Clockwork Pi GameShell Review: The DIY Game Boy With LEGO-Inspired Design

The GameShell is an excellent but pricey do-it-yourself portable game machine.
Clockwork

STEM toys and games are all the rage, and video games are as popular as ever. If you’d like to combine some simple electronics with retro games, the GameShell lets you build your own open source Game Boy.

Okay, that’s a bit simplistic. The ClockworkPi GameShell is a modular system, so by “build” I mean assemble, since you’re only snapping together some pretty simple pieces, plugging them into each other, and closing the shell over it. Everything’s included in the kit and already programmed, including the rechargeable battery and software loaded onto a MicroSD card. So if you’re looking for something that challenges your DIY gaming skills, this isn’t it: it’s more like a LEGO kit that you can load up with ROMs when you’re finished.

The GameShell, fully assembled, looks like a more advanced version of the original Game Boy.
The GameShell, fully assembled, looks like a more advanced version of the original Game Boy. Michael Crider

But now that I type that out, “LEGO kit that you can load up with ROMs” sounds pretty freakin’ sweet. And it is! That’s especially true if you’re looking for something for a kid: younger children can put the kit together with a little help from a parent, and kids from about middle school age up can handle most things themselves, with perhaps a little assistance needed to load new games into the included emulators.

They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To (But You Can)

The GameShell arrives in a series of segmented boxes and parts trays, like an old model car kit. Pull everything out of the various boxes and bags, remove the plastic from the parts trays, and follow the included assembly instructions, and when you’re finished, you’ll have something that looks like an open source Game Boy from 1989. That’s about it.

The various bits and pieces of the GameShell, prior to assembly.
The various bits and pieces of the GameShell, before assembly. Michael Crider

The build process takes about an hour for an adult, though young kids might need a little longer. All of the more delicate electronics, like the main motherboard, the screen, and the keypad, are quickly encased in their own protective, modular plastic shells so they can be roughly assembled without fear of damaging them. If you’re helping a small child put this stuff together, once the main modular pieces are covered, you can probably leave them to get the rest done at their own pace.

The modular design of the GameShell deserves particular praise. Following along to the clear instructions, it’s pretty difficult to put this stuff together in a way that’s disastrous: unless you manage to snap some of the tough plastic in half, everything can be deconstructed and rebuilt the right way. That’s a notable achievement in the world of DIY electronics kits (I’ll forego detailing how many keyboard PCBs I’ve managed to destroy with sloppy soldering). With this kid-friendly design, anything short of a full temper tantrum is probably reversible.

The modular part design---screen, pad, motherboard, battery---makes assembly safe and easy.
The modular part design—screen, pad, motherboard, battery—makes assembly safe and easy. Michael Crider

I especially like the two optional backs to the gadget: one smooth in original Nintendo fashion, one studded with LEGO-compatible bricks, lest you thought my building toy allusions were merely illustrative instead of literal. The basic kit includes an optional upgrade on the back, five extra shoulder buttons that can light up with included LEDs, which connects to the motherboard and snaps into place via the LEGO studs.

It’s a neat little add-on if you’d like compatibility with more complex classic PC or PlayStation games, though the cable that must be threaded through to the motherboard means it’s probably a little fragile for traveling.

Just Enough Power for the Classics

Once you put everything together and secure the outer plastic shell with the two easily-removable circular snaps, you have a Game Boy-style portable gaming gadget that includes a backlit LCD screen, a familiar key layout, and a pre-programmed user interface. The electronics inside run on a Cortex A7 processor with 1GB of memory and 16GB of storage via the MicroSD card. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and HDMI-out via a mini port are included, and the battery recharges via a direct MicroUSB connection.

Yes, it runs DOOM!
Yes, it runs DOOM! Michael Crider

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The Best Cooling Bedsheets for Hot Sleepers

Woman sleeping on a bed, trying to stay cool at night
Stock-Asso/Shutterstock

Summer is quickly approaching, and unless your air conditioning unit has the power of a semi truck, you might be in store for some uncomfortably hot nights. A great way to reduce sweating in your bed is to get some new sheets specifically designed to sleep cool.

Keeping cool while bundled up is a bit of an oxymoron, but many people get so used to a full set of sheets that they find it hard to sleep without them, even if it’s too hot. Luckily there are plenty of sheets designed with hot climates and hot sleepers in mind, across a wide range of budgets. There are also a few ancillary products you can try to keep yourself cool as well. Check them out below.

Note that the prices on our selections are for queen-sized mattresses: bigger or smaller beds will be more or less expensive, respectively.

The Best Overall Cool Sheets: Peachskin ($100)

Peachskin's high-quality sheets are a favorite of hot sleepers.
Peachskin’s high-quality sheets are a favorite of hot sleepers. Peachskin

Peachskin’s fitted sheets are designed to regulate a sleeper’s temperature, forming a happy medium between pricey “performance” bedding and inexpensive open weave fabrics. Peachskin’s proprietary blend is synthetic, not cotton, but a super-high thread count keeps it extremely comfy. It’s designed to be breathable and moisture-wicking, quickly dealing with sweat and keeping you dry.

When you wash the sheets—and you’ll need to more frequently if you’re in a hotter area or your air conditioning is unreliable—they’ll be ready in under half an hour on a “medium” dryer cycle. Despite their synthetic build, they’re amazingly soft and smooth.

The Best Premium Cool Sheets: Sheex ($189)

Sheex uses a polyester-spandex blend for its sheets, like workout clothing.
Sheex uses a polyester-spandex blend for its sheets, like workout clothing. Sheex

For those who live in particularly hot environments, or who are just naturally hot like a human furnace, you might want to step up to something more capable. Sheex sheet sets are more than twice as expensive as our more general pick, but they make up for it with a material that’s similar to performance athletic wear with an 87-13% polyester-spandex blend. (It’s kind of like sleeping in a fancy golf polo.)

People love the breathable and temperature-controlling sheet sets, ideal for anyone who finds normal cotton sheets excessively toasty. Sheex sets come in a variety of colors to match your decor, and all include clips to keep the fitted sheets secured to your mattress.

The Best Budget Cool Sheets: Linen Home Cotton Percale ($43)

Percale sheets with a low thread count are much more breathable than some expensive alternatives.
Percale sheets with a low thread count are much more breathable than some expensive alternatives. Linen Home

If our selections above are outside of your price range, then you’ll need to look for more general fare in traditional cotton. Percale sheets are much better than the more popular “jersey” fabric at allowing heat and moisture through, and the 200-thread-count selection from Linen Home are more naturally breathable than expensive high-thread sheets.

To be clear, they’re not as cozy as more expensive options—”crisp” is an adjective often applied at this thread count, so those with especially sensitive skin may not like them. The crispness is part of the cooling magic though. Super soft sheets tend to drape closely to the body but stiffer sheets “tent” more and allow for more air movement—if you hate the feeling of your sheets clinging to you, give Percale weave sheets a shot. Not only that but at just $43 for a full fitted sheet set, flat sheet, and two pillowcases, it’s a solution for hot summer sleeping that won’t break the bank.

The Best Cool Comforter or Duvet Cover: Easeland

This lightweight comforter is one of the cooler options if you need it.
This lightweight comforter is one of the cooler options if you need it. Easeland

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The Best Microphones for Podcasters

These microphones are the best on the market for podcasters.
Michael Crider

Aspiring podcasters need one essential piece of equipment to get started: a good microphone. While those who plan to do video as well should check out our webcam roundup, a really solid mic and the good audio quality that comes along with it are non-negotiable.

The standard pick in this sphere for years has been the Blue Yeti, and we’re sticking with it even after the company’s sale to Logitech. But if you can’t afford a Yeti, or you want something more elaborate for audio equipment more suited to music or a mobile setup, we’ve got you covered there, too. Lastly we have a few recommendations for ancillary equipment to really bring your audio quality up to its best possible level.

The Best Standard Podcasting Mic: Blue Yeti ($125)

Come on, you knew this one would be at the top.
Come on, you knew this one would be at the top. Blue

Blue’s Yeti microphone is the F-150 of the podcasting world: ubiquitous, reliable, and pretty much the first thing that anyone thinks of when they hear “podcasting mic.” It’s earned its sterling reputation: with fantastic audio quality, super-simple setup via a standard USB interface, and controls that even novices can quickly grasp, it’s a favorite of beginners and podcasting veterans alike.

The Blue Yeti comes in a variety of colors (including, yes, blue) and is often offered with accessory and game bundles, but the standard version usually retails around $125. If you need something a little more compact (and want to save a few bucks), the newer Yeti Nano offers a smaller body that skims on some of the more advanced recording modes.

The Best Advanced Podcasting Mic: Blue Ember ($100)

The Ember uses a more professional XLR cable interface.
The Ember uses a more professional XLR cable interface. Blue

If you’re used to recording audio and have the hardware to support a standard XLR microphone instead of USB… well, then you probably already have an XLR mic. But if you’re looking for one specifically for podcasting, Blue’s Ember makes an excellent upgrade. This new design includes a built-in pop filter, fantastic audio quality, and the standard XLR connector compatible with most live music equipment on the market. At $100, it’s also a pretty great value to boot.

The Best Budget Podcasting Mic: Samson Q2U ($60)

This Samson mic can use both USB and XLR cables.
This Samson mic can use both USB and XLR cables. Samson

For those on a budget or simply not ready to invest in huge amounts of equipment, the Samson Q2U is an excellent entry point into quality USB microphones. Not just USB, in fact: this budget option includes both XLR and USB interfaces, making it an audio jack of all trades.

The standard kit also includes a small desktop tripod, adapters for most microphone mounts and stands, and a pop filter. For sixty bucks, it’s everything you need to get started, and if you should expand your setup later you’ll still be able to use it with more advanced equipment.

The Best Podcasting Mic for Traveling: Samson Go ($37)

Samson's portable microphone combines solid hardware with an ingenious fold-out stand.
Samson’s portable microphone combines solid hardware with an ingenious fold-out stand. Samson

Podcasters on the go can have a hard time getting things set up for a quality recording session. Samson has solved that problem with the Go, a design that crams all of the essential elements of a quality mic into a package about the size of a deck of cards.

It connects via standard USB, and the built-in stand can even clip onto a laptop for easy recording directly into your audio production program. It doesn’t hurt that the thing can be had for under forty bucks, making it a nice upgrade to your laptop’s (almost certainly awful) built-in webcam mic.

Useful Accessories: Pop Filters, Mounts, and More

You may want a few extra items to maximize audio quality.
You may want a few extra items to maximize audio quality. Neweer

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Azulle Lynk Review: This Remote Crams in a Full Mouse and Keyboard Surprisingly Well

The Lynk is a super-compact way to use both mouse and keyboard controls on a PC.
Azulle

Living room PCs are the most flexible, powerful way to watch stuff on your TV, but they generally need a bulky mouse and keyboard to be operated effectively. You could try to shrink a regular keyboard and mouse down, or power up a remote to do the same thing. Azulle’s Lynk remote opts for the latter.

Azulle also sells a series of mini PCs and stick PCs that run full versions of Windows, which the Lynk is designed to complement. These computers are better suited to enterprise customers than anything else—general consumers will be better going with something like a Chromecast or Fire TV for video, or a full desktop for gaming.

But if you do have a full PC or Mac that you want to only occasionally control, and you can’t stand the thought of a full-sized mouse and keyboard sullying your pristine coffee table, it gets the job done.

The reverse side of the Lynk includes a full mobile-style keyboard.
The reverse side of the Lynk includes a full mobile-style keyboard. Michael Crider

I wouldn’t say that using the Lynk for conventional control of a full PC is easy. But it does perform admirably in a tiny package, and for just $30 it’s well worth looking into if you’re already invested in a home theater PC.

You Got Your Remote in My Mouse

The Lynk uses an “air mouse” setup for mouse control, a rarely-seen niche of the mouse world. An air mouse lets you move the remote around with your hand, waving it in a vaguely conductor-ish fashion as the mouse cursor moves around the screen. If you’ve ever used a Nintendo Wii with its infrared remotes and their on-screen cursors, it feels a bit like that.

The main "mouse" side of the Lynk holds mouse controls, a D-pad, and several Windows functions.
The main “mouse” side of the Lynk holds mouse controls, a D-pad, and several Windows functions. Michael Crider

This setup means you don’t need a flat surface or even a touchpad to get basic mouse functionality. It’s less than intuitive, but the Lynk compares well with the other air mice I’ve (briefly) tried. For getting around a few basic points of a full Windows interface, it’s serviceable.

And for a more fullscreen setup, like apps for Netflix, Hulu, or Plex, the “remote” side of the device includes a full D-pad for basic controls. It works as well as any set top box remote, though there is a bit of a learning curve to find which apps can be used in “browsing” mode and which require finer mouse control. A handy “Mouse on/off” button will keep the cursor locked in place if you’re doing other things.

The Lynk is similar in size to other TV and set-top box remotes, though it's a bit thicker.
The Lynk is similar in size to other TV and set-top box remotes, though it’s a bit thicker. Michael Crider

Other buttons on the “mouse” side of the remote include generic media controls for play/pause and volume, a “home” button for apps that support it, and shortcuts to core Windows functions. These include the Windows button itself, a mic button for Cortana, power and sleep buttons that work correctly in Windows, and (extremely handy) a shortcut button for the on-screen keyboard. This is nice for quickly hitting the Enter key without needing to flip over the remote and enter keyboard mode. I only wish there was a quick way to switch apps—a dedicated alt-tab button would be ideal.

You Got Your Keyboard in My Remote

Flip the Lynk around, and you get a 51-key keyboard that will look familiar to anyone who had a slider phone in the mid 2000s. That’s not an insult, by way. Plenty of users still miss dedicated, physical keys on their mobile devices.

"There are dozens of us! Dozens!"
“There are dozens of us! Dozens!” Michael Crider

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Kiwi Design Google Home Mini G2 Wall Mount Review: Solving Problems That Aren’t There

Kiwi Design

Miniature smart speaker designs like the Google Home Mini and the Amazon Echo Dot are so small and handy that they beg to be placed in convenient places. And what’s more convenient than sticking them right next to the outlet that they’re plugged into?

That’s the idea behind the Kiwi Design G2 Wall Mount for the Google Home Mini. It’s not the only Home Mini mount that’s designed to attach directly to an electrical outlet, and unfortunately, it’s not the best, either. In trying to give a rigid wall mount extra flexibility, Kiwi removed some of its utility, making it harder to work in the limited space of a wall plug.

It’s a real shame, because in terms of aesthetics and materials this base is a winner. It’s also very reasonably priced at just twelve bucks. But the simple fact is, there are better options available if you want a semi-permanent wall mounted home for your Home Mini.

Keep It Simple (Or Don’t)

The Kiwi G2 consists of two pieces made almost entirely of silicone: a mount and coil that nestles the Home Mini’s standard plug, and a tray for the Home Mini unit itself.

The G2 wall mount consists of two pieces: a wrap for the plug and a tray for the Home Mini.
The G2 wall mount consists of two pieces: a wrap for the plug and a tray for the Home Mini. Michael Crider

The plug piece unwraps to allow you to coil the long excess of charger cord around it, then folds down to hide it. On the top of the plug piece and the bottom of the tray piece, there are strong magnets to keep the two together.

The plug piece includes a coil for the excess cord, with a silicone cover that folds down over it.
The plug piece includes a coil for the excess cord, with a silicone cover that folds down over it. Michael Crider

Assembly is fairly straightforward. Thread the cable through a hole in the mount, then let the plug nestle into its designated spot. Unfold the mount, wrap the cable up, thread a bit through the second hole, then fold it down again. Put the Home Mini in its tray, stick it to the plug, then plug the cable into the Home Mini and the charger into the wall. Stick the tray to the mount and you’re good to go.

RELATED: Kiwi Design Battery Base: A Cheap, Easy Way to Make Your Google Home Mini Mobile

Why multiple pieces, when other designs use a single piece of plastic to accomplish the same thing? Why indeed. The point seems to be that with an easily-detachable tray, you can move the Home Mini around your house at your leisure. Perhaps the point is to allow you to slip the Home Mini into Kiwi’s own battery base. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense: the battery base is designed to be used more or less continuously, and it can’t be stuck to the charger base. You’ll need to remove the Home Mini from the mount tray if you want to use the battery with its flush cup.

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