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.
Having a good wheel setup is important for racing sim fans, but taking it to the next level is something very few do. While there are a ton of crappy and cheap wheels out there, there are almost as many shoddy cockpit setups that cut corners. Next Level is one of the top racing sim cockpit makers out there and for those who want be between a solid setup and not hacking to turn your room into a virtual race car, the Wheel Stand Lite is for you.
I have to talk about the assembly process here. Once you open the package the stand it nicely folded in half with most of the bolts in place. All you really have to do is mount your hardware. I had some assembly issues mainly due to poor instructions. The booklet just shows some photographs of the stand, that are poor quality, with red lines and comments about what is what, but everything is hard to see. It also doesn’t help that there is no wheel setup on the stand in the photos so I actually had no clue how the stand was supposed to be oriented. I wound up setting the whole thing up backwards with the vertical bar farthest away from me and ran into an issue with my screw holes on the Thrustmaster T300RS not lining up. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how it wasn’t lining up until I had to watch a YouTube of it being assembled. I then spent another hour reversing everything and it all came together nicely.
Despite the poor assembly instructions, I also had an issue with the U-bolt clamp being bent and I had to re-bend the prongs with a hammer. The piece of metal that the vertical bar locks onto was bent outwards either in shipping or manufacturing. Once you lock the vertical bar into place you can adjust the height with two large thumb screws. I was able to attach my Thrustmaster TH8A shifter with four bolts to the shifter addon and the petals fit nicely on the bottom bracket. The wheel plate allows for some tilting and so do the petals. You can tilt them down as needed. It’s kind of a pain because multiple bolts need to be adjusted for this tilting. A pull down locking bolt mechanism would have been much more conveinent.
Once everything was setup I used to cable ties to secure the cables down and I plugged everything in. When I put my feet on the pedals I noticed the first issue: the brake pedal is behind the vertical bar if you have three pedals. This isn’t a huge issue as your leg is slightly bent sideways, but you can’t have your legs straight or you will never reach your brake pedal. The last issue I ran into is folding the stand down it rests on the brake pedal and can’t lie flat I don’t know if this is an oversight, but it doesn’t fold up quite like advertised and stays open about 45 degrees, so don’t expect to store it under anything. I personally bought this as I was tired of attaching everything to my desk when I wanted to play. I can now drag this over and just plug everything in.
Overall, the medal is nice, there weren’t any weird smells, oils, or sharp edges that I noticed, but the thing weighs a ton and isn’t easy to transport or move around, or store. This is mainly for the simple convenience of having everything bolted to one unit. I highly recommend having a large enough room to stick this in a corner somewhere. At least the build quality is up there and when heavily racing there was little wobble and everything stayed in place. For the price, this is surely worth the purchase if you want a solid stand alone setup.
I’ve had various keyboards over the years, but there’s always something off about them. The keys don’t feel right, I never use the features on them, the software is horrible, or something along those lines. I’ve held off on Corsair keyboards for so long because they’re the most expensive ones on the market, but after 6 months with the K95 Platinum, I can see why and it’s justified.
The K95 is one of the most solid keyboards I’ve ever used. Just holding it out of the box you can feel the solid build with an aluminum body and very satisfying keycaps. From the sleek media buttons and the subtle yet useful proprietary keys up top and the awesome wrist wrest. The K95 just oozes quality and style before you even plug it in. The K95 has a thick braided cable just also features USB 3.0 passthrough which I actually love and use myself.
I want to start with the proprietary buttons on this keyboard before talking about anything else. On the right side, you have six shortcut or macro keys and I love the placement of these. They are out of the way enough to allow you to ignore them or also if you use them they are easily accessible. Along the top, you have three buttons on the left that are used with Corsair iCUE. The little person icon allows you to flip through RGB profiles while the sun icon has three brightness stages and the lock button keeps the Windows button locked. Further right is three white LEDs for Scroll Lock, Caps Lock, and Num Lock. I love how small and minimal these are. They are just big enough to tell you what’s on. To the far right are a volume wheel and a mute button. I honestly love these to death. An easy to use the mute button and the volume wheel feels amazing as it has some weight, isn’t plastic, and feels good to use. I’ve never once had a useful volume adjustment option on my keyboard until now. Below that just above the Numpad are the four media keys. Again, the best I’ve ever used. No need for a function button just press the buttons and they work. I use these all the time when listening to music and they feel solid and actually are shaped differently than the other buttons.
The keys themselves are nice and big and just feel right. I can’t do the keyboard justice by just describing it. This is the most satisfying keyboard I’ve ever used as it just feels perfect. The actuation distance is perfect, the keycap size, and each key is spaced perfectly apart. I’ve spent 6 months with this keyboard so I can really tell if it’s all that different from other premium keyboards and it is. I don’t think I can use any other keyboard as they all feel sub-par compared to this one. The other major attraction is the RGB lighting as Corsair has the best RGB in the business and the K95 is beautiful. With a lightbar up top and bright, vivid lights underneath each key I have never seen a better RGB keyboard. Nothing tops this. Corsair iCUE is the most versatile RGB software out there and the customization options are endless. You can make scrolling logos, insane patterns, with endless possibilities. I have seen some of the craziest RGB setups on this thing and it looks amazing with all of my other Corsair products.
The wrist wrest actually has a magnetic reversible rubber pad that sits inside the rest. It’s not adjustable, but I highly recommend using it. I also haven’t’ found the rubber to deteriorate over time like over products. It’s a very hard rubber material and the rubber under my wrists is the same as it was when I bought it. Overall, the K95 Platinum is expensive but well worth the price as you won’t get a better experience anywhere else. Corsair are masters in their class and have perfected the keyboard over the years and it clearly shows.
Headsets are always some of the most subjective pieces of tech out there because everyone’s listening preferences are different. I’ve never owned any audio devices from Corsair before as these replaced my HyperX Cloud S headset from a year ago. The Void Pro is a solid headset with a few issues, but nothing that really brings the experience down.
The headset itself is built quite solidly with large ear cups and a cushioned band on top and a large range for adjustment. There are two RGB logos on the outside of each cup and these can, of course, be turned off to save battery life. The battery typically lasts around 14 hours and maybe 16 without the lights on. I found the overall sound quality to be very clear but lacking a deep bass that I normally like. Now, this headset is also touted as having 7.1 surround sound with the press of a button, and that’s negligible. It seems to only add an effect to make it sound like surround sound as I couldn’t really tell in some games. Now if you turned surrouned sound on in the game there was a striking difference. I can’t tell if this is a true 7.1 headset or not or if it’s just a gimmick. Usually, surround audio in headsets is hit or miss, but it seems okay here when it actually is supported.
The largest issue I have with this headset is the software support. Sure, Corsair iCUE is a great piece of software and my headset can now light up in sync with the rest of my Corsair products, but the equalizer portion is abysmal. You can’t export or import EQ settings so every time I changed a lighting theme I had to take a screenshot of my EQ settings and manually enter them every single time. The preset EQ settings are also horrible and I can never seem to find the perfect adjustments. It’s either too much treble or not enough bass. I’m really disappointed in this aspect as it almost made me return the headset for something else. For $130 I expected better software support and it hasn’t changed and I’ve had this headset for 6 months now. I also found the volume to be too low on some things at max volume.
The headset features a fold-up boom mic and there’s a red LED on the end to show if it’s muted. When you fold it down it unmutes and seems to be of really nice quality and it bendable and adjustable. The headset also comes with a long USB cable for charging and a wireless dongle. I paired this with the Corsair headset stand and it works nicely. The dongle could stand to be smaller, but overall I never ran into connection issues or cut-outs, crackling, or the headset having trouble finding it. This is the best wireless headset I have had just for this alone as all my previous ones constantly cut out and the range seems to be great. I was able to walk into my kitchen without any audio cutting out.
Overall, the Corsair Void Pro headset is a solid piece of tech with crisp and clear sound despite a terrible EQ and lacking bass. If you can get the EQ adjusted right for yourself you’re going to have a great time. While the 7.1 surround sound is iffy as it’s simulated, it’s there if you can get it to work right and with decent battery life, you can game all night without charging it.
Headset stands are usually not something most people run out and by, but they are useful so your expensive headset isn’t just sitting around getting tossed and knocked around. Corsair’s headset stand goes a little farther than most by providing USB pass through and RGB effects which look amazing.
Setup is pretty simple as iCue will automatically recognize and install the drivers. Once you have everything plugged in you will notice a USB port on top of the base and on the side as well as an audio pass through. This is a fully featured headset stand and is great for the Void Pro wireless headset as the dongle can be plugged in the USB slot on top of the base and the charger cable can plug into the side. For a non-wireless headset, the audio pass-through does a good job if your PC is too far away.
In iCue, you can customize the lights where are around the base and the Corsair logo on the arm itself. Syncing with your other Corsair products just adds another level of cool factor to your setup and I couldn’t be happier. My only gripe about the stand is the software in which you can’t save EQ profiles across other lighting profiles. You have to screenshot your settings and recreate it in the sliders with each profile. It’s really irritating and I hope Corsair changes this soon. At least the pass-through offers 7.1 channel audio for devices that are 7.1 enabled and the USB slots are 3.1 which most hardware USB pass-throughs are not.
The RGB effects aren’t as advanced as the keyboard or other Corsair RGB products, but Corsair does have the best RGB suite of any PC company thus far and it’s just one more product that adds a dynamic to your RGB setup. Overall, the ST100 stand is a must have and is at a decent price as well.