It’s been a busy few weeks here at Engadget. In addition to celebrating the holidays, ringing in the New Year and prepping for next week's virtual CES, we’ve kept reviewing all the new gadgets and components that we can get our hands on. We start off with the long-awaited Apple AirPods Max headphones and, more recently, the Amazon Echo Frames which are now finally available. We also checked out Sony’s portable A7C camera, HP’s Reverb G2 mixed reality headset, NVIDIA’s RTX 3060 Ti and the flexible Hologram Electronics Microcosm effects pedal.
Apple’s AirPods Max are heavy on design, features and great sound
Long-rumored and quietly revealed last month, the AirPods Max are high-end, over-ear headphones constructed from aluminum and metal and available in five colors. They’re heavy at nearly 385 grams, but Billy Steele still found them fairly comfortable to wear. The headband is wider to compensate for the weight, and it attaches to the earcups via telescoping arms that help provide a good fit. There’s no power button or 3.5mm headphone jack -- just a button to switch between active noise-cancellation and transparency mode and a rotating crown to control audio and calls.
Despite the minimalist design, Billy said the AirPods Max were a joy to use -- the controls are simple but effective and the battery life is solid. Billy had no trouble hitting the 20-hour mark thanks to the device’s low power mode. The sound quality was good across multiple genres with a “natural” sound that provided both bass-y booms and subtle atmospherics. However, Billy strongly disliked the Smart Case, which provides little protection for the headphones, and the $549 price tag, which makes it steeper than competitors.
Amazon’s Echo Frames have potential, but need finesse
Although Amazon introduced the Echo Frames over a year ago, they’re only now widely available for those who are interested in wearing a pair of connected glasses. Cherlynn Low liked the way the smart specs fit: she said were so comfortable she forgot she was wearing them. Available in a single style with three color choices, the glasses are compatible with prescription lenses. The Echo Frames have no display or camera but will allow users to take calls, hear music and notifications and use Alexa hands-free. Cherlynn found Alexa to be speedy and responsive even when there was background noise.
But the sound quality on the Echo Frames didn’t impress Cherlynn. The music she listened to sounded hollow and lacked bass, and the open-ear design meant that nearby coworkers could hear her tunes even at only 30-percent volume. However, the main drawback came with notifications -- they were easy to accidentally dismiss because of the touch-sensitive panel on the right side, not to mention difficult to customize. Despite this, she still liked the Echo Frames and found herself wearing them frequently for calls and Alexa controls.
Sony’s A7C: Good at autofocus, bad at handling
Sony’s A7C is a compact version of its A6600 camera but with the 24-megapixel sensor and specs of the A7 series. Lightweight and portable, the A7C is similar to other Sony models, specifically the popular, full-frame A7 III and the crop-sensor A6600. Steve Dent says the A7C has similar image quality and shooting speeds to the A7 III, but uses AI to improve autofocus tracking. However, it lacks a front dial, joystick and other manual controls, which slowed down Steve’s shooting and made for some clumsy handling.
Steve said you can speed things up by setting up custom menus and buttons before using the A7C. Otherwise, it has an impressive battery life and can go 680 shots on a charge. The A7C can shoot sharp 4K video and has decent stabilization, and is awesome for sports, wildlife or other action shooting. Steve believes it’d be ideal for hybrid shooters who are looking for a modestly priced full-frame camera. But with an $1,800 price tag, it’s more expensive than competing models from Canon, Panasonic or Nikon.
NVIDIA RTX 3060 Ti is the new king of $399 GPUs
The RTX 3060 Ti is the cheapest GPU in NVIDIA’s new video card lineup but that doesn’t stop it from giving solid performance even at 1080p or 1440p. Devindra Hardawar expected the 3060 Ti to be an improvement over its RTX 2060 Super predecessor and he was significantly impressed by the quick speeds, 4,864 CUDA cores and 1.67GHz clock speed produced by the new Ampere architecture.
Though ray-tracing did slow down the card a bit (and it showed its limits during 4K play), the 3060 Ti easily bested the RTX 2080 Super in Devindra’s benchmark testing -- and wasn’t much slower than the 3070 either. The fan setup kept the card running cool and quiet, idling around 41 Celsius and hitting a high of 74 Celsius. The ports -- three DisplayPort 1.4a and an HDMI 2.1 socket -- will support 4K beyond 60Hz and 8K displays. This makes it a great deal for those looking for an upgrade at a decent price.
Hologram Electronics Microcosm makes everything sound amazing
The Hologram Electronics Microcosm is a flexible effects pedal in the vein of the Empress Effects Reverb or the Earthquaker Devices’ Afterneath. Capable of adding subtle texture or transforming an instrument entirely, the Microcosm can provide a variety of effects from glitchy to spacey thanks to its 44 presets. Terrence O’Brien called it a one-stop ambience shop.
The Microcosm also has a wide variety of additional features including a reverb unit, a modulation section, a resonant lowpass filter and a 60-second phrase looper onboard. It is, however, a sizable pedal, but does contain a good variety of inputs and outputs like 5-pin MIDI In and Out/Thru and an expression pedal jack. Terrence said he was able to get lost exploring the various sounds and presets, though he admits there’s a small learning curve to all the features. Nevertheless, he encountered plenty of happy accidents while figuring them out.
HP Reverb G2 offers immersive, high-quality VR
Devindra Hardawar wasn’t sure who would want the HP Reverb G2 after reviewing it. The $600 Windows Mixed Reality headset is made for PC users who want sharp displays and ergonomic designs but don’t want to spend the $999 on Valve’s Index. Devindra liked the high-quality produced by the near-field speakers, the sturdy headband and the comfortable cushioning around the lenses. He enjoyed the gameplay, too, thanks to the 2,160 x 2,160 resolution screens, 90Hz refresh rate, 114-degree field of view and impressive tracking produced by the four sensors.
The controllers were disappointing, though he did find the curved handles more comfortable than Microsoft’s straight handle design. He thought they felt hollow, and on top of that, he couldn’t get a good response from the gamepad buttons. But gameplay didn’t disappoint -- Microsoft’s Flight Simulator was so immersive with the headset that he started dreaming about it. He claimed that despite its flaws, the Reverb G2 is still the best WMR headset headset yet.