Team Group is a well-known Taiwanese hardware manufacturer with a long history of catering to the needs of enthusiasts and gamers from all over the globe. Their lineup includes DRAM memory and solid-state drives, and they also offer various memory cards and USB thumb drives.
Today, we are reviewing the Team Group T-Force Treasure Touch portable SSD, which includes and adjustable RGB element that can be controller via a “touch” interface—as the product name suggests. A colored RGB lighting strip runs along one edge of the drive and lights up in various colors and combos, you can control. Under the hood, we found a fully-fledged SATA SSD, using a Silicon Motion SM2258H controller, paired with Samsung 64-layer TLC flash, and a DRAM cache chip from Hynix. In terms of connectivity, the T-Force Treasure Touch uses a USB-C interface, supporting the USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface, aka USB 3.1 Gen 2 which supports speeds up to 10 Gbps.
We review the Team Group T-Force Treasure Touch in the 1 TB variant, which retails for $150, no other capacity is available, warranty is set to three years.
Google may be working on turning Android phones into a hivemind capable of finding lost devices, similar to Apple’s Find My network, according to analysis done by 9to5Google. A toggle for the feature showed up in a beta of Google Play Services, with code referencing the ability for phones to help locate other devices, potentially signaling that Android phones could soon become easier to find.
According to Google’s support page, the current Find My Device system can only find phones that are powered on, have a data or Wi-Fi signal, and have location services enabled. At this early stage, it’s unclear which, if any, of those limitations the relay network feature — apparently called Spot — would solve, but when you’re looking for a lost phone any advantage is good to have.
Google has other projects that involve using a network of Android phones — notably, its earthquake detection feature. While the implementation is different, the underlying concept is likely very similar: there are more than 3 billion active Android devices, which is a large crowd to source information from, be it accelerometer data, or the location of a misplaced phone.
9to5Google did find a setting that would allow users to turn off the feature, making it so their phone wouldn’t help locate other devices. Given the limited information, it’s unclear whether the Find My Device network will be able to find things other than phones, like Apple’s Find My network or Samsung’s Galaxy Find network are capable of doing. And of course, this being unpacked code from a Beta release, these changes may never see an actual public release.
Google did not immediately respond to request for comment about the prospective feature.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators proposed on Thursday a 25% tax credit for investments in chip production in the country. The proposal is an addition to the $52 billion semiconductor industry funding plan approved by U.S. legislators last week, showing a large push to boost support for domestic chipmakers.
The Facilitating American-Build Semiconductors (FABS) Act proposes a 25% investment tax credit for investments in semiconductor manufacturing facilities and in production of fab tools.
Currently, only 12% of global chip output is made in the U.S., down from 37% in 1990. Meanwhile, the vast majority of chips are designed in the U.S. Bringing at least some of the chip production back to the U.S. could create tens of thousands of well-paid jobs.
However, building semiconductor production facilities is expensive. A state-of-the-art fab tends to cost well over $10 billion, so companies like Intel or TSMC usually receive significant incentives from governments to build fabs in Israel, Ireland and Taiwan. By contrast, the U.S. government (unlike state governments) has been reluctant to provide substantial compensations, until now.
“As much as 70% of the cost difference for producing semiconductors overseas is driven by foreign subsidies, rather than comparative advantages,” U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), one of the senators who proposed the act, said in a statement.
There are a number of companies from the U.S. that have developed chips in the country and sell them to local clients, including Intel and Micron, that will welcome the tax incentives. In fact, foreign companies, like TSMC and Samsung Foundry, which are on track to build advanced fabs in the U.S. in the next couple of years, would also benefit from the act. Furthermore, fab tool producers, like Applied Materials and LAM Research, would also take advantage of tax credits.
“Our bill would provide a significant investment tax credit to companies that build chips here at home, rather than overseas,” U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said. “The United States can’t allow foreign governments to continue to lure companies’ manufacturing overseas, increasing risks to our economy and costing American workers good-paying jobs.”
The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) and SEMI have applauded the proposed law.
Increasing chip production in the U.S. clearly has its potential benefits, but virtually all U.S.-based semiconductor companies assembly and test their products in South East Asia. As a result, even with some chip manufacturing moving to the U.S., the industry will continue to rely on Asian chip packaging and testing facilities.
The FABS Act is co-proposed by Crapo, Ryden and U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mark Warner (D-Virginia), Steve Daines (R-Montana) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan).
It might be aimed primarily at creative types, but the new iPad Pro 12.9 is also the best tablet there’s ever been if portable cinema is your thing
Stunning picture quality
Great sound with headphones
Expensive for a tablet
At this stage, each new iPad feels like an incremental improvement on the one before it. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – in practical terms, Apple is almost unchallenged in the tablet arena, so a nip and tuck is generally all that’s required, but it’s not exactly exciting.
That’s where the new iPad Pro 12.9 comes in. Despite being aesthetically similar to its predecessor, this is a big step forward for tablets.
The headline-grabber is the new, high-end laptop-derived processor, but the new mini LED-lit display is the real game-changer as far as we’re concerned. Ever wanted an OLED or QLED TV that you could fit in a backpack? The new iPad Pro 12.9 is that – and plenty more.
The new iPad Pro 12.9 starts at £999 ($1099, AU$1649) for the 128GB wi-fi-only model. There are lots of storage options available, all the way up to a £1999 ($2199, AU$3299) 2TB version. Adding cellular functionality to any model adds £150 ($200, AU$250).
The smaller iPad Pro 11 starts at £749 ($799, AU$1199) but, as well as being 1.9 inches smaller, the screen uses different underlying technology, so picture performance won’t be the same.
There’s little difference between the physical design of the new iPad Pro 12.9 and its predecessor. In fact, other than the new model being 0.5mm thicker, the dimensions of the two models are identical.
It is a large tablet, as you’d expect of a device with a 12.9in screen, measuring 28 x 21 x 0.6cm (11 x 8.5 x 0.3 inches) in total. You have to be committed to the cinematic (or productivity) potential of the big display to opt for such a large device.
Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) tech specs
Screen size 12.9in
Resolution 2732 x 2048 (264ppi)
Storage 128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB
Battery life 10 hours
Cameras 12MP + 10MP ultra wide on rear / 12MP front
Dimensions (hwd) 28 x 21 x 0.6cm
Unlike the iPad Air, which is available in a number of subtle metallic hues, the iPad Pro 12.9 comes only in Space Grey or Silver. More variation would be nice, but both finishes are lovely and the new Pro both looks and feels utterly premium.
On the otherwise flat rear is a protruding camera array that will rest directly on a surface when the iPad is laid down. It’s designed to resist damage from such placement, but a case that physically raises the lenses will be a first add-on for many.
The top and bottom edges of the tablet each have two sets of speaker perforations so you’re listening in stereo when the iPad is oriented horizontally. Also along the edges are physical power and volume buttons, plus a USB-C socket that supports the much faster Thunderbolt standard, opening up the opportunity to connect higher-end storage devices and monitors.
The front is all glass, but there’s a 9mm black border between the display and the tablet’s edge. Embedded into this border is a new front-facing camera that can follow you around in the style of Facebook Portal. This is a great feature for FaceTime calls but the positioning of the camera on one of the shorter edges means you’re awkwardly off-centre when video calling in landscape mode.
Positioning aside, that front-facing camera is excellent in terms of image quality, thanks to a 12MP resolution and ultra-wide field of view. The rear camera array is solid, too, boasting a main 12MP wide camera, 10MP ultra-wide camera and a true tone flash.
If you’re the sort of person who’s considering buying a new iPad Pro, you may already have a top-end iPhone with an even better camera, but the iPad takes perfectly good photos and videos (the latter in up to 4K at 60fps) in its own right. It’s also of a high enough quality to enable lots of interesting and useful app-based features, such as document scanning and augmented reality experiences.
Apple positions its iPad Pro models as productivity and creativity devices, and the new M1 chip takes this to the next level. This is the same chip that Apple has just started putting in its MacBooks and has shaken up the laptop market thanks to its vast performance upgrade over previous processors.
Apple claims that it makes the new iPad Pro’s CPU performance 50 per cent faster than that of the already lightning-fast previous version, and GPU speed is up by 40 per cent. Frankly, that sort of power is overkill for those of us primarily interested in watching movies and listening to music but, needless to say, it makes the user experience smoother than Cristiano Ronaldo’s chest.
If you are looking to use the new iPad Pro for creating as well as consuming, you might want to consider combining it with the Apple Pencil (2nd Generation), which wirelessly charges when magnetically connected to the tablet’s edge, and/or the new Magic Keyboard, which essentially turns the iPad into a slick laptop, trackpad and all. Both accessories are expensive, though. In fact, adding the £329 ($349, AU$549) Magic Keyboard to the most affordable version of the iPad Pro 12.9 makes it more expensive than buying an M1-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro.
While content creators might be most excited about the new iPad Pro’s M1 power, we content consumers will be far more excited about the 12.9-inch model’s new screen. Apple calls it a Liquid Retina XDR display, with the ‘XDR’ standing for ‘eXtreme Dynamic Range’. This is the first mini-LED backlight in an iPad. There are 10,000 of the things, arranged into 2500 independent dimming zones – Samsung’s top mini LED-based 4K TV for 2021 (the QN95A) is thought to have around 800 dimming zones, so the iPad’s figure looks incredibly impressive.
The more dimming zones a display has, the more exact and precise it can be in terms of contrast, producing deep blacks next to bright highlights. Apple claims the iPad Pro 12.9 can maintain a full-screen brightness of up to 1000 nits and hit peaks of up to 1600 nits, which is around double the peak brightness of a modern OLED TV. Contrast ratio is claimed to be 1,000,000:1.
Those screen specs should make the iPad Pro 12.9 a great performer with HDR content – and they do. It’s not so much that it goes vastly brighter than other iPad models, such as the iPad Air, it’s that it combines bright highlights with awesomely deep blacks to create a vastly more dynamic and exciting picture.
We play Blade Runner 2049 in Dolby Vision from the iTunes store and set both models to their highest brightness setting. The Pro’s peaks are noticeably brighter than the Air’s but not vastly so. However, to reach those levels the Air has had to entirely sacrifice its black performance, producing something clearly grey in hue. There’s no such sacrifice necessary with the Pro – its blacks are near-perfect.
That combination of deep blacks and very bright highlights makes for a supremely punchy image, particularly in the scenes around LA, which feature neon lights and holographic adverts lighting the city’s grimy gloom.
Thankfully, Apple hasn’t thrown away its reputation for colour authenticity while reaching for new heights in contrast. On the contrary, Apple claims that every iPad is calibrated for colour, brightness, gamma and white point before it leaves the factory, and it shows – there’s great consistency across iPad models, all of which come across as extremely authentically balanced. It’s the same with the new Pro.
There’s a little more vibrancy afforded by the greater dynamic range, seen in the yellow porch of Sapper Morton’s farm, for example, but there’s no hint of garishness or exaggeration. As we switch between films and TV shows from various streaming services and in various resolutions and formats (HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision are all supported), colours combine vividness and nuanced authenticity to an exceptional degree. Everything looks awesome, but it also looks correct.
Apple increases and decreases the resolution of its iPads depending on the size of the screen, so that pixel density is kept the same (all current models have 264 pixels per inch with the exception of the iPad Mini, which has a higher pixel density of 326ppi). As a result, the new iPad Pro 12.9 isn’t vastly sharper or more detailed than siblings such as the Air (although it does dig up more fine details in the brightest and darkest parts of the picture), but the deeper blacks help reinforce edges, making for a more solid and three-dimensional image.
That solidity is retained even during fast and otherwise tricky motion. The iPad Pro maintains a firm grip on the action at all times, sharpening and smoothing without adding any artificiality or shimmer. It doesn’t even get confused by K’s car moving behind a row of skyscrapers as he flies back to HQ at the beginning of Blade Runner 2049, or by the dogfighting planes in 1917. If this was a TV, in terms of motion handling it would be right up there with the superb Sony A90J.
In fact, that’s the underlying beauty of the new iPad Pro 12.9: it’s like having a miniaturised top-end TV you can take almost anywhere.
With two speakers on each of the short edges, the iPad Pro is capable of producing proper stereo when in landscape orientation and, with some clever onboard processing, it’s even able to deliver some virtualised surround sound, with some of the radio chatter at the start of Gravity appearing to come to your left and right rather than being completely tethered to the drivers.
That effect is ramped up to astonishing degrees if you add a pair of AirPods Max or AirPods Pro headphones and take advantage of the spatial audio feature. It’s incredibly effective, particularly with the Max cans, and is like being in a personal Dolby Atmos cinema, with sounds coming from all around you. If the iPad Pro 12.9 is like having a top-end TV you can take anywhere, adding a pair of AirPods Max makes it like having a whole portable cinema. It’s genuinely amazing.
Of course, the tablet will also output sound to any standard wired and Bluetooth headphones, although you will need to buy a USB-C headphone adapter for the former. As with its approach to video, Apple has always favoured authentic, uncoloured sound, and so it proves here – movies and music are both presented with deft tonal balance, impressive rhythmic organisation, lots of engaging punch and detail, and dynamic shifts both big and small.
While it’s not a vast step up from the current Air in terms of its audio quality through headphones, the new iPad Pro does sound noticeably cleaner and more nuanced than its smaller, much more affordable sibling. It has added richness and dynamic subtlety, too. Play both out loud, meanwhile, and there’s a clear increase in available volume and weight from the Pro, although both models are fairly bass light, as you’d expect from drivers small enough to fit inside a tablet device.
Apple’s Pro tablets have, as the name suggests, always been aimed at professional, creative types, and they will be delighted by the huge power brought to the new models by the M1 chip.
Our focus is on the picture and sound, though, and the iPad Pro 12.9 is at least as exciting here. The picture performance is superb – punchy and deep, vibrant and natural, exciting and nuanced. It’s right up there with that of the very best TVs you can buy. Sound, meanwhile, is great from the speakers, excellent via standard Bluetooth or wired headphones, and simply amazing with a pair of AirPods Max cans.
This is a hugely expensive tablet and the price is hard to justify for anyone who has no intention of taking advantage of its productivity potential, but it’s also the best tablet you can buy for watching movies on the move. Sure, this is a luxury device, but it’s an extremely persuasive one.
(Pocket-lint) – Sonos is not one for racing new products out for the sake of it. Its Playbar, for example, ruled the roost for seven years, being its only full-fledged soundbar in that time.
The Sonos Beam arrived in the meantime, but was more meant for smaller TVs and rooms, giving you a better alternative than the speakers on your flatscreen rather than cinematic experience. So, a replacement to the Playbar was long overdue.
That’s where the Sonos Arc came in. But it didn’t just replace the Playbar, it brought so many new bells and whistles to the party that it is an altogether different beast. One with Dolby Atmos – a first for the company – to deliver a virtual surround-sound experience from the single ‘bar.
Dimensions: 87 x 1141.7 x 115.7mm / Weight: 6.25kg
Can be wall-mounted or laid on a TV cabinet
Black and white options available
Adjustable status LED
Putting its tech and audio prowess to one side for a minute, the Sonos Arc is a sleek looking soundbar that matches the aesthetic of the company’s One and Move standalones.
Best soundbar: Options to boost your TV audio
It is long – almost the length of a modern 55-inch flatscreen TV – but more subtle than its predecessor, with a plastic alloy build and grille to front and sides. Even the logo fades away when you’re not staring directly at it, whichever finish you choose (there’s black or white, nothing more outlandish than that).
We particularly like that there are no contrasting flourishes in the design, as there’s nothing worse than catching a soundbar out of the corner of your eye while watching an intense moment in a film. Unlike children, speaker systems – and especially soundbars – should be heard and not seen. The subtlety of Sonos’ bar ensures that is the case, whether it’s wall-mounted or laid flat on a TV stand.
There are a few touch buttons on the top for play/pause and volume adjustment, but the Sonos app is so simple to use we couldn’t see ourselves bothering with them. Plus, as it is HDMI eARC-enabled, you can mainly control the soundbar through your TV remote for general use.
What is HDMI eARC? Why is it different to HDMI ARC?
The only other distinguishable icon on the bar itself is a microphone symbol, indicating that it is voice-enabled, with support for both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. You can tap it to turn on/off the listening mode – signified by a small LED light.
Ethernet (10/100 Mbps) and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g, 2.4GHz)
HDMI eARC (with optical digital audio adapter)
IR sensor on the front
Around the rear, hidden in an alcove, there are connections for power, HDMI and Ethernet. That’s it.
Those not wanting to connect the Arc through HDMI will be pleased to know that a digital optical audio adapter is included in the box, but that will effectively disable any Dolby Atmos support, as that requires hooking it up to an HDMI eARC/ARC port on a compatible TV. You’ll still get very effective multichannel surround sound, just not Atmos.
Also missing (if setup using the optical connection) will be the ability for full automation through your TV’s remote control. There is an infrared (IR) sensor, so you can set your remote to also adjust volume, but that’s a less elegant solution than using HDMI CEC (standing for Consumer Electronics Control) between TV and Arc. It also emits automated audio sync between them.
Still, if it’s all you’ve got then that’s fine – you’re still getting a superb sound system and are future-proofed to boot.
Plus, while there are plenty of TVs with at least one ARC-enabled HDMI port, only more recent models support Dolby Atmos decoding or passthrough. Even fewer support the full HDMI eARC standard, so it’s possible you might consider the soundbar with an eye on upgrading your TV somewhere down the line.
As well as 10/100 Mbps Ethernet for wired network connection, single-band (2.4GHz) Wi-Fi is available too.
Dolby Atmos support (through HDMI eARC/ARC)
Built-in Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice assistants
Runs on new Sonos S2 software
Apple AirPlay 2 support
Sonos multiroom compatible
As well as Dolby Atmos – which we’ll come to in a bit – the Sonos Arc is quite a step up over the Playbar when it comes to features.
Support for Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant is wholly welcome, for starters, implementing in similar fashion to Sonos One and Move.
The Arc has a four far-field microphone array built in that detects voice from a fair distance. We walked around a decent sized living room, even stepped outside for a moment, and it could still hear and recognise our voice.
Both services are setup through the Sonos app and, subsequently, their own individual applications on iOS and Android, so once complete act almost exactly as they would on any other supported device.
You can only use one assistant, having to disable the other if you swap, but it’s great to be given the choice. And, depending on Amazon and Google’s compatibility, it means you can play and control music by vocal command, across streaming services, and your own digital library.
You can also technically use your Arc to control your TV, if it too is Alexa and/or Google Assistant-enabled.
Apple AirPlay 2 is also supported by the soundbar, to present the cleanest possible audio sent wirelessly from an iPhone, iPad or Mac. And, Sonos’ Trueplay audio tuning during setup ensures that the output matches your surroundings through very simple instructions.
What is Sonos Trueplay and how does it work?
Of course, the Arc’s biggest, most attractive feature is that it is a Sonos speaker.
Sonos has provided an integrated, connected multiroom solution for many years, and has refined the experience over time. Today it is compatible with all the big music streaming services, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, Tidal, and more. There is also Sonos Radio, the brand’s own free service with ad-supported stations and curated playlists, so even if you aren’t a member of a third-party platform, you will still have plenty to listen to.
As Sonos products also connect wirelessly to each other, through your home network, you can sync the same songs playing on your Arc to, say, a Sonos Five speaker in another room, for example. You can group multiple speakers together and have them all play the same music. It’s great for house parties, that’s for sure.
Alternatively, you can use the interoperability to hook up a couple of Sonos One speakers to work as rear speakers, using your Arc as the front, centre and height channels. And adding a Sub for extra bass is made as simple as possible.
A decent feature set is all well and good, but the most important aspect of a soundbar is the sound itself. And the Arc does not disappoint when it comes to spatial performance.
It effectively presents a virtual 5.0.2 soundfield with Atmos engaged, 5.0 when not. Dedicated centre, left and right channels provide the front-facing effects. Two other channels angled at either end of the bar provide virtual surround, while a pair of additional drivers point upwards to reflect Dolby Atmos height channels off the ceiling and back to the listening position.
There are eight woofers and three tweeters in all, each with its own Class-D digital amplifier, and when all are working in unison it presents a wall of sound that belies the simple, thin form factor.
We advise pairing the Arc with the Sonos Sub, as that will put extra growl into the bass, but we’re already impressed with the overall effect when it’s playing solo, including low frequencies.
As we’ve mentioned above, you can also add a pair of additional Sonos speakers for true rears/surrounds, but the reason why many invest in a soundbar is for its simplicity. Unless you are a true home cinema buff, you’ll already be impressed with the Arc’s out-of-the-box experience.
We tested the Arc using the latest Sonos software (Sonos S2) and several sources. We also used a Philips OLED754 TV, which has Dolby Atmos processing on board and passthrough – which we activated.
This allowed us to play a few Netflix shows that come with Atmos sound, plus several 4K Blu-rays: The Rise of Skywalker, John Wick 3 and Ready Player One. The second John Wick sequel is an especially good check disk for Dolby Atmos, with rain effects utilising the height channels throughout the first few scenes.
Perhaps the best test came via our Xbox One X. The Dolby Access app for the console (plus the One S) comes with a great collection of game and movie trailers featuring Atmos mixes, plus a few of Dolby’s own demo clips. They each gave the Sonos Arc a great workout, which it passed with flying colours. It provides a wall of sound, with clear precise spacing, even at extreme volumes.
When listening to the Arc you get an impression of audio above the seating position, plus a widening of the soundscape. But you also get a bold, cinematic presentation that seemingly comes straight from the TV screen. Having a dedicated centre also allows for clean vocal tracks.
In music terms, listening to high-res mixes of Price’s Purple Rain and The Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want streamed over Tidal perfectly illustrated the bar’s ability with mid and high frequencies. Even bass response is more than acceptable for music playback.
You are still likely to want a separate Sub to get the most from genres utilising sub-bass – d&b and dubset heads, that’s you – but even without that additional cost the Arc’s neutral tones are a great starting point for all genres.
The Sonos Arc is a highly-accomplished bit of kit. There are caveats: it only works with the Sonos S2 software, so cannot be part of the same multi-room setup as older legacy kit; and, without a separate source input on the bar, your TV needs to have Dolby Atmos and HDMI ARC/eARC support to use it at its fullest.
However, those are minor points really as, like the Playbar before it, this is a speaker with the potential to be relevant for the next seven years or more. Your surrounding kit will inevitably catch-up.
In the meantime, the Arc presents an exemplary sound experience even without Dolby Atmos – which accounts for 90 per cent or so of the audio you’ll pump through it anyway. And, with Alexa and Google Assistant built-in, plus AirPlay 2 and Sonos’ own feature-filled music platform, you have yourself a very compelling speaker system to elevate your entertainment no end.
It’s pricey, granted, but you’re getting a tough-to-rival feature set and a very classy act all told.
If you’re not bound to Sonos’ multi-room system idea, yet want a true surround sound system in the one box, Samsung delivers a 7.1.4 with ‘bar, sub, rear speakers and Dolby Atmos support out of the box. All for a very reasonable price considering.
Read our review
Writing by Rik Henderson. Editing by Britta O’Boyle.
The Dark Z FPS DDR4-4000 C16 is a great alternative for Zen 3 CPU owners who want a kit that’s faster than the sweet spot but don’t want to break the piggy bank.
+ Quick out of the box
+ RGB-less design
+ Room for overclocking
– Costs more than similarly-specced rivals
– No RGB (a letdown for some)
The Dark Z FPS DDR4-4000 memory kit comes to market to capitalize on the latest developments in the chip world. Like we see in other areas, continuous improvement is important in the processor world: If there weren’t any generational uplift, we’d have no reason to purchase the next best thing. It’s the job of memory makers to capitalize on those advancements and stay in step with the latest developments.
Zen 3, for example, brought a lot of interesting features to the table. One of its improvements is the ability to run faster memory without suffering performance penalties. It’s general knowledge that AMD’s Ryzen processors run the best with their Infinity Fabric Clock (FCLK) and memory clock (MEMCLK) in sync. As a result, DDR4-3800 was the practical ceiling for the majority of Zen 2 owners.
However, microarchitectural improvements have bumped the limit up to DDR4-4000 on Zen 3, allowing memory makers to put out kits that unlock another level of performance for Ryzen users. That’s where the Dark Z FPS kit steps in.
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The Dark Z FPS features the familiar wing-inspired design that TeamGroup is fond of. The aluminum heat spreader arrives in black with white lines that highlight the design. In fact, the Dark Z FPS is only available in the aforementioned color. The overall design is pretty clean, and TeamGroup’s logos are kept to a minimum.
The heat spreader’s extended wings give you the sensation that the memory is overly tall, but it’s not. Coming in at 43.5mm (1.71 inches), the Dark Z FPS is conveniently sized. The memory is devoid of RGB lighting, which is a rare sight nowadays. That might be a pro or con, depending on your taste.
The Dark Z FPS is a 16GB memory kit, so you’ll get two 8GB memory modules. Of course, these conform to a single-rank design. TeamGroup equipped the memory with an eight-layer PCB and the highest quality Samsung K4A8G085WB-BCPB (B-die) integrated circuits (ICs).
TeamGroup only offers the Dark Z FPS in the DDR4-4000 flavor. You’ll find the memory running at DDR4-2400 with 16-16-16-39 timings at stock operation. The primary timings for DDR4-4000 are 16-18-18-38. To run at DDR4-4000, the Dark Z FPS requires 1.45V. For more on timings and frequency considerations, see our PC Memory 101 feature, as well as our How to Shop for RAM story.
Thermaltake ToughRAM XG RGB
2 x 8GB
Thermaltake ToughRAM RGB
2 x 8GB
Predator Apollo RGB
2 x 8GB
GeIL Orion RGB AMD Edition
2 x 8GB
Patriot Viper 4 Blackout
2 x 8GB
TeamGroup T-Force Dark Z FPS
2 x 8GB
Klevv Cras XR
2 x 8GB
Thermaltake ToughRAM XG RGB
2 x 8GB
TeamGroup T-Force Xtreem ARGB
2 x 8GB
Our Intel test system is based on an Intel Core i9-10900K and Asus ROG Maximus XII Apex running the 0901 firmware. Our AMD testbed, on the other hand, leverages the AMD Ryzen 9 5900X with the Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Dark Hero that’s on the 3501 firmware. We use the MSI GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Gaming Trio for the gaming portion of our RAM benchmarks.
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The T-Force Dark Z FPS put up a strong showing on the Intel platform. The memory kit ranked third overall, but excelled in various workloads, including the Corona ray tracing benchmark, LuxMark, and HandBrake conversion benchmarks.
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The T-Force Dark Z FPS jumped up to the second position on the AMD platform, trailing only the brand’s own T-Force Xtreem ARGB DDR4-3600 C14 memory kit. Nonetheless, the Dark Z FPS still put up a strong showing in numerous benchmarks.
The Dark Z FPS’ gaming performance was consistent on both Intel and AMD platforms, outperforming the competition.
Overclocking and Latency Tuning
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We couldn’t get much overclocking headroom out of the Dark Z FPS without pumping lots of volts into the memory. Keeping the voltage increase at a moderate amount (0.05V), we pushed the memory to DDR4-4300 by loosening the timings from the default 16-18-18-38 to 17-17-17-37.
Lowest Stable Timings
Klevv Cras XR DDR4-4000 C19
TeamGroup T-Force Dark Z FPS DDR4-4000 C16
Knowing that the Dark Z FPS employs Samsung’s B-die ICs, we set out to see whether the memory’s timings could go lower. At 1.50V, the memory had no problem operating at 15-15-15-35.
When it comes to AMD’s desktop Ryzen processors, there’s no argument that DDR4-3600 offers the best performance for your money. Nonetheless, the Dark Z FPS DDR4-4000 C16 memory kit is a good place to start if you want to experiment with faster memory. As long as your Ryzen 5000 chip can run a 2,000 MHz FCLK, the Dark Z FPS DDR4-4000 C16 will offer you performance that’s pretty close to a DDR4-3600 C14 memory kit. You can easily decrease or eliminate the small margin by overclocking the Dark Z FPS down to C15, but as always, your overclocking mileage will vary.
TeamGroup priced the Dark Z FPS DDR4-4000 C16 well compared to other competing kits. The Dark Z FPS kit retails for $169.99, and it’s significantly cheaper than some of the flashier DDR4-4000 options with sloppier timings.
The RGB-less Dark Z FPS design also means that you don’t have to pay the RGB tax. There’s only one rival that will really give the Dark Z FPS a hard time — G.Skill’s Ripjaws V DDR4-4000 C16 memory kit that is $30 cheaper. Pricing fluctuates, though, so make sure to check your options before you hit the check-out lane.
It isn’t perfect, but the SP11RA is a refined, detailed and room-filling Dolby Atmos system
Large, well-spread soundscape
Comprehensive feature set
Detailed top end
Looks don’t match the price tag
Sub feels one dimensional
Lacks a little punch
It seems that LG can do no wrong when it comes to OLED TVs, but its soundbars have proven to be more of a mixed bag. The company is clearly determined to get things right with its 2021 flagship model, the LG SP11RA, despite the two-star bruising we gave its predecessor.
Like the previous model, the SP11RA is a serious investment in terms of both money and space. If your idea of a soundbar is affordable, compact convenience, you may be surprised by the price, size and number of boxes involved here. It’s still a more convenient and less overwhelming undertaking than building a true home cinema system, though, particularly one to match the LG’s 7.1.4 channels of Dolby Atmos action.
Best of all, while the SP11RA looks similar to its underwhelming forebear, the feature set and sound quality have been significantly improved. It’s still not perfect and it won’t be for everyone, but for some, it could be just what they’re looking for.
The SP11RA launches at £1500 (AU$1849) and supersedes 2020’s SN11RG, which was initially similarly priced but has been heavily discounted since being discontinued.
Its nearest rival is Samsung’s 11.1.4ch package, the Q950A, which currently costs £1600 ($1600, AU$1500), while some of Samsung’s smaller 2021 Dolby Atmos soundbars with wireless subs, such as the Q800A £799 ($700), can be upgraded to surround packages through the addition of the SWA-9500S 2.0.2 wireless rear speaker kit, which costs £249 ($248, AU$395).
Alternatively, the Award-winning, Dolby Atmos-enabled Sonos Arc, which costs £799 ($799, AU$1399) on its own, can be expanded through the addition of two One SL speakers (£358, $358, AU$538) and, if required, a Sub (£699, $699, AU$999). This full system would set you back £1856 ($1856, $2936).
If all this sounds quite costly, bear in mind that the cheapest AVR we recommend that does 7.1.4 amplification, the Denon AVC-X6700H, costs £2299 ($2499, AU$6190) and you’d also need to budget for a full speaker package.
Size is certainly the most conspicuous physical feature of the SP11RA. At 144cm long, LG suggests pairing with TVs sized 55 inches and above, so you’ll need a substantial cabinet to house it on. Hardware for wall mounting is included but, at 15cm deep, it will protrude noticeably more than your flat screen.
LG SP11RA tech specs
Connections eARC, 2x HDMI, optical, USB
Sound format support Dolby Atmos/ Dolby AudioTM/ DTS:X/ DTS-HD/ PCM
Bluetooth version 5.0
AirPlay 2 Yes
Voice control Google Assistant, Alexa
Dimensions (hwd) 6.3 x 144 x 14.6cm (bar); 39 x 22 x 31cm (sub); 21 x 13 x 19cm (rears)
Weight 7.2kg (bar); 7.8kg (sub); 5.2kg (rears)
The finish seems to have been designed to help camouflage the large surface area and almost succeeds. The front and side faces are wrapped in a tight black mesh grille while the top surface is finished in brushed black metal which, despite its matt finish, reflects a bit of light from the screen directly above.
Size aside, there’s little in the design that indicates the premium price. The styling is rather nondescript, and the individual units don’t feel particularly solid or premium either.
Hidden inside the main bar are the left, centre and right channels, each with a 20mm silk dome tweeter and a 10cm racetrack driver; two ‘surround’ channels with a 10cm racetrack driver unit at either end of the bar; and on the top surface are a pair of 7cm Atmos speakers.
Also on the top exterior is a mic for room calibration and voice control (the SP11RA is compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant) as well as touch buttons for power, input, volume, play/pause and quick source select options for wi-fi and Bluetooth 5.0.
The front face has a five-character swift scrolling LED display for text feedback as you change settings and otherwise constantly shows the current active input.
At the rear is an HDMI-out port that supports eARC, plus two HDMI 2.1 inputs with 4K Dolby Vision pass-through. There’s also an optical input and a USB port, the latter for connection to a mass storage device.
Relative to the main bar the separate wireless sub (SPP8-W) seems modestly sized, with a front-facing 18cm bass driver and rear port, wrapped on three sides in a soft black fabric.
The two wireless rear speakers house front-facing 76mm units for the surround back left and right channels and angled 63mm drivers on top for the Atmos, with the sides finished in the same brushed black metal as the main bar. While the sub and surrounds are ‘wireless’ in terms of audio signal they still require power and need to be located near a plug socket.
That’s a total of 15 drive units configured for 7.1.4-channels, but syncing this array of boxes is pretty straightforward. The LG Soundbar app quickly finds the main bar and is easy to add onto our network, with the other units of our sample automatically joining after. There’s also a button on the back of each unit for manual pairing and an LED status indicator.
The SP11RA has a comprehensive list of connectivity options that can be easily accessed via the touch buttons, the minimalist remote control or the app. For streaming, alongside Bluetooth and wi-fi, there’s Chromecast built-in and, if you have access to hi-res content, you’ll be pleased to know the soundbar can handle audio of up to 24-bit/192kHz quality.
The levels of each speaker group can be turned up or down using the remote or the app, and there’s a broad two-band EQ to tweak the high end or low end of the front of the main unit.
As well as a decent ‘Standard’ sound mode, there are a host of other sound profiles, some of which are new for this year, including a ‘Music’ mode that benefits from tuning courtesy of Meridian, with whom LG has collaborated to enhance its audio products since 2018.
The SP11RA also features ‘Meridian Horizon’, an upmixing technology that LG says will provide immersive multichannel audio from two-channel stereo content.
This upmixing is accessed from the ‘Cinema Sound’ mode which, regardless of the original sound format, will output audio from all speakers. The ‘Bass Blast’ profile operates similarly but with added low end. There’s also a ‘Clear Voice’ option, and modes optimised for ‘Sport’ and ‘Gaming’. If you’d rather let the soundbar decide then ‘AI Sound’ mode automatically switches between profiles. On the LG Soundbar app, there’s an added ‘Night-time’ mode that compresses dynamics and reduces bass and can only be accessed manually.
Following the latest trend of brand symbiotic TVs and soundbars, those with a 2021 LG OLED (such as the OLED65CX) have yet more options available and can choose to let their TV handle the processing by choosing ‘TV Sound Mode Share’ in the advanced settings on their TV’s sound menu. However, it’s worth noting that when watching Dolby Atmos content, the sound modes are locked out as this uses its own algorithm.
We start by streaming Soul in 5.1 on Disney Plus. Trent Reznor’s ethereal electronic score of the ‘Great Before’ is well projected in both the main bar and rears and the springy reverb effects in the ‘You Seminar’ are nicely realised, adding a feeling of openness and space. The pillowy soundscape feels large and enveloping, and the surrounds pull their weight dynamically, filling in the atmosphere nicely with a smooth, even soundstage.
Occasionally, though, that smoothness verges on blandness. When the action returns to earth and ‘22’ experiences the cacophony of New York for the first time, we don’t quite get the sense of overwhelming din from the more guttural sounds such as the pile driver and passing firetruck, which lack a strong leading edge. Jon Batiste’s jazz underscore however feels elegantly presented and lush, skipping along with a secure sense of timing.
Swapping to the opening scene of Unbroken in Dolby Atmos, we’re impressed by the forthright clarity of the high-frequency elements in such a busy, noisy scene – even as the sound of flight goggles being adjusted is crisp against the whir of the engines – and the projection of the dialogue. As wind and engine noise fill the room, the SP11RA makes a fair attempt at rendering height, though not quite as successfully as the class-leading Sonos Arc which, when paired with two Sonos One surrounds, benefits from greater consistency of sound between the main unit and the smaller speakers.
Streaming from Tidal, we try Mariachi El Bronx’s High Tide. It’s a texturally dense song, but the SP11RA manages to control the ornate instrumentation. The vibrato heavy brass is sparkly but not harsh and the strings soar sweetly while lighter rhythmic elements such as the finger-picked acoustic guitar and woodblock sing out amongst it all. In the ‘Music’ mode, the bass and treble are enhanced slightly without sounding synthetic and the separation between instruments is widened.
A bigger undertaking is SBTRKT’s Trials Of The Past where the timing of some of the rapid synth tremolo proves a challenge. We also can’t help but feel that considering that this system has a separate sub it misses its chance to shine. There’s little attack to define the initial thump of the synthesised bass notes and, generally, the low end feels a bit limp and lacking in dimension, which when contrasted with the precision in the top end can result in an unbalanced sound.
The SP11RA is a big improvement from last year’s SN11RG. It’s easy to listen to, creating an even, immersive listening experience and, while you may have to give up some space to house it, its connectivity spec is one of the most comprehensive we’ve seen.
Some may find it a little too polite both in terms of the low end and muscularity, especially when compared to other soundbars with a separate sub such as Samsung’s HW-Q800A. Likewise, there are also better Dolby Atmos performers, including the Sonos Arc, which is even more convincing in its handling of 3D audio soundtracks, particularly when partnered by One SL surround speakers, as well as more attacking and engaging in its delivery.
The SP11RA isn’t perfect, then, but it is a good option that boasts a detailed top end, broad, room-filling sound and largely deft handling of music.
As one of the world leaders in digital technology, Samsung pretty much makes any type of electronic device you can think of. Their products are used by millions of people around the world.
Being a leader in DRAM and flash memory production, it comes as no surprise that they are also a huge player in the SSD business. Their EVO and PRO Series SSDs are highly popular among upgraders, system builders, and enthusiasts.
The Samsung 980 non-Pro was announced end of March 2021 and made waves because it is a DRAM-less SSD, a design choice usually reserved for value drives without maximum performance, yet Samsung picked the “980” name, which is used on their flagship “980 Pro.” Under the hood, the Samsung 980 in today’s review uses a relatively new controller called “Pablo,” or S4LR033—a 4-channel PCIe Gen 3 controller design we’ve seen on some external Samsung SSDs before. The flash chips are 128-layer 3D TLC, same as on the Samsung 980 Pro. As mentioned before, a DRAM chip is not present, which is a cost-optimization measure, but has the drawback that random write performance is reduced.
The Samsung 980 comes in capacities of 250 GB ($55), 512 GB ($60), and 1 TB ($140). Endurance for these models is set to 150 TBW, 300 TBW, and 600 TBW respectively. Samsung includes a five-year warranty with the 980 non-Pro SSD.
The Inland Performance Plus offers up very fast Gen 4 performance at a lower price than its competition, making it a compelling value for those on the hunt for a new high-performance M.2 NVMe SSD.
+ Appealing aesthetics
+ Competitive performance
+ 5-year warranty
+ Keeps cool under most workloads
+ Heatsink is easily removed
– Lacks AES 256-bit encryption
– Lacks supporting software
Features and Specifications
Inland’s Performance Plus is a high-performance PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 NVMe SSD that rivals the best SSDs you can buy, but at a cheaper price point. Plus, it comes with a huge heat sink to keep this SSD cool under intensive workloads. You might not recognize the Inland brand, but it’s been a staple at Micro Center for years, and is available via Amazon as well.
Inland’s Performance Plus is one of a few of the company’s recent speedy SSDs we have slated for review. Many (if not all) of Inland’s SSDs look to be powered by Phison-branded SSD controllers, which gives us an idea of what to expect when it comes to performance and reliability. While the brand isn’t as large as say Samsung or Crucial, with the help of Phison, the company is able to remaining surprisingly competitive in the storage arena, against many much-larger rivals.
Available at Micro Center
Direct Pricing $399.99
Hardware-wise, Inland’s performance Plus is similar in design to that of the Gigabyte Aorus Gen4 7000s, Corsair MP600 Pro, and Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus. It leverages the same E18 NVMe SSD controller and Micron’s 96L TLC flash as these alternatives, along with a sleek heatsink, but it undercuts them in price in most cases. The Inland Performance Plus makes for a solid value for those on the hunt for fast Gen4 SSD.
Capacity (User / Raw)
1000GB / 1024GB
2000GB / 2048GB
Interface / Protocol
PCIe 4.0 x4 / NVMe 1.4
PCIe 4.0 x4 / NVMe 1.4
Micron 96L TLC
Micron 96L TLC
1TB NVME PERF
2TB NVME PERF
Inland offers the Performance Plus in 1TB and 2TB capacities, priced at $190 and $400, respectively. In terms of warranty coverage, Inland backs the Performance Plus with a five-year warranty or up to 700TB of writes per 1TB in capacity, whichever comes first.
Each capacity can dish out up to 7 GBps in read performance, but both differ in write potential. The 1TB model can write at up to 5.5 GBps, while the roomier 2TB model can sustain writes at up to 6.85 GBps thanks to having double the number of the NAND dies. Additionally, random read performance scales much higher on the 2TB than the 1TB model. The 1TB Performance Plus is rated to deliver up to 350,000/700,000 random read/write IOPS while the 2TB model can manage up to 650,000/700,000 random read/write IOPS.
A Closer Look
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Inland includes a well-designed heatsink, similar to that of the Corsair MP600 Pro, but with a few more cuts to add surface area for taming the heat under sustained workloads. However, measuring 14.5 x 23 x 70mm, Inland’s Performance Plus is very thick and can interfere with GPU placement, depending on the M.2 slot you attempt to install it in. If it gets in the way or you just want to use your motherboard’s heat sink, it is easy to remove, though.
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At the heart of the Performance Plus is a Phison PS5018-E18 PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe 1.4 SSD controller. Along with features such as S.M.A.R.T. data reporting, secure erase capability, and TRIM, it also features ASPM and APST support for low power consumption at idle.
Unlike Phison’s previous-generation E16, the E18 is built from the ground up tp offer greater performance capability for PCIe 4.0 drives. It leverages a tri-core primary Arm Cortex R5 architecture, along with a dual-core co-processor, which results in very fast sustained write speeds. Furthermore, there are two 8Gb SK hynix DDR4 DRAM ICs on our 2TB sample, in order to accelerate access to the logical to physical mapping tables, ensuring responsive reads.
As for the bulk storage, we find eight packages of Micron’s 96L TLC. There are 32 dies in total on our 2TB sample, each 512Gb in density. This flash is not quite as fast as Micron’s recently tested 176L TLC, but with it operating at 1200 MTps over the controller’s eight NAND channels, it’s fast enough to keep up with the likes of the best in many cases.
Sony’s next-gen PlayStation VR headset is likely to come out in late 2022, according to a new report. Bloomberg’s sources say Sony is “aiming to release the successor in the holiday period next year,” and that the headset will use OLED panels from Samsung Display.
A release in that timeframe wouldn’t be too surprising, since Sony has already started talking up the PS5 headset’s potential. Its existence was first confirmed in February along with some initial details, and Sony followed up by showing off the new controllers in March.
The headset itself hasn’t yet been revealed. But according to an UploadVR report from last month, it’ll have a total resolution of 4000 x 2040 and make use of eye tracking to enable foveated rendering, which should ease the processing load by using lower resolution imagery in your peripheral vision. The next-gen PSVR is also said to use inside-out tracking and include haptic feedback in the headset as well as the controllers.
Bloomberg’s report is more broadly focused on Japan Display Inc, an LCD specialist that has seen smartphone display sales slump as the market moved to OLED but now considers VR headsets “big business.” While OLED was initially the standard for VR, more recently manufacturers like Facebook and HTC have been moving to LCD panels because they’re more practical at higher resolutions, despite having lower contrast. Sony, however, appears to be sticking with OLED for the next PSVR.
OnePlus has confirmed that the inexpensive Nord N200 5G will be available in the US and Canada starting on Friday, June 25th, for $239, making it one of the most affordable 5G phones in the US. With US wireless carriers demanding more 5G devices, the N200 will likely get a lot more company soon.
OnePlus had previously dropped a few other details about the upcoming device, like its 6.49-inch 1080p display with 90Hz refresh rate and big 5,000mAh battery. Other newly confirmed specs include a Snapdragon 480 5G chipset (also used by the freshly announced Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G), 4GB of RAM, 64GB of expandable built-in storage, and a rear triple camera with a 13-megapixel main camera. OnePlus doesn’t specify details for the other two rear-facing cameras, but the N100’s 2-megapixel macro and 2-megapixel depth sensor are likely candidates. There’s a 16-megapixel selfie camera around front, and the N200 offers 18W charging.
The N200 5G becomes one of the least expensive 5G phones to go on sale in the US, coming in $40 cheaper than the similarly specced Samsung Galaxy A32 5G and $60 less than OnePlus’ own Nord N10 5G. It’s likely to gain more competition in the near future, too, as other manufacturers adopt low-cost 5G chipsets like the 480 5G and wireless carriers aim to put more 5G phones on their shelves (and more customers on premium unlimited 5G plans).
The latest unconfirmed rumor coming out of China is that Nvidia has reportedly adjusted its production strategy to inject more GeForce RTX 30-series graphics cards into to the market. It comes from Board Channels, a forum meant for employees at board partners and distributors in China. If accurate, the news will come as music to consumers’ ears as Ampere-based cards are among the best graphics cards on the market, but have been absent from store shelves for a long time now. (Note: Nvidia said it wouldn’t comment on rumors or speculation.)
At the peak of the great graphics card shortage, Nvidia decided to bring back fan favorites, such as the GeForce RTX 2060 and GTX 1050 Ti, in an attempt to satisfy the demand for graphics cards. The current rumor is that Nvidia has notified its partners that it will slice the supply of GeForce RTX 2060 (Turing) GPUs in half for this month. The objective behind the decrease is to shift the freed production capacity over to Ampere.
At first glance, limiting Turing supply might not appear to impact Ampere’s availability. Turing and Ampere are on completely different nodes from different foundries, after all. Turing is based on TSMC’s 12nm manufacturing process, while Ampere leverages Samsung’s 8nm process node. However, our theory is that Nvidia is probably freeing up substrate, memory chips, and OSAT (outsourced semiconductor assembly and test) capacity.
The members of Board Channels only spoke of Ampere in general and didn’t specify if Nvidia was prioritizing a certain SKU over others. With the recent addition of the GeForce RTX 3080 Ti and GeForce RTX 3070 Ti, Nvidia expanded its Ampere offerings up to seven models. In any event, we will hopefully be seeing better Ampere availability in the upcoming months and hopefully, prices will start stabilizing.
(Pocket-lint) – OnePlus has be on something of an exploratory journey over the past 12 months or so. Rather than delivering one or two phones at a time and launching them both globally, it took a more regional approach.
That meant while some markets got the original Nord, others – like the US – didn’t, then OnePlus followed up with various models to suit different territories. It even continued this approach with the OnePlus 9 series, offering a 9R in India, but nowhere else.
This is pretty standard practice for most manufacturers, but wasn’t for OnePlus. At least, not until now. But obviously this transition to being a ‘proper’ smartphone manufacturer is working, because it’s back again with another Nord: the Nord CE 5G.
Dimensions: 159.2 x 73.5 x 7.9mm / Weight: 170g
No official waterproofing
3.5mm headphone port
Blue Void, Charcoal Ink and Silver Ray colours
For a while there’s been this sense that when building a good smartphone, you have to start with the right materials. It had to be aluminium or steel and glass. Using plastic was as good as writing ‘cheap trash’ over the back of the phone in capital letters. But things have changed, thanks in part to the efforts of Samsung.
With its Galaxy Note 20, S20 FE and this years S21, it showed you can use plastic materials in a way that doesn’t detract from the look and feel of the phone. OnePlus has taken the same approach with the Nord CE. Our unit in Blue Void has a lovely frosted/matte finish to it that’s very reminiscent of the Samsung approach, and we like it a lot.
It has an eye-catching blue finish with just the slightest splash of purple up the edges. There are two other safer colours in Charcoal Ink (Black-ish grey) and Silver Ray.
Being a frosted/matte finished plastic does have its advantages too. Firstly, it’s not at all slippery. So it’s not hard to keep a hold of one-handed, and it’s not likely to just randomly slide off the arm of your sofa. Secondly, it not as likely to crack or turn into tiny shards when it’s dropped or banged against something. It’s a very practical choice.
Also, it just feels, well, nice.
That’s not the only practical choice made by OnePlus with the Nord CE. It’s both slimmer and lighter than the first Nord, so it doesn’t feel like a huge phone in your hand. It’s not exactly compact, but it’s easy to hold and comfortable enough to use. And it has a 3.5mm socket for wired headphones and headsets.
One choice that might not go down so well with long-time OnePlus fans is the removal of the alert switch. For years this simple slider button on the side has set the company’s phones apart from rivals, offering an easy tactile way to switch your phone to silent or vibrate. Apparently, that’s not considered ‘Core’ enough to make it on to a ‘Core Edition’ OnePlus phone.
In case you were wondering: yes, that’s what CE stands for.
Other core design choices include: not having a physical fingerprint sensor. Instead, there’s an in-display one so there’s nothing on the back, breaking up that glorious matte blue surface. The camera housing is a pretty basic pull-shaped protrusion and the display has just the one hole punched through it for a single camera.
Sadly, one last feature not deemed essential to a Core Edition phone is a subtle haptic motor for feedback. That means, with it enabled, keyboard taps are accompanied by a nasty feeling buzz, rather than a subtle tap. We quickly switched it off.
Display and software
6.43-inch AMOLED 90Hz display
1080 x 2400 resolution
Screen resolutions haven’t changed much in recent years with most smartphones opting for some version of full HD. This particular flavour is 1080 x 2400, which is the same as on most other OnePlus phones. That means it’s plenty sharp enough for day-to-day tasks with individual pixels imperceptible.
It’s AMOLED too, which means it’s a pretty punchy panel with vibrant colours and deep blacks. In its default ‘vivid’ mode the screen often over eggs the colours a bit, but with this being a OnePlus phone running OxygenOS, you get to customise its balance quite lot. Switching to ‘sRGB’ mode balances things out a lot more, but does make it a bit less exciting.
The 90Hz refresh rate ensure that when you touch the screen, or swipe at something in the interface, the response is immediate and smooth. It doesn’t reach the heights of the OnePlus 9 Pro’s 120Hz, and doesn’t feature the advanced adaptive refresh rate tech that adapts it to the content, but it’s impressively fluid and smooth for a mid-ranger.
That’s not the only element where you just about get the hint this isn’t a top tier panel.
For instance, despite being AMOLED, when the screen’s off (or black) it’s not quite as dark as the black frame around the panel, so you don’t get that blending effect, you can see where the bezel stops and the screen starts. There’s also a slight colour shift when you look at a white screen from different angles.
Just for a little perspective though, the fact we’re picking up on such non-issues as a slight negative shows two things: how competitive the mid-range market has become recently and how good this phone is for the money OnePlus is asking for it.
Part of the joy of OnePlus phones over the years is the customisation on offer from the OxygenOS software. We’ve already mentioned the ability to calibrate the screen to your exact liking, but there are also modes like Reading Mode which turns the screen monochrome for when you load up your favourite e-book app.
There’s not much new to report from a software side with the Nord CE. It’s the same as the software found in the OnePlus 9 series and OnePlus 8T that came before it. It’s OxygenOS 11 based on Android 11, which represented a major redesign when it first launched.
While OnePlus was often seen as a manufacturer offering a stock-like Android experience with lots of customisation choices, it no longer feels that way. Oppo’s ColourOS offers far more customisation of elements like the fingerprint scanner animation, always-on display, icon styles and shapes. OxygenOS by comparison feels quite stripped back and bare.
This does help it retain that feeling of ‘essentialism’ though. It has everything you need, presented in a clean and clutter free way. There aren’t any unecessary apps pre-loaded, and even core parts of the experience like phone, messages and software updates are now powered by Google’s own apps, rather than OnePlus’ own design.
Power and performance
Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processor (8nm)
6GB, 8GB or 12GB RAM – 128GB or 256GB storage
30W fast charging
Where the Core Edition OnePlus Nord gets it right is the feeling of speed and fluidity under your fingertips. A big part of that, as mentioned, is down to the high refresh rate of the screen and the software. OnePlus has always done a great job of optimising its software animations to feel speedy.
That performance transitions well into games and apps too. Using it daily as a main phone, it never left us in any real need of more, despite ‘only’ having Snapdragon 750G. It’s not a top-tier platform, but just like the Snapdragon 765G that appeared in the first Nord, this one gets the job done without any trouble.
Playing Mario Kart Tour was a hassle-free and smooth experience, as was browsing the web, scrolling through Twitter and any other app we came across in our day-to-day phone usage.
Similarly, the 4500mAh battery inside is more than strong enough to cope with the most demanding of days. For the most part, with light usage, we’d finish the day with something like 40 per cent of the battery left over. That’s with the usual hour or so of web browsing and social media, plus a chunk of gaming.
Once empty it fills up quickly, as is typical OnePlus style. It uses a 30W wired charger, which OnePlus has clunkily named ‘Warp Charge 30T Plus’. In actual fact, it’s almost the same as Warp Charge 30T, in that it can fill 70 per cent of the battery in abut half an hour. It’s been a mainstay feature for OnePlus phones for many years and something of a lifesaver when you’ve forgotten to charge your phone or when it drains unexpectedly.
Triple rear camera system:
64MP primary camera
8MP ultra-wide (119-degree)
2MP monochrome sensor
4K recording at 30fps
Ah, OnePlus and cameras. It seems to be an age-old complaint of OnePlus phones having a not-quite-good-enough camera system. They’ve definitely improved the quality over the past couple of years, there’s no denying that, and for the most part the primary snapper on the Nord CE is decent.
You’ll get sharp photos with good colours and depth of field from the 64-megapixel sensor. It pixel bins down to 16-megapixel images automatically, so isn’t using all 64 million of those pixels individually. Not unless you enable it.
It has all the camera features you’d expect too. It’ll take portrait shots with excessive background blur, night mode shots, panoramas, timelapses, slow motion video and even has a ‘pro’ mode for adjusting ISO, white balance and shutter speed manually yourself.
There is one major weakness we’ve encoutered on the Nord CE’s primary lens however, and that’s focus distance. It really, really doesn’t like focusing on anything closer than about 13 or 14cm, which means close up shots of flowers, bugs, berries and the like are near-on impossible. You can see examples that would normally be simple shots, impossible because it refused to focus.
The only solution is either taking the photo from further away and cropping the photo in edit, or using the 2x zoom function to zoom in digitally when taking the photo.
We don’t expect super macro skills from an affordable mid-range necessarily, but we do expect it to at least handle close up focusing a bit better than this.
Without being too cricital though, having the 2x zoom and the seperate ultra-wide lens means you get enough versatility in shooting to make it useful in most situations. There’s a variety in focal lengths, but we do question the decision to put such a visually distinct different between them.
What we mean by that is there’s a noticeable drop in quality when switching from the main to the ultra-wide. Images lose some crispness, and appear visually more contrast heavy and darker, losing a lot of vibrancy in the colours while adding more noise, even in daylight. At times it also adds a hyper-real element to the colours where they just seem unnaturally saturated. It’s not the most consistent of cameras.
As for the third camera, that’s just a low resolution black and white sensor to act as a backup to the other two, bringing in some more light data.
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On the front, the selfie camera is decent enough with OnePlus’ HDR capability shining when it comes to balancing out heavy backlighting behind you when snapping pictures of yourself. So even if the sky and clouds look too bright to get a decent shot of your face, the system does well to make sure that it’s not over-exposed and washed out.
OnePlus Nord ‘Core Edition’ is something of an unusual phone in its position. The first OnePlus Nord in itself was supposed to represent the core essentials of OnePlus phones. Stripped down, but without real compromise. So in essence, the OnePlus Nord CE is a Core Edition of a Core Edition phone. But that’s perhaps overthinking it a bit.
What really matters is that for the money you’re getting a phone without any significant flaws. It’s fast and responsive, is well-designed, has a good camera and a good screen. It’s comfortably one of the best phones in its price bracket.
We question the removal of the alert slider though. It was one of the few remaining fixtures that helped OnePlus phones stand out from its competition. Without it, it feels like OnePlus is doing more blending in with the environment. It’s transitioned away from standout phone maker, to just another phone maker and the CE is the culmination of that effort.
Alternatives to consider
The original Nord is still here, and still packs a punch. It’s fast, fluid, smooth and has a more premium glass back, slightly more powerful processor and is now discounted because it’s a bit older.
Read the review
Redmi Note 10 Pro
The Redmi Note 10 Pro is one of 2021’s best value smartphones. It boasts similar specs and capabilities to the Nord CE, but is cheaper. Crucially, it has a bigger battery, bigger display and is water resistant.
Samsung has downplayed a report that claimed the company has suspended production of an upcoming phone called the Galaxy S21 FE. Korean publication ETNews alleged over the weekend that production of the unannounced phone had stopped because of a shortage of semiconductors, and that Qualcomm processors had been reallocated to foldable devices.
The report has since been deleted, and Samsung now says it hasn’t made a decision on whether to halt production. In a statement texted to Bloomberg, the company says “While we cannot discuss details of the unreleased product, nothing has been determined regarding the alleged production suspension.”
The Galaxy S21 FE — the FE stands for Fan Edition — was expected to be a cut-down, more affordable version of the regular S21. Last year Dieter Bohn gave the Galaxy S20 FE a positive review, noting that it had “a few high-quality components that will delight while the cheaper parts don’t hurt the experience too much.”
The S21 FE hadn’t been formally announced, but Samsung did say at an event last year that it planned to release Fan Editions of flagship phones going forward. OnLeaks posted alleged renders of the S21 FE back in April, showing a similar design to the well-received Galaxy S21.
While it’s noteworthy that Samsung didn’t deny ETNews’ report outright, it may take some time before the truth emerges. The S20 FE wasn’t announced until September last year and got a release in October, so even if Samsung is experiencing supply chain issues with its successor right now, a launch wasn’t necessarily imminent.
Team Xbox will take to the stage alongside Bethesda to showcase a 90-minute presentation of games for E3 2021. It’ll last 90 minutes, and it’ll apparently show off games coming to Xbox this holiday season, games that’ll soon be coming to Xbox Game Pass, plus some other announcements. Microsoft is calling the event its “biggest moment of 2021 so far,” so Xbox fans shouldn’t miss this one.
Here’s how you can watch it:
When does the Xbox and Bethesda game showcase begin?
It’ll start at 1PM ET / 10AM PT on Sunday, June 13th.
How can I watch the Xbox event?
You can watch it at Xbox’s Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter pages. It’s available in other ways around the world, too. Microsoft says it’ll be available “simultaneously on channels across the globe, including Bilibili in China, Jeuxvideo in France, and VK in Russia, OTT platforms including Samsung TV+, Xumo, PlutoTV and Vizio, and regional Xbox pages on Facebook and elsewhere.”
The show will be broadcast in 1080p at 60 frames per second, but Microsoft says that videos in 4K resolution at 60 frames per second will be uploaded to the Xbox YouTube channel following the stream.
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