Top tech predictions for Christmas

Please note: These consoles are not top picks for this year’s Christmas.

Yes, this is most of a media release but, hey, it’s been a busy year so ride with it.

With Christmas just around the corner, price aggregation site PriceSpy has come up with what it thinks will be the top gadgets, games and consoles this Christmas.

The site predicts that top Christmas gadgets will be the Xiamoi MiJia M365 electric scooter, Apple Airpods Pro, Xiaomi Mi robot vacuum, Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones, Amazon Echo Dot (3rd generation), Apple Watch series 3, Ultimate Ears 3, Fitbit Charge 3, Google Home Mini and Garmin Instinct.

It also predicts that the top games and consoles for this Christmas will be the Nintendo Switch, Pokemon Sword, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order, PlayStation 4 Pro, Call of Duty Modern Warfare, Logitech G29 Driving Force, Xbox One S, Xbox One wireless controller S and Pokemon Shield.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says it strongly recommend consumers use a price comparison site or app to find the best deals. As well as helping to save money, these sites can help ensure people aren’t paying over the odds on items that may be over-inflated in price.  It’s a fact that many products receive a bigger discount the closer we get towards Christmas. However, it’s also true that some items receive a price hike!

“Carrying out pricing research throughout the year can potentially help save consumers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, which is money that can be saved in the bank!”

I guess we’ll see after the New Year if PriceSpy was on the money, eh?

Oppo Enco Q1 ear buds

Oppo’s Enco Q1 ear buds in all their glory.

Ear bud heaven

I’m not usually a fan of ear buds – my ears don’t seem to agree with most of the brands I’ve tried in the past – but Oppo’s Enco Q1 ear buds seemed to have agree with my ear holes right off the bat.

The silicone ear tips were comfortable and, most importantly for a company that started out as an audio equipment manufacturer before branching out to smart phones, the sound was top notch – but more on that later.

What’s interesting with the Enco Q1’s design is the neckband that houses the ear bud cables, which snake out from near the end of the soft, flexible band like a serpent.

The neckband is made of a flexible memory rubber and to be honest, I hardly noticed it was there. It’s light weight so it’s not uncomfortable. The accessory pack includes a variety of different sized silicone ear tips so you’re bound to find one that fits.

Embedded into the left hand side is the on/off switch, noise cancelling button (which also activates the Q1’s three audio modes) and volume up and down.

Pairing via bluetooth 5.0 was hassle free (with the ear buds advising me they’d connected quickly with a rather soothing voice, not like the rather robotic voice with my Bose Q35s) and Oppo says the buds have a range of 10m (line of sight, of course). I only had one instance when the audio cut out and that was when I had to go hunt for the dog when he wandered down the street – and that was further than 10m.

I mentioned noise cancelling earlier. Yep, the Q1’s have active noise cancelling that you can turn on and off with the press of a button on the neckband. You know when it’s on or off as the soothing voice tells you “Noise cancelling on/off”, and while I didn’t feel the noise cancelling was as good as my Bose Q35 over ear headphones, they blocked out overly loud noise around me.

But how do they perform? How does audio actually sound when listening?

Impressively, actually.

Most impressive

Right from the get go, the Q1’s impressed me with a quality of sound that, frankly, put many other ear buds that I’ve used in the past to shame. Bass notes really resonated and sound quality was crisp, clear and balanced.

The left hand side of the neckband houses the control buttons.

Double tapping the function button switches between music, cinema and gaming sound modes, with each one adjusting the audio to suit what you’re doing. The cinema mode, for example, pushes up the bass and adds 3D audio where required, while the gaming mode drops the bass, instead highlighting the finer audio details that gamers are listening for. Playing Deus Ex Go, the sound was crisp and immersive, as was the cinema mode when I fired up John Wick on my iPad.

As Darth Vader would say, “Most impressive.”

Oppo claims the Q1’s will last for 15 hours before needing a recharge and they’re not far off the money, actually. I’ve used them fairly consistently over the past two weeks – mainly listening to music while walking the dog – and haven’t had to charge them yet (at the time of writing they had 20 per cent battery left). The ear buds remind you when you have 10% left and they’ll charge in a couple of hours.

Pedigree on display

Oppo’s pedigree as a former maker of high-end audio equipment is on display here, with an impressive ear bud set that will make your ears smile (if your ears could smile, that is).

I also think at $199 the Q1’s are priced really well, especially given the bells and whistles you’re getting in these ear buds.

D-Link Exo AC3000 Smart Mesh wi-fi router

The first thing my wife said when she saw me lift the D-Link Exo AC3000 (DIR3060) out of its box was: “What the hell is that thing???”. She then pulled a face that made it clear what she thought of its looks.

“It’s a router,” I said. “All those antennae are there to provide a better signal. Anyway, it’s going to be behind the TV so you won’t see it then.”

To be fair, D-Link’s Exo DIR-3060 router does look a bit like some sort of interstellar landing craft with its six antennae but they’re there for a purpose: They boost the wi-fi signal to the devices that are using it.

For most of us, routers are the unsung heroes that sit in the background, doing their job and nobody really notices them until the unforgivable happens: You don’t have any internet access.

A week or so before the D-Link arrived, I contacted my ISP for guidance on just how hard it would be to configure the router to its network because I was, frankly, expecting it to be a nightmare. They reckoned it wouldn’t be too hard. They were right: It was a piece of cake.

After plugging in the router, I connected to D-Link’s online portal, selected my ISP, entered my account username and password and the router did the rest. In a few minutes,  I was connected and up and running. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. As I mentioned earlier, it’s currently behind the TV which is the closest point to where my fibre internet enters the house, and I’ve spread the antennae as much as I can.

The DIR-3060  comes with four Gigabit ethernet ports, two USB ports (2.0 & 3.0), tri-band wi-fi with MU-MIMO, supports voice commands using Google Assist and Amazon Alexa and features a button for easy WPS set up. It also comes with a complimentary five year subscription to McAfee home network security. It also supports up to 400 Mbps (on the 2.4 GHz band) and 866 Mbps & 1733 Mbps (5 GHz). It’s large, though, measuring 221.8mm x 201.4mm x 58.8mm so you’ll need a good sized surface to prop it onto.

D-Link touts that the DIR-3060 has Ookla speed test built in but really it’s just a feature set in the router’s menu system. Using Speed test on my mobile, I tested in the lounge (where the router is located) and got download speeds of 59.8Mbps and upload speeds of 42.9Mbps. In the kitchen, which is probably 25 feet away, I got a download speed of 45.3Mbps & an upload speed of 27.2Mbps (the wired connection to my PC returned a download speed of 847Mbps and an upload speed of 531Mbps.)

I also tested the router by doing a lot of media streaming (mainly Netflix via an Apple TV box and You Tube) over wi-fi and performance on Netflix was butter smooth. We have several devices connected to our network at anyone time: Phones, tablets, computers, streaming boxes, gaming consoles etc and all connected without a hitch.

I didn’t experience any drop outs or connection issues with the D-Link from the moment installed it but I still needed to use the D-Link COVR wi-fi extenders that allow the wi-fi to reach the top end of my house, meaning I have two wi-fi networks. I could, though, buy some D-Link DAP-1820 mesh extenders if I wanted to, which would create a mesh network from the main network.

A QoS (Quality of Service) engine lets you prioritise particular devices that are connected to your network over others (ie streaming boxes ahead of mobile phone). The DIR-3060 also has a strong suite of parental controls and comes with two years free McAfee security software.

At the end of the day, the DIR-3060 does what it says on the tin: It sends the internet to all our devices in my home (four at any one time) and it does it pretty darn well. I’m happy, though: The wi-fi was definitely more reliable than the signal from the router my ISP supplied me with (which has since been relegated to a cupboard in the spare room).

The only people I reckon the DIR-3060 won’t appeal to are those people who still have landlines as the router doesn’t have a port for your phone. I told my wife she should be using Facebook messenger or some other online telephony to call people, anyway.

Look, I was impressed with D-Link’s DIR-3060 router. It’s pricey, though, at almost $500, but it provided a stable, consistent internet with reliable speeds and that’s what I expect from my routers, especially given how much content gets downloaded and streamed at my house.

Oppo A9 2020 review

To say I’ve been impressed with Oppo handsets is an understatement.

I’ve reviewed a few Oppo handsets over the past few years: The budget-focused AX7, the more pricey Reno 10x zoom and the R17 Pro and all three have impressed the hell out of me with their mix of smart design and great performance.

This time around, I’m looking at an Oppo at the other end of the scale: The mid-range A9 2020, which retails for around $500, and frankly, it’s a cracker.

Running ColorOS 6.0 (Oppo’s UI software layered over the base Android 9.0 OS), the A9 2020 sports a 6.5-inch OLED screen and is powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 665 CPU. A 5000mAh battery will give you a days worth of use before needing a charge, 8Gb of RAM, 128Gb of storage (expandable to 256Gb via MicroSD), and stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos round out the package. Surprisingly, it also allows for a dual SIM setup, handy if you want to combine a work phone and personal phone into one handset.

It also has a four-camera setup: a 48 megapixel main camera, an 8MP ultra-wide lens (119 degrees), a 2MP mono lens and a 2MP portrait lens. More about the camera later, though.

Like the more expensive Reno 10x zoom, the A9 has a nice heft to it and feels weighty in the hand when you pick it up. Despite being a budget phone, a fingerprint scanner just under the three main camera lenses allows for fast unlocking, as does the facial recognition which allows you to unlock the handset just by looking at it.

The A9 2020 sports a 1600×720 resolution screen and is vivid, bright and responsive. Sure it’s not the more common-these-days 1080p resolution, but for my money, on a 6.5-inch smartphone screen, the difference is inperceptible to my old eyes, anyway.

Turn the Oppo over and you’ll notice the array of camera lenses cascading down from the central top of the phone. I used the A9’s camera in a variety of situations.

Here’s a selection of photos taken with the Oppo’s camera.

Outdoor photos seemed natural with clear, crisp images but images captured using the night mode were quite grainy. The A9’s camera’s strength is definitely daylight photos.

Keen to test out the phone’s gaming prowess, I tested it on 3D Mark’s Sling Shot Extreme benchmark (Open GL ES 3.1 & Vulkan APIs), returning scores of 1089 and 1057 (placing it 1% better than Huawai’s Mate 10 Pro).

One feature that Oppo promotes is the Game Boost 2.0 software, which supposedly optimises the phone for when you play games: blocking notifications and phone calls so you get an uninterrupted gaming experience. I tested the A9 2020 with Deus Ex Go, a rather superb mobile game based on SquareEnix’s Deus Ex series, and Gameloft’s Asphalt 9: Legends, a racing game that would push the phone to its limits. I also selected the software’s competitive mode setting (which is said to improve performance and frame rates but will use more power).

In Asphalt 9, the Oppo seemed to perform pretty well and I didn’t notice any perceptible lag. I also tested the A9 202 with the Antutu benchmarking suite which stress tests phone hardware using a variety of tests. The Oppo returned a score of 171,239, telling me the phone “defeated 12% of users” [I wasn’t really sure what that meant, to be honest, as it didn’t provide details of what users it had defeated].

Oppo is a handset manufacturer that continues to astound and impress me with its smartphone offerings and it’s done it again with the A9 2020, a mid-range smart phone that packs high-end features but has a low end price.

If you’re in the market for a good price mid-range phone, you should definitely consider the A9 2020 in the mix.

Edifier e10BT exclaim multimedia speakers: Funky style with impressive sound

Edifier e10BT exclaim multimedia speakers ($NZ143-$168)

The first thing you notice about Edifier’s e10BT multimedia speakers is that they don’t look like traditional bookcase speakers. They look funky.

Instead of the usual box shape, these speakers look like they’ve been created by a designer, with a vertical speaker jutting out from a cylindrical base. The upper portion has two 1½-inch mid range tweeters and a 1½-inch by 3-inch passive radiators. Each base of the speakers has 3-inch woofer and a 3-inch passive bass radiator.

Edifier claims the speakers produce 36 watts RMS of power, driving a total of six active speakers. It also features Bluetooth connectivity so it’s perfect for watching movies on your iPad or laptop. The volume up/down & power button is on the left side of the right hand speaker and while it was a little fiddly, I was able to control the volume easy enough (to be fair, I tended to use either the device or the dial control on my PC keyboard to adjust volume levels).

They say proof is in the pudding (mmmm, pudding) and as this is primarily a gaming blog, I decided to to connect the e10BTs to my newly built PC and see how some of my favourite games sounded. Games I tested were Batman Arkham Knight and Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Cranking up the opening soundtrack to Batman Arkham Knight, the e10BT’s pretty much impressed the pants off me, with deep, driving bass and clarity in the high notes. Even at low levels, the sound was crisp and clear. Turning the volume up filled my living room with rich sound, much to the annoyance of my wife who was trying to watch her favourite soup opera.

Here’s a short video of the opening music from Arkham Knight:

The same went for Rise of the Tomb Raider, a game that relies on subtle audio cues at times as Lara Croft is skulking around the Siberian wilderness or scampering around a tomb. Simply put, the sound from these puppies was phenomenal.

Keen to test out the Bluetooth connectivity, I played a selection of movies from my iPad (John Wick, The Martian, Antman and Wasp). A nice touch is that the normal red LED on the right-hand speaker illuminates blue when you’re connected via Bluetooth.

Once again, the e10BT’s performed superbly, providing great bass notes and crisp and clear mid and high notes. The speakers just don’t disappoint.

Much like previous Edifier speakers I’ve reviewed, I’ve come away impressed with the e10BTs. They’re stylish, they look different from run of the mill bookcase speakers, they’re an excellent price (between $143 and $163 according to a price comparison site), and importantly, they deliver when it comes to amazing sound, be it for your PC when you’re gaming or you iPad when you’re watching movies.

Once again, Edifier have delivered a killer blow when it comes to desktop speakers.

Thanks to Edifier for providing the e10BT speakers for review.

The GamejunkieNZ PC build project: Ah, yeah, I built it this weekend!

Last week, I posted about my plans to build a new PC so that I can rejoin the PC Master Race.

To recap: The week earlier, I’d bought an Asus B365 mATX motherboard, an Intel i5 CPU and 8Gb of RAM but I still needed to pick up an SSD for the operation system and a traditional HDD to install everything. I was planning to buy those in a month or so.

Well, on a whim, I bought a 240Gb Western Digital SSD and a 2Tb Western Digital HDD on Friday last week and, home alone over the weekend, I cracked into building the PC. I recycled the Enermax 500W power supply from my last PC’s case (although, taking apart another PC that’s stored in the garage I noted it had a 700W PSU: I might dropped that into my new PC at some point) and got started …

Surprisingly, it went hassle-free and I encountered no problems, apart from stupidly thinking that the 3-pin connector on the case’s 140mm rear case fan wouldn’t fit the four-pin connector on the Asus mATX motherboard (which only has on chassis fan connector). I tried and tried and it didn’t seem to fit.

So, I made a panicked dash to my local computer store (Dragon PC in Christchurch) and was told, reassuringly, by the nice gentleman behind the counter that a 3-pin connector would, indeed, fit on a 4-pin connection (he’s right: it does). While I was there, I also bought  a $10 adapter which let me connect front case fan via a molex connection.

OK, so the cable management might frustrate the PC purists out there but it’s a mATX board in a full-tower case: There’s plenty of room for air to circulate!

As I said, the installation was easier than I expected. I even managed to connect the power and reset connectors right first time. I always seem to have problems with I’m doing things like this but this build was actually easier than the first PC I built.

Sure, this was the second PC I’d built myself so I wasn’t a complete newb but that was using an ATX motherboard, which is bigger (the mATX case looks tiny in the roomy tower case it is installed in). While it proved difficult at times to read what was stamped on the board, I had plenty of light (and my glasses on) and had no trouble connecting everything to where it was supposed to go.

I had no issues booting it up first time, either: it POSTed perfectly (although I initially wondered why it hadn’t recognised the 2Tb drive then realised I needed to format it). Much of that afternoon was spent installing new drivers for the motherboard and GPU.

Talking of GPU, I know I’ve talked about going with something like a nVidia GTX1060 but I think I need to give the credit card a rest for a few weeks so I’ve installed the GTX950 that I’ve had sitting in my games cupboard since early last year (that I won in a competition held by an Australian YouTuber). It’ll do the job until I can afford a new generation graphics card.

So far I’ve installed Astroneer, Dishonoured, Batman Arkham City, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus and The Sexy Brutale – and the GTXC950 is giving me better frame rates already.

So, Saturday was a successful day all up, and I think, all up, the new PC cost me around $650, which is much, much cheaper than if I had gone with a pre-built system, plus I got the satisfaction of building it myself, too.

The reason for building a new PC was simple enough. I wan’t to get back to playing more games how I started playing them: On PC.

My very first computer was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum and, man, those games blew me away: Knight Lore, Robocop, Maniac Mansion, Ant Attack, Sabre Wulf. I loved them.

My next PC (actually if was my dad’s) was a biege-coloured desktop that was powered by a 486 CPU that had, if my memory serves me correctly, a graphics card that had a whopping 2Mb of video memory. It didn’t stop me from playing shareware Doom or some flight sim that I had to install via about 6000 3.5-inch floppy disks.

So, now that I’ve got a new PC (a better graphics card is still to come), I want to review more games and PC hardware. I’ll still play on console for console exclusives but I want to game on PC for the most part now.

Now, I just need to re-acquaint myself with WASD …

Oppo AX7 smartphone review

For as budget priced, mid-range phone, Oppo really has pulled out all the stops when it comes to the AX7.

It really doesn’t look – or feel – like a budget smart phone.

Clad in a colour that Oppo describes as glaze blue, the AX7 feels comfortable in the hand, with a nice weight to it, and the attention to detail in the small – but noticeable – details like the camera lens surround means Oppo’s latest phone will get noticed.

Powered by a Snapdragon 450 octa-core CPU, the AX7 comes with a 6.2-inch HD+ display, 4Gb of RAM and is running Oppo’s ColorOS 5.2 (based on Android 8.2) but weirdly, just 64Gb of internal storage space, which in this day and age of digital consumption doesn’t really cut the mustard these days. Thankfully, the storage can be expanded via microSD card (upto 256Gb). A nice touch is the SIM card tray has space for two SIMs, meaning you can use the phone as your work mobile and private number.

The AX7 comes with all the latest bells and whistles you’d expect, including a fingerprint scanner. If I had one gripe about the scanner it would be that I thought it was perhaps positioned a little too high and could be a tad deeper, so that it’s easy to find first time. That said, it’s fast enough when it comes to unlocking the handset.

I was pleasantly surprised with the phone’s battery life, with the 4230mAh battery lasting a good couple of days with moderate use (phone calls, texting, browsing, the odd YouTube video). I’m still not sold on Oppo’s ColorOS operating system, which can be a little slow at times.

Perhaps the star of the AX7, though, is the camera, which sports 13MP and 2MP sensors at the back and a 16MP sensor at the front. It’s a selfie star, according to Oppo, although I’m not big on selfies, to be honest. Sure the customisation options for the camera are limited when compared to more expensive phones but it’s a good, honest shooter that will do what it says on the tin.

Photos taken with the AX7 were clear and sharp, with bright colours and details, although I thought sometimes the images were a little over saturated at times.

Perhaps the best thing about the AX7, though, is the price. Oppo has set the RRP at $399, which means it’s within reach for average consumers. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Not everyone needs a $1000-plus smart phone (realistically, does anyone, really?) and like Huawei with its budget-priced Nova 3i, Oppo have created a nice-looking, well-performing smart phone that does everything you need without requiring you to mortgage the house, give up a kidney or sell your first-born.

Look, the AX7 isn’t going to compete in terms of lightning fast performance of higher end smartphones and with Oppo’s own rather great R17 Pro, but then, it’s not designed to. It offers great value for money with a battery that will go the distance (I’m still not 100% sold on ColorOS, though).

What’s not to like?

A big thanks to Oppo NZ for providing the AX7 for review.