Category Archives: Hardware Reviews

Google Stadia Controller – Review

The ‘pro’ version of Google’s game streaming platform, Stadia, is currently available completely freely for two months – complete with instant access to over twelve games! This has naturally lead to a big increase in interest surrounding the service, and if you’re interested in giving it a go for yourself why not first read our full review. You might also have some questions regarding the official Stadia Controller, the price of almost £60 is quite the large investment, which is why we have got out hands on one to see if it’s really worth all that money.

In your hands


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Opening up the controller’s robust white box reveals the controller nested securely on a backing of shaped cardboard, again white, a few pieces of safety documentation and a USB type C cable. Anyone who has purchased an official Google product before will recognise this minimalist approach to packaging as the standard Google fare. Although stylistically the Stadia Controller‘s packaging is nothing particularly exciting, it feels very premium for a simple gaming controller and most importantly the reinforced cardboard used would certainly do an excellent job at keeping your precious new toy safe from damage in transit.

The most memorable feature of the simple unboxing process for me was the almost overwhelmingly sweet smelling plastic used on the controller itself. This isn’t just the classic ‘new plastic product smell’ either, with the odour produced by the controller smelling akin to a great big handful of sugar laden candyfloss. As pleasant as this smell was, it was quite unsettling for a new product to smell quite so tasty so it was probably a good thing when it finally faded after about a week of daily use.

There are currently three colour options available from the Google online store. White with orange accents, called “clearly white”, black once again with orange accents, rather disingenuously referred to as “just black” and “wasabi” – a light blueish hue with eye catching neon green accents. Personally, I fell in love with the “wasabi” colour scheme, but all three are suitably vibrant in the flesh and have a very distinctive Google feel to them.

Online gaming


The Stadia Controller doesn’t function quite like a normal controller, and the added functionality goes quite a way in explaining the product’s elevated price tag. Unlike a regular controller, which usually connect to your games console through Bluetooth, the Stadia Controller instead connects itself to your Wi-Fi network and then directly to Google‘s servers where your game is actually running. Theoretically, this process decreases the already minimal input lag experienced whilst playing on the cloud, but in our testing against a wired Xbox One controller didn’t make any perceptible difference.

Of course, without a user interface on the controller itself, hooking the device up to your Wi-Fi is handled by the Stadia mobile app in what is an admirably painless process. It’s worth noting that you only have to pair your controller up once, unless you intend on frequently changing Wi-Fi networks. In this regard, it’s very unfortunate that the controller does not feature the capability to save more than one Wi-Fi password. As it stands, constantly having to re-enter passwords in the app in-between Wi-Fi changes can become a bit tedious and adds an extra bit of hassle before you can sit back and enjoy your games.

There is of course the option to use the controller wired, making use of the USB type-C port which sits in between the two top bumper buttons. The plug-and-play experience with this controller is phenomenal, you simply plug it into any device and it works seamlessly. No faffing about with drivers and no unnecessary downloads; everything just works. This USB port also doubles up as the way you charge up your controller. It is worth noting that the controller can be used while charging, which is a nice touch and prevents you from having to end your gaming session early just because your peripheral has ran out of juice.

Out of control


Other than it’s Wi-Fi connectivity, the Stadia Controller functions very much like any other gaming controller. The buttons are well placed and whilst I initially thought the more irregular positioning of the left joystick might be a little inconvenient, but it’s surprisingly comfortable in practice. The rounded, softer than average looking D-pad and buttons are nicely tactile and feel great to the touch. The central ‘Stadia’ button is surrounded by an illuminated LED ring, which helpfully provides some useful information on your controller’s charging status, battery life and more. Those more familiar with Google‘s services may notice the ‘Google Assistant’ button (the one with four irregularly sized dots). In theory, pressing this button wakes your Google Assistant, which you can ask to perform basic tasks or provide information about your game using the inbuilt controller microphone.

Unfortunately, this pretty nifty feature doesn’t seem to have been fully implemented yet and pressing the button, in my experience at least, only leads to the display of a message that the Google Assistant “isn’t supported here yet’. Even more unfortunate are the controller’s two triggers, which are extremely soft with long travel time. I personally don’t mind a softer style of trigger, but the actuation points on the switches used is simply far too sensitive – definitely sitting at below 0.5mm of travel. I sometimes found that just holding the controller with your fingers on the triggers was enough to set them off and this becomes extremely frustrating and annoying in certain more skill-based games. The ability to customise how much force is needed to set off the triggers would go a long way to alleviating this problem so hopefully one is in the works.

There are also some issues regarding the plastic used for the controller’s body. It seems the sweet smell of it is accompanied by a candy-like softness which lends the controller to scratching extremely easily. If you intend to carry yours around in a rucksack or really do anything more than sit it upright on a soft surface, it is definitely worth investing in a carrying case. Whilst this isn’t too much of a deal breaker, this added cost should be taken into consideration when you decide whether or not to pick up this controller. A further damper on the portability of this device is the poor battery life – averaging at about five or so hours in our testing.

Verdict:


It is safe to say that the Stadia Controller suffers from more than a few teething problems. Even if a sub-par battery life and easily scratched materials may limit how often you use this controller while out and about, the experience using it at home more than compensates for this. Both the wireless and wired experience is butter smooth and accompanied by a design that is equal parts charming and cheerful. Although if you already own a compatible controller that you love it may not be entirely worth shelling out for this product at full price, for a relative newcomer to gaming who is looking for a controller for their Stadia system; you can’t go far wrong with this.

Soundcore Life P2 – Review


To aid this review, Soundcore Life P2 Headphones were provided free of charge by ANKER


The Soundcore Life P2 is a new release from ANKER‘s subsidiary Soundcore. Despite achieving success as a manufacturer of quality chargers and portable power-banks, ANKER has little experience in the headphone field. Do the Soundcore Life P2s manage to avoid some of the teething problems emblematic of a manufacturer’s first foray into the headphone world and deliver an excellent experience at a budget price?

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What’s in the box?

The Soundcore Life P2‘s relatively compact packaging, approximately 18cm x 10cm x 3.5cm, comes packed with a surprising number of goodies. As expected, the each earbud and their charging case is present, neatly secured in a plastic tray with the charging cable (USB-C). There is also a feedback card, a simple quick start guide and a little booklet of legal documentation in only occasionally dubious English.

The inclusion of ten differently sized rubber eartips is a nice touch. With sizes XS/S/M/L/XL included, pleasingly arranged on little plastic pegs in the packaging, every user is sure to find that perfect fit. It would be great if some manufacturers would learn from ANKER and begin including a larger variety of eartips in their budget, and even sometimes premium, headphones.

Set up:

As the quick start guide would suggest, the set-up process is quick and painless. First, You simply charge up the case with the headphones inside, the LED indicators in both the case and the headphones helpfully tell you their battery life and when they will be ready to pair.

Paring is as simple as removing from the case once they are suitably charged, which prompts the headphones to automatically enter pairing mode, and selecting “Soundcore Life P2” on your phone’s Bluetooth dashboard.

It is worth noting that the instruction manual suggests some phones will have more trouble pairing than others. Due to the “Qualcomm True Wireless Primary-Secondary pairing names”. This means your phone may mistakenly suggest that only one earbud is connected. Luckily, the instruction manual assures us, “it will not influence the using”.

Design and build quality:

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The design of the Soundcore Life P2 is functional, if not a little unoriginal. In the shape of traditional wired earbuds, just without the wires, these headphones will have no trouble staying in your ears. This particular shape is certainly tried and tested and, thanks especially to the plethora of included eartips, will have no trouble staying in your ears.

Despite not be sold as such, the Soundcore Life P2 is an excellent sports headphone. The secure fit makes it hard for them to fly out of your ears, even while performing the most rigorous exercise, and the waterproofing (rated IPX 7) means you won’t have to worry about sweat or other moisture damaging your headphones.

The inclusion of physical buttons, to pause and skip your music, instead of touch sensors also improves this proficiency for sports. Although they can sometimes cause your earbuds to painfully dig into your ears over a long period of use, you won’t have to worry about sweaty hands rendering your headphones unusable

The construction is very light, even including the charging case, which makes carrying them around in a pocket on the go pleasingly unobtrusive. The light earbuds also contribute to the great level of immersion one can have listening to these headphones. It’s quite easy to forget you’re even wearing them, a testament not only to their light weight but also their great in-ear comfort. Just make sure you don’t make a fool of yourself frantically searching your pockets for your headphones when they’re in your ears!

A side effect of this light weight is the plastic construction of the case, which is prone to scratches and scuffs and the fact that the magnetic lid feels somewhat flimsy. Although it’s definitely not overtly fragile, I’m sceptical whether the lid would survive being left open in a bag or a pocket for too long. 

Sound Quality and microphones:

Although sound quality is, to an extent, a matter of personal taste, I found the sound quality to be good overall. It won’t blow you away, but for a budget pair of wireless earbuds it is perfectly pleasant, although the bass does sometimes lack some punch it is made up for in crispness and overall clarity.

The volume goes suitably high and adjusts at good increments, although at the extreme lower end of the volume scale the audio quality does noticeably drop. Luckily, you likely won’t have the headphones on too quiet a setting as the passive noise cancellation leaves a lot to be desired. Despite doing an okay job of drowning out audio, they don’t fair to well  in a particularly loud train car or busy room.

On the other hand, the audio for phone calls is second to none. Featured most predominantly on the front of the box, ANKER is clearly proud of th P2′s “crystal-clear calls” – and for good reason. Our tests, which you can hear below, simulated speech in first a silent and then high-noise environment over a phone call and recorded the results via a second phone. 

In a silent room the quality is incredible and sounds far better than some full-size microphones we’ve tried. The second test, which featured deafening background noise on the speaker’s end demonstrated the excellent noise cancellation. Although there is distortion, it should be considered that the speech was being played amidst painfully load background audio.

If your main concern is how you will sound over the phone, stop reading and buy these headphones immediately – you simply can’t get better than this at this price.

Battery Life:

The battery life amounts to an approximately seven-hour play time, with an additional thirty hours carried in the battery of the charging case. This is more than enough, and means that, with moderate use, you will only have to charge these headphones about once every two weeks.

Charging is done through the included USB-C cable, although any old USB-C cable will of course work. Don’t worry though, if you forget to charge you headphones and need them in a pinch the Soundcore Life P2‘s boast an hour of playback in only ten minutes of charge.

Gaming performance:

Unfortunately, the separate headphone drivers, which have the left and right earbuds appear as separate Bluetooth devices, makes pairing the Soundcore Life P2 with a desktop PC a hassle. Don’t expect to be able to benefit from the pair’s excellent microphones on your desktop without a bit of fiddling.

However, the mobile gaming performance is superb. There is little latency between the headphones and on-screen action. Playing the excellent mobile rhythm game Cytus II, which is highly dependent on timing, was a blast and the bud’s great microphones let you step up your sound quality in games with in-game voice chat, such as PUBG Mobile.

Verdict:

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Although it certainly won’t win any design awards, the Soundcore Life P2 certainly manages to make up for this in the technical department. The microphone quality is incredible and, for budget earbuds, the sound quality is a good all-rounder. The inclusion of some modern high-end features, including USB-C charging and separate earbud drivers, means that you certainly get a lot of bang for your buck.

The Steam link – Review

Valve was always seen primarily as a game developer. After the launch wildly successful Steam gaming platform however, they began to branch off into new areas of the gaming market. Their first home console system, the Steam Machine, back in 2015 (a sort of Linux-based TV confined hybrid of PC and Console) was met with a reception that can be described as “lukewarm” at best. However, many people seemed to forget a device which was launched alongside the Steam Machine – the Steam Link.

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A Steam Link

The Steam Link is a portable streaming box, allowing you to seamlessly stream games from a PC in another room or upstairs to your TV; theoretically creating the perfect home console – a something with the power of PC, projected onto the TV at a low cost.

Initially starting with a price at around £35, the Steam Link failed to really attract any attention until late 2018, where this price would plummet to about £2 (when bought on the steam store in conjunction with a game). This colossal price drop was likely due to the device’s very poor initial sales and Vavle’s desperate desire just to be rid of the hassle of storing thousands of unsold products.

Physically, the Steam Link is a really lovely piece of hardware, it feels heavy in the hand and robust to the touch; clearly being constructed out of premium materials. The minimalist design is also very aesthetically pleasing. Along the side of the box runs all the different ports and inputs you’d expect from your traditional game console; USB for controllers, HDMI for video output and Ethernet for a fast connection – it’s all here. Even the box it came in is well constructed out of good quality nicely coloured cardboard.

You may now be wondering why exactly the Steam Link failed – it certainly wasn’t, after all, due to any physical defects or obvious design oversights. No, the Steam Link‘s biggest downfall is its performance.

Even on the fastest of internet connections, the Steam Link can’t perform without at least some lag. Input lag, audio lag and general stuttering is near constant and basically unavoidable and whilst I’m sure with a NASA like internet connection the Steam Link would run like a dream; but unfortunately that speed of connection just isn’t available to the consumer.

The best way to run the Steam Link is wired, with one big long annoying Ethernet cable, but I think that really destroys the essence of what the system was trying to achieve. If you’re going to bother setting up numerous cables running all around your house, you may as well just save yourself some energy and move your PC to plug it directly into the TV.

There is also the issue of Steam’s Big Picture Mode, which is required for the set up of the Steam Link. Big Picture Mode is in its early days, and is still extremely slow and clunky. It takes what would have been an already slightly jittery experience (purely due to the nature of streaming over WiFi) and multiplies it by a factor of 10.

That’s really all there is to say about the Steam Link, it’s an excellent idea and a very well built product which is unfortunately held back by the constraints of the speed of currently available internet. Who knows? Maybe in a couple years PC to TV streaming services will be an excellent experience and the norm for TV based gaming – but we’re not there yet. We’re not far off, but certainly not yet there. At its original price, the Steam Link is a complete rip-off – if you were however able to nab it at £2 like I was, well it certainly makes a very well-built high quality paperweight.