This week we’ve got our regular gadget reviews plus our thoughts on an upcoming video game. Cherlynn Low looked at the Apple Watch Series 7 to see how it compares to the previous version and to find out how much difference the larger screen makes. Igor Bonifacic tested the Motorola Edge smartphone in 2021 and found that it offers a lot of advanced features – including a 144Hz display – at a budget-friendly price. Terrence O’Brien played with the effects and inputs on the Roland SP-404MKII and reported that it makes chopping samples more fun. Finally, Jess Conditt sat in the virtual driver’s seat to play Forza Horizon 5, a game she declares to be a perfect getaway in a time of travel constraints.
Cherlynn Low acknowledges that the biggest difference between the Apple Watch Series 7 and the previous model is the larger screen, but she is adamant that even this small change has a big impact. Series 7’s screen is 20 percent larger than Series 6 and has significantly smaller frames. It is also the first Apple Watch to be IP6X certified for dust resistance, making it more durable. Cherlynn said the larger screen made things easier to read and navigate, and the extra screen space made it easier to type in the right keys and see more messages.
Apple also debuted some extra clock faces and a full QWERTY keyboard on the Series 7. Cherlynn says the new faces are designed to display more information at once. The full QWERTY keyboard provided more flexibility, but when she only got about 60 percent accuracy when tapping the display, Cherlynn said she still preferred to use dictation. Apple still does not offer advanced sleep tracking, though this model logs your respiratory rate while you sleep and reports back the next morning. If sleep tracking is not your main reason for having a smartwatch, Cherlynn says the Series 7 will be a satisfying purchase.
Of the various upgrades to the Motorola Edge in 2021, Igor Bonifacic believes the 6.8-inch LCD 144Hz screen is the special feature. The flat edges made it easier to hold, and the improved refresh rate makes the Edge feel smooth and responsive. The screen is vibrant, bright and has HDR10 support, plus Igor says the 19.5: 9 aspect ratio works well for scrolling through vertical apps. He also liked the switch to a capacitive fingerprint scanner on the side-mounted power button because it made it easier to unlock the phone while wearing a mask.
However, there are some trade-offs for the $ 550 smartphone, most notably the LCD screen, which lacks the energy efficiency and deep blacks that OLED can offer. The 144Hz screen also gave some small errors. In addition, the device’s single speaker produced tinny sound, and he found the ultra-wide camera mediocre. But he liked the battery life, which lasted a full two days, and the extended 2-year software support. If you do not mind a few compromises, Igor says the 2021 Edge is worth a visit.
Roland’s SP-404MKII sampler is a pleasure to use
Although the new SP-404MKII sampler physically resembles previous versions, Terrence O’Brien says the new OLED screen and 16-pad layout are huge upgrades. The new display can show the actual waveform while being edited, making recording and editing samples easier and more fun. And the 16-pad setup is not only more standard, but it also gives users more samples and patterns to make beats. Terrence also preferred the updated color scheme of gray and black with muted orange and white accents.
The SP-404MKII has a few minor minor upgrades: it’s the first sampler in the line to have speed-sensitive pads, and it has MIDI out as well as MIDI IN connectors. This means that the 404 can be connected to a PC via USB-C or used with external gear. Terrence played with both the input effects, thanks to the ¼-inch audio input and headphone jack, as well as the bus effects, and found that it’s actually fun to chop samples on the machine instead of a task. The SP-404MKII is also pretty portable: Terrence says it can easily fit in a bag and can be powered by six AA batteries. And it’s affordable at $ 500, making it a reasonable purchase, even for those who just want to dabble in sampling.
When she could not get behind the wheel of a real Ford Bronco in 2021, Jess Conditt did the next best thing: she drove it around the racetracks and lush surroundings in Forza Horizon 5. Although she only had access to a preview, she reports it Horizon 5 is a milder version of the motorsport game, spread across a fictionalized Mexico and featuring tricked cars including a 2020 Corvette Stingray Coupe and a 1989 Porsche 911 Desert Flyer.
Whichever vehicle you choose, Jess says they are all magical at (almost) driving. They get cracked windows and broken doors, but are largely indestructible and always land worn out. She also appreciated the layers of customization in the game, from accessories to creating characters to upgrading vehicles with designs. On the Xbox Series S, the game ran smoothly and looked great at 1080p / 60fps. Jess even says without ray-tracing, Horizon 5s different biomes, weather and environments were all a pleasure to see, making it a perfect virtual escape.