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This week, we’ve got our regular gadget reviews plus our thoughts on a forthcoming video game. Cherlynn Low strapped on the Apple Watch Series 7 to see how it compares to the previous version and to find out how much of a difference the larger screen makes. Igor Bonifacic tested the 2021 Motorola Edge smartphone and found it offers a lot of high-end 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 a perfect getaway in a time of travel restrictions.
Cherlynn Low acknowledges that the main difference between the Apple Watch Series 7 and the previous model is the larger screen, but she’s adamant that even this small change makes a big impact. The Series 7’s display is 20 percent larger than that of the Series 6, and has significantly smaller bezels. It’s also the first Apple Watch to be IP6X certified for dust resistance, making it more durable. Cherlynn said the larger display made things easier to read and navigate, and the extra screen space made it easier to enter in the right keys and see more of messages.
Apple also debuted some additional watch 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 since she only got roughly a 60-percent accuracy rate when tapping on the display, Cherlynn said she still preferred using dictation. Apple still doesn’t offer advanced sleep tracking, though this model will log your respiration rate while you sleep and report back the next morning. If sleep tracking isn’t your main reason for wanting a smartwatch, Cherlynn says the Series 7 will be a satisfying purchase.
Of the various upgrades to the 2021 Motorola Edge, Igor Bonifacic thinks the 6.8-inch LCD 144Hz screen is the stand-out 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 support for HDR10, plus Igor says the 19.5:9 aspect ratio works well for scrolling through vertical apps. He also liked the move to a capacitive fingerprint scanner on the side-mounted power button because it made unlocking the phone while wearing a mask significantly easier.
However, there are some tradeoffs for the $550 smartphone, notably the LCD screen, which lacks the power efficiency and deep blacks that OLED can offer. The 144Hz display also produced some slight glitching. In addition, the device’s single speaker produced tinny sound, and he found the ultra-wide camera mediocre. But he did like the battery life, which lasted a whopping two days, and the extended 2-year software support. If you don’t mind a few compromises, Igor says the 2021 Edge is well worth checking out.
Roland’s SP-404MKII sampler is a pleasure to use
Though 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 as it’s being edited, which makes recording and editing samples easier and more fun. And the 16-pad set up is not only more standard, but it also offers users more samples and patterns to make beats. Terrence also preferred the refreshed color scheme of grey and black with muted orange and white accents.
The SP-404MKII has a few more minor upgrades: it’s the first sampler in the line to feature velocity sensitive pads and it has MIDI out as well as MIDI IN connectors. This means the 404 can get hooked up to a PC via USB-C, or be used with external gear. Terrence played around with both the input effects, courtesy of the ¼-inch audio input and headphone jacks, as well as the bus effects and found that chopping samples on the machine is actually enjoyable instead of a chore. The SP-404MKII is also fairly portable: Terrence says it can fit in a bag easily enough and it can be powered with six AA batteries. And it’s affordable at $500, which makes it a reasonable purchase even for those who are just looking to dabble in sampling.
Since she couldn’t get behind the wheel of a real-life 2021 Ford Bronco, Jess Conditt did the next best thing: she drove it around the race tracks and lush environments of Forza Horizon 5. Though she only had access to a preview build, she reports back that Horizon 5 is a mellower version of the motorsport game, spread across a fictionalized Mexico and featuring tricked out vehicles including a 2020 Corvette Stingray Coupe and a 1989 Porsche 911 Desert Flyer.
Regardless of which vehicle you choose, Jess says they’re all magical to (virtually) drive. They get window cracks and door dents but are largely indestructible and always land tires-down. She also appreciated the layers of customization within the game, from accessories to creating characters to upgrading vehicles with designs. On the Xbox Series S, the game ran smoothly and looked lovely at 1080p/60fps. Jess says even without ray-tracing, Horizon 5’s distinct biomes, weather and environments were all a treat to view, making it a perfect virtual escape.