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SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL Review & Rating

SteelSeries is updating its mechanical keyboards with variations on its new Apex Pro and Apex 7, and some of the changes are subtle in look but significant in practice. Take the $129.99 Apex 7 TKL tested here: It bears a strong resemblance to the company’s earlier Apex M750 TKL, but with some extra flair and functionality, most notably a little OLED display in one corner. “TKL,” for those fluent in keyboard lingo, stands for “tenkeyless,” meaning a reduced-width keyboard without a 10-digit number pad. That’s just about all that this killer keyboard is lacking, though, and it’s not a shortfall. (You buy a tenkeyless keyboard specially for the smaller footprint and the ability to position your hands closer together.) The Apex 7 TKL is attractive, comfortable, and sturdy, and our favorite tenkeyless model of the moment.


Taking Off a Tenner

The Apex 7 TKL can be viewed as an unofficial successor to SteelSeries’ Apex M750 TKL keyboard, and both products share many design features, including a classy, rigid aluminum frame. Both keyboards are available with SteelSeries’ custom Red switches, and the Apex 7 TKL offers the option for Brown or Blue switches, as well. All three key types fall under the umbrella of SteelSeries’ own “QX2” mechanisms. (The overall typing experience on the two keyboards with Red switches should be identical.)

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Box Open)

The Apex 7 TKL model that I tested came with the Blue variety of the QX2 switches, which provide tactile feedback when struck and produce a loud click, in the tradition of the classic Cherry MX Blue switches. (See our guide to mechanical keyboards for more on the nuances among switch types.) Although the audible feedback is part of the attraction with keyboards that use Blue-style switches, the Apex 7 TKL will be uncomfortably loud if you use it in a communal workspace or in a household of light sleepers.

Most of the noise produced by the keyboard sounds like it is produced by the keys bottoming out rather than from the actuation of the Blue switch mechanisms themselves. I’ve used plenty of keyboards with Cherry MX Blue switches, as well as Razer models with Razer’s similar Green switches, and while those keyboards were also a bit noisy, the Apex 7 TKL tops them on key clatter. The Brown-switch alternative might be better if you like the tactile bump of a mechanical but have noise concerns. All three switches for the Apex 7 TKL are rated by SteelSeries for a 2mm actuation point, so the perceived keypress depth ought not vary among the three switch types.

Despite the noise, I found that typing on the keyboard was pleasant and in line with expectations for Blue-class keys. The keys felt like they actuated easily, without the need to apply excessive force, and I didn’t feel any finger fatigue while typing this article using the keyboard.

In the upper-right-hand corner of the keyboard is a narrow, clickable scroll wheel that controls the computer’s volume, and below it is a button that pauses or plays any media you have open. Like all of the keys on the keyboard, the scroll wheel and button can be reprogrammed to support other functions.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Full RGB)

What sets the TKL apart from most other keyboards, though, is its on-chassis micro-screen. Beside the scroll wheel and button is a little monochrome OLED display with a resolution of 128×40. Though it may just look like dressing at first, this unusual feature makes the keyboard more customizable. By default, the OLED display shows just the SteelSeries logo and brand name, but you can upload other images (including GIF and JPG files) for the keyboard to display. (Animated images display at a rate of 10 frames per second.)

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (OLED)

The more useful application of the OLED panel, though, is informational. The panel is designed to work with applications such as Discord (for showing messages and identifying your correspondents) and Spotify (listing what track is being played), as well as to show various game-specific details. The latter vary by game.

You can also use the OLED display to adjust system settings (such as volume), or to switch profiles right from the keyboard display, all without having to reference a dialog or slider on your monitor. SteelSeries implements some of this via an easy-to-use onboard menu system. By pressing and holding the keyboard’s clickable scroll button for a few seconds, the OLED screen will switch to display the menu, which can be navigated using the button and scroll wheel to tweak settings, work with macros, and change profiles. You can even use the menu system to program macros and build profiles without the need of any software on the computer.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Bottom)

SteelSeries also equips this keyboard with a USB passthrough port that illuminates and glows white. In another nice touch, channels on the bottom of the keyboard chassis help with cable management. These tunnels are meant to hold the keyboard’s thick cable and have it exit the keyboard’s rear edge where you like, but they can also be used to help route the cable for whatever device you plug into the USB passthrough port.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Full RGB 2)

SteelSeries also provides a sturdy palm rest with the keyboard. The palm rest has a comfortable, rubbery coating and is held on by a pair of magnets. The magnets help keep the wrist rest lined up with the keyboard, but they aren’t all that strong; they do little to keep the palm rest attached. Picking up or moving the keyboard at all will cause the palm rest to promptly detach and fall to the floor or desk.


Rev Up the Engine

Although you can manage many of the functions of this keyboard from the onboard menu system and the mini-screen, more complex key- and light-programming tasks are always more easily handled on your PC proper. To access all of the keyboard’s features, you will need to download SteelSeries’ Engine 3 software. Certain settings are accessible only via this software, and you will also need to use Engine to upload a custom image to the OLED display.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Software)

We’ve looked at the Engine software many times before, so no need to dig too deep here. Our opinion of it holds. Engine 3 is cleanly laid out, with all keyboard functions divided into three tabbed sections (for shortcuts, lighting, and the OLED panel), and it’s both powerful and easy to use, the equal of competing utilities from other gaming-board makers.


Our Top Tenkeyless

All things considered, while the Apex 7 TKL is a loud typer in the Blue sample that we received for review, it remains enjoyable to use. The under-key lights look pleasant, the body is rock-solid, and the small OLED display has actual utility and wow factor in equal measure.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL (Box)

Productivity-minded users likely wouldn’t want to use this keyboard as their everyday driver, due to its lack of a number pad, but that misses the point for the serious gamers and tweakers it is meant for. Positioning your hands closer together when gaming is ergonomically and strategically a better bet, and the need to incorporate fewer pricey mechanical switches on a given keyboard means more of the cost can go toward adding innovative features or more creature comforts.

In that way, the Apex 7 TKL strikes a deft balance for its price. It’s an excellent and stylish solution for anyone who doesn’t need a number pad but does want maximal tweakability, durability, and value from a mechanical board.



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Microsoft OneDrive for Business Review & Rating

Microsoft OneDrive for Business (which begins at $5 per user per month, billed annually) is Redmond’s answer to Google Drive for Work and comparable business cloud storage services. Microsoft OneDrive for Business can be paired with online versions of Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Microsoft Word for painless sharing and team collaboration. You can also combine it with Microsoft Office 365, which has more applications as well as desktop versions of the aforementioned programs.

If you need more robust collaboration and document management tools, then try Zoho Docs Standard, our Editors’ Choice in that category. On the storage side, Microsoft OneDrive for Business is a solid solution and a no-brainer for those who have standardized on Microsoft’s Office, Office 365, or SharePoint platforms. However, when it comes to compliance and integral collaboration features, it lags a bit behind Dropbox Business, our Editors’ Choice winner in the business cloud storage category.

You can purchase a standalone Microsoft OneDrive for Business account by signing up for one of two plans. Plan 1 costs $5 per user per month and includes 1 TB of storage per user, file uploads of up to 15 GB, and the ability to sync files across all of your devices (Mac, PC, smartphone, and tablet). Plan 2 costs $10 per user per month, and includes 5 TB of cloud storage per user for subscriptions with at least five users (otherwise, 1 TB). Plan 2 adds data loss prevention, more robust administrative tools, and the ability to preserve deleted and edited documents.

Microsoft OneDrive for Business is included in the Microsoft Office 365 Business and Enterprise suites (which begin at $8.25 per month), which includes online versions of Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft PowerPoint, and other Microsoft programs. It also includes offline access and 24/7 phone support. All Microsoft Office 365 plans have a one-month free trial with no credit card required. However, if you need more time to decide, then you can extend the trial another 30 days by adding payment details.

Getting Started With OneDrive

Signup is no sweat: Just provide some contact information, create a username and password, and you’re good to go. Your username in this case is yourcompany.onmicrosoft.com. Alternatively, if you already have a Microsoft subscription, then you can add Microsoft OneDrive for Business to an existing account. You can also download a desktop application that syncs with your account. Apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and even Xbox are available.

The Microsoft OneDrive for Business user interface (UI) is very clean and somewhat similar to Google Drive for Work. On the left-hand rail is a menu with links to all files, recent files, and files that have been shared with you. Across the top of your dashboard are buttons for New, Upload, and Sync. At the top right is a question mark; clicking the question mark slides in a Help module with some Getting Started information on the right-hand side of the screen.

Microsoft OneDrive for Business - Dashboard - On the left rail is a menu with links to all files.

Upon signing in for the first time, you’re prompted to sync all of your files into Microsoft OneDrive for Business. If you have many gigabytes of files (and who doesn’t), then you’re encouraged to use the desktop client. You can also upload individual files and folders and invite others to them. To share files and folders, you can either get a public link or input email addresses or names of anyone who has already been invited to your account. Then, you can choose whether to require sign-in and whether or not to send an email invite. This means you can share documents freely with external users. Permissions are limited to view or edit. From this pop-up window, you can also see with whom you’ve already shared a document or folder and stop sharing.

In June, Microsoft announced that it would add a Known Folder Move (KFM) for OneDrive feature to allow a single button to transfer content from the Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folders to OneDrive. Known folders are pointers that let you transfer docs, desktop, and pictures into OneDrive.

Document Sharing and Collaboration

Though Microsoft OneDrive for Business shares a lot of similarities with Google Drive for Work, Microsoft doesn’t recommend OneDrive for Business as a sharing platform. Instead, it points to team sites, hosted by Microsoft SharePoint Online, which offers a shared dashboard. Still, Microsoft OneDrive for Business can be used much like Google Drive for Work to share, edit, and comment on files with colleagues. You can share folders and files on an ad-hoc basis and use online Microsoft Office programs to collaborate. It’s up to you if you want to use both products together (Office 365 includes one team site) or not.

If you sync your Microsoft OneDrive for Business files with the desktop app, then you can access them even when offline, which is handy for travelers. You can also access your documents by using the mobile apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.

Microsoft OneDrive for Business - Office 365 Dashboard - The software's included in Office 365.

Microsoft offers a huge library of help content, including how-to information and troubleshooting. It can sometimes be confusing since there are always multiple versions of the operating system (OS) and its software, so you have to keep that in mind when you search. There’s also an online community where you can ask questions of other users and moderators. You can also ask questions via a virtual assistant but that simply pulls up search results. If you purchase Microsoft OneDrive for Business as part of Office 365 for Business, then you get 24/7 phone support. You can also create a support ticket or tweet questions to @MicrosoftHelps.

Integration and Security

OneDrive for Business has a good selection of readily available integrations with popular web services. Those are good, but as you’d expect, where OneDrive shines is in its depth of integration with other Microsoft products (notably Office 365), the Office Online series of back-end services including SharePoint Online, as well as the desktop suite of Office 2016 products. As of 2015, there has also been a special OneDrive for Business application programming interface (API). Like most web integration APIs, it’s based on REST and fits very well into any Microsoft-centric business. While the number of existing product integrations is rudimentary now, there is a lot of potential for new development. That should be exciting for companies that have a significant stake in using SharePoint and Microsoft Office products in general, and with Microsoft’s huge partner ecosystem, you can expect to see a growing number of value-add integrations becoming available over time.

Surprisingly, given its massive investment in global data centers with advanced security capabilities, Microsoft does not guarantee that OneDrive for Business is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), though Microsoft indicated this is primarily because there’s no known certification for HIPAA compliance. It does point out that the product has undergone audits to ensure compliance with ISO 27001 and that it will sign a HIPAA Business Associate agreement. But this in no way guarantees HIPAA compliance in your organization—that will be between you and your auditor. On the plus side, all data is encrypted to and from client to server via SSL. Data at rest is encrypted using AES 256-bit encryption keys that are stored in the associated SharePoint Content Database. Because the keys are stored under the control of Microsoft, access to data is possible, but strictly controlled via a lockbox system that allows administrators to gain audited access to the data for a short period for troubleshooting purposes.

One major advantage that OneDrive for Business has is the native integration with Microsoft’s Active Directory (AD) service and this extends to it cloud-based counterpart, Azure Active Directory as well. While AD is the only Single Sign-On (SSO) option right now, that’s not too bad a ding since AD is, by far, the most commonly used business-grade identity management and SSO platform. There is also a native two-step authentication feature that can be enabled or disabled from account settings, so you can add an extra layer of security if that suits you.

Simple File Sharing, Big Storage

Microsoft OneDrive for Business offers a lot of cloud storage per user (1 TB or 5 TB, depending on the plan). But it works best when integrated with Microsoft Office 365, which includes online and desktop versions of Microsoft productivity software as well as Microsoft SharePoint Online, which enables sharing documents and collaborating with a team. For a one-stop collaboration shop, though, consider either Ascensio System OnlyOffice or Editors’ Choice winner Zoho Docs Standard. That said, as a standalone business cloud storage solution, it’s a fine standalone solution, especially for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) that have standardized on Microsoft’s other productivity tools.

Microsoft OneDrive for Business - Sharing Documents - You can easily share files and folders.



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Dropbox Business Review & Rating

Dropbox Business (which begins at $12.50 per user per month for the Standard plan) is an excellent cloud storage service that targets mainly small to midsize businesses (SMBs). Available in three plans (Standard, Advanced, and Enterprise), Dropbox is more than just a big bucket of files. Aside from unlimited storage, it also includes administration tools that allow your IT staffers to assign permissions, device approvals, and single sign-on (SSO), among other things. Some even smaller companies might be able to use Dropbox Business as a document management (DM) tool. However, while it’s a decent product when viewed through a DM lens, its lack of built-in editing tools makes it fall short of DM Editors’ Choice winner Zoho Docs Standard. However, when viewed primarily as a sophisticated cloud storage service for businesses, it rises to a level of real excellence and wins our Editors’ Choice award in that category, along with competitor Egnyte Business.

If you move up the plan ladder, you’ll find a variety of different capabilities. The Standard plan gives you unlimited storage, administrator tools, and user management, unlimited deletion and version history, and a suite of collaboration tools. You can try out the Standard plan for 30 days, but you’ll need to provide a credit card or PayPal payment information first. Your trial will automatically upgrade to the paid plan after the 30 days if you don’t cancel. Dropbox Business starts you at 2 terabytes (TB) of storage, but you can request more at no additional cost if you happen to reach that limit. Dropbox Business’ Advanced plan ($20 per user per month) gives you the unlimited storage of the Standard plan and adds advanced admin controls and security features, including device approvals and single sign-on (SSO). The third plan is the custom-quoted Enterprise plan, which includes enterprise mobility management (EMM), network control, and more customized solutions.

Getting Started With Dropbox Business

To create an account, you have to supply your contact details, create a password, and provide payment information, team name, company size, the number of users, and the agree to Dropbox’s Terms of Service. Once you’re done, you can start inviting people right away or go straight to your admin console. There, you’ll see some tips on using features such as inviting and managing members, accessing settings, and monitoring activity usage across your team. You can always revisit this tour by clicking the question mark at top of any page.

Dropbox Business has a simple dashboard. As an admin, you can see how many team members you have, as well as pending invites and remaining licenses (the free trial includes five). On the left-hand side of the screen, you can access activity logs, sharing settings, view your team folder, set up groups, and visit the help center. As an admin, you can restrict sharing documents and links to external users, and allow or block commenting or user requests on files.

The user dashboard shows all of your files and folders, including the team folder managed by the admin. Here, you can add files and folders, share files and folders, and send file requests. You can request files from anyone via email even if they don’t have a Dropbox account (for instance, a client or contractor who is not a part of your staff). There’s also a folder for deleted files; you can restore them at any time.

Dropbox for Business - Activity

Document Sharing and Collaboration

Users can share documents in a few different ways. First, any file you place in the team folder will automatically be available to everyone on the same Standard account. Second, you can share a folder or document link, as you can with Google Drive, which you can set as public (anyone with a link can access) or you can restrict it in several ways. If you don’t want a file or folder to be public, then you can password-protect it, restrict it to only team members, and/or set an expiration date. You can also set editing permissions for both folders and files.

You can’t edit documents inside Dropbox; when you click the Open button on a file, you’re redirected to Microsoft Office 365 online where you have to either set up an Enterprise account or log into an existing one. This isn’t ideal especially since Box (for Business) includes free access to Microsoft’s online Office apps. (Dropbox Basic and Pro accounts also include free access.)

Alternatively, you can sign up for Dropbox Paper, which is in beta but open to all Dropbox users. With Dropbox Paper, you can create and edit documents, comment, and assign related tasks. Once you link your Standard account with Dropbox Paper, you can access your Dropbox Paper documents from your Dropbox dashboard. You can insert Dropbox documents into Dropbox Paper documents but they won’t be editable. If you want to collaborate on documents, then you’re best off creating them in Dropbox Paper in the first place.

The lack of true document-editing capabilities doesn’t compare favorably with Google Drive for Work, which has online editing and track changes. Other DM systems such as Ascensio System OnlyOffice, Microsoft SharePoint Online, and Zoho Docs Standard offer such functionality as well.

Dropbox for Business - Dashboard

If you download the Dropbox desktop app, then you can use a feature called Dropbox Badge, which extends some Dropbox features to Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and Word files. A badge appears on any of the documents saved in your Dropbox, so you can see who is viewing or editing the file, add comments, share the file, and view file history. Dropbox also recommends using the desktop app to upload entire folders and large files since the website uploader has a 10GB limit.

Any files you mark as favorites will also be available offline, though you have to do so one by one, same as you do in Citrix ShareFile. This is a nice feature, though Evernote for Business and Google Drive for Work let you access all of your files offline.

In addition to a desktop app, Dropbox also has mobile apps for Android and iOS. Dropbox Business recently added some new mobile features on iOS that let users see file activity and team feedback in file preview. The company plans to add these features on Android soon. All of these mobile apps sync with your online account. The mobile apps let you create files and folders and share them. It also includes another important mobile capability, namely document scanning using your phone, either from your existing camera roll or by taking a photo and transforming it into a document. Dropbox does a good job of outlining whatever document you’re trying to scan, be it as small as a business card or a full-sized page. It straightens the image up (even in the case of the mildly crumpled receipt we threw at it during testing), and it allows you to capture up to 10 pages at a time, which you can save to any Dropbox folder either as a PDF or a PNG file. As with other documents in the Dropbox system, you can add comments to it or @mention someone to notify her that she should take a look.

Dropbox Business is excellent in regards to sharing or annoting documents in this fashion as long as you’re still working with the mobile app. You can add a signature to the document if you have Adobe Acrobat installed or you can do so directly from the app. You can also annotate the image with a date or custom text.

The only miss is with help text, which only has a brief mention of how to do text recognition, and that entry was mostly useless information. We even contacted tech support for more information (without informing them that we were press), and they simply asked for more information and then never replied after we gave it to them. The reason for the query is that the mobile app has a search field implying that you can do a text search on a scanned document you’ve saved in PDF. However, searching for the word “chocolate” on a two-page document that specifically concerned chocolate yielded zero results. As far as we can tell then, users should consider the mobile scanning feature more as an image capture mechanism rather than a tool for optical character recognition (OCR). If a big stack of documents needing OCR is in your future, then you’d be better off with one of the Editors’ Choice winners in our mobile scanning app roundup, Abbyy FineScanner or Evernote Scannable.

Other capabilities were similarly muddled, such as sharing. You can email a scanned document to someone or create a link you can share across almost anything, but you’ll spend some frustrating minutes finding these features in the interface. Once you’ve found them, though, Dropbox’s mobile scanning is a decent enough tool, though full OCR would be a much sought-after addition in future versions.

Integration and Security

Dropbox has been in the cloud storage game for a long time and has a significant API presence for custom integrations. In fact, Dropbox support has been ubiquitous among some of the most popular apps from companies such as Adobe, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Slack. It is also one of the most accessible APIs, supporting a wide variety of approachable programming languages. This translates directly to meeting future business requirements in addition to today’s process and collaboration needs. In addition, the Dropbox DBX Platform offers integration with multiple tools and provides a central location to connect content, devices, and apps.

On the data security side, Dropbox maintains ISO 27001, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, and ISO 22301 certifications. It also maintains SOC1, SOC2, and SOC3 assurances. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance is not active by default and requires a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with your organization prior to complying. Activity audit logs are also available to administrators, which can be helpful for maintaining Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) compliance. Dropbox touts these regulatory success and attributes them largely to its investment in proprietary data centers. Unlike Jungle Disk, for example, which simply offers its software solution on top of Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Rackspace Managed Cloud storage infrastructure, Dropbox has invested in its own data centers. That gives it more direct control of data safety and potential regulatory compliance issues than competitors who leave that to third parties.

Dropbox has not yet produced a user encryption key management feature so any keys are under the control of Dropbox. They have, however, put in very tight controls on what data is available to technicians for troubleshooting purposes and only when it’s absolutely required. It’s not complete privacy but they have worked hard to ensure that their trust is earned. While this may not be enough to qualify for FedRAMP, it’s most likely good enough for many cases.

Dropbox also supports several two-factor and multifactor authentication (MFA) strategies that include the use of a SMS text message that delivers a separate code to the user’s mobile device, Google Authenticator, Duo Mobile, Amazon AWS MFA, or Windows Authenticator. Dropbox strongly recommends that users take advantage of these features because they add a nice layer of safety around sensitive data.

Almost a One-Stop Shop

Dropbox offers a lot of help should you run into issues, including a PDF guide, self-guided support, a searchable Help center and support via live chat, email, and phone (weekdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET). For phone support, you have to generate a pin code, which you can do directly from the main help page.

With a simple user interface (UI), unlimited storage and file retrieval, and vast user permissions, Dropbox Business helps your team collaborate more efficiently. In fact, Dropbox boasts that 300,000 teams use Dropbox Business. To edit files online, you have to get a separate Microsoft 365 account, which can raise costs, or use Dropbox Paper, which isn’t fully integrated. For the best document management software, look to Editors’ Choice Zoho Docs Standard. But for an all-purpose, business class cloud storage and file sharing solution, Dropbox Business is an excellent solution and fully deserves the PCMag Editors’ Choice designation.



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Egnyte Business Review & Rating

Editors’ Choice pick Egnyte Business is one of the most esteemed business cloud storage solutions designed for business users, mostly because of its scalable platform that can grow with the needs of a business. Its centralized file-storage model is the gold standard for secure and loss-free cloud storage solution. Egnyte Business begins at $8 per employee per month for 5-25 employees in its Office tier, which includes 5 terabytes of online storage, 10 gigabytes max file size, and standard support.

Egnyte Business was created to cater to a businesses’ storage needs; it’s not a consumer or freemium product with business inclinations but a mature and comprehensive cloud storage and sharing solution. Able to cover the needs of startups, small to midsize businesses (SMBs), and even large enterprises, Egnyte Business is equally adept at managing files securely in the cloud and on an office’s local servers. File locking functionality ensure that documents and files can be locked to one individual at a time, which cuts down on reworking or duplication. It is a different approach from more collaborative file sharing features, but one that might suit a businesses’ need for focus and clarity in terms of version control and document ownership.

Egnyte Business can also solve storage needs in various ways. Some companies use the service primarily as a secure file server, while others rely on it as a hub for various integrations and extensions.

With its Enterprise-grade File Synchronization and Sharing (EFSS) foundation features, it earns our Editors’ Choice designation in our business cloud storage roundup, a distinction it shares with
Microsoft OneDrive for Business.

Pricing and Options

Egnyte comes in three basic tiers that cater to different business sizes. Starting at $8 per employee per month (for between 5-25 employees) in the Office tier which includes 5 terabytes of online storage, 10 gigabytes max file size, and standard support. This includes Microsoft Outlook integration, enterprise-class security, the ability to add custom branding, FTP and mobile access, plus desktop sync. The Office tier of Egnyte solely offers cloud deployment with no on-premises component.

The Business tier, which is the offering that I tested, costs $20 per employee per month for 25-100 employees comes with 10 terabytes (TB) of storage, 10 GB of max files size, advanced security, and standard support. This tier offers cloud or hybrid deployment for businesses that require on-premises storage which can be synchronized with a public cloud solution. An Enterprise option is also available for organizations with over 100 employees, but this requires consultation and customization to a larger company’s needs.

Egnyte also offers a Team Plan, which costs $10 per employee per month and is designed for a team of 1-3 users. It comes with one terabyte of online storage, 10 GB maximum file size, and standard support. The Team Plan covers online storage, desktop sync, mobile, and FTP access, Microsoft Outlook integration and enterprise-class security.

Egnyte Connect offers a 15-day free trial for most of its plans through an easy setup page. In terms of pricing, Egnyte Business is similar to Google Drive Enterprise, which also starts at $8 per user per month (plus $1 per 25GB of storage used), this solution has no employee limits and now offers a friendlier pricing scheme where subscribers only pay for the accounts and storage they use.

Signing up with Egnyte Business is straightforward and simple. A free 15-day trial is available for Egnyte Business on the company’s website. All you need are basic user credentials and an email address to get started with the trial. Once signed in, you can operate from the Egnyte Connect page that is modeled after Windows Explorer. For users who prefer to work from the web and avoid downloading the client, there is a lot of functionality here. The main sections at the top of Egnyte Connect’s teal-colored ribbon are Files, My Links, My Tasks, Apps, & Integrations

User Interface and Functionality

Egnyte Connect’s user interface (UI) fully supports drag-and-drop file upload. Downloading, sharing, and bookmarking are available either as a button bar operation or as a right-click operation. A full version history is also available under an icon on the file record. Everything you’d expect to find in a file management UI is right where you’d expect it to be. It’s highly intuitive and easy for a new user to pick up.

Egnyte Connect’s layout will be familiar to users mainly because it looks like a typical desktop file manager. A menu on the left-hand side shows links to the most recent files, bookmarks, a shared folder, a user folder, and all private folders. The main section which takes up most of the middle of the screen is where folders or documents are accessed. If you want to upload files to Egnyte Business, you would do so by opening a folder and dragging the files from your desktop to the folder. A column on the right-hand-side conveniently lists down document names and screenshots under the Activity in this folder section.

From the folder interface, it is possible to upload, download, share, create a new folder and toggle the different view options to suit your needs.

Egnyte Business has a File Previewer feature that allows users to look at files stored in the cloud. The variety of files it can preview is decent but nowhere as comprehensive as what OneDrive for Business can handle. Egnyte Business also sets file size limits for different types of files, which could be a dealbreaker for companies like creative agencies and production houses that need to sling around larger video or multi-layer types of file formats.

Egnyte Business - Web client is modeled after Windows Explorer.

Document Sharing and Collaboration

Egnyte Business offers a number of options for using the service outside of the web interface. Egnyte Drive is the suggested path and provides a mapped drive. It is worth noting that Egnyte uses its own application programming interface (API) for this and does not rely on Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV), which has traditionally been fraught with security holes and functional issues. Files copied to and from the mapped drive work exactly as if they were being transferred to a mapped network drive. What is impressive about the solution is that, unlike other offerings, Egnyte Drive replicates directory permissions. For businesses that are heavily entrenched in Active Directory (AD), this is a lifesaver since permissions management no longer has to be managed from more than one location.

Beyond this, there is Egnyte Desktop Sync. It works similarly to other familiar applications such as Dropbox or Box where a designated folder is specified to sync files to and from the service. In essence, it is another flavor of Egnyte Drive and is really a matter of preference. Either one will get the job done. My one complaint is that the mapped drive feature has performance issues on some kinds of configurations. While Egnyte Business provides instructions for overcoming this on many occasions, keeping this fast was a challenge. I would expect that this will be addressed in a future release and should not be a reason to avoid the product. But any large initial uploads should be done using FTP or the Sync option.

Egnyte Business’ server-centric model ensures files are always accounted for, unlike some competing business cloud storage solutions that use a peer-to-peer model, which means everyone on the network shares parts of a file. This means if someone leaves the group or company, components of that file become unavailable. The server-centric models means files reside on the server even when an employee leaves.

Egnyte Business also integrates well with Microsoft Office products. Egnyte WebEdit plugs into offline Microsoft Office products and lets you edit files for saving directly back to the service. It’s a handy feature and is, perhaps, even more, seamless than Microsoft’s own offering. It also plugs into Microsoft Office 365 in case you are on the run or prefer to use Microsoft’s online tools instead.

Egnyte Business is not alone in this focus on Microsoft Office, Google Drive Enterprise is designed to imbue some of the G Suite smoothness when working with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. Of course, if integration with Microsoft Office 365 is a major consideration, few solutions will approach the deep integration that Microsoft OneDrive for Business can offer, not just for Office 365, but also for solutions like Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Teams.

Egnyte Business also has a solid mobile component Android and iOS are all fully supported. They are just as powerful as the web client. Files can be edited and managed from the mobile solution as easily as they can be from the web or desktop apps.

A Range of Deployment Options and Solutions

Egnyte Business can be deployed in several ways. In addition to a complete cloud solution, it also offers hybrid and local-only deployments by way of Egnyte Storage Connect and Egnyte Storage Sync. In this way, Egnyte Business can behave not only as a cloud offering but as a true extension of on-premises storage while maintaining the same great look and feel of the standard product.

In addition, Egnyte Business integrates with Active Directory (AD) via Egnyte Active Directory Connector and seamlessly syncs permissions and policies to your data.

There is also a significant number of add-ons and integrations with third-party products such as Salesforce, Slack, and SmartSheet. In addition, the public API used to develop these integrations is available for businesses to use, with a few minor hoops through which to jump. In-house developers should feel right at home connecting Egnyte Business to any custom enterprise solutions.

Egnyte Business has a loyal user base of over 15,000 users and 13,000 businesses. Egnyte started a user community in 2018 and this is designed to help customers solve problems collaboratively via discussion forums, product idea submission, and help desk functionality. The platform also offers a gamification layer that is designed to help foster collaboration amongst the worlds Egnyte users. For new SMB’s looking into Egnyte, this active user community adds another layer of support and offers various solutions on how to deploy the product.

Security

Egnyte Business does not skimp on security. The solution is fully SOC- and ISO 27001-compliant and support for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is available. Encryption is enforced in transit and at rest with 256-bit AES encryption. Furthermore, the company has implemented an Egnyte Key Management service that lets businesses manage their own encryption keys. While the software still technically has access to the data (so the application can still operate as normal), Egnyte employees no longer have access to the keys without permission.

As part of the Enterprise service offering, Active Directory SSO is supported. While it would have been nice to see this in the Business and Office levels of service, it is understandable why this decision was made. Two-factor authentication is also available for an extra level of security. This helps to greatly limit the potential for an attacker to gain access to your data. Several options are available for secondary authentication including SMS, Phone Call, and Duo Push.

Geared for Small Business Needs

Egnyte Business is a great service and deserves a spot next to Box and Dropbox in terms of feature set. It’s got competition from Microsoft OneDrive as well as Google Drive Enterprise, which might make more sense to certain users seeking more universal file compatibility and integrations or more flexible pricing buckets to suit their needs. Unlike these solutions, Egnyte Business does fewer things but does them excellently with a clear focus on secure and seamless cloud storage and a robust sharing model. This reputation of reliability and general stress-free functionality make Egnyte Business a solid choice for our Editors’ Choice in business cloud storage.



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Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 Review & Rating

The Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 (starts at $1,899.99; $2,199.99 as tested) sees the company’s slim gaming laptop maintain its sleek profile while returning to a more conventional design: The keyboard’s no longer perched on the front edge of the machine, and nobody banished the touchpad to the corner. This redesign gives it wider appeal to gamers and creative pros alike. Make no mistake, however, this rig is for gamers first. Asus bumped the 15.6-inch display’s refresh rate from 144Hz to 240Hz while ditching the Max-Q graphics card in favor of full-throttle Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 graphics. Keeping thermals in check is a challenge for this high-powered slimline, but the laptop provides controls for regulating both its graphics and cooling fans. It impresses for its power, thin profile, and versatility, claiming an Editors’ Choice as our new favorite high-end mobile gaming rig.


A Keyboard Returns to Form

The biggest design change to this latest Zephyrus is a return to a traditional keyboard and touchpad layout. On previous iterations of the laptop, the keyboard occupied what’s usually the palm rest with a narrow touchpad squeezed into the bottom right corner. This allowed for extra ventilation forward of the keyboard, but it took considerable getting used to. The Zephyrus S GX502 requires no such learning curve. The only thing you may need to adjust to is the extra column of keys along the right side for Delete, Home, Page Up, Page Down, End, and Fn.

Meet the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502

The keyboard itself is roomy with snappy, responsive, and quiet keys. A row of media keys with volume and mute controls occupies the top. There’s also the ROG key from past models that opens the Armoury Crate app for customizing the laptop’s Aura Sync lighting, monitoring components, controlling the cooling fans, and more. To customize the per-key RGB keyboard backlighting, however, Armoury Crate kicks you over to the separate Aura Sync app, which you’ll need to install. I wish all the lighting customizations were located under one roof.

The touchpad glides smoothly and felt accurate and responsive. The keyboard deck has a soft-touch coating with an almost rubberized feeling to it. It repels fingerprints and smudges but is a bit of a dust magnet.

Z Keyboard, Z Touchpad

This Zephyrus isn’t quite as thin as the previous model but it’s also about an ounce lighter, and I think most gamers will gladly accept a few extra millimeters in thickness in exchange for not needing to learn new keyboard and touchpad habits. The system measures 0.74 by 14.2 by 9.9 inches and weighs 4.55 pounds. By contrast, the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model (2019) measures 0.7 by 14 by 9.25 inches and weighs 4.6 pounds, while the Alienware m15 R2 is 0.8 by 14.2 by 10.9 inches and 4.75 pounds.

The laptop is both sleek and sturdy. Its magnesium-aluminum alloy chassis provides a tough, rigid feel without the heft and bulk of many other gaming rigs. Asus also refrained from giving the Zephyrus a garishly gamer-centric design—it’s all black, suitable for double duty as a work system for creative pros who might like to fire up a game or two when the day is done. (The system’s Nvidia Optimus graphics also aid its versatility; more on that in the next section.) The only color accents come by way of the keyboard backlighting.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 3

There are three tiny but bright status LEDs centered on the top edge of the keyboard deck. I found the blinking lights to be distracting and would like to see them located anywhere else but directly below the middle of the screen.

Asus may have moved the keyboard and touchpad on the Zephyrus S GX502, but the laptop maintains the company’s unique case design with a bottom ventilation flap that opens along the back edge and the rear half of each side as you lift the lid…

Bring in the Airflow

The CPU and GPU share two pipes and heatsinks, and each has an independent pipe linked to a dedicated heatsink. You can see the cooling system here, with the bottom off…

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 12

The flap props up the laptop by about an inch to allow more airflow in and out of the system to help cool the compact chassis. The venting system feels sturdy, and it opens and closes so smoothly that you won’t really notice until you trace the source of the glowing RGB lighting coming from the rear corners. (The LED lights are coming from inside the house!) A customizable LED sits just inside the ventilation opening on either side of the machine.


Hertz for Days

Last year’s Zephyrus S featured a speedy 144Hz/3ms panel, but Asus was not content to rest with that refresh rate. Last year’s display is offered on the lower-end config, but our test unit boasts a 15.6-inch panel that takes the refresh rate up to 240Hz while keeping the 3ms response time.

A 240Hz refresh rate is overkill for most gamers, and you’ll see that we didn’t approach frame rates near that figure on our benchmarks using demanding AAA games, although we did exceed 144 frames per second (fps) on one test. Esports gamers willing to dial back on the resolution and the quality settings might be able to eke out a few extra frames and put this panel to its highest and best use. Speed aside, the GX502 screen’s 1080p image looked crisp, with vivid colors and good contrast. And its matte coating means you can play games in a variety of settings without worrying about glare and reflections getting you killed.

High Refresh Rate, Mainstream Resolution

The display also supports Nvidia’s G-Sync anti-tearing technology, which the previous model did not. With G-Sync enabled, our gaming experience was happily tearing-free. And via the aforementioned Armoury Crate app, you can switch between G-Sync and Optimus modes. With the former, the GeForce RTX 2070 graphics chip is continually engaged and keeps the display’s refresh rate and the GPU’s output in sync. With Optimus, the system uses the power-hungry GeForce graphics only when needed and otherwise relies on the Intel processor’s integrated graphics to extend battery life. A system restart is required to toggle between G-Sync and Optimus modes, but having both modes at your disposal is a boon to users who might use their machine off the plug often for non-gaming tasks.

You can also control how loudly and aggressively the cooling fans spin—which you’ll want to do, because they can get seriously loud at full-go. The Asus will automatically regulate the fans depending on what you’re doing, but you can also manually switch between Silent, Windows, and Performance fan modes using Armoury Crate or the F5 key.

There’s also a Turbo mode available when the laptop is running on AC power, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re gaming while wearing a noise-canceling headset. The laptop’s stereo speakers are no match for the fans in Turbo mode, but I was impressed by how quietly the system ran in Silent mode. While never actually silent, the Zephyrus was muted enough for me to enjoy YouTube videos without needing to reach for headphones or plug in a Bluetooth speaker.

One item you won’t find on the system is a webcam. The display and lid are so thin and screen bezels are so narrow, not only on the sides but above the display, that there’s simply no room.

There is, however, plenty of room for a variety of ports, including the return of the Ethernet port that was omitted from last year’s slightly thinner model. On the left side, you’ll find an HDMI port, separate mic and headset jacks, a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port, the Ethernet jack, and the power connector.

The Zephyrus

On the right are two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports and a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port with DisplayPort and power delivery support. You might ask for another USB-C port, but having at least one Type-A port on either side is useful for both left- and right-handed gamers looking to plug in a mouse without wrapping the cord around the back of the laptop.

...and the Ones on the Right


Slim Profile, Strong Performance

Asus sells two versions of the Zephyrus S GX502. Both are based on the 2.6GHz (4.5GHz turbo) Intel Core i7-9750H—a 9th Generation, six-core CPU—and come with 16GB of onboard memory, with an open SO-DIMM slot for expansion to 32GB. The $1,899.99 base model features the 144Hz display, GeForce RTX 2060 graphics, a 512GB PCI Express solid-state drive, and Windows 10 Home. Our $2,199.99 tester stepped up to the 240Hz G-Sync screen, GeForce RTX 2070 graphics, a 1TB PCIe SSD, and Windows 10 Pro.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 13

For the performance benchmarks, I compared the Zephyrus S GX502 to other Core i7-9750H and GeForce RTX-based gaming laptops. The 15.6-inch Asus ROG Strix Scar III features the GeForce RTX 2060, and the 17.3-inch Acer Predator Helios 700 features the RTX 2070. The other two systems are 15.6-inch slimlines with Max-Q GPUs that throttle back the power for cooling’s sake: The Alienware m15 R2 has the Max-Q GeForce RTX 2070, and the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model has the Max-Q GeForce RTX 2080.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 (Configuration Charts)

Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests

PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.

PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the boot drive. This also yields a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 (PCMark)

The Zephyrus S GX502 did fairly well on PCMark 10, finishing fourth overall but closely bunched with all but the hulking Acer Predator Helios 700, which topped the 6,000-point mark. (Any score over 4,000 indicates a system that’s overkill for everyday tasks.) Since all five laptops feature PCI Express solid-state drives, their PCMark 8 Storage scores are practically indistinguishable from one another.

Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 (Cinebench)

It was statistically a tie, but the Zephyrus took top honors in Cinebench, edging the Predator by a single point. The first four machines here, though, were really all part of the photo finish.

Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 (Handbrake)

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 (Photoshop)

The five laptops all finished within a minute of each other in our Handbrake test and within three seconds of one another in our Photoshop exercise. Each would make a powerful photo or video editing machine.

Graphics Tests

3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 (3DMark)

The Zephyrus S GX502 showed a clear advantage over the two Max-Q systems in the mid-grade Sky Diver test but lost that edge in the more demanding Fire Strike test. The big Acer was the clear winner here.

Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 (Superposition)

We were surprised to see that the GX502 finished behind both Max-Q laptops in the Superposition benchmark, but it still produced excellent frame rates, including 165fps in the less challenging 720p subtest. Such a frame rate would look extra-smooth on the 240Hz G-Sync display.

Real-World Gaming Tests

The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world gaming at various settings. We run these at both the moderate and maximum graphics quality presets (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5, Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at native resolution to judge performance for a given system. The results are provided in frames per second. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 (Far Cry 5)

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 (ROTR)

Despite turning Optimus mode off and using the Zephyrus’ dedicated graphics with the fan mode set to Turbo, the system trailed the pack in both gaming tests. Its frame rates are certainly playable, but they disappointed because they were lower than those of the two Max-Q laptops as well as the RTX 2060-based Asus ROG Strix Scar III.

Battery Rundown Test

After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in Airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the same Tears of Steel movie we use in our Handbrake trial—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 (Battery Rundown)

The ability to toggle between discrete and integrated graphics is a boon for battery life. It feels like getting two laptops in one—a noisy, power-hungry gaming rig, as well as a quieter machine for work and entertainment pursuits outside of 3D games. With Optimus graphics, the Zephyrus ran for nearly seven hours in our unplugged test, the best of this bunch. (For the curious, I ran the test again in G-Sync mode, and the system’s stamina dropped to 2 hours and 48 minutes.)


The Real Slim Speedy

Like other high-end gaming laptops, the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 carries a premium price, but its cost is more easily justified than other high-priced models because of features like Optimus graphics and the 240Hz G-Sync display. And even though some of its 3D gaming results were a little slower than expected, the Zephyrus S GX502 still provided a highly enjoyable gaming experience. Just make sure you have a good headset to drown out the intense fan noise at times.

Thankfully, the Zephyrus operates at a much more reasonable sound level in Optimus mode—with solid battery runtime to boot—which turns the system into an overqualified laptop for creative pros or for just kicking back and watching Netflix. Add the solid build quality and a keyboard no longer oddly placed along the front edge of the system, and you get an easy Editors’ Choice pick.



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Amazon Echo Show 8 Review & Rating

Amazon has really been impressing us with its smart display lineup. The $229.99 second-generation Echo Show packs surprisingly powerful sound in a reasonably sized package with a 10-inch screen, while the smaller $89.99 Echo Show 5 is perfect for nightstands. The new Echo Show 8 sits between these models in terms of price, power, and size, and for many people, it’ll be just right. The Show 8 features an 8-inch screen and stereo speakers that easily eclipse the Show 5 and come close to the full-size Echo Show. For $129.99, that’s a heck of a good deal, and enough to earn our Editors’ Choice.

The Same Style of Show

The Echo Show 8 looks like a slightly smaller version of the standard Echo Show, or a slightly bigger version of the Echo Show 5. All three devices share the same general shape, with a prominent black-framed screen angled slightly back and a fabric-wrapped, trapezoidal rear section that covers the speaker drivers. The differences lie in overall size and a few smaller details, like camera placement (the top right corner of the Echo Show 5 and 8, the top center of the Echo Show).

Two pinhole microphones sit on the top edge of the Echo Show 8, with Volume Up/Down and Mic Mute buttons around them. A mechanical switch above the camera physically slides a cover over the lens for privacy. The back of the device holds a power connector, a micro USB port for service, and a 3.5mm aux output.

Amazon Echo Show 8-02

The Echo Show 8 features an 8-inch touch LCD with the same 1,280-by-800 resolution as the larger model, and a marked step up from the Echo Show 5’s 5-inch, 960-by-480 screen. It’s bright and colorful, and paired with two 2.0-inch drivers each powered by up to 10 watts. That makes it much closer in audio power to the 10-inch Echo Show (two 2.2-inch drivers, 10 watts each) than the Echo Show 5 (one 1.7-inch, 4-watt driver).

Alexa Features

As an Amazon Alexa smart display, the Echo Show 8 has all of the same features and functionality as other Echo devices. You can activate it by saying, “Alexa,” then asking a question or saying a command. Alexa can answer general questions, provide weather and traffic reports, tell you your schedule, and make to-do lists. It can also play music from Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, SiriusXM, and Spotify; read audiobooks from Audible; and access videos from Amazon Video and Hulu.

Amazon Echo Show 8

If Alexa’s list of voice-controlled music services don’t satisfy you, the Echo Show 8 can pair with your phone over Bluetooth or with the 3.5mm port (a cable is not included) to play any audio you want. And if Alexa doesn’t have all the answers you seek, the Show 8’s display features your choice of Amazon Silk or Firefox web browser so you can look for yourself.

Alexa can also control a wide variety of smart home devices, including all major brands like Philips Hue, Nest, and TP-Link. If you have a compatible home security camera or video doorbell, you can even access their live feeds on the screen, with two-way communication through the speaker and microphone.

For other forms of communication, the Echo Show 8 can make calls to most phone numbers in North America, and make voice or video calls to other Echo devices and Alexa app users through Amazon’s Drop In service.

Amazon Echo Show 8-05

Audio Performance

The Echo Show 8’s 2.0-inch stereo speakers are reasonably powerful, though they don’t produce quite the same level of thunder as the Echo Show’s larger 2.2-inch drivers. In fact, the Show 8’s sound signature seems to be an inverse of the 10-inch Echo Show, emphasizing the mids rather than the extreme lows and highs.

Our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” sounds fairly booming on the Echo Show 8, though it doesn’t reach into wall-shaking sub-bass frequencies. The kick drum hits have some force behind them, and while they flirt with poppiness, they don’t distort even at maximum volume.

Amazon Echo Show 8

The opening acoustic guitar plucks in Yes’ “Roundabout” sound full and clean on the Show 8, getting plenty of resonance and showing strong string texture. When the track fully kicks in, the electric bass is punchy and the vocals can be clearly heard over the mix. The drivers show slight weakness in high-frequency response, letting the guitar strums and hi-hat settle farther back in the mix than ideal, but it’s still a balanced, energetic sound that can easily fill a small room.

The Crystal Method’s “Born Too Slow” sounds exciting on the Echo Show 8, with strong response from the lows to the high-mids. The drums drive the track with plenty of low-mid and low-frequency presence, and the guitar riffs and vocals cut through the mix quite well. The snares sit slightly in the back of the mix, lacking higher-frequency presence, but it’s still a frenetic sound faithful to the track.

Amazon Echo Show 8-09

Show Time

The Echo Show 8 sits in the Goldilocks zone of smart displays. It’s much more powerful than the Echo Show 5, and it costs just over half as much as the 10-inch Echo Show. It offers all of the smart display features you can ask for in an Echo device, with the sharpest screen, and does all of this for a very reasonable $130. The full-size Echo Show is still the most powerful of the three, and the Echo Show 5 remains an ideal nightstand alarm clock, but the Echo Show 8 strikes a nearly perfect balance between the two. It earns our Editors’ Choice for smart displays, bringing plenty of power to a wallet- and desk-friendly package.



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Intuit QuickBooks Online Review & Rating

Since our last review, Intuit has made substantial improvements to QuickBooks Online, its small business accounting software, the biggest of which are the addition of project management and invoicing tools. Two new apps add access to invoicing within Gmail and PayPal transactions. Payroll administrators can now get one-day turnaround for payroll direct deposit. Online bill-pay is also available, and there are three new reports. Intuit has also made smaller changes in almost every part of the site, all geared to help you get in, see what you need to see, do the work that needs doing, and get out. It’s once again an Editors’ Choice for online accounting software, based on its flexible functionality, financial connectivity, user experience, and extensibility.

Similar Products

There are three versions of QuickBooks Online, all of which offer a 30-day free trial. Simple Start costs $20 per month and is designed for microbusinesses. You can track income and expenses, create and send invoices and estimates, and connect to your bank accounts and add-on applications. The $35 per month Essentials plan does all of that and adds bill-paying, multiple users, and time-tracking. For $60 per month, the Plus tier also lets you track inventory, manage projects, and prepare 1099s for your contractors.

QuickBooks Online’s prices have increased since last year. The fact that these prices don’t include payroll, makes QuickBooks Online less affordable than Xero, which offers a robust version that includes payroll for five people for $30 per month. Intuit seems to run perpetual discounts on subscription fees, but these can revert back to the prices we listed at any time.

If you like Intuit products but don’t need things like data records, time- or project-tracking, or robust sales and purchase management, you might consider the version aimed at freelancers and sole proprietors, QuickBooks Self-Employed.

Intuit QuickBooks Online annual meeting

Building a Foundation

If you’ve been entering and saving data in another accounting solution that can export in the CSV or Excel formats, you can import customer and vendor files, products and services, and your Chart of Accounts into QuickBooks Online. Importing data from one accounting application to another—or even from Excel—can be a challenging process, one that may require the help of a financial advisor.

The days of lengthy, multi-question setup wizards that desktop accounting software used to put you through are long gone. If you completed these early steps in the setup wizards, you were pretty much ready to start working. That’s not the case anymore. QuickBooks Online asks enough questions to do some of its setup in the background, changing settings that to accommodate your particular type of business.

You can, of course, just jump in and start producing transactions, in which case you have to enter customer information, item records, and so on as you go along. You may also find that a feature you need hasn’t been activated. The best course is to click on the gear icon in the upper right corner and select Account and Settings. QuickBooks Online then displays a series of sectional tabs on the left (Company, Billing & Subscription, Sales, Expenses, Payments, and Advanced) that is similar to the Preferences screens in the desktop QuickBooks version.

From here, you can turn features such as Classes, Progress Invoicing, Inventory-Tracking, and Purchase Orders on and off, as well as access exceptionally flexible customization options for forms. The Advanced screen contains more nuts-and-bolts accounting options, such as your fiscal year, your designated shipping account, and the ability to close the books.

Every cloud-based accounting solution offers these under-the-hood options. In some cases, they’re part of a dedicated Settings section, and in others, they appear elsewhere on the site. Each also has a different set of features turned on or off when you begin. You can change these default settings, and should do so in your first hours with the application.

QuickBooks Online’s Company Settings options and other tools, including product and service lists and user-permission management, are all accessible by clicking the gear icon in the upper right, and are conceived and presented in an understandable, flexible, and thorough fashion. Some competitors, including Kashoo, FreshBooks, and Zoho Books have started simply making these settings available as you need them, however.

User Interface, Navigation Tools

The first thing you see when you sign in is QuickBooks Online’s home page. Almost all cloud-based accounting solutions call these dashboards because they offer an overview of account balances, income and expense totals and charts, and tasks that need to be done. They also contain links to related activities, such as invoice creation and account maintenance. QuickBooks Online displays graphs for invoice and expense status, profit and loss, and sales totals, as well as account balances and a link to your audit trail. I found Xero’s dashboard to be a bit more effective; it makes it easier to see instantly what needs to be done.

QuickBooks Online displays a vertical pane on the left that contains tabs representing each major part of the site. This organization of functional areas has been reordered once again to better highlight the tasks that small businesses typically do most often. It now contains links to Banking, Sales, Expenses, Projects, Workers, Reports, Taxes, Accounting, My Accountant, Print Checks, and Apps.

Four icons in the upper right open a list of activities available from there, including a button that opens the Create box for new transactions, a search tool, a list of settings and utilities, and a help link. Once you’re in a working screen, QuickBooks Online uses a combination of lists, charts, drop-down menus, and links for its operations. While QuickBooks Online is designed for non-accountants, users will likely have occasional questions. The site’s online help files are slim compared to Xero’s, but Intuit does offer a web-based community and chat/email support.

Individual Modules

The site’s functions are separated in a logical, user-friendly way. For example, if you click Sales, the screen displays a multicolored bar across the top that gives you instant information about the state of your accounts receivable. It tells you how many pending estimates you’ve issued, along with the total dollar amount. It does the same for unbilled activity, open and overdue invoices, and invoices paid within the last 30 days. Your customer list appears below, but when you click on a tab in the colored bar, it changes to reflect only the transactions represented by those totals.

Intuit QuickBooks Online customer info

You can select a subset of customers and complete batch actions, like printing packing slips or sending reminders. You can also filter the customer list and access the underlying transactions. The final two columns in the table display the entry’s status and a link to any related actions, like Receive Payment or Send Reminder. You can export the list to Excel or print it, and you can modify its columns. Links at the top of the screen open lists of customers and products/services.

The Expenses/Vendors area works similarly, though it relates to transactions like purchase orders and bills. And, of course, its action options are different.

QuickBooks Online’s extensibility is part of the mix, too: Both it and Xero, can be integrated with hundreds of third-party applications that expand on their built-in functionality. Chances are good that, if there’s some related task QuickBooks’ modules can’t do, there’s an add-on app out there that can.

Records and Reports

One of the advantages of using an online accounting application is that once you enter a bit of information, you rarely have to enter it again. For example, if you create records containing details about customers and vendors, products, and services, you’ll be able to access lists of these records when you’re creating transactions and reports.

Record formats in QuickBooks Online are thorough and clear. Beyond the basic contact information fields included in all of them, customer templates contain fields for notes, tax information, payment/billing preferences, and attachments. Vendor records can contain account numbers, terms, billing rates, and opening balances. Employee records capture other details, such as withholding, pay, and deductions.

Intuit QuickBooks Online BB info

QuickBooks Online has competition when it comes to inventory tracking, which wasn’t always the case. Zoho Books has some extra functionality that QuickBooks Online lacks. Xero has great inventory tools, too.

Intuit QuickBooks Online inventory

You can create records for both products and services in QuickBooks Online. The site supports the creation of billable time entries, as well as weekly timesheets. Product record templates include fields for both item sales and purchase information, with corresponding costs and accounts. If you want to track inventory, you can enter a starting quantity on hand within the record, and QuickBooks Online will continue to track it, so you know when to reorder (or stop stocking particular items).

No other accounting service does reports as well as QuickBooks Online, though Xero has added needed customizability to some of its report templates. QuickBooks Online has dozens of exceptionally customizable report templates. Competitors offer at least a few reports. Zoho Books has roughly the same number of reports, but they’re not as customizable.

Both QuickBooks Online and Xero offer integrated payroll applications. Both are excellent services, though Xero only covers 37 states at this writing (with electronic filing and payment available in only nine), while QuickBooks Online covers all of them.

Still the Champ

There many strong contenders for the online accounting top honors, each with its own strengths. For example, Xero and Zoho Books offer bookkeeping tools that are roughly comparable to those of QuickBooks Online. In some cases, they even offer more flexibility or power in one area or another. Sage One Accounting does something no one else does: It populates its users’ sites with their own sales tax rates. ZipBooks provides an exceptional user experience—better than QuickBooks Online, which used to take that honor—and good tools for tracking time, tasks, and projects.

It’s clear that QuickBooks Online has formidable competition coming from multiple directions. And the sticker price for its top-of-the-line site, QuickBooks Online Plus, has gone up by $10 during the last year to $60 per month. That’s over $700 annuallymore than twice the cost of the desktop version. Intuit seems to offer perpetual discounts on its line of applications: They’re currently half off. But the fine print states that prices can change without notice.

Despite that price, QuickBooks Online earns our Editors’ Choice award for offering the most effective, comprehensive, useful, and usable tools. Furthermore, its depth, flexibility, and extensibility outclass those of its rivals. The race is tighter than it used to be, but QuickBooks is still the clear winner.

While you’re thinking about getting your finances in order, you might also read our roundups of the best payroll services and best tax services.



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Red Dead Redemption 2 (for PC) Review & Rating

Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) is one of the most graphically impressive titles on PS4 and Xbox One. It’s also one of this generation’s best action games. A year after its console debut, Rockstar Games finally brings the smash-hit to PC. After initially suffering from numerous technical issues at launch, RDR2 now (mostly) runs as intended. As with its console counterparts, RDR2 is a must-own title and arguably the finest, most authentic open-world epic released by Rockstar Games.

RDR2 is a prequel to Red Dead Redemption. Like that title, RDR2 is a story about the death of the Old West. You take control of Arthur Morgan, a man who belongs to an outlaw group called the Vanderlinde Gang. Having spent most of his life in the gang, Arthur has become disillusioned by the outlaw lifestyle. Still, Arthur can’t see himself doing anything other than stealing and killing.

While each member of the Vanderlinde Gang is fully realized, Morgan is easily the most human character to ever appear in a Rockstar title. You’ll become invested in this morally gray man, sharing in his triumphs and tragedies.

Red Dead Redemption 2 (for PC)

Once Upon a Time in the West

You undertake numerous main story missions that can collectively take upwards of 60 hours to complete. That’s before the epilogue, which can extend the narrative by another 10-15 hours. The missions involve robbing a moving train, soothing a runaway horse, engaging in intense firefights, or getting drunk with companions. Main missions are thoroughly entertaining and always unique.

The map teems with side quests that are every bit as engaging as the main missions. Some appear in fixed locations, while others happen randomly. Random side quests almost always occur along roads. These quests are as varied as main quests, and involve tasks like stopping kidnappers or helping a man suffering from a snakebite. The side quests are worth checking out, as they sometimes offer more thrills than the main missions.

Aside from the two aforementioned mission types, you can partake in many types of extracurricular activities. You can fish, hunt rare animals, play blackjack, drink, and more. These activities are a great way to obtain cash and augment Arthur’s natural traits, such as his endurance and stamina. Money is especially important for ensuring you always have a healthy stock of bullets, medicines, and other provisions on your person. All missions and activities, whether exciting or mundane, pull you deeper into Rockstar’s incredibly detailed take on the Old West mythos.

Red Dead Redemption 2 (for PC)

The Wild, Wild West

When you aren’t shooting foes or wrangling horses, RDR2 can be a serene, tranquil experience. Civilization is sparse, so you’ll spend long stretches of time alone in the wilderness. That said, gunfights can happen at any moment. RDR2’s shooting and cover mechanics function identically to Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto V. You take cover behind both natural and manmade objects and pop opponents from (relative) safety. Weapons automatically lock onto enemies, so it’s easy to get headshots by moving the aiming reticule slightly above a target’s chest. In addition to using .45 caliber pistols and rifles, you can dispatch foes by hurling dynamite and Molotov cocktails.

The lock-on mechanic works great most of the time, so it’s easy to blast entire waves of enemies with little effort. However, the same isn’t true when you’re on horseback. The moving, shifting terrain makes getting a clear shot tricky. While you can enter options and disable auto-lock, it’s clear the game was designed with lock-on in mind. Free-aiming feels too loose and imprecise.

Red Dead Redemption 2’s animations are smooth and realistic. Unfortunately, that realism can sometimes affect gameplay. Arthur feels “heavy” thanks to his slow, deliberate animations. It is next to impossible to cancel an action and jump to another. If Arthur is opening a drawer, you’ll have to wait for him to finish the animation cycle before being able to move him. As a result, you cannot kill enemies in quick succession unless you use the time-slowing Dead Eye ability that helps you line up shots. Dead Eye is fueled by a replenishing meter, so you can’t simply spam the bullet time-like move to victory.

The Big Country

Besides improved graphics, one of the biggest PC perks is that Red Dead Online (RDO) is available from the jump. RDO’s story involves a widow who breaks your player-created character out of jail so that s/he can kill her husband’s murderers. This story serves as an introduction to RDO, but if you’ve already gone through the single-player campaign you’ll be adequate prepared for RDO.

Red Dead Online uses the same open world of the single-player game. As such, you partake in many of the same activities. The big draw is that one can do so with others. There are many modes tailored for competitive players, such as RDO’s versions of free-for-all and team deathmatch. Cooperative missions are mini-stories tailored for a group of four. Free Roam lets you do whatever you want, whether that’s drinking in a bar, robbing banks, or picking rare herbs in the woods. Just be aware that other players can and will shoot you on sight. If you enjoyed the chaos of Grand Theft Auto Online, you’ll be at home in Red Dead Online.

Red Dead Redemption 2 (for PC)

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a graphically impressive game on consoles and the PC edition is similarly taxing. Make sure your system meets the recommended specs. The game’s rendition of the Old West looks spectacular thanks to impressive draw distances, higher-quality global illumination, ambient occlusion, and higher resolutions. The newly added photo mode lets you capture RDR2’s beauty.

To play RDR2, you need a gaming desktop or gaming laptop that has at least an AMD FX-6300 or Intel Core i5-2500K CPU, AMD Radeon R9 280 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 GPU, 8GB of RAM, 150GB of storage, and the Windows 7 operating system (with Service Pack 1).

When RDR2 first launched on PC, many people had problems running it at max settings. Even those who own the $1200 Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti graphics card couldn’t get the most out of the game. Rockstar Games has since alleviated some of these issues via software updates, but even my rig, which features an Intel i7 4790 CPU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU, cannot properly run RDR2 on the Ultra setting. On my PC, RDR2 runs at a frame rate that fluctuates between 45-55 frames per second when in the open world and 50-60 frame per second indoors (at 1080p resolution). I’m not sure if this is an optimization issue or if RDR2 is the new Crysis. This is the only PC game I own that I cannot fully max out without the graphics negatively affecting gameplay.

RDR2 has a slew of settings. You can set the resolution for different monitor types (widescreen, ultrawide, and doublewide), customize keymapping, and disable the HUD. There are more than 40 individual graphics quality settings, including texture quality, anisotropic filtering, global illumination quality, shadow quality, and reflection quality. Considering the amount of different graphics options, you have room to experiment and figure out the settings that work best for your particular rig.

Please note that on PC, RDR2 is only available from the Rockstar Game Launcher—it’s not on Steam.

True Grit

Though not without some performance issues, Red Dead Redemption 2 amazes on PC. Its incredible story, beautiful graphics, multitude of optional quests, and ever-updated online mode may keep you hooked for years. RDR2 wonderfully simulates the Old West’s mythology, making it one of the best action games you’ll find on PC. That said, few gamers will be able to appreciate it on max settings, and its lovingly animated characters can sometimes weigh down gameplay.



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Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System Review & Rating

If you’re looking for a conversation starter to attach to your camera, you won’t do much better than the Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System ($99.95). It’s an attachment system that screws into the filter threads of your lens, and includes a number of magnetic wand attachments to bend light and create other artistic effects. I’ve had a lot of fun testing it out, and am happy enough with it to call it a PCMag Editors’ Choice. If you’re interested in adding some interesting optical effects to your images, you should certainly give it a try.

What’s That On Your Camera?

The Omni’s main component is a big, round metal ring that goes around your lens. Lensbaby sells it in two sizes, a smaller one for lenses with filters from 49 to 58mm, and one for larger lenses with thread diameters from 62mm to 82mm. We tried both with a few different lenses.

Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System

The ring is enough to hold a pair of magnetic attachment points. Each has two connection points, so you can directly attach one of the wands if desired. The basic starter kit also includes a pair of extension arms, so you can put more distance between the wand and front element. Everything is held in a gray felt pouch, with velcro strips so you can attach it to the interior of your camera bag if desired. Lensbaby also includes a plastic filter wrench, used to remove the filter or a step-up ring if either gets stuck on a lens.

Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System : Sample Image

The starter kit comes with three effects wands. From left to right in the image above, they are Stretch Glass, the Crystal Seahorse, and Rainbow Film. The Stretch Glass and Seahorse can be employed in a variety of ways. You can use them to add flare and reflections, or change the character of bokeh. The Rainbow Film adds rainbow streaks to your photos.

Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System : Sample Image

If you want more, there are a pair of expansion kits available. The Crystal Expansion Pack ($49.95) includes three new wands—Crystal Spear, Triangular Prism, and Scalloped Window. For $59.95, you can add the Color Expansion Pack, which includes Teardrop and Crescent Multicolor Crystal wands, Crisscross Rainbow Film, and more than a dozen additional color film gels, as well as a wand to hold one of them at a time.

Experimentation Pays Off

I’ll admit, when I opened up the Omni kit, I wasn’t how exactly sure I was going to use it, or what I’d get out of it. I spent a day at a sculpture garden with the starter kit and Crystal Expansion, using them mainly with the Sony E 30mm F3.5 Macro, a standard-angle lens with 1:1 focus.

Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System : Sample Image

It didn’t take long to get some good shots—though I’ll admit that there were many more throwaways than keepers. But after a little while I found what worked and what didn’t. Macro shots of flowers were easy enough—I was able to pair the Rainbow Film and Crystal Spear together to capture multiple reflected ghosts of a water lily, above, and adding a bit of rainbow flare livened up still-life shots.

Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System : Sample Image

I got very different types of shots when I paired with a wider lens with a much bigger front element. The Sigma 35mm F1.2 DG DN Art uses 82mm filters, the largest you can use with the Omni without buying additional step-up rings, and snaps wide-angle shots with a very narrow depth of field when used with its aperture open.

Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System : Sample Image

It was a little more challenging to use the wands with such a big piece of glass. I took a different approach, reaching to Stretch Glass to obscure defocused areas of the frame, giving the bokeh a very different look. But it’s still a little tricky—for a long exposure shot of a subway train pulling into the station, I used the glass to reflect the passing train onto the static station floor. But I didn’t quite get it covered entirely, as you can see in the uncropped photo above.

Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System : Sample Image

It was the only time I found the wand not quite up the task of perfectly covering up the front of Sigma’s huge 35mm F1.2. I wanted to try one of the color gels included in the Color Expansion Pack to give the rather dull water bordering lower Manhattan a more colorful look. I didn’t quite manage to cover the entirety of the frame—you can see the black plastic causing a vignette at the bottom left of the frame below, and on the right you’ll notice that the gel didn’t quite reach the other end of the lens.

Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System : Sample Image

Not everyone is going to use the same lenses, of course, and a 35mm F1.2 is an absolute outlier; most lenses use smaller filter sizes. But it’s something to think about if you do gravitate toward larger lenses.

Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System : Sample Image

I should note that I paired the Omni with mirrorless cameras in the field. If you’re an SLR owner, your experience will be a little bit different. When you view the Omni effects through an optical viewfinder—I tried it out with the Canon EOS 5DS R and EF 50mm f/1.2 lens—you won’t see an actual preview of your final image, as you will with an EVF.

This is because the optical focusing screen doesn’t give you a preview of your final image the same way an EVF does. You’ll get a very good idea of how the Effect Wands are modifiying your image, but not the same actual image preview you get with an EVF. I recommend SLR users try the Omni with their camera’s Live View system, especially when getting a feel for what the different wands can do.

Inspiring Creativity

Photographers with an artistic bent should take a look at the Lensbaby Omni. Its modifiers work to add some spice and color to images, change the quality of bokeh, adjust color tones, and more. Because everything included is an optical effect tool, you get to see the effects in-camera.

Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System : Sample Image

There’s a lot I like about the Omni system. It’s well designed and constructed, for one. The basic starter kit gives you the filter rings and a few Effect Wands to get started, and if you fall in love with the kit, you can supplement it with additional wands. Photographers with a DIY spirit may even find themselves inspired to make their own attachments.

Lensbaby Omni Creative Filter System : Sample Image

Regardless of whether you confine yourself to the starter kit or go whole hog with expansion packs, the Omni is a tool that encourages you to be more creative with your photography. That’s enough to make it an Editors’ Choice.



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BenQ EX2780Q Review & Rating

BenQ’s EX2780Q ($599) is primarily geared toward gaming—with a 144Hz refresh rate and support for AMD’s FreeSync technology—but this 27-inch monitor has some unusual features that set it apart. These include a remote control, and—most noteworthy—a surprisingly good speaker system, bolstered by a subwoofer to provide crisp bass. It does well at handling HDR content, and BenQ offers a further enhancement through its own HDRi technology, more about which in a moment. The Razer Raptor 27 remains our top-pick gaming monitor at its screen size, but thanks in particular to its superior audio, the EX2780Q earns its own Editors’ Choice as an all-around entertainment monitor with a gaming bent.


A Stylish Frame, an HDR Twist

A bit about HDRi, as it’s a newly coined term: HDRi is BenQ’s own technology, geared to better displaying HDR content. (According to the company, the “i” stands for intelligence.) While HDR improves the contrast and dynamic range (the ability to render subtle gradations of light or shadow) of a scene, HDRi seeks to further enhance HDR images. It has both hardware and software components.

A sensor on the monitor’s bottom bezel measures ambient light, letting the EX2780Q adjust its screen brightness in response to changing conditions. In addition, HDRi generally brightens dark regions without overexposing bright areas, resulting in a more balanced image. It also automatically tweaks color balance and saturation, depending on the displayed content.

The EX2780Q provides two different HDRi modes: Cinema HDRi, and Gaming HDRi. In testing, I found that generally the HDRi modes (and especially Cinema HDRi) provided better contrast than when the monitor was set to DisplayHDR (unmodified HDR).

Belying the new tech it houses, the EX2780Q’s cabinet is simple and handsome, with a matte-black shell and a bronze-colored bottom bezel and base. When affixed to its stand, the EX2780Q measures 18.1 by 24.2 by 7.7 inches (HWD) and weighs 13.1 pounds. The top and side bezels are barely there, while the textured bottom bezel is 1.3 inches thick. The base is a rectangular ring, which, in addition to supporting the monitor, can serve as a corral in which to stash the remote and other small peripherals. The stand provides tilt control, but it lacks swivel, pivot, or height adjustment.

BenQ EX2780Q

The 27-inch, 10-bit IPS (vertical alignment) flat panel has a native resolution of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels, known as QHD, at a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. Its pixel density of 109 pixels per inch (ppi) is fine for a gaming monitor, but it’s not ideal for tasks such as editing photos. (All else being equal, the greater the pixel density, the sharper the image should be.)

The EX2780Q’s relatively modest selection of ports includes two HDMI 2.0 ports, one DisplayPort input, a USB-C port, and an audio-out jack. The USB-C port supports data transfer and video input, as well as power delivery of up to 60 watts, which is enough to quickly charge a laptop even when displaying content from it over the connection.

BenQ EX2780Q

You can control the onscreen display (OSD) via a miniature joystick controller on the back of the monitor, mounted near its lower right corner. Its menus are easier to navigate with the joystick than with the button-based control systems found in many monitors. If the joystick isn’t convenient enough, you can also manipulate the EX2780Q’s OSD with the included handheld remote, with which you can access the OSD menus, enable HDRi, and control volume with the touch of a button. There is also a volume-control wheel on the bottom of the monitor, near the left-hand edge.

BenQ EX2780Q

The OSD offers seven main-menu choices: Input, Picture, Color, Audio, Eye Care, Custom Key, and System. From Input, you can switch among HDMI, DisplayPort, and USB-C inputs. The Picture menu lets you control brightness, contrast, sharpness, and the like. The Color menu lets you choose among 11 color modes, including Standard, Low Blue Light, three gaming modes, two Custom modes, and M-book (a mode for the MacBook. You can also switch between HDR modes.

From the Audio menu, you not only can control the volume or mute the sound, but you can also switch through five audio modes: Live/Pop, Cinema, Dialogue/Vocal, Game, and Rock/Party. Eye Care offers access to the Low Blue Light setting (again) and several similar tweaks. Custom Key lets you set up two customizable color modes, and last up is the System menu, on which you control FreeSync, USB-C configuration, OSD settings (such as language), and the like.

BenQ EX2780Q

BenQ covers the EX2780Q with a three-year warranty on parts, labor, and the backlight. The monitor ships with an HDMI 2.0 cable, a USB Type-C cable, and a DisplayPort-to-mini-DisplayPort cable.


Great Audio (for a Monitor)

BenQ touted the EX2780Q’s audio quality in my pre-review briefing, and for good reason. For most displays (gaming-oriented or otherwise), audio is at best an afterthought. If built-in speakers are included at all, they tend to sound tinny, with poor low-frequency (bass) response, and distortion at higher volume levels, if they can even achieve them—in many cases, the audio is notably soft. Although mediocre speakers may be better than no speakers at all, we generally recommend that monitor buyers get a pair of powered external speakers if projection and audio quality matters.

Unless you’re hosting a dance party in a medium-size or larger space, though, you probably will be just fine with the EX2780Q’s own sound system. The EX2780Q combines a pair of 2-watt speakers with a 5-watt subwoofer. It employs digital signal processing (DSP) to offer the five audio modes mentioned above. To test the setup, I cranked up a host of songs and music videos, including many with strong bass lines, such as Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” The Beatles’ “Come Together,” and The Clash’s “The Guns of Brixton,” with the audio set to Rock/Party. The monitor setup had excellent bass and good treble response. It wasn’t perfect; in a couple of cases, the bass dominated the treble, and although the volume should be fine for a small room, it won’t knock your socks off. Audiophiles may still want to add external speakers, but for most consumers, the built-in speaker system should more than suffice for casual listening.


Notably Bright, With Good Color

I did our luminance, color, and contrast testing using a Klein K10-A colorimeter, a Murideo SIX-G signal generator, an X-Rite i1Basic Pro 2 color profiler, and Portrait Displays CalMAN 5 software. BenQ rates the EX2780Q’s luminance (that is, the brightness per unit area) at 350 nits (candelas per meter squared) and its contrast ratio at 1,000:1; the latter is standard for an IPS panel. I measured its luminance at 224 nits in Standard color mode, 349 nits in Cinema HDRi, and a whopping 470 nits with DisplayHDR enabled. Its contrast ratio also slightly exceeded its rating, at 1,091:1.

BenQ EX2780R

BenQ claims that the EX2780Q covers 95 percent of the DCI-P3 color space, which it effectively matched, covering 94.4 percent in our testing (see the chart above). The area bounded by the triangle represents the limits of the DCI-P3 color space, which was designed for cinema video. As expected, most of the points are a little bit within the triangle, and fairly evenly spaced. This is very good coverage, as DCI-P3 is a considerably wider color space than sRGB.

I also viewed selections from our suite of test video clips, as well as a series of photos stored on my Dell XPS 13 laptop. The EX2780Q did well at handling HDR video, which was notably brighter and exhibited better contrast than when I viewed the same content in standard definition (SDR) mode. Cinema HDRi—BenQ’s HDR emulation—was similar to DisplayHDR (true HDR), though Cinema HDRi frequently showed better contrast. The results were similar with photos, with both Cinema HDRi and DisplayHDR showing similar results, with both brighter than SDR.


Gaming Chops

Like many BenQ gaming monitors, the EX2780Q is not overloaded with gaming features (say, LED backfill/ambient lighting or a range of gaming-specific menus, for instance), but the few it has do count. It employs AMD FreeSync adaptive-sync technology, and it supports refresh rates of up to 144Hz.

In testing the input lag with an HDFury 4K Diva, the EX2780Q even edged out the Razer Raptor 27, with an excellent score of 1.5 milliseconds (ms) to the Raptor’s 1.7ms, and just shy of our record-low score of 1.4ms, turned in by the MSI Optix MPG341CQR. (All of these were tested at a 60Hz refresh rate.)

Related Story See How We Test Monitors

The monitor did well in handling gameplay and some canned benchmark runs with the titles Final Fantasy XV, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and Far Cry 5, showing a minimum of artifacts. I switched among Game HDRi, Cinema HDRi, DisplayHDR, and SDR modes, and Cinema HDRi showed the best contrast.


Kick Out the Jams

If you want a monitor to use just for gaming, you might want to invest in the slightly costlier Razer Raptor 27, which supports both FreeSync and G-Sync (the latter through G-Sync Compatible status, not dedicated G-Sync hardware) and has some nifty creature comforts like a 90-degree tilt for easy access to its hidden ports. It cranks out results similar to the EX2780Q’s in brightness, color, and input-lag testing.

BenQ EX2780Q

But the BenQ adds a sweet sound system and handles HDR (both DisplayHDR and BenQ’s HDRi enhancement) like a boss. For its ability to handle games, video, and photos while providing superior audio—the best I’ve heard on a computer monitor in recent years—and extras like a remote control, the BenQ EX2780Q also earns our Editors’ Choice as an all-around entertainment monitor with a focus on gaming.



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