When it comes to “vise” type controller for phones there’s been an increasing demand for quality now that mobile games are pretty much console quality. We still get nice simple games, but sometimes we want our console experience to be super portable. It used to be that Apple took quite a while to catch on to official controller support. It wasn’t until iOS 13 that Bluetooth controllers for officially supported. They have been available on Android for nearly a decade, but the cheap Chinese devices never quite held up. So there are two animals you can tame. The traditional controller with a phone clip or the vise style controllers. I personally prefer the vise as it feels more like the Switch or a traditional handheld console. I always felt the controller and clip were super heavy and view angles got weird.
Within the last couple of years, major gaming companies are making official controllers for phones. With games like Call of Duty: Mobile, PUBG, and GRID: Autosport, there’s a reason why. These games play phenomenally better with controllers. The Kishi isn’t perfect, but it does a great job giving us quality where we need it. The vise actually folds into itself which is something I can’t say for cheap Chinese devices which I have used. They have this weird sliding mechanism that’s spring-loaded and just felt too rigid and universal. This controller is hand-tailored for iPhones and using my iPhone 12 Pro Max was a dream with this controller.
The first issue I ran into is that unfolding the device is a pain. There are two pull tabs that are oriented awkwardly and don’t have a nice snap or click when they unlatch. You have to pull the simultaneously and just let the controller kind of fall apart and some wiggling is required. The controller is basically two halves of a controller that is connected with a soft rubber band that is anchored with plastic pieces at the end that have a peg that allows for stretching. There’s a rectangle backpiece in the middle that has support begs that rests on the back of the phone. It feels tight and I never felt like the device didn’t stretch enough or too far. There are spacers for smaller iPhones so the band still gets tight. You insert your phone into the lightning port side and slide the other half on and it just pulls tight and it works. The right side is solid, but the left side has a bit of giving and wiggle, but this is because there’s no port to keep it in place, but I never noticed this while gaming ever.
The controller feels solid in the hands and like a handheld system. Of course, ergonomics are only half the battle and the other half is how the buttons feel. The alternate analog placement (Xbox style) feels amazing. These are some damn fine analog sticks and I felt they weren’t too loose or tight. They click nice and are just full-size analog sticks that feel similar to an Xbox One controller. The D-Pad is weird, but at least it rolls and rocks and isn’t separated like the Switch or PS4. You can easily use this with fighting games is my point. The face buttons are similar to the Switch but feel a tad stiff. They aren’t loud and clicky like Moga controllers are, but you eventually get used to it. I noticed that after a week they loosened up a tad. The Kishi has triggers similar to the Xbox and two shoulder buttons. The shoulder buttons are stiff as well and the analog triggers are a little loose for my taste, but you get used to them and they aren’t a deal-breaker.
There are three other buttons: one for recording and taking screenshots, a home button, and a menu button. They are located below each analog stick and are out of the way. Other than that my next favorite feature is the passthrough charging but it’s oriented at the bottom and out of the way of your hands. This allows for longer tethered gaming sessions. You can use a power bank in your pocket or sit near an outlet, it’s great. When you’re done the controller easily snaps back together, but only after you figure out how. You have to orient the tabs inside just right or it won’t go together. It took me too much time trying to figure this out, but essentially the small gray tabs on the inside need to touch and you know it’s oriented correctly. Then the back plastic piece just snaps on to keep the halves together. It’s a rather compact thing when it’s all said and done and easily fits into small pockets.
With that said there’s not much left to say. There is an app that upgrades the firmware, but mine didn’t need it. Other than that if the game supports controllers is will recognize this device. I have yet to play a game that supports controllers that won’t see the Kishi. The only issue was Real Racing 3, but there’s been a long-time glitch that requires you to put the game in airplane mode to use controllers, so that’s not the Kishi’s fault. For the price point, you’re paying for quality and this is well worth $100. I know console controllers are $40 cheaper, but this thing is a bit more complicated to make and has more moving parts. I think it’s well worth the money and turns your iPhone into a portable handheld gaming device.
Well, this is an awkward position I thought I would never be in. A lifelong Android user switching to an iPhone. Both sides would ask why and I have many reasons for the switch. For one, Samsung hasn’t impressed me outside of their ungodly priced fold phones since the Note 5 was released. Every phone since has been almost the same with just newer parts inside. While technically, Apple is guilty of this as well, I feel their ecosystem evolves and changes and improves within itself while it almost seems every phone manufacturer is held back by Android itself.
I switched over mostly for the games as Apple always gets the better games whether they are console ports or not. Apple Arcade is a huge step up over Google Play Pass any day. I also haven’t done a phone review in a few years because what’s the point? Every Android phone is basically the same these days minus any gimmicks. I feel I’m well qualified to do this review as a contrast and comparison as I have had nothing but Android phones for the last decade. My first phone was a Motorola Droid back in 2010 and that review is on this site now. The last iOS device I had that wasn’t an iPad was an iPod Touch 4 which is also on this site. So, this is my first ever iPhone and it has been a very interesting transition.
The Unboxing and Setup
Well, I was shocked that I walked out of a T-Mobile store in Portland while I was on vacation with a brand new sealed iPhone 12 Pro Max, and it was blue by the way. A gorgeous color for the phone. My wife also made the switch about 3 weeks ago, but she’s gone back and forth between the two companies since the iPhone 4S came out. As I opened the box and did the usual SIM swap and started the phone up I felt I was in for a rough transition. I had so many paid games and apps on Android, how was I ever going to switch over? Sure, I had some paid games on iOS from my iPad I had a couple of years ago, but a phone?
Well, the unboxing was pretty underwhelming even for an Apple device and I checked my first box for things I don’t like about the iPhone and Apple in general: No charging adapter is included. The second checkmark was a lightning cable to USB-C. You can’t use just regular USB-C cables, but only these cables. Apple’s stupid proprietary crap strikes again and I hate it. I had to order a set of cables and chargers on Amazon as my Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra cable won’t work and it didn’t even recognize charging on the adapter.
With that out of the way, I tried doing the Android to iPhone transfer app and it’s complete garbage of course. The iPhone said it would take over an hour to transfer 8GB of mostly just photos over and that’s unacceptable with a good wifi connection and fast speeds. There is also no way to stop the process as you must shut the phone down and reboot. I then ran across the app just freezing and locking up and even after I selected just texts and smaller files to transfer it never transferred anything in the end. Wonderful. The rest of the setup was easy enough, but I found another thing I hate about Apple. Their security is good but too strict on the user. I realized I had a passcode on my iPad and I was trying to figure it out and just couldn’t after sign in. I wanted to reset the password and I was told it could take days or weeks as my request has to be manually processed to make sure it’s me. Excuse me what? I just spent over $1,000 on your device and you can’t let me reset my password like everyone else automatically? Even worse, if I didn’t remember my iPad passcode I was boned for good as Apple can’t reset these. Why? Thankfully I remembered my iPad pin lock passcode and I had the Apple account password saved in Google Passwords so I was safe there, but I just really hate their security on the user’s end. It’s just too blasé.
After the initial setup, I took a good look at the phone itself. It’s sleek, sexy, and well-designed like always. The iPhones started to look ugly around the 5th generation era up until it was redesigned again with the iPhone X. I’m glad the aluminum back is back as well as the sides. I hate the glass backs as it makes the phone more fragile. Samsung loves this for some reason and I’ve always hated it. The phone feels like an iPhone again. Round edges and no curves around the sides. It’s sleek and uniform and I really do like it. The blue color is subtle yet fits the design well, but these big-ass camera bumps will always be ugly.
Hello iOS, My Old Friend
Once I was plunked onto the home screen I sighed. It’s the same! Nothing has changed in 13 years. While that’s true on the surface I know iOS has evolved a lot in other ways since the 4th generation. While even then I could make folders Apple thought to finally give us something similar to the Android app drawer with the App Library that is accessed by swiping all the way left. It auto-organizes into categories and you can search, which is nice but very limited. Apple also finally allowed widgets which have always been a big selling point for Android phones. They work well, but since this is a newer implementation not a lot of apps support it. It’s nice to finally have my email, weather, news, and calendar all on one screen rather than switching through apps or that horrible swipe-down window thing they did a while back.
However, there are still no themes, alternate third-party home screens, or anything like that you can get on Android. I can’t truly make the phone look unique without jailbreaking it. Not even colors! I can only change the wallpaper and that is it. I understand Apple has their own thing going and it’s their OS and their own phones, but let us do what we want! At least create an official theme store on the App Store. I could change the always-on image, theme, and many other things on my Note20 and that will greatly be missed, probably the biggest thing that will be missed. While some people feel it’s a hassle and is too much, it’s a staple of the Android ecosystem.
Let’s talk about ringtones as well. What’s with this Garage Band nonsense? I either have to buy ringtones on the iTunes Store or import them with a third-party app. Zedge is the go-to app for ringtones on Android and it still sucks on iOS. It’s such a hassle I just wound up buying some ringtones and I’m upset you can’t change ringtones for each app like you can on Android, only system apps. Unless the developer created special ringtones for you to pick you to have to hear the same sound as everyone else. Get with the program in terms of customization already Apple, it’s not that hard.
As I dove into the settings I felt simply lost. Even five days later I’m still trying to find things and noticing stuff that needs to be adjusted. Part of this is Apple’s incredible security as I am now able to choose whether apps can track me, use GPS, and I have complete control and am told what each app wants to do. That’s amazing! Android is still lacking in this matter and it’s still too much of an afterthought over there, but Apple has nailed it and they keep all of these app developers in check with it. I feel the system settings need a serious overhaul as these haven’t ever changed, not even once. They keep the same categories and just add more stuff inside. While most of it seems security-related at least there’s a lot of options and you do have control over what every app does. Screen Time was a recent thing a few years back and even this is something not available on Android phones. Everything is well categorized, but there’s just so much here it can feel overwhelming.
Apple took out the fingerprint scanner and now relies on Face ID and I have to say it just works really well. Compared to Samsung it’s a joke how bad Samsung’s facial recognition is. Even their in-screen fingerprint scanner is finicky and doesn’t always unlock when you want it too. Face ID just works fast and I haven’t had any issues with it in any lighting condition. However, I do hate that I have to still swipe my phone after unlocking it. This is a dumb thing that needs to change already.
There’s an App for That
While Android phones still sell ten to one over iPhones everyone caters to Apple. Anything and everything is on the App Store and it all runs and feels better on iOS over Android. While most apps work fine on Android you still get compatibility issues across devices. The upside to the App Store is it’s all made for one device essentially and most apps just feel better. I ran apps on this phone that have been on Android for years and I noticed features that didn’t exist on Android or they just ran better or looked better. You also don’t get as much garbage on the App Store and it’s at least filtered out better. The App Store is just better looking and sleeker than the Google Play Store. You get front-page feeds, articles, and lists that make it feel like a store. While Google Play is sleeker and better designed it’s still essentially a mess of apps all over the place. Apple does a good job siphoning apps into your interests and keeps the good stuff away from the garbage. Not to mention Apple Arcade is a much better value than Google Play Pass. There are so many console ports that are top-notch quality because it’s just one phone you have to develop for. Android gaming is so hit or miss because if you run a lower-end phone you’re not going to be able to play much, and Apple gets all the timed exclusives. While there are quality games on Android, and pretty much every mainstream game, there are so many on iOS and they just run and feel better.
A lot of the time with games on Android I would be locked out of higher graphics settings because my phone is too new and it takes months for the developers to fix it. Another issue would be higher quality assets won’t download because the phone is too new as well. I also would have crashes, or the game just simply wouldn’t be available for my phone for some strange reason despite being the most popular and newest device on the market. Android users gets locked out of a lot of stuff if a developer doesn’t enable the app to be compatible with certain devices.
That’s the joy of iOS – everything just works. There are always crashing issues on Android with something or something on the phone that is somehow broken, in beta, or needs to be fixed and is ignored. Google leaves everything up to the phone manufacturers to add or fix anything they didn’t do in the latest Android build. That also leads to phone updates. With iOS, you get them the day Apple makes them available. I can’t tell you how sick and tired I was of waiting months or sometimes a year after Google released the latest Android build. There is so much waiting and even then there are things always wrong with the latest build with Android. I used to have to reformat my phones after each major Android update. Then there’s the blockade of the mobile provider as Samsung might have the build ready but it might take 3 months for T-Mobile or Verizon to approve the OTA update. While it’s gotten better over time, I still have to wait months for the next update and Samsung only supports their phones for 2 years and then they stop updating. With iOS, you get support until that architecture just can’t be supported anymore.
So with that said if you have the latest iPhone, you know every game will have the best graphics settings and run the best. It’s that simple. With Android, there are low-end devices, mid-tier, and high-end all with different results. Android phones also use off-the-shelf parts and literally up until the last 2-3 years Android OS has finally stopped getting laggy and constantly freezing over time. iOS is snappy and always feels fast and rarely ever freezes or crashes. A lot of times apps would just freeze and crash or completely stop working on my Note20 Ultra. It was rare, but it shouldn’t happen at all. Sometimes a new phone would cause my emails to not come through, I’d have mobile data connectivity problems, wifi calling wouldn’t work properly, or something along those lines every single time. With iOS, you have a worry-free experience all around.
Please Die iTunes
My #1 complaint about the iPhone still stands to this day and it hasn’t gotten easier. You still can’t transfer files and photos over with any type of ease unless it was already on an iOS device. I spent an entire afternoon trying to figure out how to transfer photos over from my old phone. I know there’s the iTunes method, but you have to keep everything in a single folder and there’s no sub-folder option. I’d essentially have to reorganize everything. I can’t drag and drop, and third-party transfer software is still limited. It’s all complete nonsense and it shouldn’t be this hard for just photos. I wound up just storing them all in the cloud in the end because unless you transfer everything to iCloud you’re pretty much screwed if you want it on your phone. With Android, you can copy anything over to the phone or SD card with easy like any removable storage. I thought by now at least regular media would be easy to transfer over. iTunes still sucks, it hasn’t changed one iota in the last decade, and it’s still limiting.
To Stay or Not to Stay
With less than a week with my iPhone, I have to say I’m really impressed. Very little needed transferring as any of my old accounts on apps still support Google even on iOS. I will say that Apple Maps is awful and I still prefer Google Maps and the same goes for Chrome. While it’s not as feature-rich on iOS as Android it’s still miles better than Safari. There are some built-in apps that are great like iMovie, Clips, the AR measuring app, and Pages. Apple has always been the best at productivity software and there’s nothing like this on Android at all. Google itself has barebones offerings like Google Docs and Notes, and every other manufacture is laughable in comparison. These built-in apps are top-quality and incredibly useful.
The thing is iOS feels polished and stable while Android still feels like an ever-evolving OS because it is. It started out very rough and because of the open-endedness and hundreds of different phones, it took much longer for Google to get where it is than Apple. Even 10 years later Google still isn’t where Apple is in terms of controlling and keeping a lock-down on their ecosystem. I have to learn every new Android phone because each manufacturer has its own version of the OS and this can get tiresome after so long. Each major Android update seems to offer and do less and less while Apple still has major features implemented into each major update. While I love the customization and overall openness of Android I am not such a die-hard fan that I refuse to see its issues. Android has a long way to go still before it becomes as well established and polished as iOS. On the games front, iOS feels like its own platform like Nintendo. Android has always felt like a third-rate generic video game system platform and that has never changed. Sure, you can run emulators easier which is a huge selling point for mobile gamers, but iOS is just a better-polished platform. It feels like the phone version of Nintendo. Complete control, top-notch quality, and they don’t play games with developers. It’s Apple’s way or the highway and sometimes that’s for the best.
I miss not being able to charge apps to my phone bill, customization is still very limited, and overall the majority of the OS hasn’t changed at all while Android feels like night and day compared to 10 years ago. But is that a good thing? Apple hit its stride and was happy with it while Android 2.0 felt like some beta OS that you sign up for funsies. If I don’t complain about Google themselves I can point my finger to phone manufacturers. Samsung’s software has gotten much better over the years, but there are still problems. OnePlus is less bloated than Samsung, but their phones are always all over the place. LG relies on gimmicks and Google themselves can’t even make a solid stable phone with their own OS. Google’s phones always feel like Kickstarters. This type of varied quality control is literally the bane of Android’s existence and what’s stopping it from completely taking over iOS for good despite having a majority of the market. I feel if Google made a bold decision and kept Android for themselves they could seriously compete and fine tune Android just for their own phones, but instead their using off the shelf parts like everyone else with lesser results. The fact that Samsung is the flagship for Android is strange indeed.
So, the question remains. Will I stay with iPhone? It’s too early to tell, but so far unless Samsung or Google do something truly impressive with Android I don’t have a real reason to go back. When you think about it all though we are really at a plateau in terms of raw power from smartphones and features they can have. In the end, most people won’t notice a speed difference between the two systems, and I don’t see the point even benchmarking my iPhone here. It plays games well and most at 60FPS. We’re getting to a point where video game consoles are at. They’re all the same with different OS and controllers. The lines are blurring as barriers are being broken down every year.
Quality of Life Differences
This is the what both OS come down to. What quality of life things I noticed over the week of having the iPhone. For starters, I can’t say it enough – organization on the iPhone is bare bones. Why cant’ we at least alphabetize the apps in folders? On Android you can even rename the apps and change the icons! On the plus side controllers work better with iOS and Apple really pushes and advertises games that have controller support. I used a Razer Kishi with my iPhone and every game that supports controllers had zero lag with it. I do like how the contacts can have more details within them such as how each person is related to you and you can even create an emergency medical ID that gets sent to emergency responders if it’s supported in your area. I like the swipe down shortcut drawer as this is usually only a feature on Samsung devices, but it’s customizable here with large buttons and works well. Dark Mode also works much better on iOS than Android. Every app just works with it while it has to be implemented into each app on Android. I got so tired of half my apps not supporting dark mode or glitching.
I also prefer how Apple Pay works over Google Pay. Double clicking the power button brings up the wallet and most shopping apps support it within. I never used Google Pay because it was such a hassle and it fought with Samsung Pay. Samsung Pay was a permanent weird swipe up tab at the bottom of the phone and most of the time I’d accidentally bring it up. You also have to manually keep NFC on which sucks battery life and there’s no shortcut for Google Pay and it doesn’t work within apps.
With that said, hate it or love it, and despite some limitations, what’s here limited or not just simply works. You can’t say that with Android even 10 years of being a user. Something’s always broken on Android no matter what phone manufacturer you go with, and while I’ve used everything from OnePlus, Samsung, LG, and Motorola, I have to say it’s nice to not have to worry about that anymore.
PC cases are something you don’t change very often. Usually once in awhile when you buy a new motherboard and CPU, but in my case(!) I wanted to just upgrade. My previous case was purchased due to what was available at my local Fry’s Electronics at the time and I wasn’t impressed with the Thermaltake View 31 much. It didn’t have a PSU shroud so all the ugly cables were just visible and all the rear cable management was displayed behind glass…which was odd. It also had flimsy thumb screws and the panels were a pain to put back on. My front USB ports were going out and it didn’t support USB 3.1 Thunderbolt. I was just tired of looking at the thing despite the space it had.
So, while switching to all Corsair RGB components, I decided to switch to a Corsair case. The only “smart” thing about the case is that it includes three LL120 fans and a Commander Pro which was not in the description anywhere! I had no idea it included this and it was a huge surprise. Corsair RGB fans are a pain to cable manage. Each fan has a PWM cable and an RGB cable. You then have to connect it to a Lighting Node Pro which controls the fans. Then you have to connect the LED hub to the Node Pro. The lighting hub then connects to the internal USB and the Node Pro connects to the internal SATA power. It’s a huge pain, but the fan hub eliminates needing that LED hub.
The case itself was easy to build in. The case comes with pre-installed stand-offs and the motherboard went in with no issue. The side glass panel is magnetically held closed and then a single screw allows you to lift it off its hinge. The back panel is a solid sheet of aluminum with a filter for the PSU. The top glass is raised on rubber stand-offs and you can insert an optional filter if you have a 240mm radiator you are installing on top. The rear has a slide out filter panel and so does the front. I love how the PSU is side mounted in the back and I had plenty of room for all the cables and there were plenty of tie offs and rubber slots in the back. The case also has a 3.5″ and 2.5″ drive cage. I chose to remove the 3.5″ cage and the 2.5″ cage has four toolless slots that can be snapped apart. I then just screwed this back in to free up some room.
The case has an option to side mount your GPU, but it’s pretty close to the glass and these mounts are typically not recommended for high-end cards that get hot. My RTX 2080 barely fit in here as the GPU clearance is only 330mm and my card was 327mm, but MSI cards are usually on the larger side. The pointy end of the GPU shroud is mere millimeters away from a fan so it was a tight fit. You could do a SLI setup in here, but it would be super tight. The case comes with four thermal sensor cables which I chose not to use, at least not for now. It also came with four PWM fan cable extensions. The usual front panel cables were present, but I never plug in the front audio as most of these cables aren’t shielded properly and you get interference and I just never use it. What is nice is that the front USB is 3.0 only, but there are only two which is limiting, but most PCs have plenty of USB parts on the rear. I only use it for my mouse dongle and a USB stick or phone.
When it comes to aesthetics the case is gorgeous. The soft aluminum accompanied by glass and that top raised panel is beautiful. It’s not the best when it comes to fan noise or even temps, probably mid-tier, but it’s good enough for most gamers. I wouldn’t recommend a SLI 3090 setup in here, but with a single card and a liquid cooled CPU you’re going to be able to drop your fan fairly low. At idle my RTX 2080 stays at a cool 32c and at heavy load it hovers around the mid to high 50’s which is better than my previous case. It might be due to my bottom intake fans blowing that cool air on to the GPU at a closer proximity. My AIO cooled Intel i7-8700 idles around 38c and at full load the cores never go past the mid to high 60’s. That could be cooler if I had a 240mm rad instead of a 120mm, but it will do.
Overall, the Corsair 680X is pricey, but worth the money. A lot of that cost is the three LL120 fans which normally costs $130 alone and the Commander Pro which is another $80. It’s a premium case for those who love Corsair’s suite of RGB components, but if you aren’t an RGB person than this case isn’t for you and you should get a non glass case.
Headsets are not something that is vital to my PC setup, but I do enjoy them. I have my own place so I can enjoy loud booming speakers (which I do have), but some times when people are sleeping or I want to block out noise I enjoy a good headset. I’ve ever had three in the past, with this being my fourth headset, and I have to say I’m quite impressed with these for various reasons.
The unboxing experience is quite nice as the box is very large, and when you open it the headphones are just laying there strapped in with velcro ties. Below it is a compartment which house the cables and that’s about it. The headphones are quite heavy and bulky, but for my large head they felt fine. The strap cushion is rather nice and made of a soft silicone rubber type material and the ear cups are large, soft, and cushy. The earphones adjust inside the strap rather than the strap lengthening. I found this rather nice and the cups always swing out 90 degrees so they rest flat. There is a nice alien head logo on each ear cup and the name across the strap. They are very minimalist and sleek looking. I picked the white ones to match my Lunar Light laptop and mouse.
You have the option of the USB DAC cable and a 3.5mm jack with a splitter for the mic. Obviously, when using a PC you should use the included DAC cable as it drives the audio better than just analog input. I installed the DAC software and there wasn’t much tinkering after that. There’s no RGB so they don’t show up in Alienware Command Center, but you do use the audio section to set everything up to make it sound how you like. Once I installed the driver and restarted I booted up some music and it sounded absolutely fantastic albeit a bit tinny. I had to turn on the Treble Enhancer to make the tinniness go away, but the bass booster was awesome. This is the largest bass I’ve heard in any headset to date.
Once I booted up a game, I picked Doom Eternal, I was met with fantastic audio including some that affected me physically. Because these are noise cancelling and create a suction when you have them on and they audio works differently than standard headphones. There are plenty of YouTube videos that explain how noise cancelling works. When I moved my mouse around on the menu in Doom Eternal I literally felt the sound in my skull, and it felt like a dentist drill. That sounds unpleasant, but it was actually quite awesome. The enemies surround you and the guns boom and rock your ears and you can’t hear a thing outside of the headphones. I felt fully immersed, and I now see why noise cancelling headphones are loved by audiophiles and how they actually immerse you into the sound more. The 7.1 Surround option in ACC seemed to have helped, and while this isn’t true 7.1, the simulation sounds great and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
After a few months with this headset I have to say I quite enjoy it. The physical build is holding up, it still sounds amazing, and it’s a perfect match for any Alienware PC. While most people wouldn’t reach for these if they didn’t have an Alienware system, for those who do have one, this goes great with the latest systems aesthetics and is a great sounding headset.
Smart phones have hit a plateau in the last five or six years if you haven’t noticed. We went from huge leaps and bounds in software and hardware to arguing over megapixels, keyholes, and camera bumps. Phones have gotten to a point where even lower end phones are no longer slow and can pretty much do whatever you need. The gap between a premium phone and a low -end phone is shrinking and it’s getting harder to justify the huge price hike in premium flagship phones because of this. Samsung is one of the largest perpetrators of this issue. The Note series was their bread and butter and was easily miles ahead of the iPhone and many other popular phones and continued to innovate with every iteration. Once the Note 8 released I was pretty much over it all. I switched to OnePlus and never really looked back as it offered most of what Samsung could for over half the price.
What made me go back? Especially since Note phones run over $1,200 these days. The Note series has evolved enough since the Note 8 to catch my eye. The phone may not be super special to anyone who upgrades yearly, but for a jump from three generations back it’s a beautiful piece of hardware. The evolution of the Note is still subtle, but in many ways. From the pretty much edgeless display to the return of an aluminum back and expandable storage. The series feels like it went back to its roots compared to older generations. Outside of lightning fast response times and fantastic game performance, those are a given. I came back for the little things.
The unboxing is rather humble and minimal. Just a plain box with the S-Pen on front and a big N20. It’s screams, “Yeah, we don’t need to say much.” Just a charger and a phone without all those crazy adapters that the Note phones started getting since the Note7. When you pick up the phone the first thing you notice is humongous camera bump. Like holy hell this thing has a growth! These things are getting so big and silly, but it doesn’t detract from the phone’s looks. The series finally feels premium again. Glass doesn’t make a phone feel premium – it makes it feel delicate and fragile. I never liked glass backed phones and I’m glad aluminum is back in. The brushed bronze color is gorgeous and it continues on the top and bottom with only the front being glass like it used to be since the Note4. There’s also a lack of a headphone jack, but loo, it’s over. Headphone jacks are bulky and you’re fighting for room inside the phones. You also can’t make a phone thinner than 3.5mm if you keep this.
The software is a rather familiar experience, but I jumped off the Samsung train before the Galaxy One UI ecosystem was created. It feels familiar, but very much evolved and there are subtle things I like. The Note20 has some of the most in depth options for a phone I’ve ever seen and it’s incredibly customizable down to theming. The S-Pen is pretty much the same, but has minor changes, but the biggest one being an internal battery and being able to use it for air gestures away from the phone. The phone also has lost it’s weird quirkiness of slowing down over time and being sluggish which was the main problem I always had with Samsung phones, but it seems the 12GB for much faster processing has helped that.
Gaming on the phone is amazing and it will run any game out there with no issues. Using various controllers and clips of your favorite configuration as well as emulating systems like the GameCube worked really well with not many issues outside of just typical emulator compatibility issues. The phone does get hot, but Samsung’s Game Launcher has evolved to allowed performance plugins to monitor framerate, temps, and CPU and GPU utilization. It’s great that Samsung has embraced the hardware demographic as these are the phones power users reach for.
I do have to talk about the S-Pen and it’s functionality. This is a gimmick still to anyone who doesn’t need to write notes or do art. My previous job found this phone useful as I was always needing to take notes on the fly, but the various software added feels more and more like there’s less of a reason to use the pen. AR Gestures, Live Messages, and various other apps like these are pure fun and gimmicky and there’s no reason why Samsung hasn’t really advanced the Pen’s software suite much in almost a decade. The air gestures are great for presentations or something, but unless you actually need a pen on your phone you probably will never use it outside of satisfyingly clicking the pen in and out. I love the S-Pen and there’s no other phone like it on the market that has something like this.
Overall, Samsung has created the most premium Android ecosystem on the market and the Note20 reigns supreme. With a 108MP camera, themes, always-on display, tons of battery saving measures and options, the best OLED phone display on the market, Dolby Atmos speakers, 120hz refresh rate, true edge-to-edge display, and the return of the aluminum back, the Note20 feels like the Note has returned from a long run of being a copycat instead of staying true to form.
Every PC gamer has envied the perfect build whether it’s on a desktop or laptop. While I have finally achieved my ultimate high-end gaming PC build, I’m always one to strive for more or want the latest and greatest tech. Most of us have sat upon a PC manufacturer’s site-building our dream build and watching the dollar amount rack up fast or sitting there waiting for the perfect deal. For me, since I was 15 years old, I have done this on Alienware computers and still do to this day. They are gorgeous machines and you can love them or hate them for various stigmas like being a Dell, having terrible customer service, questionable build quality in the past, and charging more for a name brand, but it doesn’t change the fact that these machines are amazing feats of engineering. Alienware has always strived for the best gaming technology in their PCs and usually land mostly dead-on.
For me though, it’s always been their laptops that fascinate me the most. I’ve had two previous laptops from them, and they were great for their time, but laptop technology has come a long way in two years. We can now get desktop hardware inside these things, and that was a distant dream ten years ago. Alienware has evolved their laptops so much since I last had one, which I donated to a thrift store about 2 years ago, and it’s clear how much. So much of the latest tech is now available in mobile form and not to mention Alienware’s unique striking visual design. These laptops are just dead sexy and stunning to look at. There’s literally nothing else like them out there. The Area-51m R2 is Alienware’s latest flagship high-end gaming laptop with better cooling, desktop CPUs, latest GPU tech, USB-C Thunderbolt ports, Tobii Eye-tracking, and two, yes two!, power supplies bricks.
Enough back story and on to the hardware. Let’s first talk about the unboxing experience. Again, this is a once in a 5-10 year thing for me so it doesn’t happen very often. The box is a lot slimmer this time around and opening it up unveils the laptop, a slip of paper explaining the history and goal behind Alienware, a quick start guide, and a compartment with both power bricks. Not very exciting. Where are the goodies and extras? Despite all that, the laptop’s design drew my eyes immediately and it is the single most beautiful piece of engineering I have seen go into a laptop period. The sharp lines, the large vent that comes out of the rear with the oval RGB ring, the honeycomb vents, the color is also amazing and the feeling of the system too. It’s heavy, but not as heavy as it looks. My model came in at just under 9lbs and it requires two hands for sure. The material is also a nice matte finish that doesn’t attract fingerprints. It feels slightly rough but also smooth.
Once you plug in both bricks and lift the lid the keyboard lights up along with the touchpad and you start the typical Windows 10 startup experience. I spent several hours installing my favorite programs, optimizing Windows 10 and disabling most everything that runs in the background, and downloading games of course. The system felt as snappy and fast as my desktop and the screen is gorgeous with the 300hz display really shining here. Typing on the keyboard is better than most laptop keyboards thanks to the Cherry switches and the 1.7mm actuation. The keys are a bit higher than most keyboards and I could feel them as my fingers flew across the keys like a desktop keyboard. They are a bit clicky and the material is the same matte finish as the rest of the laptop so there was no slick shiny nonsense that most laptops are subject too. The spacebar in particular clicks loud and is very satisfying. This is probably the best laptop keyboard I have ever used. The F1 keys have functions attached such as screen brightness, volume, touchpad, AlienFX lighting, and the graphics amplifier if you have one attached. One thing I wish this keyboard had was multimedia controls for music, but the FN+an arrow key works just fine.
The touchpad is also a huge improvement over any laptop I have used including my old Alienware. It has a nice rubbery feel to it and I can hear my finger slide and scrape along with the pad which is satisfying. The right and left click buttons have a nice deep actuation (seems like 2mm or more) and don’t rock left or right like my old laptop did which drove me nuts. I actually hated the old Alienware touchpad. This touchpad uses Microsoft’s touch drivers so you can use multiple fingers to swipe around which is so nice. The touchpad has a decent amount of adjustments for acceleration, sensitivity, among others. It’s actually a great touchpad and the backlighting just makes it that much more enjoyable to use, but a mouse is still always preferred.
Let’s jump into some of the technical aspects of the laptop. The BIOS is sadly very limited. There was no option for XMP profiles as I believe you have to use Dell branded 3200mhz RAM to use the XMP profile. I also can’t say anything about CPU overclocking as I had a non K CPU installed (not really necessary for gaming in my opinion), but there was a lot to control compared to previous Alienware laptops and just most in general. Don’t get too excited about advanced BIOS features like on desktops which is quite a shame for the price you’re paying. That was my first major ding for this laptop, but not a crippling one.
Most of the overclocking will happen in Alienware Command Center and it works well enough. ACC is very limited in terms of lighting control and overclocking, but it works and the results were fine to me. ACC allows you to change lighting effects from pre-installed presets or limited change of colors. Previous versions of ACC allowed actual timelines of colors and morphing and pulsing, but somewhere in the last 10 years that vanished. What is here is fine, and thankfully the Area-51m R2 has multiple lighting zones on the keyboard for WASD, the Numpad, the F keys, and various others, or you can do one unified profile. You can control the light on the power button, rear alien head, RGB ring on the exhaust, and the touchpad. It’s a decent amount of lighting and the RGB ring is the most eye-catching and striking of them all. That’s what will turn heads and bring people over.
ACC also allows you to manage your power settings in a limited fashion. Mostly just screen timeouts and sleeping. The macro feature is also a tad limited as I couldn’t map Windows functions to make the four macro buttons multimedia keys, but it works and you can do quite a bit with them like record keypresses and add program shortcuts. The Fusion section also allows auto or manual fan control. There are 5 profiles that I find are just fine and keep the laptop cool. Even overclocked my GPU never really gets above 70c and the CPU does stay below 80c on the Performance option which kicks the fans to 80%. Balanced drops them to 35% which is rather quiet. I don’t really hear these things unless the fans are above 60% and they are not annoying to listen to. Overclocking was a little limited as all I could do was bring the thermal limit up and then push the core clock and memory clock up to 300+ which the 1660ti easily did in the memory. I started noticing crashes and artifacts on the core clock above 190+ which is pretty good. I wish I could increase the power limit, but I still get a 10% boost in power with this OC. To use the fan profiles you can add games to the library (which is an ugly mess of stretched out icons) and is sad won’t detect Windows Library games so for those you have to manually set the fan speed each time, however, the OC profile has to manually set no matter what. ACC is limited, but some quality of life improvements could make this software pretty robust. At least it works right?
Once overclocked I got a 3DMark TimeSpy score of 6017 which is pretty amazing for a laptop. The 1660ti is no pushover either. Actually gaming on this thing surprised me as I could run every game maxed-out settings above 60FPS, with most being above 100 or just around there. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, The Witcher 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Borderlands 3, Forza Motorsport 7, Mortal Kombat 11, Wasteland 3, The Outer Worlds and many more all ran without an issue at maxed-out graphics settings. Now I will say this, the laptop does get hot on the right side where your hand is as that’s where the CPU is. It didn’t get uncomfortable, but your hand does heat up and that’s kind of expected. You have a 10700 desktop CPU mere inches below your hand. The 1660ti never really got too hot, but I’m sure the RTX GPUs do.
The upgrade ability is questionable though as you can put an i9 CPU in here straight off the shelf, and getting into the laptop is rather simple and easy compared to most laptops. You can add 4 M.2 drives if you wanted with one 2.5″ drive. There’s also an option for 64GB of RAM which is more than anyone would ever need on a PC these days. My question is the GPU. These are slotted, but Dell isn’t selling upgrades and you have to rely on the Alienware Graphics Amplifier instead right now. I would love to later on just plop a 3070 into this thing as Dell is using their own proprietary socket for these GPUs.
After over a week of using this laptop as a daily driver, I have to say I love it. It’s the best laptop I’ve ever used and I can’t really find any faults. The laptop stays really cool and the fans aren’t all that loud, and if you have headphones on, you won’t even hear it. If I were to nitpick I would say the ACC software suite is lacking. There’s not a lot of customization with the lighting and the BIOS is mostly locked away. These aren’t major problems, but enough to knock it down half a point. The laptop also gets very warm on the left side where the CPU is, but that’s probably expected with a machine like this. I also don’t particularly care for hauling around two power bricks, but this is a portable desktop.
On a side note, I would not recommend buying an Alienware computer or any new electronic like a computer or tablet right now. As of this writing, and due to COVID, it was a nightmare getting my laptop to me. With $80 expedited shipping it still took a week to receive my laptop, and it made numerous stops along the way, and they are all being shipped right off the assembly line in China. When I got my tracking number for UPS and saw it left China, I knew there were going to be some issues right away. UPS and FedEx pilots are currently refusing to fly into China, so the shipments are stopping in Japan or South Korea first, then Alaska, then the major distribution hubs in the US for customs release. I’m not sure if it’s due to the new tariff laws or just the sheer amount of orders being made, but my computer was held in Ontario, CA by customs for 2 days with no reason as to why. It just said it was held in a warehouse until a transaction agreement could be made. I’m not sure if the volume is causing paperwork errors in China or Dell just didn’t pay the correct fees. It then took 12-24 hours at each stop to depart and then another 12-24 hours to arrive. It was a prolonged and painful shipping process, one of the worst I have ever had.
I have used a lot of high-end gaming mice in the years and most are decent, but what sets them apart from one another are the ergonomics, software, looks, and sensor quality. I have never used an Alienware mouse before, and I know in the past they were always on the bottom of most gamers list unless they had an Alienware computer. To match my new Alienware Area-51m R2 laptop I picked this up which is an updated version of their previous wireless mouse.
Right off the bat the mouse is striking to look at and matches the aesthetics of their current lineup of computers. The angular edges, white (or black) on black with the alien head logo and three thin strips of light. It’s subtle, sleek, and I absolutely love the way this mouse looks. Now that’s find and all, but how does it perform and what is the software like?
Well the hand feel is nice and light with a bit of weight in the center. It’s lighter than most wireless mice, but the weight is evenly distributed. The back portion of the mouse flares out and supports your palm a bit to reduce drag which I have never seen a mouse do before. I’ve seen pinky and thumb rests, but not an extended one for the palm. There is a receiver dongle that pops out of the bottom as well as a USB charging cable. There are two thumb buttons on the left, a scroll wheel adjustment button, and a DPI button. While it doesn’t have a lot of buttons like Razer’s MMO mice, it works for people like me who don’t have a use for macros.
The mouse glides nicely on soft and hard mats and is incredibly responsive thanks to the 16,000 DPI, but surprisingly, I liked the presets out of the box they were perfect for me. There are 5 slots for DPI settings in the Alienware Command Center, as well as the ability to change the RGB lights. You can set the two thumb buttons as macros, but that’s about it. The mouse itself is more back to basics than featuring a bunch of buttons. I enjoy the feel of this mouse more than having to use buttons and macros which is fine for me personally and it matches my laptop which is also important. The battery life is also really decent with two days of 12 hours of use each and it only used 20% battery.
Overall, the 610M is a fantastic mouse, and due to the branding and use of Alienware Command Center it’s probably geared more towards Alienware computer owners. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to own one of these unless you just like the aesthetics. It feels good in the hand, has a responsive sensor, and has enough features to meet my needs.
It might be common knowledge of the even the most casual fan of Arcade 1Up’s cabinets that mods are needed for quality of life improvements and to make it that much closer to the original that 1UP either had oversight on or just plain refused to include. Thankfully, these cabinets are fully moddable with real arcade parts and require little knowledge or knowhow to do. I’ve included the mods I’ve done to my cabinet to make things better and improve the quality of life and make it more unique and stand out from the crowd. There are plenty of other more involved mods like running a RetroPie which essentially makes the cabinet an arcade emulator (which I feel is pointless when buying a specific machine), LED coin slots (requires a lot of wire splicing and even a brand new control board), various sound mods like adding a subwoofer, new speakers, and amp. But these are more involved and some aren’t worth it in the end as they won’t greatly improve the playing experience.
While the artwork on these cabinets or gorgeous, high quality, and true to the originals, there’s a few things that have been overlooked. Mainly the screws and screwholes are eyesores. Seeing bare wood and silver screws is just plain ugly. This goes for the cabinets and risers on every single unit. Thankfully for a few dollars, or even free, you can change this with some time and attention to detail.
The first thing you want to do is get rid of those unsightly bare screw holes. These can easily be covered up with a black sharpie or a matching color of your panel art. Mine was easy as the MK cabinet is mostly black where the screw holes are.
The silver screws are unsightly silver and stand out against darker artwork. You can either paint your screws to match the artwork around them or buy kits online for a few dollars that include painted screws. If you pain the tops of yours, they must also be treated with an anti corrosive spray so it doesn’t wear off over time.
The buttons are the only major things that need to be swapped and can be the best upgrade and improvement you can do. Casual gamers might not mind them, but anyone familiar with real arcade hardware or fighting games in general might know the difference. This goes for any arcade game. The best option is buying already made kits available on diyretroarcade.com for around $50. This also includes awesome LED buttons, but you can also forgo that if you really want to. These are Happ button as regular Sanwas won’t snap into the wood deck as it’s too thick. The guys at DIY Retro Arcade have already wired everything up for most 1UP cabinets, including power splitters. The kit only requires you to plug stuff in and no changes to the design are required. These new buttons are like night and day, and the LED looks awesome.
If you want to turn the LEDs off without unplugging the machine, you need to buy the optional switch and this requires drilling a 1/4″ (6.5mm) hole in the slanted panel under the control deck to use. If you are too scared to drill, it’s not a big deal and you can practice on small wood squares from a local craft store.
The ones included in the Costco edition of the MK cabinet are actually great clones and most people won’t notice a difference between these and real Sanwas, however, some cabinets have terrible joysticks. Sadly the joysticks used are proprietary and have a smaller hole layout over the Sanwas and require drilling new holes in the deck which also isn’t that scary. DIY Retro Arcade also sells kits with pre-wired harnesses that allow you to plug these up without needing to solder.
Depending on the game you are playing, you need specific restrictor gates. These are plastic plates that go under the joystick to give it a movement pattern. Fighting games should be octagonal, and games like Pac-Man should be square or diamond. Sadly, 1UP didn’t have the foresight to include these for each machine and the MK one comes with a diamond gate which feels off. These are extremely cheap mods to make and super easy to install. They just pop off and on with no extra tools and can make a huge difference.
This is a super cheap mod that makes the joystick stiffer depending on the game you are playing. Fighting games should have stiff joy sticks for more accurate combo execution, but of course it’s down to preference. There are 2lb and 4lb springs as the ones that come with the 1Up arcades are under one pound and allow that floppy joystick feeling.
Let’s face it, we all want full size arcade machines, but they are either too large or too expensive to collect. Most arcade collector’s rent warehouse sized storage rooms or open an actual arcade room. You can collect a select few to keep in a room or basement, but they are very expensive to restore and maintain. They require a lot of knowledge and research and every machine is different. That’s where 1Up Arcade comes in. Some might say they are smearing the sanctity of the arcade scene but I say they are saving it. There are a lot of people who love arcades, but can’t get a hold of them. This allows these people to collect arcades at 3/4 scale and have a room of them without much knowledge. These machines run off emulator boards and are easily put together and are faithful to the originals.
I’ve always wanted a Mortal Kombat arcade cabinet and when I saw this get announced I flipped. It’s my favorite game franchise of all time and I couldn’t be happier with what has been released. The cabinet features the artwork of the Mortal Kombat II cabinet and looks beautiful. The installation process is rather painless, but does require a good 2-3 hours of your time to put together properly, as it’s large and there are a lot of pieces. The price you pay for these cabinets is about 1/4 the cost of a full size arcade minimum. Mine cost $350 from Costco and I will get to why this is a special version later.
When you open the box everything is laid out nice and easy with good enough instructions. You are basically putting one side together with all the center pieces on its side and then you put the other side panel on. There is one ribbon cable that connects the video screen with the control deck and you’re all set. The cabinet may look heavy, but it’s very solid and light enough to move around with only one person. The control deck has an acrylic cover on top and the screen panel has instructions on how to select games. Once it’s plugged in and you’re booted you’re greeted with a 1UpArcade splash screen and the option of all three MK games. These are prefectly emulated arcade ports and you can even access the master options like in a real arcade cabinet to change things around.
Let’s start with the controls. These aren’t the best buttons in the world, but they do for casual users. They do eventually get a little squeky and don’t depress evenly across all buttons. They are concaved and look and feel decent enough. The joystick is actually a pretty good Sanwa clone and comes with nice bat tops, but the restrictor gate is a four sided one underneath despite this being an eight direction game so some mods will need to be made if you really care. Having only four directions feels off and the cabinet should have come with an optional gate. I also think the joystick spring should be a 4lb spring and not a half pound spring that’s included, but it’s all down to preference.
The sound quality is actually quite good and this game gets extremely loud. The single mono speaker has great sound and there are three volume settings. Off, normal, and extra loud. I found the sound was great across all three games and emulation in general is fantastic. There weren’t any glitches, slowdown, pops or crackles in audio. I felt like I was playing in an actual arcade. The screen is also fantastic as it’s a 17″ LCD with a Hor+ aspect ratio so the characters aren’t stretched upwards. The colors are bright and vivid and not pixelated. There are no brightness settings for the monitor, but it looks great at stock settings.
Let’s get into what makes the Costco version so special and superior over the regular MK arcade release. This version comes with a light-up marquee, bar stool, and MK riser as well as a superior speaker and monitor. The original monitor is a Vert- aspect ratio so everything is stetched upwards and the colors are off. There is popping and crackling in the sound and the buttons are a little better here. Overall, the Costco version is the only version I actually recommend for this cabinet.
With that said, 1Up’s MK cabinet is fantastic and a must have for any Mortal Kombat fan. It’s one of my favorite gaming pieces that I own and is a centerpiece for my gaming room. With various mods to the cabinet you can easily make it better and unique, but for the price I feel 1Up should have added some stuff. For one, there should have been real Sanwa buttons and sticks, it doesn’t cost much more. Second, stereo speakers would have been nice. You can add your own regular speakers as there is a 3.5mm jack on the back of the LCD, but something better stock would have been nice. The wood could have been slightly higher quality and black instead of silver screws would have been nice. These changes would cost little to no money and quality of life changes are a must for these cabinets.
A Switch console that can’t be switched. Preposterous right? Well, not exactly. When the controversy stirred up about the Lite not being able to be docked came about I wasn’t on board with that. The Switch is a portable system as well and that’s its main appeal. Nintendo’s data also shows that a good majority of Switch owners use it exclusively in handheld mode. The Switch itself isn’t the best handheld device. It’s very large, a little heavier than a large iPad and the Joy-Cons aren’t that great (sorry they aren’t). When I can I always use the Switch in tabletop mode with a Pro Controller, or I just keep it docked. When I saw that there was a slightly more powerful smaller version I was excited actually.
When holding the Switch you notice everything right away. The console is about a third of the weight of the original console thanks to attached Joy Cons. Yes, people complained about the Joy-Cons not being detachable, but at that point just buy the regular Switch, yeah? The buttons actually feel better than the Joy Cons themselves. We get an actual D-pad and not chiclet buttons, tighter joysticks, and better feeling shoulder buttons. The screen is slightly smaller, but in the format, you won’t notice. It just looks slick and like it was always meant to be played this way.
Outside of the slick form factor (it’s just a joy to hold and use), the system boasts better battery life than the original Switch, but an hour or two less than the revised model. The original Switch’s battery life was pretty bad with most games only lasting 3-4 hours. The system still has 5Ghz internet speed, an SD card slot, and a game card slot. This isn’t a digital-only Switch which they could have easily done and didn’t. Outside of all of this, physically the system is rock solid and is only missing the ability to dock. If you can only afford, or only wish to have one Switch, think about how much you will use the system in handheld mode. If the answer is most of the time I would pick this guy up instead honestly. The system isn’t more powerful than the original model, but has a more efficient processor allowing for better battery life. My only main complaint is the system doesn’t have HD rumble, so you would need to connect Joy Cons or a Pro Controller to have that feature. It really sucks, and I miss it, but with all the other pros it outweighs this major con.
I do have to mention that the system only comes with 32GB of onboard memory which is a shame, but large micro SD cards are under $30 these days so it’s not an issue. The $100 price tag difference is great, so with a 128GB SD card, the system still costs less than the original model. I don’t have much else to say about the system except that the new colors and overall sleekness of the system just looks better than the original. That flat black tablet against brighter colors didn’t look too hot, but this new portable system with a universal color scheme just looks sharp. I haven’t seen a better-looking handheld since the PSP was released 14 years ago. While the 2DS XL looks super sharp as well, this is clearly Nintendo’s replacement for the 3DS, they just haven’t officially announced it yet.
If you do own two Switch systems I highly recommend having a Nintendo Online account as cloud saves can be transferred between the two systems easily so you don’t have to manually transfer the saves every time. As far as I know, the only game as of this writing that can’t do that is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Sadly, the game data can’t be transferred so you’re stuck downloading all the software again. Overall, the system has a slightly smaller screen, but it doesn’t feel smaller due to the overall lighter form factor, and the speakers are surprisingly really good as well.