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Computing

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 hands-on review: a sleek redo

The 2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold is the second generation of Lenovo’s foldable line, which the company says is now bigger, more powerful, and more versatile.

After having launched the foldable PC category in 2020 with the original ThinkPad X1 Fold, Lenovo took what it learned from the first generation to make a more streamlined and modern-looking product that should appeal to a wider audience. After spending some time with the ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 myself, I came away impressed by how Lenovo has moved the design forward.

Specs

  Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2
Dimensions 10.87 x 13.6 x 0.34 inches (unfolded), 6.9 x 10.87 x 0.68 inches (folded)
Weight 2.82 pounds
Processor Up to Intel vPro with 12th Gen Intel Core U9 i5 and i7 Processors
Graphics Intel Iris Xe
RAM Up to 32GB LPDDR5
Display 16.3-inch (2024×2560) foldable OLED 600 nit HDR/400nit SDR, DCI P3 100%, Dolby Vision
Storage Up to 1TB PCIe Gen 4 SSD
Touch On-cell Touch with Pen support
Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4, 1 USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, Nano-SIM card tray3.5mm Combo Audio Jack
Wireless Wi-Fi 6E 802.11 AX (2×2), Bluetooth 5.2,  5G Sub 6 (optional)
Webcam 5-megapixel RGB+IR with Intel VSC option
Operating system Up to Windows 11 Pro
Battery 48-watt-hour (optional additional 16-watt-hour configurable)
Price $2,500

Design

The ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 is an intricate device with many moving parts, no pun intended. There is so much to consider in terms of its design — the 16.3-inch display itself — its external parts, its internal parts, and its accessories.

Customers had to buy the accessories for the original ThinkPad X1 Fold, such as its keyboard and folio stand separately. This model sells with its magnetic attachable keyboard and kickstand included. When not in use, you can fold the ThinkPad X1 Fold into its 12-inch form and snap both accessories onto the PC for easy carrying without needing an additional case.

The two outer layers of the ThinkPad X1 Fold are made of woven fabric panels that are reinforced with carbon fiber and graphite. Internally, the PC has a fanless design but includes a graphite and copper heat sink as its cooling system to spread heat to protect the most important components in the device.

The hinge has a hidden design so that the two panels wrap around it as the device opens and closes. Lenovo explained that when folded the design creates a bell shape for the display that never fully creases the screen, but rather helps to keep it protected from damage.

Display

The star feature of the ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 is surely its display, which is a 16.3-inch, 2024 x 2560 resolution, foldable OLED screen with 600 nits brightness in HDR mode and 400 nits brightness in SDR mode, plus a DCI P3 100% RGB color space.

The on-cell touch display also supports Dolby Vision and Pen support, with a Wacom stylus as its tool of choice. The accessory snaps magnetically to the side of the chassis for easy carrying. The grated speakers on the sides of the frame also support Dolby Atmos and Dolby Voice.

The sheer size of the product allows you to imagine it a lot less as a basic tablet and a lot more as it is intended — a foldable PC with several possibilities for its setup and use. At first glance, the OLED colors really pop, as can be expected from this panel type. In addition to its primary 16.3-inch and 12-inch form factors, the ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2 can be melded into different positions with or without the help of its stand and trackpad accessories.

When unfolded, you can use the 2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold in either portrait or landscape mode, with the display automatically adjusting to fit the different orientations. The portrait mode is the new option, which basically gives you an extremely tall vertical display. This is also something this laptop’s primary competitor, the Asus Zenbook Fold 17, doesn’t have.

Then you can fold the new ThinkPad X1 Fold into its clamshell mode, which allows it to be used as a traditional laptop. The foldable features an onscreen keyboard, of course, though the attachable accessory keyboard is what most people will want to use.

The 2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold in portrait mode.

The foldable PC includes a front-facing 5-megapixel IR RGB camera, which powers such built-in AI features as, lock-on-leave and wake-on-face. As described the device can be set to lock automatically when eyes are no longer detected by the camera and to wake again when you are present at the screen once more. Like the older model, this foldable PC also sticks to one camera.

You can also toggle the display to set up several panels, columns, or areas to bring up different browsers, apps, or programs. This is a great option for multitasking and can be configured into a number of unique configurations. Perhaps you need a side-by-side productivity use case that is ideal for the landscape mode. You can do columns in portrait mode and split one column in half still, adjusting the size as you need. There are so many possibilities.

2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold

Lenovo also made improvements over its first-generation ThinkPad X1 Fold, which has a gap at the fold, by ensuring the 2022 model folds completely flat. This not only provides a seamless look when viewing the display but helped in creating narrow bezels for the screen.

There is some bumpiness along the folding point of the display, but I can’t imagine that impedes the look or performance of the display in any way. It’s just something I noted. It could potentially be a result of the hidden hinge, as explained previously.

Lenovo claims the durability of the foldable display exceeds the life cycle of the PC, projecting that the screen could last up to 10 years, as per the results of robust open and close folding tests on the product.

Keyboard and trackpad

Accessories for the 2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold now come included with the foldable PC and are light and magnetically attachable. The ThinkPad TrackPoint Bluetooth keyboard is a full-sized peripheral that is modeled after the ThinkPad X1 Nano keyboard. It includes track point buttons, a haptic trackpad, and a fingerprint reader that supports Windows Hello.

The 2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold in landcape mode.

When not already attached, you can use the keyboard separately from the display while connecting to Bluetooth. Additionally, you can place the keyboard on top of the flat part of the foldable PC in clamshell mode or still use the keyboard attached or separately.

Similarly, the accompanying stand snaps onto the 2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold magnetically and adjusts well for easy use. You can place the device in landscape or portrait mode and adjust the fold to your preference.

Fortunately, many of the problems with the layout of the original ThinkPad X1 Fold’s keyboard have been resolved. No missing keys or surprises — everything’s right where you’d expect on a standard ThinkPad laptop. That’s largely thanks to the larger size, no longer needing to compromise to fit all the keys in.

Performance and battery life

With its professional-grade internals, Lenovo is promising major performance improvements with the 2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold over the prior model based on its own internal testing. The foldable PC offers 12th Gen Intel Core U9 vPro i5 and i7 Processor options, LPDDR5 memory up to 32GB, PCIe Gen 4 SSD up to 1TB, and Intel Iris Xe Graphics.

2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold

Several configurable options are available at Lenovo.com, including five i5 and i7 vPro and non-vPro processor options, storage options including 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB. Additionally, the device ships with Windows 11 Home, and can be upgraded to Windows 11 Pro or downgraded to Windows 10 Pro based on user preference.

The device comes also with a standard 48-watt-hour battery, which can be configured to add an additional 16-watt-hour battery. Together Lenovo promises a battery life of up to 11 hours for the 2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold, which is a boost of up to three hours as per reviews of the prior model.

2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold

The 2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold includes three USB-C ports, two of which support Thunderbolt 4, allowing you to dock external devices. You can connect up to three external monitors to the foldable PC, two 5K, and one 4K.

Additionally, the device includes a nano-SIM card tray for its LTE connectivity. It also comes with Wi-Fi 6E support standard and optional 5G Sub 6 support.

Price and availability

The price of the 2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold notably remains unchanged from that of the original foldable PC that was released in 2020. The new model starts at $2,500 and its expected availability starts in November 2022.

Editors’ Choice




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Game

HyperX Armada 25 hands-on: No stand, no problem

Earlier this summer, Sony launched its first line of gaming monitors under the Inzone brand, and now HyperX is joining the fray with two displays of its own. However, with the new Armada line HyperX is putting its own spin on the category, because instead of being bundled with a traditional stand, the company has created an all-in-one package featuring an adjustable monitor arm.

Following HP’s acquisition of HyperX last year, the brand has been slowly branching out into new categories including wireless earbuds and now monitors. At launch, the Armada line will consist of two gaming monitors with slightly different target audiences: There’s the Armada 25, designed for more competitive gamers, which features 1,920 x 1,080 resolution and a 240Hz refresh rate. Meanwhile, for those who prefer richer, more detailed graphics, the larger Armada 27 features 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, a 165HZ refresh rate and VESA HDR 400 certification.

HyperX makes the Armada 25 very easy to set up. All the prices for the ergo arm are on top, while the monitor is below.
The Armada comes with everything you need to set it up, including simple instructions on how to assemble the arm and attach the monitor.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Both monitors have three inputs (one DisplayPort 1.4 and two HDMI 2.0 ports), but what really sets them apart from similarly priced rivals is that instead of shipping with a typical monitor stand, the Armada was designed from the start to work with HyperX’s ergonomic arm and desk mount. For HyperX, the goal is to encourage and provide gamers with a simple solution that frees up desk space for things like extra large mousepads, wireless charging pads or any other peripherals you want to keep close at hand.

The pivot to monitor arms has been picking up steam among PC gamers and HyperX believes so much in the benefits of ergonomic arms that it isn’t even selling a standard monitor stand separately. (You will, however, be able to buy additional arms or monitor attachments individually.) And after checking out the Armada 25 for myself, even though I’ve personally never owned a display mounted on an arm (though I’ve always wanted one), I can sort of see why. But despite all the positives, there are some obvious drawbacks too.

The clamp for the Armada's arm is also dead simple and is compatible with desks of up to two inches thick.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The box for the Armada 25 comes with everything you need to get started, not to mention a very handy and easy-to-use setup guide. The first step is finding the base and mounting it to an appropriate surface using the built-in clamp. From there, you assemble the rest of the arm before snapping HyperX’s custom mount to the back of the monitor and dropping everything in place. The whole process is a breeze, and in total, it took me less than 10 minutes to go from start to finish. After that, it’s just a matter of using the included Allen wrench to fine-tune the arm’s tightness and range of motion.

Assuming you have your cables tucked away neatly, the switch to an ergonomic arm has a surprisingly big impact. Everything just feels a bit tidier. Not only do you instantly have more freedom to arrange peripherals like stand mics, webcams and more, you also get extra flexibility to place your monitor at the correct height and angle for your posture.

The rear of the Armada 25 features three ports (two HDMI 2.0 and one DisplayPort 1.4) and a handy joystick for adjusting display settings.
If you look close, you’ll also see a handy little joystick in back for adjusting display settings.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

As someone who spends way too much time in front of a desk, in recent years I’ve found myself looking for ways to avoid the aches and pains caused by craning your neck to look at screens. This typically meant using books or stacks of paper to elevate displays so I could look straight ahead instead of down, which can be especially bad when using a laptop. But with an arm, that’s never an issue. And might I add, the whole feels extremely stable, unlike some of the cheaper alternatives I’ve considered in the past.

However, the downside is that only offering an arm can limit where you can set up your monitor. As I’ve written about previously, due to the pandemic I’ve had to create a makeshift remote working station centered around a desk that sacrifices some practicality for good looks. And unfortunately for me, my desk is so thick the two-inch clamp on HyperX’s arm just doesn’t fit. This meant I had to test the Armada 25 at my dining table, instead of next to my desktop where I really want it.

The Armada line even comes with two video cables, including a red DisplayPort cable for people who really like HyperX's traditional color scheme.
The Armada line even comes with two video cables, including a red DisplayPort cable, which is a nice touch for anyone who likes HyperX’s default color scheme.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

On the bright side, the display itself looks great considering its price. You get an IPS panel with 1ms response times (gray to gray), a non-reflective matte finish and wide viewing angles. It’s not the most colorful display, with colors covering 99 percent of the standard sRGB gamut, but getting a 240Hz refresh rate on a monitor that comes with an arm for $450 is a pretty good deal. And while HyperX is marketing both Armadas as being G-Sync compatible, they also support AMD’s FreeSync as well. Unfortunately, due to only having HDMI 2.0 instead of 2.1, you won’t get full 120Hz support on consoles like the Xbox Series X.

Also, perhaps the most promising thing about the Armada line is that HyperX makes it really easy to add more displays to your setup down the line. In addition to HyperX’s proprietary bracket, its ergo arm also supports standard VESA plates. You can also get add-on mounts (available separately) that let you attach more monitors to the same arm. Each arm supports up to 20 pounds, which means each one can hold up to four Armada 25s or two Armada 27s. And while I wasn’t able to test it out myself, you can also wall-mount the arms or install them on desks with pre-drilled cable holes (up to 2.4 inches if you’re using the included grommets).

The Armada's included ergo arm makes it super easy to position your monitor to suit all kinds of setups.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

So despite the difficulties I encountered with my furniture, the Armada line is rather flexible. That said, I still wish there were some kind of fallback option for people like me who live in a place where a monitor arm doesn’t quite fit. But if you’ve been thinking about upgrading your work or gaming station with a more streamlined gadget layout, HyperX’s new monitor line makes it really easy to ditch the traditional stand for something more elegant.

The Armada line will be available later this fall sometime in September. The Armada 25 and Armada 27 will cost $450 and $500, respectively, while the Single Gaming Mount and Gaming Mount Addon will also be available separately for $110 and $80.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Game

Engadget Podcast: Google I/O and hands-on with Microsoft’s Adaptive Mouse

This week, Engadget Deputy Editor Nathan Ingraham joins Cherlynn and Devindra to dive into everything announced at Google I/O. There were plenty of new devices, of course, but Google also showed off how its improved AI tech is making maps, translation and more features even smarter. Also, Cherlynn discusses her exclusive feature on Microsoft’s Adaptive Mouse, as well as the company’s new Inclusive Tech Lab. And in other news, we bid farewell to the iPod and reminisce about the early days of MP3 players.

Listen above, or subscribe on your podcast app of choice. If you’ve got suggestions or topics you’d like covered on the show, be sure to email us or drop a note in the comments! And be sure to check out our other podcasts, the Morning After and Engadget News!

Subscribe!

Topics

  • Google IO overview – 1:45

  • A return for Google Glass? – 13:24

  • Pixel 6a announcement – 29:11

  • Pixel Watch – 33:49

  • Pixel Buds Pro – 38:27

  • Notes from Microsoft’s Ability Summit – 43:43

  • Apple officially discontinues the iPod – 1:01:04

  • Sonos Ray is real and it’s $279 – 1:08:53

  • New info on Intel’s 12th Gen HX Chips – 1:20:45

  • Pop culture picks – 1:26:21

Video livestream

Credits
Hosts: Devindra Hardawar and Jessica Conditt
Guest: Nathan Ingraham
Producer: Ben Ellman
Music: Dale North and Terrence O’Brien
Livestream producers: Julio Barrientos
Graphic artists: Luke Brooks and Brian Oh

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Game

‘Forza Horizon 5’ hands-on: A Ford Bronco fever dream in the desert

Bronco. Every. Time.

This has been my motto while playing the preview build of Forza Horizon 5, the latest iteration of Playground Games’ open-world racing series. Horizon is the chill, microdosing cousin of Forza Motorsport, with festival vibes, ridiculous race tracks set in lush environments, and, of course, a virtual garage full of gorgeous vehicles.

Forza Horizon 5

Playground Games

Horizon 5 takes place in a fictionalized Mexico, which makes it the perfect stomping ground for the 2021 Ford Bronco, an SUV that I’ve been drooling over for more than a year in real life. It’s the first new model in 25 years, it’s styled after the first-generation Bronco that Ford rolled out in 1965, and, best of all, it comes in a cactus gray colorway. However, for a multitude of reasons — the global chip shortage, supply-chain slowdowns and the sheer expense of it all — I’m not likely to get my feet on the pedals of a new Bronco any time soon. That’s where Horizon 5 comes in.

Horizon 5 begins with a yellow Bronco Badlands strapped to the floor of a plane, ramp lowered behind it with clear sky soaring by. Starting the game drops the vehicle out of the plane, parachuting you onto the rim of a snow-capped volcano. Immediately, you’re driving at high speeds, following a trail down the fiery mountain and getting a feel for the Bronco. It moves like a heavy piece of machinery, tilting on quick turns and cannonballing down the road, sturdy yet sensitive. (The obligatory, “I like my partners the way I like my SUVs” goes here.)

And then the next car drops from the sky — a zippy 2020 Corvette Stingray Coupe that drives much differently than the Bronco, turning on a dime and floating over the road. After a few minutes with that, a 1989 Porsche 911 Desert Flyer parachutes past a herd of flamingos, zooming down forest trails with fantastic handling. Finally, the Mercedes-AMG One, a superfast hybrid sports car, finishes the ride by racing an airplane.

Forza Horizon 5

Playground Games

Each of the starting vehicles has its own sensibilities and strengths. They all finally land at the Horizon Festival, a massive music and racing extravaganza held in the Mexico desert. This is the main hub of the game, and it’s a party atmosphere filled with bright pink signs, crowds of cheering fans and a ceaseless barrage of fireworks, confetti and hot air balloons.

This is where you’re given the chance to pick a vehicle for the first time, and it’s the origin of my Horizon 5 mantra: Bronco. Every. Time.

It’s not that the Bronco is the fastest or smoothest vehicle in the game, but it feels right rolling through the rugged desert landscape. It’s the vehicle I want to be driving in real life, and it’s incredibly satisfying to maneuver it up winding mountain roads, along charming city streets and into the heart of massive dust storms.

To be fair, I don’t actually pick the Bronco every time — there are some races that the SUV simply can’t win, given its top speed and wide turns, and for these I’ll happily use one of the sports cars. But when it comes to exploring, I’m all about the Bronco.

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Computing

Razer Keycap Upgrade Kit Hands-on: Keycap Upgrades For All

Customized mechanical keyboards are taking the world by storm, whether it’s easy keycaps swaps or building your board from the ground-up. Razer is already a leader in the keyboard space, and today, the company has announced the Razer Keycap Upgrade kit. It’s a simple way to customize and upgrade your keyboard without needing expensive tools or extensive knowledge.

I got a chance to play with the upgrade kit and keycaps myself to see how successful they are at bringing keyboard upgrades to the masses.

The Razer Keycap Upgrade kit experience

Inside the Razer Keycap Upgrade Kit box.

Depending on the solution you choose, the keycap upgrade kit comes with a number of items inside the box. Our pink keycap upgrade includes a keycap removal tool to pry out your existing keycap, a color-matched coiled USB-C to USB-A cable, optical and mechanical keyboard stabilizers, and an assortment of keycaps to fit U.S. and U.K. keyboard layouts. The beauty of this upgrade is you can swap out as many keys as you want to create a custom keyboard with colored keycaps.

If pink isn’t to your liking, the new PBT keycaps are also available in other colors — black, white, and green. Minimalists can choose a more covert look with a Phantom keycap kit, available in either black or white, where the caps appear to be blank when the Razer Chroma RGB backlighting on your keyboard is turned off. When the RGB keyboard lighting is turned on, you’ll see the individual letters, numbers, or characters on each key. This black- or white-out look, depending on the keyboard option you choose, can add a level of stealth and minimalism to your desk setup.

The company said that to achieve this look, it laser-etched the keycaps from the bottom, rather than the top.

“Unlike regular keycaps which are layered from the top, this method ensures legends won’t wear off and features brighter shine-through legends thanks to a thinner layer between the keycap and light source,” the company said of the process.

Razer's phantom keycaps are etched from the bottom.

Razer’s other keycap upgrades have the keycaps inscribed and visible whether the Chroma RGB lighting is turned on or off. The standard PBT Keycap Upgrade Set, priced at $29, comes with 120 keycaps. Razer also offers an upgraded PBT Keycap and Coiled Cable Upgrade Set, priced at $49, which comes with a coiled USB-C to USB-A cable that matches the Quartz Pink, Mercury White, Razer Green, or Classic Black caps. The stealthy Razer Phantom Keycap Upgrade Set, priced at $34, is only available in black or white tones and comes with 128 keycaps.

Razer claims that the company’s keycap upgrade is compatible with most cross-shaped axis switches on standard bottom row U.S. and U.K. keyboard layouts. In terms of Razer’s own keyboards, these PBT Keycap Upgrade kits work with 60%, 65%, tenkeyless, and full-sized keyboards, Razer stated.

I tested the upgraded keycaps on Razer’s Blackwidow v3 Mini Hyperspeed, which is a wireless mechanical keyboard that features a 65% key design, meaning you won’t find a 1o-digit keypad on the right side of this keyboard nor a dedicated row of function keys.

Our Blackwidow already shipped with the Phantom keycaps in black, meaning the keycaps are stealth when the Chroma LED lighting is off, so if you’re looking for phantom keys, you won’t need an upgrade kit. Some of the symbols, however, are printed discretely on the front-side of the keyboard, like the symbols for the Function keys and those to adjust keyboard backlighting, for example.

Razer keycap removal tool in place.

How to use the Razer Keycap Upgrade kit

To remove the cap, use the keycap removal tool inside the box. You’ll want to just insert the tool directly onto the keys on the keyboard so that the clamp attaches to the top and bottom sides of the key. The tool acts as a set of pliers or tweezers, and then you just gently pull upward and the keycap will pop out.

If you’re replacing keycaps on a Razer-made keyboard, you may not need to use the mechanical or optical stabilizers, though these can come in handy if you’re trying to retrofit keyboards from other brands.

Pulling the Razer keycap off.

Once the keycaps are off, find the matching keycap from the upgrade set and press the new keycap firmly down in place — you don’t need the removal tool for this step. We recommend you do the replacement one key at a time to ensure you’re putting the proper keycap upgrade in place.

Upgrading the number row.

Since the keycaps contain U.K. and U.S. key layouts, be sure to find the appropriate replacement key. For example, the alternate character on the “3” key for U.S. keyboard layouts is the hashtag, or #, sign, while the corresponding alternate character for U.K. layouts is the British pound sign.

The process is fairly simple and really requires no technical knowledge whatsoever. The hardest part is finding the corresponding key in the plastic packs. Razer did a great job making the keycap replacement process easy. Combining sets together could add multiple pops of color if that’s your style.

One thing to note with our particular keyboard setup is that since the keys on the number rows can also be used as Function keys, the replacement keycaps don’t include the corresponding function key — like the “F1” — marker on the front side, as the original keycap on the keyboard did. Razer stated that the kit with the coiled cable isn’t intended for 65% keyboards, like ours, as evident with the lack of function key markers. That said, the keys fit and functionality isn’t impacted. The Phantom kits would be a more suitable upgrade in this case.

Razer keycap upgrade kit for the number row.

Given how great of a job Razer had done with the keycap upgrade, I do hope the company eventually branches out from its gaming roots and into adjacent segments with a similar upgrade kit for creators. A keycap upgrade set for Adobe shortcuts for Photoshop and for Premiere would be wonderful to have for photo or video editing.

If you opt for the Keycap Upgrade kit with the coiled cable, it’s worth noting that the cable inside is a USB-C to USB-A. The USB-C end connects directly to the keyboard, while the USB-A end hooks up to your laptop or PC. I do wish Razer would offer a future-proof solution and deliver a kit with a USB-C to USB-C coiled cable as an option.

Razer ergonomic wrist rest.

In addition to the keycap kits, Razer also launched its ergonomic wrist rests that fit a number of its keyboards. The wrist rests are wrapped in a supple leatherette material and come with memory foam padding for comfort, and, in use, I like the way that the leatherette feels — it doesn’t get as warm compared to leather, so your wrist doesn’t get sweaty after prolonged use. The memory foam padding could be a bit thicker, but the overall experience with the wrist rest is very comfortable.

The wrist rest costs $19 and is available in different sizes to fit mini, tenkeyless, and full-sized keyboards. Razer also sells an upgraded full-sized wrist rest with heat transfer fabric for $34. That model comes with cooling gel-infused memory foam to keep your wrists cool during long gaming sessions.

Editors’ Choice




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Computing

MacOS Monterey Public Beta Hands-On: Apple’s Ecosystem Grows

Last year’s update to Apple’s Mac operating system, MacOS Big Sur, was the largest and most significant refresh in years. This year’s iteration, dubbed MacOS Monterey by Apple’s “crack marketing team,” is more of a point-five update compared to 2020’s behemoth. That’s not to say it is a dull, pedestrian affair, but it is more refinement than revolution despite Apple opting for the MacOS 12 nomenclature rather than MacOS 11.1.

So, what can you expect when you get your hands on it in the fall (or right now if you signed up for the public beta)? Well, expect a lot of bugs for one thing. Apple released the public beta just a few days after only the second developer beta came out. That’s a quick turnaround, and it shows, with some features looking a little creaky right now.

But beyond that, is MacOS Monterey actually any good? And how do the new features work in practice? We took the new public beta for a spin to see what it had to offer.

A familiar design

Safari’s tab bar gets a redesign, and it now takes on the colors of the active tab.

MacOS Big Sur was a complete overhaul of the Mac operating system’s visual style, with new-look buttons, sidebars, menus, and much more. It was a huge improvement and helped bring MacOS kicking and screaming into the modern design era.

Don’t expect that level of makeover in MacOS Monterey — this year’s iteration is far more restrained in what it changes. There are some tweaks here and there, though. Notifications in particular have been spruced up, with user profile shots and larger app icons now showing next to the alert text.

One of the largest visual revamps comes to Safari. Here, almost everything has been streamlined to fit Apple’s minimalist aesthetic, resulting in a stripped-down top bar that is a little confusing to navigate at first, although you do get used to it.

For starters, the URL bar and tab bar are now merged instead of being two separate rows sitting one above the other. If you have multiple tabs open, the active tab is now by far the longest. Click inside it, and you can start typing — this is where the search bar now hides. Websites in the active tab lend their colors to Safari’s entire top bar. It’s a nice touch of visual flair, and it seems pretty good at picking out an appropriate color.

If you’re like me and have an ever-expanding smorgasbord of tabs open at once, Safari’s Tab Groups come as something of a relief. It’s a feature already included in Google Chrome, but Apple’s take is slightly different. You can still group tabs together though and name each group to keep them organized. Opening a group shows only the tabs it contains, no others. Managing these groups is fiddly and confusing at the moment, and it’s very easy to accidentally delete a tab group or struggle to find the command you need. But it’s a start.

Continuity gets serious

Quick Note in Apple's MacOS Monterey public beta.
Adding Quick Note to a Hot Corner means it’s always available with a swift swipe.

One of the main themes of MacOS Monterey is an emphasis on cross-platform integration. A standout feature from the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) reveal of Monterey was Universal Control, a system that lets you seamlessly move between an iPad and a Mac (or two), controlling each device with the same mouse and keyboard. It looked like a piece of Apple magic in the WWDC demo, but how does it work in reality?

Well, unfortunately we cannot yet answer that question. At the time of writing, Universal Control had been absent from both the developer and public betas of MacOS Monterey. We will update this article as soon as Universal Control becomes available and we have a chance to test it, but for now we are going to have to hang tight on this one.

Another feature making its debut on the Mac in Monterey is AirPlay to Mac, but unlike Universal Control, this is actually available to test. Using your Mac as an AirPlay destination has been a long, long, long time coming, but now that it’s finally here, we can say the wait has been worth it.

AirPlay thrives on larger screens. Apple users have been able to send video to an Apple TV for years, using an iPhone or iPad as a remote, but the Mac has been strangely exempt. Now that it is enabled, you can enjoy content from your phone — like videos captured with an iPhone — on the big screen. It works just as AirPlay normally does: Open a video, tap Share, then the AirPlay button, then select your Mac as the output. It’s a small change to MacOS, but a significant one.

Notes also gets a dose of cross-system goodness, although this is focused more on collaboration than with making it work across your devices. You can now mention colleagues and see their edits in shared notes, and notes can be categorized with tags to aid organization. Small steps, but they add up.

As well as that, the Quick Note feature that Apple showed off on iPadOS 15 also comes to MacOS Monterey. You can select any image or text on a web page, for instance, right-click it, and add it to a Quick Note. Next time you’re on the web page, a tiny thumbnail of the Quick Note appears in the bottom-right of your screen, letting you see whatever you noted down before.

My favorite thing about Quick Note is its integration with Hot Corners. These are shortcuts that can be triggered by moving your mouse pointer to one corner of your screen. I set the bottom-right Hot Corner to launch Quick Note, and now creating a new note is just a short swipe away. As great as that is, though, like many of the new features in Monterey, it’s useful without being earth-shaking.

Share and share alike

Apple News and Shared With You in Apple's MacOS Monterey public beta.
Shared news articles show the name of the person who sent it to you at the top.

Shared content and experiences figured prominently in Apple’s WWDC show, and there are plenty of new things here in MacOS Monterey. Unfortunately, not everything worked as planned at the time of writing and will presumably be fixed or updated in upcoming beta releases.

Here’s an example. Apple has always promoted the interconnectedness of its ecosystem, and it’s trying to do so again in MacOS Monterey with things like Shared With You. This highlights items that have been sent to you in Messages and then surfaces them in relevant apps. For instance, news stories sent to you via Messages will appear in the News app.

At least, that’s the theory. When we tried it, many apps did not have functioning Shared With You sections — not that we could find, anyway. The News app has a dedicated Shared With You area in the sidebar, but in apps like Photos and Podcasts it is nowhere to be found.

Apple News and Shared With You in Apple's MacOS Monterey public beta.
The organization of Shared With You articles in News is clunky, but it works.

When it does work, Shared With You is a handy way of collating everything that has come your way, similar to how Messages gathers together all the photos, links, and files from your contacts. Shared With You is a little more basic because each app it works in only collects files that it can play or open rather than everything. But as with Quick Note, it is a welcome, if minor, addition to MacOS.

The other major sharing update in Monterey is SharePlay. The idea behind this is that you can share your screen (or the content you are watching on your screen) with other people during a FaceTime call. In a pandemic world where being together is difficult, it is not hard to see Apple’s motivation. This is one of the few features that has been newly added to the public beta, so we’ll update this post once we’ve had more time with the latest version.

It’s not the only new tool in FaceTime. You can now add a Portrait Mode filter to blur the background, although the quality depends on your camera, and it’s a little hit and miss around the edges of your outline.

As with so much else in this beta, though, lots of things aren’t quite ready. You can send invite links for FaceTime calls (finally!), but joining a call displays everyone in a square, and you can’t change your own camera to be landscape or portrait. In a call made without a link, it’s the opposite, and the grid view doesn’t work. Microphone modes like Voice Isolation and Wide Spectrum aren’t available at all.

Mapping the future

Apple Maps in Apple's MacOS Monterey public beta.
Apple Maps now has better traffic information, including more detailed hazard warnings.

Shortcuts is one of the most powerful native apps on iOS, as it lets you create automated sets of actions that perform complex tasks with a simple trigger. Now, it’s on the Mac, and it’s actually better suited to this platform than the iPhone.

That’s because, like on the iPad, the Mac version has a right-hand sidebar that lets you drag and drop actions into place, creating a visual flowchart that is simple to follow. For many people, the Mac is also where they are likely to perform the most complex tasks, making Shortcuts on MacOS a powerful addition to their arsenal, if one that is also long overdue.

Elsewhere, Apple Maps gets a more detailed look and a slate of new features. Major cities are more detailed, with rich 3D models of major attractions and buildings (except … lots are invisible, at least when we tried them out), there’s a new globe view of the whole Earth, and public transit directions are more helpful and informative. Driving maps give more info on hazards and traffic conditions, too. Maps now also lets you set a time to leave or arrive on a car journey, not just on public transport. That feature’s arrival is years behind Google Maps, sure, but it’s here on the Mac at last.

Apple Maps in Apple's MacOS Monterey public beta.
Want to see Apple Park in 3D? Well you can’t, because at the moment it’s invisible in Apple Maps.

And if everything gets a bit too overwhelming, there’s a new tool called Focus that aims to cut out the barrage of notifications and distractions by only allowing certain people or apps to buzz you. What is interesting is that it allows you to set different Focus modes, each with different rules for different scenarios. For instance, Focus loads up with Do Not Disturb, Driving, and Sleep modes. The latter integrates with the sleep schedule you set in the iOS Health app, for example.

Adding your own is simple. The Automation section is where you set how the Focus mode is activated: At a set time or when you arrive at a specific location. So, you could set a location-based automation that activates when you arrive at the gym, letting you concentrate on pumping iron without distraction. There’s also an app-based automation, but it’s not clear if this refers to apps that will trigger Focus mode or apps that are allowed through. We’d bet on the former seeing as blocked apps are already covered in Apple’s Screen Time tool, but Apple has not made it very clear.

As with so much in the MacOS Monterey beta, there is a lot of potential in something like Focus, but it’s not quite ready for prime time. We will keep testing everything in the MacOS Monterey public beta and will add to this article as Apple updates the beta going forward.

Editors’ Choice




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Game

Sable Hands-On: A Vast, Striking Desert Worth Exploring

If I had to describe Sable with one phrase, I’d pick “golden hour.” The game feels like that time between evening and night where the world is on fire, lit by the setting sun. The colorful new perspectives that come from its day/night system and its incredibly unique visual style make the entire world feel new every time the sun rises.

Sable positively teems with its own personality, constantly beckoning you toward something fresh in a world you want to explore. Developed by Shedworks and published by Raw Fury, Sable is one of eight unique titles featured at the first-ever Tribeca Games event at the Tribeca Film Festival. In my hour-long hands-on demo with the game, I learned quite a bit about what makes this unique exploration game tick.

A classic tale

Sable is, first and foremost, a coming-of-age story. After a short loading sequence, I stepped into the shoes of titular character Sable and was tasked with guiding her back to the nearby camp of the Ibex clan. Soon after arriving, I learned that Sable is about to embark on her first Gliding, an event that involves traversing her home planet’s environment on a fast, smooth-riding hoverbike. The Gliding is considered a necessary adventure for people her age and many other clan members talked about their own experiences with it.

Throughout this process, which involved simple dialogue choices and a little bit of exploration throughout the Ibex camp, I witnessed the game’s striking visual style first-hand. The flat, low-poly shading style contrasts sharply with the thin black lines that define most people and structures; when the sun rises or sets on the game’s desert world, everything moves into shade and changes color dramatically. It’s quite beautiful, if a little busy sometimes.

As I began exploring around the camp in an attempt to receive a goddess-borne blessing and find parts to build my own Gliding bike, it struck me just how peaceful everything was. There are no enemies or battles, just quest objectives and conversations. It felt like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild without enemies or Minecraft on Peaceful mode. When the focus on combat is removed, the environment and exploration become characters just as much as Sable and her clanmates. While making my way through this environment was a bit of a chore, particularly before I had access to a bike — the Breath of the Wild-like stamina system depletes too quickly, and Sable’s running speed is extremely slow — the world’s mix of nomadic clan life and technology made me want to see more.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to run for long. Hoverbikes are Sable’s main mode of transportation, and I got to ride one about 10 minutes into my demo. Movement was sharp and responsive side to side, and the bike’s sidle ability makes it easy to steer around the canyons and tall rocks of the Ibex camp, but it lacked the sort of forward speed that I expected. (Maybe it’s because the bike I was given was a bit of an old clunker.) After receiving the bike, I completed a few quests with it, solving simple puzzles to find the pieces for my own new bike.

What’s old is new

One of Sable’s main themes seems to be finding new ways to use old things. In a similar way, I can see that pieces of influence from other mediums have been sewn together to make something entirely new. The quest and navigation systems very much reminded me of Breath of the Wild, while the dialogue choices and narrative tone are more reminiscent of mythology and old stories. Over the course of the demo, I found myself becoming very interested in Sable’s machines-and-gods ideology — the beginning of the game implies that there are plenty of mysteries and secrets for an enterprising player to uncover.

The game is also full of small touches that make a big difference. There’s no fall damage and no penalty for clipping a canyon wall with your bike (which I did more than once). The gentle soundtrack varies based on your location and activity. It all adds to the game’s serene, almost dreamy atmosphere.

Sable watches the sunset from a perch.

That being said, I did have a few issues during my time in the Ibexii camp. Mantling and climbing objects can be cumbersome, especially if they’re high off the ground. Poor Sable got stuck inside of rocks once or twice. While the demo’s activities were diverse — collecting hoverbike parts, capturing beetles for a fellow camp resident, and so on — I felt as though the game was deliberately stretching out the experience through unnecessary quests.

One of the first items I received in the game was a compass, which functions as your quest marker hub. The compass is later upgraded with a navigator feature, which allowed me to place my own waypoints in addition to those the game provided. While I liked the idea, placing your own waypoints is annoying, thanks to an unwieldy selection system. I’d rather just write down landmarks that I need to visit — or better yet, just have the game give me waypoints.

More to explore

My demo, which lasted a little over an hour, ended just as I constructed the bike that Sable will use for her Gliding. With the help of Sizo, a Machinist who specializes in working with the parts found all over the game’s world, Sable built her bike and listened for it to tell her its name, a sacred act that connects man and machine. (I won’t spoil the name here.) A dramatic zoom-out and more of the game’s beautiful music accompanied my journey back to the title screen.

Sable certainly looks and moves like nothing else out there. The game’s beautiful day/night system, intricate details, and hybrid natural-mechanical environment draw you in and make you want to see more, as does its unique narrative. If some of the smaller kinks can be ironed out, Sable will be an exploration that shouldn’t be missed.

Sable launches on September 23 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One/Series S/X. A demo is available now on Xbox and Steam.

Editors’ Choice




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Game

Kena: Bridge of Spirits Hands-On and Pikmin-Like Creatures

While Microsoft and Nintendo have dominated the gaming news cycle thanks to strong E3 showings, PlayStation owners still have a lot to look forward to in 2021. Deathloop is poised to be the PS5’s next killer app, Horizon Forbidden West looks stunning, and Solar Ash seems like an indie classic in the making. But the biggest game to watch this summer might just be Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

The indie title, the debut game from Ember Lab, is a colorful action-adventure game that combines whimsical creatures and surprisingly challenging combat. Sony has heavily spotlighted the game during its State of Play events recently, and it’s easy to see why while taking in its gorgeous world.

I recently went hands-on with the game as part of this year’s Tribeca Fest. Based on a one-hour demo, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a promising experience that combines the kind of storytelling one would expect from an animated film with some surprisingly delightful gameplay mechanics.

Fighting back

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a pretty standard action-adventure title. Players control Kena, a young spirit guide who helps the deceased pass over to the other side. It’s a third-person game that involves solving environmental puzzles, traversing lush locations, and fighting enemies with a magical staff.

The chunk that I got to play threw me right into the thick of things. Kena was deep in a colorful, jungle-like area. She finds a mask, which points her in the direction of a mountain. From there, I was trotting around the environment, looking for a path while stumbling on little secrets along the way.

Combat started simple enough but quickly started getting more complex through the hour. At first, my toolset was pretty basic. I could smack enemies with a light or heavy hit, perform a dodge roll, and guard with a magical aura. It was surprisingly tough, too, which I didn’t expect considering the game’s delicate art style. I got absolutely destroyed in my first battle against basic enemies. Guarding and dodging aren’t optional here.

At one point, I leveled up by collecting enough secrets in the world, unlocking additional skills. That’s when combat really began to open up. I added a spin attack to my arsenal, and it seems like there are plenty more options the deeper the game goes.

Kena drwas back her bow in Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

Combat really starts to click once Kena receives a bow, adding long-range attacks to her arsenal. By the time I hit the demo’s big boss, I was shooting arrows at enemies and then rushing in for a few good staff thwacks, not unlike a big-budget game like Horizon Zero Dawn. That fluid mix of long-range and close-range combat gives Kena’s combat more depth than one might expect from a game of this scale.

Introducing the Rot

While many of its action-adventure elements are expected for the genre (like Uncharted-style climbing segments where Kena scales up cliffs), there’s one surprising mechanic that steals the show. Kena is aided by tiny creatures called Rot, which are kind of like the soot sprites from Spirited Away. They’re tiny black creatures that follow Kena around and can be controlled in a variety of ways.

Yes, Kena: Bridge of Spirits has an entire Pikmin-like system, and it’s a delight.

What makes the Rot work so well is that they have a purpose in both exploration and combat. While traveling around the world, players bump into different objects the Rot can interact with. Pressing Square sends them off to complete a task, like fixing a fox statue or recruiting another Rot. The level-up system seems to be based on how many Rot you’ve collected, so the game incentivizes players to explore and build up their squad.

There are little environmental puzzles to solve, too. At one point, my Rot picked up a big box. I commanded them to drop it next to a tall cliff so I could climb on top and reach the ledge. In another section, they turned into a roaming tidal wave that I could control with my staff. I could use them to attack some thorny plants in the area, clearing a secret path for me.

Their role in battles is even more intriguing. When a fight starts, the Rot get scared and scatter. The more enemies players defeat, the more courage they get to return. When a round meter fills up, players can hold R2 and then press Square to launch the Rot at an enemy. They’ll swarm around it, causing a distraction that lets players get some free hits in.

The protagonist and a creature in Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

The Rot have other uses, too. They can be launched at plants around the battlefield, which restores a player’s health. They’ll also need to be thrown at enemy spawning flora to destroy them. The meter needs to be refilled every time the Rot are used, so players have to think carefully about how they’re deployed in battle. Does it make more sense to put them on the attack or conserve some energy in case players find themselves low on health? That little layer of decision-making adds some extra brainpower to Kena’s more basic combat fundamentals.

That element alone was enough to hold my interest throughout my demo. I was delighted whenever I found a surprising new use for them. Kena herself might be the titular hero, but the Rot are the real stars of the show, and I’m excited to see what else my little pals can do.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits comes to PS4, PS5, and PC via the Epic Games Store on August 24.

Editors’ Choice




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Tech News

Mobvoi TicWatch E3 hands-on reveals next Snapdragon Wear 4100 smartwatch

Wear OS smartwatches are a dime a dozen but, unfortunately, most of them are running on rather old hardware. Majority of those, including ones launched just last year, are still using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 chipset that debuted way back in 2018. The chipmaker does have one updated wearable platform but so far only Mobvoi has been using it in the TicWatch Pro 3. Now it seems that it will have a companion and Mobvoi is once again taking the lead with the TicWatch E3.

Running on the latest smartwatch chipset isn’t just about getting the latest and greatest. It also means, for example, better performance and better power efficiency, two very critical elements for a small device. It may also determine whether or not the smartwatch will be receiving a much-anticipated Wear OS upgrade later this year but a lot of that is still based on speculation.

In the meantime, however, Mobvoi seems to be preparing to launch the world’s second Snapdragon Wear 4100 smartwatch. From a brief hands-on shared by Russian Instagram user andrey_koftun, the TicWatch E3 looks a lot like the TicWatch Pro 3 despite its namesake. That can be clearly seen in the two side buttons and the lack of a rotating crown.

In terms of specs, the packaging confirms the Snapdragon Wear 4100 processor, a 2.5D display that isn’t OLED according to the source, IP68 rating, and VO2 Max tracking, among others. The charging cable is also reminiscent of the TicWatch Pro 3 which magnetically attaches to the back of the smartwatch. And, yes, it also runs Wear OS.

Given its “E” branding, the TicWatch E3 is likely to stand lower than the TicWatch Pro 3 on the pricing front. Mobvoi does have an event scheduled on June 16 where it might unveil the smartwatch. Hopefully, it will also have some news on whether it and the TicWatch Pro 3 are eligible to get the “Wear OS 3.0” update later this year, something very few smartwatch makers have committed to yet.



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Tech News

Surface Neo hands-on video shows a prototype without screens

Partly due to the pandemic and perhaps partly due to some behind-the-scenes management problems, what would have been Microsoft’s leap forward into the future of computing became an uneasy half step instead. The Surface Duo, while admirable, received mixed reviews due to software issues and design problems. Its larger Windows 10X counterpart, however, may have more or less been canceled by now. Microsoft has yet to officially admit that the Surface Neo has been scrapped but, at least for now, we can dream of what could have been thanks to this hands-on video of a nearly naked prototype.

The Surface Duo and Surface Neo shared some basic traits but that was a1156 sfar as it goes. Despite both sporting what Microsoft labels as “dual-screen foldable” designs, not only was the Surface Neo larger, it was also meant to run a new Windows 10X variant made exactly for this kind of device. As Windows 10X itself morphed into something totally different designed for laptops instead, the Surface Neo got pushed further and further into the background.

No word was heard about it recently aside from Panos Panay’s assurances last year that the device has merely been delayed, not canceled. Even insiders have fallen silent on any progress on that front. Now thanks to hardware hacker Calyx Hikari, we’re getting a glimpse of what the Surface Neo looks like, at least from the inside.

The hands-on video shows the Surface Neo’s internal design and components, which pretty much look like an enlarged Surface Duo. There is the same dual-battery design, for example, but curiously no sign of a fingerprint scanner. There are no screens either, so we can’t really see the device in action.

The appearance of this prototype, whether it’s the real deal or not, maybe a bit poignant for those who have been waiting for a dual-screen Windows device to finally hit the market. Those will have to look outside of Microsoft for that, though, considering the Surface Neo seems to be fated to never see the light of day.

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