Review: BenQ 27” Designer Monitor and USB-C Dock

The idea of laptops is to be portable. You take them to meetings, use them them around the house, or just want to work untethered from a desk. Sometimes, though, having a big screen can really help you get down to business. Often times, connecting your laptop can be a clunky, messy process. That’s where the BenQ PD2710QC Designer Monitor comes in.

Overview

The 27″ PD2710QC Designer Monitor from BenQ ($599 from Amazon, or direct from BenQ) packs a 2K QHD IPS screen, supporting a resolution up to 2560 x 1440, and offers some awesome perks for owners of USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 equipped Macs, like the 12″ MacBook or the new 13″ or 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.

That perk is all thanks to it’s wedge shaped base. Instead of acting strictly as the foot for the display, BenQ packed some smarts into the base, allowing it to act as a Dock for your computer, all over a single USB-C Cable.

Within the dock are 4 USB 3.0 ports, audio out, an gigabit ethernet port, DisplayPort for video out, and a USB-C port for connecting your computer to the dock, as well as for providing up to 61W of power to your connected machine.

In addition to all those ports, the display itself includes an HDMI port, a DisplayPort, and a Mini DisplayPort – meaning in addition to the docked computer, you can connect 2 more sources to the display.

Build

As far as the build of the display, the back side is plastic, while the front is almost entirely glass, with the exception of a thin plastic trim. Around the edge of the display is a quarter inch bezel, which makes the display feel even more massive, and reduces visual “clutter”.

The stand for the display offers around 25º of tilt, and can be raised just over 7 inches from the lowest position. For writers and coders, the screen can also be rotated 90º for working on long pages or text-heavy applications, if that’s your style.

Another great feature of the BenQ PD2710QC is that the monitor offers video out, allowing you to daisy-chain up to 4 displays together for an ultra-wide experience.

Quality and Functionality

As far as the display itself, I was very impressed with the color reproduction, sharpness, and low latency. Whether you’re gaming, doing video work, or just casually browsing the web, the display is very solid. In the “software” of the monitor, you can also adjust various color profiles for highly detailed work like CAD (which boosts contrast to render thin lines), animation (slightly adjusted color profile), or Dark Room (which reduces the overall brightness). The monitor also features BenQ’s “Eye Care” technology for lower blue light and flicker-free output, reducing eye strain over prolonged use.

The PD2710QC display also has a built-in speaker which delivers ok sound, especially in comparison to the speaker in the 12″ MacBook or newer MacBook Pros.Adjusting the volume of the monitor can not be done via the built-in audio controls on your Mac, either, and instead must be done via the monitor’s menu. Navigating the menu is a little tedious, with volume adjustment buried a few levels deep. Connecting headphones or speakers to the 1/8″ jack on the dock portion of the PD2719QC passes audio through and gives you full volume control via your Mac, just like the headphone port on your laptop.

Aside from the cumbersome volume adjustment in the displays menu, most of the other primary menu options can be accessed quickly using the buttons on the back side of the display. The top-level menu can also be customized (somewhat) to put your most needed adjustments in the forefront for even quicker access (but not volume 😞).

Verdict

Rating: 4.5/5

The BenQ PD2710QC is a great display for anybody using a USB-C or Thunderbolt equipped Mac. It can fit into any desk setup thanks to it’s minimal bezels and understated aesthetic. Compared to other QHD displays, it’s not the cheapest, but the built-in dock and multiple inputs makes it a great value (considering similar docks, without the display, are easily $125 or more).

Pros

  • Great color reproduction
  • Eye Care technology reduces eye strain
  • Minimal bezels
  • Built-in USB-C dock

Cons

  • Volume control is hard to access
  • Speaker quality is not great
  • Somewhat expensive

If you’re in the market for a new monitor, and want something that offers great connectivity, a huge display, and all the adjustments you’d expect, the BenQ PD2710QC is a truly solid option.

$599 on Amazon
$599 directly from BenQ

 

Disclaimer: The BenQ PD2710QC display was provided to me at no cost, for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast – Apple News, Mac, iPhone & iPad How To & Reviews

Review: Smartomi Ace – Affordable, Truly Wireless Earbuds

Last year, Apple announced the AirPods and set in motion a massive wave of other “truly wireless” headphones. While a few others existed before, there has been a huge influx of AirPod competitors, all fighting for your precious pocket space, and the prized spot as your go-to earbuds.

Overview:

The Smartomi Ace Wireless Earbuds ($49.99 on Amazon) are compact wireless earbuds that fit snugly in your ear without looking gaudy, flashy, or obnoxious. Unlike Apple’s AirPods, the Ace are true in-ear buds, allowing them to deliver deeper bass and provide greater noise isolation.

The most important feature of any pair of headphones or earbuds is how they sound, and I was completely shocked at how good these $50 buds sound. At near max volumes, the Ace did have slight distortion, but between 40% and 80%, they offered full sound with solid bass, clear mids, and crisp (but not piercing) highs.

From a fit standpoint, the Ace sit in your ear canal and the included rubber tips ensure a great seal, which helps in delivering the full sound, and also helps keep external noise out. The body of each Ace is also very compact, less and 1/2” thick, and no larger than a nickel around. While many competitors clock in at near walnut size, while these are closer to acorn size.

In my personal testing, I did find the Ace to be a little uncomfortable for long periods of time, but every ear is different. If the AirPods or EarPods don’t fit your ears well, odds are these might be just what you need.

The final component of the Smartomi Ace to consider is connectivity and control. Pairing the earbuds is fairly easy. Remove both from the charging case, press the multi-function button on both, and they will connect with one another, then appear on your devices Bluetooth list for pairing. After you have successfully paired them to each other and your device once, any time in the future when you remove both from the case, they will connect to each other and your device automatically.

Once connected, clicking the button on either Ace earbud will pause or play your music, podcast, or other media. Activating Siri (or other device assistant) can only be done via the left earbud with a long press on the button. Audio from Siri (or other assistant) and phone calls are also limited to the left earbud only, which I have noted was a huge frustration with another pair of fully wireless earbuds.

Phone call audio was also occasionally frustrating, due to the way the microphone is placed on the earbud. Even slightly noisy environments or calls in moderately windy areas resulted in the person on the other end asking me to repeat myself more than once. When listening to music or podcasts, on more than 1 occasion, the right earbud would drop out briefly. This is presumably due to the way the left earbud relays audio from the phone to the right earbud, but when my phone is within 3 feet of the earbuds, it’s annoying and seems like a design flaw.

Verdict:

Rating: 3.5/5

Overall, the Smartomi Ace truly wireless earbuds sound good, isolate outside noise, and are very affordable. They aren’t great for phone calls or interacting with Siri, especially in areas with background noise. The battery case is a little bulky for some pockets, but offers multiple recharges for the earbuds on a single charge of the case. Connectivity isn’t bad, but physical or electrical interference may cause occasional drops in sound on one or both earbuds.

Pros

  • Isolates outside noise
  • Solid, full sound
  • Good battery life
  • Incredibly small
  • Good price

Cons

  • Mediocre microphone quality
  • Occasional flaky connectivity
  • Can get uncomfortable after extended use

If you’re in the market for truly wireless earbuds, but don’t want to spend the money on AirPods or find that Apple’s earbuds don’t quite fit your ears, the Smartomi Ace are a great option. Check them out today, only $50 on Amazon.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Review: QacQoc USB-C Hub – More Ports For Your MacBook

The 12″ Retina MacBook is my favorite Apple computer in a long time, and the one I do most of my personal (and much of my professional) work on. It’s incredibly thin and light, has an amazing screen, and offers up enough power for most tasks. My only gripe is the single USB-C Port, because it is used for either connecting external devices, or powering the computer, but out of the box, never both simultaneously.

Most of the time, this isn’t a serious inconvenience, as I don’t frequently need external drives, keyboard, or mouse connected to my MacBook. That is, unless a particular tasks requires me to do extended work with external storage, audio, or video gear, or connect an external display, and be plug in to power at the same time (like recording a podcast). Thankfully, the QacQoc USB-C Hub may be a great solution in those situations.

Overview:

The QacQoc USB-C Hub ($72.99 on Amazon) is an unpowered hub that expands the single USB-C Port of the MacBook (or other USB-C computer) into a 6 different options, giving you the connection you need. Included around the hub are a trio of USB (type A) ports, rated at USB 3 speed, an HDMI port which is capable of driving a 4K screen (at 30hz), an SD card slot, a micro SD card slot, a gigabit ethernet port, and a single USB-C port, which is limited to pass-through power.

The QacQoc hub is small and light weight so adding it to your laptop bag won’t add weigh you down when you’re on the go. The hub comes in MacBook-matched colors, and is finished in a brushed aluminum to really blend in with your Apple gear. The gold model I was sent is a perfect match for my gold MacBook (gold is best!), with the exception of the white surround on the ethernet port, which looks un-Apple-like.

Functionality:

Often times, USB hubs can be flaky, causing a variety of data integrity or even corruption issues. In my testing of the QacQoc, I found that it reliably kept external storage (both thumb drives and external drives) mounted to my MacBook, even when moving from one desk or table to another. The SD Card reader also worked great, and provided much faster transfer speeds than cheap SD Card readers available elsewhere online.

While I don’t have a 4K monitor available to test with, I did find that connecting to an external display through the QacQoc worked as expected, and video appeared clear, and ran at the expected resolution. Due to my current setup, I did not test the ethernet port, so take that into consideration if you’re planning to pick one up.

 

As far as power goes, the ability to simultaneously charge your MacBook and use peripherals as needed is really where the QacQoc shines. Normally, the single port on the MacBook would require disconnecting power to connect something else (and probably a dongle or adapter in the middle). With the QacQoc, that is no longer an issue. Unfortunately, power delivery through the QacQoc isn’t the full 29W that is offered up by the MacBook’s charger. This means significantly longer recharge times when charging through QacQoc.

In an informal test, the QacQoc was projected to take more than twice as long (about 140% longer) to recharge my MacBook than using the MacBook’s 29W USB-C charging block. While that may not be a huge issue when you’re doing light web browsing, email, or document editing, it could make a huge difference with power-intensive tasks like video or audio production, photo editing, or app development in Xcode, which can potentially drain the battery faster than it can charge.

Verdict:

Rating: 4/5

Ultimately, the QacQoc USB-C Hub is worth it if you’re a MacBook owner and you find that you’re swapping dongles and power with any kind of frequency, or need more connectivity than the single USB-C port can offer. Having USB (Type A) ports, SD card and micro SD card slot, ethernet, video, and power ports available, without needing a bulkier computer or a giant bag of dongles and adapters is a great compromise, even though the recharge rate is slower MacBook power adapter.

Pros:

  • Multiple port options for greater connectivity
  • Color-matched to Apple’s laptops
  • SD and micro SD card slots
  • Small and light-weight

Cons:

  • White ethernet port looks un-Apple-like
  • Slower recharge time

If you’re in the market for a USB-C hub for your Mac, and want a great blend of affordable and and functional, the QacQoc is a pretty solid option. It’s available right now for $72.99 on the QacQoc website and on Amazon.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Review: OWC USB-C Dock for MacBook

The 12″ MacBook is a remarkable computer. It’s incredibly thin, amazingly light, and an all-around solid machine for most tasks. Unfortunately, to make the device so incredibly sleek, Apple stripped it of any connectivity, with the exception of a headphone jack and a single USB-C port. This has caused many would-be MacBook owners to shy away from the device.

The need for a plethora of dongles to use the MacBook with other USB devices, SD card readers, ethernet or a monitor makes it all the more daunting. Fortunately, thanks to the fine folks at OWC, there is now a dock that expands your MacBook’s single port into a collection of ports and connections to make it a more versatile machine.

Overview

The OWC USB-C Dock for MacBook (starting at $127.99 on MacSales.com) is a multi-port dock, allowing you to extend the connectivity of your 12″ MacBook, 2016 or newer MacBook Pro, and other PCs with USB-C connectivity. The USB-C dock offers you multiple USB ports (4 type A, 1 type C), an SD card reader, audio in/out, gigabit ethernet, display out, and the ability to charge your USB-C computer.

For my testing, OWC sent me the HDMI variant of the dock, allowing me to connect an external monitor (up to 4K resolution) via a single HDMI port. OWC also offers a Mini Display Port model, depending on what your setup requires. Regardless of which video port you need, the dock comes in 4 colors, designed to match the look of your MacBook or MacBook Pro. Personally, a gold dock seemed like it might be a little flashy, so I definitely prefer the Space Gray model, but knowing that option is there is a great selling point for some.

From a functionality standpoint, the USB-C Dock is extremely versatile. After getting my MacBook in 2016, I picked up a 4 separate dongles to allow me to connect various things to the computer, or charge the computer while also using a USB device. Having the OWC Dock has made all of those dongles redundant when I’m at my desk. Having a single USB-C cable going into the MacBook is incredible convenient when the other end is host to a plethora of ports.

When out and about, the OWC Dock is much less convenient. Unlike most dongles, which require no external power, the USB-C Dock needs it’s own power, complete with a a giant a hefty converter box. Not only that, but the dock and power block are both quite thick, especially in comparison to the incredibly thin MacBook.

The biggest perk of the USB-C dock, in my opinion, is the pass-through power, which is rated to 80 Watts. That means that if you’re using a 12″ MacBook, or the 13″ MacBook Pro (with or without TouchBar), you’ll get full power delivery in addition to all the expansion. If you use a 15″ MacBook Pro with TouchBar, you’ll get near full charging power (based on rated 85W). Many other USB-C adapters with similar connectivity deliver much lower power, leading to extremely long recharge times. With the OWC Dock, I saw recharge times equal to that of the Apple-provided charging block and cable.

The only complaint I have with the dock is the length of the included USB-C cable. At roughly 18″, it is very limiting on where I can position the dock, forcing me to leave it residing on my desk, instead of tucked away, out of sight. Currently, there are some standards issues with USB-C cable and device designs that can restrict cable length somewhat, but something in the range of 3′-6′ would have been much more accommodating of keeping a tidy desk space.

Verdict

[Rating: 4.5/5]

The OWC USB-C Dock is a great option for MacBook owners looking to get more out of the single port on their device. Whether you’re looking for HDMI or Mini Display Port, the USB-C dock comes in multiple colors, and offers the same flexibility for extending your workspace. The lack of portability, and the incredibly short USB-C cable are minor sticking points, but not critical flaws by any means.

Pros

  • Extends a single USB-C port into 10
  • 2 Display options, each in 4 Apple-matched colors
  • Sturdy and reliable
  • SD card slot and headphone jack on front for easy access

Cons

  • Included USB-C Cable is very short
  • Dock power adapter is very bulky

If you are the owner of a 12″ Retina MacBook, or a new MacBook Pro, the OWC USB-C Dock is a great option for extending the port(s) of your device to make it more versatile. Head over to MacSales.com to grab the configuration you need, or check out their new Thunderbolt 3 version for 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Review: Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo

Apple’s AirPods have quite possibly been the most hyped headphones I can recall. They’re fully wireless, they recharge in their case, they allow you to talk to Siri, and they offer surprisingly decent audio quality. But some say they look stupid, and if your ear isn’t perfectly shaped, they have a tendency to want to sneak out of your head. Then there’s the issue of backorder. Nearly 6 months after their release, they’re still perpetually shipping in 4-6 weeks.

The Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo, on the other hand, claim to offer many of the same features and functions of the AirPods, comes in $30 cheaper, and they’re available with 2-day shipping on Amazon Prime. But can they compete?

Overview

The Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo ($129.99 on Amazon) earbuds are tiny. Unlike the AirPods which have a little stem for the battery and mic, these are as discrete as an earplug.

Rowkin took a more traditional approach When it came to using their EarBuds. Unlike the AirPods, which have no physical buttons, each Bit earbud has a physical multifunctional button on the back, which is used to pair them both to each other, and to your device. After a failed attempt to pair, left me with only 1 of these connected to my phone, I consulted the directions – something I’ve never needed to do with a pair of headphones. Pairing requires pressing both earbuds button, waiting for them to connect to each other – indicated by little white lights – and then connecting via the Bluetooth menu on your device.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the magic of the AirPods, but this was a mediocre experience at best. I’m guessing the average person would find this pretty frustrating.

If I had to compare the sound quality of these to something, I would equate it to the speaker of an iPhone 3G, piped straight into your ears. These are $130 earbuds – mind you, they are wireless – but I have $9 wired earbuds that offer notably higher quality sound. The Rowkin Bit earbuds offered almost no perceivable bass, and seemed to distort quickly on the high end of the EQ. Both music and spoken audio were disappointing.

Fit wise, the Bits are a little better than AirPods. Because of their design, they actually fit into your ear hole, so they stay in place much more solidly. While running and working out, I didn’t need to adjust them a single time to make sure they were staying in place. The same is NOT true for AirPods.

Another disappointment is how the headphones interact with one another and your device. Rowkin reference the idea of primary and secondary earbuds in their pairing guide. When everything is connected, the primary earbud blinks a single white light. The secondary blinks twice. This may seem unimportant on the face of it, but becomes important when using your devices digital assistant or making phone calls.

Only the primary earbud can communicate with Siri or handle phone calls. Unlike the AirPods which can act interchangeably, the Rowkins force you to be attentive to which earbud is which. A single tap on either earbud will pause or resume playing audio, but the symmetry ends there. Double tapping the button on the primary earbud will activate your devices assistant. Double tapping the button on the secondary earbud does nothing.

Once you’ve activated Siri – or Google, whatever – the audio responses only come through that same primary earbud… the other one is just there for decoration. An overpriced earplug, if you will.

Of course, when you resume audio, both earbuds return to pumping disappointing sounds into your ears. That is, until you use them while moving. Take, for example, my walk from my car to my desk at work. In the 500 foot walk, the secondary earbud dropped connection or stopped playing audio a whopping 6 times. Each time, after a few moments, it slowly faded back in as if to pretend it was there the whole time.

Whatever technology they are using on these is not worth $130. In fact, the only part of the entire box that felt useful was the charging case for the earbuds, and that’s because the 2100 mAh battery can double as an portable battery for your smartphone. Just plug in to the USB port, and give your device a little boost.

Verdict

All-in-all, the Rowkin Bit Charge earbuds look very compelling online. They’re small, wireless, and actually fit INTO your ear. Unfortunately, their Bluetooth signal is weak, their audio quality is weak, the charging case is probably a little too bulky for your pockets, and functionally, almost any other pair of Bluetooth headphones or earbuds that I’ve used are a better option.

Pros:

  • Secure fit
  • Case doubles as external battery

Cons:

  • Poor sound quality
  • Poor Bluetooth signal
  • Bulky case
  • Confusing Siri/Phone call experience

For $159, the AirPods are incredible. If those don’t work for you, try the $149 Beats X (Certified Refurbished for under $130) because the Rowkin Bits are bad.

 

Disclaimer: The Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo earbuds were provided to me at no cost, for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast