Author: Anthony Agius

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:

  • Thunderbolt 3
  • 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:

Lenovo Thinkpad Thunderbolt 3 Dock (40AC0135AU) – $329
Front: USB-A, USB-C & 3.5mm audio
Rear: 4x USB-A, Gigabit Ethernet, VGA, dual DisplayPort, HDMI
Notes: 135W charger, Kensington lock

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iWmUEV0s1U

Aten UH7230 – $380
Front: USB-A & USB-C
Rear: Gigabit Ethernet, USB-A, 3.5mm audio in & out, 2x USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort
Notes: supports 5K graphics output via the USB-C port

Dell Thunderbolt Dock TB16-240W – $403
Front: 2x USB-A & 3.5mm combo audio
Rear: 2x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0, VGA, HDMI, Mini DP, DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm audio out
Notes: includes a beefy 240W charger

Kensington SD5000T – $437
Front: 1x USB-A & 1x USB-C
Rear: Gigabit Ethernet, 1x USB-A, 3.5mm audio in & out, Kensington lock, Thunderbolt 3/USB-C, DisplayPort
Notes: you can hook up two monitors via the DisplayPort & USB-C/TB3 socket

Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock (F4U095au) – $445
Front: USB-A, 3.5mm combo audio
Rear: Gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm audio out, 2x USB-A, Thunderbolt 3/USB-C, DisplayPort
Notes: includes 1m Thunderbolt 3 cable

Startech TB3DOCK2DPPD – $459
Front: SD card reader, USB-A, 3.5mm audio combo
Rear: 4x USB-A ports, Kensington lock, Gigabit Ethernet, USB-C, TB3/USB-C, DisplayPort
Notes: you can hook up two monitors via the DisplayPort & USB-C/TB3 socket

CalDigit TS3 Plus – $449
Front: SD card reader, 3.5mm audio in & out, USB-C & USB-A
Rear: Gigabit Ethernet, optical audio out, USB-C, 4x USB-A, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3/USB-C
Notes: includes 0.7m Thunderbolt 3 cable

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gqCWNYaZrE

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.