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.