Hexgears Impulse Review: a Mid-Range Mechanical Keyboard That Hits All the Right Buttons

The Gexgears Impulse splash-resistant keyboard gets our recommendation.
Hexgears

After an impressive debut with the low-profile X-1, I was eager to check out some of the other designs from rookie keyboard maker Hexgears. The Impulse, a mid-range model with Kailh’s Box switches, doesn’t disappoint.

This design is missing some of the more whiz-bang features of more expensive options, notably any kind of programming function. It makes up for it with a combination of utilitarian features and excellent build quality.While a less than perfect, the Impulse offers a light show that should appeal to gamers and a selection of switches that will make your fingers jump for joy. For under $100, it’s an easy mechanical keyboard to recommend for both beginners and connoisseurs.

BOX Switches Highlight the Hardware

Hexgears sent us the Impulse equipped with Kailh BOX White switches and “pudding” caps. The first point first: this is one of the only pre-built keyboards available with the BOX switch designs.

Hexgears offers smooth, splash-resistant BOX switches.
Hexgears offers smooth, splash-resistant BOX switches. Michael Crider

Broadly similar to the familiar Cherry key switch and its innumerable clones, Kailh’s BOX switches add a plastic square around the stem. This keeps the keys compatible with standard keycaps, while also making the travel much more stable and smooth. Hexgears is offering the keyboard with BOX Brown (middle stiffness and tactile, a noticeable bump with no click), BOX White (middle stiffness and clicky) or “Hako Clear,” a more niche and much stiffer tactile switch.

The Kono store sells the Impulse in only one size, but with combinations of single-color white and RGB LEDs and the “pudding” two-tone keycaps featured in this review, with prices ranging from $80-100 depending on those options. The keyboard is marketed as “spill proof,” but that’s more a function of the key switches themselves than anything else. With those stems extending all the way around the entrance of the switch and keycaps firmly in place, it’s very difficult for water (or Coke, or coffee, or beer, et cetera) to get to any of the delicate mechanisms inside. Hexgears says the keyboard is IP56 water-resistant, good for anything short of a full dunk into liquid.

The Impulse is offered in a full size format, with RGB or white-only LEDs.
The Impulse is offered in a full size format, with RGB or white-only LEDs. Michael Crider

Other charms of this design include per-key LED lighting and a full ring on LEDs around the plastic casing, PBT (read: fancy) plastic keycaps with shine-through legends, and a six-foot braided cord.

All the Lights and Sounds

In a word, this keyboard is solid. While you don’t get the full metal body, detachable USB cord, or modular switches of more premium designs, its excellent build quality surpasses most of the better-known keyboard builders in this price range.

Optional "pudding" PBT keycaps show off the key lighting.
Optional “pudding” PBT keycaps show off the key lighting. Michael Crider

Kailh’s BOX switches make for a smooth, even travel on the keys, and the two-tone pudding keycaps make for dramatic lighting even at lower intensities. While not explicitly a “gamer” board—the lack of linear options will surely bum some out—the independently-controlled light show for the keys and the LED ring will surely delight users who like to make their desk into a miniature rave. The key stems and standard layout are compatible with all ANSI-formatted keycap sets, so the Impulse is a good board if you’re looking to customize it after purchase.

The BOX switches and plastic case can repel spills and splashes.
The BOX switches and plastic case can repel spills and splashes. Michael Crider

Underneath you get the usual fold-out riser feet, though the keyboard is thick enough that I doubt many users will want an even taller profile. A gently curving deck, with a rather large printed logo on the top edge, is the only other adornment. If you need to open the plastic case (see the water resistant testing below) it’s easy to remove the screws and expose the circuit board.

Programming Could Be Easier

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The Best Gifts for LEGO Lovers (That Aren’t LEGO Sets)

A selection of great gifts for LEGO fans, when you can't track down that new set.

LEGO mania has swept over the world of toys and popular culture, and now there are plenty of LEGO lovers who are all grown up. The classic sets come in all shapes, sizes, and prices and make great gifts. But if you’re looking for something a little more creative for the LEGO fan in your life, check out our selections below.

LEGO Stud Tape ($23)

This flexible, sticky tape lets you build LEGO decorations almost anywhere.
This flexible, sticky tape lets you build LEGO decorations almost anywhere. Mayka Toy

Thanks to LEGO’s building system going out of patent protection, there are now plenty of alternate toys available from other manufacturers. None are quite so versatile as LEGO-compatible tape: rollable, stickable tape that lets you fix LEGO figures and bricks to almost any flat surface. It’s inexpensive and it makes a great addition to any LEGO-themed bedroom or desk, letting fans get creative just about anywhere. This tape is available from a variety of vendors in different colors and sizes. 

Minifig Packs ($5+)

LRGO's limited edition minifig packs get you exclusive figures in inexpensive packages.
LRGO’s limited edition minifig packs get you exclusive figures in inexpensive packages. LEGO

The LEGO mini-fig is almost as iconic as the bricks themselves, and plenty of fans obsessively collect the tiny and interchangeable LEGO people. If your fan can’t get enough of them, you can find plenty of places that will sell loose packs of minifigs in randomized assortments, or you can track down individual and rare minifigs on secondary markets like eBay and Amazon. Not interesting enough? Search out custom-painted and crafted minifigs from creators on Etsy, for those few pop culture properties that haven’t already been LEGO-fied.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0155L3JY2/

Minifig Head Mug ($15)

You might say it's a bit of a pot head.
You might say it’s a bit of a pot head.

Nothing helps a 10-hour build session go by like coffee (or maybe cocoa, if your LEGO fan isn’t old enough). Why not get your drink into the spirit with this minifig-themed mug? You can’t actually build anything with it, but it looks great sitting next to completed sets on your desk or coffee table. For an alternate choice for LEGO fans, go for a mug that’s a gigantic-scale version of the mugs that the Minifigs use themselves, or one that’s covered in building studs

LEGO Stationary Set ($10+)

This themed pencil case and stationary set is a fun way to stay organized.
This themed pencil case and stationery set is a fun way to stay organized. LEGO

LEGO has an official selection of brick-studded office supplies that fit into a pixel case with a flat base plate, with the idea being that you can snap your pens, pencils, rulers, and other classroom detritus into a perfectly-organized space. This stuff is ostensibly for kids, but I think there are plenty of adults (especially in the design and architecture fields) who’d be happy to get it for a birthday or holiday. Start with the pencil box, then search for “LEGO stationary” on Amazon to see the rest of the set.

Brick Separator Tool ($5) 

It's a weapon of mass deconstruction.
It’s a weapon of mass deconstruction. LEGO

LEGO bricks are manufactured with a 10-micrometer tolerance, so when they fit together they aren’t coming apart without some serious force. That can make deconstructing sets (or making up for mistakes) a chore, not to mention nail-breakers. These separation lever tools come with some of the more expensive sets, but they’re easy to lose and come in super-handy if you’re getting more creative. Grab a handful as stocking stuffers and your LEGO fanatic will thank you.

Display Cases (Various) 

Display cases keep elaborate sets clean and dust-free.
Display cases keep elaborate sets clean and dust-free. iDisplayIt

More elaborate LEGO sets beg to be displayed on shelves and other furniture, but they’re kind of fragile by their very nature—not to mention a serious pain to dust with all of those exposed studs. For those big sets that need to be seen to be appreciated, keep them safe and clean with a transparent display case. Cases made for model cars, ships, and planes work great, but just make sure you measure the assembled set you want to protect and order a cover that will fit. There are plenty of options on Amazon for generic cases, and even some made for minifig collections, but iDisplayIt sells high-quality cases custom cut for specific LEGO sets.

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Valar Morgiftis: The Best Gifts for Game of Thrones Fans

Here's a selection of gifts for the ultimate Game of Thrones fan.

Winter is coming. No, wait, winter is here. No, that happened already: winter is here and so are tons of magic frozen zombies. Yeah, that’s the one. Anyway, here are some gifts for Game of Thrones fans!

The final, climactic season of HBO’s smash hit fantasy series is almost upon us. If you’re looking for some gifts to give a die-hard fan on your way to a weekly watch party, we have you covered. The choices below range in both price and application (hint: don’t buy whiskey for alcoholics and don’t buy real swords for clumsy people), but you should be able to find something awesome for almost any Thrones fan.

Licensed Game of Thrones Alcohol ($13+)

This collection of whiskeys is based on locations and armies in Westeros.
Diageo

Game of Thrones is a very Grown Up series for Grown Ups, and nothing goes with political intrigue, gratuitous violence, and hardcore nudity like hard alcohol. There’s a surprising amount of beer, wine, and spirits available to fit the theme. Diageo has no less than eight different themed whiskeys representing the show’s great houses and the Night’s Watch, and there are three vintages of wine (red, chardonnay, and pinot noir) on sale. More of a beer drinker? There are over a dozen options from different breweries, though some may not be in active production at the moment.

Game of Thrones Glassware ($30+)

This collectible stein is adorned with the mottos of the great Houses.
Game of Thrones

If you’re going to be doing a bunch of drinking for a TV show binge, you might as well make your glasses fit the theme. There are wine glasses, beer glasses, and even elaborate tankards and steins if you really want to get into the period feel of things. Note that you want to follow those links directly for the officially licensed versions: there are a lot of cheap printed glasses just grabbing quotes from the show.

Game of Thrones What Do You Meme Expansion ($12)

This expansion for the What Do You Meme card game is great for watch parties.
What Do You Meme

One of the most fun parts of being a Game of Thrones fan is sharing images and GIFs online, and the What Do You Meme game makes an excellent match with it for house parties. The base game has players matching more general images with captions, but this officially licensed expansion adds in some of the most often-shared character shots from the series. It’s a great group game, assuming everyone in your home knows the difference between Yara, Yohn, and Ygritte.

Sculpted Dragon Egg Candles ($28)

These candles are sculpted like the dragon eggs from season one.
Game of Thrones

There’s no electric lighting in Westeros, except possibly in Qyburn’s Frankenstein lab. So to set the correct ambiance, you’ll want candlelight. And what candles could be better than this matching set of wax dragon eggs (by the old gods and the new, Season One was a long time ago). The iconic eggs from the opening chapter of the series make a fun and affordable gift at under thirty bucks.

McFarlane Game of Thrones Figures ($26)

McFarlane and Dark Horse sell collectible Game of Thrones figures and statues.
McFarlane

If you prefer your dragons grown up (spoiler alert), famed action figure maker McFarlane has a series of meticulously detailed dragons ideal for a toy shelf or desk. Drogon the big black dragon is the bigger of the two, but if you’re caught up on last year’s episodes you might want (and this one actually is a SPOILER ALERT, don’t click if you’re not current) this model of Viserion sporting his 2019 regalia. McFarlane also has more conventional figures, all under thirty bucks, or you can get Dark Horse’s official statues if you want something bigger and more elaborate.

Official Game of Thrones Valyrian Steel Swords ($250+)

Yes, these are real swords. Re-enacting scenes from the show is not advised.
Valyrian Steel

For the fan who loves the visceral combat scenes of the series, only the real deal will do: screen-accurate replicas of the most famous swords in the show. Note that these are meant primarily as display pieces, but they’re also actual swords that can be sharpened and wielded, so they might not make good gifts for a recipient with children in the house (or one who lives in a country or municipality that frowns on bladed weapons). Valyrian Steel sells officially licensed swords, plus accessories like scabbards and wall mounts, armor, and even more exotic weapons like spears and warhammerers, all based on the props used by characters in the show.

Direwolf Puppy Plushes ($20-70)

Oh dear. This isn't going to end well.
Factory Entertainment

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The Best Fitness Trackers with Heart Rate Monitoring

These fitness trackers include heart rate monitoring features.

Heart rate monitoring used to be an exotic feature saved for high-end devices and serious athletes. Now a fitness tracker or a smart watch isn’t complete without it. Here are the best options on the market right now.

Most readers will probably be best served by our first pick, which is affordable, accessible, and works with FitBit’s extremely popular cross-platform network. If that doesn’t suit your fancy, we also have a selection that slides in under $100, an option for aspiring athletes who want phone-free GPS tracking, customers looking for seamless integration into Apple’s walled garden, and a chest strap pick for those who need much more precise heart rate monitoring. Check them out below.

Best Overall HR Fitness Tracker: FitBit Inspire HR ($100)

The FitBit Inspire is a simple and inexpensive entry into FitBit's system.
The FitBit Inspire is a simple and inexpensive entry into FitBit’s system. FitBit

At just $100, the FitBit Inspire HR is an excellent entry into FitBit’s popular and holistic fitness system. The band-style tracker is unobtrusive, with a black-and-white OLED display that can manage and track workouts both manually and with an automatic detection.

The heart rate monitor is on at all times, monitoring your activity level all day and tracking sleep cycles all night. The small tracker can handle basic smartphone notifications, but leaves off apps and music control in favor of a 5-day battery life.

Best Budget HR Fitness Tracker: Garmin VivoSmart HR ($72)

This Garmin tracker with heart rate tracking can be had for just over seventy bucks.
This Garmin tracker with heart rate tracking can be had for just over seventy bucks. Garmin

If you’re looking for more fitness or health information for as little dough as possible, check out the Garmin VivoSmart HR. This wearable is a little out of date (hence the $72 price at the time of writing), but it’s the least expensive option from a reputable supplier with an integrated heart rate monitor.

Even so, the design still includes a full display for managing workouts and notifications from your phone, and syncs data back to the Garmin app for tracking. It’s neither the sleekest nor best-looking option on this list, but it can still handle all of the standard fitness tracker duties with aplomb.

Best HR Fitness Tracker with Dedicated GPS: Garmin VivoSport ($175)

The VivoSport allows you to track runs and bike rides without a connected phone.
The VivoSport allows you to track runs and bike rides without a connected phone. Garmin

Need something a little more capable that doesn’t lean on your smartphone for tethered GPS tracking over Bluetooth? Then the VivoSport is what you’re looking for. This design is similar to the VivoSmart HR above, but upgrades the electronics with a full-color display and a GPS radio built into the wrist-based tracker (which is a pretty rare feature on any gadget under $200).

Note that this is a pretty battery-intensive option: if you’re frequently using GPS for running, swimming, or cycling, expect significantly less than the tracker’s otherwise excellent 7-day battery life.  

Best HR Fitness Tracker for Apple Fans: Apple Watch 4 ($400+)

The Apple Watch works so well with iPhones that it's the easy first choice if you can afford it.
The Apple Watch works so well with iPhones that it’s the easy first choice if you can afford it. Apple

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iPort iPad Charge Case and Stand 2: Yeah, This Thing is Pretty Great

The iPort Charge Case and Stand is an excellent add-on for your iPad.
iPort

I love having a big tablet in a dedicated stand on my desk, and I love wireless charging. So I was excited to check out iPort’s Charge Case and Stand 2, which does what it says on the box.

Technically the iPort design uses POGO plugs on its custom case and stand, so the charging isn’t wireless. But it achieves that easy set-it-down-pick-it-up motion that’s made Qi chargers so popular. $160—more for some iPad designs—is a lot to ask for, even considering you get both a stand and a charger in one package. But for the niche audience it serves, this is a great solution.

iPort Does What Apple Doesn’t

It’s hard to fault Apple for keeping wireless charging restricted to the iPhone: putting it in the iPad would mean getting rid of its tough metal shell, and the ergonomics of cases and stands don’t really mesh well with Qi. But I have fond memories of my HP TouchPad and Nexus 7, both tablets with wireless charging functionality, and I often wish I had something similar for my Pixel C, a constant desk companion. This iPort setup gives me a reason to make the switch.

The case comes in two pieces and can be docked vertically or horizontally.
Michael Crider

The case comes in two primary parts, which slide over either end of the iPad and click nicely together. It’s a bit thick—especially on the bottom, where the case requires a pass-through Lightning charger and a bit of extra space to let sound out through the bottom-firing speakers. But the soft-touch plastic feels nice in your hand, and adds only about three quarters of an inch to the iPad’s height. It feels more than capable of taking a few hits.

The pass-through Lightning port can be removed to plug in a cable.
Michael Crider

Speaking of that pass-through port: you can take it out with a bit of effort, exposing the Lightning port for charging or data. This is the one aspect of the design that’s less than elegant: I think iPort could have moved the POGO pins further apart and placed a permanent Lightning port on the exterior of the case. That would have meant one less part to lose, and no need to shove it in and out on the rare occasions when a cable connection is necessary.

Cleared for Docking

On the rear of the case are two sets of POGO pins: one for portrait and one for landscape. Set the iPad down in the dock, and it starts to charge. Magnets help make sure the case is secured in the correct spot. Simple. Easy. Appealing. Once the iPad is in place it charges at the maximum rate.

The iPort charging base is nice and stable.
Michael Crider

There’s some thoughtful design that goes into the dock, too. A subtle painted dot on the right side of the case lets you see where to rest the tablet, since the extended bottom edge makes it slightly asymmetrical. While the dock is for power only and the large brick can’t connect to your computer for data, it includes two handy USB ports on the dock itself for easily charging other devices at the same time.

The charging base includes two USB port for charging other devices.
Michael Crider

The dock is heavy and sturdy, with a rubberized base that doesn’t move around when you’re setting down or picking up the iPad. The angle isn’t adjustable, but the it should work for most desk and nightstand setups. You may need to make some adjustments if you want another base for your kitchen.

Conclusion

I really enjoy the design of this combination case-dock. I know the appeal is limited—for the same price you could get a super-premium leather cover and a pretty good, non-charging stand. But if you like the convenience of never having to plug your tablet in, I think it’s worth the expense.

The charging case and stand are a solid combination, if pricey.
Michael Crider

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