ICYMI: We spend some time with Apple's iOS 15 beta

Also, we test out the latest Echo Show devices and a Lenovo gaming laptop.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Apple’s iOS 15 is slated for release this fall, and this week we’ve got a hands-on with its public beta. According to Cherlynn Low, iPhone users have a lot to look forward to later this year. Meanwhile, Nicole Lee set up both the 8- and 5-inch Echo Shows in her house to check out Amazon’s updates, and she says the Echo Show 8 is now much improved for video calls. Also, Daniel Cooper found a lot to like about the Lenovo Legion 5, but he admits the laptop comes with some compromises.

There’s a lot to explore in the public beta of iOS 15

iOS 15 beta

After spending a few weeks testing the latest iOS 15 features, including SharePlay and Focus modes, Cherlynn Low concluded that Apple lovers will have a bunch of new things to try out this fall. As most of the changes are already available, it’s perhaps not surprising that the beta is fairly complete. While testing SharePlay, Cherlynn encountered a few minor glitches. It was difficult to figure out how to access the feature initially because the options only show up when a compatible media app is open during a chat. And both parties will need a subscription to stream together on Apple TV+ or Apple Music.

Cherlynn particularly liked the Focus modes, which let users create customized profiles that only allow notifications from selected apps or people to come through. You can also pick a Home screen that will only show the apps you want. In this mode, you won’t see any other pages — just the apps drawer and the Today screen — keeping distractions to a minimum.

Other upgrades include Live Text, which scans photos for usable text like foreign words on a menu to translate; richer and more detailed Maps; better Spotlight search and Share With You, which consolidates media your friends send you. Cherlynn said there’s much more to explore in the Weather, Safari and Wallet apps that should give fans a taste of the full release. She also spent time with the new watchOS 8 beta, which brings more health and fitness tools, improved communication and better integration with connected appliances to the Apple Watch.

Amazon's latest Echo Shows are pretty familiar, and that's ok

Amazon Echo Show 8 and Show 5
Nicole Lee/Engadget

Amazon didn’t change much on the new $129 Echo Show 8 and $85 Show 5, and Nicole Lee says that’s just fine. The two devices eschew the swiveling screen found in the Echo Show 10 and keep much of what worked in previous models: the minimalist design, an ambient light sensor to adjust brightness and color temperature and a camera shutter for privacy. The Echo Show 8 has a 1,280 x 800 resolution display while the Show 5 features a 960 x 480 screen, and the latter is clearly intended as more of a nightstand device. Nicole was particularly pleased by the sound quality on the Echo Show 8, which delivered powerful bass and impressive volume.

And because it now features an octa-core processor and a 13-megapixel wide-angle camera, the Echo Show 8 is now more useful for video calls. The camera also has digital panning and zooming technology so it can follow you during video calls, although in Nicole’s experience, this took a few seconds to kick in. But the Show 8 won’t be best for all your video needs as it lacks native YouTube as well as streaming support for Disney+, Paramount+ and HBO Max. If you’re already in the Amazon ecosystem, she says the Echo Show 8 delivers the most value for the money — but if you’re looking for something akin to an alarm clock, the Show 5 is a better choice.

Lenovo's Legion 5 Pro is an affordable gaming laptop with great graphics

Review image of the new Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (2021)
Daniel Cooper

Though Lenovo isn’t best known for its gaming laptops, Daniel Cooper points out that the new Legion 5 Pro laptop is clearly trying to capture more of that attention. With AMD’s Ryzen 7 5800H and NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 3070 graphics, the machine is powerful — and at $1,530, it’s relatively affordable as well. Daniel points out that the 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD are underwhelming, but they can be upgraded, and the 16-inch, 165Hz QHD IPS display holds its own in bright light and reduces glare.

When it comes to design, users get a solid aluminum chassis with a professional looking matte grey paint job, plus a plethora of ports including four USB-A, two USB-C, HDMI, Ethernet and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Daniel said that typing on Lenovo’s TrueStrike keyboard is a unique experience: the “soft landing” switches makes each actuation feel a bit deeper than the keys 1.5mm depth. He was less fond of the 720p webcam, which produces fuzzy images with light blooms, and the heat produced by the fan system was noticeable. However, the big compromise on the Legion 5 is the battery life — the machine lasted only 4 hours and 43 minutes during testing, which makes it most useful when near an outlet.

The Fitbit Luxe is an impressively small fitness tracker

Fitbit Luxe
Cherlynn Low/Engadget

Cherlynn Low acknowledges that designing a stylish fitness tracker is difficult. Fitbit has tried it a few times before but their most recent attempt, the Luxe, is indeed chic — but Cherlynn says its size is actually the most impressive thing about it. Measuring 0.4 x 1.43 inches, the Luxe manages to include a heart rate sensor, oxygen saturation monitoring, sleep tracking, water resistance and basic phone syncing all in its tiny frame.

However, the downside is that small footprint results in a tiny screen as well. The 0.76-inch AMOLED panel, which runs at a 124 x 206 resolution, is hard to read. Cherlynn said that the text showing workout stats, cardio zone information and notifications might be frustratingly small for some. That aside, she had no problem using the Luxe to track workouts and sleep data; it works as promised and the UI is similar to other Fitbit devices without physical buttons. The touchscreen was responsive and she was able to get seven days of battery life — and that was even with connected GPS turned on for a bit. Overall, Cherlynn calls the Luxe well-made and capable, but best for those looking for a petite tracker.

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