Let’s get this out of the way now – the Aspera Gem is not a fancy phone. It doesn’t have NFC, wireless or fast charging, face unlock, uses micro USB, is gonna be slow, there’s not gonna be many updates if any and the camera is a potato – but let’s keep that in perspective considering it’s just $149 down at Big W or Amazon AU with a full Australian warranty.
What the Aspera Gem does have however, is a very acceptable quality screen, dual SIM capability, a goddamn 3.5mm headphone jack, a fingerprint reader and a removable battery. It runs Android 9 (albeit with security patches only up to September 2019) and has access to the full Google Play Store.
After a few hours tooling around with the Gem, it’s obviously not a phone I’d be comfortable with using day-to-day. Apps are slow to load, running too many at once (e.g: swapping between Twitter, Facebook, Slack, OneDrive and a few tabs open in Chrome) grinds things to a halt and the camera is very average.
But if all you do on your smartphone is make calls & SMS, watch a bit of YouTube, drive around with Google Maps, chat to your mates with whatever messaging platform takes your fancy and you’re on a budget – the Gem will be good enough. Slow, but with its 2GB of RAM it’ll be better than basically every sub-$99 phone that only packs 1GB and is totally unsuitable for anything besides a glorified calculator.
The real question is how does it compare to what else is on the market for around the same price?
There’s heaps of no-name Chinese phones with better specs either via eBay or Gearbest/Banggood/DealExtreme that are alluring but they’ve got suspicious firmware, don’t have the Google Play store enabled and won’t have any warranty if they die (and they do).
Right now Coles is selling the Telstra Evoke Plus for $129 or the Optus X Wave 4G for $119. Deals like this pop up often and they’ve got similar specs to the Aspera Gem with the bonus of coming with some credit, but they’re locked to that telco, usually have bloated firmwares and don’t have dual SIM capability.
Officeworks, JB Hi-Fi, The Good Guys and Harvey Norman are the least hassle places to buy an unlocked smartphone from. In this $150 price range there’s not much that has 2GB of RAM is dual-SIM. The Alcatel 1X and Nokia 1 Plus hang around here and they’re definetly not as usable as the Aspera Gem. Kick the price up to around $200 and the Nokia 2.3 is a little snappier than the Aspera Gem and will get regular updates, but costs more.
My usual recommendation for most people on a budget that want a smartphone that doesn’t suck is a Xiaomi Mi A3. It’s just $295 from Xiaomi’s official Amazon AU store (so if it goes tits up, it’s easy to return), has double the RAM, will get updates for a while because it’s an Android One phone, is wayyyy faster and the camera is pretty good. The Mi A3 is basically the cheapest phone I’d use day to day with no complaints.
However, if $300 is still reaching too far for you and your needs are extremely basic, the Aspera Gem is a way better option than basically everything else brand new in the $150 price range unless the $199 Nokia 2.3 goes on sale at some point in the near future.
I’m not the gaming guy here at Reckoner, that’s purely Raj’s domain. Why then did I ask Sennheiser to review the GSP 670 Wireless Gaming headset? I’ve been on the hunt for a nice stereo headset to use with my iPhone to make phone calls on and this bad boy looked like it would kick arse at the job – well, you’d hope so considering the RRP of $499.95!
The GSP 670 looks like the perfect fit for my needs:
Stereo headset – I don’t like hearing background noise whilst on a phone call. With a single ear piece my other ear picks up too much noise and it bothers me.
Boom mic – People not being able to hear me properly is the big reason why I hate using AirPods for phone calls (maybe the Pros are better, but I wouldn’t know as I hate in-ear headphones!). Having a boom mic puts the mic near my mouth so whoever I’m talking to can hear me perfectly.
Bluetooth – all my phone calls happen on an iPhone and they don’t have headphone sockets.
Comfortable – there’s some really lightweight shitty ones out there that are just crap to wear on long conference calls and don’t do enough to block out background noise on my end so I can hear what people are telling me.
It’s way harder than it seems to get a headset that meets all 4 requirements and I wasn’t going to drop $500 on the GSP 670 as I’m not that desperate to find a solution. So I asked Sennheiser to take the GSP 670 for a test drive instead (a perk of the job!).
Comfort – these are not light headphones and are quite bulky. Despite that I wore them for hours with no complaints. Soft ear pads, a not too tight headband and great background noise rejection thanks to the ear cups that cover my entire ear.
Connectivity – you can go wired (micro USB to USB) or wireless using either the USB dongle Sennheiser include, which is supposed to be lower latency than Bluetooth or just use Bluetooth. It also works on the PS4 if you’re a console gamer. The fancy Sennheiser app doesn’t work on the Mac but that’s ok as nobody games on a Mac. Interestingly, battery life is longer over Bluetooth than the USB dongle.
Audio quality – as I’ve said before in many other audio related reviews, I am not an audiophile and have pretty low standards for sound quality. With that considered, the GSP 670 sounds very nice and I would happily use it to listen to music as my sole pair of headphones.
Microphone quality – here’s a sample of me talking in a quiet room, recorded over Bluetooth with my Mac. Dunno if it’s “broadcast” quality like Sennheiser reckon, but you could use it for Twitch just fine I reckon, but probably not podcasting. Here’s a sample of an audio recording over USB. Doesn’t sound much different to the Bluetooth sample to my ears.
Speed of connection – when someone calls me on the iPhone, I want to be able to pick up the headphones, chuck em on my head, answer the call and talk right away. The good news is that the GSP 670 remains connected to my Bluetooth devices and I can answer the call from a button on the headset itself. The iPhone’s internal speaker even rings if the GSP 670 is connected but I’m not wearing them. Excellent.
Ease of use – when a call comes in, I don’t want to be fumbling around to answer it! Luckily the GSP 670 behaves well. It’s good at remaining connected to Bluetooth hosts even if there’s been no activity for a few hours (e.g: overnight). It’s got a cool feature where you can flip the mic boom up to mute things. Just be careful to bring it back down low enough to re-engage the mic.
Multiple simultaneous connections – The GSP 670 can also be connected to multiple devices at once. Right now I’ve got it connected to my Mac over Bluetooth listening to some music and an iPhone. If a call comes in on my iPhone it’ll stop the music, ring and I can answer using a button on the headphones. When the call is over it’ll start playing music again. Exactly how I want it to work. It would be nice if I could pair a 3rd device (my Android phone), but that’s asking too much.
Battery life – had no issues with the GSP 670 lasting for a few days with some phone calls and music listening. Plugging it in overnight every two or three days would suit my use case fine.
$500 is a lot to pay for a phone headset. Shit, $500 is a lot to pay for a gaming headset in my opinion, but if you want a stereo headset with a boom mic and Bluetooth that’s also comfortable, there’s not much else on the market.
Gaming, great. Music, great. Phone calls, great – you won’t get a more versatile pair of cans than the GSP 670. The only thing I’d want to see Sennheiser add to the GSP 670 considering the price point is some form of noise cancellation. That would make the GSP 670 the ultimate all-rounder.
When Jonathan, a subscriber to my very interesting and useful tech newsletter The Sizzle, asked me if I’d like to swap my Hyundai Ioniq for a Tesla Model 3, I immediately agreed. He was awesome enough to trust me (someone he never met) with his new car, unsupervised for an entire day. I drove it almost 300km from Melbourne, to Castlemaine and Bendigo, then to Ballarat via Daylesford and back to Melbourne.
Just like how I recently compared the Nissan LEAF to the Ioniq, let’s compare the a day with the Tesla Model 3 to the Ioniq!
Some basics about the Model 3 out of the way for those that don’t already know: it’ll go 380km on a full charge with its 54kWh battery, can suck down 100kW from a Tesla supercharger or high powered CCS2 charger and pricing starts at $73,135 drive away in Victoria for the Standard Range Plus in white, which is what I drove. If you want a deep and thorough review of all the Model 3 features, these three videos cover basically everything you could want to know about the current version (much has changed between 2017 & 2019) Model 3:
Things I liked about the Model 3 compared to the Ioniq:
It’s fast, so much faster. Planting your foot into the Model 3’s accelerator when waiting at those flow control lights at a freeway onramp is so much fun.
Stiffer suspension. Taking roundabouts at speed and turning corners is way less wobbly than the Ioniq, which is a FWD city car tuned more for comfort than performance. The Model 3 doesn’t take bumps as well, but I don’t mind that trade-off.
The smartphone app actually works! It shows you the car’s battery level, charging rate, estimated time to completion – very basic things every EV should do, but doesn’t. When the Hyundai app decides to work (50/50 chance it’ll do what you want), it’s so slow to actually happen. The Tesla app is immediate. The app is a joy to use.
No scheduled servicing. My Ioniq requires 15,000km/12m servicing intervals where all they really do is plug in a diagnostic scanner, poke around under the car to check the wheels are still on, stamp my service log and charge me $160. Tesla on the otherhand don’t have a set schedule
That big touch screen. I was really put off by not having a traditional speedo and dials for the headlights and wipers but Tesla’s touch screen exceeded my expectations. Monitoring my speed wasn’t a problem, the big ol’ map was great to use and with a matte screen protector applied, glare was absolutely not a problem.
Built-in dashcam & Sentry mode. All those cameras it uses for Autopilot can record video to a USB drive in your dashboard, acting as a multi-cam dashcam. When the car is parked, it’ll even act a security camera, giving you evidence if someone fucks with your 80 grand vehicle.
Supercharger network. I got to go to Bendigo for the first time in a year as the Ioniq hasn’t got enough range to get there and there’s no chargers even remotely along the route. I suspect this will change in time as more CCS/CHAdeMO chargers come online in Australia (there’s already more non-Tesla than Tesla ones in NSW & QLD).
Extra range. The Ioniq’s ~200km range is fine for most of my driving, but every now and then I want to go somewhere I can’t because there’s no fast chargers on the route. With 380km range on the Model 3, it’s obvious that I can go to more places with it than I can with the Ioniq, or I can go somewhere and not have to charge along the way.
The minimalist interior. This is a matter of personal preference, but I found the lack of decoration and adornments quite refreshing versus a similar priced luxury car that’s full of design “flourishes” to justify all that money. I had no issue with the Model 3’s fit & finish either. The interior is certainly less noisy and creaky than my Ioniq.
Things I dislike about the Model 3 compared to the Ioniq:
No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. If I want to listen to podcasts in PocketCasts, I have to do it over Bluetooth and control it from my iPhone. Using Apple Music or Google Music is the same. The built-in navigation uses Google Maps, but if you want traffic info (something I use very often), you need the “Premium Interior” which is only available on the Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive variant that costs $22,423 more.
Autopilot. You gotta pay $8000 for the really cool stuff like Autosteer+ (steer you around bendy roads), Navigate on Autopilot (change lanes for you) and Smart Summon (the car drives to you slowly in a car park/garage). Without that package, all you get is adaptive cruise control and Autosteer (basic). Autosteer kept me scarily close to the cars in adjacent lanes, so I disabled it for the day I had it. The cruise control is great though and much faster and smoother to react than the Ioniq, however it was more likely to disengage than the Ioniq when going uphill or in direct sunlight. Overall disappointing.
Panoramic glass roof. It looks cool but damn it lets in a lot of heat. It’s certainly a warmer cabin than the Ioniq. I would much prefer a normal metal roof and the price cut by a few grand.
The price. The cheapest spec Model 3 is $73,135 in Victoria. A 2020 Ioniq is $53,026. $20,000 isn’t a small amount of money and $20,000 is the price of a nice second hand Toyota hybrid. I’d never, ever, consider spending $73,000 on a car and honestly feel like a bit of a wanker for contemplating it (working class Catholic guilt never goes away folks).
Should I buy a Tesla Model 3?
The Ioniq, let’s be honest, is basically a Hyundai Elantra with batteries. It looks like, drives like and feels like a petrol car. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it means everything is familiar with the drivetrain being the only difference. For those already skeptical of EVs, the Ioniq is a nice introduction.
The Model 3 however, is literally a computer on wheels. It’s very different to operate than a “normal” car, with all the car’s functions accessible via a touch screen. That’s probably why I love the Model 3 so much! It’s as if a bunch of computer nerds (aka me & you) designed this car. It isn’t for everyone but I thoroughly enjoyed driving the Model 3. It’s also got more practical range, is way more enjoyable to drive thanks to the stiffer suspension and higher performance, the smartphone app works as it should and the touchscreen is second nature for a nerd like me.
I enjoed it so much, I am seriously thinking about selling my Ioniq and buying a Model 3 in 2020, even though I really can’t justify it financially. That’s how good it is. If you can afford $60,000 or more for a car, a sedan suits your purposes and you can get over the fact you’re giving money to Elon Musk, you’d be crazy not to test drive the Model 3.
Massive thanks again to Jonathan for letting me drive his car for an entire day and getting it covered in dead bugs. Also damn you for giving me a taste of the Model 3 when I can’t afford it!
The Aspera F40 probably isn’t a mobile phone the average Reckoner reader would buy for themselves. However, the average Reckoner reader likely has someone in their life who needs a mobile phone but a smartphone isn’t suitable and that’s where the Aspera F40 becomes interesting.
If you’ve stumbled across this review via Google whilst researching a dumbphone with big numbers for an elderly relative, then I don’t need to explain to you why someone might not want a giant glass fronted rectangle running Android or iOS. The good news is that you’ve come to the right review, as that’s exactly what the Aspera F40 is – the antithesis of an iPhone.
Flip it open, dial a number using the big keypad and the call begins. Close the phone to end the call. That’s probably 90% of what this phone will do and it does it well. Don’t want to remember numbers? Train the phone’s user to press the person button, select the person they want to call from a big grid of 6 people and press the green telephone. You’re now talking to them.
Phone call volume can be adjusted from the buttons on the side, as can the ringer volume. As expected for this phone, the ringer is loud and the earpiece speaker is loud, way louder than my iPhone. There’s a 4G radio inside, so even when the 3G network starts shutting down in 3-4 years time, the Aspera F40 will keep on working. Perfect for those resistant to change oldies.
Of course you can send SMS on the Aspera F40, just like you did back in 2004 with a numeric keyboard. There’s T9 predictive text, but it’s still really slow going compared to a QWERTY keyboard. Good enough to belt out “OK” or “I’m lost” or something like that. Also fine to receive messages on to keep someone up to date with what’s happening.
Speaking of getting lost, the other important feature is the SOS button on the back. Hold it down for about 5 seconds and it will play an ambulance siren sound, then send an SMS to each number you’ve entered into the SOS setting (the message is customisable) and call each person on that list on speakerphone from 1 to 6 if the first caller doesn’t answer. Pretty handy if you’re giving this to someone that’s prone to wandering and confusion or injury.
Feature wise, the Aspera F40 doesn’t do much. Sure it can take photos, but they look crap, see:
It can browse the web, but it’s a total waste of time. Check out at Reckoner on it:
There’s a few other features like an FM radio (needs headphones plugged in), a music player if you load up some MP3s (there’s a microSD card slot), a video player if you like watching videos on the 2.8″ screen, a calendar and even a torch, but they’re all secondary to the “open phone, make call, close phone, end call” ability.
Not everyone can manage to use a smartphone, nor do they want one. I know for some of my relatives, physically locking and unlocking the smartphone (swiping up or holding a button down for a fingerprint) is confusing or difficult. If all you need is a phone to make calls on and maybe take the occasional SMS, the Aspera F40 is perfect. At $99 it’s even well priced for a phone in this category with large buttons.
Throughout my esteemed career reviewing tech gadgets the past decade, I’ve never been given a soundbar to check out. If I asked for one I probably could have got one sent to me, but I just didn’t really care about soundbars – that was until Sennheiser decided to get in on the action with the AMBEO. As a fan of Sennheiser headphones and microphones, I figured it was worth dipping my toes into the soundbar scene with what Sennheiser is offering.
Sennheiser’s Ambeo has “13 high-end drivers” that “delivers a 5.1.4 sound experience” and is Dolby Atmos certified. It’s a beefy boy too, weighing almost 19kg and measuring close to 1.3m wide. You might need two people to unbox it! You can wallmount the Ambeo with an optional wall mounting bracket. Definitely need two people for that job!
Feature wise it’s got 3x 4K HDMI 2.0 inputs, HDMI 2.1 eARC output, every audio codec you could think of and 802.11ac wi-fi/Ethernet connectivity. Disappointingly the Ambeo does not support AirPlay 2 or Spotify Connect, just Bluetooth and Chromecast. Even with Bluetooth it only supports AAC or SBC codecs, not the superior aptX or LDAC. For iOS users, the only way to send music to the Ambeo wirelessly is either lossy AAC Bluetooth or via an app that has Chromecast support.
Setup and calibration is easy (a mic is included in the box for calibration) and I was up and running in just a few minutes. To get Sennheiser’s Android/iOS app going you need to first pair the device to the Ambeo over Bluetooth (also a piece of piss). Then the Sennheiser app can “find” it and tell you to install the Google Home app so the Ambeo becomes available for Chromecast stuff. Oh and it’s Chromecast audio only, not video.
The Ambeo’s remote feels sturdy in the hand and has rubber grips on the base so it won’t slide off any surface, but the button placement is poorly designed. It’s not as bad as the Apple TV remote (the height of remote control hubris), but countless times I held it the wrong way around or got the source and volume buttons mixed up. You may not actually need to use the remote much as it supports ARC so you should be able to use your TV’s remote to control volume and switch sources, but my ancient TV doesn’t support ARC very well.
There’s a smartphone app that can act as a quasi-remote, but it’s pretty useless. It takes ages to connect and loses connection randomly. However, if you want to adjust the EQ on any of the audio presets, the smartphone app is the only way to do it. It’s also the only way to apply software updates to the Ambeo, so you’re gonna want it installed on your smartphone despite it’s suckiness.
So cut the shit, how’s it sound mate? It sounds awesome – for a set of stereo speakers. I’ve listened to a lot of “all-in-one” speakers over the years that are geared towards music and the Ambeo is the best I’ve ever heard. It’s incredibly clear and crisp, with thumping bass. I’m listening to some music on it right now as I write this and thoroughly enjoy the audio. Well done Sennheiser.
Surround sound however, I was totally unimpressed with. My living room setup is just a cheap Onkyo TX-SR373 5.1 amp and some Accusound speakers & sub, but it gets the job done. When playing the Dolby Atmos demonstration Blu-Ray disc there was lots of swirling, zooming and flying audio, it was cool. Playing the same demo videos with the Ambeo connected was disappointing. There was a slight feeling of immersion, but it all took place far away from the rear or top of my head. All the action was happening where the soundbar was located.
I scratched my head wondering why there’s so little rear audio action. I calibrated it again, with the mic sitting at exactly in the middle of the speaker, about 3 meters away, at ear level where I sit on the couch. Still nothing. I double checked my output sources (Apple TV & Xiaomi Mi Box S) were actually giving out a 5.1 or 7.1 signal and according to the Sennheiser app they were. Perhaps it’s my living room setup, which is a very common open-plan style arrangement. So I took it in my study (4-walled room) and was still not feeling the immersive audio promised.
Other reviewers are full of praise about the Ambeo’s surround qualities. Digital Trends: “Effects like a fluttering bird circling my ears or a leaf floating around my head buzzed shockingly close from the sides and even back, while overhead effects like a tropical rainstorm were almost scary realistic” and Home Theater Review.com: “As the helicopter turns around, I could pinpoint the sound of the helicopter come from above and behind me as it flew back the way it came”.
I didn’t experience any of that. Sure, I could detect the sound moving around the speaker itself, but certainly not over my head of behind me. Either those reviewers are seriously embellishing or I’m a dumb deaf idiot.
Like I said at the start, I’ve never reviewed soundbars before so I don’t know if this is expected behaviour and I’m being too harsh or the Ambeo simply isn’t delivering, but either way, if I spent four grand on this beast expecting half decent surround sound, I’d returning it. It’s too expensive as a simple stereo soundbar and not good enough as a surround soundbar. There simply wasn’t enough action in the rear sound stage. Based on my experience with the Sennheiser Ambeo, I would strongly recommend anyone after a true surround sound experience think hard about using a soundbar at all.
Aspera’s Jazz 2 entry-level smartphone might sound boring to you, but I think of the silicon ingot that was meticulously grown to provide the billions of transistors required to make it work, the talent of the engineers that designed the radios, display, sensors and cameras, the army of workers that constructed it, the boat that sailed it all the way to Australia and marvel at the fact a $99 smartphone even exists. It’s an amazing feat of globalism. Continue reading →
When Epson’s PR asked if I want to review a printer, my natural instinct was to refuse. I mean, printers, geez, who cares right? But I indulged the PR person and took a look at the actual printer in question – the Epson ET-M1120/ET-M1100 – and saw that it’s an inkjet that only prints in monochrome, doesn’t have any extras like copying or scanning and claims to be cheaper to run than a laser. A few days later an EcoTank ET-M1120 arrived and here we are now, reviewing a printer. Continue reading →
Getting a dock for your laptop is a great decision if you cart your machine between home and work often. Instead of taking the laptop out of your bag and fiddling around plugging in half a dozen cables for your keyboard, mouse, monitor, external hard drive, ethernet, speakers and who knows what else, you can simply hook up a single cord and everything’s ready to go.
So which one should you get? There’s bloody dozens of the bastards on the market! That’s where Reckoner comes in. For this article we’re gonna look at some Thunderbolt 3 docks that meet the following specs:
Can charge a 15″ MacBook Pro (85W)
3840×2160 @ 60Hz DisplayPort output
Gigabit Ethernet port
3.5mm audio output
At least 2x USB 3.0 Type-A ports
Available from an Australian retailer with warranty
The good news is that there are heaps that will meet those requirements. The bad news is that there’s heaps that will meet our requirements! Let’s quickly go over the ports available on each unit:
HP Thunderbolt Dock 230W G2 (2UK38AA) – $315 Front/side: 3.5mm combo audio, USB-A, Kensington lock Rear: 2x USB-A, USB-C DisplayPort, 2x Displayport, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet Notes: may be slightly dodgy in regards to display mirroring or extending
Elgato Thunderbolt 3 Dock – $419 Front: USB-A, 3.5mm audio in & out Rear: Gigabit Ethernet, 2x USB-A, Thunderbolt 3/USB-C, Displayport Notes: Elgato also has a “Pro Dock” with an SD card reader and extra USB-C ports for $499
OWC 14-port Thunderbolt 3 Dock – $500 Front: microSD & SD card slot, 3.5mm audio combo, USB-A, USB-C Rear: 4x USB-A, optical audio output, Gigabit Ethernet, Thunderbolt 3/USB-C, MiniDP Notes: includes a short 50cm Thunderbolt 3 cable
So, the million dollar (or $500) question – which one should ya get? Personally, I’d go for the CalDigit TS3 Plus. It’s got heaps of USB ports, an SD card slot and sits vertically on your desk, taking up less space. It also doesn’t look as weird next to an Apple machine like the Dell or Lenovo units. That said, if you don’t need anything fancy, the Lenovo Thinkpad Thunderbolt 3 Dock for $329 will get the job done.