June 2033, and should receive many new Chromebook Plus software features as they are developed.

Under the hood, the HP Chromebook Plus 14 is powered by an Intel i3-N305 processor, part of the Alder Lake lineup, which is known for its balance of performance and power efficiency. Paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of UFS storage, this configuration provided good performance for typical Chromebook tasks such as web browsing, word processing, and media consumption. The 14-inch display, while not suited for professional creative work due to its limited color gamut, offers sharp and readable text with a resolution of 1080p.

The device also includes a 1080p webcam, featuring a manual shutter for privacy and OS-level controls for background blurring and lighting adjustments. While the speakers provide adequate sound for conference calls, they may not satisfy audiophiles seeking high-quality music playback. The build quality, predominantly plastic, does not feel cheap and maintains a balance between durability and weight. It weights 3.2 pounds or 1.45 kg.

Connectivity options are good, with two full-service USB-C ports supporting display output, data transfer and power input, alongside a headphone/microphone jack and a USB-A port.

During my tests, the Chromebook Plus 14 managed tasks efficiently without significant issues. However, I recommend using web browsers for streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus to ensure optimal resolution, as the Android apps for these services may not support full display resolution on Chromebooks.

Benchmark tests reinforced the Chromebook’s capabilities, with the device scoring well in web-based performance assessments. It also handled Android games and game streaming services like GeForce Now effectively, though it may struggle with titles designed for ARM processors. I was unable to get Genshin Impact to install, for example.

For those interested in running Linux applications, the Chromebook Plus 14 supports a variety of Linux apps, including LibreOffice, which operates smoothly on the device.

All in the “Plus” in Chromebook Plus does not add a price premium, but it is a good indication of a better performing Chromebook. The performance on this HP is excellent and its free year of cloud storage makes it a decent value for those looking for a no frills laptop.

Disclosure: The HP Chromebook was provided on loan. No compensation was received for this review nor did anyone review or approve this before it was uploaded.

New Google Chromebook Plus Features

Google recently announced the addition of new features to their Chromebook Plus devices, a tier that was introduced a few months ago. In my latest video, I take these new features out for a spin and demo them.

Many existing Chromebooks meet the minimum specifications for this “Plus” category and have been upgraded with additional capabilities not available on lower-end models. If you are curious whether your device qualifies, a previous video from October provides detailed information. So far the “Plus” designation has not resulted in a price premium for midrange Chromebooks – pricing is still very competitive vs. comparable Windows laptops.

Among the new features is the Gemini Advanced subscription service, offered for free for one year to those purchasing a new Chromebook Plus. Typically priced at $20 per month, this subscription includes access to an advanced chatbot, which is competitive with ChatGPT for data analysis and large file summarization. Gemini Advanced features will also be available in Google Workspace apps. Additionally, the subscription provides two terabytes of Google Cloud Storage, benefiting users across all devices linked to their Google account.

One of the standout features is the “Help Me Write” tool that is now integrated into the OS. This AI-powered assistant can rewrite text fields on any website, offering improvements for SEO or adding playful elements like emojis.

The Magic Photo Editor has also been enhanced, borrowing features from Google’s Pixel phones. Users can now remove background elements or repositioning subjects within a photo and have the effected areas rendered with generative AI. While this feature sometimes struggles with complex environments, it generally performs well in simpler scenarios.

Another addition is the live caption feature, previously seen on Pixel devices. This tool transcribes audio in real-time from any source running through the Chromebook’s audio system, though it currently only supports English. It proves useful for capturing spoken content across different applications.

For gamers, the new Game Dashboard allows for keyboard mapping of touchscreen controls across all Chromebooks. This feature, however, does not support game controllers. Additionally, Chromebook Plus users can now record gameplay sessions or create GIFs from screen captures, making it easier to share content online.

The update also introduces dynamic AI-generated backgrounds and wallpapers. While the options are somewhat limited, they provide unique, visually appealing customization for the device.

The overall approach to these updates reflects Google’s strategy to integrate subtle, useful AI features into the operating system. More enhancements are expected for the Chromebook Plus tier, promising continual improvement for Chromebook Plus users.

Short WhatNot Mini PC Auction Wednesday, June 12th

I will be hosting a short live Mini PC auction this Wednesday, June 12th at 12:30 p.m. eastern time on WhatNot! Four mini PCs will be listed at $1 starts and you do not need to be present to get the winning bid. If you don’t already have a WhatNot account, click here to get $15 off your first order (affiliate link).  

You can find the auction on Whatnot by clicking here. If you are using their mobile app you can pre-bid ahead of the auction. If your pre-bid remains the high bid you’ll win it. I have also posted the current retail prices of these Mini PCs. Here’s what will be available:

Beelink SER7 Ryzen Mini PC
Minix NEO Z100-0db Mini PC
Kamrui Mini PC
GMKTec M5 Mini PC (affiliate link)

There will also be a few giveaway items for those tuning in. 

I’m going to do shorter but more frequent shows rolling forward each based on a specific type of product vertical (e.g. mini PCs, video production, etc). Weekend shows will be a little longer with more items when I have time. 

As always there are other items available at my store too for immediate purchase. I just added a Blue Sona microphone and HP Sprocket Select printer. 

Wrenching on my old Apple IIe! Adding an FPGA HDMI and sound card

I am a sucker for new hardware for old bits of tech. I’ve covered a number of flash cartridges over the years for old game consoles that add new functionality like save states, integrated cheat devices, audio expansion and more. My Apple II collection also has a bunch of new, modern hardware installed. You can see what my Apple IIgs has inside here.

In my latest video I detail a new piece of Apple II hardware called the A2FPGA. This card, featuring a built-in FPGA, initially allows for a clean 480p HDMI video output with audio and simulates the old “Mockingboard” sound card. I say initially because the FPGA on the card is programmable and it will likely be able to replicate the logic of many other expansion cards with future firmware updates. The card is an open source design but can be purchased fully assembled at ReactiveMicro for $199.

The card comes with the most recent firmware preinstalled so it’s mostly plug-and-play. There are a few dip switches on the front of the card which I left mostly in their default settings, although I did disable the option for scanlines to appear in the HDMI output.

On first boot everything worked great – the video output was the cleanest I’ve ever seen out of this computer as before our only option was a composite output. The first game I booted up was my old copy of Skyfox that has support for the Mockingboard audio capabilities. It was really cool to hear the enhanced stereo soundtrack that was locked away on the floppy disk for decades!

The only other hardware modification I made was to unplug the Apple //e’s built in speaker. It will output simultaneously with the HDMI and there is no way to disable the internal speaker short of unplugging it from the mainboard.

I tested out a few other things too like 80 column text mode, and a game called the Halley Project that made creative use of the native Apple II sound system to play around 20 seconds of digitized audio. Everything worked flawlessly.

I am excited to see what new capabilities will be added to this card in the future! If you are curious about what an FPGA is, Bob from RetroRGB and I did a fun explainer at Retro World Expo a few years ago. You can see it here.

Amazon Gadget Haul #6! Hits and Misses

In my latest Amazon gadget haul, I explored a variety of lesser known tech products to see which ones (if any) stood out.

  • Wavlink Thunderbolt NVMe Hard Drive Enclosure: Unfortunately, this product had a lot of potential but simply did not work. Despite trying multiple drives and configurations, it couldn’t be made to work on any device, so I suggest skipping this one.
  • Budget-Friendly 4K 60fps Video Capture Card: Although it claimed high performance at a low price, it dropped a significant number of frames when capturing at 4k60. This makes it unsuitable for professional use, but it might suffice for non-critical applications where frame drops are less concerning.
  • CZUR Touchboard Pro Keyboard: Despite its promising design, it fell short in build quality and usability. The keyboard’s plastic feel and imprecise trackpad made it less appealing compared to other portable keyboards.
  • Minix Wireless HDMI Video Dongles: These dongles can transmit 1080p HDMI video wirelessly, making them handy for presentations or extending displays without cables. There was some noticeable latency, but they worked well for non-gaming applications.
  • Minix GaN 67 Watt Power Strip: Featuring multiple USB-C ports and AC outlets, this compact charger can handle multiple devices simultaneously, making it a decent travel companion. I compared it to another favorite charger of mine from Oraimo, which offers more power and has become my go-to for travel. Unfortunately the Oraimo one is not currently available.
  • Suideck 10-Device USB Charger: This is ideal for environments like schools or YouTube production lairs where many devices need charging or topping off. While not the fastest charger, its ability to handle multiple devices overnight makes it practical for many use cases.
  • Carplay / Android Audio Portable Vehicle Display: For those needing CarPlay or Android Auto in their vehicles, this compact display was easy to transport and set up, offering a functional solution for rental cars or older vehicles without built-in support for these features.
  • RGB Mousepad with Built-in Qi Charger: While it added a cool aesthetic with its lighting options, the uneven application of the Qi charging area detracted from its overall quality.
  • Two Apple Chargers : There are lots of low cost Apple magsafe chargers on Amazon. I found two that cover the Apple trifecta, charging a magsafe equipped iPhone, watch, and Airpods wirelessly. One is great for nightstands while the other folds up neatly for travel.

Overall, this haul had a mix of hits and misses. While not all the products met expectations some were pretty useful. I’ll be back with another one of these soon!

Using the Wyze Battery Cam Pro with a Solar Panel

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Wyze Battery Cam Pro, a notification camera that runs on a replaceable lithium-ion battery. One item I covered in the review was the camera’s USB-C port that can be used for plugging in external power sources including solar panels.

In my latest video, we take a look and see if Wyze’s solar panel can provide enough juice to allow the camera to continually record 24/7 and keep its battery topped off during the daylight hours.

The Wyze solar panel is reasonably priced and is rated at 2.5 watts when it gets full sunlight. The panel comes with a long USB Type-C cable, allowing you to plug other devices into it, although they won’t charge quickly at only 2.5 watts.

A common mistake is placing these panels in areas with shade, which reduces their generation capacity. In my testing I placed it on top of my wife’s garden that gets full sunlight throughout the morning and afternoon.

Since I started using the panel about a month ago, I’ve noticed that the battery stays at 100% all the time when not continuously recording, even with many events triggering the camera throughout the day. This is because the camera doesn’t consume much power, and its built in battery provides enough energy to get through the night. With the solar panel attached, you shouldn’t have to swap out the battery, even though it’s super simple to do so.

But continuous recording is another story. Starting out at around noon on a beautifully sunny day, I was able to continuously record for almost exactly 24 hours – far exceeding the 10 hours Wyze says the battery can handle when continuously recording without the solar panel. I think I would have seen more longevity had the following morning been as sunny as the previous afternoon, but unfortunately it was a dark and rainy day that was not good for solar generation.

In the end, while the Wyze solar panel does a good job of keeping the battery charged, it falls short of enabling continuous recording on the Battery Cam Pro. On Amazon there are a number of low cost 10 watt panels with USB-C outputs that can charge the battery more quickly during the day and perhaps capture more solar radiation on cloudy days to allow for longer recording. We will find out!

Disclosure: Wyze provided the camera and solar panel to the channel free of charge. They did not review or approve this post before it was uploaded and all opinions are my own.

EmuDeck Comes to Windows – One Click Install of Retro Game Emulators

I’ve been using a Steam Deck for over a year and a half. While I bought it for taking PC games on the road, I find myself using it now primarily for emulating older games. A standout tool for this purpose is EmuDeck, which simplifies the installation of major emulators on SteamOS.

EmuDeck is now available on Windows which is the subject of my latest video.

Like the Steam Deck version it offers a one click install and simple maintenance of just about every popular game emulator out there. It also automatically maps controls across all of the major emulators requiring practically zero configuration of settings to get going. Because it relies on Steam for the controller mapping you’ll need to make sure you have Steam installed on your system first.

For this video, I used a low-cost Intel N100-based mini PC from GMKtec I reviewed recently. The installation begins with downloading a simple command line script from EmuDeck’s website. Because this process involves running a batch file that installs necessary software, users should be cautious about installing it on mission-critical systems due to the level of control it is granted.

Once EmuDeck is set up, users must manually copy ROMs and BIOS files into designated folders that the script sets up. EmuDeck simplifies this by providing a BIOS checker tool that verifies the necessary files are correctly named and placed. After setting up the games and BIOS files, launching them is straightforward through interfaces like EmulationStation or Pegasus, which EmuDeck will install and integrate with Steam.

Testing different emulators, such as those for Sega CD and PlayStation 2, demonstrated EmuDeck’s capability to handle various systems effectively. Performance adjustments, like changing resolution settings, can be done through the EmuDeck interface on a per-console basis. In the video you’ll see me doing a single click resolution adjustment to optimize PS2 performance on the N100 Mini PC.

EmuDeck will also managing version updates for the installed emulators and also offers custom configurations for a variety of Windows handhelds to optimize visuals and perofrmance. While some advanced features like save game syncing require a Patreon subscription, the free version offers most of the functionality of their platform.

EmuDeck on Windows provides a powerful and user-friendly platform for retro gaming, bringing the convenience and capabilities previously enjoyed on the Steam Deck to a wider range of devices.

A number of viewers wrote in to tell me about Retrobat, which offers a similar experience and adds the ability to make the entire installation “portable” so it can be brought to multiple PCs via an external hard drive. I’ll take a look at that one next!

Plex Server on the Cheap! Intel N100 Mini PCs are a great choice.

In my latest sponsored Plex video, we look at using a very inexpensive Intel N100 based GMKtek G3 Mini PC as a Plex server. Despite being a budget device, its performance, particularly with hardware transcoding, is impressive.

You can see my initial review of this particular PC here.

I began by installing the Windows version of Plex Media Server on the mini PC since it comes pre-installed with Windows and the Windows installation process is the simplest.

The Intel N100 processor, part of Intel’s Alder Lake series, features QuickSync technology, which enables hardware accelerated video decoding and encoding. This is important for users who plan to stream content outside their home network. QuickSync compresses videos into lower bitrate files on the fly, facilitating smoother playback over varying network conditions. Additionally, the chip’s capability to handle multiple video formats makes it a versatile choice for media servers.

Hardware transcoding requires a Plex Pass (compensated affiliate link). You can learn more about hardware transcoding in this video. If you are just direct playing the files from your Plex server inside the home the hardware transcoding (and Plex Pass) aren’t necessary. You’ll be able to spin things up for free.

In my real-world testing, I demonstrated the mini PC’s ability to handle multiple simultaneous hardware transcodes efficiently. For instance, a 4K VP9 encoded video from Netflix and a Blu-ray MKV file were both transcoded without significant CPU load, maintaining around 20-25% usage. Even with five concurrent transcodes, including various formats like VP9, H.264 and a 10-bit HEVC, the CPU usage only reached about 35%.

However, the mini PC encounters limitations with 4K HDR Blu-ray MKVs when playing back on non-SDR displays. Windows does not support hardware-based HDR tone mapping, forcing the CPU to handle this task, resulting in poor playback performance. Hardware tone mapping does work on Quicksync equipped processors on Linux operating systems, however. We’ll explore that in a future video.

Despite these limitations, an Intel Alder LAke N100 mini PC is an excellent choice for most Plex users looking for a budget solution with low power consumption.

Disclosure: This video was sponsored by Plex however they did not review or approve the video before it was uploaded.

The Asus CM30 Chromebook Tablet Packs a Ton of Value – Full Review

The Asus CM30 Chromebook offers a budget-friendly option for those looking for a versatile device without breaking the bank. Priced at $300 (compensated affiliate link), it includes a keyboard, tablet, and a pen, making it a cost-effective alternative to entry-level iPads which don’t come with these accessories. You can see it in action in my latest review.

The CM30 runs on Chrome OS, supporting not only the Chrome browser but also Linux applications and Android apps via the Google Play Store. The tablet mode feels quite Android-like thanks to the touch display. The device I reviewed features a Mediatek Kompanio 520 ARM processor, providing solid battery life. It has 4GB of RAM, with an 8GB version available at the affiliate link above, and comes with either 64GB or 128GB of eMMC storage.

The display is a 10.5-inch WUXGA screen with a resolution of 1920×1200, offering good brightness at 400 nits and a decent color balance. The display has large bezels which might appear dated but are a reasonable compromise given the device’s price.

The keyboard, while not full-sized and lacking backlighting, provides satisfactory travel and tactile feedback, though those with larger hands might find it challenging. The design clearly takes inspiration from the Microsoft Surface tablet design and suffers from some of the same issues the Surface does when using the device on a lap.

The magnetic attachment for the keyboard works well, though it could benefit from a more secure attachment to prevent slipping when folded up. It weights just under 2 pounds as a tablet and 2.5 pounds with the keyboard attached.

Port options are minimal, with only a headphone/microphone jack and a full-service USB Type-C port, which doubles as the charging port and supports data transfer and video output up to 1080p. The stereo speakers are adequate for casual use, though not impressive for music. Battery life is a strong point, offering 10 to 12 hours of use under moderate conditions.

In terms of performance, the CM30 handles web browsing and video playback reasonably well, although it struggles with 60fps video and more demanding tasks. It scored 51.2 on the Browserbench Speedometer test, aligning with expectations for its price range.

The included pen, which charges in its garage on the device, performs adequately for note-taking and simple drawings, though it lacks the premium feel of higher-end styluses. Chrome OS’s integration of the pen for handwriting recognition and other functions has improved quite a bit over the years and feels nicely integrated into the experience.

For gaming, the ARM processor proves compatible with most Android games, and game streaming services work well thanks to the device’s Wi-Fi 6 support. However, the graphics performance, reflected in a 3DMark Wildlife benchmark score of 727, indicates that it might not handle more graphically intensive games as smoothly as other devices. But most casual games will run fine.

Linux compatibility adds another layer of functionality, allowing for the installation of command-line and graphical applications. I tested Libreoffice and while it felt a little sluggish initially performance was adequate to get work done.

Overall, the Asus CM30 Chromebook stands out for its value, offering a range of features that make it suitable for various tasks without a hefty price tag. With its pen and keyboard, the CM30 still costs less than a bare entry-level iPad with the bonus of getting a more versatile general computing device.

A Gadget Haul from the new Flip Social Shopping Platform

I’ve been exploring a new shopping platform called Flip (compensated affiliate link), which blends social media dynamics with e-commerce. At first glance, Flip resembles TikTok, but it operates within its own app, emphasizing video reviews and social interaction. The platform rewards video reviews of products with discounts, monetization and free products. You can see how it works and some of the stuff I’ve acquired so far in my latest review.

In full disclosure, Flip approached me, providing about $150 in seed money to explore their platform along with a small bonus for posting some video reviews. I later purchased $150 worth of items with my own funds to see how the free product offer works. More on that below.

Originally targeting the health and beauty sector, Flip has now expanded into gadgets. Users purchase items, review them, and earn monetization for their video reviews. This revenue stream lasts for 30 days, during which viewers’ engagement generates income. Additionally, users receive sales commissions for purchases made through their review videos.

After the initial purchase and review, users can obtain free items on subsequent orders, provided they continue reviewing products. This generous policy may not be sustainable long-term, but it currently offers significant benefits to consumers.

Flip’s interface presents reviews from other customers prominently. Each view increments a discount amount that can be applied to future purchases, potentially reaching up to 30% off. While Flip’s prices can sometimes exceed those on Amazon, the accumulated discounts will often keep Flip competitive. However, it’s essential to remain an educated consumer and ensure the discounted prices are genuinely a better deal.

Navigating Flip involves both browsing and searching, though the inventory is less extensive than other retailers. Categories and brand filters aid in locating specific items, but the platform’s design leans heavily toward browsing. When selecting items, users can see who else has purchased them and even message those users for insights.

A potential privacy concern arises from the open nature of the platform as users’ purchases are visible to others. While profiles can be made private, this limits the platform’s social benefits.

Upon adding items to the cart, users can select from a range of free products based on their spending if eligible. In my experience with a $150 order I received a Logitech HOTAS game controller valued at around $250. I also managed to pick up a $90 Mophie magsafe phone charger.

My third item, an HP monitor with a built in webcam, was out of stock. Flip canceled that free order and did not give me an option to select an alternative through the app. I have contacted customer service and they are working on manually sending me the additional item I was entitled to. Your mileage will vary.

To hit the $150 I purchased a “Big Sur” Polaroid instant camera and a ProtoArc Hub Mouse. The Polaroid camera, a collaboration between The Parks Project and Retrospekt, is a refurbished vintage Polaroid 600 Instant Camera. Flip didn’t sell the film so I had to pick up a pack on Amazon. But this is an actual vintage 80’s era Polaroid camera that was refurbished into a product that feels brand new.

The ProtoArc Hub Mouse looks like a standard desktop mouse but it has a little USB-C hub tucked in its rear end. The hub sports an HDMI output, a USB-A port, and a USB-C power passthrough.

From my initial subsidized order, I received a solar power bank, a Movo smartphone cage and a boom mic enclosure. You can see them all in the video linked above.

Flip’s social shopping extends to the Desire Wishlist feature, allowing users to gift items to each other. They have some fun games as part of this where users can guess who sent them the item or be completely anonymous in handing out their gifts.

It remains to be seen if Flip’s business model is sustainable in the tech space. Many other platforms have found that beauty and household products do better than tech which is more expensive and less prone to browsing. But in the meantime you may as well take advantage of the freebies while they last!

Cable TV Strikes Back with New Streaming Bundles

It seems like what’s old is new again, as cable TV companies are now selling bundles of streaming services in an attempt to retain subscribers. Will it work? It might, and in fact, it could be a significant money-maker for these companies. I dive into the details in my latest video.

Comcast recently announced a bundle that includes Peacock (which they own), Netflix, and Apple TV Plus at a “vastly reduced price.” The catch of course is that it requires customers to have an Xfinity Internet subscription first. The goal is to add value for their customers while simultaneously taking a bite out of other streaming companies’ profits.

This move by Comcast is intriguing for a couple of reasons. First, it’s another bundle they can offer to try and keep customers from leaving. Second, it highlights the stark difference between the cable TV business and the streaming business.

Cable TV plans often come with hefty price tags, in my area ranging from $24 to $90 per month, plus usually another $30-40 in local broadcast and rental fees. These plans include the infrastructure to deliver TV to your home and fees that Comcast has to pay back to the networks for each subscriber. This model puts cable companies at the mercy of big cable networks, who demand fees and prominent channel placement.

On the other hand, the internet side of their business is primarily infrastructure-based. Comcast doesn’t have to pay anyone for the bandwidth you use to access the internet. This means most, if not all, of the money you pay for internet service goes back to Comcast, making it a significant profit driver. As people cut the cord on cable TV but keep their internet, Comcast actually benefits because they make more money per internet subscriber than per TV subscriber.

To make things even sweeter for Comcast, they not only avoid paying for content but also get paid by streaming providers. Streaming services like Netflix have to pay Comcast to place their servers within Comcast’s network to ensure smooth streaming performance for Comcast customers. This arrangement, while seemingly at odds with net neutrality principles, is perfectly legal and remains opaque to consumers.

Comcast is a master of bundling, offering various services like Xfinity Mobile, cellular phone service, and discounts for bundling multiple products. This strategy makes it difficult for customers to leave because buying these services separately would be more expensive.

Smaller ISPs are also getting in on the bundling action, partnering with streaming services to offer convenient packages. Streaming providers like Roku are offering discounts on lower-tier streaming services to lock you into their ecosystem. Even competing services like Disney and Warner Bros. are bundling their streaming platforms together.

The financial struggles of streaming services are a driving force behind this bundling trend. Disney Plus, for example, lost subscribers after raising prices, and Paramount is facing internal turmoil. These companies are realizing that consumers demand high-quality original content and are quick to unsubscribe if they don’t find it.

Shareholders are pressuring streaming companies to reduce churn rates (the rate at which customers cancel subscriptions) and become more like Netflix, which boasts a low churn rate despite price increases and restrictions.

So, who stands to win in this bundling war? ISPs like Comcast are likely to benefit as they retain customers and make it harder for them to switch providers. Streaming providers also win by reducing churn rates, even if it means slightly lower subscription revenue.

The future looks to be shaping into a a familiar landscape where consumers are disincentivized or completely unable to go a la carte with their streaming services. It will become less convenient and more expensive to subscribe and unsubscribe to individual services as many consumers do now.

Consumers are in the driver’s seat but will these bundling discounts be enough to buy back some of that freedom? We shall see.

Google Pixel 8a Smartphone Review

I recently had the opportunity to review the Google Pixel 8a smartphone, a device that promises to deliver flagship-level performance at a more affordable price point. Every year, I try to examine one of these mid-range phones to see how they measure up, and this year, Google has produced a phone that feels remarkably similar to its higher-end counterparts. You can see my full review here.

The Pixel 8a is priced at $499 for the 128GB model and $559 for the 256GB version. It features the Google Tensor G3 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 6.1-inch OLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate. The display supports HDR and can reach a maximum brightness of 2,000 nits, making it bright and clear in various lighting conditions. The phone is equipped with a fingerprint sensor under the display and facial recognition for secure access.

These specifications line up almost identically to the more expensive Pixel 8 that came out last year. They did not dial back the performance of the processor vs. their more expensive models.

The only area where Google has made some compromises with the 8a is in the build build quality. Unlike the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro, which feature glass backs, the Pixel 8a has a plastic back. However, it still supports wireless charging, albeit at a slower rate than its more expensive siblings. The front of the phone is protected by Gorilla Glass 3, and it has an aluminum band around the edges, giving it a sturdy feel despite its lower price.

The phone is weatherproof with an IP67 rating, meaning it can handle dust and brief immersions in water. The battery life is comparable to other smartphones in this price range, and in my testing, it lasted a full day even in areas with poor cell coverage.

In terms of connectivity, the Pixel 8a includes a USB-C port for charging and data transfer, but it lacks a headphone jack and SD card slot. Users will need to rely on Bluetooth or USB-C headphones for audio and Google’s cloud storage for additional space.

The camera system on the Pixel 8a is impressive. It has a 64-megapixel main camera with a 26mm wide-angle lens and a 13-megapixel ultra-wide lens. The main camera performs well in various lighting conditions, providing detailed and vibrant images. The ultra-wide lens is useful for capturing more of a scene, although it struggles in low light due to its smaller aperture.

Video capabilities are strong, with the main camera supporting 4K recording at 60 frames per second. The ultra-wide lens can only manage 30 frames per second at 4K, but overall, the video quality is good, with effective stabilization for smooth footage.

One of the standout features of the Pixel 8a is its AI-driven photo editing tools. Users can use the “best take” feature to combine the best facial expressions from multiple shots into one image. There’s also an AI-powered eraser tool that can remove unwanted objects from photos and fill in the background seamlessly, though the results can sometimes be less than perfect.

In gaming, the Pixel 8a performs well, handling games like Roblox and emulators like the Dolphin Gamecube emulator without issues. Benchmarks show that its performance is on par with the more expensive Pixel 8 Pro, making it a capable device for both casual and more demanding users. Just note that Google’s Tensor 3 chip lags behind the processors found in Apple’s phones—all of the Pixel 8 phones perform about the same as the iPhone 12, which came out in 2020.

Google promises seven years of software support for the Pixel 8a until 2031. The support expiration clock starts ticking in 2024, so users purchasing the phone a few years from now will have the same expiration date.

Overall, the Google Pixel 8a offers a compelling package for those looking for a high-performance smartphone without breaking the bank. Its combination of a high-refresh-rate display, strong camera system, and robust performance makes it a standout in the mid-range market. While it may not have the premium build quality of more expensive phones, it delivers excellent value and is a great option for budget-conscious consumers.

Disclosure: Google provided the phone to the channel free of charge. No other compensation was received nor did they did not review or approve this review before it was uploaded.

GMKTec Nucbox K9 Mini PC Review

I’ve been reviewing a lot of mini PCs lately, and I’ve got another one in from GMKtec that stands out due to its Intel Core Ultra 5. You can see what it’s all about in my latest review.

The price point on this will vary quite a bit. In most cases you’ll see a coupon code on Amazon that will dramatically reduce its price so be sure to click that before checking out.

The GMKtec Nucbox K9 features an Intel Core Ultra 125H running at a 65-watt TDP. It comes with 32 GB of DDR5 5600 MHz RAM, which is upgradeable to 64 GB, and two NVMe SSD slots. The unit includes a 1 TB NVMe SSD from Mason Semi, and you can add or swap out SSDs as needed.

In terms of ports, the Nucbox K9 is well-equipped. There’s an audio input/output, a full-service USB 4.0 port running at 40 Gbps, capable of video output and powering the computer up to 100 watts. However, the included 120-watt power supply is recommended for regular use. I tested the USB 4 port with a Thunderbolt SSD, confirming it delivers the full bandwidth. There are also two USB 3 ports on the front, two USB-A ports, a DisplayPort out, an HDMI out for three simultaneous 4K displays, and two 2.5 Gbps Ethernet ports, both performing at full bandwidth. The Ethernet chipset is from Realtek.

The Nucbox K9 runs Windows 11 Pro, though the onboarding process uses a local account instead of connecting to a Microsoft account. However, a scan for malware and viruses came up clean. Web performance is excellent, and it handles 4K 60 FPS video on YouTube without drop frames.

For video editing, I tested DaVinci Resolve with a 4K 60 FPS project. It handled transitions effortlessly without needing an external GPU, suitable for simple editing tasks.

Gaming performance is also notable. Running No Man’s Sky at 1080p on standard settings achieved just under 60 FPS. Red Dead Redemption 2 at 1080p on the lowest settings performed well, between 40 and 50 FPS. Grand Theft Auto 5 at 1080p on high settings stayed mostly above 60 FPS.

Linux performance was decent, with most hardware detected except for audio. Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and video worked well.

Overall, the GMKtec Nucbox K9 offers a lot of hardware for its price, including ample RAM, storage, and a high-performing processor. It’s a good option if you’re comfortable with potential support issues from an overseas company. Despite the higher cost compared to previous models, it delivers impressive performance and is a solid choice for those willing to take a slight risk on long-term support.

Disclosure: GMKTech provided the Mini PC free of charge. No other compensation was received nor did they did not review or approve this review before it was uploaded.

Onn 4k Pro Streaming Box Followup: USB Devices, Wi-Fi 6 Testing and DACs

As a followup to my Onn 4K Pro Streaming Box review, I did a deeper dive into the device based on questions from viewers. In my latest video we take a look at use cases for the USB port, test the Wi-Fi performance and see if audio DACs work on it.

You can find the Onn 4k Pro in limited quantities at Walmart for around $49 (compensated affiliate link).

I first tested its external storage compatibility by connecting an exFAT formatted NVMe SSD housed in an external drive enclosure. The drive was detected without issue and I was able to play media directly using the VLC app. VLC can even play ProRes encoded videos but the USB port was not able to sustain the bitrate required.

I also tested a USB Ethernet adapter through the port. While the 4k Pro comes with a native 100 megabit per second Ethernet port, I plugged in a gigabit Ethernet adapter to enhance the data transfer speed. This setup improved performance, delivering about 400 megabits per second, but it still falls short of true gigabit speeds. Compatibility will be hit or miss too – my Realtek-based 2.5 gig adapters did not work but a number of gigabit ones did.

Wi-Fi performance on the device is robust, particularly when connected to a Wi-Fi 6 access point. Speed tests showed better performance over Wi-Fi with bandwidth close to what I was seeing out of the USB ethernet.

However, not all features performed flawlessly. As was noted in the first video, the box struggled with game streaming via GeForce Now using the built-in ethernet port. I wanted to see if the Wi-Fi would fare better but unfortunately games froze up even faster than the Ethernet when using wireless.

While webcams are technically supported, the frame rates achieved during video calls were less than ideal, suggesting potential limitations for those looking to use this feature extensively. Many popular conferencing apps like Zoom are not installable on the device either. Even Google’s Meet app only allows one-to-one calls and will not allow the user to join or start a meeting.

Lastly, I explored whether the device could handle a digital audio converter (DAC) for enhanced audio output. Unfortunately, despite various attempts, including entering developer mode, I was unable to get a Soundblaster DAC to function with the Onn 4K Pro. One viewer on the video did say that his Presonus Audiobox USB and Audinate Dante AVIO-USB DACs worked successfully.

Overall I am pleased with the value proposition for casual users here. While enthusiasts can squeeze a little more out of the box it’s hard to get around the limited hardware specs of the device. Even with a more RAM it’s still a very basic low-cost streaming device.

Walmart Onn 4k Pro Streaming Box Review

Walmart quietly released a “pro” version of their Onn TV streaming box. Many of you were eager for me to take a look at this one. You can see my full review here.

The Onn 4K Pro, retailing for around $50 (compensated affiliate link), competes with the Roku and Amazon in the low-cost streaming box space. What’s nice about these Walmart devices is that they provide a pure Google TV experience which isn’t much different from Google’s own streaming players.

Inside the box, you’ll find all the essentials: the streaming box itself, a power cord, an HDMI cable, and a remote control. Interestingly, my package included a more basic version of the remote compared to a backlit version that some other buyers received.

What sets the “pro” device apart is that it functions not only as a streaming box but also as a Google Assistant speaker when the TV is off. In my testing it worked very similar to Google’s speaker offerings but it was unable to play music through its speaker, only through the television.

The box boasts an intuitive setup, connecting easily to Wi-Fi or via an Ethernet cable. However, it only supports 100 megabits of bandwidth for Ethernet, not gigabit, which might be a limitation for some. I also found its Wifi performance, while adequate for streaming applications, did not fare much better than the Ethernet. It’s compatible with Dolby Vision and HDR on TVs that support these features along with Atmos audio for streaming apps that offer spatial audio.

For general consumers, the Onn 4K Pro presents a value proposition with its dual functionality and the flexibility of Google TV’s operating system, allowing access to a wide range of apps and services. Its performance is robust enough for most streaming needs, and the inclusion of a voice-activated assistant is a nice feature.

Despite its “Pro” designation, the Onn 4K Pro may not satisfy the demands of avid tech enthusiasts, particularly those focused on gaming or high-end home theater setups. It performs adequately for streaming and basic tasks but falls short in handling more intensive applications like advanced gaming or lossless audio playback in Plex, which does not support DTS:X or Dolby TrueHD Atmos.

In benchmark testing, the Onn 4K Pro Google TV Streaming Box scored 579 on the 3DMark Slingshot test, indicating performance on par with the lower cost Onn streaming box I looked at last year, along with similar Android 4K boxes like the Chromecast with Google TV. However, it falls short compared to the more powerful Fire TV Cube Gen 3.

All that said I would definitely recommend the Pro version of the box over their lower cost offering for the streaming media use cases that it’s mostly designed for. It’s not that expensive and works well as a Google assistant even when the TV is off.

SanDisk Desk Drive Review – High Capacity SSD

When you’re looking for an external hard drive, the typical choice often lies between opting for performance or capacity. In my latest video I took a look at a new product from SanDisk—the Desk Drive SSD—that delivers up to 8 terabytes of storage at SSD speeds. You can see my review here.

You can find one here (compensated affiliate link) This pricing is indeed higher than what you would expect from mechanical drives, but the SSD promises superior performance and completely silent operation, which might justify the cost for many.

The SSD comes preformatted with exFAT, ensuring compatibility across Windows, Mac, and many Linux systems right out of the box. It of course can easily be reformatted for other file systems. It also includes a single Gen 2 USB type-C port, supporting speeds up to 10 Gbps, though it does require external power to operate. Additionally, a Kensington lock slot adds a layer of security against theft.

When connected to a modestly equipped ThinkPad, the drive achieved around 850 megabytes per second in both read and write speeds during a Blackmagic disk speed test. These speeds were even higher when connected to a desktop equipped with a superior USB controller, just under a gigabyte per second. Its scores on the CrystalDiskMark test also showed decent random read and write performance making the drive suitable for more than just backups and long term data storage.

It also comes with a license for Acronis True Image on both Mac and Windows. True Image offers a number of useful functions like backing up the entire PC, individual folders, and even disk cloning. This software only works with SanDisk or Western Digital drives unless you pay for a separate license.

While there is a premium to pay for the silence and performance of the Desk Drive SSD, the benefits—especially in a professional setting where speed and reliability are paramount—could well be worth the investment.

Disclosure: Sandisk provided the drive to the channel free of charge for this review. However no other compensation was received and they did not review or approve my video or this post before it was uploaded. All opinions are my own.

Wyze Battery Cam Pro Review

Wyze recently released a new battery powered outdoor security camera called the Wyze Battery Cam Pro. It is the subject of my latest review.

This camera differs from other Wyze cameras in that it must be more judicious about its power usage. While it is capable of continuously recording onto an SD card it will quickly run out of battery power to do it. As such it’s better suited as a “notification camera” vs. a surveillance device in that the camera will only record and notify on events triggered by motion.

Unlike the previous generation outdoor camera it does not require a base station and will connect directly to WiFi.

The big standout feature of this camera is that it has swappable batteries – a rarity among consumer electronics. The battery packs have a built-in USB-C port for charging so no other charging hardware is required. Wyze does sell a desktop charger that might be more convenient for those with multiple cameras.

Battery life will vary based on how active the scene is in front of the camera and how often the camera is accessed for live streaming. In my case I get about two to three months before I need to do a battery swap. The camera is also compatible with Wyze’s solar panel which can eliminate the need for battery swaps if the panel can get enough sunlight.

I have found the camera to be quite robust, having endured several months outdoors through various weather conditions without any signs of wear or internal damage.

In use, the camera provided clear video quality with 1440p resolution, and its night vision capabilities were enhanced by an integrated spotlight that illuminated the scene effectively, offering clarity in color even in the dark. The camera also has a traditional infrared night vision mode along with an infrared illuminator. You can choose how it handles nighttime in the Wyze app.

One of the strengths of this new camera is that it rarely has a “false positive” motion event. Wyze added a low powered radar system that gives the camera an additional sensor layer for determining when something really is in front of the camera. As such imagery like branches blowing in the wind are far less likely to trigger an event. The distance this radar looks can be adjusted to narrow down the trigger zone inside the Wyze app. Wyze also allows users to narrow down the visual area the camera should be looking for motion.

Unfortunately Wyze encourages a subscription for optimal functionality. This subscription includes additional features like cloud storage and smart alerts capable of distinguishing between different moving objects such as people, vehicles, and pets.

It is possible to use the camera without a subscription by recording motion events to a SD card. Accessing recordings off the SD card does consume more battery as the camera needs to stream the playback to the Internet. I also found that accessing SD card footage can be a hit-or-miss endeavor sometimes requiring multiple attempts to access footage.

Overall I am pleased with the performance of this camera. It’s a major improvement over their prior offering but I still have issues with products that require a subscription to access the full feature set.

See more of my Wyze reviews here!

Disclosure: Wyze sent the camera to the channel free of charge for my review. They did not review or approve my review before it was published and no other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

Lenovo Chromebox Micro Review

We haven’t looked at a Chromebox in awhile so I was excited to see Lenovo has something new in this product category with their Chromebox Micro. This is a fanless mini PC powered by an older Intel N4500 processor along with 8GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC storage. You can see the full review here.

In the review I mention its high price of $379 – but as it turns out that’s the price with a Google Management Console license included. Without that license the price is $249 (compensated affiliate link) – still a little steep for the hardware configuration but more reasonable. It does not come with a keyboard, mouse or display.

Surprisingly the Chromebox Micro can output to three displays simultaneously – one via its HDMI port, and two additional outputs using its USB-C ports. It also ingests power via USB-C. It worked fine with a USB-C docking station adding some additional connectivity opportunities. In addition to the HDMI and USB-C ports it has two USB-A ports, a headphone/microphone jack, and gigabit ethernet.

Performance-wise, the Chromebox Micro handles basic tasks efficiently. Browsing websites like NASA.gov and Google Apps showed quick loading and smooth performance. The device also manages 1080p media playback well although its HDMI port is limited to only 30 fps at 4k. Its Wifi performance was adequate thanks to the Wifi 6 radio on board. Gaming is limited to less demanding Android games or cloud-based services like Xbox Cloud Gaming or GeForce Now.

Like other ChromeOS devices this Chromebox supports both Android apps and Linux applications, the latter once enabled in settings.

Despite its compact and silent profile, the price point remains a hurdle especially when compared to better performing MiniPCs available on Amazon we’ve looked at recently. A $199 price-point would be more attractive here.

Disclosure: This Mini PC was provided on loan by Lenovo. They did not review or approve the content prior to uploading/posting and all opinions are my own.

Asus Zenbook 14 OLED with AMD Ryzen Review – UM3406HA

I recently had the opportunity to review the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED, a model equipped with a Ryzen processor. Walmart is currently selling this machine for $799 (compensated affiliate link) – a really good value.

This Asus Zenbook 14 is powered by an AMD Ryzen 7 8840HS processor and comes with 16GB of DDR5X RAM. This configuration is quite robust, allowing for tasks like gaming and video editing without significant slowdowns. It also includes 512GB of NVMe SSD storage.

One of the standout features of this laptop is its 14-inch 1920×1200 60hz OLED touch display. OLEDs are not common at this price point and the display has a great million-to-one contrast ratio and 100% coverage of the DCI-P3 color gamut. Although it’s effectively just a 1080p resolution at 14 inches the screen looks great.

In terms of battery life, the Zenbook 14 excels, offering between 15 to 18 hours of usage on a single charge under typical work conditions. This makes it ideal for long commutes or travel, ensuring productivity remains uninterrupted.

The build quality of the Zenbook 14 is impressive with an all-metal design and a total weight of just 2.82 pounds, making it both durable and portable. However, the device features a non-convertible design but the display can sit flat on the desk for using a stylus.

As far as ports are concerned, the Zenbook 14 features a full size USB-A port, two USB-C ports (one of which supports Thunderbolt via USB4), a full size HDMI output, and a headphone/microphone jack. However, it lacks an integrated card reader, which might be a minor inconvenience for some users.

The keyboard of the Zenbook 14 is comfortable to use, with decent key travel and backlighting. It also includes a unique feature—a ‘co-pilot’ key linked to Microsoft Bing and OpenAI, although its functionality is currently limited.

The laptop’s performance in web browsing and basic tasks is flawless, and it handles video editing and gaming decently for its configuration. The integrated 1080p webcam supports Windows Hello for facial recognition, enhancing security and convenience.

I also tested the laptop’s compatibility with Linux. Most hardware components were detected and functioned correctly except for the speakers, which did not work despite being recognized by the system. This is likely a minor issue that could be resolved with future driver updates.

Overall, the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED with Ryzen provides significant value for its price, making it an excellent alternative to more expensive models like the MacBook Air, especially for users who prioritize battery life and display quality.

Disclosure: This laptop was provided on loan from Asus and they did not provide any compensation. They did not review or approve my video and post before it was uploaded and all opinions are my own.

The BenQ LH730 is the Brightest LED Projector I’ve ever Reviewed

My latest review is of the BenQ LH730 Projector. While primarily marketed for its capabilities in office and education environments, I wanted to see if the LH730 could also serve as a viable option for consumers.

First, some background: the BenQ LH730 is an LED projector, touting 4,000 lumens of brightness and removing the need for frequent bulb changes. BenQ says the LED lamp can run for approximately 20,000 hours at full brightness and 30,000 in its dimmer “eco mode.”

Priced at around $1300, it supports a 1080p maximum resolution with a refresh rate of up to 60hz, using DLP for its projection system. While it supports HDR10 and HLG, you won’t find Dolby Vision compatibility here. Also, there aren’t any built-in apps; you’ll be relying on streaming devices or an attached computer for content.

It has two HDMI inputs (both HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 support) along with a 3.5mm audio output jack. There is a built in speaker but it’s passable at best. As visible in the review all of the ports appear to be upside down – that’s because the projector is designed to be hung from the ceiling vs. placed on a table. It will work fine on a table (and its automatic keystoning feature produces proper ratio images) but you will need to dig through the settings to flip the output around.

For my testing, I placed the projector approximately 10 feet from the wall, getting a screen size comfortably within the 75 – 80-inch range. Even when downscaling 4K content to the native 1080p, the image quality remained quite good. Images were clear, with the projector handling some ambient room light without the picture washing out.

I also connected an Xbox Series S and was pleased with its gaming performance and image quality, although it does introduce some input lag that might limit its utility with some games. In fairness the lag here is on par with consumer oriented projectors I’ve reviewed recently.

There is a manual zoom and focus control attached to the lens for fine tuning the image. Its zoom ratio is limited at 1.2, and sadly, there’s no autofocus feature. You do get manual controls on the projector along with a remote for adjustments.

Despite having an LED lamp on board, the projector consistently averaged around 300 watts of power consumption. But it generates far less heat vs. the traditional halogen bulb projectors I’ve reviewed in the past.

Overall the BenQ LH730 could be compelling for institutions. Its brightness, low maintenance needs, and solid image quality make it a sensible choice.

Disclosure: BenQ sent the projector to the channel on loan. They did not review or approve this post or my video before it was uploaded and all opinions are my own.