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Welp, Apple Just Canceled AirPower – Review Geek

Apple first announced AirPower in 2017 with a projected release in 2018. But that time came and went with nary a word from Apple. Now, despite several reports and rumors to the contrary, the project has been canceled.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple Senior VP of Hardware Engineering Dan Riccio cited the inability to meet Apple’s strict standards the reason for the cancelation.

After much effort, we’ve concluded AirPower will not achieve our high standards and we have cancelled the project. We apologize to those customers who were looking forward to this launch. We continue to believe that the future is wireless and are committed to push the wireless experience forward.

The timing on this is pretty wild because just two weeks ago speculation was running wild about when—not if—Apple would finally announce its release. Some sites even went as far as to speculate that it would be released on March 21st or 22nd, at the end of a long week of Apple announcements.

It’s clear that Apple had every intention of releasing the product because it was referenced on product packaging as late as the newly-updated AirPods, which were released just last week. Crazy.





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With its Apple Card, Apple edges further into financial services

Apple’s Monday announcement of a credit card – the Apple Card – represented a natural progression of the company’s journey into financial services that began with the Apple Wallet app and its contactless digital payment service, Apple Pay.

apple card iphonexs entertainment 032519 carousel.jpg.medium 2x Apple

The Apple Card, as described by the company this week, will offer users some attractive features: up to 3% cash back on daily purchases, no late or international transaction fees, and a physical chipped card make of titanium (sans any credit card numbers – just your name and an Apple symbol).

Additionally, Apple is using machine learning algorithms to offer card users a real-time view of purchases, along with spending trend information.

Essentially, though, the Apple Card is just another payment option in Apple Pay. Customers will sign up for the card using the Apple Wallet app on their iPhone.

So why would Apple want to create its own credit card instead of using existing ones as a payment option? Simply put: to snare more revenue for itself because it doesn’t have to share fees with credit card issuers.

Everybody wants to be in the payment clearing business as it’s a lucrative way to earn money, according to Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, LLC. “They already sell many things, so if they can get a return on the payment processing, it’s gravy for them,” Gold said.

Controlling payments also offers insights into what cjustomers are buying, as well as when and where they’re making purchases. Add to that data mining and a company has valuable insight for directing targeted adds and services.

Avivah Litan, a Gartner research vice president, said what Apple is doing is not a radical change to how it’s business model; it’s an incremental, evoluctionary change to payments.

“What Facebook is doing is much more revolutionary. They’re creating new payment rails. They’re going to be linking to [cryptocurrency] exchanges.”

Facebook is exploring the use of blockchain, purportedly for the purpose of creating its own digital currency – a stable coin backed by fiat money such as U.S. dollars – that would use distributed ledger technology for clearance and settlement.

In other words, Facebook would cut out the middleman – the banks – and allow Facebook users to purchase advertised products using its own digital token. The Apple Card is still tied to a bank.

“Apple does what it can to lock in users to their ecosystem,” Gold said. “So it’s logical that Wallet is the underpinnings of the financial transaction model for them. Blockchain doesn’t really give them any advantage, and it may also carry some bad connotations based on some very public breaches. So staying with a technology they know, and own, makes sense.”

apple card balance Apple

You balance and due date are front and center when you launch the Apple Card tab inside the Wallet app.

For Apple, the hard part in establishing Apple Pay was getting the infrastructure in place for it – the banks and credit card issuers to back it, and the merchants who had to roll out NFC terminals to accept contactless payments. For the financial services and retail industry, Apple had power because of its enormous smartphone user base. The banks and retailers didn’t want to miss out on the potential for more business, so they lowered fees charged to Apple for transactions.

Once that infrastructure was in place, Apple was able to essentially eliminate the need for credit card issuers for Apple Pay – allowing it to create its own credit card. Since  Apple is not a bank (yet), Goldman Sachs will be the issuer behind the “white labeled” Apple Card and Mastercard will provide the infrastructure to settle the transactions.

So how will the Apple Card work when it comes out sometime this summer?

Just like any other credit card, a user must first be approved. That process will likely involve a combination of Goldman Sachs reviewing a person’s credit history and financial information and Apple using iPhone use to determine credit worthiness.

apple card spending Apple

You’ll be able to get a clear overview of your spending inside the Wallet app on your iPhone.

In fact, Apple’s support page explains that it “may” consider whether certain device settings are enabled, and device use patterns – such as the percent of time the device is in motion and the approximate number of calls you make per week – to determine eligibility. That may be one way it’s able to provide Apple Card users a fee-less experience, because it no longer has to rely on multiple credit card issuers, Litan said.

“They have a lot of information on you to determine if you’re a good customer,” she said.

Is it more secure?

In theory, the Apple Card is more secure than a conventional credit card in several ways. For one, the physical card Apple will send in the mail contains no credit card number, which could otherwise be stolen.

Additionally, the virtual Apple Card doesn’t contain a visible credit card number. The only entities aware of that number is the credit card issuer and the card holder. The credit card number is encrypted and a key is used to create an alias account on the  iPhone.

“It’s device specific,” Litan said. “They tie this alias account number … back to your mobile device. So, now that’s my wallet, my special account number on my device. It’s a very secure method.”

Gold agreed, saying that while “everything can get hacked,” using the iPhone with biometrics or PIN code as a mechanism for identifying the purchaser has proven “pretty safe so far.

“[It’s] much harder to clone a phone than to clone a credit card, as many banks and card issuers know,” Gold said.

apple card pay Apple

The Apple Card can be used anywhere, but the best benefits are for purchases made using Apple Pay; customers who purchase Apple products get 3% cash back (2% for other purchases).

The credit card number is isolated from the mobile operating system and is never backed up to the cloud. Even if a hacker did break into and steal the credit card number, they couldn’t necessarily use it unless they got the key related to the mobile device.

“There’s a device account number that’s encrypted and then a key is also sent back from the card issuer that generates a unique security code for each transaction you make,” Litan said “It’s a unique code every time.”

So, each time you make a purchase with Apple Pay using your Apple Card, the device account number with the unique security code is communicated to the NFC terminal from the credit card issuer.

In the future, Apple may could decide to cut out the bank and credit card company and become its own bank. In the meantime, the Apple Card offers a user friendly interface and attractive benefits that are likely to spur adoption.

“It hasn’t changed at all in terms of the banking system,” Litan said. “The only thing that has changed is the user interface and Apple is getting a bigger piece of the action for owning the customer user interface.”



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How to Manage Years of Browser Bookmarks: 5 Steps to Tidiness

If you’ve used the web for any amount of time, you’ve probably built up a huge collection of bookmarks. It’s easy to fill up your bookmarks bar with your most-visited sites, and before long you’ll have an overflowing list of favorite pages that are impossible to navigate.

Now is the time to sit down and make your bookmarks more manageable. Let’s look at a process containing tools and tips to clean up, organize, and manage your bookmarks so they’re no longer a nightmare.

Step 1: Remove Dead and Duplicate Bookmarks

There’s not much point keeping bookmarks to dead links or two links that go to the same page. Over time, pages break, get redirected, or disappear entirely. Before you worry about managing anything, first clean up the clutter.

A free tool for Windows called AM-DeadLink will help here. It scans all your bookmarks and lets you know which ones are dead, redirected, and similar. The tool is compatible with Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Vivaldi, and Internet Explorer. To check Edge or other bookmarks, you can either export them to an HTML file or import them into a supported browser.

Open the software and select your browser from the dropdown at the top-left. You’ll see a list of your bookmarks, with the total number at the bottom. Click the green Check button to scan for broken links. Because it needs to check the connection to each website, this can take a few minutes if you have thousands of bookmarks.

AM Deadlink Bookmark Checker

Once it’s done, you’ll see the Status of each bookmark. OK means it’s all-clear, while redirected, OK means the link is still alive but it’s moved. You may want to replace that bookmark link with the latest URL for optimal performance.

The error, redirected, file not found and other red fields represent dead links. For ease of checking, you can click the Sort button (next to the red Abort button) to show all broken links at the top. Next to this is a duplicate checker that will scan for duplicates.

Unfortunately, AM-DeadLink won’t delete any bookmarks for you. You’ll need to perform any needed work manually.

Finally, if you find that an important link is now broken, you can use the Wayback Machine to see what it looked like in the past. Just enter the URL and you can (hopefully) travel back in time.

Step 2: Sync Your Bookmarks

There’s no reason to rebuild your bookmarks collection from scratch on all your devices. All major browsers have built-in syncing features that let you access your favorites on other computers and your phone.

To use them, follow these basic steps for the most popular browsers:

  • Chrome: Open Chrome’s Settings and sign into your Google account using the People pane at the top of the screen if you aren’t already. Make sure you’ve chosen to sync bookmarks in the Sync menu, then sign into your Google account in Chrome on your other devices.
  • Firefox: Go to Firefox’s Options and choose Firefox Account. Sign in, make sure you’ve synced your Bookmarks, then do the same on your other devices. See our guide to Firefox Sync


    How to Use Firefox Sync to Keep Your Browsing Data Synchronized




    How to Use Firefox Sync to Keep Your Browsing Data Synchronized

    Firefox Sync lets you keep your bookmarks, passwords, options, and more synced across all your devices. Here’s how to use it.
    Read More

    for more info.
  • Opera: Open Settings and browse to the Synchronization section. Here, sign in with an Opera account and choose to sync your bookmarks. Then sign in on your other devices.

Chrome Sync Overview

Step 3: Back Up and Import Bookmarks

Xmarks was a popular service for syncing your bookmarks between browsers. While it shut down in 2018, it’s not as necessary any more thanks to the syncing features mentioned above. (We have checked out Xmarks alternatives


5 Xmarks Alternatives to Sync Bookmarks




5 Xmarks Alternatives to Sync Bookmarks

When you’re switching between browsers and devices, do you wish you could sync your bookmarks? We’ll show you how!
Read More

in case you still need this functionality.)

However, you can still manually export and import bookmarks to move them between browsers. Doing so also lets you back up your bookmarks to an HTML file. This is important because syncing services aren’t proper backups.

Even if you don’t want to move bookmarks to another browser, you should take a moment to export them. Keep the resulting HTML file somewhere safe so you can restore your bookmarks if something ever goes wrong.

Here’s how to export and import bookmarks in the major browsers:

  • Chrome Go to Menu > Bookmarks > Bookmark manager or use the Ctrl + Shift + O shortcut. At the top-right, click the three-dot button and choose Export bookmarks to save them as an HTML file. Import bookmarks will allow you to bring in an HTML file exported from another browser.
  • Firefox: Open Menu > Library > Bookmarks > Show all bookmarks or press Ctrl + Shift + B. Click the Important and Backup and choose Export bookmarks to HTML or Import bookmarks from HTML. The Backup and Restore options let you work with JSON files instead.
  • Opera: Click Bookmarks on the sidebar, then hit the Import/Export button. Here you can both import and export via HTML files.
  • Edge: Visit Menu > Settings and click the Import or export button.
  • Internet Explorer: Click the Star icon at the top-right to open Favorites, then click the arrow next to Add to favorites to open a dropdown menu. Here, choose Import and export and follow the steps.

Firefox Bookmarks Backup

Step 4: Put Your Favorite Icons on the Bookmarks Bar

Now that you’ve gotten rid of clutter and backed up your bookmarks, you can move onto the fun part: making them actually useful.

The bookmarks toolbar is the most convenient place for the bookmarks you use all the time, so it makes sense to optimize it. Use your browser’s bookmark manager (or drag-and-drop) to place your favorite bookmarks on the bar.

From there, you can utilize a little tip: deleting the Name field will keep only the favicon and allow you to store more icons on your bookmarks bar.

Bookmarks Toolbar Icons

If you have bookmarks to several pages on one website, you can add one letter to each to differentiate them without taking up too much space. Those who need access to even more bookmarks can create folders on the bookmarks toolbar.

Step 5: Organize and Tag the Rest of Your Bookmarks

Once you have quick access to your top sites, the rest of the work lies in organizing them. How you do this depends on what you find most useful, but in general, you should make good use of folders.

You could create a hierarchy of folders for the different kinds of sites you bookmark. Maybe you keep everything related to music in one folder, pages related to news in another folder, and similar. Don’t forget that you can nest folders inside folders, so you could divide by music genres, for example.

In Firefox, you can also use tags to further categorize your bookmarks. Because a bookmark can have multiple tags, you can easily browse the tags for all related pages. It’s a great tool if you want to get really granular.

Firefox Bookmark Tags

By the way, don’t forget that services like Pocket can be better than creating bookmarks


The Pros and Cons of Pocket: Save for Later vs. Bookmarks




The Pros and Cons of Pocket: Save for Later vs. Bookmarks

Both Chrome bookmarks and Pocket are great in their own way. But why would you choose Pocket over a bookmarking service? And in what ways does Pocket fall short?
Read More

for every site you want to check out. Use Pocket for storing interesting content for later and reserve bookmarks for sites you’ve visited and want to find again in the future.

Cleaner Bookmarks = Cleaner Browsing

We’ve gone through several practical steps to organize your browser bookmarks. After cleaning up dead links and those you no longer use, syncing them to other devices and backing them up, and organizing them, your bookmarks list will no longer be a horrific sight.

After all, the feature is all about providing easy access to the sites you love, so you should make sure your setup works for you. For an even deeper dive, check out our guide to managing bookmarks in Firefox


A Complete Guide to Managing Firefox Bookmarks




A Complete Guide to Managing Firefox Bookmarks

Learn how to create, organize, and manage your bookmarks in Firefox so you don’t end up with a cluttered, chaotic collection.
Read More

.

Explore more about: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Online Bookmarks.



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Respawn-900 Gaming Recliner Review & Rating

Gaming chairs generally share a handful of characteristics. They almost all have high backs that can recline, wheeled bases, and sturdy armrests with no cup holders. Respawn throws much of that out of the window with the Respawn-900 Gaming Recliner, which has a non-wheeled base designed to be set in a fixed location. Add a cup holder and a flip-up footrest, and you get one of the first gaming chairs that’s perfectly suited for the living room. At $299.99 it’s a compelling alternative to a conventional recliner, and earns our Editors’ Choice for its comfortable, unique design.

Construction and Design

Assembling the Respawn-900 is slightly different from putting together a conventional wheeled gaming or office chair. You start with the base, a cone-shaped structure of faux leather wrapped around a metal ring that sits on the floor. A support cylinder fits in the middle, but unlike wheeled chairs it isn’t pneumatic. The bottom half of the seat fits on top of that, with the adjustable footrest and sides of the armrests already attached to form a single piece. With that in place, the back of the chair bolts to the back of the seat with two sets of metal eyelets that line up and stay in place with bolts. Finally, the large, overstuffed armrests fit snugly on top of the sides of the seat, held with their own screws hidden behind small zippers on the backs.

Once everything’s screwed and bolted together, the Respawn-900 looks like a wildly overbuilt, wheel-less gaming chair. The faux leather-covered seat and back are shaped similarly to other chairs we’ve tested, with generously padded contours sewn into angular patterns between the black base and whatever highlight color you choose (black, blue, gray, or white). The headrest on the back is tall and flanked by two wide wings to support the shoulders. Two large vents under the headrest offer ventilation, and provide an attachment point for the elastic strap on the included faux-leather neck pillow.

Respawn-900 Gaming Recliner

The armrests are much larger than the rests on other gaming chairs we’ve tested. Instead of narrow chunks of dense foam or rubber mounted on metal arms that attach to the seat, the Respawn-900’s armrests are wide slabs of padding wrapped in the same faux leather as the seat and back, completely covering the sides of the chair down to the base of the seat. They’re generous and supportive, and the left armrest has a large plastic cup holder (a feature I’ve wanted to see in gaming chairs since we first started reviewing them). A hook-and-loop strip on the underside of the left armrest can support the included accessory pouch, which is a simple, black bag with two pockets separated by nylon, large enough to hold a gamepad.

Leaning Back and Spinning

The footrest is perhaps the most notable part of the recliner. It’s a cushioned, rectangular pad covered in faux leather that extends forward from the seat. Metal arms connected to a handle below the right armrest lift the footrest forward to comfortably support your legs at the knees and calves (unless you’re quite short, in which case your feet will likely dangle off). Pulling the handle forward again drops the footrest down to hang in front of the seat unobtrusively.

The footrest works separately from the back-reclining feature, which is controlled by a smaller, flatter lever near the one for the footrest. Pulling that lever and leaning back will move the seat forward slightly and recline the back up to 135 degrees, a standard recline range for a gaming chair. It doesn’t lean quite as forward as a deskbound gaming chair, though; the chair naturally reclines back 10 to 15 degrees before you even lean, rather than nearly straight-up. This makes sense, since it’s designed to be used a relaxing distance from a large screen, rather than close to a monitor on a desk directly in front of the chair.

The seat rotates freely left and right like a wheeled gaming chair, letting you turn a full 360 degrees. The central mount that lets the seat spin has a bit more friction than on a wheeled chair, which requires you to consciously press your feet down and turn the chair with your legs to get the angle you want. This is a good thing; a looser rotation could let the chair spin aimlessly while you’re reclining back with your feet up.

The Respawn-900 is built as sturdily and generously as any quality gaming chair, with a maximum weight capacity of 275 pounds and an interior width (measured between the arms) of 18.9 inches. Of course, it isn’t quite as sturdy as more conventional Lay-Z-Boy-style recliners, which are built more like armchairs or loveseats, don’t turn, and generally cost significantly more than the Respawn-900. Regardless, this is a one-person chair; don’t expect to do any snuggling on it.

How to Sit

I placed the Respawn-900 in front of my TV, about five or six feet back. I’ve been spending plenty of time in the recliner playing games and watching TV, and I’ve found it to be a really pleasant experience. My cat Pixel also appears to like the Respawn-900, and consistently approves of it when I’m not using it.

Respawn-900 Gaming ReclinerThe Respawn-900 felt supportive when I was settled in for long, frustrating sessions of Apex Legends and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. With the back upright, I could sit back while keeping a relatively active position. I found myself leaning forward on the chair during tense matches and boss fights, but that’s more an issue of my own posture and tendency to scoot closer to the screen when I’m focused.

Reclining back for watching TV also felt quite comfortable. A partial recline let me relax and zone out for Twitch streams or movie marathons. The footrest properly supported my knees and calves, letting me put my feet up as I stared at the screen. The chair also provided enough room for me to occasionally cross my legs and put my notebook on my lap to write. I could put some music on, turn away from the TV, and type without strain, even without any form of lap desk or hard surface.

The cup holder is immensely useful, and a feature I’ve wanted to see in gaming chairs for years. However, it’s a little big for most drinkware. It’s fine if you have a nice, fat can of soda, but tumblers and rocks glasses sit loosely in the compartment. A rubber gasket or tiered system of concentric cut-outs to support different cup sizes would have been better. It’s still functional, though, and I got used to the wiggle room enough to confidently use it for holding beverages.

A Gaming Chair for the Living Room

The Respawn-900 Gaming Recliner is a clever variation on the typical gaming chair. It takes the flexibility and support that a wheeled gaming chair provides, and gives it a much more living room-friendly stationary base, a footrest, and a cup holder. It won’t replace a couch and it doesn’t have the heft and sturdiness of a conventional living room recliner, but as a chair for playing video games in front of your TV instead of your desk, it’s excellent. If you mostly game on a big screen and want something a bit more purpose-built than your couch, the Respawn-900 earns our Editors’ Choice. If you’re looking for a conventional gaming chair with a wheeled base, the SecretLab Titan remains our favorite for the premium feel of its supple material and dense foam.



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Should You be Building Progressive Web Apps?

Take a close look at Monetate’s Ecommerce Quarterly Report for Q2 2018 and you might not be happy about the state of mobile websites it depicts.

The good news is that smartphones drive significantly more traffic to websites than all other devices with 52.73%:

Monetate-Website Visits by Device

But conversions? Ehhhh…

Monetate-Conversion-Rates-by-Device

Smartphone conversions lag behind all other devices with 2.03%.

It’s not just conversion rates that are low either. There are also fewer pages looked at, which means engagement rates suffer on the mobile web, too.

It’s no wonder, then, why businesses want to create mobile apps. According to a Criteo Mobile Commerce Growth report from 2017, mobile apps convert at a rate of 3x their web counterparts.

That said, no matter how well users convert on mobile apps, the cost to build and maintain one is out of reach for many businesses. So, what do you do when your client wants to capitalize on this mobile-first world? Tell them to be content with the mobile web for now?

Nope! It’s time to turn their attention to progressive web apps.

 

What Is a Progressive Web App?

In the simplest of terms, progressive web apps (or PWAs) bridge the gap between the mobile web and mobile apps. They take a basic set of components — an app shell, service workers, and app manifest — then serve them through HTTPS to give users the convenience of the mobile web within an app-like experience.

Google has a bunch of starter guides that will walk you through the process of building a PWA from-scratch, in case you’re interested in learning more.

PWAs are:

Secure

They must run through HTTPS, which makes them inherently more secure than mobile websites that don’t always have SSL certificates in place.

Fast

According to this infographic published by AppInstitute, progressive web apps are 15x faster than native mobile apps.

AppInstitute-PWA-Speed

Unlike mobile apps that tend to drain battery power and bandwidth, PWAs don’t have that problem since they’re served over the web.

Searchable

Users don’t have to dig through an app store to find a PWA. They can find them in their mobile search browser as this search for Flipkart’s PWA demonstrates:

Flipkart

That also means less work for you.

Prepping information and screenshots for an app store listing takes time. If you’re already doing SEO for your clients’ websites, then you can just use that for your PWA.

And working with each of the individual app store’s rules and timelines (because you have to submit separately to Apple and Google) is a pain. Whether you’re launching an app or pushing an update through, launch will never truly be predictable as their teams have to review and approve your app first.

PWAs, again, are much easier. You own it all, which means that when someone searches for and finds the PWA in search, the latest and greatest version is what they’ll encounter. There’s no red tape here.

Convenient

PWAs can be saved to mobile home screens the way apps can, too. For example, here is the Weather Channel PWA:

Weather-Channel-PWA

Users can then save it to their home screen, so that the icon displays alongside their other apps:

Weather-Channel-Icon

If you want to help mobile users get the most out of it, let them know it’s easy to get one-click access to with a small popup notification.

Online / Offline

PWAs are a really great choice for businesses that want to get the mobile face of their company into the hands of a global audience. For visitors that live in remote areas or ones that simply have unreliable Internet access, the offline storage component of PWAs make them the obvious choice over mobile websites.

Feature-rich

Unlike mobile websites which are limited by the technology sitting behind them, PWAs are like mobile apps in that they can leverage a smartphone’s features. While PWAs don’t have the ability to directly integrate with mobile apps, they can sync up with your users’ telephony features (like push notifications).

Great Looking

Building a website that works just as well for desktop as it does for mobile can be a challenge. Thanks to the app shell, a PWA has a significantly improved and upgraded look from a standard website on mobile.

For instance, this is the Twitter Lite interface:

Twitter-Lite

Notice how the stream of content fits beautifully within the borders of the page. Also, check out the header and blue new tweet button. These elements hold firm no matter where visitors go on the Twitter website or how far down the page they scroll.

You can also greatly improve the UI of things like internal search and filtering as Housing.com does:

Housing

By improving the look and functionality of your web presence with a PWA, you’ll encourage more mobile users to engage.

 

PWAs Are Engaging!

All of the elements above will certainly help drive up engagement rates and conversions if you’re making the switch from a mobile website to a PWA. There’s plenty of proof online that demonstrates how and why this happens, too:

AliExpress saw twice as many mobile visitors and an 82% increase in iOS user conversion rate alone after switching to a PWA.

Lancome decreased the time it took their mobile web page to become interactive by 84%. In turn, their bounce rate dropped by 15% and they had a 17% boost in conversions.

MakeMyTrip used their PWA’s increased speeds to increase shopping sessions by 160% and conversions by 300%.

Needless to say, your clients don’t need to feel trapped or held back by the constraints of the mobile web. While it’s still important to have a presence there to start, the PWA is where they should be headed next. It’s cheaper and easier to build than a mobile app and there’s a lot to be gained in terms of engagements and conversions.

 

Featured image via Unsplash





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AirPower Is Dead, So Buy This Charging Mat Instead – Review Geek

Rating:
9/10
?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $99

An Apple Watch, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone 8 on an Unravel charger
Jason Fitzpatrick

I really love wireless charging, but I don’t love packing multiple wireless chargers when I travel. The Unravel travel charger from Ampere makes it simple to pack light. Now that AirPower is dead, it’s an even more compelling product.

Here’s What We Like

  • Packs light
  • Folding 3-in-1 design is both clever and useful
  • Comes with a 60w USB-C charger

At CES 2019 I got a chance to take a peek at the Unravel in person and was really impressed with the design. While everyone was waiting for AirPower to arrive, here was this company with not just a triple charging pad but one that could fold up to pack and even transform. With the hot-off-the-press news that Apple’s AirPower project is dead, the Unravel looks better than ever.

The project was then a successful Kickstarter gearing up for distribution and is now available for purchase on Amazon so everybody can get in on the clever design without a trip to CES or playing the Kickstarter lottery. But should they get in on it? Let’s take a look at the design and features of the Unravel.

What It Is: A Jacob’s Ladder for Your Gadgets

When you first unpack the Unravel it looks a lot like a Jacob’s Ladder toy, folded up and waiting. Like a Jacob’s Ladder the design is pretty clever (but far more useful for our modern needs).

The charger is three separate 10w wireless charging panels all hinged together and powered by an included 60w USB-C charger. All three panels offering Qi wireless charging which you can use with any Qi compatible phone including the iPhone 8 and above, the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S10 lineups, the Google Pixel 3, as well as Qi-compatible accessories like these wireless AirPod cases and Apple’s own wireless charging case. In addition to that, one of the panels is not only a general Qi-compatible charging pad but will also charge your Apple Watch.

In the most compact form, it looks like this:

Unravel charger in folded compact form
Jason Fitzpatrick

When completely folded up as it is in the photo above the charger is still fully functional, but only the top charging pad is operational. This position is handy if you don’t need to use all the pads or you want to drape your Apple Watch over it (if you’ve got a particularly stiff curled band that just won’t lay flat). Speaking of that, it’s a great design choice to put the one panel that supports the Apple Watch at the top of the stack like this so you’re able to use the charger, in the “single stack” mode, the way you want.

Unravel charger in the flat position
Jason Fitzpatrick

The second way you can use the charger is to completely unfold it flat. In this position, you can charge three devices be it three different phones or a mix of phones, an Apple Watch, and other accessories like the AirPod wireless charging case.

Finally, there’s a really clever third position you can use your Unravel charger in: stand mode. By folding the charger flat and then continuing to fold the charger until the two outer edges magnetically click together, you create a stand.

In this position the sides of the triangle are roughly 45 degrees and, by pivoting out a small recessed lip from the face of one of the panels, you have yourself a handy little stand that supports your phone in either landscape or portrait mode.

As if that weren’t cool enough, despite my initial belief that there was no way my Apple Watch would stay in portrait mode while the charger was set up as a stand, it does it fact work. That’s pretty great for those folks who like to use the Watch’s Nightstand Mode. Just be sure to hold it there for a moment to get a firm connection with the magnetic base or it’ll slide down.

How Does It Fair In The Real World?

Everything I just described in the previous section sounds great on paper, but how well does the Unravel function out and about in the world? I’ve used the Unravel as both my primary wireless charger at home and while traveling for the last two months and I have nothing but good things to say about it.

It charges all my devices, Apple Watch included, as quickly as any of my other charging stands (but you know, times 3 devices). When traveling, my wife can easily drop her phone onto it to charge without fussing with plugging it in. You get all the benefits of a wireless charging stand without actually having to pack a full-size wireless charging stand to take on the road.

The Ampere Unravel Charger
When our AirPods 2 arrive, we’ll be ready. Ampere

For somebody like myself—who has become incredibly accustomed to having their phone propped up in a stand right in front of them while working at their desk—it’s so nice to take a stand on the road without the hassle of packing the full-size and inflexible one that’s on my desk right now. Sturdy premium stands, like the Logitech Powered, are great if they aren’t moving anywhere but impractical to take on the road.

Really, if you’re in the market for a flexible wireless multi-device charger the only thing that might give you pause is the cost. While not unreasonable for what you get (a premium quality triple-panel wireless charger that also supports your Apple Watch and comes with a nice 60w USB-C charger and cable) $99 is, well, $99. Still, when you consider that a nice 60w USB-C will run you $35-40, the price is a bit more palatable.

Cost aside, however, we’re struggling to come up with anything negative to say. It’s cleverly designed, it works well, packs light, and offers more versatility than any other charging pad or stand we’ve used, tested, or reviewed. If you’re in the market for a really flexible wireless travel charger, it’s a tough product to turn down.

Here’s What We Like

  • Packs light
  • Folding 3-in-1 design is both clever and useful
  • Comes with a 60w USB-C charger





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The best Android keyboard apps for on-the-go productivity

Quick: When was the last time you thought about the keyboard app on your phone?

If you’re anything like most people, the answer is probably somewhere between “a ridiculously long time ago” and “never.” And it’s no wonder: Keyboard apps are easy to forget! You install one — or stick with whatever came loaded on your phone by default — and then use it to input text when you need to. It’s just there, and unless you’re a weirdo who spends hours trying out different keyboards to see how they compare (and then trying ’em all out again months later to see how they’ve evolved and what other options have come along), you’re never gonna know what you’re missing.

Well, good news, my friend: I am that weirdo. Somehow, it’s my job. (Crazy, right?) And I’ve just finished assessing all of the significant Android keyboard apps in their current incarnations to see what they have to offer in 2019 and how they stack up.

Lemme tell ya: These once-unassuming typing tools have come a long way. The top Android keyboard apps now offer almost absurdly polished and refined text input experiences — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Android keyboards today are overflowing with all sorts of advanced functions that go way beyond their original purposes. And that means it’s more important than ever to find the right setup for your personal productivity needs.

So let’s get into it, shall we? These are the best Android keyboard apps around, broken down by where they excel and for whom they make the most sense.

The best all-around Android keyboard app for most people

Gboard (free)

If you just want a solid, thoughtfully designed keyboard that works well and is pleasant to use, Google’s own Gboard is tough to beat. Gboard is great for accurate swipe-based typing — where you slide your finger from one letter to the next without lifting it — and it does a decent job at tap-oriented typing, too, with its built-in typo correction and next-word prediction capabilities.

android keyboard apps gboard translate JR Raphael/IDG

On-the-fly language translation is one of Gboard’s handy advanced features.

Beyond the basics, Gboard supports a variety of potentially useful advanced productivity features. For instance, you can search Google right from the keyboard and then paste in results — things like directions to a business or a link to a web page — directly into the text field, wherever you are. You can also activate an integrated Google Translate mode that’ll translate anything you type from one language to another on the fly.

Other noteworthy elements include a handwriting mode, which transforms your on-screen scribbles into regular text as you write; a floating keyboard option, which makes it easier to access the keyboard on a large-screened device; a variety of themes to make the keyboard look any way you like; and a series of hidden shortcuts for extra-speedy text input.

Whether you take advantage of all those possibilities or not, though, Gboard is a well-rounded keyboard that lets you type quickly, accurately, and with minimal hassle on your Android phone. If you don’t have any special requirements and just want a commendable all-around keyboard that gets the job done, Gboard is the app for you.

The best Android keyboard app for tap-based typing and predictive text

SwiftKey (free)

Find yourself typing mostly by tapping out words? The now-Microsoft-owned SwiftKey is the Android keyboard app you want. SwiftKey is in a league of its own when it comes to ease and accuracy of tap-based typing, and its next-word prediction is second to none. (The app can handle swipe-based typing as well but is less exceptional in that domain.)

android keyboard apps swiftkey JR Raphael/IDG

SwiftKey has plenty of bells and whistles, too, including a feature that lets you share your exact location (or any location around you) with a couple quick taps; an option to connect the keyboard to your calendar and then browse through your agenda and share details about an event or time slot into any text field; and an integrated web search system that makes it possible to view entire web pages in an overlay window and even capture and share screenshots without ever switching away from your current app.

android keyboard apps swiftkey calendar JR Raphael/IDG

SwiftKey makes it simple to browse through your calendar and then paste details about any event or time slot into any text field where you’re typing.

All in all, SwiftKey is a polished and viable alternative to Gboard. If you tend to type mostly by tapping, it’s well worth giving a whirl.

The best Android keyboard app for power-user extras

Chrooma (free with optional $5 upgrade for premium features)

Maybe you want a keyboard that packs even more productivity-boosting possibilities and interesting extras into those cozy QWERTY quarters. If so, Chrooma could be the Android typing upgrade you need. The app is like a supercharged version of Gboard, with the same basic foundation but plenty of added zest for the power-user crowd.

Some of Chrooma’s flourishes are purely cosmetic — like the way the keyboard automatically adjusts its color based on the app you’re using (a red motif in Gmail, blue in Chrome, bright yellow in Google Keep, and so on). Others are both cosmetic and functional, like the app’s nifty night mode option — which uses the time of day or your phone’s light sensor to tone down its hues for an easier-on-the-eyes appearance in dimmer environments.

android keyboard apps chrooma JR Raphael/IDG

Chrooma adapts its color scheme to whatever app you’re using (left) and can automatically switch into a dimmer night mode (right) when you enter a dark room.

Other potentially worthwhile additions include Chrooma’s low-bezel mode, which lets you add a customizable amount of padding to the keyboard’s sides to make it more comfortable to use on phones with minimal side bezels (a silly sort of adjustment to need, of course, but hey — this is our current reality); the app’s optional “action row,” which lets you add a row atop your keyboard with your own custom combination of on-demand commands, characters, and even words; and its expanded set of gestures, which make it incredibly easy to accomplish tasks like deleting characters or entire sentences as well as moving your on-screen cursor and selecting text right from the keyboard itself.

If you opt for the one-time in-app upgrade to Chrooma’s premium version, you’ll also get advanced features like an integrated encryption option — which protects anything you type with a numerical passcode and then requires the recipient to open a web link and enter the passcode before your message becomes visible. It may not give you the same level of security that an encryption-first messaging service like Signal would provide, but it could be a useful way to add a layer of protection to your text and be able to send it in any app, without having to think about what services your recipient is or isn’t using.

android keyboard apps chrooma encryption JR Raphael/IDG

Chrooma allows you to encrypt text and then send it as a password-protected link to anyone, in any app.

Chrooma’s premium version also includes the ability to create a calendar event on the fly and both add it to your agenda and send a fully functional invite link to anyone else, in any app or service. And it has a built-in spelling- and grammar-checking tool, in case you want to give your words a once-over before sending (regardless of where you’re typing).

All combined, it makes for a powerful package — and combined with Chrooma’s commendable accuracy at both swipe-based and tap-oriented typing, it makes this Android keyboard app an excellent option for anyone who wants a more robust typing environment.

The best Android keyboard app for privacy and simplicity

Simple Keyboard (free)

On the flip side to Chrooma is the bare-bones, basic-as-can-be Simple Keyboard — an app whose name tells you much of what you need to know about the experience it provides.

Whereas Chrooma feels like a beefed-up version of Gboard, Simple Keyboard is the stripped-down version of Google’s keyboard framework. The app gives you a simple keyboard with support for tap-based typing — and that’s pretty much it: There’s no text correction system, no next-word prediction, and no support for swipe-oriented input. There’s not even access to Google’s system-level voice-to-text system, which every other app in this list provides. Heck, aside from a humble set of simple options, Simple Keyboard has no bells and whistles whatsoever. It is, quite simply, a keyboard. And that’s all it aspires to be.

android keyboard apps simple keyboard JR Raphael/IDG

The aptly named Simple Keyboard has a limited range of options — which in and of itself is essentially the app’s defining feature.

So why would you want such a frills-free typing experience when so many rich, feature-laden alternatives exist? Well, you might not want any of those added elements, for one, and might be content to have something that just lets you tap in words as needed. But perhaps more prominently, Simple Keyboard’s lack of lofty ambitions gives it one powerful feature no other keyboard can match: privacy — built in at its core, with a ground-level assurance that nothing you type could ever be transmitted off your device by the keyboard itself.

Pretty much every other Android keyboard app, y’see, requires perpetual network access in order to operate. And while most of the major players say they’ll never do anything nefarious with your data, there’s no denying that they do at the very least have the ability to observe and transmit it. (The need for internet access can be explained in a variety of perfectly legitimate ways, including the ambitious options those apps have for performing internet searches and even just learning your typing habits over time in order to provide better predictions — but still, if maximum privacy is a top concern of yours, that may not be enough to make it acceptable.)

Simple Keyboard, in contrast, requests no level of network access. In fact, the only permission it requires is the ability to control your device’s vibration motor. (You can see this for yourself by opening the “View details” link under the “Permissions” header on the app’s Play Store page. On Android, an app is only allowed to access system functions and types of data that it explicitly requests and that you explicitly authorize at some point along the way.) That means there’s no realistic way the app can log what you’re typing and then transfer that data off of your device — for any reason. The program’s code is even completely open source, if you’re tech-savvy and want to confirm exactly what it’s doing.

Most people will prefer the added creature comforts offered by the other apps in this list, but for the privacy-conscious and simplicity-seeking among us, Simple Keyboard is a valuable and unusual contender that plays an important role in this keyboard collection.



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The Best WordPress Hosting Providers

WordPress is the world’s most popular web-based content management system (CMS). It powers more than 30 percent of the internet’s top 10 million sites.

The WordPress software (which you shouldn’t confuse with WordPress.com hosting) is open source, incredibly easy to set up, and entirely free to use. All you need is a domain name and a web hosting plan.

Here are the best WordPress hosting providers.

The Best WordPress Hosting Providers best wordpress hosting wpengine

If you have no web administration experience, you should look into managed WordPress Hosting rather than setting up WordPress yourself on shared web hosting.

Typically, managed WordPress hosting is more expensive than shared hosting, but it’s worth it for the extra level of support you receive. If you’re not technically inclined and would rather focus on producing content rather than managing the backend needs of a website, a managed WordPress hosting plan is right for you.

With managed WordPress hosting, the provider manages all the behind-the-scenes stuff, including security, speed optimization, updates, and backups. The security support is perhaps the most important, as it’s easy to overlook when you start a new website.

For managed WordPress hosting, we truly believe WP Engine is the best. The basic Startup plan costs $35/month for 1 site up to 25,000 monthly visits, plus included goodies like the Genesis Framework, 35+ StudioPress themes, staging environments, global CDN, free SSL certificates, and 24/7 chat support.

InMotion monthly costs

Unusually, InMotion Hosting offers six dedicated WordPress hosting plans. Most companies only offer a couple.

The cheapest plan is WP-1000S. It will set you back $8.99/month and is suitable for up to 20,000 monthly visitors. It includes unlimited bandwidth, unlimited email accounts, and 40GB of SSD storage space.

At the other end of the scale is the WP-6000S plan. It costs $119.99/month and is suitable for up to 1.2 million monthly page views.

The three most expensive plans all include a dedicated IP address and a free subscription to Jetpack Professional. (Get up to 50% off using this link!)

Regardless of which plan you choose, WordPress comes preinstalled; you won’t need to fiddle with third-party installers. You can also decide whether you want to optimize your site for traffic from either the eastern or western hemisphere.

InMotion’s uptime runs at 99.97 percent. Its average load time is 752ms.

Bluehost monthly costs

Bluehost is arguably the most recognizable name in the world of WordPress web hosting; the company has been around since 1996. Indeed, WordPress actively recommends Bluehost on its site and has done since 2005. We’ve also covered how to start using Bluehost


How to Set Up Your Bluehost Webmail Email Account




How to Set Up Your Bluehost Webmail Email Account

Our guide to getting started with Bluehost webmail will walk you through creating an email address and linking it to Gmail.
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If you’re creating a website for the first time, you probably won’t have much traffic to start with. In that case, the company’s shared hosting plan will suffice. It offers 50GB of space, unmetered bandwidth, and five email accounts. Bluehost has an average uptime of >99.99 percent and average load times of 419ms.

The plan costs $7.99/month. However, significant discounts are available for new customers, making it one of the cheapest WordPress hosting plans. (Get up to 63% off using this link!)

If you need something with a bit more power, check out the VPS (virtual private server) plans. For $19.99/month, you get 2GB of RAM, 30GB of SSD storage, two cores, and free SSL.

WordPlus homepage

None of the big companies offer free WordPress hosting, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t free web hosting services out there.

Of course, you could just head to WordPress.com. Its servers are powerful enough to handle any traffic you throw at it. But there are some trade-offs—for example, you can only install your own plugins and run Jetpack if you pay a monthly fee. The free version is limited to 3GB of space, and you cannot display your own ads.

Instead, check out WordPlus. The free flavor gives you 128MB of SSD space, unlimited bandwidth, free SSL, free CDN, and access to cPanel. You can also use all WordPress’ best plugins.

If that doesn’t cover your needs, other popular free WordPress hosting providers include 000webhost, HostAwesome, and Byet. The four providers all have very different features and capabilities, so make sure you do your research before choosing.

SiteGround monthly costs

If you’d like a managed WordPress hosting plan that isn’t WP Engine for whatever reason, check out SiteGround. With 99.98 percent uptime and a load time of 722ms, it’s one of the best performing hosts out there.

Its cheapest managed WordPress hosting plan—called StartUp—costs $11.95/month and is suitable for 10,000 monthly visits and offers 10GB of space.

However, while SiteGround is great for small sites, you may eventually outgrow it. If you plan for your site to make it big in the future and you want to avoid the hassle of migrating, you may want to start with a more scalable hosting provider from the get-go.

A2 hosting monthly costs

A2 Hosting is a company I can personally vouch for. I use it to host four websites and have never had any issues.

When I first migrated to A2 Hosting from my previous provider, the company was quick to resolve technical issues that arose from the transfer, even though it later transpired that the problems were caused by the old host and were not of A2’s making.

Since then, every time I have opened a support ticket, A2 has responded quickly and accurately. I’ve lost track of the number of times the reps on the company’s 24/7 live chat have solved my issues in the middle of the night.

Regarding plans, A2 offers shared hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated hosting. The entry-level shared hosting plan includes 25 email addresses, a 2.1 GHz core, five databases, and a server with a guaranteed 64GB of RAM. Regardless of which plan you pick, you can easily install WordPress using Softaculous.

Interestingly, A2 Hosting has compiled two of its own WordPress plugins that are worth using. A2 Fixed W3 Total Cache is a tweaked version of the popular W3 Total Cache plugin, while A2 Optimized WP offers performance improvements such as minifying files and pages, GZIP compression, image compression, and security improvements.

Finally, with an uptime of 99.90 percent and an average load time of 413ms, A2 Hosting is unquestionably one of the best WordPress hosting providers out there.

godaddy monthly costs

Another managed WordPress hosting provider worth considering is GoDaddy.

The company is more commonly associated with domain names rather than hosting plans, but its managed plan can comfortably compete with other companies’ offerings on both price and features.

The cheapest GoDaddy WordPress hosting plan costs $8.99/month. It is suitable for up to 25,000 visitors/month. It offers 10GB of storage and 99.99 percent uptime.

Because the plan is managed, you can expect nightly backups, automatic malware scanning and removal, a staging environment to test changes, and automatic DDoS protection.

Hostgator monthly costs

Our final recommendation is HostGator. Like Bluehost, it’s a well-established name in the industry and supports more than 10 million sites.

The entry-level cloud plan $9.95/month. You will get two CPU cores, 2GB of RAM, free SSL, and unlimited bandwidth and storage. It can handle 100,000 visits/month.

If you need more power, check out the Business plan instead. For $22.95/month, you will get 6GB of RAM, six CPU cores, and a dedicated IP address. You can also have an unlimited number of parked domains. It’s suitable for 500,000 visits/month.

Lastly, HostGator has some of the most impressive performance stats in this list. It boasts an uptime of 99.96 percent and a load time of 462ms.

Kinsta app dashbaord

Kinsta offers managed WordPress hosting on the Google Cloud Platform.

Some of its best features include a free content delivery network from KeyCDN, free SSL certificates through Let’s Encrypt, HTTPS support, a daily backup service, and SSH support for sysadmin tasks.

And if you’re migrating an existing site from an old provider, you don’t need to worry. Kinsta offers a free migration service for new accounts.

Several plans are available. The cheapest is the Starter package. It costs $30/month. If you need a bit more power, consider buying the Pro plan for $60/month.

We have reviewed Kinsta in detail if you would like to learn more.

Making the Right WordPress Hosting Choice

The world of WordPress hosting is a competitive place. There is not a great deal of difference between any of the mainstream providers; they all offer similar features for a similar price.

The biggest decision you need to make is whether to buy managed WordPress hosting or regular hosting. Your level of technical expertise and willingness to learn should guide your thought process.

When in doubt, managed WordPress hosting is the way to go to minimize headaches. That’s why we recommend WP Engine, which we use ourselves to run our sister sites.

Explore more about: Best Of, Bluehost, Web Development, Web Hosting, WordPress.



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Analogue Mega Sg Review & Rating

Analogue is a company that caters to die-hard 8-bit and 16-bit console fans with modern game systems that work just like classic models. We love the Nintendo-based Analogue Nt and Super Nt, and now the company has turned its talents toward Sega with the Mega Sg. The $189.99 Mega Sg reproduces the Sega Genesis (also known as the Mega Drive outside of North America) hardware and outputs it over HDMI. It’s just as capable and technically impressive as the Super Nt, making it a must-have console for dedicated classic Sega fans and worthy of our Editors’ Choice.

Design

As the Super Nt does with the Super NES, the Mega Sg does an excellent job of evoking the design of the Sega Genesis without simply being a miniaturized version of it. It’s a simple, black rectangular plastic box that measures 1.9 by 6.5 by 5.4 inches (HWD). It doesn’t look or feel cheap; its matte black finish is attractive, and at 1.13 pounds the system certainly feels solid.

A glossy black plastic semicircle around the top panel evokes the classic Genesis aesthetic, surrounding the cartridge slot and holding the power and reset buttons at the bottom point of the curve. Depending on where you grew up playing Sega games, one of the three Mega Sg versions will hit your nostalgia button hard. The US model (pictured here) has a red power button with a white reset button, EUR has a white power button with a gray reset button, and JPN has a red power button with a blue reset button, reflecting each region’s version of the original console.

The front of the system holds two controller ports, classic nine-pin serial connectors just like the original Genesis used. A 3.5mm headphone jack sits to the left of them. The back of the Mega Sg features an HDMI port and a micro USB connector for power, with the included HDMI and USB cables, and wall adapter. An SD card slot on the left side supports firmware updates and system tweaks, but don’t expect to load your own Sega Genesis ROMS; this is an FPGA-based hardware console and doesn’t use emulation in any way.

If you really want to push the Mega Sg to the limits with games on optical discs, a panel on the right side slides off to reveal an accessory connector to attach the system to a Sega CD or Mega CD. Analogue doesn’t make a CD system yet, but if you can find an original Sega CD, you can use it with the Mega Sg.

Analogue Mega Sg

No Gamepads Included

The Mega Sg doesn’t come with a controller. You need to supply your own, either an original Genesis or Mega Drive controller or a re-manufactured one like the Sega collaboration gamepads offered by Retro-Bit. You can also order a wireless controller separately from Analogue, in the form of the 8Bitdo M30 2.4G. It’s a 2.4GHz-only version of the 8Bitdo M30, bundled with its own nine-pin receiver for use with the Mega Sg (or an original Genesis or Mega Drive). It’s a shame to not see any controller included with the system, but the Super Nt has the same issue.

Besides the HDMI cable, USB cable, and wall adapter, the Mega Sg includes a Master System cartridge adapter for using older 8-bit cartridges, and a rubber Sega CD spacer mat to place under the console if you connect it to a Sega CD or Mega CD.

Hardware and Interface

Analogue focuses on delivering hardware accuracy for its systems, and that shows in both the Mega Sg’s functionality and price. This isn’t an emulation system like the RetroN 5 or Retro Freak, pulling ROM images from cartridges and loading the data into an emulator. It uses a field-programmable gate array (FPGA), an electronic chip that physically recreates the circuitry of the Sega Genesis instead of simulating it in software with raw processing power. This produces a gaming experience much more accurate to the original system than an emulator, which can display various quirks in game speed and audio/video output.

Speaking of sound, the Mega Sg’s FPGA reproduces the Yamaha YM2612 sound chip on the transistor level, the same audio processor used by the Genesis. The system also has transistor-level recreations of the YM3438 chip, the Sega PSG, and the FM chip from the Japanese Master System, to fully cover Sega’s 8-bit and 16-bit audio range.

If the Mega Sg relied solely on an FPGA and other original hardware components to reproduce the Genesis and Mega Drive experiences, it would only output video over an analog signal at up to 320 by 240 pixels. Plugged directly into an HD or 4K TV, it would look fuzzy and blotchy at best. That’s why the system also features an excellent upscaler that takes the FPGA’s output video and converts it to a crisp 1080p signal over HDMI. Good upconversion is vital for classic video games, and it’s something Analogue nailed before with the Super Nt and original Analogue Nt. Of course, it’s also something that can be handled very capably on the software side in an emulation system, as seen with the NES Classic Edition and SNES Classic Edition (and handled poorly on the PlayStation Classic).

Pressing the power button boots the Mega Sg up into its main menu, which provides four options: Run Cartridge, Play Ultracore, Settings, and Tools. Run Cartridge plays whatever Sega Genesis cartridge is inserted into the slot on the top of the system. Play Ultracore loads Ultracore, the recently completed version of an unfinished Genesis game (more on that below). Settings open the Mega Sg’s extensive settings menu. Finally, Tools provides access to hardware cheat codes and a controller test screen.

Analogue Mega Sg

Because it uses an FPGA instead of an emulator, the Mega Sg doesn’t have any emulation tricks like save states, software-based cheat codes, or the ability to load patched games or ROM hacks. However, the settings menu has loads of options for tweaking your gaming experience. Visually, you can set the Mega Sg to output at 480p, 720p, or 1080p at 50 or 60 frames per second (European PAL cartridges were designed to output at 50fps); manually adjust the vertical and horizontal positioning and scaling pixel-by-pixel; display artificial scanlines with variable widths you can also tweak pixel-by-pixel; limit or adjust the RGB gamut of the upscaler; and even use a variety of scaling filters like HQ2x to make sprites look smoother than their original resolutions.

Audio output also has an extensive set of options, including a -30 dB output cut, a lowpass filter, and the ability to toggle the YM2612’s High Quality mode or adjust its waveform sinewave.

The System menu lets you adjust non-audio/video-specific functions, like whether you want the Mega Sg to behave like an American Sega Genesis or a Japanese or European Mega Drive, for NTSC and PAL cartridges from different regions; boot directly into the menu or the inserted cartridge when you turn the system on (and if you want the spinning Analogue logo bootup animation before either one); or set a combination of inputs to load the system menu while you’re playing a game (by default holding down and Start opens the menu).

Immaculate Reproduction

I tested the Mega Sg with a few Sega Genesis games from my personal collection, all NTSC cartridges made for North America: Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Sonic 3D Blast, Strider, and Super Street Fighter II. After cleaning the cartridges’ pins, I got everything except Street Fighter to work. This isn’t an issue with the Mega Sg; these are 30-year-old cartridges, and some simply fail with age. The other three games loaded and played perfectly on the Mega Sg.

Game presentation is spot-on with the Mega Sg. Graphics loaded from all three games properly, displaying on my test TV in crisply upconverted, colorful 1080p. Performance was accurate, with Sonic running around smoothly in both Sonic 3 and Sonic 3D Blast. Strider also looked excellent, with the rich colors and crisp sprites rivaling the arcade version of the game on which it was based (though naturally not quite as detailed). Switching between full and limited color modes when playing Strider was striking; the muted RGB output reminds me more of the original Genesis experience, but the bright, vivid look of the full gamut available is much more eye-catching without looking unnatural or anachronistic. The option to change RGB settings, along with the more esoteric adjustments available in the menu system, are very welcome even if you don’t ever touch most of them.

Analogue Mega Sg

Controls are responsive across the board, both with the 8Bitdo M30 2.4G and with a reissued six-button Sega Genesis controller recently released by Retro-Bit as part of a collaboration with Sega. Sonic jumped and spin-dashed instantly when I pressed the right buttons in Sonic 3, and his movement with both controllers felt extremely precise. It didn’t make him any easier to control in Sonic 3D Blast, but no amount of hardware can save that game from its own flaws. Strider also jumped, climbed, and slashed without hesitation.

The Genesis’ signature bloopy, bassy sound is reproduced faithfully, which is apparent as soon as you hear the synthesized voice saying “Sega!” when starting Sonic the Hedgehog 3. There are two low synthesized notes, like bass guitar strums, that can be clearly heard underneath the voice thanks to the accurate sound processing.

Ultracore

The Mega Sg also includes its own game built into the system itself. Following in the tradition of releasing the Director’s Cut of the originally truncated Super Turrican on the Super Nt, Analogue has restored another lost piece of 16-bit run-and-gun action on the Mega Sg. Hardcore was going to be a side-scrolling shooter for the Sega Genesis, developed by DICE (the eventual developers of the Battlefield series). It never came out as intended, but decades later it was completed and released as Ultracore, which is included on the Mega Sg and will be separately released on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita later this year.

Analogue Mega Sg

Ultracore has a very basic premise. You’re a soldier in the future fighting an evil army after your unit gets torn apart. You need to run around large, sprawling levels, firing your gun at robots, turrets, and other threats, collecting keycards and flipping switches to proceed. You can run, jump, and shoot in eight directions, making the game feel a bit like Contra or, indeed, Turrican.

This is a game very much of its time, evoking the edgy ultraviolence of the mid-’90s. Everything looks brown, gray, or a dull steel blue, with fire and chunks of enemies spraying everywhere as you blow them apart. While it plays smoothly, it has the same affected 16-bit grittiness of the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo adaptations of Judge Dredd and Robocop 3. It’s an interesting piece of otherwise lost gaming history, but it isn’t particularly fun or engaging.

A Must-Have System for Sega Fans

Like the Super Nt for Super NES games, the Analogue Mega Sg is an ideal enthusiast system for playing Sega Genesis and Mega Drive games. Its dedicated reproduction of the hardware used in the original systems provides some of the most accurate classic 16-bit gaming you can enjoy today. It’s pricey compared with classic compilation systems like the SNES Classic or emulation-based cartridge loaders like the RetroN 5, but it’s simply the best choice if you already have a collection of Sega Genesis cartridges and a big TV you want to play them on. It earns our Editors’ Choice for its excellent upscaling and accurate hardware performance.



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Web Design & SEO: Everything Designers Should Know

UX design and a solid SEO strategy go hand in hand.

Design is here to boost user experiences, inspire users to spend more time on your pages, and ensure they don’t leave your site frustrated. This way, it minimizes bounce rates and turns your visitors into leads and, ultimately, sales.

However, designing a spotless website is pointless if it’s not visible on Google. This is where SEO shines. It increases your site’s exposure in the SERPs, drives greater traffic to it, and gives you the opportunity to delight a visitor with your gorgeous website design and quality content.

When merged together, web design and SEO are indicators of your credibility and professionalism.

So, let’s see how to combine them for a better online performance.

 

The Basics of Implementing SEO and Web Design

In the world of digital marketing, building your online presence on strong foundations is critical. If some basic aspects of your site are poorly managed, you cannot expect your web design or SEO to deliver exceptional results.

Here are key elements of any strong web design:

 

Choosing a Domain Name

 

Stuffing your domain with a bunch of keywords won’t help. They look spammy and may hurt both your rankings and user experience.

Remember that there are millions of domain names out there. So, your goal is to make your domain name catchy and memorable. It needs to be relevant to your business’ focus and be easy to spell and pronounce. To make your site easier to find, it’s always good to use your brand name as your domain name, too.

 

Investing in the Right Hosting Provider

 

Choosing the right hosting plan directly impacts your website speed, server performance, and uptime/downtime. These are all important UX factors Google considers while indexing and ranking your site.

 

Building Your Website Using a Reliable CMS

 

A solid CMS is one that is easy to use and manage. You should be able to design your site however you want, without taking additional courses in web design. It should also help you make your site mobile-friendly, add social media integrations effortlessly, and use various content management tools. The most popular CMS option is definitely WordPress, followed by Joomla, Drupal, TYPO3, and Squarespace.

When choosing the right CMS for your business, ask yourself how it will impact your online performance. For example, does it allow you to customize your URLs? Can you make on-page changes without changing the URL? Some systems create meta tags (meta descriptions and title tags) automatically, so you should check whether you can modify them.

 

The Link Between Web Design and Indexability

Did you now that Google crawls each page of your site individually when indexing it? That’s why you need to add internal links to make these pages findable by search engines. Most importantly, you need to check whether all your interlinks work.

Start with the simple Google search. For example, the site: operator will help you see all your pages that are indexed. You could also check robots.txt files (https//www.yourdomainname.com/robots.txt) to identify your site’s disallows. Sure, you can speed this process up using web crawlers like Screaming Frog or Google Search Console’s Index Status that will do the job for you.

 

Keyword Research and Meta Tags

On-page SEO can be viewed as a process of optimizing individual pages on a site to rank higher. In short, you need to do detailed keywords research and optimize your key page elements for them.

  • A title is the first element a visitor sees in the SERPs. It should be creative, intriguing, and authentic to stand out from other results in the SERPs. Above all watch your title length (it should be up to 60 characters) and add your major keywords to it naturally.
  • Meta descriptions tell a searcher what the page is about. It’s pretty limited- you need to use these 160 characters wisely to grab people’s attention and entice them to click on your link.
  • Headings increase the readability of your textual content, making it more user-friendly. Use them to separate your content into smaller chunks and help visitors find the information they’re looking for easily.
  • Google still cannot understand your visual content. When optimizing your images, infographics, and image captioning for visibility, make sure you have a clear alt text that describes what the image is about. Brief descriptions including your main keywords will be enough.

 

Information Architecture and URLs

Which URL seems more logical to you?

  1. www.example.com/services/content-marketing/audits
  2. www.example.com/s456/s4/85

The first one, I hope.

Well-optimized URLs tell users what the page is about and help them find the desired information or products faster. Just like title tags and meta descriptions, they provide a wider context around your keywords for both users and search engines. Precisely because of that, your URLs need to be descriptive, short, understandable, and optimized for your major keywords.

 

Simplifying Website Navigation

Navigation goes beyond a simple menu bar at the top of your site. When used properly, it inspires people to stay more on your site and browse through it.

When building website navigation, it’s critical to understand the needs and expectations of your potential customers. Just like at any physical store, website navigation should help a potential customer find a product or content faster and guide them through their buyer journey towards finalizing a purchase. If a customer needs to waste their time thinking where to click, that’s a clear sign you need to improve your navigation.

 

The Impact of Page Load Speed on Rankings

Page speed is one of the most significant ranking factors. And, with the 2018 Speed Update, it has become a notable ranking signal for mobile devices, too.

Page load times are important for a good reason- they impact user experiences and can result in either higher conversions or bounce rates. Stats back me up on that. For example, did you know that your visitors expect your site to load in less than 2 seconds? And, if it fails to do so, almost half of them would leave it. Apart from losing potential leads and conversions, high bounce rates have a negative impact on your online performance and ranking in the long run.

For starters, use Google’s Page Speed Insights to find out how fast your pages are. Here are a few steps to take to boost your site speed, such as:

  • Choosing the right hosting plan
  • Compressing your high-quality images
  • Using browser caching
  • Removing auto-play content
  • Reducing the number of plugins and popups
  • Investing in a reliable content delivery network (CDN)

 

Website Responsiveness is the Mobile-First Era

With the number of mobile users, mobile searches have also grown. For example, did you know that 57% of all US online traffic is generated through mobile devices?

And, for your mobile visitors, their browsing experience determines whether they will buy from you. Stats say that 52% of your potential customers would not to make a purchase after a negative mobile experience.

Given these figures, it’s not surprising that Google is constantly striving to improve mobile users’ satisfaction and provide them with relevant results. This year, they finally rolled out the Mobile-First Index, meaning that they’re now indexing a mobile version of your site.

And, to meets these standards, you need to make your site design highly responsive.

What does this mean?

Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to check how friendly your pages are to mobile users. When optimizing your site, pay attention to the overall site’s usability, such as its speed and page layout. How appealing is your site to mobile users? Can they read your content and see your videos without having to zoom and pinch continually? What about your CTA’s and links- are they easy to tap? Does your content fit the screen size, irrespective of its size? Are your forms easy to fill out from mobile devices?

 

Putting it All Together

Even if you believed that SEO and web design have nothing in common, I hope this article proves you wrong. Your website design impacts visitors’ perceptions of your brand, making it feel professional and authoritative. Above all, it impacts user experiences and impacts their engagement and purchase decisions. These are all factors Google takes into account when ranking you.

 

Featured image via DepositPhotos



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