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Tech Review

HyperX Cloud Mix Review – On Cloud 9

There’s something so nice about putting on a pair of headphones and getting that feeling of the world fading away, leaving only music or the chatter of a podcast or the ambient noises of some fantasy world. It’s comforting, like being swaddled in a blanket while you shoot stuff in the face. What I’m getting at here is that I have the HyperX Cloud Mix headset to review, so let’s talk sound.

Compared to the HyperX Cloud headphones the Cloud Mix goes for a more subdued style that fits in with the idea that it’s good for both gaming and listening to music on the go. There are no bright LEDs threatening to blind anyone who looks in your general direction, and no random colored accents. Overall, I really like Cloud Mix’s slightly chunky look.

It’s something I can play games with, but wouldn’t feel like an idiotic for wearing out and about. It’s only blemished is the overly large HyperX logos plastered on the earcups which I would like to have done in a glossy black or something so that it blended in more with the rest of the headset.

It’s reasonably comfortable on the old noggin, too. A generous amount of headband padding, the lightweight (265g), and a nicely judged amount of pinch meant that even after a few hours the headset still felt good on my head. There’s plenty of padding on the earcups, too, although personally I did feel that the earcups were a bit small.

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For a headset that is designed to be taken out into the wildlands known as civilization, it’s a little odd that the earcups don’t rotate around to rest flat on your collarbone. Instead, they sort of strangling you gently, like someone with a fetish who doesn’t want to scare away the person in bed with them.

Ahem. Having the Cloud Mix resting around my neck was uncomfortable, is what I’m attempting to say, and turning your head becomes nearly impossible.

The build quality is definitely a positive here. The headset is flexible yet shows no sign of weakness, nor will it creak and moan when stretched out. The HyperX Cloud Mix feels like a premium product, exactly what you want from something that boasts such a big price tag.

All the cables are of the braided variety, but they aren’t too thick with plenty of flexible, so they don’t tend to bunch up awkwardly as other braided cables can. However, there is a problem with reverberation through the ear cubs when the cable slides along something. For example, when gaming I’d frequently hear the cable shifting on my hoodie’s zip, sending an irritating noise up the cable and straight into my ear.

Moving onwards first up is the Bluetooth connection using version 4.2. Powering up the headset is as easy as holding down the power button, whereupon a pleasant voice tells you how much battery life is left. HyperX claims that the Cloud Mix will last 20-hours on a full charge and so far I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Not too shabby. And it can be recharged using the included USB cable, although sadly it isn’t USB type-C.

Once paired you can use the controls located on the right earcup to adjust volume, answer calls, and control your media. These buttons are easy to find and use despite being reasonably small and innocuous, and my only disappointment with them is that they don’t work when the headset is wired. Instead, you have to swap over to a little control module on the wire made of cheap-feeling plastic.

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Since the Cloud Mix does support Bluetooth you can hook it up to a PC if you want. Of course, your PC or laptop does need to have inbuilt Bluetooth for this to work. Considering the hefty price tag on the Cloud Mix I feel like HyperX missed a beat by not including a Bluetooth adapter in the box for even more flexibility.

When using the Bluetooth mode the included boom mic doesn’t work so you have to rely on a second, built-in microphone which is considerably worse. While it is usable, the voice quality over the built-in mic is crackly and lacking in definition. If you’re in a noisy environment, such as out on a windy day, then things become worse.

Annoyingly, the Cloud Mix will also only pair with a single device, so if you want to swap from your tablet to your phone or anything like that you need to pair it once again. Of course, this doesn’t take long but it’s still frustrating and not really what you expect from a premium headset.

For the wired connection, you get a 5ft (1.52 m) long male to male cable, and a second 5ft (1.52 m) cable but this time with male to female connections and the inline control module. As you would imagine wired mode is compatible with anything that has a standard 3.5 mm audio connection, letting you plug the Cloud Mix into phones, tablets, PCs, and consoles.

Basically, anything with a hole is fair game. Except that. Get your freaking mind out of the gutter. Jeez.

So let’s get down to that all-important sound quality. The Cloud Mix proudly boasts a Hi-Res audio sticker on the front of the box which means the headset is capable of handling audio up to 40,000Hz, meaning you can really do justice to your 24-bit/96KHz lossless music collection. Right?

Yeah, even as a music-loving drummer I don’t have a hi-res music collection, and most streaming services that people use don’t offer that option. Nor do games typically support the format, either. In other words, for the vast, vast majority of people out there, this Hi-Res official certification means absolutely nothing.

Worse, it seems to be a thing headphone developers are using to bump up the asking price.

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The Cloud Mix uses HyperX’s dual-chamber design that apparently allows the headset to separate the low-end bass from the mids and highs. According to HyperX, this should allow for much less distortion.

Starting with the bass there’s a bit of enhancement at play adding some extra oomph in explosions, which naturally fits with gaming and action movies where big bangs are aplenty. These certainly aren’t the most bass-heavy of headsets which could potentially be a deal-breaker for people who love their low-down thump, though.

The lows and mids feel warm with plenty of detail, while the highs sound reasonably crisp, especially listening to some tasty cymbals whose metallic song shimmers just like it should.

I felt like I was picking up a slight dip in the highs, though, which gives the Cloud Mix a modern feel, and they didn’t have the richness of sound that I look for in an expensive headset. That’s fine for the most part in games and movies but it was most noticeable in those layered songs where the sound really needs depth.

Basically, I’d describe the Cloud Mix as having good sound overall with a reasonably open sound-stage, especially for being closed-back. I had no trouble picking out footsteps or the distinct chatter of a machine gun even if the positional audio wasn’t able to match other headsets I’ve tested, while the low down booms of explosions, thunder and shotguns packed a pleasant punch.

During testing, I played a lot of Division 2 which features some superb sound design when it comes to gunfire and just general ambient audio. Hooked up to my Sennheiser external AMP and DAC (you can read my review of that here) the headset sounded great, but even without that bit of kit helping them along the Cloud Mix’s performed well.

The Bluetooth audio fares well, the 4.2 connection managing to retain an impressive amount of the sound quality. Sure, there’s a drop because ultimately wireless can’t fully compete with wireless yet, but for some casual music or podcast listening to the Cloud Mix was great.

As for the detachable boom mic, it also left me quite impressed. My voice came through clear and unlike a lot of other headsets it didn’t sound like a chunk of my voice at the low or high end was missing. It does a good job of canceling outside noises, too, so none of my friends noticed my mechanical keyboard or even my crazy German Shepard doing important dog stuff.

The only disappointment is that HyperX still isn’t going with the retractable mic design that other companies have switched over to, so losing the mic is a possibility if you’re a forgetful twit like I am.

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Weirdly it feels like HyperX is trying to compete with themselves as they also sell the Cloud S, a wired and wireless headset that connects to PC via an included USB adapter. Now, it doesn’t offer Bluetooth support, but the Cloud Mix doesn’t offer wireless to a PC out of the box, either.

Offering the Cloud Mix at roughly the same price would have been a smart choice because customers could pick whichever headset suited them more.

Ultimately the Cloud Mix is a good all-round headset that boasts nice connectivity, a stylish aesthetic, and feel comfortable to wear. However, with a £200 price tag that would send many people screaming for the hills, I’m not sure being good or even really good is enough.

With an included Bluetooth adapter and a £125-150 RRP the Cloud Mix would have hit the sweet spot, I reckon. Still, if you’re looking for something you can listen to music with on the bus then plugin for some gaming time at home that sounds good then the Cloud Mix might be for you. Even if it does stop you from being able to turn your neck.

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Tech Review

Logitech G560 Speakers Review – Amazing Sound, But Massive Problems

A Quick Note: you might have noticed that this review doesn’t contain photos taken by myself as per normal, rather it’s full of Logitech’s very own images. There’s a couple of reasons for that, starting with the fact that I was busy traveling then came down with the flu, and also because I didn’t manage to get photos I was completely happy with that showed off the lighting in a decent manner. Sorry folks!

Ah, speakers. They are so easy to ignore despite typically sitting on your desk, looking a little forlorn because you spend on your time looking at that slutty screen rather than admiring your speakers and reminding them how important they are to you. Because you’re a horrible person AND WHY WON’T YOU LOOK AT ME WHEN WE MAKE LOVE ANYMORE!?

Ahem.

These new offerings from the boffins over at Logitech have a hell of a lot to live up to, though, as I gave up my beloved Corsair SP2500 speakers to get Logitech’s shiny new G560s. For example, the Corsair SP500 came with a chunky remote that would sit on your desk, letting you very quickly adjust volume or tinker with the bass settings. The g560, though, has its controls built into the rightmost speaker, a potential problem depending on where you choose to place said speaker. However, the G560 also takes over the Windows volume completely, so you can always adjust the volume straight from the desktop. Of course, that’s not very helpful if you happen to be in a game or something. Considering the £200+ price tag of the G560 I would have liked to have seen a little desk unit for controlling the volume.

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The point is the Corsair SP2500 setup I was using consumed huge amounts of space but the tradeoff was brilliant sound and a handy remote unit. I loved them, yet I really wanted to review Logitech’s new speakers and since I couldn’t get my grubby little mitts on a loan set for review I did the unthinkable and decided to sell my SP2500s to fund picking up the G560s. The reviews from several of the big tech sites were really favorable, after all, so hopefully, I’d get to write about some cool tech and pick up an upgrade for my setup in the process.

Oh boy.

The G560 speakers are rounded with a simple black mesh over the front. On their inside edge, there’s a curved stand that looks sleek and elegant. Overall they look understated and rather lovely. But this isn’t enough because this is 2018 and we absolutely 100% have to have RGB lighting options, which is why inside those luscious curves are customizable LED lights. And then on the back of each speaker, there are much larger lights designed to illuminate the wall behind them, assuming you have your desk in front of a wall. Naturally, the brightness of these lights can be turned down or even off entirely if you don’t want your room looking like a disco in the 90s, but personally I loved having the soft glow they created. Then again, I’m also one of those people that likes having lots of RGB stuff so that it can all match.

What I’m saying is that I found the G560 speakers to be very, very sexy, like a beautiful woman wearing lacy lingerie that has in-built RGB lighting in the straps. They catch the eye, yet the lighting can always be turned off if you fancy something a little less brash and more subtle. I’m talking about the lights on the speakers here, not the imaginary woman. Keep up.

All this lighting is controlled via Logitech’s very own software that must be downloaded from their site. From here choose the brightness and colors are a doddle, as is deciding whether you want some fancy color cycling. I’ve really got no complaints here; it’s an easy piece of software to use, even down to the fact that you can reprogram the G key that handles lighting brightness if you really want to. I have no idea why you would, but you can.

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You can also activate one of the more intriguing features in the form of screen sampling. Essentially the speakers use four areas of the screen that you can select to base their lighting on. By default, it’s the very edges of your screen that are selected. It’s an interesting idea that’s intended to help with immersion by creating the impression that your screen is bigger than it actually is, a sort of trick that fools your peripheral vision. In practice, though, the system is too aggressive for my tastes and in games or games it can often wind up looking more like a disco as it switches between colors and intensity. I feel like it works far better on something slow-paced or with a relatively limited color palette.

But enough of the looks! How do the damn things sound? Via the USB connection, you get 16-bit 4800hz sound resolution, and boy does the speakers and chunky downward-firing bass unit pack some impressive sound quality. Some tweaks really need to be made before you get to properly enjoy them thanks to the bass being massively overpowering on the default settings and the rest of the preset profiles just being okay. Once you do a little bit of playing around you get something really special. The bass packs a nice punch where it’s needed, there’s plenty of detail across the lows, mids, and highs and a slightly warm signature that I personally liked very much.

So, the speakers look great and they sound brilliant. Surely everything is okay, then? Well, not quite. As it transpires the G560s have a couple of big issues holding them back from true greatness.

The big one is that they’re just too damn loud! I’m not even joking. Even turned all the way down to 8-15 they’re powerful, and above that it becomes insane. Because of this, the volume adjustment is pitifully limited; 8 is too quiet, 10 is too loud, and so on. Trying to find a good level is like trying to find a microwave setting that doesn’t leave your food cold and horrible or turn it into a boiling pit of lava that will melt the flesh from your bones. This seems to be an issue with the software and Logitech have said they’re working on sorting it, but the speakers have been out for a few months now and no fix seems to become.

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There’s also a potential issue in how inconsistent the volume seems to be. Sometimes I swear there’s a much bigger leap from 12 to 14 than there has been in 4 to 6 to 8 and so on. The volume suddenly seems to jump upwards like it has been kicked in the crotch by someone wearing steel-toed boots. Again, these problems NEED to be resolved. They should never have been present at the launch, and while update or two has promised a better volume curve and other fixes there’s still considerable work that needs to be put into making these speakers more usable.

Finally, and I could be imagining this, but it sounded like the speakers were boosting the bass at certain points along the volume, specifically at around 14. It’s like the curve of the bass volume hasn’t been properly matched to the overall volume curve, creating a dissonant.

You can sort of fix some of the problems by hooking the G560s up using the 3.5mm jack instead. The volume curve is considerably less savage and likely to destroy your precious eardrums, and the speakers are no longer terrifyingly loud at even the lowest settings. However, you wind up with some annoyingly tinny sound instead. You could potentially get around this by hooking the speakers up to an internal or external sound card, but that’s an inelegant solution to an issue that shouldn’t exist.

Those are some big problems for a set of speakers that cost over £200. Thus far a quick browse on the forums indicates a lot of people having issues and Logitech has been poor with their communication. Only a few helpful Logitech employees seem to be trying to help people out and offer people some details on when potential fixes might be coming, but the company as a whole seems to be taking the approach of ignoring the irritating customers.

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Aaaaagh. These speakers are so immensely frustrating. I love how they sound, and I love how they look. The quality of audio matches that of my beloved Corsair SP2500 without the speakers and bass unit being as space-consuming. But the unresolved problems are huge and there doesn’t seem to be any real guarantees from Logitech that any of them are going to get fixed. Perhaps most annoying of all is that all of the other reviews from big sites seem to have completely ignored these issues in favor of heaping praise on them while hundreds of people trawl the Logitech forums in hopes of having their pleas answered.

If these problems get fixed then the G560s would become an instant recommendation from me. They really do sound superb, have a lovely aesthetic without the RGB lighting, and are pleasingly eye-catching with the lights on. But man those problems with volume and control are just too large to ignore. For now, avoid these speakers. Maybe just go and look at some pictures of them every now and then until you get confirmation that Logitech has sorted them out.

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Tech Review

Razer BlackWidow Tournament Edition V2 Keyboard Review – Clicky Goodness

Razer is something of a divisive force within the PC peripheral industry with many viewing them as over-priced while others have a near fanatic love of their products. As for me, I’ve only had my hands on some of their stuff over the years, so I feel like I went into this review fairly open-minded. And now what? I’m impressed.

The Tournament Edition of the Blackwidow that I’m reviewing here is a tenkeyless board meaning it comes without the Numpad on the right which vastly reduces its footprint. At 36.5cm x 15cm just with no extra space given over to the macro or media keys, this is a reasonably small keyboard, making it a good choice for people who like to have a small, tidy desk or like to keep their arms close together when gaming or other things. If you fancy something bigger there is always the full-sized BlackWidow.

The build quality is generally great across the board. There is decent feeling of weight to the keyboard without it being absurdly heavy, certainly fitting given Razer’s desire to present it as a good choice for traveling between E-sport events, and the plastic casing doesn’t flex, creak or otherwise give any indications that it’s anything less than solid. With that said the lack of a metal back plate as seen in other keyboards at this price point is a shame since it helps give a more high-quality feel, although it undoubtedly helps keep the price down.

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As a bonus there is even a padded wrist-rest sporting the Razer logo included in the box that magnetically attaches to the keyboard, and frankly it’s bloody awesome. There are a myriad of rests available on the Internet in a vast variety of sizes, but it’s nice to see a keyboard come with one specifically designed for it. It’s a faux leather material with a reasonable amount of padding underneath which strikes a good balance between being soft enough for comfort yet firm enough to make it feel like it can survive the everyday rigors of gaming and typing. And being magnetic you can move the entire rest around your table in case you’re like me and prefer to have your keyboard at an angle when gaming. Take heed other keyboard manufacturers.

So, no media or macro keys, no audio pass-through, and no USB slots. There aren’t many frills on this little beast, then, the only exception being Chroma, which is, of course, Razer’s patented  LED RGB lighting system. Control is handled through Razer Synapse, and I actually had some issues here: The 3.0 beta version of the software would see the Basilisk mouse I was testing at the time but not the keyboard, while the non-beta version of Synapse would detect the keyboard but not the mouse. Currently, at the moment it seems the 3.0 version of Synapse doesn’t support all the previous Razer devices, so depending on what you have hooked up you may need two versions of the same software running.

Once you get all of this nonsense sorted out, though, Chroma is pretty damn good. Razer has made some bright, striking LEDs that handle the color spectrum rather well. With that said there are a few flaws, like how white comes out looking more like a slightly blue-grey and the yellow seems tinged with green to my eyes. These are common problems with RGB LEDs, however, and besides these gripes, I was generally very impressed with the quality of the lighting. Sure, for a lot of people RGB LEDs are a stupid gimmick, but for those folk, they can simply be turned off completely. For those like myself, there is something childishly delightful about having your desk lit up like a firework show.

Coming back to the software the Razer Synapse suite is perfectly okay. It looks a bit dull but is easy to navigate and provides all the options you’d generally expect. Every single can be remapped using a drop-down menu that includes launching programs, mouse functions, and much more, or you can assign it a macro that you can easily record. Everything can be saved to profiles that you can flick through using a shortcut.

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Lurking underneath the keys are Razer’s own brand of a switch, in this case, the greens which have a loud click when activated that makes them perfect for typing and for annoying anyone else within a 5-mile radius. These guys need 50g of force to get them moving and have a 1.9mm  activation point along with a total of 4mm of travel. Cherry might dominate the market when it comes to keyboard switches, but honestly, these Razer ones felt just as good. There’s a little bit of wobble in the keys themselves but nothing major and the experience of both typing and gaming felt great. At the same time I was reviewing this board I was testing out Alienware’s AW568 which used Kailh Brown switches which technically require 5g less force to push and yet somehow felt stiffer and heavier. These, though, were much better for me. They might be heavier but they felt light and fast, and my typing speed didn’t deviate from its normal 110 words per minute or so, plus there was that little weird bit of me that got a jolt of pleasure from the clicking sounds. Seriously, what is it about a clicky keyboard that’s so damn satisfying?

In-game performance is predictably brilliant. I say predictably because these days almost any mechanical keyboard will be perfectly responsive for gaming. There are the expected 1000Mhz polling rate and the anti-ghosting/N-Key rollover technology combination that allows multiple keys to be pressed at the same time and still registered. The end result is that during gaming I never noticed any failures when it came to detecting a keypress, nor did I ever feel like the keyboard wasn’t responding quickly to my every whim and stupid decision.

In short, I freaking loved typing and gaming on this board. The greens give way with a satisfyingly tactile feeling before a loud, spine-tingling click can be heard.

The only potential issue with the switches is longevity. Cherry switches have been around long enough that we have a very clear idea of how durable they are, but Razer’s own brand of switches is harder to judge, so while they might feel great now there is always the possibility that six months down the line there will be problems. As always I’d advise taking the time to check out forums and other communities where people who have had the keyboard for a while can provide some details on longevity.

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That’s an unknown, though. All I can talk about is the here and now, and in that sense, the BlackWidow TE V2 is brilliant in my estimation. Now, to be fair the roughly £110 asking price is high, and the lack of extra features for that sort of cash may very well be a turn off for many people. I do feel they could have provided audio and/or USB pass-throughs without compromising on size. But personally, I don’t tend to want macro keys or even media controls as they go largely unused. Nor do I miss the Numpad on the right or the lack of passthrough options. If you’re like me and appreciate this more streamlined, compact design then the Blackwidow TE V2 is a fantastic choice boasting great switches and beautiful RGB LED lighting.

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Tech Review

Razer Wolverine Tournament Edition Controller Review – Not Starring Hugh Jackman

Regardless of whether you’re the type of person who is loyal to Microsoft or Sony, it’s pretty damn hard to deny that the first time you held an Xbox 360 controller it was a damn revelation. It sat in the hands like it was molded for your individual needs. The Xbox One controller is just as good if not better. So how do you improve on it? Well, according to Razer you give it more buttons, some RGB LED lighting, swap out the d-pad and then slap a big price tag on it. Enter the Wolverine Tournament Edition.

The connection is wired using a braided micro-USB cable that stretches out to ten feet, although frustratingly the connection area on the controller has two small plastic shelves on either side that mean you can’t just use any old  Micro USB cable, you must use the one Razer provides in the box. What if that cable breaks, or if you want a shorter or longer cable? Tough luck. It’s a design choice I simply can’t wrap my head around. There is no possible reason I can conjure up to justify it.

It’s also a tad surprising that you can’t unplug it and go wireless. Now, certainly a wired connection provides the best possible signal transference from the controller to the console or PC and you don’t have to worry about running out of battery power at the worst possible minute, but in 2017 there’s no denying that a lot of people also like the freedom that wireless can provide, so it’s a shame that you can’t unplug the cable and run the Wolverine off of batteries. Even the Wolverine Ultimate doesn’t have wireless capabilities, while the Wolverine’s closest competitor, Microsoft’s own Xbox One Elite Controller, can be used wirelessly or wired.

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The ergonomics are superb, albeit not quite matching the comfort levels of the standard Xbox One controller whose luscious curves still get me a little excited. Ahem. Some lightly textured rubber on the back of the hand grips help keep your delicate little fingers in place during those tenser multiplayer matches, and your index fingers naturally rest on the two extra paddles that the Wolverine has squirreled away on its rear. More on these extra buttons and paddles soon.

Its heavier than the standard Xbox One controllers, but actually slightly lighter than Microsofts own Elite controller. It’s a good weight, feeling nice and chunky in the hands without being absurdly hefty. In other words, it feels like a good weapon to throw at a friend whenever you lose in a split-screen game.

Since this is 2017 there’s even a strip of Razer’s Chroma RGB LED lighting running just below the Xbox home button that you can customise using the Razer Synapse software. You can, of course, opt to have a single static color, or you can have it flash in reaction to button presses or force feedback rumble.

The serviceable, but ultimately not very good for fighting games, D-pad of the original controller has been swapped out for Razers own design, so to put it through its paces I slapped on Injustice 2, which I hadn’t played for a while, and got promptly demolished. But that was my rustiness and not the controller which performed admirably. Razer’s D-pad is a step-up from the standard one, letting me be much more precise with my inputs. My only complaint here is that the right directional button felt a little less clicky and tactile than the other three. This could just be a small production issue in my test unit, though.

The four face buttons have been changed, too, with Razer changing them over to something springy that feels more akin to a mouse click. They took some getting used to, mostly because they require more force than standard controller buttons to activate. It slowed me down at first because I found myself in the middle of a hectic firefight, thinking I’d hit a button and thus dying. It’s something you get used to quite quickly, though, adjusting your playstyle until before long you’re hammering away like an angry baboon just like before.

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The two thumbsticks have probably gotten the least change as they felt almost identical to the typical Xbox One controller to me, which is actually a shame for me as I’d like just a touch more tension.

As for your triggers and should buttons they’ve mostly been left alone in terms of their basic design. Personally, I’d like a touch more tension in the triggers for racing games, but they feel close to the standard Xbox One controller, except perhaps just a touch smoother. However, where Razer have changed things is in the inclusion of two switches, one for each trigger, that drastically shorten the travel distance on the triggers as well as changing the activation point. Immediately this became something I loved for shooters, although I do have to confess that using them in multiplayer almost felt like cheating as their much shorter travel distance does give you an objective edge over people using standard controllers. With that said, even in the hands of a superb player the milliseconds that the shorter trigger activation will save won’t make a huge difference.

On top of that, we’ve got two extra buttons that have been placed on the top of the controller, just in from the triggers and bumpers. These new buttons are relatively tall so I found it surprisingly easy to access them. Plus Razer have added a very small, flat area between the triggers and bumpers to help aid you in reaching the new buttons without accidentally pressing anything else.

And if you feel like you may need a few more buttons then Razer have you covered with two paddle-esque buttons on the rear of the controller that sit exactly where your index fingers reside. Given their location Razer smartly opted for them to require a bit of pressure to activate, although there were a couple of occasions when I clicked them accidentally.

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These extra buttons and the RGB LED strip can be controlled through the Razer Synapse software which is also available as an app for your Xbox One. On PC every single button can be remapped, but on Microsoft’s console only the four extra ones can be altered. However, you are free to remap these buttons to any of the existing controls, including thumbstick movements. For example in the recent Call of Duty: WWII you could set one of the extra buttons to activate a Killstreak reward so that you don’t have to take your thumb off the stick. The software itself is easy to use if somewhat visually unexciting. While you can record macros on the PC that feature is missing on the Xbox One.

Where Razer have tripped over themselves is pricing: at around £110-120 this is not a cheap choice for anyone. Microsoft’s own Elite Controller comes in at the same price but also includes a carry case, batteries for wireless mode, six thumbsticks that can be swapped out and two D-pads to choose from. Now, to be fair I’ve not personally gotten hands-on time with Microsoft’s pricey controller so I can’t tell you if its better, but purely on paper the extra stuff you get will sway many people. Razer do have an Ultimate version of their Wolverine that comes packaged with swappable thumbsticks, two more buttons to use and other goodies including carry case, but that adds about another £30-40. Ouch.

Razer have always priced their products high, but I feel considering how good the regular Xbox controller it’s pretty hard to justify splashing so much cash on a new one for the vast majority of people. That makes it tricky to put a recommendation sticker on because the simple fact is that I wouldn’t recommend it to most folk.

But if you toss aside the cost then the Wolverine is pretty damn good. It feels responsive, fits nicely in the hand, the extra buttons are handy and the ability to reduce trigger travel is great for shooters. The software on the Xbox One is a breeze to use, too, and while the lighting strip may be utterly pointless the truth is I actually kind of like having my gear lit up like a Christmas tree.

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Tech Review

Jake Sapir: Starwars: Knights of the Old Republic game

Us gamers go by a code. Let’s call this a set of unspoken rules if you will. There is a certain etiquette to what we do and with this comes an understanding that certain behaviors just aren’t on. One of the top-ranking rules in this list is the spoiler rule. This goes for books, movies, and absolutely for games. Don’t tell people who haven’t played the game anything about the plot of the game, especially the end. This can basically be boiled down to, “don’t be a dick.” This, if you’re not a dick, will all be fairly self-explanatory. Now with this in mind and with a bit of trepidation we come to the third installment of QOTW. I clearly hate my own existence…

The question I’ve posed the TVGB crew this week is as to what their favorite videogame plot twists are. Before we go any further (because I like my knees), I’m posting a very big, very obvious disclaimer to this article. The next 10 entries will, without a doubt, contain spoilers that may ruin the game for those of you wanting to play that entry. If you really fancy any of the games on this list and don’t want to be let down, SKIP THE ENTRY AND MOVE ON. I do not want people looking for me or any of the others later. We know what we’re doing. It isn’t big and it isn’t clever, but for those of you that don’t care, it will be entertaining.

Right …with that little rant over, let’s get on with things, shall we? Without further ado … TVGB’s favorite plot twists in videogames.

Jake Sapir: Starwars: Knights of the Old Republic

Perhaps this is cliche, but my favorite plot twist in a game has to be the one in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I know lately people have given this one flak for being obvious and dull but finding out that my character was really Darth Revan all along shocked me when I was a kid. Suddenly, this was a very different story, and I had important choices to make. It was very cool seeing how my various crewmates responded to the revelation; the characters respond the way you would expect each of them to, thanks to Bioware’s stunning writing back in the day. It made me feel like my choices from then on really mattered, not just for me and my crew, but for the entire galaxy. Whether you choose the Light or the Dark, your character becomes central to the conflict engulfing the galaxy, and that wouldn’t be nearly as exciting without this twist.

Emily Mullis: Final Fantasy X

My favorite plot twist, that actually blew my mind when I was a kid, was in Final Fantasy X when it is revealed Tidus is actually dead. I was so invested in him and Yuna my mind couldn’t comprehend what was actually happening. I believed there had to be some way for them to be together. But when the ending came and he started to disappear I thought, nope, this is it. All this for nothing.

I was pretty new to RPGs and big storyline games when I first started playing Final Fantasy X so I didn’t know what I was getting into. The experience of playing that game was life-changing. I mostly play RPGs now because of games like Final Fantasy X, I can’t get enough of good videogame storytelling. The stories are rich and plot twists are a possibility. Keeps you on your toes.

Jonathan Crawford: Super Mario RPG

My all-time favorite plot twist took place in Super Mario RPG for the SNES. The game starts off in what we think will be typical Mario fashion: Bowser kidnaps the princess. However, a new villain appears on the scene, kicking Bowser out of his own castle and turning the Mario story on its head! The real twist comes about halfway through the game when Mario comes across a sobbing and distraught Bowser. Bowser and Mario agree to work together against their common enemy! Technically, Bowser allows Mario to join the Koopa Troop. In any event, Bowser and Mario team up, and the most famous videogame villain of all time becomes a playable character! In recent years, a sillier side of Bowser has often been shown, but during the SNES era, he was still the saddest baddie on the planet, and joining forces with Mario was unheard of. I’m still holding out for the true sequel to this classic!

Peter Daubert: Bioshock Infinite

I was 16 when I played this game, I played the whole thing through, loving every single minute of its crisp shooting mechanics and invigorating story and setting. I became irrationally attached to Elizabeth, mostly due, I believe, to our shared fascination with out of reach worlds. I went on an absolutely incredible journey in this game and became intensely invested in freeing Elizabeth from the horrors of her tower and her captor, Comstock.

To find out I WAS Comstock, truly shattered me. The final scene of the game completely put me in a tailspin, and it made me question everything I had done all game long. It put everything in perspective, while simultaneously forcing me to act out the very thing I was so wanting to change. Sometimes I still think about how much I wish I could go back and play the whole thing again.

Alex Southgate: The Legacy of Kain/Soul Reaver series

I’ve mentioned this franchise in the past but I truly believe that if you’re talking about twists, this wonderful five-game series cannot be overlooked. There is no one twist in these games that stands out because there are so many little, cleverly written facets to the story that it’s full of surprises.

You have two separate stories and as such two separate protagonists in the Legacy of Kain series. Kain is a vampire who has to save the world of Nosgoth after its council, The Circle of Nine, become corrupt. The Council keeps the magical Pillars. Each pillar represents a fundamental aspect of existence, and as they break down, the world falls into darkness. The story starts with the murder of Ariel, the keeper of the Pillar of Balance. This sends her lover Nupraptor, the Guardian of the Mind, mad. As he is a powerful telepath, this madness seeps like poison into the rest of the council and everything goes to hell from there. You will find out it’s all planned. Kain is the new guardian of balance and he will have to make the ultimate choice to die with the others and set the world straight or take over. We can guess what happens. I suggest having a look here. That was confusing and rambling but this is a great little page that covers everything.

In the background, Moebius, Keeper of Time, hasn’t gone mad and is pulling the strings of everything and will be throughout all of the games. Raziel appears in Kain’s past, present, and future. As the protagonists of the Soul Reaver games, the two are both friends and sworn enemies depending on where in the plot you look. Everything finally comes together in Defiance, where you will play both characters who will have to put aside their differences once and for all.

This is supposed to be an entry, not an article, so one twist I really love is how Malek, the Guardian of Conflict, can’t protect an earlier council from a vampire attack, something that gets him turned into a haunted suit of armor. This is in the first game. You don’t see why though until the fifth game and it’s because he’s fighting Kain and Raziel and can’t get to the others in time.

Enough of my babbling. If you haven’t played this series and love a well-written, action-packed story, you must go out and find it. It’s well worth your time. To get the most out of them, you have to play all of the games in order or you’ll miss out on so many twists in the plot.

There you have it! I’ll be back next time with another question for the lads and lasses on the team. Until then, go out and play some of the entries above. I don’t think we’ve ruined too much for you. Remember, no angry mobs, please. You were warned in advance.

Categories
Tech Review

Oculus Rift S Review – Upgrade, Or Downgrade?

he Oculus Rift S is not the next big Rift that we’ve all been waiting for, and Oculus themselves have been careful not to advertise it as one. No, the Oculus Rift S is…uh. Honestly, the problem is I don’t think anyone is sure what the S actually is. It isn’t an upgrade nor arguably even a refinement as many of the improvements have come at the expense of other features. So, let’s review the Oculus Rift S and try to figure who this VR headset is really for.

I’ll preface the review by saying I upgraded from the original Rift to the Oculus Rift S, so I’m familiar with the Oculus Rift and am writing this review from the perspective of someone who made the sacrifice.

Oculus Rift S Packaging, Comfort & Build

But before we delve deep into the headset itself let’s stop and quickly chat about the packaging. I know, I know, does the box it comes in make a difference? Not really, but in some ways the packaging for the Oculus Rift S is indicative of the system as a whole. Unboxing the original Oculus was a pleasure: a massive chunky box, clips holding the headset in place and lovely foam padding. By comparison the Oculus Rift S box feels cheaper with less padding or feeling of luxury. It isn’t a huge problem, but this is a prime example of how the Rift S can sometimes feel like a step down from the headset it’s replacing.

This new iteration of the Oculus Rift has been designed in partnership with Lenovo, as indicated by the Lenovo logo on the side. The fabric straps of the original Oculus Rift have been tossed into the design bin and instead it looks like the PS VR has been copied almost entirely. There’s now a halo band that encircles your head with a strap at the top and a large, easy to use dial at the rear which tightens the whole headset. At the front there’s another familiar PS VR feature; the whole front piece moves in and out which is very handy if you wear glasses.

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All in all I found the Oculus Rift S to be much more comfortable than its predecessor. The weight feels like its more evenly spread around your skull now, and so longer sessions are a doddle. Due to the new cameras the front of the headset is heavier than ever, but the halo manages to balance everything out nicely.

The cushioning is less impressive. Both front and back have very basic foam padding that doesn’t seem to be moisture resistant, so during intense games they tend to become a slightly soggy mess. The cushions running around the halo band have all been glued into place, so you can’t remove them which makes cleaning more awkward and also means you can’t just replace them. At least the entire front faceplate can be taken off so swapping it out with a superior after market cushion that offers better comfort and cleaning is possible. But for a £400 product the cheap foam padding that you get is disappointing.

Speaking of cheap, the whole unit lacks the polish and refinement that you hope to see in such an expensive product. The original Oculus Rift has a lovely fabric finish and a relatively sleek design, whereas the Oculus Rift S is made of a hard plastic and looks kind of cheap. Of course, when its strapped to your face what it looks like is everyone else’s problem.

Even the cable has gotten a redesign. It’s now 1m longer than the original Rift bringing the total length to 5m, and it’s a much thicker gauge. The whole thing still connects via USB but the HDMI connection has been thrown out of a window and in its place is a DisplayPort connector. Inside the box you get a DisplayPort-to-mini-Displayport adapter which lets it connect to some laptops.

Another big change is that the physical IPD (interpupillary distance) of the Original Oculus has vanished into the ether. What we get now is digital IPD but it has a smaller spectrum of adjustment, so if you happen to have quite a wide or narrow IPD then the Oculus Rift S isn’t for you. This change is sadly a direct result of the change from dual screens to a single screen system, but it’s still a potentially big problem for some users.

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The controllers have gotten a redesign, too. The sensor ring has been shifted to the top now, for example, and the slightly awkward mini-touchpad has vanished entirely. They’re comfy to use and while I still wish there was a proper place to rest my thumb I’m quite happy with them. They’re still powered by single AA batteries which are covered using magnetic covers, though the magnets seem a bit weaker this time round.

Inside-Out Tracing Is The Future?

Probably the biggest change with the new Rift S is that external sensors are gone. This has some obvious benefits: firstly, with no sensors needed you no longer have to worry about losing 2-3 of your USB ports. You also don’t need to route cables around your room, or awkwardly move your PC to find a good spot. Personally, this new freedom to position myself in the room was fantastic as previously the only places I could put the sensors meant I didn’t have as much space as possible and the wire was constantly getting in the way.

The new inside-out tracking system means there are now cameras embedded in the headset itself which track your controllers. You have instant access to room-scale VR with this, the only limitation being the cable tethering you to the PC. On paper, it’s a huge change. If you have a room free then now you can utilize the entire space without needing to buy extra sensors or route cables. That’s an exciting prospect, the only thing missing from the equation being a wireless headset.

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But there are some big tradeoffs when it comes to the tracking. The five cameras positioned around the front of the headset provide pretty good coverage, but when you bring your hands up in front of your face the tracking can go a little crazy. Likewise, raising your hands above your head or reaching for something behind your back can cause the tracking to struggle. There’s also issues when you place one controller in front of the other, like when using a two-handed gun in a game. These problems are being worked on through software updates but it’s fair to say that while convenient inside-out tracking isn’t as accurate as external sensors.

With that said, outside of those problems the tracking feels just as accurate as the original Rift.

Another benefit of the new cameras is that you can use pass through, which means you can swap to a grey-scale view of your real-world surroundings at the press of a button. It’s not a very detailed image, but it lets you check where your dog is, grab your drink, make sure you haven’t accidentally wandered close to something breakable and just provide one more excuse to never leave VR.

A New Screen, A Sharper Image

And finally, lets talk about the screen. Firstly the 90Hz refresh rate that Oculus adamantly declared to be the “sweet spot” for VR gaming has been abandoned in favour of a slightly lower 80Hz. It’s strange to see the company retreating from their previous stance, but after using the headset I have to admit that I didn’t notice the difference. That surprised me because I’ve always been quite sensitive when it comes to seeing the difference between lower and higher refresh rates on a normal PC screen. While it may not have had any effect on me, however, the drop in refresh unarguably risks VR sickness in other folk who might just find the 10Hz decrease to be too much.

As for the screen itself the original OLED is out and in its place is an LCD running at 2560 x 1440, which is a slight step up in terms of raw resolution from the previous 2160 x 1200. Without the OLED screen the contrast and color isn’t as good, but trade-off is a sharper image and a substantial decrease in God Rays, something which I always had a lot of problems with when using the original Oculus Rift. Overall the new screen, the resolution, the reduction in the God Rays and whatever other magic is being worked in the background were a huge improvement in terms of eye fatigue, at least for me personally. With the old Rift I would find myself awkwardly trying to focus on things in the distance or accidentally focusing on the screen door effect. With the Oculus Rift S this was much less of an issue and that meant I was a lot more comfortable overall. The resolution bump was probably most notable in racing titles like Project Cars 2 because distant corners, cars and markers were much easier to spot.

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There’s also a larger sweet spot on the Oculus Rift S, meaning it’s easier find that point where everything is in focus. This in turn means there’s a little less hassle when ramming the Oculus Rift S onto your head.

As for setup it was a breeze. Once connected you’ll need to lay some boundary lines and for that the Oculus Rift S swaps over to the pass through cameras so that you can quickly draw your plays pace using one of the controllers. Easy.

Terrible Audio

So far the story of the Oculus Rift S has been one of tradeoffs: better resolution but lower refresh rate; easy access to room-scale VR but some big tracking problems. But now we arrive at a pure loss with no tangible benefit. The Oculus Rift came equipped with basic but effective earphones that sat on your ears. For the Oculus Rift S these have been removed and in their place is a new ambient audio system, with sound now being pumped out of the headband itself via a few small holes. This means the audio is being put out above your ears, and the result is frankly pathetic. In-game action, music and movies all sound tinny, lacking any sort of depth or bass. It also means anyone in the room with you is subjected to whatever gross, horrific thing you’re doing. Ahem.

The only benefits I can think of behind ripping out the earphones is that you can hear the real world and thus may potentially evade sneaky ninja attacks, and that not having something sitting on your ears feels better than having something on them. Neither of these things are worth the loss, though. Even by sliced up by one of them sneaky ninjas would be worth risking for some decent audio.

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There is at least a standard 3.5mm output so that you can plug in your own audio solution. Finding anything to fit over the chunky headband can be a challenge, though. Personally, I’m using the PS VR Mantis which I previously had hooked up to my PS VR unit. These have a clamp that fits nicely over the headband, and by using a cable tie the wires can be kept out of the way. It’s a shame they only come in white and thus ruin the aesthetic a bit, but that’s worth it for half-decent sound.

Who The Hell Is The Oculus Rift S For?

The Oculus Rift S is a strange beast indeed. Oculus themselves were careful not to market this as a true sequel and that was smart, but it doesn’t seem to be a refinement of the existing hardware, either, which makes its existence…pointless? I’m just not sure who this is meant to be for. Certainly it isn’t for owners of the original Oculus Rift as the various trade-offs don’t make it worth upgrading to the Oculus Rift S. For VR newcomers the Oculus Rift S has replaced the original headset entirely on store shelves, but I can’t say they’re getting a better product overall.

But let’s toss all of that to the side for a minute and just talk about the Oculus Rift S on its own. While the Valve Index is Ferrari of VR headsets with a colossal price tag and the PS VR is more like the slightly dented second-hand Ford Fiesta the Oculus Rift S is the mid-range family car. A little expensive but still affordable. While the Oculus Rift S does have some obvious drawbacks it’s still a fantastic VR experience and the best way to get into virtual reality. Yes, PS VR is cheaper and the Valve Index is better, but the Rift S strikes the best balance in my eyes provided you’ve got a machine capable of handling it.

Categories
Tech Review

Mamut Touch Grips Review – How To Make Oculus Touch Controllers More Like Index Knuckles

With the rise of VR headsets, there’s been a whole new industry for accessories that appeared almost overnight, from prescription lenses to fancy gun stocks, both of which I’ll be reviewing shortly. Today I’m checking out the Mamut Touch Grips for the Touch Oculus Rift, Oculus Rift S, and Oculus Touch Quest. These little bits of plastic aim to bring the Oculus Touch Rift controllers more inline with Valve’s new Index Knuckle controllers. In other words, the Mamut Touch Grips allow you to let go of the controllers entirely.

The Mamuts are essentially two rubber grips that slide onto the Oculus Touch Rift Touch controllers. They extend and widen the handle and thus provide a bit more room for larger hands. On the outside of each Mamut, there’s a textured surface to help improve your grip and overall they feel quite comfortable, though they don’t make a huge difference. The Oculus Touch Rift S controllers were already quite comfy to hold, after all.

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But the big selling point is the straps that run across the back of your hand. These two shoe-laces get weaved through holes in the Mamut Touch Grip and also tied around the circular sensor on the Oculus  Touch controllers. On the bottom of the grips, an anchor of sorts lets you adjust the strap tightness for a nice, snug fit or in case you ever felt like cutting off the circulation to your hands entirely. I’d advise not trying that, though.

Aside from the obvious added sense of security, the Mamut’s provide when waving your hands about the key selling point is that they allow you to let go of the Touch controllers entirely. Now obviously there’s still a point of contact where the straps hold the Oculus Touch Controllers firmly against the palm of the hand, but other than that you can completely uncurl your fingers. In-game this lets you properly let go of objects and walk around without feeling like you’re holding onto something all the time.

I know that doesn’t sound like a massive deal, but with the current iteration of Oculus Touch Controllers, the weird way in which you use the grip button creates an unnatural feeling. This helps eliminate that, adding a little extra layer of immersion into your VR gaming. It feels good to walk up to a sword and wrap your hand around it rather than just flexing a finger. It also makes throwing in games much easier to judge. I don’t know about you, but when I throw things in VR I tend to struggle to remember that I only need to release a finger rather than all of them.

My one real complaint is that I would have preferred a single, thick strap. While the two shoelaces certainly aren’t uncomfortable it does mean you have two thinner points of contact running across the bank of your hand which is less comfortable than one single strap that distributes the force more evenly.

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All in all the Mamut grips are a nice addition to an Oculus Touch Rift, but for what they are they do feel overpriced. Currently, the asking price for a set is $37 plus shipping which can obviously add a fair bit to the total. Shipping here to the UK, though, was free so the total price amounted to £31. Considering the Mamuts are basically just shaped plastic and some shoelaces they don’t quite feel like a bargain.

Still, now that I’ve got the Mamut Touch Grips on my Oculus Touch Rift S controllers I don’t want to take them off. They’re a relatively small upgrade but one that’s worth making if you have the cash to spare.

Categories
Tech Review

Cello W3203SH Monitor Review – 144hz Of Smoothness

When it comes to monitors if you have the cash then you can pretty much have it all, but at the lower end of the scale, it becomes a case of picking and choosing what you really want. Do you desire those extra pixels? Or do you favor a high refresh rate? A fast response time, or vibrant colors capable of searing your eyeballs? In this case, Cello, who has begun bringing their products to the UK, reckon you might like as many frames per second as you can handle and 32″ of the screen to go with it. Let’s check out the snappily named Cello W3203SH

Let’s kick off with the basics: the Cello W3203SH offers up its 32″ inches of the panel in a 16:9 widescreen format and housed within reasonably thin bezels. On the rear, there’s a bit of visual flair thanks to a large triangular chunk of plastic that houses two air vents keeping the whole unit cooled. These two vents, as well as a line atop the screen, are bright red which might cause headaches if you like your gear to match. No other colors seem to be available, a strange choice considering a lot of folks do like a sense of uniformity amongst their tech.

The stand is a chunky metal number that requires some minimal construction. At 724.5 x 208.6 x 510.5mm the whole thing is fairly deep, so if you have a smaller desk you might struggle to fit this beast on there. Make sure you measure before you buy it.

Disappointingly, there is absolutely no height adjustment or tilt. What you see is what you get. In 2019 lacking both of these features is a major problem in my eyes, even if the Cello is a budget monitor. There’s no option for Vesa mounting, either, so you’re stuck with what you get in the box.

In terms of connectivity, there’s exactly one HDMI and one Displayport located on the back. There’s also a DVI connection and a standard 3.5mm audio jack in case you want to route your audio through the monitor itself.

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On the back, you’ll also find that there’s a red, plastic half-hoop designed to help hold cables out of the way so that everything looks clean and tidy. It doesn’t do a great job, but it’s better than having nothing.

But let’s get onto the juicy stuff. The Cello W3203SH sports a VA LED panel, a type that usually features good colors and great contrast but that is typically slower when it comes to response times. Now, I’m far from an expert and I don’t have any professional gear to help me properly dissect the panel’s performance, response times, and image. In other words, the following is my opinion based purely on looking at the screen. I stared intently and at close range, sacrificing the health of my own precious eyeballs to deliver this review. While I can no longer see the faces of my loved ones, it was worth it.

At 1080p and with 32″ inches of the screen the Cello W3203SH is sitting at the limits of resolution versus size. Text isn’t as sharp as I’d like, for example. At this sort of size, I’d personally have preferred 1440p but the 1080p image does the trick. The 1080p resolution of the Cello W3203SH does at least have the benefit of meaning it will be a lot easier to get those high frame rates without needing a super-powered computer.

The overall image quality is what I’d describe as being okay. Being a VA panel the nice levels of contrast aren’t really a surprise, with some nice deep blacks to be found. But the colors don’t match that. They lack the punch and pop of an IPS panel, certainly, but they also just aren’t able to match some of the better VA panels on the market, either. Compared to my own AOC AG352UCG6, which is also a VA, the colors are noticeably less vibrant, though some tweaking in the settings can help. A quick check of the box reveals that Cello W3203SH claims the panel has a 72% color gamut which explains the issue. That rating puts it firmly in the average category and compared to my own screen the smaller range of colors is notable as it means there’s a little less depth to the image.

The edge lighting also wasn’t the best because there’s some inconsistency across the screen. The edges were nice and bright, but toward the middle, it was lacking. There was also a slightly washed-out quality to the overall image.

However, I’m comparing this £250 screen to a vastly more expensive model. Given the price range, the image quality is okay. It’s not going to blow you away, but it’s perfectly fine.

Okay, so far there’s nothing special about the Cello W3203SH. What are all these sacrifices for? Well, the big selling point of this monitor is that for your £249 you get a 144hz refresh rate, meaning providing that you have powerful enough hardware you can hit 144fps in-game and be able to see it. Over the years there have been huge debates about what can and cannot be seen by the human eye. Make no mistake, 60hz is not the limit of what you can see, and doubling the number of frames being pushed onto the screen has a huge effect. Everything is silky smooth. The power of the effect will change from person to person with some being more sensitive to it than others, but for me, the 144hz refresh rate is probably a bigger upgrade than going from 1080p to 4k. It’s hard to go back.

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When it comes to response time Cello W3203SH advertises 5ms, although it’s a little trickier than that. The actual default response time is 26ms as listed on the packaging, so to achieve the 5ms you need to use the Overdrive function. In general, this can result in some issues like ghosting. In the case of the Cello W3203SH monitor, I found the highest Overdrive setting did cause some notable ghosting, but the mid-range setting proved fine so I left it that. I had no way of knowing what the exact response time was, then, but I can say that it felt perfectly fine to play on, keeping in mind that I’m not at a professional level. Games like DOOM and CS: GO had no issues with response times.

There’ also support for AMD’s Freesync technology which means if you have an AMD graphics card you can use this to match the refresh rate of the screen to the in-game framerate. In theory, this reduces the amount of screen tearing and should make for a smoother experience.

You get a few little bonus features, too. For example, the screen boasts flicker-free technology which should in theory held reduce headaches. Now, this is a difficult thing to test as not everyone gets headaches from looking at screens. I am actually one of those unfortunate people who can suffer from headaches so I’ve favored flicker-free screens wherever possible as I discovered years ago that they did seem to genuinely help me.

There’s also low blue light which is helpful at night to reduce eye strain. It’s not something I personally use, but a lot of people don’t like having their retinas seared at nighttime so I’m sure it will prove useful to someone.

The Cello W3203SH isn’t going to blow any minds but if you really fancy joining the glorious 144hz master race then you can get a membership at a reasonable price backed up by decent picture quality and a sizable chunk of screen real estate to boot.

Categories
Tech Review

Switch Lite Review – A Non-Switch Owner Reviews The Lite

he new Nintendo Switch Lite has been out for a few weeks now, it is the newest handheld console to hit the market. While it might have the Switch name the Lite is arguably more of a successor to the massively popular DS line-up of handhelds. Personally I don’t own a Nintendo Switch but I have been waiting for a new, modern handheld console that I can play on the train, in a plane or just when I’m curled up in a bean bag and can’t be bothered moving.

But just because I don’t own a regular Switch doesn’t mean we don’t need to chat about the differences between the two models. Retailing at around £200 the Switch Lite is £100 cheaper than its big brother so there have been some major cutbacks. The biggest and most important is that the Switch Lite can’t be docked, meaning it cannot be hooked up to a TV or monitor in order to play games on a big screen like its big brother can. In fact, it doesn’t have any form of external output capability, so you can’t even jerry-rig anything. In other words, the Switch Lite can’t actually switch. It’s the Static Lite.

The screen is also smaller. On the regular Switch, the handheld mode offers a 6.2-inch touch-screen display with a 720p resolution. The Switch Lite drops the display size down to 5.5-inches for a smaller form factor, but you do still get the same 720p resolution which means the Switch Lite actually has a slightly sharper screen. It’s not a huge difference but it helps combat the fact that on the smaller display text can sometimes be tricky to read in-games. Luckily just like the regular Switch, the Switch Lite has a zoom function built-in. Touch-screen functionality is also present.

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As for the controls they can’t be detached from the console itself. On the Lite they are firmly built into the device, which should offer a little more durability and far less chance of a Joy-Con getting accidentally lost. You can, however, still, buy Joy-Cons and connect them wirelessly to the Switch Lite in order to enjoy local multiplayer in certain games, although I’m not sure the 5.5-inch screen is very appealing in that regard. I’ve not yet felt the urge to huddle a few friends around the tiny screen in order to enjoy some Mario Kart 8.

All of this equates to an 8.2 x 3.6-inch package that is quite a bit smaller than the regular Switch’s 9.4 x 4-inch. When you pick it up it fits nicely into the hands and it feels sturdy. The plastic shell doesn’t exactly scream premium product but it feels and looks nice, so that’s not much of an issue. It doesn’t fit into pockets very easily, mind you, which is always a bit of a bummer with portable consoles. But at just 275g it does feel rather lite (sorry) in the hands which is great for those longer sessions and also makes it easier to hold in one hand while using the touch screen.

As for color choice you currently only get the Switch Lite in three basic hues: a grey model, turquoise, and pale yellow. I’m honestly not a fan of any of them but eventually opted for the yellow which looks decent enough in real life. I’d still like to see some more colors available, though.

Another minor difference is that you don’t get an inbuilt kickstand. It’s not exactly a huge problem but if you do feel like watching some Youtube videos or something then awkwardly propping the Lite up is a bit of pain in the buttocks. The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller can also be connected to the Lite, so again no kickstand is a real shame. I’m sure some of the third-party accessories will solve this, though.

Finally, the Lite has absolutely no rumble built-in. I assume this was ditched to help cut down cost and save on battery, and I can’t say it’s a feature I missed, though it could certainly have helped with immersion.

With the major differences out of the way let’s jump into the Lite in more detail. The obvious advantage of the Switch Lite is that nearly the entire Switch library of games is available to play on it. The only limitation is the game has to support handheld mode (indicated on the box) but since the vast majority of Switch games do that’s hardly a problem. This means you’ve got access to a wealth of amazing games right from the get-go, from the likes of Breath of the Wild and the new Link’s Awakening remake to Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2 and so much more. It’s an impressive library of titles to choose from that Nintendo has constructed over the past few years and the Lite gets instant access to them.

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The downside to all these awesome exclusive games is that they are pricey. Games on Nintendo platforms, especially first-party titles like Mario and Zelda, tend to hold their price and so stuff like Mario Kart 8 and Breath of the Wild still retail for about £40-50 and even pre-owned versions still sit at about £30-40. For example, a quick scour on eBay revealed that Mario Kart 8, which is actually a port of the Wii U game, can be picked up for £32 provided you don’t mind getting the cartridge only.

Of course, the good news about these high prices is that you get a good resale value for your games. Provided you’re willing to sell games you’ve finished you can recoup a good chunk of what you paid for it to put toward the next purchase.

If you prefer going digital then be warned: the Switch Lite comes with a disappointingly low 32GB of in-built storage space. Obviously I’d recommend picking up an SD card to expand that if you tend to download games rather than buy the physical cartridges. A handheld like this really should have come with substantially more storage by default, especially with so many people now swapping to digital gaming over buying physical copies.

The in-built wi-fi on the Switch Lite isn’t great, either. Download speeds tend to be slow, something which users of the regular Switch have suffered from as well. Having slow wi-fi in 2019 is genuinely baffling and that Nintendo didn’t seek to remedy this for the Lite and the new iteration of the Switch is frustrating.

As for the Nintendo E-shop as a whole and the Switch Lite’s software, it’s all perfectly okay. There’s really not much more to say about it: it’s simple, functional stuff that runs quickly and lets you navigate easily. There’s a nice Nintendo News button, too, so that you can quickly get updated on sales or new demos and whatever else. You can also browse the web, watch Youtube, and do a few other things.

If you want to play some online games then that means paying for Nintendo Online which costs about £3.50 per month or £18.00 for an entire year. There’s also an option for a family membership which includes 8 separate accounts for £32. Your cash also nets you access to a growing library of NES and SNES games which is great if you’re a fan of retro gaming. Unlike Sony and Microsoft however, you don’t get gifted any games each month, although the Nintendo service is much cheaper than isn’t surprising.

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The main selling point of Nintendo Online is obviously being able to play against people or in co-op, so how does that side of things hold up? Well, not great. One of the hopes was that Nintendo Online would offer dedicated servers for the major first-party games like Mario Kart 8, but that’s not the case so instead, you have to rely on peer-to-peer connections which are notoriously iffy. Putting peer-to-peer aside, for now, the connection across the Nintendo service feels generally less reliable than on other platforms. I encountered quite a lot of problems with lag, players dropping out or even myself losing connection entirely.

Voice chat across multiplayer is handled awkwardly, too. While some third-party titles have native voice-chat functionality the first-party Nintendo games don’t. Instead of paying for Nintendo Online gives you access to a smartphone app that you can use to chat with other people. It’s a clumsy workaround.

Finally, Nintendo Online offers Cloud Save which is always handy if you’re running multiple Switch’s or in case one gets damaged. Considering the likes of Microsoft offer Cloud saving for free on the Xbox though, Nintendo asking for money for the feature feels cheap.

And that’s the general impression I get with the whole of Nintendo Online: it’s cheap, both in terms of price and in terms of what you actually get with it. Sony and Microsoft both ask for more money, but in turn, you get a much better overall service.

Now let’s chat about comfort and usability. I’ve got relatively small hands and found the Switch Lite to be easy to hold and quite comfy. With that said larger hands might find it a bit cramped at times. The face buttons feel superb with a nice softness to them whilst still having a satisfying feel when they bottom out, and the new d-pad on the left does a good job at handling intense platforming, although it did struggle to keep up during fighting games. With that said if you’re a big fighting game fan, I doubt the Switch Lite would be your console of choice anyway.

I thought the 5.5-inch screen might just be a little small for gaming on but to my surprise it wasn’t an issue. I had no problem getting absorbed into whatever I was playing. The little screen is reasonably bright which is handy when you’re out in the sun. Things looked sharp and detailed. I’ve really got no complaints in this area. Everything else though – color, contrast, black levels – all fall squarely into the, “yeah, it’s okay” category. There’s nothing truly wrong with the screen, it just doesn’t impress, either. In 2019 mid-range phones boast beautiful OLED displays, so I can’t help but wish the Lite could have gotten something a little more eye-catching. Still, it’s good and does the job.

The raw performance was always a question mark for me given the smaller size but the Lite seemed more than capable of keeping up with the games I threw at it with the only performance problems being ones that already exist on the regular Switch. For example, Link’s Awakening is a superb remake of a classic game but it suffers from framerate problems on the normal Switch and those are very much present on the Lite. But it seems that the pure performance of the Lite is on par with its bigger brother which is impressive, especially since the Lite manages to stay very cool and quiet.

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My only complaint about the comfort is that the right analog stick is positioned in such a way that it kept getting in the way of my thumb. I’d find my thumb resting on the stick or sliding across the top of it unless I consciously adjusted the position of my hand. If the stick could have been shifted to the left a little it would have been easier to use and wouldn’t have gotten in the way as much. But it wasn’t a huge issue and obviously keeping the Lite slim and portable is a higher priority. And of course, getting a third-party cover for the Lite that adds controller style grips to the side is always an option.

So, what was the actual gaming like? The answer is that it was superb. I’ve now spent many happy hours on Link’s Awakening, Breath of the Wild, Diablo 3, Stardew Valley, and Splatoon 2 and have found the Switch Lite to be a brilliant handheld console, a true successor to the DS. It was light enough and comfortable enough that longer sessions weren’t an issue, and while being able to hook the machine up to a big screen would have been nice it was never something that bothered me. Although it’s a little bit to slide into pockets the Lite is still wonderfully portable. I especially loved how quickly you can go from taking it out to playing a game using the sleep function. It makes it so easy to whip the Switch Lite out when you’ve just got five minutes to fill.

There are a couple of smaller things that irked me about the Switch Lite, though. While you do get a 3.5mm audio jack so that you can hook up some headphones in order to ignore the screams of dying people around you, there’s no Bluetooth support for wireless headphones. On a portable console in 2019 like this, it feels like an incredibly stupid missed opportunity.

As for battery life, it’s…okay. Nintendo advertised 3.5-7 hours depending on exactly what you’re doing. 7-hours is unrealistic unless you literally just have it sitting on the main menu. In real conditions I was getting around 3.5-6 hours depending on the game, with the likes of Breath of the Wild obviously pushing the system much harder and thus draining the battery quicker. The new iteration of the regular Nintendo Switch boasts a slightly better battery life, although in fairness to the Lite the smaller design obviously means less space for a huge battery. All in all, I found the battery life to be acceptable and the included USB-C wall adapter can charge the Lite quite quickly.

The final issue we need to discuss is one I’ve not personally experienced yet: the dreaded drift. If you weren’t away Nintendo is currently facing substantial backlash and even a lawsuit over what has become called “Joy-Con Drift” which is when the analog sticks register movement even when they aren’t being used. The lawsuit claims that Nintendo is knowingly continuing to sell the Switch despite being aware of the problem which seems to be affected a lot of people. When the Lite launched there was concern that it might fall prey to drift as well and sadly that does seem to be the case. While I haven’t noticed anything yet many other people have already reported having problems, despite the console only having just launched. Of course, your warranty should cover this, but it’s an ongoing and worrying problem that Nintendo needs to acknowledge properly and remedy quickly.

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If you already own a standard Switch I really don’t see any reason to run out and buy a Lite unless you have a lot of spare cash and feel like that little extra portability is worth it. If you happen to have a family though, the Lite might be a good choice for the kids since you can share accounts and games and wouldn’t have to give them the more breakable regular Switch.

If you’re like me and have been looking for a new handheld system, however, then the Switch Lite is brilliant. Arguably it’s much more of a successor to the immensely popular DS line. The fact that it can run full-fledged console titles in your hands is damn impressive, and a great example of just how far technology has come. It’s just the looming shadow of drift that puts a dampener on the Lite. Without any proper acknowledgment from Nintendo and with users already having problems with the device buying one feels like a risk, much like purchasing an Xbox 360 during the dreaded Red Ring of Death escapade.

I’ve not experienced any drift personally though, and so all I can tell you is my own story with the Switch Lite. So far I’ve loved every minute of owning it and catching up on the amazing library of games that Nintendo offers. It fits nicely into the hands, has a solid screen, good controls, and good battery life. We finally have a modern handheld gaming device outside of mobile and it feels terrific. Now if you’ll excuse me, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is bloody massive and I’ve got a lot more exploring in it to do.

Categories
Tech Review

SCUF Impact Syndicate Controller Review – Fiddle With My Sticks, Baby

SCUF has earned itself quite a good reputation for building a custom Syndicate controller over the years. Venture onto their website and you can choose from a variety of pre-made designs that can then be further tweaked in a bunch of different ways. But the most appealing part of the SCUF Syndicate Controller is the extra features that come with them, from digital buttons to special hair triggers. So today I’m taking a look at one of their offerings, the SCUF Syndicate for PS4.

The Syndicate branding comes from the Youtuber of the same name, A.K.A., Tom Cassell, who at the time of writing is nearing a terrifying 10-million subscribers. His actual input in the Syndicate line-up of Syndicate controller appears to be mostly cosmetic, with the rightmost grip sporting Syndicate’s lion logo inside a playing card style Spade. A black, gold, and silver paint job finishes the whole thing off. It’s pretty sexy

On top of that distinctive look that the Impact has it also feels like a well-built, premium product. Of course, given the hefty price tag, it should. The plastic shell is solid with no ounce of giving to be found, and the buttons have a smoother feel than you find on the regular Dualshock.

Once you get the SCUF Impact Syndicate into your hands there are some major differences to how it feels versus the typical Dualshock Syndicate controller made by Sony. The first thing I noticed is that the sides are chunkier and more shallowly angled. While the Dualshock’s sides come down at nearly 90-degrees the Scuf likes to spread itself out, making the Syndicate controller feel more like an Xbox One pad. It’s perfect for bigger hands.

However, if you like the shape of the traditional PS4 Syndicate controller you can opt for the SCUF Infinity, although it only has two paddles versus the Impact’s four.

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Paddles? Yup. The second major thing that alters how the SCUF Impact sits in your hand is the four paddles located on the back. Ignoring their function, for now, the paddles sit exactly where your pinky and ring fingers naturally rest. This takes some getting used to and at first, I found it a little uncomfortable. On the Dualshock, my pinky and ring fingers curl around the grips, but on the SCUF the paddles stop me from doing because my ring fingers wound up sitting on the outmost paddle. This had a knock-on effect, causing me to stretch my pointer fingers a little more to use the triggers. Other times my ring fingers would wind up sitting awkwardly on the very edges of the outer paddles, which unsurprisingly isn’t very comfy.

The grips themselves are wrapped in a slightly soft rubber that has a random pattern of raised blobs so that you can get a firmer grasp on the Syndicate controller. It feels good in the hands and might be a good choice if you find yourself getting a little sweaty during those more heated sessions. Of gaming, I mean. Jesus, get your mind out of the gutter.

To sum up I still find the standard Dualshock 4 to be a comfier option. It fits more naturally in my hands, but that isn’t to say the Scuf feels particularly bad: it’s fine. And you can actually remove the paddles individually if you like by simply sliding them upwards. In my case removing the two outer paddles made the whole Syndicate controller nicer to hold whilst still giving me two extra buttons to play around with.

Ah yes, let’s chat about what the paddles actually do. By default, SCUF has mapped them so that they replicate the four face buttons. The idea is that by using the paddles you can keep your right thumb on the stick at all times, a very handy thing indeed in a shooter. This means saving a split-second by not having to move your thumb to do something like reload, while also retaining a total of the camera.

It takes a bit of time to retrain your brain to use the paddles but once you it feels quite normal. Objectively speaking the paddles do offer a competitive advantage over players who are using the regular Dualshock, but I have to say that in practice I never particularly noticed a huge difference. However, that’s probably because I don’t play at a competitive level, and while I’m pretty good at online shooters I don’t dedicate a lot of time to any specific one.

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If you want to be able to remap the paddles then you need to choose the EMR option when building the Syndicate Controller on SCUF’s site. This gives you an intriguing little magnetic disc, which SCUF calls an EMG Mag Key, which you place on the back of the Syndicate Controller. With that done you press and hold the paddle, you want to remap, press whichever button you want it to copy, and then release the paddle and remove the key. It’s a cool way around the fact that you can’t typically remap Syndicate Controller on the console, but the obvious downside is that you have to be careful to keep the key safe. Lose that and you lose the ability to remap paddles. Replacements are available at SCUF’s site, though.

As for the triggers, they’re a little different too because SCUF has added small plastic bumpers on the underside to stop you from pulling them all the way in. By using the included special key you can rotate these little ridges, either turning them “on” or “off.” Again, in a competitive situation where every second can count the time saved by stopping the triggers going past their activation point could be important.

There are a couple of other nifty features located in the triggers as well. Firstly, there are two different covers that you can put on the triggers that serve to make them longer, or you can just take the covers off entirely if you want something that matches the original Dualshock. The default covers that my Syndicate shipped with are just a tad longer than the typical triggers, while the second set of covers add yet another couple of millimeters. It honestly reminds me of those horrifying nail extension things women use…*shudders* but I actually quite liked the longer covers. They should also be useful for bigger with bigger hands and longer fingers.

Underneath the covers you’ll also find yet another little hole where the SCUF key can be inserted, in a completely non-sexual way, I assure you. Unless you want it to be, I guess. Anyway, by turning the key clockwise twice you can activate the hair-trigger system which will essentially tighten the trigger, moving it closer to the activation point. SCUF recommends doing this while in-game by turning the key until your gun fires, then loosening the trigger just a little. Again, this system is all about cutting down the time it takes you to react in-game, and when combined with the bumpers means you can have very short travel distance.

Unfortunately, I had a bit of an issue with the Syndicate Controller I was sent over. Being the inquisitive twat that I am I believe I overtightened the screw and then pulled the trigger, and before I knew it a small piece of plastic inside shattered, which also meant I couldn’t get to the screw properly. But on the bright side, it did give me the chance to try out SCUF’s customer support service. Their turnaround was prompt: I had the Syndicate Controller back in under a week. The only hiccup is that while they fixed the issue, they left one small piece of the broken plastic rattling around inside the Syndicate Controller. Luckily I was able to coax it out of the small gap that opens when you pull the trigger down.

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If you exclusively play games that don’t make use of the trigger’s range of motion then SCUF does what they call digital triggers that turn them into something that feels more like a mouse click. The upside is that it’s vastly quicker than the normal trigger, but it also renders the Syndicate Controller useless when it comes to things like racing games where the full range of motion is needed to control gas and braking force.

Both of the bumpers can also be swapped over to digital, too. I wouldn’t imagine this would offer a massive advantage since the bumpers don’t have a lot of excess movement anyway, but unlike the triggers, you don’t lose anything by opting for the digital versions.

Both of the thumbsticks can be removed using the special SCUF tool in case you fancy swapping them out for something else. During customization, you can opt for concave or domed sticks, whatever matches your preferences. Plus you can choose between low or high sticks, a potentially handy option too, again especially for people with bigger hands.

As for how the thumbsticks feel, they both seem just a touch smoother than the regular Dualshock and require a little bit less force to move around. The result feels very nice indeed. It did take some getting used to as less resistant sticks of the Impact meant I often found myself struggling to get quite as much precise control. After a few solid hours of play however, I had adjusted to the differences.

A potential audio problem exists in the form of a 3.5mm port. Like a normal Syndicate Controller you can plug in any pair of headphones or buds that sport a 3.5mm connection, but the Scuf’s port is nestled a centimeter or so inside the Syndicate Controller shell with a notch cut out of the plastic body. That means if your headphones of choice have a chunky plastic piece around the connection it might not fit. Just something to keep in mind. Personally, though, all my headsets and headphones fit without an issue.

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Likewise, the charging port on the rear lives in a little square cave which could be problematic for some cables to fit into correctly. Given the already high asking price for SCUF Syndicate Controller, it’s frustrating that the Impact doesn’t ship with a charging cable by default. If you want that you need to buy it separately or as part of the Pro Player Pack. Don’t worry, it’s just a standard micro-USB port. Y’know, like one of the dozens we all have lying around our home. Still, including a cable wouldn’t have killed you, SCUF.

All in all my variation of the Scuf Impact Syndicate Controller came in at around £170, which is hardly cheap for a Syndicate Controller. It’s certainly a lovely Syndicate Controller to look at and it does feel good in the hands, but I’m not sure the extra features are worth such a massive asking price. With that said the Xbox’s Elite 2 controller retails for £160, so by comparison the prices are similar if you’re looking for something a bit more…special.

Putting the price aside in a dark cupboard for a minute, the Syndicate Controller itself packs some sweet tricks and looks terrific. I’m a tad concerned by how easily I wound up annihilating the trigger system, but that seems to be a demonstration of my own stupidity more than anything else. Personally, it’s the paddles that make the Impact special, adding a lot more flexibility to the regular Dualshock’s layout.

Ultimately, though, would I buy a SCUF Impact personally? No. But then, I’m not really the kind of person who can take advantage of its benefits to their fullest. If fast-paced shooters are your bread and butter then the Impact could give you the edge you’re looking for.