The BenQ “Genie” E-Reading Lamp Deserves a Spot on Your Desk

This is the BenQ Genie E-Reading Lamp. My real desk is not this clean.
Michael Crider

Workplace illumination is important. Important enough to spend more than a hundred bucks on a fancy lamp? I wouldn’t have thought so until BenQ sent me this weird-looking Genie E-Reading Desk Lamp.

The thing looks like a post-modern interpretation of the Pixar-style reading lamp, with a curved bar packed with LEDs replacing the traditional single bulb. I wouldn’t have given it a second glance, except that Jason was head over heels for BenQ’s ScreenBar, which was similarly positioned as ideal for reading text on electronic screens.

I was shocked at how good this thing is. Between the quality construction and the amazingly even lighting, going back to a conventional lamp for my work setup will be touch for me. Some usability choices are odd, but overall it’s a fantastic product that justifies its premium price.

Setting It Up

After opening the package I found the Genie lamp comes in just two pieces: the main LED array and the base and boom arm. Attaching them requires installing two screws with the included hex key. I got it all set up in about three minutes, including the nicely braided power cable and its breakaway wall-wart power connection. The cable tucks neatly into the boom arm.

Setup requires installing just two screws. Note that swanky braided power cable.
Setup requires installing just two screws. Note that swanky braided power cable. Michael Crider

Set up on my desk, the lamp looks sort of like an unfinished emoticon: _°/˘. Taste is subjective, of course, and I won’t tell you this thing fits into every bit of decor. If you’re working on an antique banker’s desk, it probably won’t accent things quite like one of those old-fashioned brass lamps with the green shade. But on my standing desk, stuffed to the edges with speakers, tablets, phones, and small LEGO spaceships, it looks pretty slick. If you’re looking to match a theme, the lamp has multiple color options for the aluminum LED bar.

The ball joint gives you flexibility, not just for illuminating the work area, but for keeping the LEDs out of your eyes.
The ball joint gives you flexibility, not just for illuminating the work area, but for keeping the LEDs out of your eyes. Michael Crider

The LED bar moves on a ball joint, so the actual light portion of the lamp can be put into a surprisingly varied amount of positions. The boom arm is on a less flexible hinge, moving from 90 to about 25 degrees. It’s enough to handle most situations and position the LEDs away from your eyes, but those with larger desks or big monitors might want to go for the double-hinged version that’s roughly twice as tall.

Aziz, LIGHT!

The lamp uses 36 individual LEDs spread out evenly across its curved bar. And they’re gorgeous. The design of the lamp allows them to evenly illuminate a shockingly wide area—it handled the entire horizontal space of my five-foot desk, with plenty of space left over, with only a slight emphasis on the middle range.

36 LEDs alternate between pure white and amber, giving the lighting a lot of flexibility.
36 LEDs alternate between pure white and amber, giving the lighting a lot of flexibility. Michael Crider

At its highest setting, the light is bright, but still warm, avoiding the cold clinical feel of some LEDs. Alternating between full-brightness white and softer amber LEDs gives it an excellent warmth, even at full power. If that’s too much for you, the circular dial on top of the bar allows you to adjust the temperature and intensity of the light, from full, “Let’s get some work done” power to “I just need a little extra light to see the fine print on this letter.” It’s a wide range, making the system appealingly flexible.

The lamp is equipped with an automatic mode, which uses a light sensor to dynamically adjust the lighting level based on ambient light in the room. It’s a nice inclusion, but I found myself manually adjusting the light after activating it almost every time. Strangely, the automatic mode has more fine control over itself, often cutting power to the middle array of LEDs. (That isn’t possible with the dial alone.) Note that since the LEDs are on only one side of the lamp, you’ll want to position the base on your right side if you’re shorter and sometimes have the bar beneath your eye level to avoid shining it directly into your eyes.

Odd Control Choices

Read the remaining 7 paragraphs

The Bionik BT Audio Sync Dongle Fixes Nintendo’s Switch Shortcoming

Bionik's dongle adds Bluetooth audio capability, which is unaccountably missing from Nintendo's Switch.
Michael Crider

Why is it that the Switch uses Bluetooth for controllers, but can’t use Bluetooth headphones?  Inconsistent explanations add up to dissatisfaction among users. The Bionik BT Audio Sync aims to solve this problem, however, cheaply and effectively.

The gadget is a dedicated Bluetooth dongle that draws power from the Switch’s USB-C port, eliminating the need to charge it, as is the case with some solutions that use the headphone jack. The dongle hangs out beneath the screen, out of the way of your hands and most other accoutrements, though it won’t work with protective cases.

A couple of smart additions to the design makes using it even easier: a pass-through USB-C port for playing while charging, and a USB-A-to-female-USB-C cable, for plugging the unit into the dock. It’s necessary because with the bottom-mounted dongle installed, it won’t fit into the standard dock.

The included adapter cable lets you use the Bionik dongle while the Switch is docked.
The included adapter cable lets you use the Bionik dongle while the Switch is docked. Michael Crider

Connection is fairly straightforward. Hold down the pairing button for a few seconds until the orange LED flashes rapidly, then put your Bluetooth headphones into pairing mode. The pairing process itself is a bit hit-and-miss with no screen feedback, but two or three tries should be enough to get most headphones or speakers to connect. Once paired, the connection is reestablished immediately. As a bonus, I didn’t notice any great drop in battery life when the Audio Sync was active.

When playing with several different sets of wireless headphones, I noticed the usual very short delay (2-5 milliseconds would be my guess) between the onscreen action and the sound, in both portable and docked modes. Music and sound effects were exactly as I expected them to be, though on rare occasions either the left or right channel would cut out for a split second. All in all, fairly typical performance for Bluetooth.

A pass-through port allows you to charge the Switch in portable mode with the dongle in place.
A pass-through port allows you to charge the Switch in portable mode with the dongle in place. Michael Crider

$40 seems like a lot to pay to fix a shortcoming that Nintendo should have addressed itself. But if you’ve invested a lot into a pair of nice Bluetooth headphones for your phone or laptop, it’s a pretty reasonable upgrade. I appreciate the simplicity of the package, and the pass-through port and included USB cable for use when docking. Overall, it’s probably as good a solution as you can get, short of Nintendo supporting Bluetooth officially.

Note: The BT Audio Sync was tested on the original Switch, but it should work fine with the recent hardware upgrade. It may not be compatible with the new Switch Lite hitting the market in a few weeks, as that design uses a different plastic body.

Roborock’s S6 Is a Great Vacuum—I Wish It Was a Great Mop Too

The Roborock S6 is a serviceable vacuum, but an expensive mop.
Michael Crider

The idea of a single device that can clean all of your home’s floors is an appealing one. Unfortunately, it’s still just an idea. The Roborock S6 is probably the best we can do at the moment.

The S6 is a fairly standard robot vacuum, with most of the bells and whistles you’d expect from its premium price. It’s extremely competent at the basic task of handling carpets and hardwood dirt, with a smartphone app that’s surprisingly intuitive. But its standout feature, an integrated mopping system, is a bit of a letdown.

The mopping function itself is lacking, in the limited capacity of both a home robot and one that’s attempting to be a convergence device. With all the extra steps necessary to engage the mop, and get it working in a specific area, you might as well roll up your sleeves, break out the bucket, and do it the old-fashioned way.

Like an iPod and a Dyson Had A Baby

The S6 top flips up for easy access to the dirt reservoir, which must be emptied manually.
The S6 top flips up for easy access to the dirt reservoir, which you have to empty manually. Michael Crider

The Roborock doesn’t look especially eye-catching as a home appliance, and perhaps that’s the point. But the all-white plastic version we were sent as a review unit is appealing, and its understated charging station should fit into most homes’ decor even if you go for black or a little rose gold trim. It’s the standard sci-fi pizza layout, with a small disc on the top of the device that acts as the vacuum’s air exhaust.

The super-simple looks belie a more complex interior. Flip up the access port beneath the exhaust and the three control buttons and you’ll find the dustbin, which comes out for easy emptying without needing to flip the robot over. (It’s not quite pricey or complex enough to do it itself, like some top-of-the-line models.) If you do need to flip it, you’ll find easy access to the roller brush assembly and the slot for installing the optional mopping components.

The bottom of the unit, with brush guard removed. Note the empty bay for the mopping module.
The bottom of the unit, with brush guard removed. Note the empty bay for the mopping module. Michael Crider

It’s a sharp-looking package altogether, and the exhaust port on top is as distinctive as these things can get. But here’s a tip: Go for the black option if you’re in a house with pets. In fact, that’s true of almost everything in a house with pets.

Serviceable Sucking with a Great App

The S6 can handle fairly large spaces on its own, at least for the vacuuming component. Its array of onboard laser and pressure sensors will actively map out an entire floor plan, then get to cleaning every single spot it can find. The motion is kind of weird—it looks random and disjointed—but it gets the job done.

The exhaust port and three control buttons.
The distinctive exhaust port is a nice touch. The three control buttons are easy to use, too. Michael Crider

In hours and hours of cleaning, I had only a couple of complaints about the vacuum function. One, it tends to send out “brush blocked” messages fairly easily, especially when the dust reservoir is close to full. And two, it isn’t at all obvious how you’re supposed to put it into Wi-Fi connection mode. (Hold down the home and map buttons simultaneously—you’re welcome, Google searchers.)

The mapping and programming app is surprisingly great.
The mapping and programming app is surprisingly great.

You can get the S6 working right out of the box, just set up the dock and press the central button. But to really take advantage of this gadget, you’ll need to install the Roborock app on your phone (Android, iOS). This will show you a live map of what it’s doing, give you alerts for when the vacuum is stuck, full, or otherwise needs attention, or even help you locate it if it’s lost.

Read the remaining 10 paragraphs

The Best Smartphones That Still Have a Headphone Jack

Your options for smartphones with headphone jacks are getting more and more rare.

If you want to use wired headphones with a modern smartphone, and you don’t want to do so with a dongle, your options are rapidly diminishing. Here are the best phones on the market that still have a headphone jack.

The Best High-end Phone With a Headphone Jack: Samsung Galaxy S10

The Galaxy S10 series might be Samsung's last high-end phone with a headphone jack.
The Galaxy S10 series might be Samsung’s last high-end phone with a headphone jack. Samsung

Samsung seems to be on the way to dismissing the headphone jack, like most of the other brands, since it’s gone from the newly-released Galaxy Note 10. But this year’s other Samsung flagship, the Galaxy S10, still has the headphone jack equipped. With hardware that’s still pretty close to the bleeding edge and three screen sizes (and price points) to choose from, it’s one of the best Android phones on the market, with or without access to your favorite wired headphones. The S10, S10+, and S10E are all available from major carriers, or sold unlocked at many retailers and directly from Samsung.

The Best High-end Phone with a Headphone Jack

Samsung Galaxy S10+ Plus Factory Unlocked Phone with 128GB (U.S. Warranty), Prism Black

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 series would be an excellent choice all on its own, but as a nice bonus, it also includes a headphone jack.

The Best High-end Phone with a Headphone Jack

Samsung Galaxy S10 Factory Unlocked Phone with 128GB – Prism Black

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 series would be an excellent choice all on its own, but as a nice bonus, it also includes a headphone jack.

The Best High-end Phone with a Headphone Jack

Samsung Galaxy S10e Factory Unlocked Phone with 128GB, (U.S. Warranty) – Prism White

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 series would be an excellent choice all on its own, but as a nice bonus, it also includes a headphone jack.

The Best Midrange Phone With a Headphone Jack: Google Pixel 3a

Google's less expensive Pixel 3a and 3a XL include the headphone jack they left out on the original Pixel 3.
Google’s less expensive Pixel 3a and 3a XL include the headphone jack they left out on the original Pixel 3. Cameron Summerson

Read the remaining 15 paragraphs

How to Pick the Right Gaming Monitor for Your Needs

Buying a good monitor for your gaming PC isn't easy, and marketing doesn't make it any easier.
Dell

Finding a good gaming monitor isn’t easy, and manufacturers aren’t keen to make it any easier. Here’s everything you need to know to track down a good one.

What Makes a Monitor a Gaming Monitor?

To answer the question in the headline without any further ado: it’s hard to shop for a gaming monitor because the definition of “gaming monitor” is somewhat fluid. There are specific features that are good for gaming, or to be more accurate, are more conducive to a positive gaming experience on a PC. And those features don’t always align with what makes a monitor “good” for conventional uses of a desktop or laptop PC, like accurate colors or the most resolution.

Things aren’t helped by marketing. If you browse Amazon or an electronics store shelf (if you can find one), you might think every monitor is “good for gaming.” But that’s only true in the sense that every TV is “good for sports,” because technically, you can watch sports on any TV. It’s sort of true, but all those flashy graphics and buzzwords are misleading.

There are a few features that are specifically designed to make a monitor perform better for games. Here’s what you want to look for.

Image Quality

Almost any monitor will tell you it has good colors on the store description, but there are degrees of this: vibrancy, brightness, color accuracy, etc. Here’s the odd thing about image quality: it’s not necessarily what you want if you’re playing PC games.

This IPS monitor has great color accuracy, but it's a bit slow for gaming performance.
This IPS monitor has excellent color accuracy, but it’s a bit slow for gaming performance. Dell

Super-expensive monitors, aimed at professional graphic designers and printers, use a ton of advanced tech to get colors as accurate as possible. But all of that tech has to go between your PC and the image you see with your eyeballs, which slows down the time between when your computer renders the image and when you actually see it. The time is minuscule—a few thousandths of a second—but it’s enough to make a difference in fast-paced games like shooters, racers, and fighters. Gamers also tend to set their monitors with more vibrancy and saturation, prioritizing an appealing image over one that’s more technically accurate.

For this reason, inexpensive monitors and those focused on gaming usually use the less expensive and “faster” TN screen panels, as opposed to more color-accurate but slower IPS panels. A new middle ground is getting popular, the VA panel, which has better colors than TN but faster image display than IPS.

Speed

What do I mean when I say that a monitor is “fast?” Two things: display response time and hertz. Let’s talk about the first one.

Response time is the amount of time it takes between when your monitor receives an image from your PC and when it can display that image on the screen. Most monitors have a response time of under 10ms (one one-hundredth of a second), a trivial interval if you’re surfing the web or answering email. But in fast-paced games, that can be several frames of animation, and the difference between winning and losing.

This Samsung monitor has a response time of just one millisecond in its fastest mode.
This Samsung monitor has a response time of just one millisecond in its fastest mode. Michael Crider

Read the remaining 20 paragraphs