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.

Plex Now Has Hundreds of Free Channels – Here’s how to navigate them (sponsored post)

Plex, well-known for its media server capabilities, has now ventured into providing over 600 free advertiser supported television (FAST) channels in the U.S., with a total of 1,100 channels globally. These free channels are accessible on various platforms, including mobile and and TV devices, without the need for a dedicated Plex server.

In my latest video we take a look at how to navigate all of these choices.

Plex’s interface is structured to help viewers quickly narrow down their choices. The channel guide offers an initial glimpse of all available channels, and further efficiencies are found through category filters like “Hit TV” or genres such as crime and sports. There is also a “featured” section where Plex showcases some of the heavy hitters on the platform like the NFL’s free channel which was recently added.

Plex’s universal search feature will also surface content that is playing live in addition to on-demand offerings.

Moreover, Plex integrates local over-the-air TV channels if a user has a Plex Pass and a network TV tuner, allowing for a blend of local and streaming content. This feature enriches the user’s viewing options, providing a seamless integration of local and global content on a single platform.

Viewers can personalize their viewing experience by adding channels to their “favorites,” making them easily accessible upon each return to the service. These preferences sync across all devices connected to the viewer’s Plex account, ensuring a consistent setup regardless of the device used.

New channels are being added all the time. Plex has a helpful search tool set up on their website that can give you a breakdown about what’s available in your particular market.

Disclosure: this post and video was sponsored by Plex, however they did not review or approve this content before it was uploaded.

iRobot’s Entry Level Roomba : Combo Essential Robot Vacuum and Mop Review – Y0140

It may surprise some of you to learn that I’ve never owned or used a robotic vacuum cleaner – up until now that is. I recently received a “Roomba Combo Essential” through the Amazon Vine program. This device, a hybrid of a vacuum and a mop, is marketed as a budget-friendly option in iRobot’s lineup, catering to those who need straightforward functionality without the bells and whistles associated with higher-end models. You can see my full video review here.

With few features offered, the Combo Essential is fairly simple to operate. It navigates autonomously around the house, and will return to its charging station with either a push of a button or when it needs to recharge. However, during its journey, it tends to pick up a few battle scars—evident from scratches and scuffs on its body—which illustrates its somewhat blind navigation akin to a vision impaired dog bumping into obstacles until it learns its path.

The vacuum performance is commendable for its price range, effectively cleaning every reachable area thanks to its rotating brush that catches dirt and draws it into the vacuum input.

The mopping feature, however, leaves much to be desired. The device utilizes a microfiber cloth that passively mops using a water drip, but without the use of detergents, which iRobot advises against to prevent damage to the machine. This limitation means the mopping is essentially just pushing water around rather than cleaning. Its dustbin and water tank combo, while innovative, offers limited capacity, which might not suit homes with heavy shedding pets like my Siberian Husky.

When in mopping mode the Roomba lacks the ability to differentiate flooring vs. carpets. So it’ll drive up on the rug and mop that too. iRobot recommends the inconvenient step of rolling up rugs before having it mop.

During my review, I also explored the accompanying app, which provides basic controls and scheduling options. The app allows for real-time monitoring and control, which is convenient, though it lacks advanced features found in more premium models. The noise level of the Roomba is relatively low, comparable to a fan running on high, which should be suitable for most home environments without disturbing the peace.

In sum, the Roomba Combo Essential serves well as a supplementary cleaning tool, particularly in smaller, less cluttered spaces. It effectively picks up dirt and dust as a vacuum but falls short as a mop.

The GMKtec G3 Mini PC Delivers a Lot for a Low Price

My latest review, I dive into the GMKTec G3, a budget-friendly Mini PC equipped with an Intel N100 processor.

The model reviewed came with 16 GB of RAM and a 1 TB NVMe SSD. The base model with the same processor but 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD starts at around $140 on Amazon after discounts. The device offers easy upgrades, with two drive slots and replaceable single-channel DDR4 RAM. Despite the plastic build, the Mini PC manages heat well and includes sufficient ports for basic connectivity, though it lacks USB Type-C.

Upon setup, the Windows 11 Pro installation process was straightforward, adhering to Microsoft’s standard onboarding procedure. The device includes Wi-Fi 6 capabilities, though speeds were slightly below what I would expect. The 2.5 gigabit Ethernet, powered by an Intel chipset, performed well.

Performance tests showed the GMKTec G3 handling 4K video smoothly, even on high-resolution displays, with no frame drops. The integrated Intel graphics managed to run GTA 5 at a playable 30 frames per second at 720p with low settings and it was able to handle PS2 emulation effectively. While it won’t run many modern AAA titles it does make for a decent emulation station that can run games from the mid 2000’s back.

The Mini PC’s cooling system is relatively quiet and usually silent when the machine isn’t placed under heavy load. My testing did not reveal any significant thermal throttling when placed under load.

Linux is also a good use case for this machine with the latest version of Ubuntu booting up without issue and performing just as well as Windows did in my testing.

In summation, the GMKTec G3 is a great alternative to a Raspberry Pi for small server applications, general computing and gaming. You’ll spend about the same getting everything needed for a Pi 5 to do the same things but here you’ll get better performance and Windows compatibility.

Be sure to check out my other Mini PC reviews!

Disclosure: GMKTec provided this to the channel for my review but no other compensation was received. They did not review or approve my video or this post before it was uploaded.

Zapperbox Update Allows DVR Recording of Encrypted ATSC 3.0 DRM Protected Content

After reviewing the latest update on the ZapperBox, an over the air TV tuning device, it’s clear that there have been significant improvements in its functionality. This includes the ability to record and play back DRM encrypted ATSC 3.0 channels. You can check out the changes in my latest video.

The ZapperBox, which retails for $275 for the dual tuner unit, requires a $30 annual subscription for a channel guide that’s essential for its DVR capabilities.

The biggest change is the addition of the DVR functionality – which makes full use of the dual tuners built into the Zapperbox. Unfortunately playing live or recorded ATSC 3.0 encrypted content requires an internet connection for accessing encrypted channels. This seems counterintuitive especially as the TV signals themselves are delivered via an over the air antenna.

DVR recording includes a requirement for a minimum of a 128 GB SD card or USB hard drive to utilize the DVR functionality. Viewers can pause live TV, record, and access previously recorded content with relative ease, though the system does experience delays in playback due to encryption checks.

Recording setup is user-friendly, allowing for both scheduled and manual recordings. The ZapperBox supports simultaneous recording of two shows, or watching one live while the other records. Additionally content can be played back while both tuners are recording. An intriguing upcoming feature is the ability for multiple ZapperBoxes to recognize each other on a network, enabling combined recording capabilities across devices.

Despite its advancements, the ZapperBox still faces limitations, especially in distributing content across different devices in a household. This issue stems largely from ATSC 3.0 content protection restrictions rather than technological shortcomings. Upcoming updates promise to address some existing bugs and introduce new features, such as the ability to view encrypted content offline and enhancements to the multi-room DVR functionality.

ZapperBox has a detailed feature roadmap on their website and are to be commended for being transparent and largely meeting their development goals on time.

Nevertheless, the product’s feature set and development are hindered by the ATSC 3.0 content protection. None of the features on the roadmap are all that innovative – in fact ATSC 1.0 gateway devices have been able to do them for over a decade. We need to keep the pressure on the FCC to deny broadcasters the ability to encrypt their signals.

Let them know here!

Sandisk Professional G-Drive Project Review

My latest review is of the Sandisk Professional G-DRIVE Project, a new external hard drive that caters to the needs of professionals. It has an enterprise-grade mechanical hard drive along with a built in slot for Sandisk’s Pro-Blade system.

The G-Drive Project distinguishes itself with its exceptional build quality. While it certianly feels rugged, the mechanical drive inside is not so it’s best to use the drive only when it’s safely sitting on a desk or table. Inside, it features an Ultrastar Enterprise hard drive from WD, a mechanism that is typically found on datacenter servers. My review unit had a 6TB drive inside, and there are versions that offer up to 24TB of storage.

The drive offers a Thunderbolt interface that supports daisy chaining other devices when it’s connected to a Thunderbolt or USB 4.0 port. The design of the exterior casing makes it suitable for stacking multiple drives on top of each other. It will also work with USB 3.0 devices but the daisy chaining features will not work on those older interfaces. The drive is externally powered through its included 65 watt power supply, and there’s enough power budget to charge smaller ultrabooks like my M2 Macbook Air.

Performance-wise, while it may not match the speeds of SSDs, it delivers respectable transfer rates for a mechanical drive, making it suitable for backups and large file storage rather than rapid data transfer. I measured roughly 250 megabytes per second in both reads and writes in my testing.

However, I found the Pro-Blade slot to be less impressive. Despite supporting the high-speed NVMe Pro blades, the Pro-Blade reader operates over a built-in USB 3.0 hub, limiting the potential speed of these blades to about a third of their potential performance.

Despite these limitations, the G-DRIVE Project is a reliable choice for professionals who need a durable and flexible storage solution. It supports hot-swapping of Pro blades, adding convenience for those in the field or in a studio setting. While it may not offer the fastest transfer speeds, its capacity and build quality make it a useful tool for content creators.

Broadcasters seek FCC regulation of streaming providers

Broadcasters in the United States are now petitioning the FCC and Congress to regulate streaming platforms like YouTube TV, potentially driving up costs for consumers. You can learn more in my latest video.

At issue here is the retransmission negotiation dynamics between broadcasters and streaming providers. Unlike cable services, streaming services currently negotiate content fees directly with networks rather than local affiliates. This means local channels like your ABC or NBC affiliates must go through their national networks for re-transmission fees, which they believe sells them short. By contrast, federal law requires that cable providers negotiate directly with local broadcasters.

Even without this regulation the costs of streaming TV services have surged over the years, very much in line with the increase cost of cable. Take YouTube TV, for instance; what started as a $35 monthly service now costs $73. This hike is largely attributed to the rising costs of content—networks charge more, so streaming services must adjust their fees accordingly.

Opposing the local broadcasters are the streaming providers who have joined forces with the broadcast networks. Both sides have created astroturfed websites complete with .org URLs. The broadcasters founded the “Coalition for Local News” in an effort to appeal to members of Congress who like to see their faces on TV, and the streamer/network alliance launched their consumer focused “Preserve Viewer Choice Coalition.”

With both sides poised to fight fiercely, a negotiated compromise might be the path forward, though this, too, will likely lead to higher costs for consumers. The looming question is whether consumers will reach a tipping point, opting to cut not just the cable cord but the streaming one as well.

An Epic Eclipse at my Brother’s Maple Syrup Farm!

Last week we drove up to my brother Josh Seidman’s maple syrup farm to observe a full totality solar eclipse! I anticipated this trip for years knowing the eclipse would go right through his town on April 8th.

You can check out some cool time lapses and footage I took in my latest video. Sadly the YouTube algorithm doesn’t think my subscribers want to see this so hopefully you’ll give it a watch from this post!

Witnessing a full solar eclipse was an amazing experience. It is not only seen – it is also felt as the temperature drops, the wind shifts, and everything takes on an other worldly weirdness as the world get progressively darker. My favorite moment of the eclipse was watching my kids experience it!

Totality was stunning both in its beauty but also its very sudden arrival. As long as there’s a little sliver of sun there’s still some illumination, but once the moon fully covers up the sun it immediately turns to night. We could see solar prominences poking out for the three or so minutes that the eclipse was in totality. Then as quickly as the sunlight faded out, it began to fade back in as the moon moved out of the way.

The eclipse also coincided with the maple sugar season and Josh went right back to work in his sugar shack. In previous videos we took a look at how the maple sap goes from the trees into his shack, but this time we got to see the evaporating process in action! You can see it all in the video above.

Josh’s process is a mix of science, art, chemistry and flow control. It’s far from a mechanized process to get a perfect batch of syrup – it requires lots of focus, attention and a loving touch to get things just right.

You can check out Josh’s syrup at RuggedRidgeForest.com. His most popular offering is a sampler of different grades that can help you find the taste you’re looking for!

Logitech MX Brio Ultra HD Webcam Review

My latest review is of the Logitech MX Brio Ultra HD 4K Webcam. Having been a long-standing fan of Logitech’s cameras, my expectations were high, especially with my trusted C910 still in use after 14 years.

The MX Brio, priced at $199 (compensated affiliate link), is undeniably a premium offering. For the price you get a nice heavy metal design and glass lens.

The camera attaches to its mounting bracket magnetically. When detached you’ll find a tripod mount on the bottom of the camera. To secure the heavy camera on the back of a laptop, the mounting bracket features a micro-suction adhesive that helps keep it in place. The adhesive does not leave a residue and can be easily swapped from one display to the other. If it gets dirty a little water will refresh it.

Connectivity is seamless for computers with a USB Type-C port, and the included cable matches the camera’s level of build quality. But there is no USB-A adapter, so you’ll need to get a USB-C to USB-A cable or use an adapter.

Upon setup, the MX Brio’s image quality immediately stands out, delivering a maximum of 4k at 30 frames per second. 60 frames per second can be reached with a 1080p resolution. However, I encountered a challenge with LED lighting. Despite efforts to minimize flicker, banding was noticeable under my LED household lights. Turning off the camera’s HDR setting improved the situation but reduced the overall image quality.

Banding from LED lights

Particularly intriguing is the “show mode” for overhead demonstrations, an innovative feature for educators and presenters. When the camera is tilted down it flips the image to work as an overhead camera.

The microphones impress with crisp, clear audio that also have some noise reduction features. You can hear a demo of the microphones in my video above.

The Logitech Options and G Hub apps revealed a number of settings to fine-tune the webcam experience including exposure levels, white balance enhancement toggles and focus.

Despite its strengths, the MX Brio’s LED banding issue is a significant drawback for those in production. Yet, for Zoom meetings or casual use, it performs nicely, adjusting well to various lighting conditions. Logitech’s history of updates gives me hope for a firmware solution to the banding issue soon.

Frndly TV Review – A low cost “skinny bundle” streaming service

In my latest video, we take a look at Frndly TV, a service that positions itself as an affordable option for those looking to cut the cord with traditional cable services.

One of my biggest issues with TV streaming services is that they are not all that much more affordable versus a traditional cable subscription and ultimately have channels the consumer will pay for but never watch. Frndly picked out a few popular channels that are sometimes not found on other services and positioned themselves as the “add-on” to complement other streaming subscriptions and OTA watchers.

The service’s pricing structure is straightforward, offering annual billing options that provide a discount in exchange for a commitment. The entry-level “basic” plan streams only at standard definition and lacks DVR capabilities. The “classic” plan is the better value, offering HD resolution, two simultaneous streams, and 90-day DVR retention. The classic plan currently retails for $95.88 if purchased annually.

You can see a full breakdown here (compensated affiliate link).

The channel lineup of Frndly TV, though limited when compared to more expansive streaming services, includes a mix of popular channels such as A&E, History, Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel. The full channel lineup can be found on their website. (affiliate link)

Frndly TV has apps for a wide array of devices, from Android and iOS mobile devices to various smart TVs and streaming sticks. Unfortunately LG televisions are not supported right now so a low cost Roku or Fire TV would be needed.

The service promotes ease of use, featuring a traditional channel guide for live television alongside features such as a 72-hour lookback, which allows viewers to access recently aired content without having to set up a recording.

Frndly does not offer profiles, meaning all users on an account share viewing preferences and recommendations. This lack of personalization might detract from the experience for those accustomed to more sophisticated streaming platforms.

The on-demand and DVR capabilities of Frndly TV offer flexibility in content consumption, with options to record future episodes of shows or access a range of on-demand content from specific networks. It neatly organizes recorded, lookback, and on-Demand content into TV show landing pages with an easy to navigate interface. You can see how it all works in my video above.

Overall Frndly fills a void for those looking to piece together their cord cutting solution by offering a few specific cable networks. At this price it’s unlikely the service will expand much beyond its current offering but if they’re able to sustain the offering over time it’ll be a nice part of the ecosystem.

GMKTech K8 Nucbox Mini PC Revew – With Ryzen 8845HS Processor

My latest review is of the GMKtec K8 “NucBox” Mini PC, featuring a Ryzen 8845HS processor. Priced around $649—with potential discounts available on platforms like Amazon—this mini PC merges notable performance with a compact form factor. But it has some shortcomings in networking and USB 4.0 performance.

Upon unboxing, I found the K8 to lack the metal design of some of the other Mini PC’s we’ve looked at lately. However, the real appeal of this device lies beneath its modest exterior. Equipped with that Ryzen processor, 32 GB of DDR5 5600 RAM, upgradable to 64 GB, and a 1 TB NVMe SSD with room for expansion, the K8 provides great performance for its price point.

Connectivity options on the K8 are similar to other Mini PCs, with a mix of USB 4.0, USB 3, and USB 2 ports, alongside dual 2.5 Gb Ethernet ports and multiple video output choices. However, during my testing, I encountered issues in the performance disparities between the Ethernet ports and found the USB 4.0 port’s throughput to fall short of its advertised 40 Gb/s capability.

The K8 comes with an activated copy of Windows 11 Pro. Like many PC makers, GMKTec found a loophole in the Microsoft licensing process which means that you will only be allowed to create a local account when first booting up.

The K8 proved itself as a capable for video editing, handling a simple 4K 60fps project effectively without any hiccups or lag running DaVinci Resolve.

Gaming on the K8 was a pleasant surprise; titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 and No Man’s Sky ran well at 1080p, showcasing the integrated GPU’s capabilities. While we couldn’t hit consistent 60 FPS rates, most games are comfortably over 30. Emulation performance was equally impressive, with the Dolphin Emulator running demanding titles at full frame rates.

Benchmarking further validated the K8’s performance credentials, positioning it alongside more expensive systems from just a few years ago equipped with dedicated GPUs. The stress test results showed minimal thermal throttling under load, though fan noise became noticeable during intensive tasks.

The K8’s versatility extends to Linux compatibility, with my tests on Ubuntu showing excellent hardware support out of the box. This adaptability makes the K8 a suitable candidate for a range of applications including home labs.

While the K8 may not be the perfect fit for users with high throughput demands for external storage and networking, its performance, upgradability, and competitive pricing make it a decent option for a variety of users. As with any purchase in this category, prospective buyers should weigh the balance of performance, price, and potential compromises to determine if the K8 meets their specific needs and expectations.

Disclaimer: GMKTec provided the Mini PC to the channel free of charge. However they did not review or approve the review before it was uploaded nor was any additional compenstation received.

Wyze Cam V4 Review

Last week Wyze released the latest iteration of their low cost camera, which they call the “The Wyze Cam V4.” I checked it out in a recent review.

Like before it retails for around $30. That purchase price used to get a lot more bang for the buck, including cloud storage and AI features but those added functions now cost extra.

The Wyze subscription is priced at $3 per camera per month or via an unlimited subscription at $99 a year. In fairness the subscription isn’t all that expensive, but many original Wyze customers are put-off by once free features that are now locked behind a paywall. Wyze still gives customers the option to use an SD card for continuous or event-only recording to avoid the subscription fee.

The camera’s design maintains its plastic weatherproof design, allowing it to withstand outdoor conditions. It operates through USB power, with the package including a sufficiently long cable, though longer options are available for outdoor setups. A notable upgrade in this model is the visual quality, transitioning to 1440p resolution from the previous 1080p, enhancing both daytime and nighttime surveillance capabilities. It also now has an LED spotlight that can help its color night vision features extract more visual information.

Through the accompanying Wyze app, users can control the camera and review footage easily. Wyze subscribers can review footage in a single tap, but SD card footage review takes a few more taps and requires a connection to the camera be established. In addition to the lack of off-site cloud storage, non-subscribers also do not get the very useful AI detection feature for persons, pets, and vehicles.

I found the image quality to be a nice step-up from the previous iterations of the cameras. They are so inexpensive that it doesn’t take much of an investment to cover an entire property or add more to existing infrastructure. They’re also compatible with IFTTT, Amazon and Google so they can be integrated with other equipment too.

We’ll have some more Wyze related product reviews coming soon. Stay tuned to this playlist!

Disclosure: Wyze sent these cameras to the channel free of charge. However they did not review or approve this video before it was uploaded, and no other compensation was received.