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It’s been a busy few weeks for our review editors as they tested out new devices from Apple, Sony, Amazon and others. Apple released a completely redesigned iMac M1, which Devindra Hardawar tested throughout his house, and an M1-powered iPad Pro, which left Chris Velazco hoping for some software announcements at WWDC next month. Billy Steele tested both the improved Amazon Echo Buds, which now have true active noise-cancellation and optional wireless charging, and the Sony SRS-RA5000 speaker, which takes advantage of the company’s 360 Reality Audio platform. Simultaneously, other staffers tested out Samsung’s latest laptop, Fujifilm’s new medium format camera and the latest edition of Mass Effect.
After toting the new iMac M1 around his house to write, edit, stream videos and music, play games and find recipes, Devindra Hardawar was reminded of how useful an all-in-one family desktop can be. It helps that the colorful machine weighs less than 10 pounds, is an impressive 11.5 millimeters thin and can be used with a VESA mount, making it extremely portable. The iMac M1 also features a stunning 23.5-inch, 4.5K Retina Display, a 1080p webcam and a shockingly capable sound system which make it ideal for a range of uses.
Devindra had no issue using it as his daily driver, taxing it with multiple browser windows, Slack, Spotify, Evernote and Pixelmater Pro. The iMac M1 was able to transcode a 4K clip to 1080p faster than the ASUS ZenBook Duo, and hit higher Geekbench 5 scores than gaming laptops from ASUS and MSI. However, he did notice a bit of fan noise while playing games and the port situation is a mess since the desktop only features USB-C. Also, despite others’ love for the Magic Mouse and Keyboard, Devindra still found them rather uncomfortable to use all the time.
After one week of testing, Chris Velazco was impressed by the newest iPad Pro’s hardware. With the same M1 chipset as the MacBook Air, Pro and new iMac, a variety of storage options ranging up to 1TB, 5G support and a Liquid Retina XDR display, the 12.9-inch tablet was capable of handling anything he threw at it. It ran without a hiccup even when playing intense games like GRID AutoSport, editing 4K videos and watching movies with flashy visual effects. In fact, Chris says the machine is so capable, one almost needs to be a creative professional to be able to make the most of it.
However, all that tech does result in an iPad that is heavier than earlier models, making it less comfortable to hold for long periods. Chris also felt that the switch from a traditional front camera to a 12-megapixel ultra-wide sensor made for some awkward FaceTime calls — even though the tablet’s new CenterStage feature did in fact keep his face in view while on those calls. The biggest issue he had was with the software, which doesn’t take advantage of iPad Pro’s exceptional hardware — at least, not yet. With Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference still upcoming, it’s possible there are some software announcements that will show off what the iPad Pro can really do.
Sony spent two years teasing its Reality Audio platform before it released any hardware. The SRS-RA5000 and SRS-RA3000 are the first speakers to feature the immersive audio format. And although they’re designed specifically for the RA platform, Billy Steele says the $700 RA5000 is also a good all-around option. At 10 pounds and 13 inches tall, it’s larger than most shelf speakers and has a simple silhouette with dark grey speaker cloth and copper rings that Billy felt distinguished it from devices. The RA5000 can be used as part of a multi-room audio set up, so it will work with a TV, but unlike other speakers, it has no onboard voice controls so you’ll need an additional device for that feature.
The internals of the RA5000 include seven drivers — three up-firing, three side-firing and a middle woofer — all positioned to beam out sound in various directions. The 360 Reality Audio is designed to sound like musical elements are all around you; while Billy said the sound quality is consistent and does beam in all directions, he’s not sure that it’s quite the “room-filing” sensation that Sony advertised. Despite that, he still liked the crisp, warm sounds the speaker produced. He also liked the Immersive Audio Experience algorithm that made non-360RA tracks sound more full. However, the limited amount of 360RA content was a drawback, as was the high price tag.
After testing the 15-inch convertible variant of Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro 360, Cherlynn Low deemed it a capable machine. With a Super AMOLED, FHD touch panel, a decent array of ports, an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM, the Book Pro 360 never stuttered during her testing. And at 3.06 pounds and 0.46 inches, it’s thinner and lighter than competing devices while still offering a roomy keyboard and mammoth trackpad. Samsung also includes an S Pen with the laptop, which some will find handy to use with the touch screen.
Though Cherlynn appreciated some of the design changes, like relocating the power button to the top-right of the keyboard and including a fingerprint sensor for Windows Hello, she was disappointed by the 720p webcam. The low resolution paired with automatic filters produced dark and somewhat distorted images. The security features that Samsung included were more hit-or-miss: the privacy screen tool in particular wasn’t the best, as it made it difficult for her to view affected windows on the display. And while the battery lasted a respectable 15 hours and 20 minutes, the fast recharging wasn’t as speedy as the company promised.
Billy Steele was pleased by the improvements Amazon made to the latest Echo Buds. Not only did the company completely overhaul the earbuds for the better, but it also managed to keep them priced affordably at $120. The Buds themselves are 20 percent smaller and two grams lighter than their predecessors and they feature new vents which makes them more comfortable. Additionally, Amazon includes four sets of tips and two sizes of wings and there’s an ear tip fit test inside the Alexa app to help you determine the best fit for your ears.
Amazon also added active noise-cancellation (ANC) and optional wireless charging to the Echo Buds. The new 5.6mm high performance driver sounds better and Billy found the audio improvements evenly applied to all volume ranges. The sound is less compressed, he said, and there’s more room for each element to stand on its own. The app for the earbuds also offers multiple customization options including manual EQ sliders, hands-free Alexa and PowerSave to extend the battery life. Billy also found the battery life hit the five hour mark reliably, just like the previous model. One of the few things he would have liked to see was more protection — these buds remain only IPX4 splash-resistant.
Not only did Steve Dent test out the smaller, improved Fujifilm GFX 100S mirrorless camera, but he also handed it off to a few professional photographers to get their input as well. They agreed with Steve that the GFX 100S offers excellent handling in a small body, but that the autofocus still needs work. Fujifilm reduced the size of the 100S by 35 percent to under two pounds by eliminating the vertical grip and controls. Steve still found the camera’s operation to be very tactical despite not having as many physical controls.
The GFX 100S also has a new in-body image stabilizer that is smaller than the previous one, and which gave Steve improved performance with six stops of shake reduction. He found its low-light capabilities surprisingly good and got clean images at incredible resolutions (albeit at lower ISOs). The autofocus system offers 3.76 million phase-detect pixels and up to 425 selectable AF points. However, the system also had some lag, which made it difficult to use the camera in dynamic situations with a lot of movement. And Steve felt the 3.69-million dot OLED electronic viewfinder wasn’t up to the standards he’d expect for a camera with a $6,000 price tag. He also recommended skipping the electronic shutter and sticking to mechanical or front curtain settings.
While the original Mass Effect trilogy is a hugely influential game series with legions of fans, Mat Smith admits that the game had both clunky gunplay and cover detection which forced players to dive into menus to access attacks and powers. The weapons could feel overly inaccurate and random, and the cover mechanics were erratic. With the release of Mass Effect Legendary Edition, many of these issues have been addressed, helping Mat rekindle his love for a game where player’s decisions shape a universe and have a ripple effect across the entire series.
The thoughtful changes to the original Mass Effect have refined handling and aiming; Mat says this is probably how the game should have felt at launch. The gameplay upgrades include more places to cower as your shields recharge and a less erratic cover mechanic (though still not as good as the sequels, according to Mat). He says if you’re a new visitor to the ME universe, Legendary Edition is clearly the way to experience it. And if you’ve already played through the series, you’ll quickly get reinvested in the trilogy thanks to the graphic lifts and quickly loading levels.