Although the past week was short due to the holidays, we still spent some time reviewing new gadgets like the Akai MPC Live II controller and the Logitech Folio Touch iPad keyboard. The former is a highly portable all-in-one production device with plenty of inputs, while the latter is a third-party keyboard case with features that rival Apple’s offerings. This week we got back to the heart of the matter with a review of the HP EliteBook x360 1040 G7, a more interesting than impressive laptop, a niche but remarkable synthesizer from Erica Synths and a new micro USB from Elgato. Oh and on this little thing called macOS Big Sur: We take a look at the UI updates made to Apple’s operating system and find that they are more integrated into iOS than ever before.
Nathan Ingraham has been testing Big Sur since the public beta went live last summer and claims that the macOS update manages to make some big and noticeable changes without fundamentally changing how the system as a whole works. With major UI updates for Notifications and Control Center, subtle design tweaks, and changes to apps like Messages and Maps, Big Sur brings the desktop experience closer to the mobile one in a way that unify the software on all devices.
The design changes – including a bright desktop background, translucent menu bar, and revamped toolbar buttons – come with new system tones that make Big Sur look and sound different from previous versions of the operating system. The changes to the Notification and Control Centers bring many of the same features and functionality as iOS 14, such as grouping notifications by app, to the desktop. Safari has a new home screen that pulls your favorite saved sites, pages, tabs, and stories, and it also has a privacy report that details which sites follow you. Nathan recommends updating your Mac to Big Sur for the valuable improvements, but acknowledges that the core macOS experience hasn’t changed drastically.
The EliteBook x360 1040 G7 is slightly different from most others in the HP line; the new laptop is a bit less focused on design and instead offers unique privacy features. Cherlynn Low admits that it’s quite difficult to make a laptop stand out these days, but HP has attempted to do so by adding presence detection and an AI noise reduction tool to this EliteBook. The first function uses a sensor to wake or lock the machine automatically when the user returns or leaves; the second is intended to make your voice clearer during calls. The laptop also has a handy shortcut that can be programmed to close the webcam or launch your most used apps, files, and websites.
While Cherlynn found this last feature surprisingly useful, she was less impressed with the other two. Presence detection worked as it should, but it’s a very useful feature for a small segment of users. The AI noise reduction did not silence background sounds during Cherlynn’s testing, nor did it make her voice clearer during calls. However, due to the laptop’s reliable performance and good battery life, she still thought it was worth recommending to those who would take advantage of its unique features.
Terrence O’Brien refused to provide a sheet music for Erica Synths SYNTRX, arguing that a sheet music could not properly summarize the reasons why the synthesizer was worth $ 2,980. A rather niche product, the SYNTRX is an analog synth inspired by the very expensive EMS Synthi A (used by Brian Eno and Pink Floyd). While both share many of the same features, such as three oscillators, a spring-loaded reverb unit, and most importantly, a single patch matrix, the SYNTRX includes presets and MIDI support.
The SYNTRX, however, is capable of being more than just a synthesizer. It can also function as a secondary mixer or an effects processor. And, since it has built-in speakers, it can be used without additional equipment. Terrence says SYNTRX’s target audience is either experimental musicians or hardcore synth nerds – both bands would be happy to spend hours playing around with SYNTRX’s features and sonic palette.
The Akai MPC Live II is, according to James Trew, a truly portable all-in-one studio. The music production device has many features of the previous iteration, the MPC Live: 16 velocity-sensitive sample / trigger pads, six audio outputs, and a 7-inch touchscreen, but it also adds built-in speakers. built-in speakers and a CV / Port Gate so that analog equipment can also be connected The multiple connection options (four MIDI ports, four audio inputs, two USB-A and one USB-B in addition to the six outputs) and quality construction make it a versatile and convenient option as a stand-alone device or a larger configuration.
A built-in battery makes the MPC Live II more portable than the competition, and it also features WiFi and Bluetooth so you can control it using a Bluetooth MIDI keyboard, connect wirelessly to Ableton Live, and upgrade. update the firmware of the device. James has found the software to be also well maintained with regular updates and functionality. However, he wasn’t always thrilled with the interface as a whole, which was more complicated when it came to building tracks.
Elgato has recently expanded into broadcast hardware, producing lines of Stream Decks, light rings, green screens and now, two USB microphones. Kris Naudus tested the Wave: 3, the more expensive of the two at $ 160, which also has a capacitive sensor on the top and records at 96 kHz. The Wave: 1 and Wave: 1 are long black oblongs that reminded it of old-fashioned radio microphones. Kris found the Wave: 3 to be worth an additional $ 30 because it could record a higher audio rate, which made his podcast recordings crisp and professional.
As for the software, there were a few issues: While the Wave: 3 is intended to be intuitive to set up and run, Kris struggled to properly connect it to his MacBook Pro while using headphones. While it was able to use the mic with the Audacity recording program, the company also produces its own Wave Link software. Using Wave Link, Kris was able to configure multiple inputs and control their output to an audio stream. The on-board controls were easy to use, as were the specially equipped accessories, making Wave: 3 a solid tool for those who need better sound.
For every Apple accessory, there are a plethora of third-party alternatives available. Logitech’s Folio Touch iPad keyboard is cheaper than Apple’s Magic Keyboard, with a price tag of $ 160, and offers additional features to boot. The Folio Touch includes a trackpad and backlight (which activates automatically) and has a dedicated row of hot keys that can control media playback among other things. It can be used in four positions – type, view, read, or sketch – three of which the Magic Keyboard cannot.
Dana Wollman found the Folio Touch to be the most comfortable to hold on her lap in sketch or view mode, although she also said she didn’t feel like it was meant to be used. on a turn because of the fragile crutch. In Dana’s testing, the Folio Touch was most comfortable for desktop typing where the keys offered surprising depth but were a bit louder than those on the Magic Keyboard. The touchpads were comparable, responding to the same multi-and single-touch gestures. The protective case was lightweight while providing sturdy rubber bumpers and capturing fewer fingerprints than the Magic Keyboard. Dana said she can recommend it easily for low-budget giveaways, but Apple’s version provides the better typing experience between the two.